23 June 2009

couchsurfing in martha's vineyard

T-7 days to our road trip across the US. We've decided to swing north on our drive from Chicago to Denver and visit one of my college friends who lives in South Dakota. We'll miss Nebraska but get to see Mount Rushmore and potentially some woolly mammoths in Hot Springs (where 52 mammoths were found) instead. Seems like a fair trade.

One more addendum: I would be remiss if I didn't mention Tucker, Caleb's friend from Nantucket. He's also from a "prominent island family," but he's on a no-spending kick and happily ate our leftovers when we had dinner together. My partner and I have an unsettling habit of always cleaning our plates, and we decided it would be great to always have a Tucker along. Then, you can stop licking your plate clean like some starving alley cat and physically see your leftovers not going to waste.

Now, then. Onto our second couchsurfing experience in Martha's Vineyard.

We took the ferry from Nantucket to Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard, and we were delighted by the colorful Victorians known appropriately as gingerbread houses.

While Nantucket was rustic and beautiful, Martha's Vineyard had a festive, summery feeling. It was also much more developed as a tourist destination.

As the Nantucketers told us, Martha's Vineyard received many more daytrippers because of its proximity to Boston. (The 'slow' ferry could go from Woods Hole on the mainland to Vineyard Haven on the island in 45 minutes and for $7.50 each way.)

While charming, I could see why they considered Martha's Vineyard a Disneyfied version of Nantucket. Of course, there is something of a rivalry between the islands, so neither offers much praise for the other. The Whaling Museum in Nantucket doesn't even mention Martha's Vineyard. It's as if it isn't even there.

But back to Oak Bluffs. I hadn't done my research, so I was pleasantly surprised by the colorful buildings. (Nantucket had lots of wooden and white buildings, so we felt like Dorothy landing in Oz as our eyes adjusted to the dazzling colors.)

Right across from the ferry, we stumbled upon the country's oldest carousel, the Flying Horses, built in 1876.

We walked up and down the main street, Circuit Street, checking out (but not entering) the cute little mom 'n' pop shops, then headed over to the gingerbread houses along the waterfront.

We met up with our couchsurfing host, Katrina, and she and her mom kindly gave us a ride to their house, which was a huge property covered in lush grass, trees, bushes, a garden, a barn-- and they had three goats, rabbits and chickens, too.

And I've decided one of the best things about traveling, aside from seeing beautiful things, is the incredible array of people you meet. Katrina's mom, for example, is a psychic. I've never met one casually. (Which implies I meet them officially. Which isn't true. But I digress.)

My partner and I were filled with questions but a little uncertain about what was appropriate to ask. It didn't seem right to ask her what she thought about our futures, and my partner said later he wouldn't want to know anyway. I ended up lamely asking her if she could control it, like she was some walking poltergeist ouija board that would burst into flames of knowledge. She said yes. And that was the end of that conversation.

Katrina's family had a full house, so she set up a tent in the yard for us. Pretty gorgeous, no?

We then went with Katrina to see her perform in a play. We got there early and snagged great front row seats. The official description:

"An Island of Women," an original musical, looks at life on the Vineyard between 1850 and 1852 when much of the male population was off whaling.

We'd learned that whaling ships full of men would often go circumnavigating the globe in search of sperm whales, leaving the women and children at home for years and years at a time.

Apparently, sperm whale oil burned clean and clear, the remnants were made into exquisite candles, and whaling was the fortune-maker that turned the islands into what they are today. (And no, the sperm whale oil doesn't refer to the blubber on their bodies but this enormous sac in their head (believed to be a buoyancy tool) that was filled with clear, watery spermiceti oil.)

Most of the cast had experience as singers, and the music was lovely. The tickets for the play weren't the cheapest, but we felt good about supporting Katrina, and it was great to be able to tell Katrina (truthfully) that she sung beautifully and we really enjoyed the show.

We were also impressed to learn that one of Katrina's ancestors was actually the last whaler of Martha's Vineyard. Very cool.

Now, here comes the not-great part of our visit to Martha's Vineyard. The weather changed from beautiful to overcast, raining on and off, and it ended up pouring all night. The tent we had was a good one, but one side of it ended up leaking, and when we woke up, our sleeping bag was wet, along with our travel guide, my partner's ill-placed shorts and worse of all, a brownie we'd been saving.

Even though my partner barely slept and wasn't a terribly happy camper (har dee har har) in the morning, he was a good sport about it. I felt bad as the organizer because the trip was meant to be a relaxing treat for him after his graduation. (But hey, compared to what's going in Iran (sad photos from the Boston Globe), our lot is pretty freaking awesome. So, there.)

As we were leaving the island, we got sandwiches, coffee and dessert at the famous Black Dog bakery, and I was happy to find it actually lived up to the hype.

We got the Pilgrim sandwich, which was the best version of the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce sandwich I've ever had, and a chicken salad sandwich, which was also very good.

What we found interesting was that almost every single person we saw on the island was wearing at least one piece of Black Dog gear. It was like the preppy, cool religion.

The Pilgrim sandwich was so good, I was almost tempted to become part of that black dog cult. But actually buying gear felt like bragging that I'd been to Martha's Vineyard, and I certainly didn't feel like I was part of that elite island club yet.

And also, one of the best ways to travel on a budget is to avoid buying silly souvenirs. So, I saved a bundle of money and got this (free) photo instead.

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