Thursday, November 23, 2017

A change in story of Thanks

I started this week with one blog topic in mind since it would be around Thanksgiving when I would post it.  I worked on it when I got enough power to the computer I could type it up.  I planned to pen a blog on being thankful for the use of the house at the site and all the things that made it so nice compared to the tiny house I used to live in.

But as I walked to the bus stand today I felt I should change the story for which I am giving thanks.  Those who know me well, know I like a good place to live and running water but I am comfortable living on the ground in a tent somewhere.  So giving thanks for the creature comforts is great it just is not me so to speak.  Like I said I am thankful for them, but there are things I find more important in this life.

When I used to walk at my other site, I had locations where kids would run out to greet me and ask I take their picture so they could see themselves on the view screen (they were not big on getting their picture taken before digital cameras).

As I walked from my site to the road I was greeted by the teachers and students at our school.  Each trying their English, excited when I tried my Kiswahili.  I have really enjoyed that part of my walking here.  More people want to go through the exchanges in English and Kiswahili and are very forgiving when I mess up which was not the case before.

As I get to the road which is about 1 mile from our site I came across the young boy in the picture above.  This is not my first time to meet him.  On Monday as I walked near lunchtime I had a pack of kids all trying to hold my hand as we walked and he was sitting at one of the concrete drain pipes that cross the road.  He joined the group and we all walked.  Eventually, all but two kids split off to go to their homes.  I actually started to get worried he was following me and his parents were going to start looking for him after a while.  But the young lady still walking with us reassured me when I asked that his home was still ahead.

It turned out his home was still ahead.  Because of all the kids holding my hands I was not positive my fitness watch had measured out my distance correctly but it was pretty far from the church where he was sitting today.  Side Note: I finally bought something expensive that I wear.  A fitness watch though I got it from Groupon for just $30. It has been wonderful in tracking my walks and marking distance to different things.

Back to my original story, sorry.  This young boy was sitting around the church where they hold some type of activities for young children that appears to be like a preschool.  They have a lot of them when they do it.  I would say around 80 are there.  It is not an everyday thing but when they do it, there is a group of women who cook a meal for all the kids.  Here he was with his cup in hand hoping today was the day.  He brought the cup with him from home so he could get the porridge they serve.  My guess is he is about 4 or 5 years old.  I say I guess because most of the words he tries to say are hard to understand.  Such as his name, which kept sounding like bado which is similar to the word bad.  I kept getting that picture in my head of the story when a child is asked what name his mother calls him by and he responds with various forms of expletives.  I am pretty sure that is not his name or what his mom calls him just the best I could make out.  We will call him Billy instead.

One thing you may want to know for this story is that I came across Billy at 7:30 in the morning.  Unfortunately, it was not the day the church was doing activities for the kids and no meals were planned.  So Billy decided to walk with me back to his house.

Most of the way he wrapped his hand around two of my fingers and did well to keep up though I did go a bit slower to help him out.  Along the way, he did not talk much.  At times he run to investigate something that caught his attention but never stopping for any length of time before he was back by my side.  I gave up trying to draw out some conversation from him and instead we simply communicated through the smiles we shared with each other when I would check to make sure he was not falling off the pace or I would check to see where he was along the way when the big trucks passed by.

At times we were joined by other children moving from one location to another.  He would always make sure he had a hold on at least one of my fingers when they came up to grab my hands or get a hold on my arm.  Kids here are fascinated by arm hair.

This is the trip Billy takes by himself to and from the church.  Other kids along the way seem to know him and help him.  When he trips they all wait for him to get up and going again.

It was really a great trip and made my journey much more pleasant.  How long was the walk Billy was making by himself?  2.7 miles one way.  Remember he was waiting at the church at 7:30 am.  He must have left home around 6 because going slowly enough to keep his pace we were about 1 1/2 hours to his house.

He smiled said goodbye in Kiswahili and waved.  I don't know how far off the road his house was but he seemed confident and I let him go.  This is what they do here.

I kept walking to the bus stand for the ride to Moshi.  I had 2.3 more miles to go.  It was not as fun without him.  

Some of the other kids want to get pictures taken but most just want to walk with me.


So I changed what I am thankful for today.  Billy can walk with me any day.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Education


"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."--Nelson Mandela

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, some of this discussion will be a refresher from some of the previous blogs.  But since I am picking up new readers who are interested in the Tumaini Primary School in Kiruani that Blessed2BlessU Ministries, Inc. is working with.  First Tumaini means Hope in Kiswahili.  For many in Tanzania, there is hope in the prospect of having their children receive a quality education.   Unfortunately, as I have discussed over the years a quality education is still difficult to find in Tanzania.  That is why I have become so excited working with this ministry because they are working to provide just that.

The problems many people used to face in Tanzania was cost.  Only about 5 years ago did the government make primary school education free and only in the last 2 years has a secondary school education been free.  When they say free it really only relates to school fees for enrollment and attending.  It does not cover uniforms, school materials, testing fees.  The government did crack down on teacher contributions or basically the requirement from teachers that the students bring them food or "gifts."

I have talked at times about the problems many of my Peace Corp Volunteer friends faced in secondary schools of the other teachers not teaching.  Often not participating in their assigned classes.  The fact students still had to do work for the teachers/headmasters in the form of gathering water or tending their crops.

Another huge problem with the education system is that for grades standard 1 through 7 (basically elementary and middle school in the USA), the government schools teach in Kiswahili.  Then when they advance to secondary school or what we consider to be high school they are taught in "English".  I put it in quotation marks because many of the teachers who are supposed to be teaching in English and were supposedly good enough at English to pass college cannot actually speak English.  So as they copy items from an English textbook to the blackboard they often make mistakes.  Then the students who are just now learning English copy it to their notebooks make additional mistakes.  That is why a passing grade is often just 30% correct answers.

Tumaini will be different because it is what is called an English Medium school.  The primary school teachers will use English to help prepare students for secondary school and to provide them the building blocks of their education in the same language the advanced schools will use.

One of the things they will need to do to achieve this goal and to provide a quality education is to recruit teachers who care, teachers who can truly teach, teachers who are actually teachers.  Most of those teachers will be in high demand so the market will be competitive.  The first step they are taking is by providing them with housing that is above the grade for their position.  The houses will have running water which is only normal in bigger cities and even then rare in most homes.  We are planning to add electricity (evaluating three different methods to do this) so they will have something that is normally only in the bigger cities and again still not so common in the home.

It is exciting to be a part of an education ministry which plans to surpass the minimum standards.  I am excited by the opportunities this will give me going forward.  We can use the educational cartoons made here in Tanzania, I can hopefully participate some with their science or math classes to provide practical exercises (my beloved science experiments).  

Last post I mentioned they got their certification as a primary school.  We have 3 school classroom buildings on site with offices.  We have the headmaster house almost complete.  The expansion of the toilet facilities is almost complete.  They have a bored well with a generator powered pump and elevated tanks to provide running water on site.  They also have a kitchen area being built with food storage.  Here are some pictures of the site:


Headmaster's house



kitchen with storage rooms under construction



backside of kids toilets showing the two new toilets being added
one side of the two teacher's toilets
new classroom being primed

new wall to separate girls and boys toilets

Three classroom buildings with plants

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Everybody walk the dinosaur

My pardons to Was (Not Was) on the use of their song phrase but I really wanted a song title to talk about walking here.  There were many to choose from Ronettes' Walking In The Rain; Katrina and the Wave's Walking On Sunshine; Johnny Cash's I Walk the Line to the Bangles Walk Like an Egyptian and about fifty others.  I choose this one because it was fun and a little cheesy.  Look it up on Youtube for a laugh.

I have written blogs in the past about walking and will most likely do it again in the future.  Why?  Because I walk a lot here.  To quote Hippocrates, "Walking is Man's best medicine."  Not sure how true that it is but I have dropped many a pound due to the walking regimen that is the way things are here.  

I embrace the walking lifestyle most of the time.  There are times when it tires me out.  Some days you just don't want to walk into town but if you want some food you have to.  Even at my previous site, when I had the truck I normally walked unless I was sick or the distance was greater than an hour of walking (one way).

I learn a lot while walking around.  For instance, I map out in my head where everything is and when I see something different than what the locals always want to show me.  I found my best hardware stores that way in Singida.  Here I am finding a lot better choices for furniture to equip the site's house with.

Since moving to Moshi, I choose a hotel about 3 KM outside of town so I have to walk into town every day for meals and my beloved coke zero.  However I normally walk further to see if I can find new things like banking locations, Mpesa outlets, money exchange, new restaurants, etc...

The first time I traveled out to the site, I did so with my Tanzanian brother in ministry, Rogers.  Typical of a Tanzanian who can, Rogers liked to use piki piki (motorcycle taxi) to move around town.  So when we went together we rode them around town to get to the bus station.  

The second time I went out I was by myself so I walked through town to find the bus station.  That walk from my hotel was about 3 miles.  Then I rode a dalla dalla type bus (for those that forgot it is between a minivan and a full-size van in size) with 30 of my Tanzanian neighbors, the driver, and the money man.  After you get to the end of the dalla ride (which is just past the TPC sugar plantation and the end of the paved road), you get a piki piki to the site.  I was not sure about the distance because it is hard to map the location where you change vehicles.

I got to the site and thought I had done a good job of telling the piki piki driver when I would like for him to come back and get me.  That did not work out too well because he never came back.  So I did what I do.  I walked back to the pick-up location for the dalla dalla.  I expected I might get a ride along the way.  Nope every bike passing me was full (normally 3 people on it).  So I now know the distance back to the bus stop is 4 miles according to my new fitness watch.  So by the time I got back to town and walked to the nearest restaurant I had accumulated 9.4 miles.  By the time I got back to the hotel I was 11 miles.    

Something most people may not know about me is that I used to love to hike on vacation.  My favorite type of hiking was to camp near a long trail like the AT and start hiking in one direction until I was exhausted.  Take a 15-minute break and hike back.  So the walk on that day was tiring, but it was also fun for me.

In addition, I got some cool sights.

Yes that is a camel that kept sticking his head into the Mosque as the call for prayers was played over the spekers
You don't get to see that just anywhere.

In addition to the walking, I got to have some fun on site with the kids.




There is one in every group



The next day I got up early to do my normal morning walk into town.  They have predicted rain every day since I have been here.  But it finally happened.  And did it ever.  


I finished up my walk but the walk back was the worst.  Sunshine and shoes that are oozing out water with every step.

Later this week I will give a full blog on the trip out to the site and what things are like.  For now the biggest prayer has been answered:  The school is certified by the government and can register kids for primary school to start in January.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Pack your backpack

I have done a couple of blogs on organization in the past and also talked about pairing down to what is essential.  I have talked about one of my favorite shows, Tiny House Nation on FYI network with John and Zack.  John's main focus on the show is to help prepare the family for living in the tiny house.  On the surface that sounds really simple, but the reality often is that they want to take everything and have everything in a tiny house that they have in a full size or oversized house.  One of the big things about the show is having less stuff so you can focus your attention on what really matters and on having experiences.

In the military this was easy.  You had one bag for each type of deployment and that was what you lived out of for that deployment.  More importantly, everything had a place in your bag, your various pockets of each pair of pants or shirt.  That way you knew where it was when you needed something.  You practiced relentlessly pulling reloads from the spot you kept them.  When you needed to do calculations on your map, your hand knew exactly where your map protractor was.

Several of the discussions I became involved in before I left had to do with Bible verses that talked about giving up your possessions or not being worried about your possessions.  For example: 

Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
Matthew 19: 21-24
And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest.  He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain.  And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
Luke 12: 16-21
I remember the movie "Up in the Air" released in 2009 with George Clooney and Anna Kendrick.  In the movie, Clooney's character gives speeches about "Unpacking your Backpack" where he admonishes his audience to consider how uncomplicated their lives would be if they didn't have responsibility for so many things: knick-knacks, photos, furniture, homes, and relationships. "Imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It's kinda exhilarating, isn't it?"  In one his talks he continues with the same allusion to getting rid of human connections because relationships are the biggest burdens in one's life.
One might think on the surface that the movie and the bible verses are talking about the same thing.  To be unburdened by things of this life that weigh you down.  But in reality, at least mine they are actually talking about things that are opposite.
The movie equates everything as a burden in your life including your relationships.  The character's goal was to achieve a milestone (literally a specific number of airline miles traveled).  Once he reached the milestone, he really did not have anything of importance in his life and he was left with a gaping hole.
The Bible passage is talking about removing those things from our life that are blocking our relationship with God.  If we only focus on goals, items to own or things that bring us a moment of happiness as opposed to relationships with others and experiences in helping others we will be empty in the end.
During my previous time in Tanzania, I had a small or tiny house or maybe even a micro house.  I still filled it up with things.  Many of those things did not make the trip back to the states because of the limited space on the plane luggage.  So as I prepared to come back and pack my bags, I focused as much of my energy on those things I would need for the purpose of relationships.  I limited myself to one regular bag and one very small bag that will hold everything between visits.  The reason I did this was so I can focus more on the experiences I get to have along this journey and the relationships I get to build.  I built a lot of relationships here in Tanzania and many are already paying off in this new adventure. 
I hope that this experience will be solely about God and what he wants me to do including new relationships but I remember those I already have and those wonderful experiences I  had.  Especially my walking friends that always came out screaming "picha picha" so I would take their picture.  Yes, it interrupted my walk but those kids loved it especially when I had the camera that would give them a print.








Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Concrete Stain

Most that know me also know about my love of all things concrete.  From concrete canoes to translucent concrete in buildings, I have always loved concrete as both a building material with structural properties but also as an artistic element.

When my parents first moved into their house in the Rolling Green retirement community, I did several upgrade projects for them.  The hardest was the back patio expansion.  Partly it was harder because the person in charge of approving architectural changes would not let us pour concrete to the existing concrete curbs.  Instead only to the building extents.  This meant there were about two feet between the patios and the existing concrete curbs.  We came up with a pretty decent solution of using river rock and concrete stepping stones that can be easily moved to fill the space.  

Mom wanted to stain the back patio and seal it to hide some of the rust stains from her furniture.  I have stained concrete in the past using an acid stain but now they have these new products for staining concrete from the paint companies.  I spent a lot of time reviewing the process and reading reviews.  The reviews for the products at both Lowe's and Home Depot were pretty bad with a majority of people complaining it acted more like a paint than a stain.  I needed it to act like a stain and penetrate into the concrete to create the color change as opposed to forming a bond on the surface like a paint would.  If it acted like a paint it would be likely to peel at some point with the weather exposure.

So I went to the store to actually talk to someone about it (definitely a first world thing I miss).  While at the store I ran into someone from the paint company who was there with a new product.  He and I talked about 20 minutes about why so many have problems with their application.  To be honest, after our discussion I am not sure this is a DIY type material.  But having done acid stain I knew how to do the things he stated I needed to do to get it to work.

First, clean and clean some more.  Make sure there is no type of grease or surface stain that will prevent the color stain.  This works great with the rust stains from the furniture because they will not prevent it from soaking in.  Second really etch the surface.with an acid to get concrete ready to receive the stain.  The problem I had here is the product they sell that is easy to use did nothing to etch the surface despite being called an etching product.  You can tell if you do it right because you will see a little cloud form on the surface as the acid reacts with the minerals in the concrete.  I tried their product once and then went back to using muratic acid mixed somewhere between 10 and 15%.  I got my cloud on the surface and could actually hear it when I first pour it out.  At that concentration it only reacts for about 5 minutes then it is neutralized and can be washed off.

Next is the stain and it has to be done right.  I strongly recommend not following the directions about using a sprayer for the first coat.  I applied the first coat using a brush.  It does affect the coverage area by reducing it to half the sprayer coverage.  But you will get a better look than the sprayer or the roller.  This next part is critical.  When they talk about the temperature you can apply the stain they are serious and they are talking about the surface temp of the concrete.   So if your concrete is in the sun it will often be 20 degrees hotter than the ambient or air temperature.  This gave me about 1 and half hours between the time the concrete surface was cool enough and it is too dark to work.  I put two coats on a day apart.  The first coat was applied using the brush and the second coat with the sprayer in small areas then brushed out to get a more even appearance. 

After that is your sealer and guess what it has even tighter temperature restrictions than the stain.  I apply the sealer with a sprayer then roll it out to fill all the surface imperfections of the concrete.  For this job, I used a wet look sealer so it would pop a little more.


I am happy with the finished product.  It still shows the beauty of the concrete.

I was also happy to get this project finished with the good weather before I leave to head back over to Tanzania.  I leave this week, Thursday and will spend a couple of days in Arusha reacclimating and get my Kiswahili that I have back in order before I move to Moshi and eventually to the new site in Kiruani.



Sunday, October 1, 2017

Time to get back to work

A couple of odds and ends before I get into the meat of today's topic.  I have installed a bike rope pulley system to store my parents large A frame ladder.
I have started working on their garage floor and have cleaned the siding on the outside of the house

Now the  big news:  I have accepted a chance to be a missionary engineer with Blessed2BlessU Ministries, Inc. out of NC.  Specifically, I will be working on their project KATIE (Keeping All Tots In Education) not to be confused with Kisses from  Katie.  This project is in Kiruani, Tanzania which is roughly 1 hour below Moshi.  It is in a Maasai Tribal area, in fact it was the local Maasai tribe the donated 22 Acres for the Tumaini Maasai School Campus.  They are currently building a Primary (Elementary and Middle school) at the site.  They have  classrooms, an office and a house for the headmaster of the school as well as a kitchen, bathrooms and a bored well water system.

I will be going for two short term trips to start with.  The first will be from October until right before Christmas.  The second will early next year until my current travel visa expires.  The reason for these short trips is because we need to get the existing school certified by the government.  Without that certification there is no reason to invest more capital money into buildings.  Due to the fact that I received my stipend through the end of the year, I am not asking for any donations at this time for my support. 

The first question many of you will have is about the work permit that caused the problem at the other site.  In short, I will not be doing any of the physical labor for this project but instead visiting on behalf of the USA organization.

Second question will be if this is another posting through the General Board of Global Missions Volunteer Missionary program.  It is not at this time.  Those postings require that both the volunteer and the project be approved through their program and be assigned to each other.  While Blessed to Bless U Ministries is the brain child of a United Methodist minister, it has not submitted paperwork to be approved for a volunteer missionary.  For the time being we will not go that route as the main benefit was to process credit card donations.

Some big differences at this site:  
  • My main purpose is to help the USA keep tabs on their construction.
  • I will be living in the headmaster's house at first which is over 1000 square feet as opposed to the previous house which was very tiny.  In addition they have running water in the house so their is a toilet that flushes in the house, not a ten minute walk away.  Same for the shower though it will be cold water again.
  • There is no electricity on the site right now, but there is a power line about 1 mile away so it is possible we could get electricity one day.
  • The plan for this site is for the USA to fund capital projects and Tanzanians to fund operating costs.
  • I will be living in more of a village type setting and will have to use Kiswahili more so I will have to work harder at that aspect over the previous site which was more of a compound separated from the villages and I only used my Kiswahili when I walked.
  • I will not have a lot of interesting build projects for myself so I will be struggling with blog topics (just warning you).
  • The coordinates for the site are -3.623120, 37.310443 plug it into your Google Map program and see Terrain to get the following

The website to learn more about Blessed2BlessU Ministries, Inc. (a 501c3 non-profit) and Project KATIE is www.b2buministries.org  

While I am not asking for donations for my personal support at this time, some folks have asked about how they can make donations in the future.  

By check:  Blessed2BlessU Ministries, Inc., PO Box 2016 Fremont, NC 27830 and put "Kiruani Missionary" on the memo line.  

Credit Card is through pay pal and the information is at http://b2buministries.org/support/ and under special instructions write in "Kiruani Missionary".

I want to thank everyone who has been praying for me personally and for a God's will to become clear in everything that happened.  I am excited about this new ministry and the chance to return to Tanzania.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Cleaning up and trying to relax

I am sorry I have not been as bloggy as normal while I am at home.  (yes I know that is not a word but in today's culture that seems to be ok)  I have been busy with filling out applications online for jobs that are filled in less than 24 hours.  I have also kept myself busy helping around my parents house and trying to relax on a vacation.  So I am going to do one of those odds and ends type of blogs.

Cleaning up my parents garage has proven to be a bigger job than I originally anticipated.  At first I thought we were mainly just going to clean up what is there so we could see the floor again and clean the stains off.  But then mom wanted to pare down her seasonal decorations for the house.  She is keeping her seasonal decorations for the Summerside community in Rolling Green (she decorates their entrance sign and then at Christmas the entire neighborhood stop and street signs).  But after last year's removal and storage of Christmas decorations took almost a week and she was worn out from it all, she decided to reduce what she does.  
Mom deciding what Christmas Santa Clauses stay and which go to yard sale.

I am very proud of the progress she made going from three shelves to just one.  Still not tiny house reduction but really good for her and her decorations.

This started a whole discussion on everything on the shelves and Dad's entire tool area and the mess that it was.
those are tools in that big pile

And those are tools and various screws and nails in those tubs
So I started pulling everything off the shelves for evaluation of keep or yard sale it.  Then I started in on dad's tool area and going through tubs full of little bitty things like loose drill bits, screws, adapters, switches and the list just continues.  What I really loved was two sets of screw organizers and most of the screws in piles inside of them.  My dad is no hoarder but after pulling about 30 small bags of screws you buy from Lowe's just lying around never opened I begin to be concerned.  I spent two full days going through various screws and nails figuring out what they were and putting them in their organizing bin and relabeling everything.


That is one screw organizer and then two portable types with various anchors, nails and exterior screws.
This is a powdered tea container being repurposed for holding pencils and markers

This container got repurposed to hold loose wrenches

I took two loose pipe mounting brackets lying around and a piece of dowel to make the tape dispenser

That is a piece of 3" PVC pipe cut to hold the drills up and then old asbestos sampling bags with the loose driver bits and jigsaw blades


This time the bins are separated by use like plumbing, electrical, grill items etc and then labeled.


all the cords separated and bundled so they hang out of the way

Dad's tools and battery chargers

all those tools from the plastic bins now out where you can get to them.

the shelf with mom's Christmas stuff including the tree.

mom's wed night dinner collection and dad's smoker

all the garden tools put back in a place.  
The metal plate from a foam armrest
All this pare down encouraged me to go through the boxes I put up when I left to go to Tanzania and I pared them down to about half the thing I kept from before. A lot of the Peru and Tanzania cloth went to Miss Kate for her to sew some stuff up. After the yard sale we should have about three shelves empty from a system that used to fill every shelf and still need to put stuff on the floor and on top of the cabinets. It would help if they quit shopping at Sam's wholesale club. I do plan to install a pulley system to get the large ladder off the floor and up near the ceiling since it is only used to clean gutters once a year when I come home which I got the jump on doing it in December and knocked last month.

This was also a good time to look for metal that could be recycled such as a pound of screws that I could not find enough of to save. One thing I think most folk miss is the arm pieces on office chairs. I found two of those in their things that were damaged and we replaced. They were keeping the old ones for some reason. So I cut the foam off and dug out the metal plate for recycling. Our church's men's fellowship has a metal recycling program that generates thousands of dollars that is then spent on various mission and community help projects.
Many of you heard I also went on a vacation.  It is the first non-family vacation I have been on in a long time.  I used to love to do cruises in the past and had traveled on both Carnival and Holland America which are fantastic.  This time it was Royal Caribbean.  I am not sure if was the different cruise line, changes in all the cruise lines since I went on my last one almost 20 years ago, or just that I am 20 years older now but it was no where as much fun as it was in the past.  To start with the moment you walk on they are trying to up sale you features that used to be included like a premium meal during dinner, drink packages (used to be sodas and water were free) but now every bit of water you consume you pay for.  What I thought was real tacky is that they will stock your room with water for additional money even if you have one of those drink packages.  

I went to the briefing on the port of call and it turned out to be just about shopping for jewelry and expensive watches at their "preferred" stores at the port.  Almost every opportunity to do something on the ship cost more money.  It used to be everything on the ship was free and you paid for shore excursions.  The shows were free at least and they had a decent singing and dancing group and a great comedian on board.  But if you wanted to do anything else it cost money.  The most outrageous was the towel for the pool area.  If you did not return it to the station they charged you $25 (it was a crappy towel).  But then when you went out on the first port of call on their "private" island they had you take a towel for the boat.  They did not tell you to make sure you brought it back and took it up to the pool return station or you would be charged.  A lot of folks left them in their state room after they got back and fortunately I overheard a steward tell someone they needed to take it back up because he could not check it back in for them.

The shore excursions are normally a lot of fun but fairly expensive.  I was happy when I found an hour and half guided wildlife and nature walk at our first port of call.  It was on $30.  That should have been a clue.  First I signed up for 11 am but when I got on the ship they had canceled the 11 am because the ships crew felt it was too hot to do the walk then so I had to get up at 6:30 to make the departure call at 7:30 which actually did not happen until 8:15.  Then we stood around for almost an hour until they started at 9:45.  It actually lasted about 40 minutes most of which was telling us where we could buy things on the island since this was their private island.  The part of the nature trail was two trees that had medicinal properties, that was it.

The other shore excursion was a dolphin package with a waterpark adventure.  It was not cheap.  It turned out to be more about having your picture taken with the dolphins so you could buy a photo package.


I was not unhappy when they cut the cruise short to get some of the folks that lived in Florida back early enough to get out before Hurricane Irma hit.  It took about 20 hours of driving to get back.  I had done some preplanning by filling up before I parked the car and had a case of water in the car in case it was real bad.  It was difficult to find gas in Florida and the one time I stopped it was about 45 minutes of waiting for a pump.  I did stop the night in Georgia but again it took time to find a hotel that had a vacancy.  The next morning when I got up I had to ask people who had parked overnight to wake (they were sleeping in the car) so I could get my car out.  They also had numbers on cars that the person running the desk said was the order she was to wake them up if a rooms became available.  So after I left she went and cleaned my room and rented it out to someone in the parking lot.  They made a lot of money that day.

I was impressed that SC put out extra porta johns at the weigh stations and closed them down for weighing trucks and just acted as extra rest stops.  They put them out at the rest stations as well to handle the extra load.