Category Archives: Caribbean

Sunday in Barbados

This afternoon, we arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Being Sunday, it was pretty quiet; naturally, nowhere was open, yet more than a few people were wondering why it was that we’d spent so long in Martinique when we could have spent all day in Bridgetown.

By request, Tracey and I had no tour escorting duties (yeey!). We were asked, but we told the shorex team that we were all ‘gardened-out’, and the only tour we would be happy to do would have been to Harrisons Cave (which we’ve been to before, independently). Harrisons Cave had already been allocated, so we got the afternoon off.

The plan was very simple; have lunch then find a beach…

There are several beaches within walking distance of the port, so we opted to walk towards Carlisle Beach, located on the other side of the town. It was hot, but the walk was pleasant enough. We passed several people walking in the other direction all of whom complained that nowhere was open, and when we finally did get to the beach, people who were there mourned the fact that we’d spent so long in Martinique and only had half a day to enjoy beach-life.

A Reggae Festival was in the process of being set up on the beach next door and large numbers of Barbadians were accumulating near the entrances. We could hear soundchecks being made, and figured it was all going to get rather busy, and perhaps noisy, later on.

‘The Boatyard’ beach club cost us $15 each to get in. This included use of all the facilities; restrooms, beach recliners, tables and parasols, one free drink and a free brightly-coloured paper wristband. It also included a free taxi ride back to the cruise terminal, the last taxi being at 4pm (which I think is a bit stingey – 5pm would have been better). Most people commented on what a good deal it was, yet we still think our beach day in Costa Maya beats it by miles ($5 each for the use of all the facilities plus a free drink).

It was only after we’d paid our thirty dollars that we realised it might have been possible to purchase a cheaper, no-taxi option. The time was just after 2pm, and the ship would be in port overnight, so there really wasn’t any rush. However; we enjoyed the free drink and a magnificent dip in the sea, and decided to make use of the taxi since we still had to pack and needed to be back in time for an end-of-cruise meeting (besides – we’d paid for it). One couple from the ship were already into their second bucket of beer and chips, and couldn’t imagine why we were heading back so soon. The fact is; if we’d arrived in Bridgetown earlier, we would happily have spent all day there.

The Voyager was one of only two cruise ships berthed in the port. The other was a massive Royal Caribbean ship which appeared to be full of Americans.

At this point, I am happy to acknowledge the fact that Brits abroad can be embarrasingly noisy and rude. Such a reputation has been well-earned, but I’m also thinking that holidaying Americans must trump that, if the four passengers we had the misfortune of sharing the cab back to the port with are anything to go by. I can’t begin to describe the details of how utterly obnoxious and rude they were, and all I kept thinking was that ‘Serenade of the Seas’ might possibly be full of people like this. I in no way want to stereotype people, but every time I’ve visited Barbados, it does always seem to be populated by such types (shudders….).

Our time on the beach was short but highly enjoyable, and both Tracey and I commented on how much we preferred it to the notion of escorting a tour around yet another botanical garden or spending four hours on a coach with photo stops on the ‘Coast to Coast’ tour.

It’s our last night on the Voyager; tomorrow, we’ll be heading home. It’s been four enjoyable weeks, during which we’ve passed through the Panama Canal and visited Havana. Ecuador was memorable; fortunately for us, we missed the recent, devastating earthquake in Guiyaquil by only three weeks. We’ve hardly seen any rain at all, and guides have commented on how notably hot it has been compared to usual. The UK is going to seem cold.

I enjoy going away, but I also enjoy going home… back to fast broadband, real milk and our large shower.

This will be my last post for this cruise (unless there’s something to report, of course). I’m actually writing it on Monday morning as we sit waiting for the time to disembark, which will be after lunch (2pm). Our flight back to Gatwick leaves at just gone 5pm, and with the time adjustment, we expect to be landing on home soil at 6:20am on Tuesday morning.

I will be joining the Magellan in October, sailing to the Baltic Cities, and returning to the Voyager in November, on another back-to-back, but this time to a part of the world that is entirely new to me; ‘Beyond Ceylon’ and ‘An Insight into Indonesia’.

Watch this space…

Saturday – Fort de France, Martinique

Today, we arrived at our penultimate port-of-call, Fort de France on the island of Martinique.

While Fort de France is the ‘capital’ of Martinique, its true capital is Paris, since Martinique is French. It imports everything from France and doesn’t export anything; in fact, even tourism is something that they don’t quite seem to have mastered yet. Some years ago, they had a massive transport strike, which meant that visiting ships had no excursions and no means to get around the island. As a consquence, cruise ships stopped coming, and have only started to return in the last four years. Today, we will be the last-but-one cruise ship to visit until October.

All of this was explained to us by our guide today as Tracey and I were once again escorting a tour to yet another botanical garden.

My guide explained that while living on a Caribbean island might seem like paradise, Martinique, which has a popoulation of 400,000, is prone to earthquakes and hurricanes, both of which have devastated large areas of the island over the years, and the volcano on the island (which is dormant, but still active) lurks in the background just waiting to spoil things should they become too cosy.

When we arrived at our destination, Anse Latouche, I don’t think it was quite what folks were expecting.

In the blurb for the tour, Anse Latouche is described as follows:

‘Founded in 1643, the Capitaine Latouche habitation is surely the oldest plantation on the island of Martinique. This old sugar plantation… has been converted into a superb botanical garden by the creator of the Balata garden (also on the island), landscape architect Jean-Philippe Thoze. In this enchanting setting you can also discover Martinque Zoo…’

Which all reads as if it’s primarily a garden with a zoo tacked on…

Except, when when we arrived there, it was clearly a zoo, with a botanical garden integrated into it of sorts, but primarily, it is a place to bring children to see monkeys, cougars and flamingoes.

Actually I rather enjoyed the visit; the old plantation buildings, mostly derelict and massively overgrown, had an ‘Iles Du Salut’ feel to it (one of mine and Tracey’s favourite cruising destinations, on the Amazon trip… Devil’s island in French Guyana). Its ancient beauty had a dark undertone to it, since slavery was a fact of life in its heyday.

Wobbly rope-bridges and winding pathways led us through the gardens, past the old plantation buildings and an impressive aqueduct. The animal enclosures seemed well-managed and the animals content enough, although animals in cages really don’t hold any appeal to me whatsoever. I just feel this overwhelming urge to take a pair of pliers to the netting and let the tropical birds fly away to freedom…

So… it was a zoo. Sure, there were gardens there too, but I saw no signs telling folks what they were looking at. The only signage that there was related to the animal exhibits, none of which were in English. Even a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ exhibition was rather wasted on me since it was all written in French.

After the zoo, we drove back to Fort de France via a very windy road through the rainforest, alongside the volcano and the mountains known as ‘Pitons’.

After lunch at the ship, Tracey and I went for a walk into town, on the hunt for a beach.

Unfortunately, the only beach we found was small and quite uninviting. Ferries to the beaches on the opposite side of the bay were available for $7 return, but as the last advertised times of return were around 4:30pm, and it was already 3:30pm (and the journey across the bay takes approximately 20 minutes), it didn’t seem like a good idea.

The town of Fort de France seemed closed, and the fact that the Voyager was visiting didn’t seem to spur the locals into wanting anything to do with us. I hope the next ship, whatever it is (the last before October, remember) gets a warmer welcome.

With no other options available, we went for a walk along the seafront as far as we dared go. There was a path, but it was overgrown and eventually petered-out, so we doubled-back and walked along the road, looking at the houses perched on the very edge of the crumbling cliff. We came across a bar and figured we’d stop for a drink before heading back, only when we walked into it, we were told that by a couple of guys hanging out in there that they weren’t open… why weren’t we surprised?…

We headed back towards the ship, along the front. We passed a massive new office development that has been constructed right on the sea-front, directly in front of an older apartment block. Many of the apartments were displaying orange flags in protest at the office block, yet their protest appears to have been in vain. After all; the office block is there… I can’t imagine anyone at this point saying ‘yep, you’ve got a point… we’ve really spoiled your sea view… sorry about that… pull it down…’

Oh those French… they do love a protest…

Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadaloupe

Today, we arrived in Pointe-a-Pitre on the mostly-French island of Guadaloupe.

We’d been granted a much-appreciated day off from tour escorting, so were able to have a bit of a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast before heading ashore to see what Guadaloupe is all about.

As we departed from the terminal, we were greeted by some rather impressive graffiti. Those Guadaloupians certainly know how to brighten up a crumbling wall…

Navigating around Pointe-a-Pitre was easy enough, since the old town was quite a small area and within easy walking distance of the terminal. A colonial-style main street led us to the centre of town, where a brightly-coloured spice market grabbed our attention. Many of the side streets were populated by craft and fruit stalls, and we wandered idly, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere and slowly burning in the sun (or so we discovered later).

We came to a busy, bustling harbourside where fish merchants were busy de-scaling their catch before haggling with buyers. Three pelicans were hanging around hopeful of some tidbits; this one looks particularly respendent…

There wasn’t a great deal else to see in Pointe-a-Pitre. We wandered through the park and took a glance inside the cathedral, known as the ‘Iron Catherdal’ on account of the iron framework that makes it look a little like a railway station inside. There appeared to be something going on so we didn’t stop long; one lady in particular snapped quite ferociously, and loudly, at another gentleman wielding a video camera. Fortunately, I managed to grab this photo surruptitiously…

From the cathedral, we slowly drifted back towards the ship, stopping off for an ice cream and a look at the slightly underwhelming marina. Across from the handful of small boats, where we stood, we could see a large modern building which is a museum dedicated to the abolition of slavery. Unfortunately, by this time, we couldn’t quite muster up the energy to make the considerable walk around to it, so we headed back to the ship for lunch and a quite afternoon’s contemplative reading and staying as cool as possible.

At Sea – Last Classes

Today was our last full sea day of the cruise, and I gave my last watercolour class, which was ‘Seaspray and Sandpaper’. It all seemd to go well, and was positively received, which is, naturally, what I always hope for. I thanked my group for turning up each sea-day and for persevering with what is one of the hardest of mediums to work with. I must say that I have pushed them a little bit this time around; Havana was a particularly challenging subject, yet they all did extremely well with it.

In the words of Mary Poppins annd Bart Simpson… My work is done here…

As well as it being my last class, it was also the last formal night (yeey…)

Wednesday- Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic

Today, we arrived in Santa Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and we were escorting a tour again.

Surprise surprise! It was to see another botanical garden…

It perhaps should be said at this point that there is a reason why there may seem to be are a large number of gardens featured in the excursions list. One of our lectures on board is John Jughes, from the Royal Horticultural Society, and the cruise was advertised (apparently) as having a strong RHS flavour. As a consequence, as well as giving a few horticultural talks, John has been accompanying most of the ‘garden’ tours.

Today, however, before the gardens, our first stop was to see a cave system in Three Eyes Park.

A narrow set of winding stone steps led the way down into the cave, where three small, blue lagoons awaited us. It was all rather good; it was just pity that it was so busy. As well as the three coachloads of our passengers, with approximately 45 people on each bus, there was a large group of school children. The guides did a good job of keeping everyone together, and the queuing was well worth the wait. It was a large cave, part of which is open to the daylight, which helped to bring out the colours of the pools and enhance the contours of the rocks, and the stalagtites.

After a thirty-minute drive through busy traffic, our next destination was the Botanical Gardens, which are quite extensive to say the least. The guides made a poor job of explaining that we had ninety minutes of free time here, with which passengers could spend it how they liked. A small road-train was available for passengers who wished to be taken around the park, for a small fee. The information that had been imparted to the ship was that the fee would be $2 each. However, when people tried to purchase tickets, they were being charged $5 each. It was all an administration error, of course, but passengers soon started losing their patience. Not only were they confused with the free time concept (mostly because of the not-so-communicative guides), but they were being sent from one part of the park to the other to try and obtain train tickets, then to a different part, where the train would pick them up every 30 minutes. Add to this the fact that there weren’t many freely-available maps of the park, meaning that folks didn’t know in which direction they should be heading if they were on foot, and the result was nothing short of chaos.

Everything did get sorted out in the end, with regards to the train, but by then, 20 minutes had been wasted… something else for folks to moan about…

Tracey and I had an enjoyable walk through the gardens, finishing up at an area labelled as ‘Japanese Garden’. We found it mostly by asking others who were roaming about, since the maps weren’t much cop and all the signs in the park were in Spanish; no English to be found at all.

Even though botanical gardens are not really my thing, I must admit that the Japanese Garden was rather wonderful, with lots of ‘Japanese-ey’ plants, an ornate lake and a little wooden oriental-looking footbridge. I’d like to be able to tell you more about what was growing there, but as I’m horticulturally illiterate, that would be rather diificult. A very pleasant experience, however.

Our final stop of the tour was to a resaurant built into another rock and cave system, for lunch.

Naturally, some people managed to find things to have a good old gripe about, but I have to say that the food was really rather lovely. The timing of the tour was all out of kilter with what the itinerary should have been, which meant that we were over an hour late getting back to the ship, leaving folks with very little time to take an independent look around Santa Dominica.