Having been in the military so long, I was now able to fly anywhere any military aircraft was flying provided there was space available. The name of the program is “Space-A”. Armed with the freedom of military Space-A travel, and wanting to take advantage of this earned benefit, we packed lightly and headed for the nearest and busiest military Air Mobility Command flight terminal, in Dover, Delaware to set out on a whirlwind adventure, encountering unexpected challenges, breathtaking landscapes, and unique cultural experiences along the way. From crossing active runways to maneuvering through narrow streets, our journey was filled with excitement, laughter, and the joy of exploration. We were determined to only go if there was room on an international flight. Not knowing where we might land, we packed for any weather. The only flight available to us was bound for Key West, Florida. It was springtime and Key West sounded amazing, but we held out, determined to go overseas, although there were no more international flights that day. We stayed at a nearby hotel, and the next day, we were selected to ride on a flight bound for Rota, Spain.
From Rota to the Top of the Rock : After a refueling stop in Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal over 850 miles from its mainland, we arrived in Rota, a charming town in southern Spain. After landing at the US Air Naval Station below Seville, I rented a car, and we embarked on a self-guided tour, marveling at the town’s ancient charm and meandering through its old streets.
Our adventure escalated as we drove to Gibraltar, where we discovered a fascinating border crossing experience. As we approached the entrance to Gibraltar, we realized as we came closer to the guard shack check point, that once approved for entry, we would drive across an active airport runway! We handed the border agent our passports; he looked the car over briefly and waved us through the raised barrier; I looked left and then right – no planes landing or taking off – and motored across the runway in the country that now used pounds instead of euros.
Gibraltar is a compact country with many motorbikes and tight traffic. We wanted to go to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar and were trying to find our way to where the cable cars lifted people to the top of the incredibly massive feature. We followed some signage pointing to the famous peak, and somehow ended up driving up the curling and twisting road to the top of the rock! On the way, we encountered mischievous monkeys and had to beware of not keeping our windows down in order to keep the monkeys out. We also encountered one car in an extremely tight spot along the windy road. I was driving a rental stick-shift on the Rock of Gibraltar with no guard rail and a sheer drop off and trees below. The oncoming car was hugging the rock. It was so tight, we had to fold our mirrors in, and someone had to get in front of both of our vehicles as we painstakingly inched past one another. Braving the heart-pounding moments on the narrow cliff-side road, we were rewarded with breathtaking vistas, making the journey to the top of the rock well worth the effort.
Tangier, Morocco – A Dash Through Customs: Leaving Europe behind, we hopped on a high-speed ferry from Tarifa, the southernmost port in Spain, across the Strait of Gibraltar, to Tangier, a bustling port city in Morocco, on the African Continent. Guided by a local driver, we explored the ancient city’s vibrant streets, indulged in traditional tea, and immersed ourselves in the rich tapestry of Moroccan culture as we strummed some instruments with the locals and explored the rug and artifact shops. However, our return journey was not without suspense.
Our driver dropped us off at a traditional restaurant and let us know he would be back to get us to our outbound ferry back to Spain which left at 6:00 PM. After we had finished our meal, we looked and waited for our driver and began to get a bit tense as the minutes ticked by and it was now after 5:00 PM. He showed up at about 5:30 PM, explaining that he had been at prayer. We stressed that he step on it because we were now running late! He dropped us at the port, and we ran to get back to our ferry, which was now revving up and loaded. The time was 5:45 PM and we were racing against the clock. We rounded the corner inside the port terminal only to find a long line of people waiting to go through customs and immigration back out of Morocco and knew we would not make our ferry. I was looking desperate when an “expediter” approached me. I had used an expediter before in my work travels to Tajikistan so was familiar with how they bribe the customs officials to stamp our passports and get us past the line in front of everyone. Dana had no idea what this was and was very hesitant to give the expediter her passport. I explained that he would get us quickly through customs and she eventually agreed to hand him her passport. We paid a fee and he went past everyone in the line and straight to the customs window, where our passports were stamped and we were beckoned to go through the border gate and to the docks below. We grabbed our passports and ran! We shimmied down the stairs and onto the wooden dock where our ship was running. It was 6:00 PM. We were running to the open-mouthed entrance of the boarding gate of our ferry as we watched it slowly lift up, leaving us chasing it as the door closed and the ferry began its return trip without us.
There was a final ferry leaving in two hours. Since we had been stamped out of Morocco, we were destined to remain in the port where there was nothing but stray cats, smells of the sea and petroleum, and bobbing boats of varying sizes. We caught the late ferry back, bidding farewell to Morocco and its captivating allure, found our car, and were now driving in Spain in the dark to find our next hotel. We relied on the GPS to guide us to the hotel address and as we wound our way back to the small seaside town of Rota its now empty, cobblestone and brick streets, became more and more narrow. We thought as we rounded one walled turn, that if a car approached, there would be no passing, but someone would have to back up! As our GPS guided, we wound down the tiny streets until suddenly right in front of the car were about 15 rock steps! Somehow, we were on a walking path and the old GPS did not realize we were in a vehicle or that there were stairs here. I backed the car up and once we at last approached the hotel, the bewildered doorman was amazed at the direction from which we had come, questioning how we had managed such an unconventional approach. We pointed to the GPS and shrugged – happy to have found our hotel at last.
Aboard a C-5 Cargo Plane: Our journey back to the USA was nothing short of extraordinary. We were fortunate enough to secure a ride on a massive C-5 cargo plane, with a tank and equipment below us. As we soared through the skies, a deep sense of gratitude washed over us. The privilege of Space-A travel allowed us to embark on incredible adventures and create memories that would last a lifetime.
Cruising on the Oasis of the Seas: In 2013, we set off on an unforgettable cruise aboard the Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas, the world’s largest cruise ship at that time. Our voyage began in Florida, and from there, we embarked on a journey to three captivating destinations: Falmouth, Jamaica; Cozumel, Mexico; and Labadee, Haiti.
Upon reaching Falmouth, Jamaica, we seized the opportunity to escape the crowds and explore a remote beach. It was a slice of paradise, and we were the only inhabitant of the beach all day, with crystal-clear turquoise waters and pristine white sands. We enjoyed the warm hospitality of the owner, who prepared a delightful meal of rice, chicken, and veggies, as we reveled in the tranquility of the surroundings.
Spicy Delights in Cozumel: Cozumel, Mexico, welcomed us with its vibrant streets and lively atmosphere. We strolled through the colorful avenues, captivated by the rhythmic beats of live music drifting from Pancho’s Backyard restaurant. The tantalizing aromas of spicy cuisine lured us in, and we indulged in a culinary adventure, savoring every flavorful bite.
Our final stop was Labadee, a picturesque beach where the Atlantic Ocean merges with the Caribbean Sea. Here, we embraced relaxation, basking in the warm sun, and surrendering to the gentle caress of the ocean breeze. Labadee’s natural beauty was awe-inspiring, providing the perfect backdrop for moments of pure serenity.
From the secluded shores of Jamaica to the vibrant streets of Cozumel and the tranquil beaches of Labadee, the incredible voyage aboard the Oasis of the Seas introduced us to a unique tapestry of cultures, allowing us to fully immerse ourselves and forge lasting memories.
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