Sunday, April 13, 2014

How to be a Good Kitten Buyer

It is kitten season and the people searching for a Maine Coon are swarming the internet.  I’ve blogged before on what kitten buyers should beware of when looking for a Maine Coon breeder.  If you haven't read this, please do.  Now, I’m going to give you some insight on what we breeders look for in YOU; beyond the obvious indoor only, no declawing, no-hidden-agenda-to-breed stuff.
For those who are new to the process of getting a purebred kitten, allow me to burst your first bubble; we breeders are not trying to place our kittens because we’re desperate to find them a home.  On the contrary, if a breeder has a decent website and good reputation, she is bombarded with inquiries on a regular basis.  In essence, you have to compete for our approval.  The truth is that the Maine Coon cat is a very popular breed, so much so that we breeders can and should afford to be picky about who we want to work with.  If you find a breeder who seems to have more kittens than buyers, something’s not right.  The internet makes it easy for you to locate breeders, but it also has made it much easier for us to find qualified buyers. 
This is what I look for:
First impressions do count.  If I receive an email that says no more than, “How much r ur kittens?” with no greeting or signature, I may conclude you’re not mature enough to be serious.  Also, it's a Maine Coon, named after the state of Maine with an "e" on the end, not "Main" as in primary. 
Read and listen.  If you’ve been told that the breeder does not keep a waiting list, don’t ask to be contacted when the kittens are born.  That would be like a waiting list. 
Don’t send out a mass email to several breeders inquiring about kittens.  Too impersonal and it’s very likely that none of us will reply. 
Don’t try to negotiate the price.  A Maine Coon kitten will cost you anywhere from $800 to $1500, depending upon where the breeder resides, whether or not you’ll be getting a kitten that’s already spayed, neutered or micro-chipped, and in some cases, the gender and color.  If we have several inquiries a day, we don’t feel it’s necessary to lose more money than we already do breeding cats.  Kitten sales offset what we spend on our cats and most breeders operate in the red.  If the price is more than what you had in mind, then consider a shelter kitty or buying a Maine Coon that’s been retired from breeding.  I just had a man who not only wanted me to ship a kitten to him overseas without neutering (which I won’t do), but he also asked me to cut my price by 50%.  Here’s a Euro; go buy a clue.
Don’t expect to be able to drop by and visit or shop for a kitten.  We are not a pet store.  Most breeders keep their cats and kittens in their home.  We have jobs, families, schedules to keep.  While I understand the logic of visiting before committing, I no longer allow visitors unless they have a kitten reserved already.  If you do find yourself in a breeder’s home and you aren’t happy with how the cats are housed or the kittens are raised, be strong enough to walk out. 

When you do get to visit your kitten, normally after first vaccinations, be on time and know when to leave.  I normally line up kitten visitors during a weekend, spaced 60-90 minutes apart.  It gets awkward if one is 45 minutes late and the other is 30 minutes early.  The vast majority do call if delayed.  Many even call to let me know they might be early and ask if that’s okay.  I love these people. 

Don’t allow your children to wander throughout my house to explore.  I keep male cats and new moms behind closed doors for a reason.  I had one family whose 9-year-old son was afraid of our two dogs.  I put the dogs outside so the  boy would feel comfortable.  Five minutes later, I saw the kid in our backyard (he snuck out), upset because the dogs were “bothering” him.   
Whether or not you close my front door behind you when you enter my house speaks volumes. 

You have every reason to demand the color and gender of kitten you want, but please realize that male brown tabbies are in high demand.  Also, Maine Coons come in many different colors; brown, blue, red, cream, silver, solid black, white, tortie, etc.  A little flexibility will gain you a kitten faster.  Check out the Maine Coon Breeders and Fanciers site to see some examples of the variety.

For your kitten’s sake, please don’t insist on a lookalike replacement for your cat that died.  It’s not fair to the kitten to be compared constantly to Fluffy.  Kittens are a wonderful distraction when you’re grieving the loss of a pet, but at least go for a different color from the original.

If others have ever referred to you as litigious, arrogant or a flake, please go find another breeder.  I intend to be available to you for the life of your Maine Coon; for advice, sharing pictures and friendship.  This is a lot easier if we are both nice, rational human beings. 
Don’t tell us about how you have the perfect yard for a cat, need a good mouser, or have to replace your last cat because a coyote got it and then expect us to work with you.  We will exercise the right to refuse the wrong home for our babies.  These are not disposable pets.

Even though there are several Maine Coon breeders in the Northeast, there often doesn’t seem to be enough kittens to go around.  What to do?  Contact several breeders individually to get an idea of when kittens are expected so you can contact them again at that time. 

Unfortunately, many breeders have to pay a webmaster and do not have up-to-date websites.  I'm lucky because I know how to do my own website and am not beholden to someone else.  Look for a recent update date.  More breeders are turning to Facebook as that’s an easier communication to keep up on our own.  Some of us only return phone calls if we have kittens available. 

If the breeder keeps a waiting list, get on it, but keep looking. 

Most of us know each other and will gladly refer you to someone else if we don’t have kittens. 

Also, your competition (this would be other kitten buyers) is highest during the spring and fall, especially right before Christmas.  If you can, search off-season, like during the summer. 
Do visit a cat show to meet breeders and see firsthand to see how glorious the cat is in person.  Check or for the show calendars.

Our stud male, Levi, at a cat show.

I personally prefer to be contacted initially by email.  It saves me time to just give you all the information about upcoming litters, health screening, prices, etc. in an email.  Once it’s established that you’re really interested, I’m more than happy to chat and answer questions. 
If we hesitate when you mention a certain breeder’s name that you've been talking to, read between the lines.  Most of us are polite enough to not malign another breeder, but we also don’t want to see the buyer take a chance on getting an unhealthy kitten from a bad breeder.  If a kitten buyer tells me they’ve been talking to so-and-so breeder and I know that so-and-so has problems with heart disease in their cats, I normally launch into my list of what to look for in any breeder.   That’s a hint.

I love questions, buyers who research and plan ahead, who take time off to welcome the new addition, and keep me updated with occasional pictures and emails for the life of their precious furry family member.   Most of us contractually require that we’re kept informed of serious or genetic health issues as that helps us determine whether or not to continue breeding certain cats.  Not all breeders have the same approach I do nor would they all agree with me.  That’s okay.  We do all love what we do and are passionate about the right fit for our babies.  
6-week-old Dracoonfly Tippet Shrimp

Friday, March 21, 2014

Tell Me Why We Have Dogs Again?

Finally the snow has melted enough for us to take a hike on the trail in the woods behind our house.  We have over three acres and our property backs onto a park, leaving us lots a privacy and a wonderful place to walk our dogs, Chardonnay and Coraline "Cory".  Jay and I love to walk in the woods right after a snow fall, but this winter the snow had gotten so deep, traveling where it wasn’t shoveled was difficult for the past month or two.  Having warmed up to a relatively balmy 35 degrees, it was time to take the dogs and ourselves out for some overdue exercise. 
The trail is a big circle, about 2 miles total, and isolated enough that the dogs enjoy running off leash, tracking down scents, then checking back with us every few minutes.  Chardonnay is 13-year-old Golden Retriever.  Coraline is a 3-year-old Shar-pei mix, a smoke-colored mutt with the speed of greyhound.  Although Chardonnay is on medication for her knee and has slowed down considerably over the past couple of years, she still loves to run. 
About half-way around, I noticed that even with the cold temperatures, there was standing water.  Big problem when you have a Golden who prefers cooling off in stinky black mud.  I was just about to recommend that we call the dogs back so Chardonnay could be led past the temptation of water when we heard Cory barking excitedly.  Oh crap.  Someone else is walking back here, I thought.  It got more frantic and Jay started jogging ahead toward the sound. 
Chardonnay the mud puppy
“A skunk!”  he yelled.  Well, you know what happened next.  The theory is that skunks spray to defend themselves from predators.  Too bad it didn’t deter Cory the skunk killer.  She broke the poor skunk’s neck, killing it immediately.  Chardonnay was close enough to take a good hit.  Having been through this once before, I stayed away from the crime scene and let my husband try to get the dogs away from the dead skunk.  I wanted to avoid walking through the haze and having the stench cling to me too. 
I finally grabbed Cory’s collar to keep her from running back to her prize, getting the skunk’s blood that was on the dog’s mouth all over my hand.  Don’t worry, you can only get rabies from saliva or brain tissue of an infected animal.  Our dogs are up-to-date on their shots so they're protected.
The last time the dogs got skunked I had to deal with it by myself since Jay had just had hernia surgery that same day.  This time, I was just a wee bit happy that Jay was getting the opportunity to learn all about skunk odor removal.   I offered to help him though with my expert advice.
After a couple of dog baths, wiping down surfaces, mopping wherever they walked in the house, washing clothes and bedding, taking showers and still smelling skunky, it was supper time.  “I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day and you’re Irish, Honey, but tonight it’s Chinese take-out.”
I posted a picture of our trouble makers after their baths, looking damp and innocent, on Facebook and asked, “Remind me why we have dogs again?”
The killer and the accomplice
As far as I know, even outdoor cats know better than to challenge a skunk.  Hell, I've seen pictures of cats and skunks eating out of the same bowl.  Dogs are known for pursuing all things bad for them; skunks, porcupines and cars.  They will do it even after being hurt or suffering the sting of skunk spray in the face.   They just don’t seem to learn from their mistakes. 
So I started thinking, I have always liked both species, dogs and cats.  Each has its pros and cons.  These are some that I came up with: 

You don’t have to wash your hands after petting a cat to get rid of the cat smell.

Dogs rarely vomit up things for you to step in when you least expect it.

Cats don’t eat poop, nor do they roll in the poop or on the dead carcasses of others.

Dogs will often clean up cat vomit for you.   Very helpful.

More people are allergic to cats than dogs.  Hey, I’m allergic to both,but I got shots. 

Cats don’t embarrass you by sniffing the crotches of your guests.

Cats don’t deter robbers (unless you have Maine Coon whose size may well convince a burglar you keep wild cats)

Dog vet visits cost a lot more due to extra blood tests for Lyme disease and heartworms.  The cost of spaying a dog is much more than a cat and the price depends upon the dog’s size and whether or not she’s in heat at the time.

Dogs are better at traveling, meeting strangers, outdoor activities with their humans, and being trained for a profession such as guiding, hunting, police work or pulling sleds. 

Cats can hide just about anywhere in your house.

Some cats are so good at playing invisible that your friends and family may never know you have one.

One of the selling points of a Maine Coon cat is that it is “dog-like”, meaning it is a gregarious breed.

Dogs are way easier to medicate than a cat. 

Cats are more likely to get on your counter tops, tables and surfaces which have breakable objects.
There are always exceptions
Cats may use your large potted plants as a litter box. 

Dogs may rip your potted plants out of the pot and sling dirt all over the floor (which the cat will then use as a litter box).

Cats have been known to shred upholstery and rugs.

Dogs have been known to rip down dry wall, eat the crotch out of underwear, chew stairs, table legs and numerous other non-edible objects.

An 8-week-old kitten is cute and taught itself to use a litter box about three weeks ago.

               An 8-week-old puppy is cute, but has no bladder control.

Dogs that bark a lot are very annoying and will make your neighbors hate you.

It’s rare for a neighbor to complain about your cat, especially if you keep it inside. 

Infection from cat bites can be dangerous, but a dog is capable of maiming or killing a human.

Conversely, dogs are also more likely than a cat to save a human’s life. 

Dogs offer unconditional love to their humans.

Cats offer their love when you’re trying to do something else, like sleep, read, type on the computer or use the bathroom.

Cats can (and should) be kept exclusively indoors because they can use a litter box in the house.  Dogs have never mastered this skill.  For this reason, cats are more convenient pets than dogs.

Some people find the chore of scooping a cat’s litter box repulsive.  These are the same people who don’t clean up after their dogs.

And finally, although it’s not recommended, dogs can help you clean the cat’s litter box.
So cute and innocent. For now.
 To further illustrate the differences between cats and dogs, watch this YouTube video.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Counting Chickens Before They Hatch

Last summer, a season which seems like a dream right now with the umpteenth snow falling in Connecticut, Jay and I discussed chickens.  We had a backyard flock of twelve, eleven hens of various breeds and one awesome Cochin rooster named Aslan.  We had lost two hens during the summer to unknown causes.  Lucy the Rhode Island Red and Righty, a Silver Spangled Hamburg, were found dead in the coop.  Our coop isn’t big enough to handle a lot of chickens so our discussion centered around replacing the hens we’d lost, not adding more than two. 
I love having the pale green eggs laid by our two Easter Eggers/Americauna’s, Faye and Flo, but they are going on five-years-old and don’t lay as often.  I reasoned that if we were going to add another hen, she should be an Easter Egger as well.  Jay suggested we hatch our own chicks, but I was not sold on the idea. 
We have two Silkie hens, Mumbles and Beeker,  who seem to always be broody.  Silkies are known for being broody which means they feel a need to sit on the nest for weeks at a time with few breaks in an effort to hatch whatever may or may not be underneath their bodies.  Silkies are often used to hatch eggs the natural way (no plug in incubators).   I had read that hens which are Easter Egger crosses will still lay green eggs which would be our case; Easter Egger/Cochin mixes.  If we hatched our own, the ideal would be to get one or two female chicks who grew to look like their father, but laid green eggs.  The worst case would be hatching another rooster.  That’s the risk of hatching your own eggs as opposed to buying chicks that are already sexed.   We have a no-kill policy with our flock so gendercide was out of the question. 
I wanted to wait and go to a poultry show to buy chicks from a breeder where I could be guaranteed of the gender.  The coop is small, so adding males would only take up unnecessary space.  Roosters are not needed for hens to lay eggs and I was afraid of them fighting each other.  If we were to add chickens, they really needed to be female.  Also, since our Silkies had hatched eggs before for a friend, I’d learned that the chances of getting viable chicks were slim.  It’s heartbreaking to watch an egg hatch only to have the chick die before it can exit the shell. 
So I compromised.  We’d try to hatch our own and if it didn’t work, we’d go an upcoming poultry show and buy a sure thing, a young pullet or two.  This gave our birds almost a month to produce home-grown chicks (hopefully little girls). 
Faye and Flo cooperated and gave us two eggs each, two days apart, then went on their merry ways.  Most hens just lay the egg and go, trusting society to raise their children, or not.  They don’t care.  I wrote the laying date on each egg with a Sharpie so I would know when to expect hatching.  Beeker and Mumbles were both broody so I put two eggs under each hen.  Twenty-one days later, two eggs were rotten, one hatched a dead chick and we got one live chick.  The live chick came out of the darker green egg which told me that Flo was the biological mother.   I was skeptical, but Kelsey said she’d had a dream about the chick; it was a girl and we had to name her Penelope.  Kelsey was often clairvoyant when she was younger so I felt somewhat reassured.
Newborn Penelope hides under foster mom Beeker
 We set Penelope up with her foster mom, Beeker, in a cat carrier in our fenced-in garden.  It was late August so the outside temperatures were perfect for a hatchling.  I studied chick pictures of Cochins and Easter Eggers to try to determine who Penelope would take after.  Our rooster is a partridge color, absolutely gorgeous with his patchwork of colors and his long, copper-laced teal cape feathers.   Partridge-colored hens are plainer than the roos, but still more attractive than the Easter Egger golden brown.   Penelope looked just like a baby Americauna/Easter Egger with her chipmunk black stripe.  The only difference was that she had feathered legs like a Cochin.  Oh well.  I just hope she remained a girl. 

When Penelope started chest-bumping her mother and her neck grew longer, like a cockerel’s, I got nervous.  What’s the male form of “Penelope”?   Peter?  I watched You Tube videos on how to determine the sex of a chick and tortured little Penelope by holding her upside-down, her mother clucking at me anxiously while I examined the chick’s vent, a.k.a. “hoo-hoo”.  Nothing popped up which would indicate a little roo, so maybe Kelsey was right.  Of course, professional chicken sexers can make mistakes and I was only You Tube trained.
Penelope and her fluffy white mother were inseparable, even as the child outgrew her mom.  After about a month of keeping them confined to the garden, I put the two in with the flock.  They were accepted pretty easily as the others were used to seeing the little peeping chick run around by now.  If another hen came near Penelope, little two-pound Beeker would challenge her.  Silkies are a bantam breed which means they are mini chickens.  Bantams are about half to a third the size of our other hens so the sight of Beeker chest-bumping another hen was almost comical.  Penelope’s sire is a Cochin, one of the larger breeds of chickens and weighs in at nine pounds.  For the chicken people out there, Cochin’s also come in bantam size, but ours is a standard.  She should be a big girl (again, hoping she’d stay a she). 
Aslan the rooster.  Beeker is the white fluff directly behind him.
Penelope (center) with the flock.  Her biological mother, Flo, is left of her in brown.  Foster mom, Beeker, on the far right.
Finally, Penelope’s feathers started coming in during her second month.  Her Easter Egger down feathers and black stripe was replaced by the brown coloring of a partridge colored hen, complete with copper-laced teal feathers on her cape.  Definitely a girl, and a partridge color to boot! 
Penelope as a teenager
If there was any doubt, Penelope started laying eggs in January.  She still doesn't look like a mature hen, more of a teenager.  Penelope's eggs are a pale green like the other Easter Eggers, but a darker sage color.  Her eggs are still small because she’s young, but I expect the size will increase.  We have our first home-grown chicken to carry on the green egg laying in exactly the color and gender we were hoping for.  
Our tray of rainbow eggs.  Penelope's are the center two.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Zip and Good-bye

Day Six.  This is the last of a six-part blog about our vacation in St. Lucia.  To read from the beginning, see my Winning! post, then follow my February posts chronologically.
For our last day in St. Lucia, we arranged to go zip-lining at Rain Forest Adventures.  Our shuttle picked up others from another resort, a young couple from Kentucky and Ingrid.  We noticed that Ingrid’s husband hugged and kissed her good-bye three times, apparently fearful of what his wife was about to do but too scared to try himself.  Ingrid looked to be in her upper sixties, a German-Canadian who explained that zip-lining was on her bucket list.  She wanted to be able to say she got hooked up at the rain forest. 
Our group nestled in the base of a tree

After safety training with Kadeem and Jeffrey, we rode the “tranopy” or “aerial tram” to the top of the rain forest mountain.  Kadeem showed off his botanical knowledge, describing the foliage, the four-hundred-year-old trees, using the Latin names easily.  We zipped back down the mountain, from tree stand to tree stand, a hundred feet up, nine times. 


The safety practices were impressive; at no point were we unattached.  Another couple we had met said this zip-lining place was far safer and more dummy-proof than a zip-lining place they’d been to in Portugal.  As soon as we landed in a stand, the other guide would hook a safety line from our harness to the tree and then help us down.  We had three separate attachments to the zip cable.  Kadeem said the cables were inspected every morning before the first tour.  For me, zip-lining was a major highlight.
100-foot tall fern trees
That evening, we decided to venture out to the street party in the nearby city of Gros Islet.  The “Jump Up” is held every Friday all year round.  It’s a lot of food vendors, restauranst, street dining and very loud music.  We had been advised to go early so we got a taxi.  Our driver, Desmond, said he’d be back in two hours. 
As we walked down the closed off street , I saw one white man in dreads with a joint tucked behind his ear.  Looked like he came to St. Lucia for vacation and never left.  We got a couple of Piton beers (native to St. Lucia and quite good) and sat at a picnic table which had one other person at it.  A chunky red tabby cat circled the table legs while a skinny street dog which was obviously still nursing puppies shyly wagged her tail nearby.  The other dogs all looked the same; short-haired, medium height, brown and very thin.  I assumed the woman at our table was waiting for her  significant other to join her, but upon talking, we found out she was traveling alone.  As we could barely hear each other over the music, Jay and I invited our new acquaintance to walk somewhere else where we could talk. 
Marjorie was a tall, slender woman with bangs, 64-years-old from Exmoor in the UK where she worked on farm conservation grants for the government.  She had been traveling for the past three weeks, visiting all of the Caribbean Islands, staying as long as she wanted then moving on.   We found her fascinating, especially when she told us about her vacations to Kenya, Katmandu, Pakistan, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.   I can’t imagine going to all those countries by myself so I really admire Marjorie’s independence. 
About two blocks away from the Jump Up, we found a quaint restaurant.  The woman who owned the place was friendly like all St. Lucian’s, but easier to understand.  It turned out that Josephine had lived in Albany, New York for 30 years.  She’d come back to her native St. Lucia recently to care for her aging father and opened a restaurant.  Josephine described her St. Lucian house as “very elegant”, perhaps because she didn’t want us to assume that everyone lived in the tiny homes we saw from the road. 
After an incredibly delicious fried fish dinner (we had a lot of awesome seafood that week) and great conversation with Marjorie, we went back to look for our taxi.  Desmond was actually where he’d dropped us off, walking around looking for us.  Since Marjorie was planning on taking a bus back to her hotel, we asked Desmond to just drive her directly since it was on the way.  We had arrived at the Jump Up unsure of how much fun we would have, but meeting Marjorie and Josephine really brought the day to a wonderful end. 
Before we left the next day, we tried to say our good-byes to as many of the Windjammer staff as we could find.   As we waited for the cab to take us back to the airport the next day, I begged the front desk to give me a job and let me stay.  They laughed at me, "Silly American.  Go home Girl".   They didn't actually say that, but I imagine they were thinking it.   
The St. Lucian airport brought us back to reality with a hot slap on the face.  Filled beyond capacity, seating in the waiting areas was hard to find and the air conditioning couldn’t keep up.  You couldn’t help but feel nasty and smelly quickly.  Just when you thought it couldn’t be any worse, a one-man band complete with sound system, started serenading us.  He was not good.  The pregnant couple we’d met on the Jammer Tour was there.  We smiled at each other with sweaty faces.  “Vacation’s over.”  The lines to the gates were confusing as the gates were just doors out to the same place; one couldn’t tell if they were in the line for Gate 5 or Gate 8.  
The flight was crowded and Jay and I had to sit in seats across the aisle from one another.  The pregnant couple, who happened to be seated behind Jay, jokingly asked if we’d had a fight.  As our plane started down the runway, Jay and I held hands briefly across the aisle and I faked a sniffle.  “Bye St. Lucia!”
“We’ll be back,” he promised.
“You win the next one.”


Monday, February 10, 2014

Ah! The Spa!

Day Five.
After the excursions, we decided to have a free day, exploring the incredibly steep hills that nestles the Windjammer Landing trademark white villas, the beach, and the spa.  The excursions were on our dime, averaging about $100 each.  The spa ended up being about twice that.  It didn’t matter, neither one of us had ever had a spa day (I know, I know).  So we went for a couples’ back massage and a pedicure for me.  
Now, Jay knows I’ve never done this, but while we were changing and waiting he kept asking me questions about what to do.  Do we take our underwear off?  How about our socks?  Are they going to touch anything other than my back?  As we waited for a room in our white spa robes, commando and sockless, we saw a couple we’d seen on the Jammer boat tour, the Russian New Yorkers.  Under the man’s robe, it looked like he was sporting boxer briefs.  Either that or really pronounced tan lines which showed through the thin fabric.  Jay got nervous and again asked me what to do.  I just gave him a look.  "I. Don't. Know.  I've. Never. Done. This. Before."  I remember seeing pictures of towel-only covered backsides so I just hoped the masseuses wouldn’t think we were perverts. 
Gale was my masseuse and the taller, older Pamela was assigned to Jay.  We laid side-by-side, heads down, incense/yoga/hippy music playing while we both experienced our first professional back (and thigh and buttocks) rubs.   Exquisite!  As we got dressed and for days after, Jay kept telling me in detail what Pamela did to his back, how strong her hands were; he was effusive.  Uh, yeah, I was right there beside you, getting the same thing.  He still raves about Pamela.  
While getting my pedicure from Gale, Jay sat in the adjoining chair and eventually gave in to my encouragement that he get one too.  He has very rough feet that really needed work.  

I asked Gale what celebrities had stayed there before.  “Whitney Houston.  Kenny Rogers,” she replied. 
“Really?” I asked.  “Kenny Rogers before his plastic surgery when he still looked like Kenny Rogers, or after?”  Gale said it was definitely after and told us the story of how it got her into trouble. 
Mr. Rogers had requested private massages for his guests in his villa.  Gale went there with her co-workers to set up and the singer himself opened the door.  Not recognizing Kenny Rogers (if you haven’t seen the singer post surgery, look him up), Gale asked him his name.  He replied that he was Willie Nelson.  Being equally smart-ass, Gale exclaimed, “He’s here too?”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Segs on the Beach

Day Four
I had read about the Segway tour online before we left for vacation so I made sure to ask the concierge about it.  I had taken a Segway tour in Minneapolis with my sister a few years ago and felt like I was a pro on the Mall Cop scooter.  The resort arranged transportation.  As we waited for the shuttle, we struck up the usual conversation with the two couples waiting with us.  “Where are you from?” Turns out one couple was from Winchester, Virginia where my parents used to live and the other from Hendersonville, North Carolina, where I lived before moving to Connecticut.  Jay and one of the husbands knew some of the same people from General Dynamics; we were practically related. 
Our Segway tour was led by Sammy and the boys on trails near Rodney Bay in Gros Islet.  During our initial orientation session, I volunteered to demonstrate.  As instructed, I leaned forward to make my Segway go, then I stopped it short and spun around.  It's like riding a horse; just use your weight to control the speed.  Sammy looked at me, "You done this before?"  I smiled, "Nope. First time."
On the trail, a highlight was a stop at the US bunkers that were built during WWII, now inhabited by bats.  Who knew we occupied St. Lucia?  The guides were fun-loving guys who enjoyed playing jokes on each other, doing tricks on their Segways, and smoking weed when they thought we couldn’t see them. 
Our guides embellished the women's helmets with flowers.

I gave up on Segwaying beside my husband as he got caught up in the legal woes of one of our guides.  So I flirted and joked with the guides who had given up on scoring with the newlywed blonde in our group.  We stopped several times for a history and home-remedies with plantlife lesson, and once for a fresh coconut water and fruit snack, cut by machete-wielding Sammy. 
Demonstrating one of the uses of a Cutlass machete
That evening, we ran into our fellow North Carolina Segway tourists when we decided to walk up the hill to a different restaurant at Windjammer, Papa Don’s.  Of course, here is where I noticed that the Papa Don’s cat population had the classic tabby pattern instead of the mackerel pattern sported by the cats at the other restaurants.   Judging by the eye roll, I'm not sure Jay was as interested in my discovery. 
Next: Ah! The Spa!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Boat People

Day 3. 
Needing more adventure after a day of recovery, we had signed up for the Jammer Tour.  This entailed a ride on a catamaran boat that holds up to 60 people, taking us across the Caribbean to view the Pitons, a stop-over at the city of Souffriere to visit the “drive-through volcano” and a cocoa plantation, lunch, followed by a what was billed as a relaxing swim at a private cove on the way back.  It was an all day tour. 
Our boat was filled with fellow Windjammer Landing tourists.  Meeting fellow tourists (usually identified by our white skin), the same line of questioning followed, much like it does in college.  Instead of, “What’s your major?” we asked, “Where are you from?”  The first couple I noticed as we waited to launch was a physical replica of my brother and sister-in-law, Paul and Denise.  The husband was a bit goofy and large while his red-headed wife was quite slender.  The Southern accents clinched their likeness as my brother has a pronounced drawl and his wife is a Texan.  
On the Jammer Tour, Pitons behind us
We initially sat under the cover of the boat, wanting to avoid sunburn.  There I got to know the “pregnant couple”.  The wife was 7-months along, two small children at home.  They were from Nevada, originally from Utah.  We seemed to run into the pregnant couple everywhere that week, including on the flight home.   We never once asked each other’s names though.  Once the boat got under way and the sea became more cantankerous, we moved to the bow, sun be damned I was not going to risk sea-sickness.   There I was sitting next to middle-aged couples travelling together, from Brooklyn.  When I raised my eyebrows at hearing the word Brooklyn, the woman quickly explained, “But we’re originally from Russia; that’s where the accent comes from.  Twenty-six years in States, but I can’t lose the accent.”  The one African-American couple on board was quite young, from Atlanta via New York.  Other scantily-clad thirty-something couples lay out on the bow, catching rays.  The one that caught my eye was a man reading his cell phone while his wife read magazines she’d brought.  How sad, I thought.  You’re on a boat in the Caribbean Sea, surrounded by natural beauty, and you can’t put the cell phone down? 
Text to wife, "Isn't this fun?"  Wife: "Leave me alone, I'm reading Vogue."
We saw St. Lucia’s landmark mountains, the Pitons, affectionately referred to as “Helen’s breasts”.  Landing in Castries, we split into groups and boarded mini-busses which took us through town and up the mountain to the volcano.  Well, volcano is really a misstatement.  It’s sulphur springs, much like what they have at Yellowstone Park.  The traditional coned walls of the volcano had come down centuries ago, exposing the inside; stinky, rotten-egg smelling, boiling water. 
This is billed as the World's Only Drive-through Volcano
 The plant-life on the tour was very interesting.  The ferns are way bigger than ours; mango, banana and coconut trees are abundant.  Orchids and poinsettia grow naturally.  The animal life was lacking, being that St. Lucia is an island, most of their animals are domestic.  We saw one seagull and no squirrels or pigeons.  We were told that the snakes were brought over a couple of centuries ago to intimidate the slaves at the time.  When the snake population grew out of control, the mongoose was introduced to kill off the snakes.  Way to go, White People.  The only other wild animals mentioned were opossum, wild pigs that used to be domesticated, and a parrot.  We saw none of those.  We did see chickens in the road and very sad, emaciated, sickly street dogs.   I fantasized about moving to St. Lucia and establishing a dog rescue or bringing the small cats back home with me to start a new breed of small cats in the States called the St. Lucian.

After the volcano, we were bussed up the hill to a buffet lunch held at a covered, outdoor pavilion.  The mountain was steep and bus was challenged enough that at one point we thought we’d have to get out and push.  Our driver cut off the air conditioning so the engine wasn’t so taxed.  The buffet area was so crowded with fellow tourists that the staff called tables up to get in line one at a time.  We didn’t expect much for quality here, but the food was delicious.  From there we traveled to the Fond Doux cocoa plantation where we learned just how long it takes to process cocoa beans and that their major contract for cocoa is Hershey. 
Docking in Souffriere
Back down the mountain to our waiting catamaran.  The boat took us to our promised private cove so we could enjoy a swim or snorkel.  As our boat prepared to anchor, three canoes approached with men hawking their wares, beaded necklaces and conch shells.  We politely turned down the canoe pirates as we got in the water.  They were impossible to ignore, shouting that they were cheaper than Walmart.  These guys stayed with our boat the entire time we were anchored, hanging onto the side, calling the entire time.  So much for a peaceful swim.  We couldn’t wait to get out of there. 
Even with the hawkers, we felt like the Jammer Tour was a great deal as we got to do a lot of different things and met several fellow tourists that we would continue to get to know throughout the week.  I loved that they played real island music on the boat, even Christmas reggae.  St. Lucian bananas were offered as a snack (the best bananas we've ever eaten, ever), and of course, rum punch.
 Next: Segs on the Beach