Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Very Thankful

I am thankful that the delegation from my church who were supposed to spend 9 days in Honduras are safely back in the US. It must have been a harrowing experience to be in a country where the government was overtaken, knowing that you had to find your way home the easiest and fastest way possible. According to the emails and Facebook messages that I have received, the group left their location in the southwestern part of Honduras and rode in an old school bus traveling very fast over very mountainous roads. They were stopped at eight checkpoints and arrived at the Tegucigalpa airport only 10 minutes before the plane to Houston took off. One of the members said it was really scary for a soldier with an assault rifle to board the bus and demand to see your passport in a language you didn't understand.

Bill and I went on a mission trip to Honduras two years ago. Although we stayed in the capital and worked at a medical clinic, we were told to not even walk down the street unless we were in a large group. For a couple who walks in cities all over the world independently, this was quite a change. One night we decided to go to a fast-food restaurant across the street from our 5-star Marriott and quickly changed our minds. I am not used to being in a place where all businesses have an armed guard and the majority of buildings have razor wire on them.

The best part of the trip was seeing the people of Honduras and helping them. These people are so thankful for our help. One lady was so happy with the used eyeglasses that she got that she gave all of the ladies in the group a gift. Mine was a crocheted doorknob hanger in the shape of a dress and it now occupies a prominent place in my china cabinet. The children are precious. You can see my video for Honduras at http://www.mlbuchanan.com/Honduras2007.wmv. The video is also on YouTube under my name Read2gro for those people who cannot access .wmv files. We taught them Bible lessons at the clinic and they were so excited to go home with a Jesus puppet made out of a paper bag. We went to the hospital with stuffed animals for the children who were patients and the parents swarmed around us to get them. This makes me very appreciative of what I have in the United States.

I hope that in the future, this military action in Honduras does not prevent Americans from going down there to help the people and to teach them about God. It is a very rewarding experience to be able to help others.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


We have taken cruises to many different parts of the world. While cruising is not the ideal way to see the interiors of countries, it does have some advantages. One is that you are in the same room each night and don't have to drag luggage from hotel to hotel. Another is that you can get food on board the ship so you don't have to worry about local cuisine and its problems. Many times you don't even have to change money into local currencies because the ports will take American dollars.

However, there are disadvantages of cruising besides the fact that it is hard to see the interiors of countries. Although food is available at all times, you do get tired of it, especially if you are on a long cruise. I am not a fan of ethnic eating and on the last cruise, it seemed as if you had very little choices, even in the buffet, besides the food of the country that the ship was featuring that night. I am one of the only people who loses weight on a cruise because I find the desserts, although very plentiful, too rich for me.

Shore excursions are very expensive. It is no fun to sit on a crowded bus where the air conditioning doesn't work properly to see cities four hours away from the ship. It is also interesting to note that you are usually taken to very expensive souvenir shops on the tour where someone profits instead of being allowed to shop the local markets. On one tour in Marrakech, we were taken to one of those expensive shops where few people purchased items; yet were rushed through the souks where we would have enjoyed bargaining with the local merchants. Also the tours guides that are on the shore excursions may be great guides or may be mediocre - it's just the bus you are assigned to that determines who your guide may be. See my post on tour guides a while back.

Lunch on shore excursions can be an interesting experience. The tour companies try to make the food served indicative of the native cuisine. That is fine in Israel, where we were served regular meats and vegetables raised on a kibbutz, but in China, it is a different story. I always like to know what I am eating and how it is seasoned. A sample menu should be provided along with excursion information.

Embarking and disembarking can be the best or worst part of the cruise depending on port regulations. I loathe being forced out of my room on disembarkation day only to sit in a public area for three hours waiting for my color to be called. Most of the time embarkation is not a problem but once someone in line let an entire busload of people get ahead of us and another time we had to wait outside in the hot sun for over a hour.

We have chosen anytime dining on our past two cruises. This means that we supposedly eat when we want and with whom we want to eat. However, to get a table for two means making a reservation first thing in the morning. Otherwise you will get stuck with someone who takes the entire time to go through one course. And the waiters won't start the next course until everyone has finished the present course. I am just not in the habit of taking two hours to finish a meal. After a 9-hour tour, it is a lot easier to eat in the buffet, where you get the same food as in the formal dining room, just not the presentation. Fine with me.

Balcony cabins are great. You can take pictures as you come into port, sit outside in privacy, and have a great window to view the ocean. But you can look out over someone else's balcony or they can look down over yours, depending on the architecture of the ship. And 90% of the time, your balcony is near that of a person who smokes the smelliest cigar ever known to man.

You think you got a deal on your cruise? You will think again when you see your shipboard account at the end of the cruise. In addition to your expensive short excursions, bargains from the gift shop that you couldn't do without, and the cost of soft drinks and bottled water (if you forget to purchase it in port on the previous stop), the cruise line tacks on a daily resort fee that is usually $10.50 to $11.00 per person per day. It can get expensive on a longer cruise. Some people have shipboard bills higher than what they actually paid for the cruise, especially if they spend a lot of time in the lounges (which we don't).

I do enjoy cruises. I like someone else making the bed, cleaning the bathroom, and cooking my free food. I like looking out at the ocean. I like going to bed at night feeling the rocking of the ship (if it isn't too much). But the points above are points to consider when booking your next sea vacation.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

You Can Get Help Sometimes

Travel is fun, but there are also problems associated with it such as late planes which are usually very crowded, lost luggage, and other incidents which I have mentioned in my blogs. However, on recent trip to Europe, we encountered several outstanding airline employees whom I want to mention because of their positive attitudes of helping passengers out in times of need.

In March, I went to Paris to visit a relative. I really dreaded coming back through Charles de Gaulle airport because of the problems my husband and I had trying to board our flight. I made sure I got to the airport in plenty of time for my 9:00 a.m. flight - even taking an expensive taxi rather than the train (mainly because Daylight Savings Time took effect the night before and I didn't want to be in the RER tunnels at 5:30 a.m. on a Sunday). Air France has really improved their international flight process and it was very easy checking in.

Oops! When I checked in I forgot that I had two jars of Mirabella jelly in my carry-on. Of course security would not let me take those on the plane. I went back to Air France's check-in area to see if I could get my luggage back. Of course they said no. I explained my dilemma and they told me I could check my carry on, which, unfortunately, was one of those bags that you fold up when you leave home and open up when you buy too many souvenirs to put in your suitcase. I was very worried but the personnel actually took the jelly jars, wrapped them in several layers of plastic as well as the extra clothes that I had in my carry-on, put the bag in two sturdy plastic bags, and checked them. When I got to Atlanta, everything was fine. Since I had to open my checked luggage for my heavy coat after Customs and before rechecking it for my connecting flight, I put the plastic bag with the jelly in my checked luggage. Guess who had a TSA card in my suitcase when I got home.

In May, we flew to Portugal to get on a cruise. When we got to Atlanta, we found out that the connecting flight to Newark, where we had to go to get our Lisbon flight, was over two hours late. Consequently, we would miss our connection. I went to the Continental ticket counter where I received excellent service from an employee who spent over a hour trying to find an alternate solution. She was successful, although we got to Lisbon late in the afternoon instead of mid-morning. She also told me how to make sure my luggage got on the correct flight and when we arrived in Lisbon, our luggage arrived, too. Unfortunately, some of the items in the luggage got wet because of a storm in Atlanta while we were waiting for our new flight (I'm sure the checked baggage was in the carts on the tarmac waiting to be loaded) but I was so glad to have the suitcases that I didn't complain. After all, it was easy to spread the clothes out in the hotel room to dry.

I applaud airline employees who go the extra mile for passengers. It makes a trip a much more positive experience.