Sunday, January 22, 2012

So, this is GTMO!!

One of the adventures that came with my new position with the Department of Defense is visiting our schools that are located on the United States Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  As I am getting ready for my third trip to GTMO in just a week from now, I realized that I haven't posted any of the pictures from my previous trips last fall! 

During the months before my first trip, my coworkers tried to explain to me what life was like on the island. After each story or description, they would say, "You will see...” Boy did I ever! From the moment that the plane landed, I got that strange feeling where you hear Dorothy in the back of your mind telling Toto that they are not in Kansas anymore! It is important to note that our base on Guantanamo Bay is the oldest overseas U.S. Navy Base, and the only one in a country with which the United States does not have diplomatic relations. That fact, along with knowing that this small base also houses dozens of the world's most dangerous...American-hating...psycho mass murderers, kept me up at night worrying myself to death before my first trip last October. 

One of the coolest perks about traveling to GTMO is the travel itself. Not many people can say that they have flown on a private C12 by uniformed Navy pilots to and from a communist country! Once I arrived on the island (after taking two bus rides and one trip on a ferry) all of the fear that was keeping me up at night  quickly disappeared.  Before too long, it felt like every other military installation that I visit....except for the insane heat, lack of stop lights, 25 mph hour speed limit, and the 3 foot long iguanas roaming around!

The hardest thing for me aabout visiting the base is the lack of connection available to the outside world. There are only a few spots that have Wi-Fi, and all other internet options consist of the old-fashioned dial up connection (which I didn't even know still existed in 2011). If you know me, you know that this is a huge problem! I use my phone all day every day...calls, email, text, apps, Facebook, news, weather reports, etc. I was literally beginning to break out in hives by the morning of my second day there! I skipped blow drying my hair to get to work earlier so that I could see that oh so important word come across my laptop screen.....Google! Though I hated not having quick access home to Steven and the kids, by the end of the week I had begun to adjust to life off of the grid. It really made me realize how much data and information I process on a daily basis, and just how much time I waste in a day checking my beloved iPhone.

On the bright side, by the end of the first night, Shelman ( a coworker that I was traveling with) and I had discovered the famous O'Kelly's Irish Pub that I had heard so many stories about from my coworkers! Yes, there is an Irish Pub in Cuba, and it happens to be staffed 100% by Jamaicans! Come on, you have to love the irony! It also is one of the few MWR sponsored Wi-Fi hotspots, so I was able to use Tango and Skype to chat with the fam at home each night!

Seeing this sign as I get off the plane makes me feel so incredibly proud! I am  fortunate to have such a unique opporutnity to serve my country doing a job that means so much to me. 

This is the C12 and two of the pilots that fly us to and from GTMO.

This is a seriously small plane!

Lori, Fran, and Dr. Coyle - my travel buddies from the October 2011 trip!
W.T. Sampson Unit School - This is actually the high school campus, grades 6-12.

There are beautiful hibiscus trees all over the island!

The Bay and Marina - The land on the other side of the bay is communist Cuba. It is such a strange feeling to see the lights at night coming from Guantanamo City knowing that we are so close.
Some of the housing  and buildings on the island.

I was expecting white sandy beaches instead of dark rocky ones!

These boats were used by Hatain refugess to flee to Cuba in the mid 90s.

It is hard to imagine wanting to leave a place bad enough to get in this boat on the open ocean.

GTMO Lighthouse

Such a pretty sky!

This chicken and her chicks lived right outside of my townhouse. 

GTMO's Bravest - Of course, I had to take this one for Steven!

Off in the distance you can see a couple of the Cuban observation towers.  Ironically enough, we are permitted to take pictures of the Cuban towers, but not our own!
More lizards...they are just creeping around everywhere!

My Aiden would have been in heaven!

A foggy "goodbye for now" picture of the bay as I flew away!

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Christmas to Remember

Although the title sounds like a Lifetime movie, our Christmas vacation this year was far from it! We spent 3 days in Disney world, 4 days (to include Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) on a Carnival cruise, and 3 fabulous days in beautiful Miami Beach! It was a much needed break for all of us, and a chance to make some great memories together!

Here are my top 5 favorite moments:

1. Sitting with Connor and Aiden waiting on the Jingle Jungle parade at the Animal Kingdom watching them make a total mess of their faces from their Mickey Mouse ice creams! Note: Susanna and Steven were riding Expedition Everest during this favorite moment!

2. Seeing the looks on the kid's faces when we arrived at the port to board the cruise. They were so excited and could not believe how big the boat was! Connor said, "I want to go on that boat castle!"

3. Riding around Key West in the electric car that we rented!

4. Going for a 3 mile run on the track on the top of the ship.  Steven went to mingle with the Veterans in one of the bars and the kids were all checked into Camp Carnival, so I had an hour to myself before the Captain's Dinner! The Carribean band was playing and all I could see around me was the gorgeous crystal blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  It felt good to work off some of the calories in advance from Chocolate Melting Cake that I was planning on splurging on at dinner!

5. Miami, Miami, Miami!! The last two days of the trip were by far my favorite. Disney and the cruise were tons of fun, but still a little hectic in terms of managing the kids and making decisions about where to eat and what to do next, but when we got to Miami it was all about the relaxation! Steven chose a great hotel right on the beach. The weather was warm (mid 80s) and sunny. It was hard to remember that it was only a few days after Christmas as I was sitting on the beach tanning and drinking margaritas!

My #1 favorite moment!

Great picture of Steven and I...but terrible face on all 3 kids! Lol!

Steven took the kids on their first Splash Mountain ride!

Love this one!

The first and last night that the kids joined up for dinner in the dining room on the cruise!

Key West!
They are enjoying a late night ice cream snack after partying down in Camp Carnival (and decorating their own shirts!)

On the beach in Key West!

Aiden was on his way back up to the slide!

The kids loved the towel animals!

At port in Cozumel on Christmas Eve!

The water was amazing there!

On the beach in Cozumel!

My #3 favorite moment!

Susanna with her new do!

Christmas Eve in Playa Mia, Mexico!

My beach baby!

They had the best time ever on the paddle boats and kayaks!!

Such a wonderful day in Playa Mia, Mexico!

Another late night ice cream snack!

Only my daughter would ask for and be so excited about an electric pencil sharpener.

Opening presents Christmas morning!

The kids were so excited that Santa was able to find their room on the ship!

Chirstmas Day 2011!

Sus and Aiden with the Carnival dancers!

Santa stopped for a break on Carnival Destiny on his way back to the North Pole!

Yes, this is called "Hog Heaven"...watching Thursday Night Football on a gigantic tv in a hottub in the middle of the ocean!!

I love this little boy!

Not sure who this little girl is...looking like she is half grown!

Susanna playing in the waves at Miami Beach!

Doesn't look like the day after Christmas does it?

We had such a nice time on the beach in Miami. I was laying on my chair dreaming of being the person who rents the chairs and umbrellas on the beach so I would never have to leave!

This is one of my favorite pictures from the trip! I call it "Four Little Birds" named after my favorite Bob Marly song Three Little Birds!!

Susannna and Connor playing in the water!