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Travel: Sail for a Song with Carnival Live

(Photo: Martina McBride performs on the Carnival Ecstasy.)  



   A few days away from work, escaping the usual family obligations and the routine of the daily grind, can quickly recharge our emotional batteries. There’s no better way to get some much-needed time with your spouse or special someone, or just kick back with a group of girlfriends. 


   But organizing that kind of escape can be tricky. Hotels are pricey. Restaurants fill up. Throw in tickets to a concert or show and you’ll make a big dent in the budget. That little escape starts turning into a big headache.


   That’s what makes Carnival Cruise Lines' "Carnival Live" concert series so brilliant. 

Launched in April and running through mid-December of this year,  the series brings 49 shows with 15 acts —Jennifer Hudson, Foreigner, LeAnn Rimes, and Lady Antebellum, to name a few— to the Western Caribbean, the Bahamas and Baja Mexico.


   The shows are held in the ship’s show lounge and tickets are dramatically less than most arena seats - $20 to $40 for a regular seat and $100 to $150 for VIP tickets which include a meet-and-greet with the band or artist, a complimentary photo and priority seating in the first three rows. 


   The Carnival Live series simplifies getting away and makes it all a bargain. Instead of searching for a hotel, making a reservation in a busy restaurant and then buying concert tickets at a premium price, all you have to do is book your cruise, buy a ticket to the show, and settle in.


   I experienced the new Carnival Live concept with a four-day cruise from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, on the Carnival Ecstasy. After a day in Cozumel, country music superstar Martina McBride came aboard and performed in the Blue Sapphire Lounge for an enthusiastic audience of around 800.


   It was a fantastic show, intimate and personal. McBride performed selections from her new album as well as the songs that made her a star, and fans were on their feet dancing to their favorites. 

It was a great show and a fantastic way to see McBride perform. There wasn’t a bad seat in the house and after the show it was an easy stroll to my stateroom a few decks away.


   No taxi needed.


Looking Ahead


While a Caribbean cruise is always a good idea, for those of us in the Northwest, the November cruise to Baja, Mexico, on the Carnival Imagination with Jewel, could make for a perfect girlfriend getaway. A group of four can share a suite for around $450 per person, it’s a relatively short flight, Jewel puts on a great show and, especially that time of year, you get the bonus of a few days under the sun. 



More information about the Carnival Live Concert Series 



Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a Spokane-based travel journalist. Her audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Cruise: Fedoras and Flying Fish


    We’d spent the day on an island off the coast of Cozumel, lying in the sun, walking the beach, sipping drinks— all the kinds of things you do on that kind of vacation— until the water taxi arrived in the late afternoon to take us back to our ship, the Carnival Sunshine. 

    Sitting on the top deck of the boat, I stretched my arm along the rail, rested my chin on my arm and gazed out at the ocean.

    The wind cooled my face as we sped across the surface of the water, rising and falling with the waves, and I was content to sit there looking out on the water, sweeping the horizon, hoping to see something. Just…something. 

    This is a habit I’ve had since I was a child, scanning the trees or the forest or the riverbanks for some quick glimpse of what I might otherwise miss, always with the feeling that there is something interesting there and, if I can be still and quiet, I might be rewarded.

    The charm worked this time because at that moment, right beside me, a flying fish broke the surface of the water and sailed over the waves. The late afternoon sun gilded the fish’s wings with gold and I could hear the Hummingbird sound of its flight.

    Immediately, everything dropped away. I no longer heard the music or the laughter of the people on the boat.  I kept my eyes on the beautiful golden thing moving so swiftly and improbably beside me. I didn’t move or make a sound as the fish sailed over the surface for 30 seconds or so before dipping back down into the sea and disappearing. 

    It was a splendid, shining, moment and it was all mine.

    Oh, I know flying fish aren’t rare, but the thing is, I’d never seen one before. I’ve read about flying fish and seen them on nature shows, but before that moment I’d never actually seen one fly. So, in that way, it was a gift. And a reminder.

    I sometimes wonder how often, when we’re engaged in the silliest of human activities—like, say, singing “Red, Red, Wine” on a boat speeding back to a cruise ship, or jogging down a wooded trail with our eyes trained only on the trail ahead and our ears filled with canned music; when we are engaged being disengaged, some beautiful wild creature appears, yet remains invisible to all but the lucky few. I suspect it is frequent thing. The fox trotting swift and low along the railroad track, the owl blinking down from a tree in the park just before sunset, the deer grazing in the meadow before silently disappearing into the woods, are all there if we see them, invisible if we do not. 

    These birds and animals share our world, our streets and neighborhoods, but most of the time they are like shooting stars, only spotted when we happen to turn our eyes to the right place at the right time.

     I turned backed to the crowd, back to the girls in fedoras dancing on the deck, back to the laughter and the music, with a secret: that singular moments don’t have to be big. Sometimes, if we’re open, if we are watching, they come to us on unlikely wings and a brief flash of gold. 


Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

Cancun Break On Despite Unease

a woman drinks at a bar during Spring Break in Cancun, Mexico. While American tourism to Mexico slipped a few percentage points last year, the country remains by far the biggest tourist destination for Americans, according to annual survey of bookings by the largest travel agencies. AP story here. (AP Photo/Israel Leal)

Question: Have you vacationed in Mexico in recent years despite escalation of drug gang violence?

Pope Styles In Sombrero

Pope Benedict XVI waves from the popemobile wearing a Mexican sombrero as he arrives to give a Mass in Bicentennial Park near Silao, Mexico, Sunday. (AP photo)

Question: Is a sombrero a good luck for Pope Benedict XVI?

Crashing The Pope’s Party

A dog runs through the path lined by faithful as they wait for the the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Guanajuato, Mexico Saturday. At the entrance to Guanajuato, Benedict received the keys to the city. The pope reserved his only public remarks Saturday for a gathering of about 4,000 children and their parents massed in the Plaza de la Paz or Peace Plaza. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

Otter Picks Rodeo Over Trade Mission

Gov. Butch Otter, who canceled his leadership of a trade mission to Brazil and Mexico, will instead attend the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas this week. Otter says growing Idaho's economy is his highest priority. His "Project 60" effort aims to boost the gross state product to $60 billion a year. The figure was $55.4 billion in 2010. Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian, said Monday that Otter will be at the rodeo from Wednesday to Saturday, joined by his wife, Lori. The couple are paying their expenses and Otter "usually attends this event every year," Hanian said. Hanian declined to say why Otter canceled his participation in the trade mission/Dan Popkey, Statesman. More here.

Question: Is a disengaged Butch Otter a good thing or a bad thing?

Iraqi-Mexican drug ring busted in Calif.

United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy talks about the indictments evolving from arrest made in the undercover operation involving Iraqi Immigrants and Mexican drug cartels at a news conference Thursday in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

By JULIE WATSON,Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Federal officials said Thursday they've busted a drug trafficking ring involving Mexico's most powerful cartel and members of an Iraqi immigrant community in the U.S. who were caught selling illegal drugs, assault rifles, grenades and homemade explosives.

About 60 people from the Iraqi community were arrested after a six-month investigation carried out by the Drug Enforcement Administration and police in the city of El Cajon, a working-class city east of San Diego.

Many of the suspects are Iraqi Chaldeans — Christians who fled their homeland amid threats from al-Qaida and other extremists. Police say at least some of those arrested are suspected of being affiliated with the Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate, an Iraqi gang based in Detroit.

Authorities say the suspects were working out of an Iraqi social club in El Cajon and shipping drugs supplied by Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel to Detroit, home to the largest Chaldean population in the United States, according to the federal indictment unsealed Thursday. El Cajon has the second largest Chaldean population.

 Officials were tipped off after neighbors and even some of the club members' spouses complained for years about the establishment's criminal activity, which has included attempted murder, sales of meth and marijuana, gambling and illegal firearms sales.

Authorities seized 18 pounds of methamphetamine, narcotics, cocaine and other drugs; more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana; $630,000 in cash; four IEDs; and more than 30 guns, including assault rifles.

In April, a DEA undercover operative was shown a hand grenade by one of the Iraqis and was told additional grenades were available from a Mexican military source.

Big billfish upstaged in Mexico

FISHING — Former Spokane resident and angler John Jankovsy sends us a report of great fishing and great local pride in fish from his adopted home in Mexico.

He included the photo above of what's reportedly been accepted by the Guinness Book of World Records to be the largest marlin and sailfish sculpture anywhere.

Problem is, he couldn't photograph the entire sculputre without cropping out a portion of Miss Mexico, Karin Ontiveros.

So you'll have to use some imagination about the fish.

Read on for more details about the artist and this sculpture situated at Barra de Navidad.

Man executed despite White House pleas

By MICHAEL GRACZYK,Associated Press
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — Texas executed a Mexican citizen Thursday for the rape-slaying of a teenager after he and the White House pleaded in vain for a Supreme Court stay, saying he was denied help from his home country that could have helped him avoid the death penalty.

 In his last minutes, Humberto Leal (pictured) repeatedly said he was sorry and accepted responsibility.

"I have hurt a lot of people. … I take full blame for everything. I am sorry for what I did," he said in the death chamber.

"One more thing," he said as the drugs began taking effect. Then he shouted twice, "Viva Mexico!"

"Ready warden," he said. "Let's get this show on the road."

He grunted, snored several times and appeared to go to sleep, then stopped all breathing movement. The 38-year-old mechanic was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., 10 minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms.

After his execution, relatives of Leal who had gathered in Guadalupe, Mexico, burned a T-shirt with an image of the American flag in protest. Leal's uncle Alberto Leal criticized the U.S. justice system and the Mexican government and said, "There is a God who makes us all pay."

Leal was sentenced to death for the 1994 murder of 16-year-old Adria Sauceda, whose brutalized nude body was found hours after he left a San Antonio street party with her. She was bludgeoned with a 30- to 40-pound chunk of asphalt.

Leal was just a toddler when he and his family moved to the U.S. from Monterrey, Mexico, but his citizenship became a key element of his attorneys' efforts to win a stay. They said police never told him following his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty.

Read the rest of the AP story by clicking the link below.

Man claims abuse in teen boot camps

By LYNN DeBRUIN,Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Spokane man has become the latest to sue a Utah-based organization for troubled children, claiming he was physically and emotionally tormented during its teen boot camp programs in Mexico.

Attorneys for Carl Brown Austin, 24, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City against World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools.

Austin spent nearly two years, starting at age 13, at the organization's Casa by the Sea and High Impact programs. He alleged he was a "virtual prisoner" in programs that meted out primitive punishment for hours on end.

The lawsuit said Casa by the Sea in Ensenada, Mexico, was never licensed by any state regulatory authority as a "treatment center" and that High Impact in Baja, Mexico, was shut down by government edict in 2002 after complaints from parents.

Austin claimed he was hogtied, given limited access to bathrooms and food and endured "The Big Green" — which meant having his head rubbed into an artificial turf until his face and mouth were bloody. It also claimed the organization and its officials conspired to conceal the abuse at its boarding schools.

"I'm just now trying to change my life around," Austin said. "I've been through so much. It's a traumatic thing to have to go through when I was just 13."

An attorney for the organization, which was based in St. George, Utah, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Austin said he wanted his own lawsuit filed rather than join a lawsuit pending in federal court after five years because "I would like to have my story heard."

The other lawsuit, brought in 2006 initially on behalf of a Texas man, now has 350-plus plaintiffs — mostly victims claiming abuse and parents who sent their children to various alternative programs run by the organization.

Also named as defendants are organization principals Robert B. Litchfield, of Toquerville, Utah, and Brent M. Facer.

Facer, reached in California on Thursday, said he was a board member of World Wide for four or five years but indicated it exists now on paper only. He said World Wide shut down because there wasn't a need for its programs any more.

He maintained that Casa by the Sea was "a well-run program" and that "safety and security were paramount." He said he had no knowledge of Austin or abuse allegations and knew only of "a few isolated incidents that got some attention." Asked why former students might bring such accusations, Facer said children brought to such schools have a history of misrepresenting the truth.

"That's why these kids need help," Facer said. "They lie to their parents, lie to their superiors, teachers, people who maybe they would consider an authoritative type of figure. That's not uncommon."

Austin's mother, Glenna Pierson, and her husband also are plaintiffs in his lawsuit. The lawsuit seeks to recover more than $50,000 Pierson spent for her son to be in the Casa by the Sea program, as well as actual and punitive damages for the abuse he suffered.

Austin said his relationship with his mother is still "on the fence" as he struggles with trust issues after being sent from home for being a troublemaker.

"It's hard for me to forgive but I'm trying," he said of his mother.

The 36-page lawsuit said Pierson pulled him from the program in 2002 but claimed he could not adjust to normal life after the abuse. It said he had trouble with the law and drugs.

The programs "wrecked the life of a very young adolescent that needed nurturing, patience, and love, not the foolish 'behavior modification' at which defendants excel," the lawsuit said.

Austin, who along with his girlfriend runs a babysitting service from his home in Spokane, said even smells can trigger flashbacks.

"They made this juice with syrup and water and I'd be out driving and have the window down and … it'd take me right back again to where I was when I was 13," Austin said. He said he had been having recurring nightmares but that prescription medicine has helped him sleep better.

"Coming back from that environment, I was so angry," he said. "My head had been messed with. There was lots of brainwashing."

He insisted he no longer is in trouble with the law, and is trying to be a role model for the children he babysits. "But part of the reason I got this job is because I don't like to leave the house. I have this wall built around myself. I don't trust anyone," he said.

"I don't think these kids frankly ever get over it," said Salt Lake City attorney Thomas Burton, who filed the suit on behalf of Austin. "It's that bad, when they're adolescents and their psyche is just developing."

He pointed to other cases where children in wilderness or residential programs committed suicide or serious crimes against others "because they can't take it anymore."

"I know people who say the Army saved my life. But the Army has good food, recourse, oversight. It's rough, but it's fair," Burton said. "In these (programs), who knows? They're off in the wilderness and nobody's checking on them."

It’s bargain time for Baja sea kayakers

SEA KAYAKING — It's time to quit thinking about a sea-kayaking adventure in the Sea of Cortez and Mexico's Baja California.  It's bargain time to the safe part of Mexico.

I'm just back from a nine-day trip of paddling and camping — The gray whales were parading their newborn calves for us. 

But here's why I'm mentioning this before I run my feature story in the paper:  Air fares have just been slashed.

Alaska Airlines is running a web special that will get you from Spokane to Loreto for about $350 round trip through April 30!

Check out the outfitted trip offerings from Sea Kayak Adventures based in Coeur d'Alene. 

Catapults used to hurl marijuana into US

HERMOSILLO, Mexico (AP) — Drug smugglers are using an ancient invention as a new way to move marijuana across the border from Mexico to Arizona.

The discovery of two "drug catapults" in the Mexican state of Sonora marks the latest twist in the cat-and-mouse game traffickers play with authorities.

U.S. National Guard troops operating a remote surveillance system at the Naco Border Patrol Station say they observed several people preparing a catapult and launching packages over the fence late last week.

A Mexican army officer says the 3-yard tall catapult was found about 20 yards from the U.S. border on a flatbed towed by a sports utility vehicle.

The officer says the catapult was capable of launching 4.4 pounds of marijuana at a time. He says soldiers seized 35 pounds of pot, the vehicle and the catapult.

The smugglers left before they could be captured. The surveillance video of them using the catapult was released Wednesday.

A second catapult was discovered Thursday in near Agua Prieta, another border town. Another army officer in that area said an anonymous tip led soldiers to the scene and the catapult was similar to the first.

Mexican officials say it is the first time they have seen this smuggling method used by local traffickers.

Mexican traffickers have previously used planes, tunnels, vehicles, boats and couriers to smuggle drugs into the United States. Colombian drug traffickers have even used homemade submarines.

Drug Violence Sullies Acapulco Image

Item: Drug violence sullies image of once-lustrous Acapulco/Ken Ellingwood, L.A. Times

More Info: Acapulco … has been the scene of vicious fighting among rival drug gangs that has killed more than 650 people in four years, the fifth-highest count for any Mexican city, according to government figures. The toll includes 30 men slain two weekends ago in and around the city. Fifteen of them were decapitated.

Question: Has the vicious fighting among rival drug gangs made you hesitant to go to Mexico?

Tuesday Video: “Why Mexico Is Such A Mess”

Check this video on the behavior of the United States agribusiness in Mexico…


APhoto Of The Day — 7.23.10

Mexican sewer  diver Julio Camara goes down on a cage for a dive at the city’s drainage system plant, on the outskirts of  Mexico City on Tuesday. Camara, who makes less than US $500 a month diving in the city’s  sewage system clearing blockages and repairing infrastructure, says he is the only  sewage  diver in the Mexican capital, from where at least 1000 tons of rubbish are extracted per month. You write the cutline. (AP Photo/Carlos Jasso)

Top Cutline:

  • 1. One No. 1, extra pickles. Two No. 2s, heavy on the special sauce. Catch of the Day, fries no tartar. Julio finds himself in the thick of the lunch rush yet again — Kevin Taylor.
  • 2. (tie) In the birth of a CAVE’r, DFO finally displays the origin of opencda.com — Soaf; and: I’m going in…another day blurking at opensewer.com — Fat Lady Sings.
  • Sewer diver Julio Camera sings the Paul Simon song, “Me es Julio down in the sewage pit” — Gary D. Rhodes.
  • HM: Poolman, Charlies, & everyone else. Another great day for cutlines.

In The News: World Cup Soccer Begins

South Africa’s goalkeeper Moeneeb Josephs, right, blocks a scoring chance by Mexico’s Rafael Marquez, left, during the World Cup group A soccer match between South Africa and Mexico at Soccer City in Johannesburg, South Africa, this morning. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Question: Who, besides the United States, would you like to see when the World Cup?

Wasden to Senate committee: Crime, violence in Mexico affects states including Idaho

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law yesterday, and had an interesting story to tell about how Idaho has a stake in establishing a system in Mexico that relies on the rule of law. Wasden’s been active on the issue through a partnership of attorneys general that promotes cross-border law enforcement cooperation and is assisting the government of Mexico in reforming its court system; the Idaho Statesman’s Erika Bolstad covered the AG’s testimony and has a full story here. “There’s a parade of drugs that are coming north, and there’s a parade of guns and money that is going south,” Wasden said.

‘My Future Meets My Past’

On Facebook today, Christa Hazel posted this sensational photo (that she also entered in the North Idaho Fair) which she calls: “My Future Meets My Past.” It was taken on Mismaloya Beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Writes Christa: “My daughter visits the place where my husband I were married.”

Question: Where did you marry? Honeymoon?

Pecky: Don’t Act Like A Gringo In Mexico

Pecky Cox/As The Lake Churns: Traveling to Mexico “as a tourist” is not any more dangerous than it was 20 years ago. Your biggest concern should be vendors and real estate people trying to get “gringos” in love with a faux dream of dream land condos and quesadillas. Avoid the “border” area, yes - but unless you are a wealthy mexican with a big famous last name you are not in danger. If you go to any “Senor Froggy place”, wear stupid balloons on your head and ask “any” mexican passing by to take a picture of your stupid look, well, yes you are in danger, taxi drivers, crooks, and tourist hunters will smell you!.. leave your very expensive digital at home, dress normal AVOID THE FANNY PACK FOR G’S SAKE and visit the wonders of this beautiful country

Question: Tell us about an interesting experience you’ve had while traveling or vacationing in Mexico?

Swine flu hysteria…

Good afternoon, Netizens…

This time of year, Cancun, Mexico is typically bustling with touristas. Compare that mental image to this picture shot yesterday.

Is this hysteria we see unfolding before the National News Media? What about the people in Mexico who have died of Swine Flu Virus? Are more people here in the United States going to die of Swine Flu? There are a lot more questions and even a tinge of hysteria in the News Media about Swine Flu that perhaps do not apply to health care in the United States.

Adela María Gutiérrez fell ill in the beginning of April with what she thought was a bad cold. She tried aspirin, antibiotics, bed rest and moist towels, but nothing brought down her soaring fever, reduced her aches and pains, or boosted her energy level.

It would be more than a week before Mrs. Gutiérrez, a mother of daughters ages 10, 17 and 20, went to Oaxaca’s General Hospital, where she arrived listless and barely able to breathe, her extremities blue from a lack of oxygen. Thus, because she waited to get medical assistance, she became the first victim of Swine Flu (H1N1) to die. The mindset in Mexico seems to be, according to various medical sources, that you wait until you have tried everything else before you go see the doctor. That, rather than hysteria, may be why people are dying of the latest variant of Type A flu.

Furthermore, Mexico’s public health budget is approximately 3% of their gross domestic product — within the range of spending by other major Latin American economies, but well below the rate in developed countries such as the United States. Mexico has only about half as many hospital beds per capita than the United States. Hospital overcrowding in Mexico is common everywhere you look and sometimes medical help is hard to get.

In an acknowledgment that Mexicans frequently act as their own doctors, the government’s announcements, played repeatedly on the radio, advise people not to self-medicate and instead to seek out medical attention.

There is a lot of confusion about H1N1 flu virus, but several facts stand out rather clear: disease forecasting — like weather forecasting — is more of a guide to what might happen rather than a certain prediction of what will happen. Of course we remember how people ignored the hurricane warnings that preceded Katrina, don’t we?

Heed the warnings, but be shy about accepting hysteria. (Portions New York Times)


Swine flu continues to evolve…

Good morning, Netizens…

Today’s picture is grim. Nuns wear face masks during a closed door mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City on Sunday. Churches stood empty Sunday in predominantly Roman Catholic Mexico City after services were canceled, and health workers screened airports and bus stations for people sickened by a new strain of swine flu that experts fear could become a global epidemic.(AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills) (April 26, 2009)

People are dying out there as swine flu overwhelms the health care systems in various foreign countries. On Sunday, Canada became the third country to confirm cases of swine flu, while global health officials considered whether to escalate the current pandemic alert level.

The strain of A/H1N1 swine flu virus has been detected in several locations in Mexico and the United States, and now appears to be spreading human-to-human in New York, California, Texas, Kansas and Ohio.

Symptoms of the flu-like illness include a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 degrees Celsius), body aches, coughing, a sore throat, respiratory congestion and, in some cases, vomiting and diarrhea. Although the virus is acquired directly from pigs, hence its name, there are some signs that it is already being spread from human-to-human exposure.

Like some news, by the time you read this, since this is an evolving story, more people will probably be infected; perhaps before the end of the week the World Health Organization will pronounce this as a World Pandemic as the virus continues to grow and evolve.

Authorities say the swine flu has not reached Washington State yet, and in the same breath state that samples are being tested for its presence by federal health authorities.

So how are you feeling?