Monday, June 30, 2014

The Island of the Segways

There were great expectations for the island of St. Lucia. Everyone, even those from other islands, call St. Lucia the most beautiful island in the Caribbean. It is my mom's very favorite. Even from the ship, I could see rolling hills and the two famous twin mountain peaks: the Pitons.

(In case you were wondering, those two little hilltops are not the Pitons)
However, when we stepped off the cruise ship and boarded a bus to take us thirty minutes away to another location, the scenery seemed to be a little off. It turns out that St. Lucia is suffering desperately from drought. Although it should be the rainy season, it has not rained in three months. The trees are yellowing with the dry climate; few flowers are blooming. In fact, there is even a water ration in place, where water is shut off completely from parts of the island on certain days of each week.

My family's excursion lasted all day and had more activities than what we've done for most of the week!

First was the nerdiest activity of them all: we took lessons on how to ride Segways. These machines are pretty funny. They have giant wheels since they are all-terrain. I was given a personal lesson by a handler on how to mount, dismount, turn, ride forward, and stop my Segway without falling over and dying.

Each vehicle had a name so guests could keep track of their own Segway; mine was named Jacquo. I couldn't help but laugh as I rode Jacquo while wearing my Chacos.

The Segway trail ride was two miles long and lasted for an hour. We paused at a few beaches and ruins of 200-year-old forts. Even in the midst of a drought, I can see why St. Lucia is known to be the most beautiful in the Caribbean. It is a relatively new island, so there are only a few beaches, but its waters are lovely and its geography is striking wherever you look.

After the Segway tour, we climbed onto a bus to take an hour-long scenic tour of the island. Our Rastafarian guide gave us an animated history of St. Lucia, as well as some political opinions about his desire for the legalization of "Happy Grass."

We were taken to a small and lovely beach where only a few people were sunbathing around us. Even better, local vendors were not allowed to solicit on this beach, which meant that we could relax without being hounded to purchase seashell jewelry and copper wire sculptures.

At this point, our group split. The men went to hike up a small peak on one end of the beach while the ladies wandered to a restaurant to try some local cuisine. It was the first time we had tasted genuine Caribbean food. I ordered tortilla chips and cheesy dip, I had in mind chips and queso from back home, but this appetizer was chilled and salted with sea salt; vastly different from what I would ever consider to be a cheesy dip. The meal was not bad at all, but it was certainly a new experience.

There were about forty-five minutes left to relax on the beach after we had lunch. Amy went for a swim, Mom decided to go snorkeling, and I stretched out in the sun next to the boys, who had just returned from their hike. The beach was one of the loveliest I have ever seen. I cannot get over the color of the water, the sand, and even the mimosa trees hanging right over the edge of the bay. My Creator makes beautiful things.

We arrived back at the pier just in time to do some quick souvenir shopping and head back on board.

Dinner was at Chops Grille, one of the finer dining restaurants on the ship. I had shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, and a dish of creme brûlée (that was lit on fire when they first set it in front of me!) for my main three courses.

During dinner, I was able to sit down and listen to my dad, Grandpa Frank, and Nawnie share their personal stories of what happened when my dad met his biological parents for the first time. Nawnie adopted Dad when he was a baby, and Grandpa Frank is Dad's biological father. I have heard variations of this story from each of them, but hearing everyone chime in together was a striking reminder of God's guiding hand in my family.

Tomorrow I will arrive at my final island of this cruise: Barbados.

Three years ago: Getting drunk is... cool?

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Oldest Horse on the Island

This morning I embarked on an excursion on the island of Antigua. My mom, Amy, Luke, Courtney, Grandma Marcia, and I chose to go horseback riding along the beach for a few hours.

Antigua is a beautiful Caribbean island, although most of its beauty lies more in its beaches than its mountains and trees. The tiny island has 366 beaches in total.

Our group gathered after a bus ride to wait for our horses to be chosen for us. When I was younger, I took English riding lessons for a year or two, so I knew a few of the basics. However, I only ride once every two or three years now, and horses are strong and intelligent creatures that could easily run away with me if they chose to do so. In other words, the more mild-mannered of a horse I am given to ride, the better.

I waited next to Luke. We examined the herd of grazing horses to try and guess which one would be chosen for us. Along the edge of the group was an elderly-looking horse with a face grayed from age. Much of his mane had been carefully woven into dreadlocks. Even from a distance, he looked to be a gentle giant.

"Luke, he is the one I want," I said. "He looks like the slowest, oldest, calmest horse on the island. He is the perfect one for me." My brother couldn't help but laugh. This horse was also probably the ugliest in the group with his wonky mane, hoary face, and sleepy gait, but I was won over entirely. It was love at first sight.

Horse after horse was chosen for members of our group until I was brought to the front. At first, a young and spry gelding named Twisted was led my way and my heart sank, but the stable owner lifted a hand and declared, "No, for this lady, bring Two-Step."

To my surprise and delight, the senior citizen still munching contentedly at the edge of the field was my horse. I beamed, flashed my brother a thumbs up, and gave Two-Step the biggest hug I've ever given a large animal. We were best friends from that moment forward.

Two-Step and I were perfect for each other. He was completely attentive to my commands and gave me no trouble at all. When I asked him to trot, he obeyed, but for the rest of the trail ride, he was perfectly happy to keep a slow and steady pace.

My little brother had the feisty young thing I nearly rode, and this horse seemed to abide in constant irritation that he had to follow the most elderly horse in our group. Twice Twisted passed by my gently-treading senior citizen in favor of green grass or more space to roam.

The trail ride was absolutely delightful. We passed over the crumbling ruins of Fort. James. We wandered through a small forest area with trees that hung down and brushed our shoulders. The best moments were when we walked along one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. The view was beautiful, my steed was darling, and I so enjoyed the company of my family.

At the end of the ride, I put on a life jacket, kicked off my shoes, and I was allowed to ride another horse bareback into the ocean. In all my childhood lessons, I've never ridden bareback before. My horse's sides were much more slick than a saddle, and I clung to her with a small degree of fear. I imagined simply sliding off her back and sprawling onto the sandy beach. However, it was great fun. A guide helped lead my mare into the water up to my waist. The ocean was not nearly as frightening when I was mounted upon a sturdy horse. 

Overall, the excursion was great fun. Two-Step will always hold a special place in my heart.

For dinner, my family attended a Murder Mystery Show. At the beginning, we were served hors d'oeuvres, champagne, and caviar while we watched a show put on by a wildly-dressed cast of performers that pretended to be part of the New York mob. Of course there was a murder and it was up to the audience to guess who was the killer. I loved watching my Nawnie enjoy the show.

We were led into a dining hall, where we were served a four course meal of antipasti, minestroni soup, filet mignon, and tiramisu. The dinner was delicious, we found out the true murderer (I was wrong), and Grandma Marcia won the prize for the night.

It is more than 200 miles to the next island, Barbados, so our cruise ship is moving quite faster than usual tonight. During dinner, I watched the wine in each glass sway with the motion of the ship. We will not dock until late tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Hiking Down a Mountain

I love Sint Maarten... or should I say Saint-Martin?

This island is split in half and goes by two different governments, nationalities, languages, and even names. The 21-mile French side uses Euros, French license plates, and is known for being more expensive. The 16-mile Dutch side uses guilders, Western license plates, and is known for being generally more friendly. Both sides of the island have entirely separate laws (St. Martin hosts a nude beach while St. Maarten has legalized prostitution). It is even expensive to call from one side of the island to the other, due to international rates!

So many diverse cultures can be found on this island. My tour guide, Claudette, spoke four languages: French, Dutch, Creole, and English.

The island as a whole is beautiful. Fruit trees and mimosas are scattered everywhere you turn. The houses have been painted with bright colors, whether built in the Dutch or French style of architecture. Mangoes, papayas, and bread fruits grow freely.

Today my family split into groups. While Mom, Amy, Luke, and Courtney went on a zip line and ropes course, my dad and I took a hiking tour down a small mountain called Pic Paradis.

Early in the morning, Dad and I met up with Claudette at the pier. She gathered our small group of 8 onto a bus and we drove 30 minutes from St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, to St. Martin, the French side. Rich, green mountains bordered our line of vision. Apparently there used to be a rainforest on the island, but the slave masters and plantation owners had so many trees cut down that it is only now approaching such a status again almost two hundred years later.

At the base of the mountain, we switched vehicles to an open-backed car lined with benches that Claudette called a "Zoom-Zoom." We began a precarious ride up the face of the mountain. A sharp cliff hung on one side of the vehicle, and large potholes and loose gravel made for a bumpy and at times intimidating journey as we moved up the steep road. At one point, we dropped off an "Extreme Zip Lining" team and kept going even higher.

Perhaps a quarter of a mile before we reached the top of Pic Paradis, a dog burst into sight from among the trees and began excitedly following the Zoom-Zoom. Pepe the dog apparently belongs to a local millionaire. She enjoys hiking up and down the mountain with the tourist groups each day and is adored by all who meet her. I doubt there is a dog in existence happier than she is.

We eventually reached the top of the mountain and were able to gaze down at the entirety of St. Maarten: white beaches, lush trees blanketing the mountainsides, and a turquoise ocean as clear as glass. We could even see our cruise ship, Jewel of the Seas, waiting for us in the harbor.

Armed with bamboo walking sticks, our small team began the trek down the mountainside. The trail was hard work. At times, it was steep enough to give me the shakes as I took long, tremulous steps from one rock to another. Other times, the trail was peaceful, sturdy, and shaded by a canopy of heavy trees.

The terrain varied with each new turn of the road: loose gravel, collections of blocky stones that marked the sturdiest way to make it down the steeply-inclined path, and even ankle-deep leaves that at times hid the forest floor completely.

Claudette seemed to know everything about the species of plants that lined the hiking trail. She showed us all sorts of fruits and herbs and what ailments each of them could heal. Every so often, we would gather around a gum tree (also called the tourist's tree, since it turns red in the sun) while Claudette tapped at the bark with a stone so that we could all smell the piney sap, or we would pause to touch the unusually cool trunk of a guava tree, or we would examine the shelled fruits of a tamarin tree, or we would smell the tangy scents of various leaves, or Claudette would walk by and place a Yellow Bell (buttercup) in my hand. After finishing the hike, I felt like I knew significantly more about flora and fauna than I ever have before.

A monkey followed closely behind us for a little while. It ducked behind trees whenever it noticed our attention.

Slavery was once the main source of income for this island. Slaves worked bountiful fields of sugar cane and cotton. On our bus ride to Pic Paradis, we passed a piece of land that once held 300 working slaves at any given time. On the mountain, we came upon a secret sugar cane crop. Slaves would grow the sugar cane between the trees as a shelter from the elements. They would then take the harvested cane to a nearby hidden distillery and make moonshine. Decades later, explorers found the ruins of their hidden act of rebellion.

The hiking trail took about an hour and a half and spanned 2.5 miles. By the end, I was exhausted, but so happy.

I'm not one for swimming, so excursions like this one are more of my thing. The trail was challenging but never overwhelming. The scenery was strikingly beautiful. The tour guide was darling. And best of all, I got to spend quality time with my dad and make memories we will not soon forget.

To conclude the day, here are a few pictures from dinner.

Grandpa Frank and me dressed up for dinner
My brother Luke and me

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ahoy, St. Croix!

The ocean water surrounding the island of St. Croix is the most beautiful shade of deep blue. The color doesn't even look real, almost as if swimming pool designers came and painted the ocean floor just the right shade of turquoise. But God creates lovelier things than I could ever come up with on my own.

It was an early morning. By the time I finished breakfast and was ready to explore for the day, the cruise ship had just docked at the island of St. Croix. It is one of the Virgin Islands and an unincorporated territory of the United States.

St. Croix was described by our tour guide as "the island of churches." Nearly every street seems to display old and beautiful church buildings with spires that stretch to the heavens. The oldest church I saw had been built 250 years before.

My family chose a snorkeling excursion for the day. We traveled thirty minutes across the island to a small town called Christiansted and another thirty minute boat ride to an even smaller island called Buck Island just under 2 miles off the coast of St. Croix. Eventually we arrived at a reef that has been designated as a national monument. The waters are strikingly clear. The captain explained that the waters around the reef are only 12 feet deep. More than 250 species of fish live in this area.

I am wary (and kind of terrified) of swimming in the ocean, so I chose to stay on the boat. I did this during my last cruise and had a perfectly enjoyable time sunbathing, taking pictures, and watching my family's antics as they snorkeled. This excursion was no exception.

Stretching out on the warm seats of the boat, I admired the sunlight glittering upon the waves. Buck Island is very small and covered in funny-looking cacti. There are a few sandy beaches on its edges. And the water is so very blue.

My parents and siblings kept their faces pressed underwater, looking out for schools of fish... and a 4-foot barracuda that apparently liked following our party around.

The group snorkeled for about an hour. In the middle of a smooth journey back to shore, we suddenly stopped in the middle of the ocean. Our small boat rocked gently from side to side and everyone waited to see what was going to happen.

As I peered over the edge of the boat, I saw a sleek gray figure gliding beneath the surface of the water and I had a moment of concern. Could there be sharks?

The truth was much more relieving: dolphins!

Three dolphins frolicked about our boat, seeming to thrive under the attention. They even leaped into the air and hit the water with a splash.

After the excursion, my mom, Amy, and I walked around the pier and stopped at all the little shops along the edge of the water. Although the ocean was beautiful, the air was sweltering hot and muggy. It was time to return to the ship to eat lunch, rest, and prepare for dinner.

It was the formal night of the cruise, so everyone dressed in their very best to gather for dinner. I chose to eat lobster brisque, steak filet, and strawberry cheesecake.

The men in my family refuse to take pictures, so each evening is a challenge convincing anyone to pose for photographs. Tonight Dad, Grandpa Frank, and Luke hurried to the sports bar to watch the Spurs game, so we had to improvise with sneak attack photography.

The Jewel of the Seas is back on the move. If I pause, I can feel the ship shifting gently beneath my feet; a perfect way to fall asleep tonight.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Boarding the Jewel of the Seas

Our final morning in San Juan, Puerto Rico was spent exploring the downtown city. Old San Juan can best be described as colorful. The steeply inclined streets are lined with brightly-painted buildings on both sides. There is a true Spanish feel to this part of the island.

Mom, Amy, and I walked along the cobblestone streets while searching for a souvenir shop. We each bought a t-shirt (a tradition for every island we visit when on a cruise) and then met up with Nawnie and the boys a few blocks away.

Our time left in Puerto Rico was limited, so my family attempted to visit a fort but had to leave early. A few of these ancient structures can be found along the coast, reminiscent of a time when such protection was necessary. Although we did not reach the top of the tower, we were able to admire the massive walls around us. Nawnie was amazed by how old it all looked, pocked and blackened by the force of time.

San Juan is quite the diverse city. Although our hotel is exceptionally beautiful, it is located only a mile or two outside of Old San Juan. Many of the buildings around ours are aging and marked with scrawling graffiti. Other parts of the city are fully Americanized, newly-painted, and modern. We've counted endless Walgreen's, Starbucks, McDonald's, Chili's, and Burger Kings.

A few differences from the average American city (other than the fact that nearly every sign is in Spanish) is that chickens can be found wandering the city streets nearly everywhere you turn. I even spotted a few horses and grazing cattle. There are also many feral dogs and cats around that offer passersby wary scowls.

The homeless and hungry also seem to be prevalent in San Juan, even in some of the most Westernized areas. While many stand on the street corners and shake cups, others sleep among bags against crumbling buildings. Homelessness is certainly not unique to foreign places; America has a huge homelessness problem as well. But when I looked out the window of my family's rental car as we passed by the drawn faces of the hungry, I pleaded with the Lord to open my eyes and my heart to the broken parts of the world I will not see during this vacation.

For lunch, my family ate at Sizzlers, a restaurant located on the edge of a pier. We had the best view of our cruise ship from a distance as we dined. The ocean water is so clear that from the window of Sizzlers we could look down and see the fish swimming along the pier.

It was eventually time to board our ship, Jewel of the Seas.

We are cruising with Royal Caribbean. There are multiple levels on this massive ship, and while it's smaller than our last, it's difficult to tell a size difference at all without a side-by-side comparison. My family made up our own tour as we wandered through the many restaurants, miniature promenade, and thirteen decks. We met up with Grandpa Frank, Grandma Marcia, and Courtney just in time to visit Tides, the restaurant in which we will be dining nightly throughout the duration of the cruise.

Tides is a nice restaurant; clothing choices like flip flops, bathing suits, and shorts are not allowed, while they are permitted in the lunch dining area. However, my suitcase failed to be brought to my cabin in time for dinner, so I showed up at the table in cargo shorts and Chacos. I'm thankful for graceful staff and a family with a good sense of humor.

Outside of the dress code issue, dinner was perfect. The menu offered several options, but I chose shrimp cocktail, a fruit medley, prime rib, peach and blueberry crumble, and I shared a creme brûlée with my dad. (I doubt I will be sharing all of my food choices here from today forward, but this sort of fare is not my usual and I was enchanted by the meal tonight.)

Muster was held at eight. The entire ship gathered to practice an emergency drill in case of a Titanic-like scenario. Although it's a hassle to go through every safety drill and precaution, there is something settling about embarking on an ocean journey while knowing there is a carefully-set plan in case something goes wrong.

Soon after returning from Muster, I began to feel the gentle yaw and pitch of the ship beneath my feet. It had begun to move away from shore and towards our destination. My brother, sister, and I stood on the balcony and leaned against the guardrail as we watched the brightly-lit Puerto Rican skyline grow dimmer and smaller on the horizon.

When out on the ocean at night, everything outside is black and silent except for the whisper of waves against the ship's sides. It's an eery feeling to look out from the balcony and see nothing at all except for a few white wave caps fanning around you in the inky darkness below.

Cruise ship cabins are always efficiently small. Our shower spans a tiny circle. Our floor space is limited. The sleeping arrangements are perhaps the most entertaining. Amy, Luke, and I share a single cabin. Amy's and my full-size bed thankfully splits into two twins. Luke's bunk hangs from the ceiling and is perfect for his boyish spirit. He is thrilled to sleep on a top bunk like a sailor; this is much more adventurous than any pull-out sofa sleeper.

Feeling the excitement of the departure, Amy chose to sleep on our cabin's balcony in a beach chair, wrapped tightly in blankets and breathing in the breezy (although muggy) ocean air. (An update on this scenario is that Amy ended up retreating back into the cabin at four in the morning when it began to rain.)

St. Croix by morning.

Three years ago: 10 Bloggie Tips to Follow

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hiking through El Yunque Rainforest

Waking up early, opening the blinds, and facing a new city is always an adventurous feeling.

After breakfast, my family piled into our rented mini-van and traveled about an hour outside of San Juan, Puerto Rico until we reached the edge of El Yunque Rainforest.

Trees towered above us. Flowers and fruits grew everywhere. We could hear the cries of small frogs all around. ("Cocqui!" the Spanish signs explained how they chirped).

Compared with my Texas Panhandle hometown, we were visiting another planet. My hometown usually receives about 8 inches of rain each year; El Yunque receives 200 inches. There are few trees in sight in my hometown; the foliage is as thick as a wall in some places in the rainforest. And of course, everything here is strikingly green.

We stopped at a visitor's center so that my dad and Nawnie could go into their theater and watch a short film about the history of the rainforest. The center was filled with small exhibits about the wildlife in the forest.

Meanwhile, my mom, brother, sister, and I went on a short hiking trail along the edge of the forest.

Luke loved the thick vines that brushed the ground like hanging ropes. Almost immediately, he tested to see how sturdy they were. My family's little Tarzan. (He will attack me if he reads this.)


The trail was steep in places and marked with loose gravel. We ventured carefully along the path in our tightly-strung Chacos.

Since Nawnie and Dad didn't get to hike, we took a long drive to the top of the mountain, up to where the Yokahu Tower overlooks much of the island of Puerto Rico.

A month ago, there was heavier rain than usual and massive landslides caused many of the hiking trails to close. As we wandered through the rainforest and drove along the mountain road, we caught glimpses of the devastation caused by the rainstorms.

Along the road are lookouts where travelers can stop and see beautiful waterfalls and bamboo forests. We paused to take photographs of the towering La Coca Falls.

Water cascaded down the mountain. A few adventurous adults were climbing on the large, blocky rocks near the bottom of the falls, but my family settled for watching from the safety of the guard rails.

By the end of our drive, we had reached nearly the very top of the 3,000ft mountain. The roads were winding and narrow, and I think we were all feeling a little queasy by the time we found our way back to the edge of the rainforest. But it was beautiful, every single part of El Yunque that we saw.

Later in the evening, my family drove to Old San Juan, where the cobblestone streets were lined with quaint buildings painted in pretty pastels. The parking was insane in the most popular area in the city on a Friday night, so we explored for a while and then settled for a paid parking lot on the very edge of the downtown area.

The sun was setting quickly, but we had the chance to see some old ruins and towers before darkness fell.

Dinner was had at Cafe la Princesa, which was probably the most romantic restaurant I've ever seen. If I ever go on a date in San Juan, I would choose this lovely place. The restaurant was set outdoors and was cooled by gently whirring fans above our heads.

The prettiest feature was a tree in the entrance. Lanterns and wooden birds hung from the over-hanging branches. It was beautiful.

The food was Puerto Rican. The family tried plantain, seafood, pasta, and fried cheese. As we ate, we could hear frogs chirping from the trees around us. (Cocqui! Cocqui!)

After dinner, the family returned to our hotel and a few of us played Farkle (a dice game). The reason I add this small detail to our day's tale is because of Nawnie. Regardless of her actual roll, every time my grandma had her turn, she would declare, "Nothin'!" And for almost the entirety of the game, Nawnie was in the lead. She might have 1,500 points in a single round, but when she first laid eyes on her roll, she would say the same thing. "Nothin'!"

Well, today was certainly somethin'.

One year ago: The Heat of Summer
Three years ago: An Excerpt of an Action Story from my Childhood

Monday, June 16, 2014

Everybody Loves Nawnie

My family left our house bright and early in the morning and boarded the plane to the DFW airport and ultimately to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

It was a long day of travel.
I woke up minutes before it was time to leave the house, so I skipped breakfast and assumed that we would eat lunch during our layover in Dallas.

Never assume anything is certain when traveling.

Sure enough, our flight arrived late and we ended up having only fifteen minutes to hurry across the airport with no time to grab something to eat and no complementary snacks available on the airplane.

The flight from Dallas to San Juan is more than four hours. I dreaded how hungry I knew I would be by the time we arrived on the island.

Nawnie, my 81-year-old grandma and travel companion, flagged down a flight attendant about an hour into the flight. "Do you have any peanuts?" she asked him. There is something about Nawnie that everyone loves. She makes friends no matter where we go, and this airplane was no exception.

The flight attendant grinned at her. "We don't serve peanuts on this plane, dear, but I can sneak you something to eat if you promise not to tell my supervisor." Nawnie promised him, and within moments, her new friend passed her a box of treats without anyone seeing. The two of us had a much-appreciated feast of soda, almonds, crackers, cheese, fig bars, mints, and chocolate cookies. It was exactly what we needed after skipping breakfast and lunch.

A little while passed and another flight attendant approached us. "Ma'am, do you have a receipt for those snacks?" she asked sternly, although there was a smile in her eye that she could not hide. Further down the aisle, our friendly helper offered Nawnie a broad wink.

A look of innocence came over my grandma's face. "Why, of course I do," she responded quickly, "I just don't know where I put it!"

Both flight attendants burst into laughter and had a long conversation with Nawnie, asking what she liked to bake, about her family, and what she was going to do in Puerto Rico. I truly don't think I have ever been to a place where Nawnie has not charmed every person she meets.

We arrived in Puerto Rico in the evening just in time to see the sun set from behind hazy clouds. I'm used to humidity in my college town, but the best word to describe the weather on this island is "steamy." Luke pretended he was drinking as he breathed in the sweltering evening air.

Our hotel, Ciqala Luxury Suites, is beautiful. We were treated to a complementary dinner of chicken and mashed potatoes, which satisfied my famished family.

The biggest surprise of the entire evening was our suite. It is as big as an apartment and features three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, a washer and dryer, and even a kitchen. The suite is beautiful and has enough room for everyone. We were so excited after a tiring day to have space to stretch out and relax.

Isn't it funny how a day of sitting in airplanes is so exhausting?

Amy and I are roommates for the next two nights in pretty little black and white bedroom with a big mirror.

Our first day of travel may not have held much adventure or sight-seeing, but my family is retiring early with smiles on our faces and quite a bit of excitement as we approach tomorrow's hike through the rainforest.

Three years ago: Broken Camera