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Today is the 16th anniversary of this site, and it kind of crept up on me this year. I'm still struggling to get something posted each day (although I at least do a draft of what I want to post for that day), and I'm starting to feel more relief when I'm away for a while (like vacation or work travel) and I know I won't be posting (my habit for several years now has been only to post on workdays when I'm actually in the office and not on the road).

So now more than ever, I wonder if the end of this blog is approaching, and it will become something that is a frozen record of a segment of my past instead of an ongoing, living document. I don't know if I could ever completely quit it, however—it's become a personal record that I refer back to in order to help remember my past, and not doing something more permanent to record my days would make them feel even more ephermal and transient than they do already.

At the same time I realize that there are many things that I've decided not to write about here that I would have written about in the past—issues at work and with my extended family primarily—so in many ways, there are already lots of things that aren't being recorded here that are incredibly essential to how I think about the world and how that point of view is changing over time.

Maybe I just need an actual personal diary and not something that's posted for the whole world to see, even if that world is generally uninterested and unaware that I'm posting it.

Our final port of call was in neighboring St. Maarten, and we also chose a snorkeling excursion for our main activity there. That might seem strange, but swimming in the ocean was one of my primary goals for this trip—if we had made our planned stop at Cococay in the Bahamas, I would have spent the whole day snorkeling there as well. But this trip was a little different compared to the previous one, because in addition to getting to see lots of tropical fish at a reef just off a local beach, we also got to swim under the incoming flight path of St. Maarten's infamous Maho beach, which is located at the end of the runway for the island's airport.

There are no rules about not standing directly in the path of these landing planes (although there are lots of warning signs), so lots of people do just that, and it looks like the planes are going to hit them. We were at a bit safter distance, and there were buoys marking a no-man's-land directly underneath the arriving planes, but it was still pretty impressive, especially when a larger passenger jet from a major airline landed. It was a very unique experience—one minute you were immersed in an underwater world of coral and fish, then you'd hear the faint rumblings of a plane and look up to see it pass overhead and land at the airport.

Julie and I were the last snorkelers back to the boat, but we had another 30 minutes or so before the boat started to head back, so we swam and jumped off the second deck of the boat (which looked a lot higher when you were actually up there jumping compared to when you were in the water watching other people do it). On the way back we had food from the onboard kitchen and a drink from the bar, and again, it was some of the best food I remember having on trip simply because we were so tired and so hungry.

We hadn't done any shopping at either of the other ports—in Puerto Rico everything was closed by the time we finished with our tour, and in St. Thomas the boat was almost ready to leave by the time we got back from our snorkeling cruise (it was six and a half hours), got changed, and tried to go back to the port. We thought about going back to the boat before hitting up the shops on St. Maarten's as well, but they were on the way back from the excursion dock, so we decided to just get it over with and get our shopping done then, buying souvenirs for everyone who helped out with watching Will while we were away and a couple of little things for ourselves.

That was it for our ports—three great days in a row filled with experiences that we won't forget for a long time—but there was also plenty of other fun stuff we did on the ship that I'll write about at some point.

At our second stop in St. Thomas, we did what ended up being an all-day snorkeling trip that took us to two coves only accessible by boat. There were probably about 15 people in our group, and it was a pretty small sailboat (I mean, small for 15 tourists, their stuff, and the three person crew), but the close quarters were helped by the free and frequent servings of rum punch, which apparently had rum, orange juice, pineabple juice, and cream of coconut. I'm not normally a fan of rum drinks, but I can't tell you how many of those I had that day. They called it the Painkiller, but it was an overall mood improver, and also helped with the fairly rough seas we encountered on the way out to the first cove.

Our first stop was nicknamed Turtle Cove, and it definitely lived up to its name. It was located on an uninhabited island that was an animal sanctuary—no one was allowed to set foot on the island, so all the boats tied up at one of the buoys near the cove and we jumped off the side to go snorkeling. There was a reef with a few fish, including some really cool transparent ones with long thin noses tinged with blue, but the real attraction was the sea turtles, who fed on the sea grass that grew in the shallows beyond the reef. Every fifteen minutes or so they would swim up to the surface for air, so if you were lucky you got a chance to really see them up close.

That stop alone would have been worth the trip, but after that we headed to another spot they called Christmas Cove (which seems to be named something else on the official maps, but something that's not nearly as appealing as Christmas Cove), where again we anchored offshore before heading into the beach there. You could either swim or take a little boat to shore, but it was only a couple hundred yards, so we decided to swim. I had had many servings of rum punch at this point, so I was in a pretty good mood. The swim was longer than it looked, but it didn't take us too long to get to the beach where a picnic was awaiting us for lunch.

I know food always tastes better when you're hungry and tired, and after all the swimming we'd done, this was some of the best food we had the whole trip. It was pretty simple—jerk chicken, barbecued rib tips, macaroni salad, and baked beans—but it was so unbelievably good. Our table was tucked away in a corner of the beach under a tree overlooking the cove, and it was just beautiful.

Afterwards we still had time to swim in the cove (we didn't bring our snorkeling stuff because there really wasn't much to see on this beach, and aside from lunch, I was in the water the entire time (Julie swam a good bit too, but she also took some time to relax on one of the beach chairs underneath the trees). The water was so calm that I could lay on my back and keep my nose above water, so I did that for a long time, the water blocking out any noise and the gentle currents rocking me into a state that must be something like what you feel like in a sensory deprivation tank—I think I might have even fallen asleep for a few minutes.

When they started ferrying people back to the boat in the smaller boat, Julie and I both started to swim lazily back to the boat, and when we got there they still had a couple of trips to make, so I spent a few minutes climbing up to the deck and diving off the boat with an Irish man and one of his daughters who sat across from us on the trip out to Turtle Cove. All in all this was probably my favorite day from the whole cruise, and one that I'd repeat again if we had a one-day stopover in St. Thomas.

The first 48 hours of our cruise we were at sea, so we spent the time getting to know the ship, enjoying the food, and especially enjoying our balcony. We had a corner room at the aft of the ship that cost the same as other cabins with balconies but which actually had more like a patio attached to it—we could fit two chairs, a small table, and two lie-down sun chairs on it and still have plenty of room to move around. It was bigger than the cabin itself, and the only reason we can figure it was not more expensive is because it was technically listed as "obstructed view".

The only reason we can figure as to why it wasn't considered a premium cabin is because there was some sort of framing structure at the back of the ship, but we could still see behind the ship just fine, and because of our placement on the corner, we also had a completely unobstructed view off the side of the boat just as if we were on a side cabin. I'm convinced that this cabin and its twin on the other side of the boat are the best cabins on this type of ship, and if we ever cruise on this ship or one of its sisters again, our cruise date will absolutely be determined by the availability of these cabins.

Our first port of call was Puerto Rico, but unfortunately we weren't allowed to get off the boat until after 5:30 when it was already starting to get dark, so we didn't get to really appreciate the vibrant colors of the city and its architecture. We took a food and culture tour with some other folks (there were twelve people in the group total), and that ended up being a pretty good experience. We walked around old San Juan learning about its history from our guide Victor, with three stops to experience some food: hot chocolate and a square of Puerto Rican chocolate served with cheddar cheese; mojitos, mofongo, and rice and beans at a little restaurant housed in what used to be the mayor's office; and finally flan at a little bar near where we started the tour (I hate flan, and I'm not a huge dessert fan in general, but that was one of the best things I have ever eaten).

By the time the tour finished, almost all of the local shops with art and jewelry were closed, so we headed back to the ship even though we weren't scheduled to depart for another couple of hours. I know the schedule was weird because it was a last-minute improvised stop due to the hurricane, but it would have been really cool to have a whole day there to explore the city on our own and talk a walk around the historic fort that sits at the entrance to the harbor. Still, I'm glad we were able to have at least some time there—maybe someday we'll be able to return for a trip just to San Juan so we can have a deeper experience with the city.

We got back from our cruise on Sunday, and although there were some little obstacles, we actually got pretty lucky given that a major hurricane was making its way through the Caribbean at the time. We both took yesterday off to try to get back into a routine, and Will's school had the day off for Columbus Day as well, so we got to hang out with him after not seeing him for more than a week.

The hurricane didn't impact the cruise too much—they rerouted us from our first scheduled port in the Bahamas and we sailed for an extra day to get to Puerto Rico instead, but that wasn't that big a deal. The remaining two stops were at St. Thomas and St. Maarten, where the hurricane was long gone, so those stops weren't impacted at all.

On the way home we were nervously watching the track and impact of the storm—our home port was Port Canaveral, right outside Orlando, which was hit pretty hard on Thursday, but by Saturday they had reopened the port and we arrived and docked on time at 6 a.m. on Sunday morning. Aside from some rough seas to start the trip and a few more cloudy days than you would expect for the Caribbean, we would never have known that there was a major storm tracking around where we were sailing.

The real problem turned out to be that the hurricane was headed for my parents' house on the coast of North Carolina, so they decided to leave on Friday to head back home to batton down the hatches and take care of their animals. This meant we had to improvise another babysitter for Will since we didn't want him traveling back to NC with my parents, and luckily my sister, who lives about 45 minutes away, was in town that weekend and was able to keep Will until we got back home on Sunday.

Our exit strategy for the ship worked almost perfectly—we were among the earliest people off the boat, and the shuttle bus to our hotel was waiting for us as soon as we got through customs. We were all set to get on the road back to Atlanta by 8 a.m., but when we got back to our car, the battery was completely dead. It wasn't a huge deal—we called AAA and they got us up and running within an hour and a half, but it was stressful sitting in the parking lot while we waited for them and hoping that it wasn't something more significant that would have prevented us from getting home.

The drive back was pretty uneventful, and the hurricane actually saved us some money too—because the governor had declared a state of emergency in advance of the storm's arrival, all tolls were waived and we were able to drive through the express lanes without paying anything.

I don't even really remember what we did the first night when we got home, we were just so exhausted and trying to reacclimate to our normal lives. But I stuck to my vacation promise and didn't check work email until this morning, which is far and away the longest I've gone without checking work email in at least ten years. I had about 450 messages waiting for me to sort through and prioritize (I think the number would have been a lot higher if I hadn't been very clear with my office that I was going to be away and that I wasn't going to be able to check email at all), but the world didn't fall apart, and even the things that needed my attention weren't urgent enough that they couldn't wait for my vacation to be over, so I think I'm going to learn from this and have more email-free days on the weekends and especially when I'm on vacation.

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