Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Well, I guess I can’t hold it off any longer… I will have to tell you about my new home. I don’t think I have told you yet, but 004as of the middle of August, I am now a resident of Saint Lucia. Saint Lucia you might wonder… where and what is that?

Well, let me tell you what I have figured out so far and also what I have plagiarized from the St. Lucia island guide.

St. Lucia lies roughly between 60 and 61 degrees West longitude and 13 and 14 degrees North latitude. It is approximately 1,300 miles southeast of Florida. St. Lucia is part of the Windward Island chain, a sub-group of islands within the West Indies. The island is 238 square miles big and it is 21 miles from its nearest neighbor Martinique. It is 24 miles north of St. Vincent and 100 miles north-east of Barbados.

013I guess you will have to consult a globe or get out the old charts…

St. Lucia possesses some of the finest natural harbors in the Caribbean, and is centrally located within easy reach of the rest of the region and North America. It was as a result of this strategic location that the French and the British fought endlessly for possession of the island. St. Lucia changed hands 14 times between the two colonial powers. A tug-of-war that inspired one British historian to give St. Lucia the sobriquet (good ey?) “Helen of the West Indies”, comparing the island to Helen of Troy, a mythical Greek character whose beauty mobilized and entire navy (and Brad Pitt).

St. Lucia is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide, with a shape that is said to resemble a mango. The main language in St. Lucia is English. A French based Creole is also spoken, a result of St. Lucia’s dual British-French heritage.002

The climate is tropical, with temperatures ranging from 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. Let me tell you, it feels a lot hotter though and I sweat like a pig. Depending on where you are on the island, it can rain up to 160 inches, which, as you will appreciate if you are into Victorian measurements (and maybe even if you’re not), is a lot of rain.

But enough blablabla, let me tell you what really matters. Of all the Caribbean islands I have visited so far, it is certainly the prettiest. There are stunning beaches, landscapes and views, tropical waterfalls, colorful birds and other interesting animals. The climate encourages a lush growth and everything is green. You can visit a Drive-In volcano along with sulphur springs!

There is much to discover and explore. There are nice restaurants and there is some nightlife too. Well worth a visit!

At the same time, make no mistake, this is a third world country. Poverty is a real problem. Infrastructure is a problem wherever you look. Roads, medical facilities, banking, schools, even stuff like gas stations and supermarkets are not to be taken for granted. Half the stuff you and I are used to is not available. Getting something in from the real world is ridiculously expensive because of the duties you will have to pay. If you need something done, it is not unheard of to pay a bribe. The white population is less than 4% and you really stand out. If you venture out as a single white guy, you WILL be very popular.

085 Right now, this part of the island is without water for the last 4 days. The hotel has a tank and it is now empty and it will become a real problem very soon. I have no idea what the normal people do.

I would talk about my new apartment and show you some pictures but then half of you would not talk to me again ever.

And so with that I will leave you today. I still hope that a few of you will come and visit me at some point. There are good times to be had!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010 02:06:47 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Monday, 21 December 2009

Alright, even though it sometimes seemed like it, the Panama vacation was not only about family or wedding. There was another very important element. Sightseeing. Even in the limited time, my guide showed me a lot! Most important: The Panama canal. Seriously. If you ever go to Panama and have to decide between seeing your dying uncle and seeing the canal, ah, you better, ah, … never mind. But really, do trade everything else they might tell you is important for the canal. It is AWESOME! If you like big things you will never want to leave. You come across the canal pretty much with everything in Panama, but deservedly so. I don’t want to bore you with details, but just consider this:Panama December 2009 161

They have been thinking about a canal since 1523. The first who really gave it a go where the French in 1883, who, all said and done, could not make it happen (go figure). This was however not due to lack of effort. The guy they chose had successfully built the Suez Canal and in the 6 years they really tried it 22,000 workers died, mostly from malaria and yellow fever. Apparently it is a lot harder to build a canal through the jungle than through the desert. The French finished about a sixth of the canal.Panama December 2009 163

The Americans then gave it a go in 1903. Until they finished in 1914 it still cost almost another 6,000 people their lives. Overall 116 Million pounds of dynamite were used (KABOOM). Over 150 million cubic meters of earth were moved. That is a lot of dirt, if I may say so myself. The canal is 81 km long and shaves off about 20,000km of your journey compared to the voyage around the cape. You have to overcome an elevation difference of 26 meters between the 2 oceans and this is done in the giant locks. There is an own class of ships being built to the specifications of being able to pass the Panama canal locks. They are called PANAMAX ships and they can be have a maximum length of 295m and a maximum width of 32m. Most ships built these days are bigger than the maximum specifications, so since 2007 they have been working on expanding the canal (more KABOOM!). To go through one of the locks requires moving 197 million liters of water. To navigate the canal you have to have a Panamanian captain, which will usually be the pilot on board for the crossing. A canal passage takes somewhere between 8 to 10 hours, however, due to the heavy traffic it is now more like 12 hours on average. The price to go through depends on tonnage of the ship and is about $150,000 on average with the highest price paid so far at $317,000.  Panama December 2009 136

They have built a visitor center at the Miraflores locks and should I ever disappear and can not be located, give the viewing platform there a look. I’ll probably stand there with my mouth open.

Somewhat related to the canal are 2 bridges. Believe me, they know about bridges in Panama. They have the Bridge of the Americas, which for decades was the only roadway connecting North & South America. And then they have the far more recent Centennial Bridge which, most importantly, was built by Germans (feel free to contact us for any large-scale project you might have). Both well worth a look and crossing if you have the time!

This brings me to the next subject you need to be aware about: Driving in Panama. Take my advice: if you can at all avoid it, do so. If not, be aware of old, young, middle-aged, male & female drivers. Also know that in Panama, a car is totaled and fully depreciated if the horn does not work. I must assume that by law you are required to use the horn nonstop. Traffic lights are merely a colorful light display. If at all possible, drive a powerful, armored 4 wheel drive car. If given a choice, I would personally go for an M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. Contact the United States Marine Corps for details. That should protect you of most things that can happen to you. It probably won’t protect you against the taxis, the hundreds of people trying to sell you stuff in the middle of the road and the buses (Diablos Rojos – Red Devils). Here I can only suggest prayer, repentance and wish you good luck at the pearly gates.

Should you still be alive, there is then a lot more to see. However, I will have to tell you about it next time. Have a good night.

Monday, 21 December 2009 01:48:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Friday, 11 December 2009

As you might have gathered by now, I am in Panama this week. The main reason for this trip was to attend the wedding of my girlfriend’s cousin Nereida and to also use this opportunity to meet the rest of the extended Beckford family. I had previously only met Marianela’s sister and her parents in Curacao.

Weddings work a bit different here and I guess I should tell you a bit about it.

When I had arrived last Friday after 16 hours of travel and was finally in the supposed safe haven of my hotel room, I thought this would be it for the day. Wrong. Not 3 minutes after having arrived and actually with my pants down, there is a knock on the door. Alright, pants back up and open the door to find: 5 more Beckfords welcoming me to Panama and asking me to join them upstairs in the suite of the wedding couple. This is all at about 10 at night.

Alright, change of polo shirt and up I go. In the suite, there is the wedding couple with a slightly unwell groom on the couch with a blanket around him, Marianela’s parents, the sister of the bride and her American husband (great! someone to talk about Sports with) with two small kids (who came from the US), Marianela’s sister (came from US), Marianela’s brother along with wife and small child (came from US), the cousin who now lives in Canada with wife and 4 kids ranging from 6 to 15 and various other individuals to numerous to mention. I was welcomed very warmly and 2 minutes after my arrival I had a beer in my hand. 10 minutes later I think I had “mucho gustoed” my way around the room and met everybody, had learned some new variations of my name (e.g. Wodka) and was desperately trying to remember who is who and how it all comes together. Most of this without Marianela by my side…

If you find it slightly odd that on the evening before the wedding the bride and groom are together drinking the time away in their hotel room with their family, trust me, so did I. Strangely enough, everybody in the room was in some way related to the bride and nobody was there related to the groom.

Several beers and hours later most people retired, but being eager and stupid, I joined the groom, Mari, her brother & Jared from the US to go to the casino where I swiftly departed with a sizeable sum of money. We eventually retired to our room to get some sleep for the next day.

The morning was I guess a relatively relaxed affair and during the course of the morning we meet the groom again to find he is still there on the couch with his blanket not looking too fit. Still, bride and groom are together. Again, if you are wondering at this point you need to know that the church wedding ceremony was scheduled for 7:30pm. This way everybody has all day to run errands, phone each other in panic and generally to get ready and dress up. In the early afternoon Mari went off to the hairdresser. Being a guest with no errands or phone calls to make, being able to dress myself in relatively little time and with comparatively easy hair to style, I took a nap.12436_201141906921_521381921_3678610_6222049_n

Starting in the evening you would think that it gives people enough time… The wedding actually started on time with all the main participants, but trust me, if you’re from my part of the world you can only marvel at how many people showed up late for the ceremony. The priest was an old rather strict looking dude who I think did not exactly approve of that either. The ceremony was in Spanish of course so I only had a rather limited understanding of what was going on.

When it was all said and done, having no intention to boil in 30 degree celsius in a suit outside the church and also due to a minor shoe emergency we headed back to the hotel and let Mari change her shoes. Even with that detour, I think we were among the first to arrive in the restaurant. By now it is after 9pm. The room fills only slowly. God only knows where the people went in between church and party. Not being used to these kind of wedding proceedings, I had severely misjudged the whole situation. I did have lunch, but nothing since then and by 9:30 pm I am considering to eat the flower arrangement on our table.

We use the time to introduce me to 3 dozen or so more relatives and I personally use the time to try to calculate the probabilities on whether the breasts of the bride’s hot friend are real or not. Unfortunately, the research related to this is not being met with the scientific acceptance I had hoped for from Marianela. Neither are all further attempts to assess the situation later in the evening, so I cannot present you with a proper finding.

Eventually, the wedding couple arrives, there is a toast and then the buffet opens. I would at this point like to praise the Marriott in Panama for an excellent location and great food as well as and especially our server Roger, who outdoes himself in an effort to get everybody properly intoxicated throughout the evening. Panama December 2009 098

At this point the band is playing and there is no more delaying it. I will have to dance. I am one of maybe 10 white guys and I’m certainly the new guy, so there is at least 50 pairs of eyes following my moves. It is not so much the dancing. I can dance with Marianela no problem. It is the music. Those of you who have been exposed to Latin music will know that all of these songs are about 13 minutes long and this is my problem. It just does not stop. Be that as it may, it turns out that my dancing skills are approved and I have to dance with Mari’s mum and various other ladies. This goes not quite so well as with Mari, but apparently still well enough for a non-Latino guy.

Well, there is not much more to it. Marianela does not catch the bouquet and I do not catch the garter. The restaurant where the party is held is also the breakfast room and I start to worry that they will not be able to reset the room. Being told to leave the worrying to others, we eventually go to bed. No casino required today.

Thank you Nereida & Alfie for letting me participate, felicitationes and all the best for your future!!!

Friday, 11 December 2009 14:16:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
 Thursday, 10 December 2009

As you might or might not know I come from a pretty small family. Apart from my parents I have 2 brothers and one uncle and that is pretty much it. My dad has some cousins and there is one sister of my grandma left. My uncle is not married and has no kids and neither my brothers or myself have any children.

As such, our family reunions are pretty civilized undertakings usually going some like this…

Me: ah, you again brother.

Brother: Yes, me.

Me: All said then, let’s eat. Formula One race starts in an hour…

About one hour and five minutes later we’re all fed and asleep on the couch with the TV on.

As you’ll probably gather from this, my social skills are somewhat lacking in this respect, especially where small children are involved.

All this is a bit different on Marianela’s side. Since Friday I have met more uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces etc. than ever before in my 34 years on this planet. I used to be really good at remembering names, but that again seems to be a thing of the past. I try to memorize the more important characters like real aunts and uncles, the godfather etc. but it is not easy. Moreover, these relatives come in all sizes and what is a bit worrying to me is that they are all doctors or of some other reputable profession. Fine, there is a lawyer too, but there usually is a black sheep in every family.

I actually have no clue what my brothers do exactly. One of them sells hoses and the other insurance I believe. Both are semi-professional gamblers. I then work in hotels in some remote location nobody has ever heard of. Nothing to brag about I guess. Where does that leave me with these people?

Here there are pneumologists or whatever lung doctors are called, gastro-enterologists or whatever stomach doctors are called, gynecologists, dentists, urologists, surgeons, pharmacologists, nose/ear/throat doctors or whatever they are called and god knows what else. At least I guess it is a good place to get sick…

The other somewhat worrying thing is that there are children (and lots of them) from about 1 to 15 years. Since moving to this side of the world, I have grown used to seeing tons of children. Everybody over here seems to start at about age 20 and then keeps going for 3-6 rounds. As this had never interfered with me in any way, I just took it for granted. That all changed a little bit. On Sunday we went to Tio (uncle) Tony’s house and he has 10 grandchildren. I believe they were all present. I’m okay with the ones from about 10 onwards, especially if they understand my language. The fact that I apparently have a funny name helps too. I can endure all the interrogation etc. The smaller ones leave me feeling uncomfortable. I have no skills that help me relate to them and they have no skills that I find interesting. I guess I better learn some magic tricks or how to let milk run through my nose or something if this is to work out properly.

I shall leave you with this thought and I will be back soon reporting on the miracle that is Panama!

Thursday, 10 December 2009 14:47:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Wednesday, 09 December 2009

And so, after a long wait and lots of planning, it was time last Friday to get up early (yawn) and make my way to the airport to find my way to Panama.

To avoid spending hours and hours in Miami Airport, I had chosen a somewhat indirect route via Puerto Rico. This also enabled me to get up half an hour later.

Well, after buying some St. Lucia souvenirs for Marianela’s parents, I boarded an half empty American Eagle turbo prop plane and true to their usual standards, American Airlines had equipped the plane with 2 very experienced flight attendants, one of which was more than just the AA brand standard grumpy. In fairness, the other one was quite cheerful.

The flight was uneventful and not quite 2 hours later we were in San Juan, Puerto Rico – Home of Bacardi. After enjoying the thrill of passing US Immigration, I strolled through the rather unexciting airport marveling at the price of alcohol before boarding the next flight to Miami, this time on a jet.

This flight was packed and it even had a movie, so the two and a half hours passed fairly quick. The one thing of notice is that like many other airlines AA now charges for checked luggage. As a consequence people try to bring the most outrageously oversized luggage into the cabin. One person who, judging from the size of her bag, was either carrying a dead donkey or maybe an ice-hockey goalie outfit, got into an argument with the senior (and when I say senior about an AA crew member I DO mean senior) flight attendant, so we all had something to watch before the movie…

It was the first time I arrived in Miami without having to go through Immigration and this is quite a nice experience. The airport as such is the same old. Endless corridors and you’ll be hard pressed to find 10 people who work there whose native language is English. I’d say a fifth of the workforce does not speak a word of English. Be all that as it may, the nice people at Google are sponsoring free internet for the holiday season. Everybody and their neighbor got this to work on their laptops, I, of course, did not. Instead I purchased what might very well be the world’s smallest pizza for $8,99 - I inhale more insects on a typical day in St. Lucia than there was meat on that pizza…

Well, I had about 4 hours to pass and luckily I had my noise-cancelling headphones and some house episodes, so no problem there.

After 4 episodes it was time to find the gate for the flight to Panama and here is a neat trick for all you vertically challenged people like me. If you want to look tall, go to the airport and find the gate for the flight to Bolivia, most likely to La Paz. All of a sudden you will be the tallest person in sight. I reveled in that for a few moments and then proceeded to my own gate to be immediately surrounded by Harlem Globetrotter types again.

This flight was also packed and there was a young lady next to me who I suspect was calling everybody she knew to tell them that she is now on the plane. I have no proof for this but from the increasingly erratic phone conversations I would guess that she eventually ran out of people to call that she knew and so proceeded to just call random people. Just when I was about to suggest a few numbers for her, she informed us that she would move to the back where her friend was sitting who presumably had a few more numbers in her phone.

This gave me some more space and I enjoyed the movie Up, which, in case you have not seen it already, I suggest you go watch as well. Very nice story.

We eventually landed in Panama where they kept us taxiing and holding for a while before being let to the gate. I managed to understand and answer the one question the Immigration lady had for me in Spanish which made me feel somewhat confident. And so, 16 hours after I left the house I was in Panama where Miss M and her friend were waiting for me. I could have been in Dubai faster, but then there would not have been a Miss M.

I will tell you all about Panama next time. Hasta Luego!

Wednesday, 09 December 2009 14:28:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Wednesday, 14 October 2009

As you might or might not know, I was recently back home in Erding for some completely undeserved rest. As you probably know, it is currently autumn in the Old World of which Erding is a part. Among other things, with autumn usually comes a beautiful explosion of color in the trees and lots of leaves on the roads. However, autumn and the tree world also provide something far more important: Chestnuts.

When I was growing up, there was hardly anything more precious than a big massive pile of chestnuts. This pile had been collected over a maybe 4 week period. When I say collected I mean mostly picked up from the floor, but it also involved climbing trees, and hours of throwing something up into the tree in the hope it would dislodge some more chestnuts (or hit some other guy stronger than you taking your chestnuts). At that time the trees in our street were still very young and they would yield only a few chestnuts, so in your hunt you would cover great distances on your bike in the search for chestnut trees. All this would become the absolute center point and focus of your very existence. It would fill many afternoons and great energy would be expended doing it. Life was great.

I don’t particularly remember what ever happened to all the chestnuts. They don’t last forever and I think they eventually all ended up in the park where they would be fed to the deer. The next year you would start the whole process again from scratch. Brilliant!

Now, I don’t know exactly what, but something has happened.

The chestnut trees in my parents’ street are now quite a bit bigger and there are lots and lots of chestnuts. I could not help but notice that there were dozens of chestnuts lying around. How could this be? Where were the kids? I have been observing this over a couple of days and have to tell you that today’s children have alarmingly little or no interest in collecting chestnuts.

I do realize that collecting chestnuts is not a complex battle simulation with enhanced weapon systems and that there is also no IPhone app for collecting chestnuts, but I mean, come on! Get off your butts and collect the chestnuts! You do not have to do some lame arts and crafts project with them. Shoot them at the neighbor for all I care! But out the door you go with a bag and chestnuts it is! You do not even need friends necessarily!

Alas, it was not to be. And so, the Grinch had no choice but to collect chestnuts this year rather than to save Christmas. Yes, I was out there almost every day. At first, when I still could not believe that nobody would claim the chestnuts, I would create a little mountain of chestnuts under one of the trees. However, nobody other than dogs had so much than a passing interest. Later on I would carry them myself to the park. I mean, somebody has to do it.

I would also like to take this opportunity to apologize to some children if I have encouraged them maybe a tad too enthusiastic to collect chestnuts.

Furthermore I am exceedingly grateful and also a bit sorry to the little guy (Polish, I believe) in London’s Hyde Park (great chestnut place!) who I uninvited donated about 3 dozen chestnuts to as he was not only collecting chestnuts but had had the great foresight to bring a bag. It must have startled him a good bit to have a somewhat chubby sweating figure march up to him, grab his bag and drop in chestnuts which were produced from about every pocket. He might be mankind’s last chestnut hope.

But seriously, if you read this and have children, please send them out for the chestnuts. Trust me, its far better than Halo 3 or a stupid phone!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009 00:03:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Wednesday, 05 August 2009

And so, just like that and possibly only somewhat finally, I have left Curacao. The run-up over the last 3 months initially took forever and then in the end the days went very fast… I am writing these lines from my parents’ home in Germany

I have done all the necessary running around from the tax office, to the registrar’s office to Immigration and now have got another interesting looking stamp in my passport.

I have sold my car and my TV, both at staggering losses and I have returned my beloved little apartment with its wonderful terrace to my landlord.

I have sent off a good deal of my belongings to my next destination and have left a few bits and pieces behind.

While I am glad that I’m out I also sincerely can say that I had a good time. How could I really complain about a place with eternal sunshine where it is always Happy Hour somewhere.

Sure, the place will never cease to make me shake my head, it very likely has the slowest walking people on this planet, service is generally pretty bad and a good deal of the population will have to overcome their slavery attitude problems if they ever wanna have a go at the big game.

However, it is a real nice place to be if you have a few florin to spend and don’t have to keep worrying all the time.

I think I can say that I hold no grudges against country or anyone on it, but then again, hold that thought.

There is one thing I need to make the world aware of. The world’s most useless company is located in Curacao. I have come across companies in a range of countries that generally make you wonder. Curacao actually has an abundance of these. Admittedly, I’m not too sure I would have wanted to deal with some of the companies I have worked for, but these guys really really take the cake. I am talking of course about Direct TV.

I have long known that god’s plan for me involves spending some time with each of the world’s most stupid people and in Curacao this is undoubtedly the folks at Direct TV. This people are incompetent on such a colossal scale that it beggars belief.

Seriously, I have deposited more intelligent life into a handkerchief.

Every single contact with this company on any level was difficult and sometimes retarded beyond comprehension. I have tried everything with them to help them help me: I begged, I insulted & threatened them, I tried their approach and played stupid (which as you know will not take me all that much). Nothing works. As a rule of thumb, they will tell you one thing, and then either not do it, or do the opposite. I guess in a way there is at least consistency.

Even though my mum warned me about doing this, I do hope somebody from Direct TV reads this as all my attempts of contacting them have of course failed as even their phone system is completely useless and emails and faxes are not answered either. I hope I have insulted the shit out of you Direct TV folks and would very much welcome some sort of contact. As you know, you still owe me Naf 64, which you unlawfully have taken from my bank account on June 29 and which you promised you would return over 5 weeks ago. Consistent with your policy, you have obviously not done so.

If you do that again, let it be known that I will immediately take you to court. You have also failed to pick up the receiver, which I guess now will never be resolved.

Wolfi 014

Wolfi 002 But on to more positive things. Being the Ass(t) Controller I must have left some impression other than the continuously grumpy dude, as on my various leaving parties I was positively showered with valuable gifts that will invariably improve my life. Thanks very much everybody!

I have gained many interesting and valuable experiences and have come across and experienced many situations unheard of in my part of the world. I have gained new skills and as Manager on Duty I have attracted disaster to the hotel of almost biblical proportions (see some of the previous blogs). Most importantly, I made new friends.Wolfi 006

With that, I wish those friends and the little place that is the Curacao Marriott with its crew all the best of luck and success. In my experience you always meet twice, so be ready! Take care!

Wednesday, 05 August 2009 09:47:26 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
 Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Alright, after almost a year of silence and inactivity I am finally adding another entry to the blog. Lots and lots of things have happened since my last entry. I have been to Aruba twice, I had old school friends visit me here in Curacao, Christmas has come and gone and even more friends have come (in some cases making really serious self-mutilation efforts). Ah, and yes, the world economy seems to have decided that we all deserve a lesson and has gone into "defiant-shutdown" mode. This among other things has moved me to find a new job and so this will be my last Curacao-based blog entry. This however is the future. Let’s look back a few weeks first.

I have also been to Florida recently and let's make this the subject of today's blog.

Florida. How come you might think... Well, I had never really been to Florida before and a girl from Hotel school in Switzerland called Beatrix (Trixi) lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. Since I have come to Curacao we have been trying to organize a visit. And now finally it has happened.

And so I recently found myself at 5:30am at the airport here in Curacao to entrust my life to American Airlines to carry me to Miami. After the usual headache with Immigration, I was on the plane and then in Miami at about 10:30 in the morning. Now, I could fill days telling you what is wrong with American Airlines and Miami Airport, but let's better get on with it.

It was actually a Friday and my friend had to work and we had agreed that I would take the train from Miami Airport to West Palm Beach. Taking the train in America is always an experience.

To start with, in America it seems that taking the train somehow equals admitting defeat. It seems to say that you can't afford to fly or to own a car and let's just face it, if you don't own a car in the US of A you have reached Rock Bottom. More about that later.

In any case, after purchasing a ticket for $5.50 (which interestingly left me with 14 One Dollar coins) I was on the train.

The train, it has to be said, was reasonably clean and also reasonably on time and so we were off.

We were driving through some pretty rough neighborhoods initially but it soon got better and more resembled what I had in mind when thinking about Florida, i.e. lots of Condos, Boats and water.

After about 4 stops or so, the ticket conductor came. Now, let's pause here for a second.

I have taken some sort of train in at least 8 or 9 countries, admittedly all European. The majority had conductors. All of these conductors were pretty much the same: they all had some sort of uniform and all were checking the validity of your ticket. This conductor here (a rather attractive lady actually) did the same thing.

The very noticeable difference here was that she was wearing a Kevlar vest and carrying (if I'm not mistaken) a SIG Sauer handgun.

I had arrived in America.West Palm Beach March 09 065

While I was proud to see that the Florida TriRail has selected a Swiss-German firearm manufacturer to provide its employees with some firepower, I was wondering what sort of passenger is usually using the service making such a response necessary. I made a mental note only to use this train during daylight and also vowed to certainly have my ticket ready at all times.

Her (combat) vest was carrying all sorts of accessories from Pepper Spray to plastic hand ties and so she looked capable of not only dealing with ticket offenses but also with the aftermath of a terror attack. I'm still not sure if that is making me feel any better.

Eventually I got to West Palm Beach station where I got of the train my friend picked me up to take her back to the hotel where she works.  West Palm Beach March 09 074

The hotel is called The Breakers and is something else (www.thebreakers.com). It is one the grand old dames of hotels and has been around forever. It employs about 2000 people and has probably seen everything there is to see. The Saturday after I left they had an event (birthday party I think) and the price per person (and I swear this is true) was $930 plus tax plus 22% service charge. You get the idea….

After a quick tour of the hotel, I got Trixi’s car (interesting) and was off to do some shopping and kill some time. West Palm Beach March 09 075

Driving around West Palm Beach you would not get the idea that the economy is in any sort of crisis. In fact, you would think it could not be healthier. The yachts as well as the amount of high end German cars was more than impressive (seriously, why would you ever drive a Lexus?) as was the amount of ah, somewhat “restored” ladies in the shopping mall.

I’m pretty useless when it comes to shopping but I did find a very good bookstore (something seriously missing in Curacao) and had some decent pizza (also not so easy to come by here) and was pretty happy. It was surprisingly cold (cold as in only 16 to 18 degrees Celsius or so) and windy, but armed with my books I managed to pass the time before it was time to head back to the hotel and then to my friends home.  West Palm Beach March 09 009

After a quick stop we were off to a place by the ocean whose name I have forgotten for dinner and drinks and later on to some sort of Irish Pub turned Club or something which inevitably led to some rather serious inebriation. West Palm Beach March 09 015

As such, the next day began a bit slow. Unfortunately, there was really no time for slow as we were off to a Spring Training (i.e. Pre Season to you and me) Baseball game. Trixi’s boss is a bit of Baseball nut and got us the tickets. We were off to see the Boston Red Sox play the Florida Marlins. These things can start rather early over here, so we were on the road by 9:30 or so. After a quick lunch (which maybe not surprisingly) involving beer, we were at the ball park around one. Things were going slow and there was not all that much to see at this point so I am very ashamed to report that I fell asleep. I was blissfully dozing away, even during the national anthem and I would like to apologize for that.West Palm Beach March 09 021

Anyway, the game was a rather rained out affair with many breaks, very few actual starters on both teams and very few runs scored, but I can now say that I have been to a Baseball game…West Palm Beach March 09 023

The next day Trixi and me were off to Miami Beach for purposes of sightseeing etc. After milling around for a while we had lunch at a place at the ocean (again) and while this might not mean a lot to many of you, we were sitting at the table next to Arne Sorensen! I did not muster the courage to go up to him and ask him for a picture, but I sort of sneaked a picture of him and his bowtie pasta.

For those of you that don’t know, Arne Sorenson was the Chief Financial Officer for Marriott International and has recently been promoted to Chief Operating Officer and is very likely to succeed Mr. Marriott himself once he steps down. So out of a work force of over 300,000 I was sitting next to a guy at the very top of the tree. Cool ey? I will, on this occasion only, forgive you if you are not quite as excited as myself.West Palm Beach March 09 028

Anyway, afterwards we went for some more sightseeing and were then off to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. It is another famous hotel that has been around for a while. It features in James Bond’s Goldfinger where the lady to be covered in gold is on the balcony watching the bad guy play cards at the pool.

I had heard that it is an absolute must see after a one billion dollar restoration (again, no kidding here)! And you know what: They were right! Even if you don’t know anything about hotels, this place will blow your socks off. It is awesome. Words can not do this justice. If you get the chance, absolutely go and check it out. Here are a few pictures to give you an idea. We had the absolutely most expensive sushi ever and 2 very good cocktails but it was worth it!

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And with that the weekend was over and I was on my own. The plan was very much to take Trixi’s car and drive about 250 miles north to the Kennedy Space Center.  This is something I have wanted to do forever, especially with all the stuff they had going on with the anniversary of the Moon landing and so on. So, after dropping off Trixi at work and topping up the tank, I was off on my trip.

Now, I do not want to ridicule Trixi’s car (actually I do, but let’s pretend that I don’t), but I think it is fair to say that it has seen better days. There were a few non-essential bits not working, but hey, it was a car. It is a Saturn and no, I’m not very familiar with the brand either.

Well, I made it to the Interstate alright and I was cruising along when about 60 miles later a rather loud noise notifies me of a tire failure and imminent personal expiry due to losing control over a vehicle travelling at 80mph. As I am here to tell the tale the more awake among you will have probably gathered that I have managed to stop the car in one piece on the hard shoulder.

After surveying the damage I figured that it was not that bad and that it was fixable. I can see some of you with the ol’ No Way Wolfi can fix that himself look on your face…Now, those of you that know me a little better know that anything more complicated than changing a light bulb does become a bit taxing for me. Fair enough, however, due to September 11 and following unemployment I do actually have rather good tire changing skills and within minutes I had the car up, the tire off and I was about to put the spare one on, when I realized that it too had no air. Hmmpfff!West Palm Beach March 09 083

This did represent a bigger problem now as I figured out soon enough that my Curacao phone was not willing to co-operate with the US networks. What to do? Well, no other chance really than finding the next call station for the Highway Patrol folks. After quite a hike (it appears that they are 1.5 miles apart and that, of course, I chose the wrong direction) I got to this rather interesting device, which undoubtedly had saved many lives but was not immediately willing to save my day. You see, you open this hatch type thing and are presented with 3 buttons. One for the police, one for ambulance and one for Roadside Assistance. You are also informed via text and signs to press the relevant button for 10 seconds, that a confirmation tone will sound and that no voice communication will take place. Great!

So, for good measure I press the button for 12 seconds but do not get a confirmation tone. Okay, better try again and make it exactly 10 seconds. Nope, does not work either. At this point, a certain, ah frustration sets in and I really consider giving the damn thing a good bashing. You must understand that at this point I am quite dirty from changing the tire, pissed off about the lack of air in the spare tire, have just labored and walked in the direct Florida sun for a good half hour (i.e. I’m sweating like mad) and that most likely I will not make it to the Kennedy Space Center, because I have to walk another friggin’ 1.5 miles as this thing does not work.

After a short consideration I try the police button, but it does not work either. At this point I proceed to give the thing a good shake accompanied by some rather colorful expletives in a variety of languages. Needless to say that it is a complete waste of time and so, finally, I slam the hatch shut – only to be presented with the confirmation tone.West Palm Beach March 09 084

Upon re-examination of the little signs, I would have to admit that you could possibly gather this from the drawings, but you would obviously need to be quite a bit more alert than me.

Anyway, after walking back to the car in a now baking late morning sun, it is another 25 minutes or so until the tow truck arrives. The very nice dude driving it actually managed to inflate the spare tire and we put that back on so I at least escaped being towed. He also issued me with instructions to the next car dealer.

And with that I was off again, this time somewhat more cautiously. About 20 minutes later I was at the tire place the guy had described to me, however as it turns out, they did not have the required tire in stock. They gave me another place and this turned out to be the Tire Kingdom, which admittedly I did like better than Goodyear Stuart. After another 45 minutes or so I was the proud new owner of a tire and once the guys had put it on for me I was ready to hit the road again. It was 12:15pm. The guy at the Tire Kingdom estimated the time to Kennedy as another 2 and a half hours and as the last tour leaves at 14:30 (they take quite long), I was quite out of luck. There was no way I could push the little car to cover the distance. Also, I had spent most of my Kennedy funds on the tire.  West Palm Beach March 09 087

So, with a heavy heart I started to return back to West Palm Beach, this time opting to take the small road (for American standards) along the ocean. This was a really good idea and I was treated to some nice views along the way. Of course, there is also the usual sprinkling of gas stations and fast food outlets.

When I saw a sign for the Loggerhead Marinelife Center, I stopped on impulse to check it out. Now these wonderful people there try to save any animals that come into more contact with humans that is good for them, which basically is pretty much any. They specialize on turtles and the place is essentially a turtle hospital/rehab. Please do not mistake these turtles with the ones some people have at home. They are rather small. These here are massive. They have all been injured in one way or the other and they are trying to nurture them back to health. Again, pictures say more than words, so here you go….

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And with that I will leave you for today. I still have not figured out how to align these pictures properly, so if it looks funky, please forgive me. In any case, you have had enough to read and I have to go to the airport… I hope to be back here soon. There is certainly enough going on to fill a few more spaces… Take care and I hope to see many of you soon in person. 

Wolfi

Tuesday, 21 July 2009 17:58:00 (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  |