I haven't written much here recently. And that's really due to a lot of reason, not the last of which is being busy and that we have a wonderful new kitten named Bear:
The other issue is that I've becoming increasingly unhappy with my blogging tools, the custom hacks I've added over the years, and the required maintenance and upkeep.
So I've decided to give WordPress a try. You can visit my new experimental (likely semi-permanent) blog here: Jeremy Zawodny's WordPress blog
I may find myself posting stuff here from time to time. Maybe. But the reality is that I'll probably work on a mega export of this stuff into the the new blog and setup some redirects at some point.
When I have time.
Which means it may take a while. But that's life.
In the meantime, I have more efficient tools over there and am likely to publish more often. So check it out if you're interested. Or not.
A few weeks ago, Kathleen and I went on our first cruise together. It was her fifth and my first, so I got to experience a lot of new things. If time allows, I'll try to write about that in the future. But for now, I want to talk about one of our shore excursions.
Our first day in port was in Puerto Vallarta. The weather was absolutely perfect: a few scattered clouds, light winds, and about 80 degrees with bright sun--a far cry from the storms in California. We disembarked from the ship and met up with a group who were all going on the same excursion. We were then taken to what I can only describe as a "speed raft" designed to carry about 20-30 people. We boarded the boat and were treated to a high speed ride of roughly 20 minutes across the bay to a small beach and dock area.
The cruise across the bay gave us some view of very nice water-front houses. It appeared as though there are a lot of wealthy folks that decided to build vacation homes there.
At the dock across the bay, we got off the boat and were lead a few hundred feet to a guide that instructed us to board one of two 4x4 trucks outfitted with benches in the back. The trucks took us on a 15-20 minute ride through the town and into the forest and up to a higher elevation, ultimately arriving at the "base camp" for the operation.
There we were asked to leave behind anything we didn't want to get wet. That meant cameras, wallets, phones, etc. They repeatedly warned us that we'd be getting very wet. We were also told, much to our surprise, that we wouldn't need bug spray or sunscreen. Most of our time would be in the shade of trees.
After depositing our belongings to a communal bag that would be placed into a secured locker, guides helped get us suited up with our harnesses, helmets, gloves, and other gear. Then we were lead to small set of benches where the guides were introduced in a fairly comical fashion and they spent some time teaching us three important signals: speed up, slow down, pull your legs up. We were also instructed on proper hand placement on the zip line, posture (holding your legs up a bit), and braking techniques.
(I noticed during the introductions that there was roughly a 1:2 ratio of guides to participants.)
After that was out of the way, we headed over to stables where each of us was paired up with a mule for a ride up the path that leads to the top of the course.
The mule ride up was probably 15-20 minutes and ended near the base of the first rappelling platform. There we did some brief stretching, reviewed the signals, and had a chance to ask any last minute questions.
Then it was time to climb a short hill up to the first platform. This platform, unlike others we'd see later, was large enough to handle the entire group, so we could watch the procedure for getting hooked on to the lines. One of our guides went first so we could see what everything looked like--and that it was possible to arrive at the other end safely.
After the first guide went across (he was on the other end to unhook us and catch us if we arrived a bit too quickly), the line of participants stepped up the the ropes, one at a time. One would get hooked up, checked, and then was told to go. While one was zipping, the next person would be hooked up and released once the first one was safely on the remote platform.
The first zip was reasonably long but a fairly shallow slope, so you couldn't get going too fast even if you didn't brake to slow down. I decided to see how fast I could get going before I felt like I should slow down. It turns out that it wasn't until I was approaching the platform and got the "slow down" signal that I needed any substantial braking. I did "tap the brakes" a couple times just to prevent myself form turning, since that's the only way to keep yourself facing forward as you go.
I arrived at the platform, stopped, and was unhooked.
"How was it?" asked the guide.
"Awesome!" I said.
I knew the rest of the day was going to be a lot of fun...
From there we went on to the second platform and were treated to a slightly faster (steeper) line and some more interesting scenery. Beyond that, I forget exactly how many more lines we did before coming to what the called the "assisted vertical zip", which I can only describe as a zip line on a 45 degree angle. It's "assisted" because they thread an additional rope through the harness is such a way that the guide down below (you drop down 80 feet or so) can adjust your descent rate.
That got us to the point at which we could start our rappelling adventure. The guides swapped out a bit of gear on our harnesses and then lead us to the place from which we'd be rappelling--a waterfall.
There we two lines going down, so one person could be going down on one while the other was getting hooked up on the other. Both lines terminated in the pool of water at the bottom of the waterfall. The water appeared to be a few feet deep, but it was hard to say from the top.
They reviewed the techniques before letting us go down (of course) but before I knew it I was hooked up and "walking" down the rock face on the line nearest the waterfall. When I got to the bottom, I discovered that the water was about 2.5 - 3.0 feet deep--just enough to get my lets wet and touch the bottom of my shorts. I figured that's why they made the point about everyone getting wet--since they know we're going to "land" in the water and it may be high or lower depending on the waterfall. Plus you get wet from the waterfall itself if you went down on the line nearest to it.
It wasn't long before I discovered how wrong I was.
One of the next zip lines we encountered was fairly short--maybe 150 feet long. But it started at the top of a set of rocks and carried you over those rocks (barely missing them) and then over another pool of water. However the zip line continued to descend until it reached the edge of the pool, which meant that using that zip line would get you REALLY wet.
I watched several folks ahead of me splash down into the water, some exclaiming because of the temperature (mountain water is always cold, right?). When it was my turn, I asked the guide if I needed to brake. He said it'd probably help but I didn't NEED to. So decided to go full speed down the line. Needless to say, I impacted the water and splashed down pretty well. Like most of the folks before me, I was SOAKED.
It was around then that I remembered that I had accidentally left my wallet in my pocket. Oh, well. I enjoyed the ride and the cold water actually felt refreshing to me.
After one of the next zips, Kathleen and I managed to get a bit behind and briefly separated from the group. But there was a path to follow, so we just went along expecting to meet up with everyone else.
Except that we didn't. Instead, we arrived at another platform with nobody there waiting for us. We saw some people in the distance (headed away) and called to them but they didn't hear or notice us. It was then that we realized we must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and were officially lost. In the Mexican forest.
We talked about backtracking or maybe crossing the water below us and continuing on that path, but we ultimately decided that it was probably best to sit tight and wait for the guides to notice we were missing and come find us. Surely this happened before and they know where to go looking, right?
Luckily that worked just fine. We didn't wait there more then 10 minutes before a pair of the guides appeared and asked what we were doing there--even joking about the two of us sneaking off for some "alone time" (if you know what I mean). They led us across the water on a rope and across another one before reaching the next spot where we met back up with the group.
Not long after that we came to the vertical descent. It was affectionately referred to later on by several folks as "walking the plank" because we'd walk out on a metal walkway, suspended about 70 or so feet above another pool of water, to reach a slight larger metal platform. There you'd be hooked up to a rope and instructed in how to use your had on the rope behind you to control your rate of descent. One of the guides down below also had a rope they could use to assist if you had trouble.
I'm not sure why this freaked some people out as much as it did. It was like a more aggressive form of the "assisted zip line" where you get more control. I had fun going down when it was my turn! (Even if my hand did slip a bit.)
We had a few more zips after that and before long it was time to hike back to the base camp. Our route back took us across numerous small streams. Often there were overhead ropes installed so you could hang on as you crossed in case you slipped on a rock or had balance problems. It was a nice way to wind down the day.
Back at the base camp, we traded in our helmets, gloves, and harnesses for our stored possessions, washed our our shoes and had a chance to use the restroom. Then we had a bout 20 minutes to peruse the photos (see note below) and munch on some snacks. It was mid-afternoon and most of us hadn't eaten since breakfast, so the snacks were most appreciated! I especially enjoyed the chips and fresh salsa.
Hunger conquered and pictures purchased, it was time to hop back on the trucks for a ride down the hill and back to the boat that brought us across the bay. There were two very important differences about the ride down compared with the ride up. First, it was much faster. The diver took full advantage of gravity, so made good use of the seat belts and the overhead "oh, shit!" straps. It was quite a ride!
The second difference is that we had a stop on the way back.
At a tequila factory.
For a tasting.
I really didn't know anything about the differences between types of tequila--that some are intended for use in drinks like margaritas while others are made for sipping (like a scotch, I guess). And I most definitely didn't know that flavored varieties like "almond" and "chocolate" existed!
I must say that the almond tequila was the best tequila I've ever had the pleasure of trying. And it's easily near the top of my list for "sipping" alcohols. The taste was just fantastic--very smooth. In retrospect, I should have bought a bottle or two to bring home. But at the time I figured they were a bit pricey and we might encounter other sources during our time in Mexico.
That may be my only regret about the entire trip.
Anyway, after the tequila tasting, we proceeded back down to the small beach and boat dock, hopped back on the "speed raft" and got a nice ride back to the ship.
All in all the excursion was a great time. We really enjoyed the zip line and rappelling experiences, all the modes of transit (boat, 4x4, mule), excellent weather, great scenery, and friendly people.
Since we didn't take a camera along, I should note that all of the photos in this post and in this Flickr set were taken by the photographer "guide" who was on the course with us. She did a good job of capturing some of the scenery and nature along with each of us in varying states of descent on both zip lines and rappelling. We purchased a CD of the pictures at the end of the day. It contained all the photos of either one of us we found (starred them in Picasa) as well as all the scenery and nature shots she took that day. I was VERY COOL of them to give us the digital versions rather than trying to sell prints or something stupid like that. Thanks to Vallarta Adventures for being forward thinking.