Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More exploring

Today Vic had the day off so we loaded up and headed out.  We checked out some tide pools, had a picnic, went to the Windjammer pool and finished off the day with ice cream at the Caribbean Coffee and Cream.  We can get Starbucks coffee, smoothies, Breyers ice cream and milkshakes there!  Yum! Tonight we plan to join some Jamaican friends for a special worship time that their church is having this week.  I'll try and take some pictures and post about our time tonight.

Enjoy some pics of our day!

                                              View of the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean
Tide pools.  We saw fish, hermit crabs, larger crabs, snails and all sorts of coral.
                               left to right: Vincent, Tori, Celina, Victor Jr., Alana and Jordan
 A rather larger hermit crab.  I think he will need to find a new shell soon.
 An itty bitty tiny hermit crab.  So cute!
 This picnic pavilion is on top of a hill an overlooks all of Guantanamo Bay.
 A view from our picnic spot
 Enjoying ice cream at Caribbean Coffee and Cream
 We found this telescope to view the bay.
These little island-looking things are moorings for Battleships.  We are allowed to tie up with a boat and check them out.  Hopefully soon we will be able to do that!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Our house

I've been waiting to do a post on our house until I got some good pictures.  I must say, I love our house!  I was preparing myself to be disappointed, realizing that base homes are often older and a tad out of date.  This house is anything but that description.  Sure, it is older, built sometime before 1978, but it is certainly not out of date.  Nor is it small.  At least not for us.  This house is quite a bit bigger than our previous house in FL.  And the neighborhood is great too.  It is basically the closest that we could get to the "happenings" of gtmo like the NEX, chapel, sports complex, restaurants, bowling alley, movie theater, swimming pool, library, etc.  We are also situated on top of a hill and have a 360 degree view!  It's breath-taking.  I still can't believe I get to live here!  

Here are a couple of details:

  • 4 bedroom / 2 1/2 baths
  • approx. 2000 sq. ft.
  • 2-story
  • duplex
  • wood floors
  • tile
  • Corian countertops
  • berber carpet 
  • large kitchen
  • indoor laundry room!!!!  
 The front view of our house.  Ours is the left half.  Notice the playground behind the white vehicle.
                                  This is the backyard.  That tree is ours!  I love, love, love it!
                            View out of our front door.  The dock is called "officer's landing".
                       Another view out our front door.  Those houses are senior officer homes.
                                                 The marina.  Also out our front door. 
                                          The playground.  Notice the awnings?  Fantastic!
                              View from our backyard.  That is the chapel where we worship.
                                        View from our side yard.  That is the sports complex.

A trip to the doctor

Today we made our first trip to the hospital.  Actually, we just went to the clinic, but it shares the same building as the hospital.  My two oldest girls have been fighting a cold for a number of weeks and it turned into a sinus infection for both of them.  I must say how thoroughly impressed I was with everyone from the receptionist desk and medical records office to the nurses and the pediatrician.  I've heard some not-so-pleasant reviews about military doctors in general, but I actually personally know several military doctors or former military-turned civilian doctors and I always thought to myself, "how could everything be as bad a people are telling me?"  I'm pleased to say that each aspect of the visit was pleasant and each person that I had to deal with was very helpful.  In all, I spent less than two hours there, but most of my time was spent filling out paperwork since we had to register first.  Anytime I have to fill out paperwork, it is for eight people so it takes some time!  I do for sure have our new address and phone number memorized though!  The best part of the whole trip?  It only took 6 minutes to get there.  I could get used to that.

*If you personally have had a bad experience with a military doctor or hospital, please know that I'm not doubting your experience at all.  I'm simply sharing our experience today.*

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Tropical Storm Update #2

Well, Tropical Storm Isaac turned out to be a non-event here.  The storm took a slight northern turn and skirted the northeast coast of Cuba while we are situated on the southeast coast.  With nothing more than light wind and rain, it ended up being a nice day off relaxing in the house with the family.  We were ordered to stay indoors starting at 2300 last night and now at 1700, we are being allowed out again.  Everything remains closed except for the Galley, so we are headed out to stretch our legs and enjoy yet another cheap and yummy meal!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tropical Storm Isaac Update

We are all hunkered down.  Everyone has been ordered to remain in their homes until further notice.  Not much is happening outside just yet, but we are anticipating some strong winds and heavy rains starting sometime soon.  Probably in the middle of the night.  Tomorrow we should see tropical storm conditions for the whole day.  Sounds like it won't be a hurricane when it hits us. If sustained winds reach 50 mph, then the base will shut down the electricity.  We are prepared though with a generator, small a/c unit, plenty of water and food and games galore.

I'll let everyone know how it goes!

Meet the Zarates

I just realized that I haven't fully introduced myself and the family.  We are the Zarates - like Karate, but with a "z".  My husband, Vic and I (Joy) have six children; four girls and two boys ranging in age from 3-15 and a dog.  I'll go ahead and answer the FAQ's for you.  Yes, they are all ours, together.  None are adopted (although once you look at the picture, that is probably going to be self-explanatory).  None are twins.  No we are not crazy.  Yes we know what causes it.  Yes I am busy.  Yes our house is loud.  No I do not have the patience of Job or Mother Theresa or Michelle Duggar.  No I am not super-organized.  Yes we are blessed.

A brief background is that we moved to GTMO from the panhandle of FL where we lived for 11 years.  Previously, we lived in CO where Vic is from and he and I met.  I grew up in CA and moved to CO when I was 15.  Vic and I went to high school together and got married shortly after I graduated from high school.  After we got married, Vic started a career in retail working first for The Home Depot, then Sears and finally to the Navy Exchange which is what brought us here.

                                    from left to right: Alana 13, Tori 5, Vincent 3, Victor Jr. 10
                                              Celina 9, Jordan 15, Vic and Joy in the back

                                                                   Tyson, our boxer

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Date Night

Vic and I are going on a date night tonight.  Yay!  I don't think we've been on a date since before he left for gtmo at the end of July.  Actually, we did manage a quick lunch date the other day in the middle of some errands.  I'm not sure where exactly we are going to go, but it might surprise some that there are quite a few choices as far as restaurants.  We have some fast food places including: Subway, McDonald's, Taco Bell, KFC and A&W.  Then of course there is the Galley which is similar to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The Galley is great because it is cheap, good and fast.  Lunch and dinner is $4.55 per person and includes a drink and breakfast is around $2.50.  There are also several sit-down restaurants.  I know for sure about the Bayview Club and the Windjammer Cafe.  We ate at the Windjammer on Sunday after church and it was fantastic!

Now I've gotta get the kiddos all settled in with some standard date night fare: mac n cheese, hot dogs, popcorn and a movie.  Lucky kids!  heehee

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tropical Storm Isaac

I was hoping to not have to do a post on Tropical Storm Isaac, but alas, it seems as though it is choosing to take a direct aim at southern Cuba, which is precisely where Guantanamo Bay is located.  We expect to begin feeling the effects sometime on Friday.  At least the bigger effects.  We've already been experiencing some wind gusts.

The base is well prepared for the storm it seems.  There are plans for where each person is to shelter, if necessary.  Our home is considered hurricane proof, so we will "shelter" in our house, but we are given specific instructions as what to do and when.  We have already heard sirens going off that indicate which "level" of storm awareness we are in.

Since we lived in FL for 11 years, we are already used to the threat of tropical storms and hurricanes.  And while it is something to be very aware of and prepared for, I don't feel at all afraid.  Sure, we make  necessary preparations, but we don't panic or worry.  And I feel very confident in the structure of the base to quickly mobilize any necessary resources.

My heart goes out more for the residents of the poorer nations of Haiti and Cuba.  Please pray for them.  And pray for us too, but rest assured, we have resources readily available to meet our needs.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Iguanas: the gtmo mascot

Iguanas are everywhere!  There are signs here that read, "don't feed the iguanas".  I am told that if you feed them, they start to become aggressive.  Apparently, there is one who lives near the A&W who is notorious for trying to steal food. Iguanas generally move very s-l-o-w.  But, sometimes, they can move extremely fast.  Faster than my sprinting dog.  Tyson saw an iguana on our front porch and took off like he was chasing a cat or a squirrel.  Thankfully the iguana got away.  I am also told that if you kill one, the fine is something like $10,000!  And it doesn't matter if it's an accident.  If you run over one, your dog kills one, etc. you will be responsible. We also have signs that showing "iguana crossing".  There have been a handful of times already that I've been behind someone who has stopped for the iguana crossing the road.   I'm not sure why the iguana is so protected here?  Vic and I were trying to think about that.  It can't be because they are endangered because they are everywhere!  We think perhaps they were at one time endangered and hence the steep fines but just haven't been taken off the list?  When I find out, I'll let you all know.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Errands, Exploring, Excitement

How is it that if I was back in the states, I'd have a hard time to write just one paragraph about my day? Yet here, I feel like I could write a whole book about our few short days here.  My brain literally hurts with the amount of new info that it's processing!  I'm so eager to share with all of the readers here that I have to remind myself at times to just take it all in and not think about writing a post about it!

side note:  I'm going to use military time on this blog.  It's not because I want to sound all "military-ish" but rather that I actually need to learn it since everything here is in military time.  I find myself quickly converting in my head and that also makes my brain hurt.

This morning I drove Vic to work at 0757 and we arrived at 0759.  Oh yeah!  Gotta love the two minute drive to work.  Sure beats the 1 hr 15 min drive he had before.  Now before you go questioning the "why" for driving to work when it is only 2 minutes away, just remember that it is hot here and no one wants him to show up for work all sweaty. When we pulled up, he showed me where to park.  Turns out he has his very own nifty parking spot with his job title on it.  He confessed to me though that he doesn't park in it because he doesn't like to be above his employees.  He figures if they can walk, so can he.  This morning however, he wanted to impress me.  I was indeed impressed. ;)

At 1000, I picked him up from work and we busied ourselves with errands for a few hours.   I did all the driving so that I could familiarize myself with the various offices here on base.

In the afternoon, while Vic went back to work, I took the kids exploring.  We donned our swimsuits, brought sunscreen, towels, boogie board and sand toys.  We ended up at the ferry landing beach.   It was the only place that I knew of for sure for swimming besides the pool.  Someone had pointed it out to me on our ferry ride over the first day.  Since it is on the bay, there are no waves to speak of so it is a great location for children.  As soon as I stepped barefoot on the sand, I realized how spoiled I've been by the sugar sand beaches of the Emerald Coast of Florida.  The sand here is rocky and hot.  But, it holds wonderful treasures!  Seashells, coral, sea glass and rocks abound.  And I think we came home with no less than two bucket-fulls!  I then remembered how enjoyable our ferry ride was the first day and I suggested that we ride it, just for fun.  So, I loaded the kids up for the 20 + minute ride to the other side.  It was so nice because we were still wet from swimming and there was a wonderful breeze that kept us cool. I think the ferry workers found us rather amusing to just be taking the ride there and back for fun.  Mostly the ferry is just another form of transportation here.

After the ferry ride, we drove around  bit more and then decided that ice cream was in order.  There is an ice cream / smoothie / coffee shop just up the road from our house.  Perfect!  One of the things that I liked best about it was there were only four choices of ice cream.  Chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and my favorite, mint chocolate chip.  To me, less choices = easier life!  I think I can get used to this.

As I type this, Vic and the four oldest are out fishing.  The two small kids and I are still in our swimsuits.  I better get them washed up before they fall asleep.  I think I'm getting the hang of the "gtmo life"...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Final Destination: Guantanamo Bay

We made it!  Our flight was great and miraculously, all six children and the dog cooperated during the travel day and we had no major hiccups.

I stole the title of this blog post from my new gtmo friend.  I had posted a status on Facebook that said, "next stop: Cuba" and her comment was, "final destination: gtmo".  Indeed.  Our final destination for quite awhile is here.  And that makes my heart happy.

My mind is completely overwhelmed with things to say.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • The island is beautiful.  To me, it is a cross between several places that I've been.  The coastline reminds me of California.  It is rocky cliffs.  The water is unlike any color that I've seen and I'm sure the picture won't do it justice.  I'm used to the beautiful waters of the Gulf Coast of Florida, but the water here is another color entirely.  It's almost like sapphire blue and turquoise combined.  The vegetation is very dense in areas, but in other areas, it is very desert-like.  It reminds me of Arizona when I see giant cactus.  And then there are hills everywhere.  In fact, our house sits atop a hill and we have quite the view!
  • Iguanas are synonymous with gtmo.  I think I have seen no less than 50 so far.  They come out at certain times of the day and it is not uncommon to see 5 or 6 within a small area.  I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing them.  
  • The people are friendly!  Starting with the terminal in Jacksonville, everyone was very welcoming.  Several people have told me to let them know if we need anything.  I got several phone numbers for people as well.  
  • Our neighbors are fantastic.  They brought us over some food today, complete with homemade tortillas and salsa.  They have four children and some are the same ages of ours, so that should make for some fun times.
  • There are more Jamaican and Filipino nationals here than there are Americans so it really feels like we are living in another country.
  • I love the Jamaican and Filipino people!  Warm smiles, hugs and kisses abound!
  • When we boarded and deplaned, it was on one of those rolling staircases.  You know the kind where you actually walk out to the runway.  That right away made me feel like I was going on vacation.  I suppose because the only other time I have done it that way, I was, in fact, going on vacation.
  • We had a two-hour flight and it included a free in-flight movie, a pillow and blanket on every seat and a MEAL!  Yes, you heard me.  A meal.  I think I was 15 the last time I got an in-flight meal.  My poor kids are going to be sadly disappointed when they realize that a meal is not standard with most flights these days.  The meal and movie was a great distraction for the kids and I think we owe most the the good behavior to it.  :)
  • As promised, Vic took us to dinner at the Galley.  This might be more familiar if I described it as a "chow hall".  It was great food and the best part is that it only cost our family of 8 around $28.  That included dinner, salad bar, dessert, drinks, etc...  
  • I got to shop at the commissary for the first time ever!  Since we are civilian, we don't normally get commissary privileges in the states.  So for me, the prices are even cheaper than the normal prices at a grocery store in the states.  Fun!  
  • We enjoyed two church services today.  11 a.m. for the protestant service and then at 6 p.m. for the GBCF (guantanamo bay christian fellowship) which is mostly filipino nationals, although there was a good presence of Americans as well.  Both services were great and we were thoroughly welcomed at both.
I have so much more that I could say.  I will end for now, but I will continue to write in the days ahead.  Tomorrow is going to be busy with several errands, laundry and some organizing.  And of course, more exploring!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Next Stop: Cuba

Today is travel day!  It feels like it has been such a long time coming and we can't wait.  Vic was able to travel back to the states to accompany myself, our six children and the dog so we didn't have to travel alone.  I'm very grateful that it was able to work out.

We are leaving from Jacksonville Naval Air Station.  There is a flight that goes to gtmo every Saturday and every other Tuesday.  We have to be at the terminal at 6 a.m. to check in and then the flight leaves around 9:30 a.m.

Two of our six children have never been on a plane and it has been eight years for those who have so they are pretty excited for the plane ride.

I will take some pictures and try to post as soon as I can after we arrive.  The internet can be sketchy at times, so I'm not making any promises.  :)

Next stop: Cuba!!!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Movers are done!

The movers arrived last week and with precise movements began packing and loading all of our personal belongings.  These guys were great!  It only took them about 10 hours over a two day period to pack and load all of stuff.  Wow!  In the past, the only way that we have ever moved is by doing it ourselves.  I'm telling you, this is the way to go for sure!  Of course, with Vic's work paying for it, it does make it feel much better.  I don't think I'd be quite so happy if I was footing the bill myself.

When moving overseas, two separate shipments are allowed.  The first, called unaccompanied baggage or UB for short, is a small shipment of necessary household items designed to make the arrival in the new home as easy as possible.  I included things like sheets, towels, kitchen items, the kids' bikes, beach gear, etc... We were allowed 1000 lbs. This shipment generally is expedited and therefore is *in theory* supposed to arrive around the same time as you do.  Our dates ended up getting mixed up a bit, so our UB shipment actually left the states on July 5th and so therefore had plenty of time to arrive before we did.  Vic already received our shipment and has it all moved in to our new house in gtmo.

The second shipment, called household goods or HHG for short, is everything else.  We were able to take 18,000 lbs. which was more than enough to pack our entire house.  My understanding is that the weight allotment will vary depending on rank.  This shipment takes longer to arrive.  We have been told anywhere from 4-8 weeks is the norm for gtmo.  I will let readers know when ours arrives.

As I mentioned, this was our first move that we didn't do ourselves, so the process was a bit different than what I had been used to.  I'll share a few things that I learned.  I'm no expert on this subject so if you find yourself getting ready for a move overseas, I'd suggest googling the subject and learn from the seasoned military men and women.  That's what I did and I feel like I was very prepared.  Additionally, I also was blessed by several friends and neighbors who had done this process before and peppered me with many tips.

1. It is quite helpful to schedule your UB and HHG shipments on different days.  There is simply too much potential to get things mixed up otherwise.
2. If you have time, go through everything that you possibly can and purge, purge, purge.  The movers will pack any and everything that they find, including trash!
3. Make plans to stay elsewhere once the movers start packing the house.  They can work much more efficiently if they don't have to worry about leaving anything in the house.
4. Empty your trashcans.  Seriously.  All of them.  I have heard from more than one person the horrors of unpacking a trashcan months later that still had trash in it.
5. Label things with clear signs if it is a "do not pack" item.  I tried to do this, but unfortunately, I missed labeling my cell phone charger and so it is packed somewhere with my kitchen items.
6. Movers are considered to be part of the "service" industry, so tipping them, while not required or expected, it certainly a nice gesture.  At the very least, providing cold drinks in the fridge and offering to buy lunch in much appreciated.

So far, our moving experience has been fantastic!  I was thoroughly impressed with the hard-working, professional employees who packed all of our items with care.  No doubt, we will be equally pleased on the other side, during the unloading process.