Thursday – Kingstown, St. Vincent.

Today, we arrived in Kingstown, on the Island of St. Vincent.

 

This morning, we took a meander into town. It’s not quite such an attractive place as St Georges, but it does still have a certain charm. The area around the port is a tad scruffy, but as you leave that behind and walk further into the town, things start to pick up. There are lots of colourful market stalls everywhere, and an interesting fish market; folks are friendly here, as with most of the islands in this part of the world; they’re curious, of course, and keen to know about the visitors from the ship, wandering around their town.

 

We made our way to the Cathedral, which is of colonial design, and boasts a famous stained glass window featuring an angel dressed in red – hated by Queen Victoria, apparently. Unfortunately, there was a service in progress, so we couldn’t really wander in and start taking photographs and shooting video, so we went next door, to the old Roman Catholic Church, which is truly a sight to behold. It looks like the builders simply couldn’t decide what style it should be built in, so they opted to use all of them; it rather looks like a church built of lego bricks. It’s a cool little place, though, with a courtyard bursting with colourful, and unusual, plants. They have a little soup kitchen, which feeds a llarge number of impoverished residents every day; a queue was forming while we were there.

 

A wander back to the ship for lunch took us past many more market stalls, and the constant mithering of taxi drivers offering to take us around the island, or to the beach…. on this occasion, we weren’t interested…. because something far more exciting had been lined up for us this afternoon….

 

Glenn, the Shore Excursions Manager had arranged a private catamarran for crew members only. 72 of us piled on board at 1:30pm, for a three and a half hour, exclusive excursion. Firstly, the catamarran took us along the coast, to a location used in the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The guy on the boat described several scenes to us, and pointed to various places in front of us; a natural rock arch, where three skeletons were hanging; a rock face where some crane or other crashed to the sea, and a harbour featuring several buildings that were constructed specifically for the film; he described Captain Jack Sparrow’s memorable arrival ashore – this is where it all happened. Sadly, not being a huge fan of the films, I’m not very familiar with said scenes, but promise to re-watch them when I get the chance, just to try and spot what we’d seen from the catamarran.

 

After this, we were taken to a private, secluded beach. The catamarran rode up, headlong, onto the beach and dropped everybody off. Goggles and snorkels were provided for those who wanted them, and we were given an hour to do exactly whatever we wanted with the beach, while the catamarran anchored slightly offshore for a small number of people to practice their diving techniques.

 

It was a glorious hour. With the islands being volcanic, the sand on the beach is quite dark, and in the unsheltered spots, very hot to walk on in bare feet. This didn’t matter once you were in the water; the beach dropped quite steeply, making the incoming surf quite energetic… all huge fun, though.

 

The journey back to the Marco Polo was one massive party, fuelled by loud music and endless supplies of complimentary rum punch.

 

It’s coming up to 9pm now. We’ve eaten dinner early so that we could come out to the terminal where wi-fi is free for an hour, providing you purchase a drink. $5 bought us a beer and a coffee, so we’re happy…. it’s been a good day…

Wednesday – St Georges, Grenada

Today, after a full day at sea (Tuesday), we arrived in Grenada – The Spice Island.

 

We weren’t due to arrive until lunchtime, so I did a little painting in the morning, then, just before lunch, we held an art materials sale in the Art and Craft Room. A large amount of art materials, including several kits of paints had been bought in by CMV for use in the art classes. Whilst most of it has been, and still is, being used, we wer asked to see if the surplus could be sold off to passengers, in the hope of clawing some of the money back. This went without a hitch, and was a bit of an anti-climax, to be honest, since only about a dozen kits were sold – one lady had queued since 11am (the sale was at 12:30), to be sure of buying one of the better kits. On the good side; I sold 3 more original paintings in the process!

 

After lunch, we took a walk into St Georges. It’s a lovely, gentle, and friendly place; the island itself only achieved independence 39 years ago. The old town and harbour is separated from the newer town and harbour, accessible on foot by a road tunnel, where pedestrians just take their life into their own hands, since no dedicated pavement exists.

 

Once in the old town, we were pounced upon by a taxi driver who offered to take us to the beach. This was exactly our plan, but the $15 each way sounded just a tad too steep, since we knew the water taxi was much cheaper (but nowhere in sight). We haggled and got it down to $21 for a two-way trip; he took us to the beach and we agreed a time to meet up, and spent a wonderful hour and a quarter swimming in the Caribbean.

 

Once we’d returned from the beach, and paid the man, we headed for a little grill and bar on the harbourside, where I knew there was free wi-fi. Here, we spend another hour and a half on the internet, drinking and sharing a plate of chips… heaven!

 

The evening was billed as a special themed evening, the highlight of which was to a ‘School Disco’, featuring a whole stack of 80s classics… school uniform optional. Well, of course, it wasn’t really optional, and pressure was on to enter into the spirit of the occasion, so we both dressed up in a school uniform of sorts; I wore my tie around head, Rambo-style, my shirt was half-in and half-out, and after a delve around Tracey’s make-up bag, I managed to give myself a glorious black eye!

 

It was a fun evening, with all the crew and entertainments staff dressing up, and the disco raved on until just past midnight.

Monday – Iles Du Salut – Devils Island

Today, we arrived in Iles Due Salut, better known as the infamous French penal colony of Devil’s Island, made famous by the book ‘Papillon’, by Henri Charriere, and, later, the film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. Actually, there are three islands here; Iles Royale, Iles St Joseph, and Illes du Diablo. The island we were visiting was Iles Royale, which was actually used mostly for administrative purposes, although there were cells here, used for some of the lesser convicts. Iles Du Diablo, or Devils Island, was where the worse inmates were sent; transferred by a pulley wire from the larger island.

 

Last year, this stop was one of the highlights of the whole trip, and today it didn’t disappoint either. It was a half-day stop again, so we planned to start in the centre of the island, and check out the old buildings, then work our way out around the perimeter. Tender boats took people to the island, and the seas were choppy, making transferring people from ship to boat quite a challenge; the fact is, there had only been a 50/50 chance that we might not have made it onto the island at all, if the sea had been any choppier… thankfully, we did.

 

Despite its dark history (Google ‘Dreyfus’, a notorious inmate charged with treason, to see just how horrific man’s treatment of his fellow man can stoop – he had a far worse time of it than Papillon), the island is an absolute joy to behold. It absolutely bursts with life; we saw monkeys, Palm Rats, parrots, and even a couple of humming birds. We didn’t get to see any turtles this time around, as we found ourselves running out of time yet again (and Tracey had a bit of a major disaster with her camera). Someone did report having spotted a shark, though, which is a bit of a coup… the waters around these islands are apparently festooned with them. In Papillon’s day, a guillotine mounted in one of the central courtyards had a channel for the blood to flow directly to the sea, and prisoners who died (and there were many of them; of the 700 who were sent there at a time, only 10% would live to see out their sentence, the remainder, who would die from from leprosy, malnutrition, or far more exotic diseases) where simply thrown into the sea… all to attract the sharks, and discourage prisoners from trying to swim to freedom.

 

Sunday – At Sea

Not a great deal happened today; we’ve left Brazil behind and are now heading for French Guyana. Watercolour classes have resumed, and I’m using every available spare minute to paint in the cabin. So far, I’ve completed 10 new original paintings, featuring boats and stilt houses from Boca Do Valeria and Lake Maica, a couple from The Cape Verde Islands, and most recently, an Egret and an Iguana. I’m pleased to say that, as things stand, I’ve currently sold 7 of them.

 

The sea was rough today, which knocked Tracey out of circulation a bit. I have to say that rough seas don’t really bother me – in fact, the rougher, the more interesting… sadly, not everyone feels the same way.

 

Just on a general health update; my lurgy finally seems to be moving on. I’m still waking up in the mornings with a croaky voice, but I persevere, and amm managing to get through the classes. Unfortunately, whhat appears to be the samme lurgy is slowly making its way through the ship. Both Glenn, the Shore Excursions Manager, and Amy, the assistant Cruise Director have been effected, and many passengers can be heard coughing the cough that hhas no end… that’s the thing that has hung on most of all; a cough that is totally pointless and completely non-productive, yet renders one incapable of doing anything for a minute or two until it subsides.

 

 

We (that is; the group of lecturers and tutors) were all rather astounded to hearr of a lady who’d come into the craft class in a thoroughly unhappy state after having had a run in with a very rude passenger. This lady had been sat next to said passenger over breakfast, and had had to listen to her rambling on about everything that was wrong on the ship. She’s chuntered on for for quite some while, by all accounts, moaning about evvery aspect of the cruise, and the ship… basically, nothing was right for her. The other lady, sat next to her had tried to placate her, and said that, surely, things weren’t that bad? At this, the other passenger turned to her and said, “If you happen to see me about the ship; don’t come and talk to me”.

 

Without naming names, it seems there are one or two passengers for whom their glass is never half full, but always half empty. They’ll complain about anything, from the food, to the fact that they have to buy their own peanuts from the bar (doesn’t happen on other ships, they’ll say – fine; on other ships, they’d be paying 5 times as much for the service – get over it). Rudeness is something that you’d expect most of the grown people on this ship to have grown out of long ago; apparently not!

 

Friday – Saturday – Santana

The delights of Alter De Chao (pronounced, we think, chow) were always going to be a hard act to follow. Because of the change to local laws imposed upon us by the Brazilian Authorities (something about having to be in Santana between two daytime high tides), we’d already lost Almeirim, and were destined to arrive in Santana at 2:30 on Friday, for an overnight stop, leaving at approximately 2:30 on Saturday. Many said that an overnighter in Alter de Chao would have been much more fun; we could have had beach parties, barbeques…. oh yes…. so much more fun.

 

The best thing we discovered in Santana was free wi-fi, right on the dockside, and right by the ship. Finding wi-fi is easy; always watch where the crew go…. someone discovered an unsecured network right by the ship, and bingo, before you knew it, there were several dozen folks, all dotted around the area tapping away on laptops. We sat there into the early evening, until the bugs started to become intolerable. I’m not just talking little gnats and mozzies – I’m talking huge flappy, moth-type things bashing into your head and crawling down your neck – not very pleasant at all!

 

Friday night was Burns Night, so one Scottishh passenger had been roped-in to ‘Address the Haggis’ and talk all Burnsie, after which, there was a sort of Barn-dance type thing on deck, where passengers were invited to partake in some traditional scottish dancing. For those who didn’t take part, and only watched, the spectacle was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time. Utter chaos would perhaps sum it up in two words – but huge fun nonetheless!

 

On Saturday, we decided that we would take a walk into Santana. Last year, we, and another couple, commandeered a taxi to take us into Macapa, where we were able to visit The Marco Zero monument, signifying where the line of the equator passes through the city, and a small fort there. Other than that, there was very little to see or do in Macapa; made all the more underwhelming by bouts of extremely wet weather.

 

Some passengers had signed up for the Macapa Transfer bus; about £30, each to take them into the city… others, like us, simply went for a walk into Santana.

 

Once you’re past the port buildings and industrial area, you’re in Santana – an approximately 15 minute walk.

 

What’s to be said about Santana? Well; if Brazil had piles – this is where they’d be. Santana has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever. As someone else said; it gives a bad name to s***holes. It’s dirty, smelly (open sewers) and has piles of litter absolutely everywhere you look. It’s difficult to see how anyone could take pride in saying that they live there, yet the locals seemed friendly enough – many of them speaking to us as we passed, wishing us a good day, and asking where we were from, but honestly….. this is a Saturday morning in downtown Santana; shoddy doesn’t even touch it. There were a few little bars, a couple of barbers, a supermarket, where we bought some water from, and a reasonably impressiive church, that blasted out a recording of Big Ben every half hour. The main street was wide, and the traffic quite busy; huge puddles lay everywhere, and we walked up the street and back again, and then decided enough was enough. Santana sinks disappointment to new depths, I’m afraid to say.

 

When we got back to the ship, we decided to make use of the wi-fi again until lunchtime – only to discover that the wi-fi was no longer working, and no-one could now log-on. How to pee-off a visiting cruise liner huh?

 

One of the best things that you can do with Santana is leave it – and that’s what we did at approximately 2:30pm. That was our final Amazon port – we’re now heading back out to the open sea, back into the Northerm Hemisphere, towards Iles Du Salut, in French Guiana – Papillon’s Devils Island!! Woo Hoooo!

Follow watercolour artist Peter Woolley's adventures as he runs art workshops on the high seas…