Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Paradise, Kayaks, and Bugs...

Work retreats are always interesting events. Images like the following tend to come to mind:

While they're normally held at an awesome location (i.e. Las Vegas, the Bahamas, mountains of Colorado, etc.), there's always that component that work is always also involved as well. It's never just a fully relaxing, duty free couple of days.

During the second half of spring break (March 19-21), we had our annual work retreat down in Key Largo. We stayed at the same resort that we did last year, the Pelican, and were provided with the same awesome service. We had the entire resort to ourselves (except for one little hut that was taken over by a Canadian couple) and were able to enjoy the water, sunset, and each other's company.

Getting down the to the Keys proved to be a bit more adventurous than it was supposed to be. In all honesty, our final destination was a straight shot down the Turnpike. 2 hours. Done. Except we live in Florida. The land of eternal road work and lack of signage. As we were cruising down the turnpike, jamming out to some classic 90's tunes, we hit some construction. While in the midst of avoiding the workers, horrible drivers that don't know what lane they want to be in, and the sun, we somehow ended up back on I-95, headed towards Miami. Not really where we wanted to be. After being rerouted through another 30 minutes of nauseating, headache inducing constructon, we were back on track to the Keys!

The majority of the first afternoon was spent doing team builders and some reflection on our year so far. We created a journal that was used to help us gather our thoughts about our AmeriYear and beyond. While I'm not the most artistic person in the group, I decorated my journal with the names of countries and cities that I have traveled to during my life. It actually turned out pretty cool - go me!

Once all of the activities concluded, we were given our room assignments, amd then given time to unpack and relax before dinnertime. I ended up getting my own room this year, which was actually really nice. It was nothing too fancy, but served it's purpose. We gathered back later that night for a delicious taco feast and some trivia prepared by two of our members. (After that game, one of our members, Andrea, will for sure never forget how to properly say "subpoena"!)

The next day was the much anticipated kayak trip in Islamorada! As we all pealed ourselves out of bed around 7 am to prepare our lunches and bodies for the trip, that excitement level was high and contagious! The 30 minute drive down US 1 was filled with blue skies, lots of sun rays, and high hopes. When we arrived at Robbie's, we paid for our trip and headed down to our boats. Cassie and I were partners and made a great team! The only problem was that we were horrible at maintaining a straight line while rowing. We were constantly veering into other boats and having to over-correct.

The kayak trip this year was a bit of a disappointment in comparison to the one that we were treated to last year. Last year's trip included an intense journey out to an island, a quick walking tour, a trip through the mangrove trees, and then back through the lazy canals to our starting point. It was absolutely amazing and so much fun. This year, not so much. We kayaked out to the same island, but instead of just taking a quick look around and jumping back into our boats, we stayed on this island. We ate surrounded by the elements of nature (including bugs, hermit crabs, and other unwanted friends) and then kayaked back to where we started. I really felt bad for the new members because all of the second years had really built up this trip, only to have it not really live up to our expectations. Despite this let down, it was still a nice workout accompanied by beautiful weather!

The rest of Thursday was spent laying out, soaking in some awesome sun, and delving into life's little mysteries (aka figuring out our future plans). Dinner that night consisted of fresh mahi mahi and another catch of the day that was absolutely delicious! There's nothing like fresh, catch of the day to top of a wonderful day of kayaking and tanning! That night was spent at a Luau event, complete with the limbo and a hula hoop contest. We wrapped up our last night in paradise by enjoying each other's company until about 3:30 am, playing games, chatting, and laughing the night away!

Friday brought with it a few last minute wrap-up activities and the 2 hour trip back to Boynton. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and avoiding contact with any other living being. The retreat this year was well done! It had a much different feel from last year in the sense that it was a bit more structured and calm. But each year's going to be different - honestly it was just super nice to be out of PBC for a few days, with a chance to rejuvenate and reenergize!

Saturday was a whirlwind of a day filled with lots of activities and one "pesty" beach wedding. That morning, I followed Phetsada up to her mechanic to get her car looked at. This poor car has been through hell and back over the last two years, but somehow continues to get her where she needs to go. Unfortunately, she had a friend, Jen, in town that weekend and she was also feeling a bit sick. Great combination! After dropping off the car, we headed up to Juno Beach and went to Loggerhead Marine Life Center. This place is pretty amazing! They help rehabilitate injured sea turtles that have been hit by boats, caught in fishing nets, or wash up on shore and help nurse them back to health so that they can return to their natural habitat. This Saturday we are actually volunteering at their largest event of the year, TurtleFest, which promises to be just as big of a success as last year!

Following our time with the turtles, we headed back to West Palm and treated ourselves to some delicious Cuban food at Don Ramon's and then wandered on down to City Place to do some browsing and window shopping. From there, we headed over to my co-teacher, Carly's, house. Her son, Jace, was turning 1 and both Phetsada (she babysits the little guy every now and then) and I had been invited to partake in the festivities. The party was adorable and baseball themed (I was glad to see all of the decisions that I had helped her make at school turned out so well!). Jace is a little stud and was definitely enjoying all of the attention. Unfortunately, we weren't able to stay very long because I had one final commitment for that night - a random beach wedding.

After dropping Phetsada and Jen back off at the mechanic to pick up Phetsada's car, I headed up to the Jupiter Civic Center to be the supervisor of a children's pavilion and lend a hand to my friend Tavia, who has been helping the bride plan her big day. Unfortunately, Tavia was out of town so she couldn't actually help out with the wedding itself. She asked me if I would step in and I was happy to help out! I had met with the bride and groom prior to the ceremony itself and it seemed like a pretty easy gig - show up, make sure none of the kids got hurt/lost the pieces to the games/went home in one piece/etc., clean up everything, collect a check, and go home. Of course, it wasn't quite THAT easy...

Upon arriving at the site, I quickly realized that I was in for an "interesting" night. I was quickly engulfed by mad chaos as the ceremony was quickly approaching and no one was ready. Decorations were being forcefully stapled into the wall. Lights were being strung with such vigor that I was sure there were going to bust. Guests were awkwardly mingling in all the wrong places. After finally tracking down the wedding coordinator, I was informed that my "pavilion" was in fact four round tables, covered in white paper, in the middle of a small grove of trees. Lovely.

I went to go help set up the tables. Remember, I knew absolutely no one. This was pretty much the equivalent of a really awkward blind date - instead of one person, there were a couple hundred. Awesome. After we got the tables covered (the wind DEFINITELY did not help that endeavor), I was relegated to my area. I started shifting through the activities that were provided for me and was a bit taken about. Instead of classic, children's board games like Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, my eyes were greeted with Balderdash (a game for adults) and Twister (this version requiring a boombox and CD, plus a flat surface, which also didn't exist). Joy. Let the fun begin!

For the first two hours, I was faced with the prospect of sitting in a semi-moist pile of leaves for the entire night as there were not enough chairs to seat all the guests AND the children's area. On top of all of that, ominous clouds started to roll in, threatening to end everything early and send me home! I spent a solid 20 minutes in my car out of fear that if I didn't I would become a victim to one of Florida's famed flash storms. Once the ceremony ended, chairs were brought to my tables and children started to trickle in to see what was going on. There was never a large enough surge in which I felt like I have to really interact with the kids (yes that sounds bad, but there were always adults with them). Granted, I was working on some materials for the Peace Corps, but every time that a new child joined the tables, I would go over, talk to them, and see what they wanted to do.

As the night continued, it became pretty clear that the kids area wasn't as huge of a hit as the bride made it out to be. It also didn't help that there were only like 15 kids at the wedding, none over the age of 6. They were more content coloring on the tables and play hide-and-go-seek, not Twister and cards. The minutes crept by, which slowly turned into hours. By about 8:30, I had been sitting at my table for about 4 hours with very little interaction from anyone outside of a few small 5 year olds. Eventually, someone noticed that I was there and told me that if no kids showed up by 10 that I could pack up and go.

Now, remember that I'm in the middle of a wooded area by the beach. No real sources of light once the sun goes down were available, so two giant spot lights were provided for the area. One of them was forcefully unplugged by a pretty intoxicated women who complained about it shining in her eyes (which was false because it was pointing towards the sky and she never once was near them). Down to one light and very little patience, I anxiously awaited for 10 to roll around so I could pack up and go. One other lovely element that was introduced was bugs. Hundreds and hundreds of bugs. My legs and feet still look like they were ravaged by a flesh-eating disease. Fantastic.

10:00 finally rolled around and with the lack of children in the area, I decided to start to clean up and then track down the bride and groom for my check. As I started to get ready to pack up, my last source of light went out. Left in complete darkness (outside of the ambient glow of my iPad), I cleared the tables to the best of my ability (while also placing my hand into the middle of someone's half-eaten, soggy salad plate - glorious). By the time everything was cleaned up, I was covered in salad dressing, attempting to ignore the itchy burning that had become my lower body, and just wanting to go home. Luckily, the bride and groom were making their way down towards me. We exchanged a few pleasantries, they paid me ($20 more than what they had promised - thank you alcohol and poor memory!), and I was out and on my way back home.

While not quite the experience that I was looking for (or way to end my break from reality), I walked away from that experience with some extra spending cash and some pretty classic Snapchats to help entertain my friends enjoying a nice, bug free night!

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