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11985

 

The boys burst into the house, hurriedly kicking off their boots at the back door before going any further.  Everything looks exactly like it did when they went out to play.

It’s 1985 and the furniture and décor are a clash of pieces mostly from the sixties and seventies, some bought new, some second hand, and some are hand-me-downs.  Nothing has been upgraded in the past ten years, a testament of thoughtful care and financial mediocrity.  The worn couch and dented coffee table, victims of having two rambunctious growing boys in the house, are overdue to be replaced.  A comic book lays discarded on the floor, open as if it is trying to fly away, The Thing is caught forever in an epic battle against a green monster that looks like a rough tree bark wall with many arms surrounding The Thing with flailing punching fists.  The television, an ancient tube set, sits dark and quiet on its stand.  A pair of discarded boy’s socks are tossed carelessly on the floor, and the latest edition of TV Guide sits on the coffee table.

“Mom!” Jesse looks around.

The house is dead silent except for their own breathing.

“Mom?”

Kevin stands there, looking around.

The house is exactly as they left it before they went outside to play.  How long has that been?  An hour?

But not quite.

Everything seems a little muted.  Off.

And more dusty than he remembers.

Jesse runs into the kitchen.  After a pause of a few heartbeats, Kevin follows.

“Mom?” Jesse pauses just inside the doorway, looking expectantly for their mother.

The teakettle still sits on the stovetop, two tea towels hang from the oven door handle where they were hung to dry after washing dishes in the sink, and the table is set for dinner with places for four.

Flour and sugar bags sit on the countertop next to a mixing bowl with a wooden spoon and measuring cup, pulled out in preparation of baking a cake.

Their mother is not there.

They run through the house calling, “Mom! Mom! Mom!”  They end their search back in the living room, out of breath.

“She’s not here.”

“Where could she be?”

“Next door, maybe?”

“Let’s go see.”

They pull their boots back on and rush out the door into the backyard, trained not to use the front door because that would somehow make more cleaning work for their mother, and around the side of the house to the front.

They stop, staring around wide-eyed, and turn to stare at each other, their faces full of fear and confusion.

They are standing in the woods next to that old stump.

“What the hell?”

“Don’t cuss,” Jesse says automatically.  There is hell to pay if their mom ever hears them use bad language.  Hell is one of many forbidden words.

Kevin turns to him, appalled.

“Seriously?  You’re worried about me cussing? We are back in the woods! How?  This is impossible!”

He stops.

“Jesse.”

“What?” Jesse is sulking now.

“The grass.”

“What about it?”

“Wasn’t there grass in the yard?”

“Yeah, so?  There’s always been grass in the yard.”

Kevin narrows his eyes, wondering if Jesse is just being dumb or is messing with him.

“It’s early spring.  Look around.  There’s still snow everywhere.”

“Yeah, so?” Jesse isn’t getting it.

Kevin’s shoulders sag with the futility of it.  Do I even bother? He sighs.

“Jesse, do you remember what the yard looked like? Just now, when we went back to the house.”

“Yeah, your bike was laying on the grass. I almost tripped on it.”

“Where was the snow?”

They both just stare at each other.

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20115

 

The key jams in the lock, not wanting to go in.

The realtor looks at him nervously and smiles.

“It’ll go in.  The key works.”  His grimace gives face to the lie.  He isn’t so sure it will work.

He fiddles and struggles with the key for too long before the rusting lock mechanism finally unwillingly gives and allows them access.

His smile is almost sickly with relief.

He turns to the prospective buyer, hoping yet again that this is not a big waste of his time.  His commission is going to depend on how much the house actually sells for.  It’s not the usual commission deal.  He is getting more than the average commission percentage, an unusual agreement made with the municipal office that wants only to unload the property and get it off their books, doubtful anyone will bother to bid on it.

This guy is the only person who has shown an interest.  He could bid a dollar, the lowest bid allowed, and walk away with the property for nothing, less than the price of a cup of coffee.

He tries the door, hoping it opens easily.  A warped door can turn off a buyer before they see anything else.

The door sticks in the frame and, after he puts some weight into it, gives with the dull sound of two pieces of swollen wood pressed against each other giving up the fight to hold together.

They enter the house and step back thirty years in time.

 

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How awesome is this?!

I let the kids ride their bikes to daycare this a.m.

Baby wild bunny

 The youngest (7) is just giving it with all she’s got to keep up with the 9 yr old and her bigger bike. (7 yr old’s bike is too small and has very small tires).

 Baby bunny comes racing from a yard, runs right between the 7 yr old’s small bicycle tires, comes back and dodges her again, and runs off.

 Of course, that wasn’t the end of it.  The little bugger came back to sit in the middle of the road.  I had to shoo it off so I wouldn’t risk running it over.

 My awesome 7 yr old didn’t even flinch, and no wipeout.  She managed to avoid hurting both herself and the baby bunny playing a game of tire dodge.

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It’s that special day of the year again, when the kids make their Mom’s breakfast, make her cards, write her poems, and give her hand-crafted gifts.  All gives happily received, especially the one that don’t involve Mom spending hours cleaning up after their creation.

This year was especially nice.

The older daughter’s grade 3 class put on a formal Mothers’ Day tea, complete with white table cloths and fancy table decorations, beautiful décor, a picture together, and a cellist playing as the Mom’s trickled in.

The event held an afternoon of entertainment performed by the kids, songs and poems, and a few video clips.  Each kid got up to say a little speech about their mother:

Mother’s Day Speech

Written by

Sidney Gaudet

“Good afternoon Moms and grandmas.  My name is Sidney and this is the grade 3’s Mother’s day tea.  I am here to talk about my mom.  I am the daughter of Lori.  My mom has long blonde curly hair; she has glasses and gray eyes.  Now I told you what my mom looks like mom can you come up?

In my family there is my beautiful mom, my silly dad, my ANNOYING SISTER and my two smelly cats and me.  My mom works in an office; she is a payroll worker for truck drivers.  What she does is that she pays truck drivers for their work.  At home my mom cleans the house, does the laundry and makes supper.

My mom’s favorite color is purple.  My mom’s favorite actor is Johnny Depp in the Pirates of the Caribbean.  My mom likes to order stead at a restaurant.  My mom likes hollow chocolate.  She does not like when my sister and I fight.  My mom does not like it when my Dad says inappropriate words.

These are the things my mom likes to do in her spare time.  Well, she likes to play on the computer, read, watch TV plus go out.

Can I tell you something funny about my mom?  Once my mom and I went on a tube ride and she almost fell out.  I like it when me and my mom go out together, also when we play together and talk together.  Mom is especially good at games, cookies, reading, making stories, and also being funny.  She is so good at making stories that she was Author of the Month in January.

If I could give my mom anything in the world I would give her a big bouquet of beautiful white daisies with jewels in the middle.  My mom is special because she is always herself and never anyone else.  Also because she is my mom.  I love you mom.”

Presents included a wonderful 8 page card and large silhouette picture on black paper.

And on Mother’s Day:

The 3rd grader gave me another card, bookmark she made herself, and “M” fridge magnet.

The younger daughter also made me a great card and gave me a wonderful fridge magnet picture of herself.

And, last but not least, I have no idea how they got there and managed it, but they also gave me Cuisinart 15-pc. Compact portable blending/chopping system that chops, grinds, crushes ice, and will make some superb smoothie drinks this summer at the camper – along with a gift card for the liquor store to buy ingredients.  Summer, here I come!

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There are two things we noticed immediately about the Cuban people that we came into contact with.

First was their unfailing friendliness.  It seemed that nearly everyone we dealt with was friendly, courteous, and helpful.

Perhaps that is in part because they were the lucky ones.  No matter how bad we thought their job was, at least they had jobs.  And maybe it was in part because of their culture, a culture dependent on us vacationers and our tips.  Despite having to take the often unreasonable and undeserved abuse of a bunch of overtired and cranky vacationers, they still managed to turn around with a polite smile to help the next cranky vacationer.

The second thing we noticed goes hand in hand with the first.  Everybody wants a tip.  While we’re used to certain service positions coming with the assumption that tipping is their due (like waitresses, waiters, and hairdressers to name a few); that tip culture in Cuba seemed to involve everyone.

Imagine going on a local sight-seeing trip with multiple stops, a bus ride, boat ride, a meal, and a show – all inclusive – where every stage of the trip involves the people passing around the tip hat and cheerfully letting you know what is considered a proper tip.  And then as you get back on the bus to go home, your tour guide reminds you to tip the driver too.  By the time it’s all done, you’ve likely doubled the cost of that already pricey sight-seeing trip.

The big difference was that, unlike our local waitresses, these people were still friendly on the occasions when you didn’t tip.  And let’s face it, when you spend a week at an all inclusive resort where everyone from the cleaning lady who makes your beds to the lifeguard at the beach are looking for tips every time they rush to do something for you – it’s not easy to always be tip-ready on your first inclusive vacation.

Almost there, just a few more buildings to go.

We struck it pretty lucky with our room by all accounts.  Our room was huge for a single room, with not two but three double beds.  It was nice and clean and in decent shape.

We had a bit of a trek to get to the main hotel and the beach, but it was a nice walk and we had only ourselves and a bag of sunscreen to carry.  So, instead of a two minute walk, it may take us anywhere between ten and twenty minutes, all depending on how much the kids dawdle to look for the little lizards that come out in the afternoon.

Pool with "Snack Bar" in the background

The extra walk also meant we were in the nice quiet area where the kids were asleep within moments of going to bed, while their movie prattled on quietly to deaf ears.  All the loud partiers were in the main hotel building close to the beach.  But we still had a pool close by and a 24 hour “snack bar”, which turned out to be loosely translated from a bar that serves bar food like hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs.

Some of the people from our plane that we talked to weren’t so lucky.  One guy on his own was put in a small basement room of the main building.  Some begging, pleading, and a tip got him moved to better accommodations.

A woman and her husband were put in a room she was completely unhappy about.  But then this woman seemed to be completely unhappy about a lot of things every time we saw her.  She said their room was full of mold that was painted over, peeling paint, and that she couldn’t breathe.  All valid complaints, but despite her angry words, demands, and complaints, the hotel staff couldn’t find them another room.  Oddly enough, it was about that same time that her husband got drunk and went AWOL.  My guess is that he’d had enough of her complaining.  This same woman had also been loud, obnoxious, and rude to the hotel staff on our first day, making sure everyone in the area knew she was tough enough to kick in the locked door keeping everyone’s baggage safe while we were all waiting for rooms to be ready.

On our way to the "family" buildings

Another family that was in the cluster of family buildings where we were had a room like ours, but poolside.  We were envious until we found out they had no hot water (and that lasted for days).  Being on the ground floor, they also found they were sharing their room halfway through the week with the large cockroaches common to tropical areas.

We did get our turn to rough it without hot water, but luckily it was repaired that same afternoon.

Of course, you also get what you paid for and we were in one of the cheapest low end resorts.

Most of the vacation was spent at the beach and visiting the two swimming pools. 

Ah, there's the beach ...

Unfortunately, Sidney didn’t have a whole lot of fun, but all that lounge-time gave her lots of time to just sleep and get lots of fresh air.  What better place to be sick than in a relaxing tropical paradise?  The poor girl started running a high fever the night we arrived and was sick the whole vacation.  Luckily we were prepared for it with all the medicines a sick kid might need.

I spent most of the week by Sidney’s side, sitting pool or beachside watching the other two have fun.

Let's go Dad!

 

Steve and Robyn, of course, were having a blast.  Robyn discovered the coconut slushy (Pina Colada mix without the alcohol), and they both spent a lot of time playing in the water together.

Going in to ride the waves

 

Robyn couldn’t get enough of riding the large rolling waves of sea water, and thus our Robynism for today:

 With the large rolling waves of the beach in Cuba, you wait and watch for the wave and turn away just as it hits, jumping so you ride the wave.  Otherwise you’ll just end up with a face (and mouth) full of salty sea water and knocked off your feet.

Being all of about 3 ½ feet tall, Robyn couldn’t reach the bottom and happily rode the waves up and down in her life jacket.  One day the waves were higher and even more fun for her.

With great delight she squealed, “This is AWSOME!!!  It’s like riding a roller coaster from Evil Heaven!”

Of course, it’s not hard to figure out that at six years old she’s just coming up with the best way she can to describe that other place (Hell) – she just couldn’t remember the name of it.

That SPF 60 lotion sure did its job.  With all those hours spent on the beach, we surprisingly weren’t all that more tanned by the end of the week.

 

 

 

Sleeping the bug away

It wasn’t all boredom sitting beachside with a sick kid, though.

  It was somewhat entertaining watching the people who were so determined to get deep enough to ride the waves, but just didn’t have the timing right.  They would get just so far only to be tossed over on their heads (or arses) and out of the water by the waves.

I even managed to ride the waves myself once for a short time.  I held on to Steve for dear life, of course.  I’m not exactly a good swimmer.  It was the day of bigger waves, but no yellow warning flag and we’d made it out past the knock-you-on-your-butt zone with no problem.  We were a little further than most of the people in the water when three big waves came in, rolling in one right behind the other.  When we looked after the third wave, we were suddenly two of the very few people left in the water.  Anyone closer to shore had been dumped unceremoniously out of the water by the waves.

This was also when we had our third casualty of the week – my new bathing suit top and the first bikini I’ve bought since I was twenty (and I’m not even going to say how many years that’s been!).  Apparently George bathing suits with plastic fasteners just aren’t meant to actually be worn swimming.  Luckily for all the other beach goers, nobody saw a thing.  The saggy boobs of a middle-aged housewife with two kids and a few pounds to lose is not something anyone is going to want to see.

And who doesn’t go on vacation without making at least one friend?  Not my kid!

It didn’t take long before our usually outgoing six year old had bartenders giving her high-fives on sight, waitresses stopping her to give her a hug and a kiss on the head, and was amusing French foreigners sharing our lunch table in the packed cafeteria with her complaints the food wasn’t spicy enough.

Robyn and Steve even managed to make themselves a couple of friends very quickly in a single mom there with her daughters, one of them just the right age for our girls to play with.  They played in the water at the beach and the pools, and even had lunch together when Sidney was feeling too sick to go for lunch and spent the afternoon sleeping in bed.  The girls played in the sand at the beach and sat together on the bus for the catamaran and dolphins tour.

Hanging out on the catamaran

We managed our one and only outing at almost the end of the week – a full day excursion on the catamaran.  This was a boat ride with a stop for snorkelling, lunch on the beach of a small island, and swimming with the dolphins.  With a sick kid all week and tips eating up most of our spending money, we were lucky to manage that trip.  Unfortunately for Robyn, their friends ended up on another catamaran boat and, except for waving at them in the water during the snorkelling stop, we didn’t see them again until the bus trip back to the resort.  Sidney and Robyn were too nervous to try swimming with the fishes.

catamaran

 

Snorkelling

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming with the dolphins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And some other stuff too – While most of the food was just different enough to make it not always very palatable, we always managed to find something to eat.

Well, all of us except for Sidney who was by far the fussiest person on the entire Island of Cuba.  The rest of us ate well enough, especially when we ate at the “snack bar” and for our turn in the Italian restaurant.  Sidney pretty much lived the week on not much more than bananas and water.  We got her to eat pizza one day, one of her usual staples of life, and tried every meal to get her to eat something more than bananas.  Apparently even the bread was inedible – she didn’t like the butter.  The coffee was very different than we have here.  And the pork chops they had at lunch one day were possibly the best pork chops I’ve ever had.  Or maybe it was because we’d grown accustomed to the food there.  Despite the lack of seasonings, we only broke out the salt, pepper, and garlic salt for our last two days of our vacation.

Another thing to get used to is the lack of toilet seats in Cuba.  Finding a toilet the kids would use that had both a toilet seat and toilet paper available was a challenge.  If you were lucky there was even soap too.  But don’t count on anything but your pants to dry your hands on.

We must not forget what was probably the best part of the vacation for the kids – the day the clowns came!

 

 

 

 

 

 

And when at last our vacation was over, it was time for one more lesson in vacationing overseas.

 

Our flight home wasn’t as crazy early as the flight to Cuba.  We were up early, rushed to pack every last thing and give the room a once over, and rushed off to put some breakfast in everyone’s tummy and double-check the time for the bus one last time.

We waited around a little, trying to find the bellhop to help with the luggage and, watching the clock closely, gave up and headed back to our room to haul it all for the long trek to the main building.

Now here’s where the lesson comes in.  We got there, thinking we would still have time to wait for the bus, only to learn they’ve been waiting (and desperately looking) for us!  We were half an hour late for the bus!  I’m not sure if we would have been able to scrounge enough for the tax fare with tip to get us to the airport.  Yep, we could have missed the plane, the only plane, and would have had to catch the next one – in a week.

The time on my watch had been changed!

I’m pretty sure I know exactly what happened.

Paranoid about not hearing the little watch beep alarm, worried about not waking up on time, stressing over what if we don’t make the bus – I couldn’t sleep.  Most of the night was a groggy blur of fitful dozing and waking, checking to make sure it’s not daylight (remember, it was full light out well before six a.m.), and fumbling around in the dark for the watch on the night stand and trying (usually more than once unsuccessfully) to find the right button for the light to check the time before dozing off for a few more minutes.

Next time I’m bringing a backup clock!

But we made it, and after a very long wait and many lines followed by a much longer wait at the airport – we were on our way home to icy post-blizzard roads.

 

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What rocks more than being in a tropical place like Cuba with five days and five nights to frolic and have fun while it’s -40 wind-chills and blizzards back home?

Riding a catamaran in rough seas.

Waiting for the bus to the catamaran

 

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 Lucky for us it wasn’t rough seas on the day we took the catamaran tour.  It also started out as a pretty good day – we didn’t have to medicate the seven year old for the fever she had from the first night of our vacation.  We made our one and only outing late in the vacation, with only one more day of fun in the sun to follow it.

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A nice peaceful day, riding the waves and heading out until the land we left behind disappeared into the waves.  Still not quite feeling herself, seven year old Sidney just kind of took it all in.  Meanwhile, Robyn took advantage of exploring a new bathroom – repeatedly.  I swear this kid has a thing for bathrooms.  It doesn’t matter where you go, or how recently she went, she always has to go.

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We watched the catamarans ahead of us disappear into the distance, and watched the catamarans behind catch up, feeling almost a camaraderie with these fellow cataramaners, all of us travelling the sea towards the same goal.

Robyn was tickled at her new “friends”, sea gulls that loyally followed the boat during our voyage.

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We had a stop at a reef for snorkeling, catamarans arriving and weighing anchor around the reef like pioneers circling the wagons for the night.

While the snorkelers geared up, our guide instructed them in the finer points of snorkeling.

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“Reef here,” the guide said, gesturing to the shallow waters of the reef in the middle of the circled catamarans.

“You swim here.  Fishies here.”  He indicated the reef.

“Sharks out there,” the guide added, his arm sweeping to include all of the waters beyond the circled boats.  “Ok.”

And off the snorkelers went to fill the little reef in the middle of what was apparently shark infested waters.

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I suspected the shark warning wasn’t all joke when I noticed one of the guides on the next boat looking a little concerned while he tried to get the attention of one swimmer who went past the edge of the reef.

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After the swimming with the fishies, we were loaded up and whisked off to a tropical island for an outdoor barbeque lunch with the biggest chicken legs I’ve ever seen.  After lunch, of course, there was time for frolicking in the water, making giant anthills in the beach sand (which was very different and much more pliable than the sand at the resort beach), and the kids collecting enough seashells to fill an ocean liner.

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Loading back into the boat, we all had a chance to ooh and aah over the shadow of a large stingray gliding around beneath the surface of the water by the dock – only feet from where some of the kids had been playing in the water.

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We were on our way to the main event of the day – the dolphins!

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Is that tourist getting mugged or hugged?

 

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And then it was long ride back …

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I was a little nervous when we arrived in Cuba.  This was my first time leaving Canada, other than a few trips driving over the border to the United States, and my first plane ride since I was bordering on just beginning my teen years, many years before all the fear and high security for airlines.  The news and the world online are filled with horror stories of all the worst things that can possibly happen to the unsuspecting traveller.  Of course, most of them seem to revolve around U.S. airlines and border security and we were travelling from Canada on a Canadian airline, but those details did nothing for the nerves.

We went through the necessary check points, scanners, and metal detectors surprisingly quickly.  And the Cuban border security was even friendlier than the Canadian security at the airport at home.  Ok, so none of them were actually friendly per say, but they did go about their duties in a matter-of-fact and non-intimidating way.

We had arrived in Cuba, leaving -40 wind chills behind to set out into +28 temperatures.  We had found summer!

A bit of a wait on an air-conditioned tour bus for all the passengers to get their luggage and load up, with the already drunk revellers at the back of the bus, and we were on our way rolling through the roads of Cuba to our resort.

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the drive.  The main animal seemed to be goats.  There was sea on one side and bare land filled with low bush and trees on the other for the most part.  But it is a beautiful island, full of a lot of untouched ruggedness and tropical trees and we first-timers marvelled at the wonders of seeing a new country in a new part of the world for the very first time.

Many of the cars in Cuba are vintage to us, while others looked like little electric cars of the future.  The one thing many of the cars had in common was the finish burning off from the top down from the salt water. We’re used to cars that rot out from the bottom up from all the salt and junk we dump on our streets all winter so we aren’t slipping and sliding into each other all over the roads.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of the little bubble scooter, sort of a motorcycle powered rickshaw that serves as a form of mini taxicab in Cuba.

There was another form of Cuban travel that we saw often, parked randomly around the resorts and just off of the roadsides.  This one seemed to range from scruffy little horses to camels.

When we saw houses, it was quite an experience to see for the first time.  Some of the houses further in and closer to the resorts were beautiful, with their own Cuban charm.  But mostly the houses we passed on the drive were depressing.

It was unusual for us to see lines of laundry flapping from every balcony of their little mini-apartment like housing, and in front of every single dwelling.  It seemed like an island-wide wash day and no one has a dryer.  None of the houses seemed to have glass or screens in their windows.  Not all even had doors.  But that wasn’t what was depressing.

Many of these people live in housing conditions that would mortify Canadians to learn that animals lived in these buildings.  We didn’t see any from the inside, but from the outside it was clear these houses were in a state of crumbling ruin.  Many even had large holes in their roofs or entire roof sections missing.

Some people even lived in unfinished buildings, living on the bottom level while the upper floor stood as an empty and roofless stark grey concrete reminder of the need many of the Cuban people seem to be living in.  These were actually some of the nicer homes that could be seen in the outlying areas further from where all the resorts could be found.   They, at least, looked relatively new compared to most of the housing we saw, and in pretty good condition.

Steve sat on one side of the bus with Sidney, trying to keep her entertained on the drive, while I sat opposite them with Robyn.  Robyn had spent most of the trip with her face glued to the window, jammed for a while between the window and the seat in front of us while she held a conversation with the passenger in front of her, and finally falling into silence as she watched the Cuban world go by.  I have no idea how long she watched, but after a while I realized that she was sound asleep.  I eased her out of there and leaned her back, where she snuggled into me for the rest of the drive without a hint of waking up.

And because every adventure needs a little excitement, our bus driver didn’t let us down.  We were cruising along between resorts, casually staring out windows, chatting, everyone eagerly waiting to see what their resort would like like compared to the rest, when we were suddenly thrown forward in our seats when the bus driver braked like someone’s life depended on it.  And it did.

I clutched at Robyn, catching her before she flew forward off the seat, looking around in alarm along with every other passenger on the bus to the sounds of gasped wonderings of what was happening.

Outside my side of the bus the driver of a little moped scooter like this one barely managed to avoid wiping out completely as the scooter careened wildly out of the path of the bus that had just almost creamed them.  Skidding to a stop more on one of the driver’s legs than the scooter’s wheels, the passenger fell off the bike onto her knees, visibly shaken even at our distance and literally kissing the ground.

That couple definitely will be going home with a story to tell.  No one on the bus except the driver seemed to have seen who got in who’s way, and we weren’t sure he could even speak English, but thankfully it didn’t look like anyone was hurt.  We went on our merry way with excited chatter, a bus full of relief, and Robyn blissfully slept through the whole thing.

With some stops along the way to drop people off at other resorts, we had finally arrived at our destination.  The kids were bored, Steve was anxious to hit the pool, and by this time I had already had a raging migraine for hours and was feeling downright nauseous.  We had all been up since 2 A.M. and still had hours to wait for our room.  Fortunately for us, they had very comfortable chairs in the large lobby and Robyn had discovered the coconut slushy.

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