Back from Poseidon’s Country

The family and I just returned from a quick Thanksgiving trip to the Caribbean. Don’t worry — I’m still spending most of my time working on The Mark of Athena, but every so often I need to recharge the batteries and take a trip — especially when I’m writing a story about a boat (The Argo II, of course). Our five-day cruise gave me all sorts of inspiration.

We flew into San Juan, Puerto Rico. I knew the trip was off to a good start, because on our first flight from San Antonio to Dallas, we had five Magellanic penguins from Sea World aboard our plane. Felix from The Kane Chronicles would’ve been grinning ear to ear. The penguins were heading to Virginia with their trainers. Hope they had a safe flight!

Once in Puerto Rico, we spent the night at the local Hilton Caribe, where everybody welcomed us like family. We’ve been through San Juan several times, and I always love visiting. It reminds me of my hometown San Antonio, except with an amazing beach.

The next morning we wandered through the streets of the old city — cobblestone paths, cool shops, pastel buildings, and lots of friendly people. We had some excellent mofongo at Barrachina and met the restaurant’s red macaw. Barrachina is where the pina colada was invented. I don’t drink, but Becky had one and declared it excellent. Afterwards, we wandered down a beautiful shady street between El Convento Hotel and the Governor’s Palace. At least one cat was sleeping under every car. Cats are no fools, as the goddess Bast can tell you. They will always find the coolest, shadiest spots. And yes, we took a lot of pictures of cats:

That afternoon, we boarded our cruise ship (not the Princess Andromeda, fortunately) and sailed for St. John, in the US Virgin Islands. We didn’t spend very long at Cruz Bay, but we did a little shopping and sightseeing, and had one of the best breakfasts we’ve ever had at Jake’s. Wow, that was good stuff! I had the homemade corned beef hash with scrambled eggs. Patrick devoured the French toast. Pretty much everything was outstanding. If you’re ever on the island, you need to go. Becky also got some amazing pictures of the clouds at dawn as we sailed in:

The next day brought us to Saint Bart’s, which we’d never visited before. I understand it is the richest Caribbean island, where many celebrities have homes. Certainly the main town of Gustavia has that Beverly Hills vibe. We passed Jimmy Buffett’s Le Select restaurant. Legend has it that Buffett wrote “Cheeseburger in Paradise” on St. Bart’s. However, we did not stop in for the $50 burger. Beautiful place, but a little on the expensive side!

On Thanksgiving Day, we arrived in St. Maarten/St. Martin, an island divided between Dutch and French halves. This is the island we’ve visited more than any other, and I appreciate it more each time. It earns its reputation as the ‘Friendly Island.’ I appreciate its laid back, international vibe. We visited Orient Bay on the French side, which is one of the best beaches on the island — or anywhere, in my opinion. As a bonus treat, we met a local reggae artist Dread I who was roaming the beach, offering a free listen to his albums. Nice guy. I told him I’d look him up on iTunes, and I’ve since bought his albums. If you enjoy reggae, check him out! Here’s a YouTube video of him on the beach (taken by someone else).

On our final day of cruising we visited Virgin Gorda, which got its name from Christopher Columbus, who supposedly thought the island looked like a plump maiden reclining on her side. I didn’t see that, but we did visit the Baths, which is a maze of huge boulders leading down to a beach with caves and tide pools. Really interesting place, and worth a return visit!

While on the cruise, I had time for some good reading. I finished Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, which certainly lived up to its buzz. The prose sparkles, and the story itself is a feat of magical acrobatics. It’s a hard book to summarize, but basically two ancient magicians set their two best pupils against one another in a magical contest. Its venue? A mysterious circus that only appears at night. The only problem: the contestants don’t really know the rules, or how victory is determined. And when the contestants start falling in love which each other, things get complicated.

Now I’m reading 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. I’d heard it was a difficult read, and certainly it is long, at well over 900 pages, but I find that I’m flying through it. Murakami knows how to keep the pages turning with a brilliant mix of mystery, fantasy and intrigue. Two characters, Aomame and Tengu, find themselves slipping into an alternate version of the world in 1984 — a world Aomame names 1Q84. What is causing this shift, and whom can they trust? Those are just some of the questions facing them. The book reminds me of Orwell, of course, but also Gabriel Marquez and some early dark urban fantasy like The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll or Little, Big by John Crowley. (Which you should read, if you haven’t.) Yet Murakami isn’t really like anyone else, exactly. He has that fresh ‘something,’ just like the fictional editor Komatsu in his narrative is looking for. Check out the book!

Meanwhile, Becky read the latest entry in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. She really enjoyed this entry — a great mystery set in 1950s England with an irrepressible, precocious young narrator.

Patrick finished up Michael Scott’s latest, The Warlock, and the conclusion of James Dashner’s trilogy, The Death Cure. Both got thumbs up!

Haley is reading the third Sandman Slim novel from Richard Kadrey: Aloha from Hell. Great urban fantasy noir, but definitely for older teens and adults.

And now we’re back home — and I’m back to writing. Have a wonderful holiday season, filled with good books!

Rick Riordan