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It was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime.  A trip to remember.  And remember it we will.

We fly to Peru.  We hike the Salkantay Trail through the Andes Mountains, and arrive at Macchu Picchu.  What could possibly go wrong?

Never ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to.

We flew out of Baltimore to Miami via American Airlines.  From Miami we flew to Lima, Peru.  From Lima we flew to Cuzco, Peru, from which our (mis)adventure would begin.

Unfortunately, the airline did not tell us that we had to retrieve our luggage in Lima to go through customs before heading on to Cuzco.  The Cuzco airport is a domestic airport, and does not have customs.  While my girlfriend has had some experience in world travelling, this was my first time out of the land of E. Pluribus Unum (unless you count a driving day trip to Canada via Maine back in the early nineties when you didn’t need a passport to cross the border.)  I have never flown outside of the United States before so how would I be expected to know this.  Dammit, Jim!  I’m just a doctor!

As we waited in Cuzco for our luggage which never came, the error of our ways became apparent.  A few phone calls confirmed that our luggage–along with most of our hiking equipment, was enjoying the scenery in Lima, not Cuzco.

Here is the view as we left the airport in Cuzco:

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Now, I don’t know about you, but this is not what I would consider a “vacation view.”  This is a vacation:

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Fortunately,  our tour company flies masochists hikers in a couple of days ahead of the trek to allow them to acclimate to the altitude.  So we had from Sunday afternoon to Tuesday morning to somehow retrieve our luggage.  Paperwork was reluctantly completed.  In Spanish.   People frowned. In Spanish.  We tried to keep smiling.  The travel agency put in a good word for us.  Apparently, we are not the first pioneers to show up without luggage.

It’s not as though we couldn’t rent equipment. We could.  But we had already invested money in new sleeping bags, backpacks and air mattresses prior to leaving on this trip.  It made no sense that they sit in Lima having a better time than we were.  This was a matter of principle.

So we tried to enjoy some tours of Cuzco and learn about the ancient Incas, while the airline industry took their good old time saving our trip of a lifetime.  Most of my clothes were on the checked luggage because I hate toting heavy carry-ons through an airport.  I paid dearly for my laziness.

I had to wear one of my girlfriend’s coats, as my outer gear was in the lost luggage.  It wasn’t pink, but a brighter purple than I would have ordinarily opted for. And her hiking pants were a little tighter than socially acceptable I suppose.  People kept asking her who her muchacha (Spanish for young lady or maybe cross dresser I’m not really sure) was.  I was apparently abused but not amused.

The hotel we lodged at was quaint and had a European flair.  Don’t ask me how I know since I’ve never been to Europe, but dammit I do watch movies.  It’s probably the Spanish influence.  But I was somewhat confused by the fact that you couldn’t throw toilet paper in the toilet.

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Each bathroom had a little trashcan sitting on the floor to dispose of toilet tissue, etc.  Seriously?  Help us protect the environment?  Did you just see what I flushed out of my system?  And you’re worried about some paper?

Time ticked by and at nine o’clock Monday night we finally get our luggage and hiking gear.  We were scheduled to leave at 3 am the next morning because they apparently close the only road that leads to the base of the trail at 7 am for road construction and we have to get past checkpoint Charlie before the window of opportunity closes.

Only ONE road in . . .

 

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To quote Mark Twain, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  However, at one point, I wasn’t quite sure I was going to make it.

It all started with a vacation in Peru.  Having survived a 50 mile hike through the Andes ending with a tour of Macchu Picchu and losing my luggage on the way to Cuzco (more stories for another day,) I found myself almost home in New York at JFK airport.  All I had to do was to survive a short trip to Baltimore and a three hour drive home to Pennsylvania.

I was sooooo close!

We boarded the plane in New York.  It wasn’t made by the Wright Brothers, but they were probably still alive when it was built.  It was a small plane–two seats on one side and a single seat on the other.  Only one luggage bin on one side.

When I got to my seat and sat down I was welcomed by this:

tray1

I’m having a bad feeling about this.  If the best they can do to fix a tray table is duct tape and a warning label, I’m not sure about the level of maintenance of the more important parts of the plane, like the cockpit and engines.

Turns out, they must have used duct tape and a label on the rudder.  Halfway into our flight, the stewardess announced that when we start to land it might be noisy.  There was a problem with the rudder, but it wasn’t important.

Wait!  What?

Isn’t the rudder used to steer the plane?

Of course, it explains why the pilot kept coming on and asking everyone to lean to the left or lean to the right.

Not long after the rudder announcement, the stewardess is back on the speaker with more good news.  She told us not to be alarmed, but there will be some emergency vehicles parked along the runway.  Just.  In.  Case.

And as an exclamation point to this tidbit of news, the duct tape fails and my tray table falls in my lap.

tray2

The stewardess is now coming down the aisle collecting trash.  I point to the broken tray table and tell her, “I think I need some more duct tape.”

With a perfectly straight face, and no amusement whatsoever, she replies, “I don’t carry duct tape.”  She slams the tray back up and reattaches it with the old duct tape.

I wistfully look out the window and wonder if the rudder has fallen off yet or if the duct tape is still holding.

Sure enough, as we land, there were 7 or 8 firetrucks with lights flashing along the tarmac.  One of the other passengers noted that there were no other planes taxiing near our runway.  Someone was prepared for the worst.

But we landed in one piece, although I can’t say for certain we didn’t leave a trail of parts between New York and Baltimore.

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Times they are a-changing and the economy is tough all around.  It’s not unusual to pay $2 to $4.00 just for a bottle of water at a ball park or amusement park.

But $48 for a coke?

How did this happen?

My family and I were recently on vacation at Disney World, which pretty much by definition elevated the cost of most ordinary things right there.  We dined at the Garden Grill Restaurant in EPCOT at The Land pavilion.  We have dined there many times before on their rotating restaurant and have always enjoyed a good experience.GardenGrill

But on this particular occasion, my youngest son ordered a coke but did not eat the meal, which is served family style.  The waiter asked about this, and cleared his clean plates dutifully.

When it came time to settle the bill, our waiter announced that he “had” to charge my son the full meal price.

Naturally, I questioned him about this, pointing out that he knew he hadn’t eaten and cleared the unused plates and utensils himself.

He was very sorry, though he didn’t sound sorry, but told us that it was the restaurant’s policy.  He would have to check with the manager.  My daughter’s friend, who was on a separate check, paid $48 for her meal, drink, tax and tip, so it was not an inconsequential amount of money we were talking about here.

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  We have been coming to Disney about every other year since 1994.  We are members of the Disney Vacation Club.  I would hazard to say that we ate at the Garden Grill restaurant all but one or two of those times, as it is was one of our favorites.

My youngest son is our pickiest eater.  This is not just an issue of what type of food is served as it also is where the food is served.  He ONLY eats steak–prime rib–at Outback.  He won’t eat steak at LongHorn or Texas Roadhouse.  He will not eat it here or there, he will not eat it anywhere but Outback.  He will eat spaghetti at Olive Garden with tomato sauce.  He has NEVER ordered anything else at Olive Garden.  He will not eat spaghetti anywhere else.  If we eat at Friday’s or Chili’s or any of the other myriad establishments, we generally just order him a drink (sometimes a dessert since his criteria for sweets is much lower) and we drive through McDonald’s or Arby’s on the way home for his meal.

By the way, he has never eaten a meal at the Garden Grill.  Oh, and by the way, we have never paid for a meal for him at the Garden Grill.

Until this fateful day.

With a Disney smile on her face, and Mickey Mouse scooting behind her running to get away from any crossfire trying to get to the next table for photographs, the manager informed us that the restaurant had a policy that each diner is charged, regardless of whether they ate or not.  She tried to offer him things off the children’s menu to appease us (he NEVER eats Mac and Cheese ANYWHERE.)  He wasn’t really hungry anyway because he knew we were coming to the Garden Grill and he knew he didn’t want to eat there.  He already ate something earlier.  He played games on his phone the whole time.

Vintage 2013
$48 a bottle

I couldn’t believe they were going to charge me $48 for a coke–which he only drank about two-thirds of anyway.  There was still $16 worth of coke in that glass and there are kids dying of thirst in a desert somewhere!

Now in all honesty, I understand why this restaurant might have such a policy.  I’m sure there are parent’s with young kids that want to get their pictures taken with Mickey Mouse and Goofy, but the little ones wouldn’t eat enough to make even the price of a children’s dinner worthwhile.  So mom and dad think they’ll sneak little Johnny a few bites and save a few bucks.

But my son is 15 years old and we weren’t sneaking him bites.  And this is Disney!  Is the bottom line that tight that we can’t let a kid ride a rotating restaurant and get his picture taken with Chip or Dale or both for that matter, without forcing him to eat, or forcing his parent’s to pay for a meal he never had any intention of digesting?

The manager then noted that had we told them that ahead of time when the reservation was made, then he would have not been charged.  How were we supposed to know this?

Another Disney smile and an apology.

So I guess we got a glass of coke and an apology for $48.

I wasn’t aware the price of apologies had gone up.

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To eat Grilled Rat?

A friend of mine–at least for the moment–is travelling in Southeast Asia.  He calls it a vacation.  Disney World is a vacation.  Laos–not so much.  And I’m pretty sure that while there are huge mice walking around Disney, there are none on the menus anywhere in the parks.

Here is his Facebook revelation:

FacebookRat

Eleven people LIKE that!  This scares me.  I might know these people.  I might have eaten with these people before.  Perhaps they even grilled my bacon cheeseburger on the same grill that grilled a rat.  Oh, the inhumanity!

I wrote a blog about my own Lunch Bucket List a while back in response to a list of 100 things you should eat before you die–and hopefully not RIGHT before you die.  Interestingly enough, while sea urchins, snake, and Spam™ made that list, grilled rat did not.  Neither did sautéed rat, deep-fried rat, fricasseed rat, or rat stew make the list.  Squirrel yes.  Rat–no.

Don’t rats carry the plague?  I guess you could get bird flu from chicken, but I’d face that remote possibility at KFC.  But Bubonic Plague?  I think I’ll pass.

It might taste like chicken . . .so then JUST EAT CHICKEN!  EAT MORE CHIKIN!

eatmorchikin

Seriously?  Would I even eat at a restaurant that listed RAT on the menu?  I think not.  First of all, you just couldn’t be sure that the HAMBURGER was really beef or not.

From FASAB--I don't know what Geef is, but I'm not eating that!

From FASAB–I don’t know what Geef is, but I’m not eating that!

And even if it was beef, it might have been grilling right alongside Remy the Rat.  I couldn’t take that chance!

Oh I would eat anything for lunch . . .

But I won’t eat that:

I just lost my #18 . . . Clean up in Aisle 5!

No, I won’t eat THAT!

Or that:

Does this really make you hungry?  Of course, with those spines, you could save on toothpicks!

Does this really make you hungry? Of course, with those spines, you could save on toothpicks!

And especially not THAT!

grilled rat

No–not even with a garnish or a lot of beer!

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Come On Baby, Light My Fire

We recently went camping.  By we, I mean my family.  They hate me.  By camping, I mean staying in a cabin, near the woods.  In the outdoors.  Near a lake.  Or a pond.  It has water.  The whole thing gives me Friday the 13th flashbacks.

I am not a camper.  I have nothing against camping, but my idea of roughing it is settling for a Holiday Inn without cable TV and an indoor pool.  If they don’t have an in-house restaurant—and you actually have to drive somewhere else to eat—that’s a hardship as well.  Downright barbaric, if you ask me, which of course, you did not.

And to make this blessed event even more wonderful than you might imagine (if you have a really poor imagination,) the temperature was below freezing.  In addition to having rather poor judgment in vacation choices (a warm sandy spot would have been nice) we apparently have poor timing.  We chose the coldest weekend of the fall to make our little outing.  Oh, joy.  Rapture.  I have a brain—and it has frozen solid and failed to get me out of this situation.

Okay—the cabin is heated.  But there’s like no TV.  No radio.  No whirlpool hot tub.  We are miles—well, at least a mile—from civilization.  I have a cell phone—but no service.  No one can hear me now, as I scream like a little girl.  There is a cabin next door, but I saw the campers, and they are anything but civilized.  I swear the guy looks like Jeffrey Dahmer.  It can’t be him because he’s, like, dead.  But it could be his twin.  The others, well, they kind of resemble supper I suppose.  But I digress.

The kids want to roast marshmallows and make s’mores.  What can it hurt?  We have a good dental plan.

My wife reminds me that I have no dental plan.  I don’t even have a dental plan B.  I don’t have a dental clue.  Very well, then, I’ll stop digressing now.

I brought firewood.  Kindling.  Newspaper.  Lighter fluid.  A lighter.  I’m not a Boy Scout, but boy was I prepared.  But the lighter failed—it was out of butane.  I did have matches—a back-up plan!  At this point, it beats no dental plan hands down.

Have you ever tried to start a fire miles away from civilization in freezing temperatures?  It is not as easy as it sounds.

Sure, Frosty can make a fearsome fire on a glacier to keep Karen warm.  Drop a cigarette in your local tenement, and the whole block is up in smoke before you can ask, “dude where’s my car?”  Try to burn leaves on a windy day without catching your neighbor’s house on fire.  Twice.  But I dare you to make a simple campfire with wood, paper, lighter fluid, and a match.

My daughter informed me that she learned how to make a fire in Girl Scouts—using candle wax and dryer lint.  She’s quite the little McGyver.  Unfortunately, she failed to carry some dryer lint and candles with her.  My son offered some lint from his pocket.  I had a pretty good wad of belly button lint.  But alas, without the wax, I still couldn’t get the fire going.  (I thought about picking my ear for wax . . .)  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  But I had already done that last night . . .  from the comfort of my home!

Sure, I’d wad up the paper and soak the wood in lighter fluid.  It would light like fireworks on the Fourth.  For a brief second, we had heat.  But half a minute later, all I had were some cold logs and paper ashes.  I wadded and lit.  Wadded and kindled.  I prayed.   Lighter fluid I sprayed, which was probably not the smartest thing to do, but desperate times call for desperation.   I burnt my fingers—no easy task since they were nearly frozen solid and I could barely move them.  I had gloves, but they went up in flames way faster than the stupid logs.

“Try blowing on it.  I think it needs some air”

I’m not sure who said that.  I should have killed them.  Or sent them next door to Mr. Dahmer’s cabin.

Blow on it.  My derriere.  I huffed and I puffed.  I coughed.  I couldn’t make fire but I could easily make smoke.  My lungs detest smoke.  Cavemen with barely opposable thumbs and no matches could make fire better than I.

I’m pretty sure with one match, I could have burned my house down.  In fact, I probably wouldn’t even need a match—I could just do some electrical wiring.  But with an entire pack of matches, all I could manage was some smoke.  And you would think, where there’s smoke . . .well, think again.  Where there’s smoke, there’s a guy trying to melt a marshmallow, but his tears keep putting the spark out.

I ran out of paper.  The kids started gathering dry leaves to throw on my fireless inferno.  It kept them occupied and made them forget about the frozen marshmallows.  The movement also kept them warm.

Bad camper or Super Dad . . . You decide!

It’s just not as easy as flicking the switch on the gas fireplace at home.  Which reminds me . . . why did we leave home in the first place?

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Where Am Eye?

Can you tell from where the picture above is taken?

Points will be awarded for correct planet, country, state, city, and more points for street location or specific building/site.  Obviously those guessing correctly first will get the points.  No awards for copy cats.

Those winning the most points will be eligible for fabulous prizes, but more likely will get nothing more than mere satisfaction.  Who knows?

First clue:  I am in the continental United States.  (Um, no points for guessing the planet or country in this case!)

Oh, and friends/family who know where we went on vacation are disqualified.  Cheaters never win!

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We recently vacationed in Hawaii–on Oahu and Kauai–and had the opportunity to drive around in a rental car with three teenagers.

This is a vacation?

Getting around Hawaii is not as easy as it sounds.  It has to be one of the worst places we have ever been to with regards to the driving experience.  If you already know where you are going, you’ll be just fine.  Being that this was our first trip to the 50th state, we were anything but fine.

For instance, we wanted to visit Pearl Harbor.  Travelling on H-1, a ten lane highway in Honolulu at one point, there are signs over three lanes that say “Pearl Harbor.”  You would think that if you got into one of those lanes, you would be able to get to Pearl Harbor.  Maybe you can.  We couldn’t.  Twice.  From either direction.

We had maps.  We basically knew where the harbor was.  We were on an island for crying out loud.  There’s ocean, shore and inland.  How hard could this be?

But there were no signs that actually told you which exit to take to get to Pearl Harbor.

We couldn’t get there from here.  Or there.  Or anywhere.

There are no signs along the Interstate to tell you what attractions, amenities, facilities or restaurants are available.  You just have to guess.  Or perhaps we should have rented a car with a GPS.  The kids were no help.  They had iPod ear buds in their ears and couldn’t even hear the cries of anguish from the adults up front.

But I digress.

In Kauai, there was a section of highway that was under construction.  We know this because there were signs saying so, not because we actually saw any actual construction occurring.  There were orange barrels.  There was a sign that announced that the project was going to begin in June 2010.  Almost two years later, the road is still under construction.  Maybe they are importing it from China, inch by inch.  Glad I don’t live there.  What the hell am I saying . . . it’s Hawaii.  I WISH I LIVED THERE!  But I’m glad I didn’t have to drive in that traffic every day.

So there we were, tooling along at 5 mph or less in bumper to bumper traffic.  It was midday, and I think maybe the schools were letting out.  As a result, there were some police officers coordinating the traffic jam.

As we passed one of them, out of the corner of my eye, I saw him grab the radio on his shoulder and say something.

I’m in a rental car going 5 miles per hour.  Grandmothers are passing us in hula skirts.  I must be imagining things.  Surely I have done nothing wrong.

But about five hundred feet later (let’s see, maybe five minutes have passed–just kidding, but things were going slow)  another cop pointed and signalled me to pull into the blocked lane lined by orange barrels.

I muttered something under my breath and complied, still wondering what was going on.  Surely, this must be some mistake.

I’d like to type that I wound the window down, but that is rather archaic.  So I powered the window down.

The cop pointed to my son in the back seat and said, “the one in the middle needs to be in a seat belt too.”

OK.  Let’s stop right here.  We always make our kids wear seat belts.  Always.  Just going to the store.  Sitting in the parking lot.  Sometimes when they are not even in the car.  Doesn’t matter.

Always, except for this time.

"Do you believe this guy's excuse?" "No. Book 'em, Danno!"

I’m not sure telling him we always make them wear seat belts helped our case at all, particularly when NONE of my kids in the back seat had their seat belt on as it turned out.

To his credit, the officer never asked for my license or the rental’s registration.  He asked where we were from and whether we were on vacation.  Then, he reminded us that the kids always need to wear their seat belts in Hawaii.  He even stopped the slow-moving traffic to allow us to get back on the highway.

The kids learned a valuable lesson that day.  If you don’t want dad asking if your seat belt is buckled every fifteen minutes of the vacation, then make sure you don’t get pulled over for not wearing it in the first place.

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