November 2, 2015
Today was a travel day. We headed to Curacao with two different pilots, same type of plane: a C-12 with only a tube to pee in- not made for the ladies!
We were shown the flight plans before we left; there were a LOT of lighting bolts on the iPad, which means the flight could be bumpy and we would have to zig-zag over to Curacao. The superstitious side of me was glad that we were traveling AWAY from the Bermuda Triangle.
Thoughts I wrote while on the flight:
It is interesting to watch the pilots map out a new flight plan in order to avoid the thunderstorms, which are popping up all over the Caribbean. We were supposed to fly over Haiti, but instead passed between Haiti and Jamaica.
Just flew through some very bumpy air. The turbulence doesn’t feel much different than being on a big commercial jet, yet somehow I feel better about a small plane being able to weave it’s way around a tricky spot, especially with Top Gun pilots. They said over the intercom, “You guys might wanna hold on back there.” That happened right after I said, “I feel like Amelia Earhart.”
They are creating, yet another, new flight plan. It is clear that we are not taking a direct flight to Curacao.
Steven got up to use “the tube” to pee, so John, one of our pilots, got out of his seat to show him how to do it. Jody, the other pilot, let me come up and fly the plane. I was nervous at first, with other lives in my hands, but of course he could just take over at any time. It was pretty cool to see what it’s like in the cockpit. I am now considering adding a pilot’s license to my resume. Boom. (You know, in addition to the motorcycle license…of which I rarely get to take advantage.)
First glimpses of Curacao:
As soon as we got off the plane, we were immediately taken into a debriefing room, where we learned about the real Curacao- not the one we saw in pictures.
When researching this island on the Internet, we saw beautiful beaches and colorful buildings. We thought that this place might easily be the most luxurious of the stops on our tour. Not the case. There is actually a lot of crime and criminal behavior on the island, including identity theft. We were told which places to avoid, for our personal safety, and which ATMs have been known to read cards. We were told about recent murders in the area, etc.
This base’s mission is to identify drug smugglers, especially ones by ship. This year, they made a HUGE cocaine bust. What do they do with all that cocaine? I didn’t ask. Perhaps I didn’t want to know the answer. Once you know stuff, you can’t go back to not knowing. I already felt like I knew too much about drugs, drug lords, and Central America’s drug empire. Again, I choose to omit certain information for the purposes of this blog. Though interesting, I want no association.
Curacao is a Dutch Caribbean Island and the currency is Netherlands Antillean guilder. There are many Dutch speakers on the island and many of the street signs are in Dutch. The Dutch come to Curacao on vacation from Holland. I’m not sure exactly why, as there are probably cheaper, nicer places to go, but alas, they do. Perhaps there are nicer parts of the island that I didn’t get to see.
The other language that is spoken by the natives, if you will, is Papiamento. Papiamento is “a multifaceted Creole language based on Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and several African dialects. It's spoken most often in the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) Islands, and has been in use for 300 years. It is, in a way, the original language of Curacao, and was meant to be a spoken communication, not a written one.” www.curacao-travelguide.com It doesn’t sound like words to me; it sounds like mumbling, which is probably what happens to people when they are speaking several languages at the same time. I communicated by miming and pointing, which might be rude, but definitely universal.
That first evening, we had dinner at an all-you-can-eat pizza place. I had a smoked salmon pizza. It was amazing. I could only eat one pizza; more than that is just ridiculous, or for men. I went back to the hotel, excited to snorkel in the hotel cove the next day, iced my foot and went to bed.
My breakfast items in the morning would be Denny’s or the buffet by the beach. I think you know what I chose.
Every day, I strive to…
Be the light I wish to see in the world.
November 1, 2015
Our day off…
It’s Sunday and we met John from MWR in the lobby of the BOQ at 9:45am to get a ride over to Radio GTMO, where we met John, the radio DJ. In the front lobby of the station, they have shelves full of T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, coozies, mugs, and Fidel bobbleheads. On the front of the shirts, it reads, “Radio GTMO.” On the back, it reads, “Rockin’ in Fidel’s Backyard.” All of the proceeds from the sales of these items go to help different organizations on the base; it’s a non-profit. I purchased souvenirs.
The radio show was fun to do. John just asked us questions and we answered. It makes me think of how fun it might be to host a radio show. I look forward to getting the recording.
After recording our stuff, we got to tour the studio. We saw where they file all of the CDs of top 40’s songs (yes, they stay on top of the newest music), the equipment where they control the TV stations received on base, and the storage room where they house the 3rd largest collection of old vinyl records (dating back to the 60’s) of all military bases. An old album of the Beatles that was found amongst them now sits in a museum.
Next up was a short tour of the base. Our guide showed us what was left of Camp X-Ray, where the first group of 20 people who were believed to be in connection to the 9/11 attacks was detained. They reopened the camp on January 11, 2002 for these 20 people until Camp Delta was finished. The detainees were transferred and Camp X-Ray was closed on April 29, 2002. Detainees were most definitely tortured, some to death, at Camp X-Ray. Seeing it reminded me a little bit of seeing Dachau in Germany; there is an eerie energy there. It is now over-grown with weeds that creep between the fences that run between the guard posts. No one ever escaped Camp XRay.
We got close to the gate to Cuba, but it’s never good to get too close. Military personnel line the fence on both sides, just as a precaution. Cuba’s weaponry is behind the times and would never compete with the U.S.’s, and we don’t have a reason to fight the Cubans, yet there is still some disagreement over the land, etc. Since Cuba and the US have been improving relations, the US has removed all of their land mines on GTMO’s side of the fence. However, Cuba supposedly didn’t make a map of where they buried theirs and a month ago, a cow blew up. It’s just good to be careful.
We were not allowed to go see the current detainment center; they don’t call it a prison because no one in there has been sentenced. They are just being detained, awaiting their trials. I have more information on this topic, but I am choosing not to put it in this blog. I will say only this: detainees are treated well. Guards have the worst living quarters on the base, because of the laws regarding “prisoners of war” and their keepers.
Following the little tour, we had brunch and got to sit in the officers’ club bar. There are certain places on base that only officers are allowed to occupy. We got the royal treatment for sure. Here, we got a personal account of what happened the night before a mysterious death happened on base earlier this year. Again, I am going to keep what I heard to myself, but you can read about it here:
Following brunch, we all put our swimsuits on and slathered up on sunscreen, preparing for a tour of the bay. When we arrived at the marina at our scheduled time, we discovered that the captain of our boat got the time’s mixed up and was not willing to come back down. As we weighed our options, our guide told the clerk that we had a boat for free if anyone came along interested in captaining it for “the four comedians.” To our luck, three people, army personnel as it turned out, were just arriving to get a boat. They were willing to drive us around and save money on renting a boat. Everybody won! It was a beautiful day. We toured around, saw people fishing, and even jumped in the water for a bit. Captain Matt pointed out the border fence and once again we were told, “We shouldn’t get too close. You never know.” Interesting. Like a child…I wanted to know…what could happen?
With a cooler full of beer, the comedians enjoyed our first day off in the sun. Once we stopped to jump in the water and float in our life vests, with beer-filled coozies, I was in one of my favorite states of being. Until… someone yelled, “You guys should swim back to the boat, there are jellyfish in the water!” I yelled back, “If I swim directly back to the boat, will I be swimming right through them?” My response was a shrug. I swam back, slowly and deliberately. As I swam, I noticed a dull stinging feeling in multiple places on the left side of my body. I knew I was being stung by jellyfish, but just kept swimming. What else could I do? I matter-of-factly hollered to the people on the boat, “I think I’m getting stung.” There was no panic in my voice. It was more like: I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, so just warning you, if I have a reaction hopefully you’ll know what to do. The pain wasn’t bad. It just felt like bee stings. The boys offered to urinate on me; I politely decided to let the pain ride itself out. After all, I already had a swollen foot and a few beers in me. The pain went away rather quickly and within a couple hours, the red marks were gone, too. And now I can say I was stung my jellyfish in Guantanamo Bay!
The day ended with dinner at The Jerk House and cosmic bowling. Granny bowling for me. The funny thing about the bowling alley: most people weren’t there to bowl. There are only certain places where a person can connect to Wi-Fi on GTMO; one of them is the Bowling Alley! People lined the hallways, the tables, anywhere they could find space to connect to the outside world. Crazy.
It was a good day. Off to Curacao tomorrow and another “day off.”
Every day, I strive to…
Be the light I wish to see in the world.
October 31, 2015
Flying into Guantanamo Bay…
This morning, we flew back into Nassau…with Captain Bullet, in the tiny plane, to the tiny plane airport, which had no food options. And since breakfast ended at 7:30 am on base, most of us didn’t eat anything, because we were sleeping in from the crazy night before. Steve talked one of the ladies at the terminal into driving us over to the commercial airport to grab food, so we didn’t have to pay a $10 taxicab fee. The only place to eat over there was Wendy’s and we didn’t even have to walk in! The Nassau airport has a Wendy’s Drive-Thru window!
After finishing lunch, our pilots showed up; they introduced themselves as Chris and David. We shook their hands; got the safety briefing of our slightly larger plane, a C-12, which fits 10 people, including the pilot and co-pilot; and boarded the plane. Once we reached cruising altitude, Steven, who was still hung-over, asked if he could lie down and sleep in the aisle. David said yes and Steven slept. He slept hard. The flight from Nassau to GTMO was uneventful and lovely; clear skies and beautiful blue water.
When we arrived at the GTMO airport, we noticed framed pictures of the high level officers on the wall. The highest-level officer, the Commanding Officer, looked an awful lot like our pilot David. We asked our new friend David if this was indeed he and he humbly replied, “Yes.” It turned out that Captain David C. Culpepper, the guy in charge of ALL of Guantanamo Bay, just flew us in. He is a Top Gun pilot and needs to record a certain amount of hours flying to keep his status. To top it off, he didn’t make us wait for the ferry; we got to travel on his personal boat. WOW. Just wow.
About Cuba and the Base: Cuba is green and lush; we later found out that they’ve been getting a lot of rain, which I guess doesn’t really happen. Culpepper meets with Cuba’s government officials once a month to keep a good relationship. However, there is still a struggle between Cuba and the US, in regards to a couple things. One of those things: Cuba wants Guantanamo Bay back, but that’s not going to happen until all of the detainees have been through trial and released or sent to prison. No new prisoners have been accepted since 2010, but there are still about 150 terrorists awaiting trial. It sounds like it will be at least 10 years before the detainment center will be able to close.
This base is home to about ?? military personnel (I can't remember...but will edit this post when I find out), made up of all branches of the military. The rest of the people are civilians. They have a bowling alley, an outdoor movie theater, wind turbines, bars, restaurants, the commissary/grocery store, recreation center, a radio station, a marina, a hospital, and much more. It’s like a small town, almost, just like the others. Pretty much everything you need is right there. But because it’s a small town, everyone knows everyone else’s business and perhaps there’s a little cabin fever and a feeling of disconnect from the outside world. They get a lot of bands in GTMO, but they haven’t had a comedy show in a year and a half!
For lunch, our MWR guide, Gloeth, took us to a place called the Wind Jammer, which is one of the biggest hot spots on the base. Then, we checked into our rooms at the BOQ, which stands for Something Officer’s Quarters, and prepared for the show.
The Show: Show order: (1) me, (2) Melinda, (3) Steven, and (4) Matt. This venue had the BIGGEST stage Apoca-Laughs Now has seen so far. It is the BIGGEST stage I’ve ever performed on…and probably the BIGGEST audience I’ve ever performed in front of. (ending in a preposition, I know!) There were over 350 people at this beautiful outdoor venue called the Tiki Bar. Though it was nighttime and you couldn’t see the water, it over looks the bay. Every seat in the place was filled and people were standing. At least half of the audience, if not more, was dressed up for Halloween. There was a Big Baby, a bunch of guys wearing short shorts, Darth Vader, a pirate, a prisoner (ha), superheroes, and Macho Man Randy Savage. We even got our own trailer for our green room, in which a reporter named Ian from The Wire, a weekly Joint Task Force Guantanamo publication, interviewed us. I think the next publication date is November 6th.
After the show, we signed autographs and shook hands with the guests. It’s difficult to tell who is military and who isn’t, when so many people on base are civilians, but people were genuinely appreciative, once again. We were invited to a couple parties, but we ended up back at the Wind Jammer with our guide Denise for dinner. I ate a chilidog and it reminded me of my grandmother, which makes me smile. We took “Safe Ride” home, which is like Lyft Line, but free. The driver didn’t know what the BOQ was. Maybe she only knew the BEQ (housing for enlisted only…not officers). Yes, we feel special. Everywhere we’ve been so far, they make us feel special.
Before heading to bed, we located the Jello shot party. It was the perfect nightcap to a memorable evening. Halloween will never be the same.
Tomorrow, we hope to go fishing or at least go on a boat ride around the bay.
Every day, I strive to…
Be the light I wish to see in the world.
October 30, 2015
Our second show was at AUTEC (Atlantic Underwater Testing and Experimentation Center)…(Though I call it the Alien and USO/UFO Testing and Experimentation Center, based on the stories we heard about the History Channel’s Documentary.) AUTEC is located on Andros Island in the Bahamas, the largest of 700 islands in the Bahamian grouping, 30 of which are inhabited. We flew into Miami from Tegucigalpa on the 29th and then onto Nassau, where we spent the night. After a lovely walk on the beach and a quick breakfast, we boarded the tiniest plane I’ve ever experienced. There were 6 seats, including the pilot’s; it was basically a car with wings. Our pilot’s name was Captain Bullet and he was a mighty fine pilot indeed. His landing on Andros was like butter. Once we landed at the Andros Town International Airport, our sponsor and escort for the stay, Axel Martinez, came to pick us up.
About the Base: This base is home to about 40-50 military personnel, made up of Navy and Coast Guard. The rest of the people are civilians. They have a medical building, a post office, a boat storage place, a couple places to throw back with a beer or get on the Wi-Fi, and a beach. They had a school, but there weren’t enough kids, so now it’s empty, but was a perfect place for their haunted house.
After meeting the OIC (Officer in Charge), Commander Lopez; checking into our rooms, which had recently been remodeled with tiled showers; and eating lunch, we had some free time. Matt, Steven, and I went over to check out The Thousand Fathoms club, where our performance would take place, to do a sound check, suggest a layout for the seating, and play a little Foosball. Then, the boys and Melinda went down to the beach, while I took a nap and prepped my set for the night.
The Show: The show went well. The line-up was: (1) me, (2) Steven, (3) Matt, and (4) Melinda. The audience filled the large room and was ready to be entertained. Just like the last base, they don’t get a lot of entertainers down there. The OIC introduced us and off we went. Steven tried a couple new bits; both went well, one left him in only his underwear at the end of his set. Matt rocked his crowd work, as usual, and had the audience in stitches. Melinda rocked the stage like a pro and looked sexy as hell in her Sandy from Grease costume.
After the show, we signed autograph cards for those who were interested and did the routine meet and greet with the audience. People were just as appreciative as they were in Honduras. They say thank you over and over again. “People forget about us down here.” “We haven’t had anyone here in a while.” “We really needed to laugh like that.” Again, I had another guy in my arms and in tears, remembering his lost friends. (Something one of the comedians said sparked a memory full of emotion.) He was former army, now a contractor on the base. I made him laugh when I told him he was my first heckler. (He had shouted out that he hated Nebraska because he got pulled over there. I said, “Well, don’t take it out on me, I didn’t pull you over. And if I did, you’d have a very different opinion about Nebraska.” wink.)
It is this gift of laughter that Matt, Melinda, Steven and I bring. This is how we serve the troops. This is how we serve our country. This is how we serve. I do believe that in serving others we complete our purpose here on Earth. It is not the first time I’ve received this message, but it’s definitely a time to reflect on it.
When I look back at all of my happiest memories, moments that have really stuck with me over the years, times when I felt like all is right in the world, it is when I am giving of myself and my gifts and talents. We all have gifts. We all have talents. We all have skills. None of those combinations are exactly the same for ANY of us. We ALL have unique ways in which we can serve…give to our communities, big or small. Everyone. Every single one of us has the power to lift up another. My hope is that more people understand what their contribution is…or can be.
Oh…and then I played Foosball and my team won. I was so happy that I ran and jumped off the stage. I landed on my right foot in a bad way and haven’t been able to put full weight on it. We’ll see how the rest of the tour goes with this lovely addition.
Every day, I strive to…
Be the light I wish to see in the world.