We arose at 3:45 a.m. and headed to the airport for our 6:35 a.m. flight. My wife and I come from different packing philosophies.
I spent a lot of my twenties and thirties doing business travel, and do not believe in checking bags except as a last resort. My wife believes in travelling with checked bags. Our vacations always, therefore, involve checked bags, because how silly would it be to make an issue of this difference between us? Except, of course, during moments standing in line for baggage check or retrieval, which ignobility I will own up to in the interest of honesty, and then gracefully move on.
Baggage check was an issue today because our airport's new procedures for screening checked bags are in place. DFW Airport prides itself on being a "can do" airport, a hub for a couple of airlines, and place where air travel business "gets done". So the newspaper had the requisite "the new checks only add 8 to 10 minutes to the check in process" article that, in hindsight, suggests to me that DFW's public relations firm is working its magic on the magic-susceptible Dallas Morning News (had it been the Fort Worth Star Telegram, which tends to boost local businesses like DFW Airport, the headline might have been "jubiliation breaks out as new airport procedures get passengers boarded more quickly!").
In point of fact, we had some thirty extra minutes beyond the normal lengthy check in wait added to our flight because after initial check-in, we had to shuffle our bags over to a group of people behind a curtain (who, fortunately, merely demanded our tickets, and not the broom of the wicked witch). We watched as bags were screened and matched to tickets. Our little red bag of snorkel gear somehow was processed long after our other bags, resulting in people "behind us" in line getting to go ahead of us. It made no difference in terms of reaching our flight, but it was very frustrating. I don't know what frustrated me more, though, the wait, or the discourtesy of some fellow passengers. One woman shook her fingers at the staff which asked her if she wished her bags locked after inspection, saying "this bag must be locked! This bag must be locked!". Prior to today, I thought that finger wagging was the province of five year olds and people in sitcoms. Then another man's tone of voice when he was exasperated at not being able to hear--it was exasperting, so he had the right to feel frustrated, but listening to his "I am aggrieved" tone at 6 in the morning did not add to my holiday joy. On vacations, I'm sure our lives won't change, bag-wise, but for business travel, I am more determined than ever never to check bags if at all possible.
We had procured our tickets at a charity auction called A Taste of Garland last April, and American Airlines promptly routed us through Miami to Freeport. We did have the paperwork problem about which I'd fantasized, though. It was an odd one. When we married, my wife legally took my surname as an addition to her maiden surname, without hyphenating. In various contexts, she will use her surname, my surname, or both surnames, as her fancy strikes her. When she writes for publication, she writes in her maiden name. We have traveled outside the country often using her passport, which still lists only her maiden name. In this post 9/11 world, though, we had to politely assure the ticket agent that she is who she is, and I had a brief image of my Bahamian trip turning into an Everglades or Gulf Coast of Texas trip. The kind ticket agent solved the problem for us, and we traveled without incident.
The flight from Miami to Freeport literally involved more time in the bus waiting to take us to the prop plane than it did in the air. The air time was only 29 minutes. Grand Bahama Island is remarkably pretty from the air. I'd been to New Providence before--where Nassau is--and it is nice, but not as scenic from the air. Coming to the Freeport airport, we passed over pine forests with palmetto understory plants--very green, mildly Hilton-Headish, but much more lush. When we de-planed, the temperature was only in the mid-60s. Apparently, three days ago, it was in the mid-80s.
We took a cab to our hotel, which is a very pleasant little resort suites place. I liked the crisp, friendly, yet mildly starchy formality with which we were ushered through check-in and to our rooms, by people neither servile nor patronizing. The European folks ahead of us felt less secure. When asked, as in American hotels, for an imprint of their credit card to cover incidentals, they reacted with a tone of offense as if they had been asked to pledge their homes to pay for Bahamian military. I suppose it is not fun dealing with things with which one is not familiar. My wife and I waited quietly while the nice desk clerk expressed for the less familiar visitors the intricacies of having to make cash deposits to get phone service and key copies if one is not willing to leave a credit card imprint for security. I can sympathize, because I remember how odd it was to me staying at a Swiss hotel in which one turned in the room key to management each time one wished to leave the hotel. It was so odd at the time, not having the key to my own hotel room, but surely it must have been just a local custom unfamiliar to me.
When it came to be our turn to check in, I plopped my credit card on the hotel desk and burst out with the sort of friendly "how are you" that means either that I like checking into hotels or that I live in Texas. Soon we were checked in, escorted to our rooms, filled in on the best local snorkel package, and free to get lunch.
We found a wonderful little cafe called the Carribean Cafe. My wife asked the young woman proprietoress how she was doing, and she assured us with a smile "fine, now that you are here". Freeport is not exactly bustling with tourists in this post-holiday season, which means no hordes of extra people everywhere. We had an incredibly wonderful meal--jerk chicken, rice, and a dish that tasted like lightly scalloped potatoes, but which the cook explained were in fact Bahamian-style macaroni and cheese, in which the mac and cheese is marinated a bit and then twice baked. I am not a mac and cheese guy, really, but this was heavenly. The manager's father made a brief appearance at the cafe, where he gave an impromptu lecture on how life was too short and we all must trust ourselves, which was wonderful and exotic in his Bahamian accent, after which the manager explained that her eccentric, sermonizing, 70 going on 34 father had raised kids as a single parent after her mother died when she was 4. She and her friends then began a lively discussion of how life has too much stress in it to have too many kids, which seemed real and yet surreal in this lazy island cafe by the shops.
We were so exhausted by this afternoon, and it was too cool to feel much like snorkeling, so we did a nice old-fashioned glass bottom boat ride. There were only about 10 other people on the huge boat, and the water was really clear. We first stopped over schools of sergeant major fish, angel fish, some tangs, and goatfish, all very colorful tropical fish. We also saw lots of great coral--fan corals, brain coral, elkhorn, all the "common" corals. The sheer volume of fish was amazing, just as it had been our last visit to the Bahamas. Then the boat went to another spot, a deeper bit of reef where sharks are sometimes spotted. What fun! I spotted the first shark, and then we all went from glass bottom section to glass bottom section following its progress (actually, I believe we saw two, but I am not really good enough to know for sure). These were Bahamian reef sharks, quite large actually, probably over six feet long. They hovered on the bottom, near the reef, like things only the Shadow knows.
I remember snorkeling 12 years ago on a tiny motorboat near Caye Caulker when one of our party sighted a little nurse shark. I came up onto the boat when he mentioned it. I said "cool!" and he allowed as how it was cool, but then he allowed as how he was pretty much finished snorkeling that day. It seems that this shark came out of nowhere, and his personal feeling is that sharks should come out of somewhere, preferably somewhere far away, rather than coming out of nowhere. I had never seen a wild shark before today, other than a small shovelnose shark I caught fishing years ago on a 20 dollar party boat near Malibu (mostly because I was fishing my squid too shallow for where the sand bass were), and promptly threw back (correction: promptly allowed the boat fellow to throw back for me). We both had a great time; it was especially fun to see the kids on the boat and their thrills about the shark(s). Even the tamest glass bottom boat ride can be a wild ride, if one is just in the right mood.
We then headed to our hotel, and my wife napped while I watched something improbable on the Sci Fi channel called Kull starring Kevin Sorbo, until I, too, fell asleep, and decided it was time to
go buy a week-long membership at this local cyber cafe.
The facility is very nice, even if the printer won't work, and I have my postcard assignments copied down.
Tomorrow we snorkel! The concierge guy said it's warmer in the water than the air temperature. I hope we don't shiver too much! But now I must see if my wife has awakened, so that we can get dinner.