Hemingway’s Cats

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A descendant of Hemingway’s polydactyl (many-toed) cats sits sleepily in a box on the front porch. My son took this photo.

I read in the New York Times recently that the multi-toed descendants of Ernest Hemingway’s cats at his house in Key West, Florida, all survived Hurricane Irma. The house fared well, too.

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Hemingway’s home in Key West, Florida.

My youngest son and I visited Hemingway’s house about five years ago. We delighted in seeing the cats, which lounged around in the yard and in the house. One was even sleeping on Hemingway’s bed, below a painting on the wall that depicted the house surrounded by cats.

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I am glad to hear that everything is okay there.

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Hemingway’s writing studio above the pool house.

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Thinking of St. Martin Island . . .

 

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Children in a Carnival Parade on St. Martin Island, 2012.

According to the New York Times, 95% of buildings on St. Martin Island have been damaged by Hurricane Irma. This is such a tragedy, I can’t even begin to imagine it. The island is such a magical place. Please see my post about my trip there five years ago.

My thoughts are with the tourists and residents there, and on all the other islands affected by the storm.

Crossing Death’s Door on Lake Michigan

On the Robert Noble ferry to Washington Island.

My coworkers and I crossed Death’s Door not one, but two times last week. And we lived to tell about it!

Death’s Door is a treacherous crossing of water off the tip of the Door Peninsula on Lake Michigan. Many a ship and many a life have been lost to its currents and weather. Our goal was to visit Washington Island, a six-mile-by-five-mile piece of land about a half-hour ferry ride from the mainland. We were on a field trip to check out some Sea Grant projects in the area and to interview a commercial fisherman to learn more about his trade.

While waiting for the ferry, we checked out a historical shipwreck sign our agency produced. After a gray and rainy crossing, we landed on the island and drove to our lunch destination, the KK Fiske Restaurant, where we heard you can eat fresh lawyers. No, we are not cannibals; lawyers are one of the nicknames for burbot, a cod-like fish caught in local waters.

A stuffed lawyer.

Appetites at the ready, we were disappointed to find they had no luck catching lawyers that day, so we’d have to make do with whitefish. That was pretty tasty, in any event.

We only had a couple of hours to spend on the island before we needed to head back to the mainland to interview the fisherman. Besides eating, we spent it driving to a state natural area on the end of the island, called Little Lake. There is indeed a lake there, along with a museum that features artifacts from people who used to live in the area.

Little Lake State Natural Area, Washington Island.

After a coffee stop and an unsuccessful search for the island’s lavender farm, we were back on the ferry. Once we landed, breathing a metaphorical sigh of relief that we survived the crossings, we headed toward Bailey’s Harbor.

We found Bailey’s Harbor Fish Company off the beaten path, where we interviewed Tate Stuth, one of the new generation of commercial fishermen in the area. He explained how this fourth-generation family business works, and shared some of the frustrations and unique aspects of their operation. I wrote a story based on the interview and you can read it here: http://uwiscseagrant.tumblr.com/post/163793658967/were-working-for-the-guy-standing-next-to-us. I left the interview thinking that the industry is in good hands.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the trip for me was roaming around the fish yard after the interview was over. It held old net buoys and floats, rusty trucks, dry docked boats, nets drying on racks. I hope you enjoy the pictures!

Aruban Dreams (Part 5) – Island of Sensual Delights

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Elida and Corinne of Happy Buddha Yoga in Aruba.

In this last posting about our trip, I will give you a glimpse into the pampering that’s possible in Aruba, plus describe another experience that just would not happen at home.

I’ve never practiced yoga in a foreign country before, and my friend was game to try it. We signed up for a class at Happy Buddha Yoga near the high-rise resort district.  Despite the directions on the website, the studio was a bit hard to find because it’s in a residential area, and well . . . Aurba is sort of disorganized. But that’s part of its charm.

Through my friend’s stellar phone navigational skills, we eventually found it, and were met by owner Corinne Voermans, a gracious transplanted Netherlander. The spacious studio is attached to her home. She gave us mats and we took our places in the studio for class.

We signed up for the 75-minute Pure Yoga class, which is based on vinyasa flow. The class was great and I recognized many of the moves, but there were a few new ones, too. Our instructor, Elida, was flexible beyond any sense of practicality. If I wasn’t trying so hard to do the moves myself, it would have been fun just to watch her work.

Back in Minnesota, I take hot yoga classes. This Happy Buddha class felt like Minnesota hot yoga, even though there were no heaters, because the studio is not air conditioned. But that was all right with me! Just come prepared to sweat.

The next day, my friend and I signed up for a hot stone massage at Indulgence by the Sea Spa. Used to deep tissue massages, the experience was new for both of us. After mimosas and foot baths, we were ushered into our rooms. My masseur’s name was Victor, or as I like to think of him, Victor of the Magic Hands. OMG! I think I’m a little in love.

He started out with a neck/head massage. Then there was a blindfold. And then the rest gets a little hazy because it’s been a month since I had the experience. But what I do remember is extreme bliss and relaxation. At one point, Victor was working on my back and I thought he was using some kind of oil with cayenne pepper in it because it was so hot.

Silly me, that wasn’t the oil, it was the STONES. From advertising pictures of hot stone massages, you’d think the stones are just placed evenly down your back, but no, they are oiled up and rubbed ALL OVER YOUR BODY.

I rolled out of there feeling punch drunk. My friend also enjoyed her massage. We both vowed never to opt for a deep tissue massage again if a hot stone massage is available. Now, if I could just get Victor to move to Minnesota, I’d be set.

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George and Yvonne

The last experience – one that wouldn’t happen at home – was a brush with fame. One night we were feeling adventurous, so my friend and I partook of karaoke night at the resort. As you know, I am introverted, but get more than two glasses of wine into me, and you never know what will happen.

Well, karaoke happened. I sang a terrible rendition of “Big Black Horse and the Cherry Tree.” My friend also signed up, but missed her chance because she was too far down the list for the amount of time left. Normally, she would be the one with the mic in hand, not me.

Anyway, the karaoke is not the point here. The point is that a lady noticed my awful singing and came over to our table afterwards and introduced herself. Her name was Yvonne Bergsma. She was from the Netherlands and was married to a popular singer from the 1970s – George McCrae – who had the hit “Rock Your Baby.” George wasn’t with her because he was on the road promoting a new CD. But it was fun to meet Yvonne and talk about our lives. She did not offer me a recording contract, however. 🙂

Thus, the sun set on our Aruba adventure. I wouldn’t mind going back some day. There is still more to see!

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Aruban Dreams (Part 4) – Up Close and Personal With Sea Life on De Palm Island Resort

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De Palm Island beach

Just off the coast of Aruba is a coral reef and sand island that’s been turned into a resort. Why would anyone ever want to leave paradise in Aruba for someplace else? Because this someplace has ziplining, all-inclusive drinks and food, fabulous snorkeling, banana boat rides, a water park, salsa lessons, and different underwater adventures like snuba, Sea Trek, and power snorkeling.

De Palm Island isn’t far off the coast – just a 10-minute boat ride. A bus picked us up at our resort, so my friend and I didn’t even need to worry about finding our way. After getting our tickets squared away on land and the short boat ride, we were there.

The first thing we did was the zipline. It isn’t one of those jungle treetop kind of ziplines, more like a straight shot zipline over the beach, but it was still fun. The most exciting part for me was wondering if the springs that were supposed to slow us down at the end of the line would actually work. I am alive to attest that they did indeed function properly.

Then we went snorkeling right off the steps of the snorkeling shack. I brought my own gear because I am a snorkeling snob, and my friend used the resort equipment (which worked just fine). She had never been snorkeling before and was a bit freaked out about the whole breathing underwater thing, but it didn’t take long for her to get the hang of it. And the fish were amazing. The island has great habitat for fish. All you need to do to find them is put your face in the water.

De Palm Island is known for its blue parrotfish, which we saw along with barracuda and a fish that looked similar to a cowfish. (Alas, if I had only finished my marine biology degree, I could tell you the name for sure.)

After hanging out on the beach for a while and socializing with people from a visiting cruise boat, it was time for our Sea Trek. This underwater adventure (available for an additional fee) involves having a seventy-pound helmet put over your head as you enter the water. The helmet quickly becomes lighter underwater and air is pumped into it from a hose above – kind of like a modern-day diving helmet. But the helmet is still heavy enough to allow you to walk on the bottom of the sea. And your hair won’t get wet. And you can wear your glasses.

After a short instruction period, we met the professional divers who would be helping us, and off we went into the water. I’m not sure how deep we ended up going – maybe about fifteen or twenty feet, but I would recommend renting one of the resort’s wet suits. It’s cold down there, even for hardy Minnesotans. We shivered the whole twenty minutes of the “dive.”

Along the route, the divers presented us with different forms of marine life to hold, like brittle stars, sea urchins and sea cucumbers. An underwater photographer/videographer recorded these explorations for posterity, and you can buy the photos/videos for an extra fee once you’re back up top. The diver also fed the fish to keep them swimming around for the photos, which made it look like we were in this huge school of fish.

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Sea urchin, anyone?

At one point, the divers had us all sitting in chairs at a table on the sea floor. One of my ears wouldn’t equalize and I thought I’d have to abort the dive, but the instructor just motioned for me to stand up. That took care of the pain and I was able to equalize and enjoy the rest of the experience.

The last thing they had us do was sit in an old Jeep and pretend like we were driving. Add some empty champagne bottles for props and you have the makings of underwater drunk driving photos.

The experience was unique and worth the price and the (minor) pain and chill. Still, we were glad to get out of the water and back into the warm sun.

Next up – the last entry about our trip: Aruba – Island of Sensual Delights . . .

Aruban Dreams (Part 3) – Beaches and Butterflies

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Tourists ponder pelicans upon pilings, Druif Beach in Aruba.

My friend and I eventually came out of the caves in Aruba and into the sunlight. The first beach we saw was just outside our resort.

Used to the rootbeer-brown waters of northern Minnesota, my immediate reaction to Druif Beach/Divi Beach was to laugh at the impossibly white sugar sand and the turquoise water. I felt like I was walking through the living embodiment of a Caribbean travel magazine advertisement.

Druif/Divi Beach is in the low-rise resort part of the island, up the coast from Oranjestad, the capitol of Aruba. We spent a couple of afternoons and evenings on these beaches, which were a short walk from our resort condo.

Besides the ridiculously gorgeous scenery, the nice thing about this and the other beaches in this post is that you don’t have to fight for a spot under a cabana like you do at some resorts. No need to wake up at 6 a.m. and reserve beach chairs. We usually didn’t drag ourselves out of bed until 8 or 9 a.m., and often didn’t get to the beach until the early afternoon. We were always able to find either a cabana or a shady spot under a tree. Granted, the cabana might not have been the closest to the water, but it was nice not to have to strategize relaxation. This is a VACATION, after all.

Two drawbacks of Druif/Divi Beach are that it’s right near the roadway, and the scenery is marred by offshore oil platforms. Car motors compete with the sound of lapping waves. Baby Beach and Eagle Beach don’t have these problems.

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Baby Beach wide-angle view.

Baby Beach is in a large cove on the southeast end of the island. The shallow waters and protection of the cove make it perfect for young children for swimming. It’s also great for snorkeling, although you have to swim out a ways to the rocky cove walls to find the fish.

One word of caution: bring your wallet with you (not into the water, though!) If you need to use the restroom, it costs $1. You also might want to spend money at the bar/restaurant and the beach equipment rental place.

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Eagle Beach

Our last morning on the island was spent at Eagle Beach, just up the coast from Druif/Divi Beach. We were not disappointed by this decision. Eagle Beach is rated consistently high in polls of beachgoers in the world and in the Caribbean.

The beach is wide and the road is far away. There are plenty of cabanas for shade. The water is so clear, it hurts the eyes. And there’s not a rock to be found. I suppose all that nice white sand is like an underwater desert for marine life, but at least humans NEVER have to worry about stubbing toes or stepping on a sea urchin.

Just like a tanning bed fan, the prevailing winds keep you cool and keep any bugs away. (No damn biting sand flies like in Minnesota). There are Zika mosquitoes in Aruba, but we never saw even one because of the wind.

Another activity for nature-lovers in Aruba is the Butterfly Farm — housed in a low-slung building across from the high-rise resort district. Lush greenery, flowers and butterflies will fill your senses. Knowledgeable guides give tours and can explain all the different butterfly types and life stages. I also went to a butterfly farm on the island of St. Martin, and the guides in Aruba were even better.

Bonus: your entrance fee is good for an entire week, so you can visit more than once if you want. The farm opens early in the morning sometimes for people who want to see the chrysalises hatch. The time was too early for me to rise during VACATION, but I was tempted. I bet it’s inspirational.

Up next in part 4: Getting personal with underwater sea life on DePalm Island Resort.

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Aruban Dreams (Part 2) – Caves

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Quadirikiri Cave

In the previous episode, my friend and I were returning from a trip to the Conchi Natural Pool in Arikok National Park in Aruba. After being spared a forced death march through the desert back to our car by some kind folks who had room in their Jeep, my friend and I were set to explore two of the park’s caves.

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What we could see of Fontein Cave through the locked gates. Photo by Karen Brehmer.

The caves are drivable via a paved road that devolves into a gravel road. But first we needed some lunch. Boca Prins Restaurant appeared before us, an oasis in the middle of nowhere – at the edge of a sea cliff where the paved road ends.

I had THE BEST pina colada and fish stew of my life there. The cold drink felt wondrous after our morning adventure and the fish stew was light, fishy, and limey – obviously made by someone who knew what they were doing.

We tarried over lunch so long that by the time we got to Fontein Cave, the gates to it were closed (it closes at 3:30 p.m.). If we had been able to enter it, we would have seen native pictographs dating back 1,000 years, along with drawings by colonialists. Guess I will have to visit it again on my next trip to Aruba.

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Quadirikiri Cave

Then we traveled to Quadirikiri Cave, which is known for its two large caverns and bats. The caverns are lit from holes in the ceiling. I could immediately see the appeal of the caves to ancient peoples. They provided shelter from the relentless and ever-present Arubian tradewinds and sun, and they were very roomy. I would totally have lived there 5,000 years ago.

On our way out of the park, we drove past some prominent landmarks that took the form of wind turbines. Aruba gets a good percentage (15%) of its power from renewable sources, with a goal of 100% for the year 2020. The wind-farm we drove past is not part of the park, but it’s just as impressive as some of the natural landmarks.

Thus ends our time in the park. Next up: Beaches and Butterflies.

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Image by Karen Brehmer.