Shivering on the 49th Parallel
Sunday, 31 August 2008
then wondered if US Airways and Carnival Cruise Lines were partnered. If not, they should be. This flying trailer park is the perfect vehicle to transfer those Whiskey Tango cruisers from whatever fucking hole they crawled out of to get to their floating trailer parks to spread their drive-fast-turn-left "culture" throughout the Caribbean, six islands at a time, for seven days.
Sunday, 31 August 2008 09:20:29 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [1] | Rants | Travel#
Thursday, 28 August 2008

So this is it.

I'm booked on one of the "extra sections" that Cayman Airways is flying to Miami tonight at 7:40pm. I'll get to Miami close to 10:00 and then tomorrow morning I can start looking for a way to get to Vancouver that won't cost me an arm,leg, my xbox and my firstborn male child.

Worst case I park my luggage in the storage area and go sack out in a pew in the chapel up on the 4th floor by the post office. It's always dark, quiet and air conditioned in there.

 

It isn't exactly how I pictured leaving Cayman, especially after 10 years, but I really have no good reason to stick around. If I did, I'd have to sit here in the dark, sweating my sac off with no air conditioning and maybe even no water, if the power and water are off. It's also costing me more to do all this last-minute stuff, but whatever... better than sweating it.

Unless I feel the need to post from the departure lounge at the airport, this will be my last post from Grand Cayman as a resident and local living urban legend. :)

Thursday, 28 August 2008 11:18:04 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [4] | Cayman | Hurricane | Travel#

I woke up this morning at 6am. I don't know why... I never woke up this early when I was, you know, WORKING. I checked the NHC overnights before doing anything else and WHAT THE?!

Gustav went SOUTHWEST overnight and was 'rounding the SE corner of Jamaica and then... headed right for us. Christ on a pogo stick, there goes my flight for Saturday! I checked the CPA at Stormcarib (really the only reason to go there, all the self-professed experts who post in their not-so-humble-opinions get on my nerves faster than... well faster than a fucking hurricane can change it's course while you're sleeping!) and it's now forecast to pass within 9.0 miles of Grand Cayman on Saturday August 30th at 2:12amEDT (0112 local)

That's too close. Plus with the southern pass, we're going to get the brunt of the NW and NE quadrants as well as be susceptible to storm surge, which is really the killer in hurricanes. Fortunately it's only supposed to be a cat1 and become a cat2 once it passes us and heads into the Gulf of Mexico (and aiming for New Orleans). It strengthened pretty quick overnight, so it could be a cat 2 or even higher by the time it arrives early Saturday.

People are getting into busy mode, traffic is terrible especially the chokepoint between the airport and the rest of GT. Boards are up all over and the supermarkets are packed. I think as people woke up this morning and saw the change in track it spurred them out of "we should be ok" to "we need to make damned sure we're ready" so all the ants are hard at work, while the grasshoppers are laying on the beach.

Thursday, 28 August 2008 10:04:07 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [2] | Cayman | Hurricane#
Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Update: I spoke too soon. Watches will go up on all three islands at 6pm local time today.

It sure seems the 5PM EDT update didn't do us any favors. Closest point of approach is now 73.8 miles on Friday at 5pm. Grand Cayman is well within the tropical storm force wind "cone of death" and brushing the hurricane force wind field based on the updated tracking map at the Naval Research Monterey map. That means we'll have sustained winds up to 74mph with higher gusts. Not bad, but not good, either. Gustav is forecast to be transitioning from a cat2  to a cat3 around that same time, so looks like a shitty Friday night in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Saturday the airport should be back to normal, including my flight that's taking me from Grand Cayman to Houston... with Gustav heading from here into the Gulf of Mexico, I can see the flight being delayed, and then delaying me into Vancouver (again) because it has to go arouuund Gustav churning away in the gulf. I hope they don't just cancel it outright though, that would really suck (for me)

I sent home my second trunk this morning via FedEx. 68lbs at International Air Priority rate to zone D. ouch. Tomorrow I'll send the Drobo (minus the drives) and perhaps a suitcase, too. If I have to start jockeying around and changing flight plans on the fly, I don't want to get dinged for excess baggage at every stop.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 13:57:22 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Cayman | Hurricane#

W.T.F.

I have four more sleeps to go, my flight is booked for Saturday, August 30th at 4:45 PM. Hurricane Gustav is now expected to pass nearby sometime between Friday 2am and Saturday 2an. One model has it going south of us, the other five are varied but with two passing between here and Little Cayman and two between Cayman Brac and Cuba.

The page that shows all the models shows the intensity forecast and takes it up above 105mph at 96 hours and the discussion page/forecast at the NHC's site says:

MOST INDICATIONS ARE THAT GUSTAV WILL BE
AN EXTREMELY DANGEROUS HURRICANE IN THE NORTHWESTERN CARIBBEAN SEA
IN A FEW DAYS. 

Wonderful. Extremely dangerous is about as high as you can get. I think I read somewhere one time that category 3 was "dangerous', category 4 was "extremely dangerous" and cat5 is "catastrophic" so if I'm right and it's expected to be a dangerous hurricane in the northwestern Caribbean sea on Friday, that means we're going to get a lot of weather.

Of course, tempering that doom and gloom is the fact that hurricanes are completely random. When Ivan brushed past in 2004 (the eye never crossed land in the Cayman Islands, but rather passed less than 20 mines southwest) it was officially a category 4 with official winds of 154mph. Those officials weren't here though and 154 was their best guess. There were gusts over 200mph. Storm surge completely inundated the island and most trees were completely stripped of branches and coconuts, along with a lot of roofs. Compared to Hurricane Dean last year which also wavered between a category 4 and 5 as it approached us directly, then turned more west and went south of us spared us a lot of damage. Once the craziness of the airport was dealt with I went home to wait it out and nothing happened. Nothing major, anyway.

Judging by the map at the NRL Monterey Marine Meteorology Division's map, as of the most current update, Grand Cayman is going to be spared the hurricane-force winds and almost all of the tropical storm force winds. That doesn't mean we won't have "large battering waves" or storm surge encroachment and massive amounts of rain, but it also means the sustained winds will be less than 35mph with higher gusts.

Nothing to do at this point but to go about normal life and continue packing. Fortunately my clothes are going in Space Bags which are heavy ziplocs with airlocks and my trunk is mostly waterproof but will definitely float. Once the alert gets issued, watches and warnings go up there will be more to do (shutters, provisions, etc) but for now, hurry up and wait.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008 06:37:57 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Cayman | Hurricane#
Thursday, 21 August 2008

This was the title of a post I saw on gadling.com about a week ago or so. They have a series of articles called Galley Gossip, written by a flight attendant and this was what her post was called when it came through my RSS reader. When I went to gadling this afternoon to copy the URL to use here, I saw it's name had been changed to "There's more to Miami than La Carreta" so I guess someone took offense to the title of the original post.

The theme of the post is that for her, going to Miami means getting off the plane, going through immigration and customs (if it's an int'l light) and then going to La Caretta and getting back on a plane and going somewhere else. It really struck a chord with me because my take on Miami is similar: airport, cargo, airport commercial park, a few of the hotels in the vicinity of the airport and the Circuit City on Galloway. My Miami is not South Beach, Key Biscayne, or anywhere sunny, bikini-clad and prone to be featured as a backdrop on Burn Notice.

I thought about this for the last year, once I could see the light at the end of my work-permit tunnel in Cayman. It isn't like Seattle, where I could drive down for the day from Vancouver should I choose. Miami is pretty much the farthest you can get in the continental United States from Seattle. I made a point of scheduling extra time when I was in town in order to explore a little more. I started driving south rather than north and seeing what was around in Kendall and downtown and South Beach. In September when I was up for a whole week, I arranged to drive down to Key West for the weekend on Friday afternoon once I was finished work. I flew up and drove across to Naples for the weekend back in April when my parents were down there with friends having a mini-vacation.

IMG_0338 Yesterday, when I went up to meet my cousin Raffaella and her friends who were in Miami on vacation from Italy, I saw more of Miami in one day than I had in the last four years. They had already walked around Collins and Ocean avenues and seen what they wanted to of South Beach the day and evening before, so we piled into the car and took off for Little Havana. Their Lonely Planet guide to Miami and the Keys said that Calle Ocho was the place to be on the last friday of the month when all the shops stayed open until midnight and I think the street was closed to traffic with people just hanging around partying into the night. Unfortunately it was a Wednesday afternoon at 12:30 so it was just another latin-flavored neighbourhood with fancy wrought-iron bars on the windows.

We decided to stop for lunch at Cafe Versailles. I had heard the name before, but thought it was just a coffee shop in the Miami airport near concourse F. Boy was I ever wrong. It was listed in their guidebook so we took that at face value and punched it's address into the GPS SatNav. When we arrived I was shocked to see that Cafe Versailles and it's counterpart Versailles Bakery took up almost the whole block of 35th SW and Calle Ocho. There were multiple (small parking lots) and a lot of people going in, coming out and hanging around the walk-up coffee & lunch counter that faced Calle Ocho. We found parking around the back and then went in. Is this the front door? No. Is THIS the front door? No. I guess over the last 37 years they've expanded into their neighbours space a few times. We finally found the front door and went inside. A maitre' d escorted us through the labyrinth of dining rooms to a table set for six. He asked me (in Spanish) if we wanted menus in Spanish or English. When I said "Sorry, I didn't catch that? slower please?" he said "Ah. English" and changed our menus.

IMG_0341 It's hard to describe the dining room we were in. Mirrors everywhere, gilt fixtures, chandeliers and funky segmented ceilings were just the beginning. The mirrored walls were etched and had fluorescent tube lighting behind them so the etched parts shone through white surrounded by mirror. It was really bizarre. It reminded me of somewhere "fancy" my grandparents would have taken me when I was a kid in 1978, 1978... except it was 2008. They had a veritable army of runners, bussers, waiters and waitresses, bartenders and I can only assume the second division in the kitchen. I'd really like to know just how big their kitchen really is.

Then there was the menu: huge. Four pages huge. The first page was cold appetizers, soups, salads and a kids menu. The second page was chicken dishes. The third page was pork dishes and a few beef dishes. The fourth page was seafood with the back inside cover dedicated to sandwiches (Cuban, natch but also some very American things like a club sandwich or cheeseburger with fries. Then on the back outside cover was side dishes and beverages. Homemade sangria, beers, wines, and of course, the mojito. I had the Cuban Sandwich, and the girls ordered a variation on chicken & rice. After lunch we ordered two Tres Leches cakes for everyone to try and Cuban coffee. For six of us, with tip it only came out to $75 which is pretty darn cheap. It would have been as expensive had we gone to Chili's or some other lame-ass chain restaurant (Hey Farva, what's the name of that place you like to go with the shit all over the walls?) and not nearly as unique or interesting.

A rain band, or a squall came through just as we were finishing lunch, so I ran out to the car and brought it around so they didn't have to run through the rain. We were trying to figure out where to go next, what with the weather and all. Key West was out of the question, it's a nearly four hour drive each way. I suggested we could either go to Key Largo, or we could go to Ft Lauderdale. I looked at the sky and it was dark and ominous to the south, and relatively bright to the north, so we opted for Fort Lauderdale. We caught up with the rain that passed us by at lunch on the way up, but when we hit Las Olas it cleared up and was even sunny out when we got to the beach.

IMG_0344 The girls were really impressed with the beach at Fort Lauderdale. I think it was more of what they were expecting Miami Beach to be like. A wide sidewalk & seawall and then sand stretching down to the waterline. All the hotels, restaurants, condos and bars were on the other side of the street, giving an unobstructed view of the beach and the ocean. We wandered south along the beach for a half hour or so, taking pictures until we all got hot and thirsty. We crossed the street and went upstairs to Lulu's Bait Shop that was overlooking the beach. I think it was the first time any of them had been in a dive bar and weren't quite sure what to make of it. We wrapped up and got back to the car by about 4:30 when our meter (which had 90 mins on it when we pulled in! score!) ran out.

IMG_0346IMG_0347 As we were walking back to the car, one of my co-workers Jean called me. She was heading south from Boca Raton to get on the same flight as me, so she pulled off and met us at Carlos and Pepe's for a margarita and the best damn house-made salsa and chips. My friend Shannon met up with us too, since I'm leaving next week I won't be calling her randomly when I'm in town saying "wanna have lunch at Carlos & Pepe's?" anymore :)

IMG_0353 We got back on the highway at about 6:45, yikes. The flight was at 8:55, cut-off time to check in is 7:55 and I had to drive from Fort Lauderdale to South Beach, and then from South Beach to the car rental return, and then catch the shuttle bus back to the airport! Yikes! We made good time on I95 south at that time of night and then got into a bit of traffic in South Beach which raised my heart rate a little but in the end, I dropped the girls off with plenty of time for them to clean up and make their 9:30 dinner reservation at the Blue Door and I got back to the airport and checked in with literally minutes to spare!

I went through security and by the time I got to the gate, they were boarding. I was the SECOND last person to get on the plane (cough-Jean!) and was asleep in my seat before the plane took off. I woke up in the air, saw that the seatbelt sign was off, grabbed my headphones, unstrapped my seatbelt and lay down across all three seats and was out like a light until the flight attendant came and gently shook me awake to put my seatbelt and take off my headphones for landing. I sent the girls a text message to let them know I made it to the plane and was back home in Cayman before getting home and crashing HARD until my alarm went off this morning at 7:30 to start my second-to-last day of work.

Thursday, 21 August 2008 14:08:09 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Pictures | Travel#
This is my last week of work (un-officially) before my permit and right to live in the Cayman Islands expires next Wednesday and I head north to Canada to start the next chapter. I had a few days-in-lieu left over that would either get paid out or used up so I decided to burn one up (along with one of my 'free' employee tickets that will expire next week too) and go up to Miami to meet up with my 2nd cousin and her friends who were on vacation from Italy.
I got up at 5am Wednesday morning, after being up til 2am the night before unable to sleep with my brain going 100mph with all the plans and preparations and pondering the future. I got to the airport at 5:45 am for a 7:05 am flight. I already knew the flight was close to full, so I couldn't take advantage of "early check-in" the night before and go straight to the security checkpoint and take my chances at the check-in line. There's a flight that goes to Jamaica at 6:55, right before the flight to Miami at 7:05 so at 6:15 there were still people showing up and queuing to check-in for the Jamaica flight. I was still in line at 6:55am when they announced the final boarding for my flight. I got checked-in to standby and then they closed the flight and started calling people's names according to their priority. The good part about high turnover of staff is that my seniority is middle-high now, so I was called first and got a boarding pass... and then had to go wait in line at the security checkpoint. I got through there and then the Immigration exit checkpoint, walked across the departure lounge to the doors and outside... and was stopped for secondary screening. The security agent went through my bag to the smallest detail and then wanded me and had me take my shoes off again and checked them out before passing me through to the plane. I sat down in my seat, put on my seatbelt and fell back asleep.
I awoke just over an hour later when the flight attendant woke me up and said we were in Miami: I was the last one on the plane :) I cleared immigration and customs, picked up my rental car paperwork and then stopped by Starbucks on my way to the baggage office to take a look at one of the computers there as a favor even though I was technically on a vacation day. A quick stop at the bank and then I was off to South Beach to meet up with the girls.

Thursday, 21 August 2008 07:41:34 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Travel#
Saturday, 16 August 2008

Out and about (oot and aboot.. I gotta practice my Canadian accent, I'll be back in the great white north in two weeks!) today you would be shocked to think that there was a Tropical Storm Watch in effect. I was sitting at Paperman's Coffee House at the Strand with Lee talking about it. One thought that occurred to me was if this storm is less than 36 hours away, and it was as bright and sunny and cloud-free, blue-skied as it was today... how much (or rather) how little time did people have to prepare back in the old days before radios, telephones, radar and satelite imagery?

Tonight at the 1900Z update, the Gov't of the Cayman Islands upgraded the threat to a Tropical Storm Warning for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, and kept Grand Cayman at a hurricane watch. That may or may not change overnight as the hurricane moves sort-of towards us.

In the forecast, it called for four to eight inches of rain over Hispaniola, Eastern and Central Cuba, Jamaica and the northern Cayman Islands with isolated areas of up to 15 inches. That's a lot of rain! Fortunately for the Cayman Islands, their topography is akin to a billiards table, but in Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba they have mountains, so that could lead to flash floods and mudslides (and not the cool creamy yummy kind that you can make with a Margaritaville Frozen Drink Maker... which I bought from SkyMall and is waiting to be picked up in Sumas WA when I get home! :) :) ). As of the last NHC update, they measured TS force winds extending out up to 105 miles from the center. That last update's forecast co-ordinates also calculate the closest point of approach to Grand Cayman of 179 miles, so while it will be breezy, we probably won't get 35mph+ Tropical Storm force winds.

On CaymanPrepared.ky (which they finally got around to updating today... is it just me or is it just bad form and laziness when you post on the site that the next update will be at 7am, but then don't actually change anything until after noon?) they're saying:

Additionally the Cayman area can strong north to northeast winds of 15 to 20 knots tonight, 20 to 25 knots tomorrow, leading to very rough seas with wave heights of 6 to 8 feet, especially near the Sister Islands.

Aside from the missing word there between can and strong (which I assume should be 'expect') it says we're going to get N-NE winds 20-25 knots tomorrow. What does that mean? It means that on my second-to-last weekend in the Cayman Islands, I'm not going to get to go diving. Again. Last week got washed out due to a hangover (not mine, my buddy's) and this week due to Fay.

I guess this just means I'll have to call in sick one morning and go for a dive once the weather clears :D

Saturday, 16 August 2008 17:31:11 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Cayman | Hurricane#

Today marks the two-week point before my final departure from the Cayman Islands. Mother Nature wanted to give me some sort of going-away present, so I'd just like to take a moment and tell her thanks for this:

THE GOVERNMENT OF THE
CAYMAN ISLANDS HAS ISSUED A TROPICAL STORM WATCH FOR THE CAYMAN
ISLANDS.  A TROPICAL STORM WATCH MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM
CONDITIONS ARE POSSIBLE WITHIN THE WATCH AREA...GENERALLY WITHIN
36 HOURS.

 

Tropical Storm Fay is out there, just south of Haiti now. Last night before I went to sleep, the three-day cone of death extended just far enough west to include Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. This morning both the Sister Islands and Grand Cayman are under a Tropial Storm Watch. Unless Fay keeps sidling west before making a turn north, all this means for us is some crappy weather and maybe a few squalls late Sunday or early Monday.

I checked last night on www.caymanprepared.ky which is a website hosted by the gov't and their one-stop clearing house for emergency communications. It's certainly easier than trying to remember all the little URL nuances of their awful gov.ky portal. Last night their "threat level" was orangey-yellow and residents were asked to remain vigilant. The next update would be 7am this morning. Well, it's 10am this morning now, and the NHC is reporting that the gov't has declared a TS watch, but still no update on their official website.

I've posted URLs for weather resources in the past, and probably more than once. To narrow down the focus of the posts, you can click the Hurricane category in the categories list for an archive of old posts including all the links.

Saturday, 16 August 2008 07:00:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | #
Friday, 15 August 2008
So that's the bottom line... for saving the company $300 and burning a loyal customer, the store manager reaped two years (and counting) atop the Google search results for "Divers Supply Grand Cayman" with the terms "Fucked in the ass by Divers Supply Grand Cayman" in the link text itself.
Friday, 15 August 2008 11:11:10 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [0] | Cayman | Rants | Underwater#
Thursday, 07 August 2008

No, not a soccer tournament.

According to my countdown timer on my Facebook profile I've crossed the 20 day threshold and there are 19 days, 1 hour, 1 minute and a few seconds until 12 midnight on August 27th, 2008 when my seventh and final work permit expires.

Tonight I tried to un-mount (dismount?) two paintings that I picked up in Cuba a few years ago that HazMat Jenny had framed for my birthday back then so I could roll em up, put em in a tube and pack them for safe travel home. Those things are in there but good! I don't think Thomas Crowne could get them out without damaging them!

There was brown paper on the back, affixed with glue or thin double-sided tape. That covered up the little spikey things that held a piece of cardboard in place that made the back flush. 24 little spikey things to be exact which are flush/countersunk into the cardboard which made grabbing them with pliers a bit difficult. Once I got them out and removed the cardboard... there as another set of spikey things holding the backboard in place! I also saw at this point that the canvas had been glued to the board where it was wrapped around AND TRIMMED. So if I managed to get all those spikey things out, then I'd have to get the canvas off the backboard, get all the glue off it and then when I get them re-framed, it would be more difficult as there wasn't a lot of canvas to remount it with. What ever happened to staples??? Fortunately my yoga mat is exactly twice as long as the picture frame, so I put it between the two frames and I'll wrap em up in bubble wrap as-is and FedEx them home like that.

Speaking of FedEx, holy Christmas is that ever expensive! I took a box down there last week that had DVDs, Xbox360 and Wii games in it. 22lbs. FedEx only has one service out of the Cayman Islands: International Priority Air. The service that costs $34 to send one of those FedEx Envelopes. Gulp. She weighed it out and gave me the bad news: $228 CI Dollars! I guess that's cheaper than buying the games again when I get home, provided I could sell them down here for $20 each or something, but still, wow.

Pressing my luck, I asked for a couple of the FedEx flat-rate boxes and took those home with me. Checking the FedEx website for rates, I found that the 25kg box had a flat rate of $293CI dollars for up to 55lbs and then another $6 or so per pound if you go over that. Into that box went the few books (heavy) that I decided weren't replaceable very easily. Log books and some CDs went in as well and then because there was space, I put my Oregon Scientific weather station in there and then weighed the box. 58 lbs. I thought for a few minutes what I could take out of there that was 3 lbs, but in the end, scrapped the idea and just sent it at 58lbs and paid the extra per-pound charge.

Right now you're thinking "IS HE OUT OF HIS FUCKING MIND? It's only $100 to check an extra bag on most airlines!" and my answer would be yes, but not without conditions.

I've never mentioned this here on the blog, because you never know who's going to read it. Any time I've ever talked or posted about work, I've always referred to it as "at work" and never used any names, first, last or otherwise that may have led to an identification of where I work or whom I was talking about (or down about). For the last four years, I've worked at Cayman Airways. Sure the six people who read my blog (thanks Mom, Jen, Marion, Jason, Beth and Bobby!) already know where I work, and anyone who's got me added on Facebook can see it, but I've never posted anything "officially" on these intarwebs that are spidered and indexed by search engines on a daily basis for posterity (whether I like it or not!)

So if you're not one of those six people, and you read this once in awhile, suddenly all the travel-related stories and gadgets make sense! Along with cheap flights (on standby, which are sometimes more hassle than they're worth) there are certain other perks that I'm privileged to have honored. The most useful to me lately has been a substantial (and I mean HUGE) discount at FedEx. :)

Thursday, 07 August 2008 20:21:28 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00) | Comments [4] | Cayman | Travel#
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