Saturday, January 17, 2015

2014 Winter Cruise

Again into the breach..we are on our winter cruise. This time departing, for the first time, from Houston on Norwegian Cruise Lines Jewel. Starting out with a stop at one of our favorite places, Cozumel, we will then trek to Belize and Roaton, Honduras before returning home.

The Jewel is a neat ship built in 2005 and slightly smaller than others we have sailed on. One of the benefits of sailing in the off-season, is the clientele tends to be older and a lot fewer young children in the mix. But they still have the shows and clubs to visit and plenty of food (one of my personal requirements). Leaving Houston was a little weird in that it is a very narrow channel which has ships passing each other like a freeway.

The Jewel is a little low tech in that it doesn't have the rock climbing/water parks and big screen TV/Movie screen on the pool deck but it has all the other accouterments. One in particular was the Bar Hop. Since our Pub Crawl in Key West, we have decided to get into any Pub Crawl/Bar Hop stupid (but well supervised...yeah by other drunks) drinking activity we can attend. Thus the Bar Hop on the Jewel.

Oh yeah, got the "Romance Package",
something different everyday

Tea Service
Sponsored by the Cruise Director, it is a "tour of the ship" in which we visit four bars playing games, in between, to progress to the next bar.  We began at the Skyhigh bar above the pool deck. We got our drink "Adios, Mother****er". A delightful passion fruit flavored drink spiked with Curacao. There we were instructed, as we passed throughout the ship, to be as loud and obnoxious as we could be. Clearly this group had no qualms about following those orders.

Look at all the bacon
The second, was a trip to the Spinnaker Bar where we had to conduct our first game. Split into two groups, we had to successfully pass a large softball neck to neck through our ranks before we could get our next drink. We were part of Team 2 and we won the pass hands down. Team 1 never had a chance. Our reward was a Norwegian folding Frisbee which came with it's own storage pouch which I thought could double as an excellent Condom holder.

Small enough for the purse or man-bag
The drink, Sex in the City, was another umbrella drink with a similar fruity taste laced with a couple of different rums.  We then made our way to "The Great Outdoors" which is a lovely getaway at the stern overlooking the bubbling blue Gulf waters. There we had another game involving the putting on of a T shirt, removing it and passing it on to the next team member. We kind of lagged on that one and lost to Team 1 but their reward was they were thrown only one Norwegian T shirt that only one of them could snatch up. Pretty lame but by then, nobody cared. The drink resembled a Tequila Sunrise with more fruity punch to mask the alcohol.

Chocolate Strawberries are always good
Running and yelling our way through the Garden Cafe buffet we arrived at our last stop, the Topsiders Bar, for a quick drink.  Then we had four members of each team volunteer to do our last game which involved secreting a Norwegian Cruise souvenir coin into the crotch of your shorts or pants and strutting (without dropping said coin) to a plastic cup on the deck and release the coin, like the bombardier of a B-17, into the cup. At first blush, it seemed daunting yet each member quickly accomplished the impossible (recall we had already had four drinks) and our joint reward was another drink to down. Notice, at this writing, I am unable to recollect the names of the last two drinks. Oh well.  After a wonderful nights rest, we made landfall at Cozumel.


Now, as mentioned above, we have been to Cozumel on several occasions but try to get into a new excursion each time. In this case, I booked us into a Joy of Chocolate tour. It was described as an historical look at the discovery and production of Chocolate in Mexico.

Cocao is a Meso-American (the area from Mexico all the way to Honduras) discovery probably by the Olmecs in the area south of today's Vera Cruz. Chocolate came about by accident (isn't that usually the case?) as early Mayans observed monkeys eating a tree fruit which they seemed to enjoy. (Ok..a little trivia, did you know that the words Tomato and Chocolate come from the Aztec words "xitomatil" and "xocolatl"?) Unfortunately, the stuff turned out to be very bitter and not too much fun to eat. Some innovative Mayan (probably between human sacrifices) discovered that if you boil the seeds it made a pretty tasty drink called Choco-ha (yep...the first hot cocoa.

Another Mayan grabbed his mortar and pistol (locally known as a Mexican Blender) and ground the crap out of the seeds then added some sugar (to thwart the bitterness) and vanilla to make a paste and, after drying them out,  voila! hard chocolate bars. It became quite a cash crop for the Mayans who ended up using it to pay tribute to the Aztecs (kind of like what we do every year to the IRS) when they consolidated their power over southern Mexico and Central America.

After learning the history we were tasked with making our own chocolate. This was tougher than was advertised. Hey, we tourists are there to be taken advantage of, spend money and have fun. We really don't sign on for hard work. So our troop were all stationed at our respective grinders and after receiving our ration of cocoa beans, we were told to grind away to make a coarse powder. Our guide Eric then tightened up the grind wheel and we ran the powder through again. Did I mention it got progressively and significantly harder to turn that grind wheel? Three more cycles and tightenings and we were rewarded by a thick paste of chocolate (and a pulled muscle or two). But don't try to taste it....well, I did. Yes, I was told by my Mom, I was one of those kids who had to touch the hot stove or burning candle. It must have been my natural tendency to distrust authority (I am not paranoid..I know you're all out to get me).


The key is to add some coarse brown sugar and a splash of vanilla(Mexican Vanilla...the best). Another couple of grindings and a thick, bitter paste is transformed into delicious chocolate. We were given plastic forms to press our chocolate into, then passed to a freezer for a rapid cool. Once cool and dried, Dianna, because of her qualifications as a Crafter, (apparently Nick was unable to wrap a square piece of paper around a round object correctly) quickly wrapped our two pieces into a product ready for sale...in this case consumption.


Once done, we were escorted through the outdoor exhibit of miniature Mexican historical buildings and ancient sites (always cool when we visit but even we noticed the miniatures are not being taken care of...lots of little pieces falling apart or in need of repair).


There we watched the spinning guys doing their ancient rain ritual, Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers), or Palo Volador (Pole Flying). These guys do this everyday and probably don't think twice about the danger but it was a little uncomfortable watching them climb up and make their preparations as we could hear the loud creaks and groans of the mechanism they freely dangled from with no net or back-up harnesses to prevent their fall. Then even weirder when you learn these guys only get paid with the Tips they ask for at the end. Or (I know..it's that paranoid lack of trust issue I spoke to above) it's a great marketing ploy...once they said that, just about everybody dropped something in the basket (yeah, me too).  After some trinket buying, it was back to the ship headed for Belize.

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