Part 1…Harrowing experience…

Due to a poor internet signal aboard the ship, there are spacing issues in today’s post.  We apologize for the inconvenience.

We counted seven single lane bridges along the ride to Belize City.

 

When the driver of the shuttle, Mark Lanza, arrived at our door at LaruBeya fifteen minutes early, immediately I began to feel more at ease.  He didn’t hesitate to shake hands, introducing himself, jumping in to load our zillion pieces of luggage. 
It’s rare for anyone to receive a moving violation in Belize.  Police do not monitor the roads resulting in many fatal accidents.

Chatting with me momentarily, he apologized for the lack of air conditioning during our arrival in Belize on January 29, 2013, explaining that the system wasn’t working at that time and has seen been repaired. He sensed my apprehension about the long drive assuring me that he was a safe driver. By 8:00 am we were on the road.

 

The drive was uneventful.  Surprisingly, the time flew by in the cool vehicle and with his cautious driving.  By noon, we reached immigration at the pier. 

Two of a group of four women cruising together. It was a pleasure meeting them as we bounced around on the half-hour noisy ride on the tender from the pier to the ship.

With our two luggage carts, two grocery bags, my handbag, one bag with hangers, seven large suitcases, two carry-on bags, two laptop bags, and one bag with our laptop trays, we had a total of eighteen pieces. Yes, we know. Outrageous.  Soon, this will be cut in half.

A port agent was on standby awaiting us at the immigration office and check-in area, for cruise passengers.  Everyone seems to know our cabin number and that we were arriving mid-cruise since the port of Belize was an excursion port, not an embarking port.
 
Amazingly, we were moved through the check-in process with relative ease.  Our bags were whisked away to the awaiting tender, placed in the bow of the 100 person boat while we boarded inside. The bumpy, hot, crowed half hour ride to the awaiting Carnival Liberty was eased as we engaged is lively loud chatter (over
the earsplitting sound of the engine and the pounding waves) with our seatmates, a pair of lovely widows enjoying traveling together.

Reaching the ship, buzzers went off announcing our mid-cruise arrival, as our bags were hauled aboard, most of which were sopping wet from the outdoor boat ride. Security directed us to the guest services desk to check in to receive our “Sail and Sign Cards” which are used as both a credit card and cabin key throughout the cruise.

Entering the narrow, busy road as we approached the port of Belize City.  Notice the load the woman on the right is hauling on her bicycle.

Standing at the desk awaiting our turn, we looked at each other smiling at the relative ease in getting aboard. NOT SO FAST!!! Hold on to your seat folks! The stern security officer we’d met upon boarding approached us with a wary look on his face.  “Sir, madam, we have an issue with your luggage.”

My heart started racing. We’d had no illegal anything in our bags but we’d heard stories of passengers being detained for days for naught.  We had no booze, no medications other than those for which we had copies of the prescriptions. We had no contraband. Nada! Nothing!
 
Tom and I looked at each other while I whipped into my sharp defensive mode briskly stating, “What’s the problem, sir?”
 
“It’s your medications, madam,” he shot back as he opened our duffel bag, revealing our bottles of vitamins.
“Do you have prescriptions for these?”
“Sir,” I snapped, feeling the hair on my neck standing up, while my claws came out as I said, “In the US, prescriptions for over the counter vitamin supplements are not required. We have so many of these since we are traveling the world for no less than five years and we can’t receive mail in most places we are traveling.  We’ve brought along all that we’ll need for the next few years.  That’s why we have so many!”
With rubber-gloved hands, they kept examining our vitamins, opening unopened bottles, checking against the open bottles from which we were currently using to ensure we hadn’t hidden illegal substances.
Tom gave me a look that meant, “Settle down.”  I know that look.
 
The security officer, sensing my ire, spoke in a calm voice, “You both have to go to the medical clinic, and see the doctor.”
 
“Why????  We’re not sick!”  I spewed, irritated beyond my own belief.
 
“We have to determine that these drugs are not illegal.”  He sternly states.
 
Off we were trotted, under guard to the medical clinic.  We were seated in “chairs” while a sick person awaited treatment. My thoughts flipped between the germs in the clinic, while I contemplated what jail in Belize would be like. 
 
I could tell Tom was irritated with me, thinking diplomacy would be more effective. Bless his heart, he means
well. Not an ounce of diplomacy was fluttering through my mind.
 
We sat in those chairs for not less than an hour waiting for the doctor. Finally, the doctor came out, an older
gentleman of kindly demeanor, looking more curious about our bag of vitamins than wanting to detain us further. He called us into his office
.
 
Taking a deep breath, as he questioned me as to why we had so many bottles of vitamins, I explained our restrictive diet, Tom’s eight years of use of Vitamin B6 as recommended by his urologist after three kidney stone surgery which has left him free of further incidences, our use of various supplements for bone health, heart health and a Valerian/Melatonin supplements used on occasion to help us sleep.
 
After a series of going back and forth to the opened bag of supplements which were still sitting in the chairs of the sick passengers, the security officer, and a male nurse were not only rummaging through the bag of vitamins but also one of our carry-on bags. There were alarmed by my blood pressure cuff, my ample supply of contact lenses, and my bag of miscellaneous fingernail supplies. 
 
They continued to refer to the supplements as “medications” stating we needed a prescription for each of these.  Then I said once again for the umpteenth time, “These are not prescription items. These are over-the-counter non-prescription supplements.
 
Well-planned in advance, we produced multiple documents from our doctor and travel clinic in Minnesota, specifically stating that these particular supplements were a part of our regular dietary needs, none of which required a prescription. The security officer and the male nurse looked over the documents.
 
Immediately, the security office changed his demands, fumbling over his words, stating that now, their new conditions, that we produce receipts for each and every supplement in the bag.
 
“Who saves receipts for vitamins?  Who needs a receipt for Vitamin C?  I could drink a glass of orange juice for the same dose.” Tom’s foot tapped my calf.  I was enraged.
 
As the doctor finished with his sick patient, the male nurse goes into the doctors’ office and in hushed tones, speaks to him. We can’t hear what he’s saying. A moment later the doctor comes out while scolding the male nurse for the preposterous of this situation. The nurse dashes off, not to be seen again.
 
At that point, the doctor asked us to come into his office. Tom recommended I go in alone, since one of
us had to watch the computer bags and other luggage. 
 
In a calmer manner, I explained our situation to the doctor, who promptly informed me that he’s 82 and doesn’t take any vitamins. Good for him. We do. As I was speaking to the doctor, the security officer was watching me, watching Tom, watching our vitamins, and talking on the phone about our vitamins to some unknown party.  His head was flopping back and forth as if he were watching ping pong game.
 
The doctor walked out of his office, looked into the bag of vitamins asking the security officer, Tom, and I back into his office.  Tom and I followed suit, but the security officer was rambling on the phone about our vitamins.  I was ready to scream. I didn’t.
 
Finally, we’re all back in the doctor’s office while the doctor explains to the security officer that these vitamins are legal, non-prescription items that anyone can purchase over the counter.
 
The security officer was unrelenting, refusing to give us back the supplements. The doctor proposed that
they are to be treated in the same manner as bottles of alcohol, held in security, providing a receipt, and returned to the passenger upon disembarking.
 
The security officer refused the doctor’s recommendation stating that he is going to turn our vitamins over to the police.  I freaked! “No, way! We are not getting a criminal record that follows us around the world, affecting our ability to travel, over vitamins!”  This could put a fast end to our travels!   
 
I freaked out!  At this point, Tom stopped kicking me “under the table.” This was serious.
 
“OK,” I offered, in a feeble attempt to sound under control, “What if we produce all of the receipts for these?”  My mind was spinning thinking I could get them online where I’d made the various purchases in the past year. 
 
He agreed to insist that we’d have to sign a statement certifying that we have no intention of reselling the vitamins and that is for our personal use.
 
The doctor had thrown his hands in the air. It was obvious he was as stymied by this awful experience as we were.
 
The security officer states, “Yes, get me the receipts and we’ll see what we can do.” 
 
At this point, the doctor produced his camera and took a picture of our supplements. Observing this peculiarity,
I immediately pulled out my camera and also took a picture as you can see here.
 
Two hours had passed from the time we boarded the ship until we warily went to the Internet cafe to sign up for service. 
 
A half-hour later we left to attend our scheduled emergency procedure session arranged exclusively for us since we were the only passengers boarding mid-cruise in Belize City. There were four various officers in attendance in the Tapestry Room as we watched a 10-minute video and was shown how to put on our life jackets, along with a description of the location of our “muster station,” a designated meeting point for passengers in an emergency. Fine. Done.
 
By the time we got back to our cabin, yet to receive as much as open a single bag, we showered, and change for dinner. We needed to eat. We hadn’t had a morsel all day. Exhausted, frustrated, and hungry, we fumbled around the cabin looking for clothes to wear to dinner, showering, and getting ready.
 
Our lovely cabin steward’s soft, caring, voice help defray some of my angst, hoping somehow we could get past this and enjoy the rest of the cruise’s remaining 11 days.
 
By 7:30 PM, we were seated at a round table in the Golden Olympian dining room joining a charming couple from Maine. As the conversation escalated, we found ourselves slipping into a more relaxed state, optimistic that we could let this all go, get the receipts in the morning, and be done with the negative experience with the vitamins.
 
The Carnival Liberty is unlike either the of the two Celebrity cruises we’d experienced a few months ago. The service is great, the food quite acceptable, especially as they accommodated my restrictive diet at dinner, the decor, loud and gaudy, but the amenities and activities are many, appealing to a much younger crowd, not necessarily us.  Lots of smoking throughout the ship.
 
Within a few days, we anticipate that we’ll get into a groove enjoying ourselves in whatever we do, as long as we’re together, have running water, a good Internet connection, decent food, and a clean safe environment.  Not much to expect, right?
 
NOT SO FAST!!!
 
By 10:30, we decided to call it a night as masses of passengers were literally jumping up and down, dancing and screaming to the rockin’ music in the various bars. As we entered the glass elevator overlooking one of the bars, people were carrying on to the song, “Celebration” in a mad frenzy. Gosh, we’re old.
We welcomed the sight of the turned-down bed arriving in our cabin after dinner, exhausted and stressed, desperately needing a good night’s sleep.
By 11:00 we were reading our books on the Kindle apps on our phones, finally drifting off. Within minutes of
wandering off into much-needed repose, we both were awakened to a loud thumping and thumping and thumping. 
 
“Do you hear that?” I asked Tom, who is hard of hearing and may not have heard it. 
 
“Yes,” he said, “I can also feel it!” The bed was vibrating with each thump.  The late-night bar one floor below us opened at 11:00 PM to outrageously loud disco music until 2:30 am.
 
Tom, thanks to his hearing loss, was able to dose in and out.  I, on the other hand, a light sleeper, never
slept a wink until finally at 3:00 am, I finally wandered off, exhausted, frustrated, head pounding. I needed an
aspirin. Bad. They were in the bag of vitamins.
We checked today. That music goes on seven nights a week. Oh.
Not much sleep was to be had in this bed last night with the constant thumping of the disco bar one floor below us.
At 7:35 am an announcement came over the loudspeaker, telling us that the ship was in rough waters and may not be able to go into port in Roatan, Honduras. Jolted out of deep sleep, neither of us was able to go back to sleep.

 

Need I say, we had little motivation or energy to do much of anything today, other than continue to work on the vitamin situation. Exhausted, there was no one hour of pool time, no wandering around the ship exploring every nook and cranny, and only a few photos to share with you today.

 Do we get our vitamins back?  As we write this now, we still don’t know.  Tomorrow, we’ll write again describing “the rest of the story.”

 

 

Medical woes abroad?…

The uncertainty of the quality of medical care in the many countries we will visit, undoubtedly presents us with cause for concern.  Overall, we are both in relatively good health after working so hard to improve it these past few years.

With our healthful, low carb diet of organic, grass fed meats and produce, exercise (mostly me), reduction in exposure to toxic chemicals in our home, low stress and a happy relationship, we feel we can manage our few complaints easily from afar.

Our doctor will be available via the Internet should we have questions and we’ll be well armed with a wide array of preventive and emergency medications should an illness arise.  In the past almost year, neither of us has had a cold, a virus or illness requiring a trip to the doctor.  

Our recent medical appointments have been for the sole purpose of reviewing our travel medications, receiving our vaccinations and having blood tests with an annual exam thrown in for good measure, all of which showed tremendous improvement from a few years ago.  We are hopeful.

Assuming we don’t get bitten by a snake or warthog, break a leg or have a sudden gall bladder or appendicitis attack, we should be fine. But, of course, we must plan for the possibility of illness in the following manner:

  • Emergency evacuation insurance
  • Supplemental insurance for Jess (Medicare won’t pay for any care out of the US). Only 60 at retirement, Tom will be covered by his regular insurance.  Proof of insurance documents.
  • Prescription processing from afar (as mentioned in prior posts, we’re awaiting a response from our prescription plan as to whether they will provide us with 12 months of prescriptions at a time).
  • Emergency medication for infections, bee stings and/or allergic reactions (EpiPen) and gastrointestinal distress.
  • Copies of all of our immunizations (proof of yellow fever vaccine required with passport upon entry into Kenya).
  • Copies of all of our prescriptions (in the event we are asked during customs inspections or going through security).
  • First aid supplies: Bandages, antibacterial and cortisone creams, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide (small bottles).
  • Over the counter medications.
  • Vitamins/Supplements we currently use.
  • Medical records for both of us (scanning these).
  • Optical needs: extra sets of glasses/prescription sunglasses for Tom,  three years of contact lenses for me. Both of us are yet to have our final optical appointments.
  • Final dental appointments and supplies: Our teeth will be cleaned two weeks prior to leaving the US, while visiting Las Vegas over Christmas. The past few years, we both had all the crowns done that we’d needed.  
  • Copies of our living wills and legal designation for medical advocacy in the event of an emergency.
A neat stack of medical forms and documents sits on our kitchen table with Post-it notes reminding me to complete the above tasks on the appropriate dates.  
This Saturday is the free shredding event.  After going through every file  folder, cabinet, drawer and piece of paper in our entire home, we are ready for the event.  No words can describe the freedom we feel from unburdening our lives with paper.  
Other than the required medical documents, passports and  travel documents we’ll need to have on hand, we’ll leave a “paperful” life behind us, instead relying on the latest technology to provide us access as needed.  Yeah for technology!  Without it, planning for this adventure would be more of a headache than it already is!