I’ve finally reached the end of the vacation and the end of this blog. We disembarked in San Juan fairly early, thanks to the pursar, who we persuaded to give us zone 5 tags (I think we had zone 10 originally) so we could get off earlier. Because disembarking in San Juan has been such a nightmare in the past, they were trying something new on our voyage–no self-service disembarkation. Because we had an early-ish flight, we were able to get the earlier zone tags, though, so we actually got off fairly easily.
We wanted to do a tour of the city before leaving and hadn’t prearranged a tour like we did everywhere else, but when we got off there was a tourism booth right on the dock, and they found a driver who was giving a San Juan city tour and would take us to the airport afterward. It was $20 a person and well worth it, considering a taxi to the airport alone would have been about $24 for two people and their bags. We just left our bags on the van while we toured, so it was very easy and convenient.
First, the tour went to new San Juan, and we got to go to the fruit market, which was perfectly timed with the one rain storm of our trip, which lasted about five minutes. So we were safely inside and dry for that brief rain. Afterward we went a beach to take some pictures and then on to see the Capitol building, which was actually open even though it was Sunday, and we got to see the amazing mosaic tile dome inside. A Capitol tour guide even explained all of the pictures to us. Next, we stopped at another beach overlook (The prettiest overlook on the island, our driver told us, even though I wasn’t very impressed. Puerto Rico was by far my least favorite island of the trip.) to take pictures, and then we drove around Old San Juan some. We stopped to take pictures at El Morro, and it was fun to watch everyone out flying kites. That is probably my favorite area of the city.
The driver next took us into Old San Juan and gave us an hour and a half to explore, eat, tour San Cristobel, or whatever we wanted to do. We walked for awhile and ate at McDonald’s since it was fast and convenient. Then we walked back, stopping in interesting shops along the way. This was where I got my best trinkets of the trip–two hand-crafted vases signed by the artist, a small sculpture, and a wooden vase from Haiti. We were the first back to the van because we also had the earliest flight and were a little worried about time. Most people showed up shortly afterward, but one couple was about ten minutes late, and I was starting to panic because we were pushing it for time. When we finally made it to the airport we only had about an hour before our flight was to leave, which was really nerve-wracking, especially when the lines were so long, but we made it to the gate a few minutes before boarding began. I was sad to leave because the trip was so wonderful, but it was also good to get home to my own bed.
On the last day of our cruise we arrived in St. Kitts at 7 a.m. and met with our guide, Thenford Grey, at 9. We and about ten other people (including a couple who had been on the St. Lucia tour with us) did his island tour, which started with a drive through Basseterre, which despite poor reviews by other cruisers we met throughout the week, actually wasn’t too bad by Caribbean city standards. There were some beautiful old churches both inside the city and throughout the island, and we got a much more thorough tour of the capital city than any of the other tours gave us.
After leaving Basseterre we drove north up the coast to Romney Manor/Caribelle Batik, stopping along the way to take pictures of a petroglyph in someone’s yard. We were also able to hold a baby green monkey there that someone kept as a pet. On the road up to Caribelle we saw a couple of kids with another monkey, and Thenford told us there are far more monkeys on the island than people, which is why you see them everywhere.
At Caribelle Batik we were able to take pictures in the gardens and then watch a batik demonstration. The batik there is reasonably priced, and I got a beautiful purse for $40 US and a couple of gifts for other people. We seemed to time our arrival well, too, because when we got there there were only a couple of vans in the parking lot, and when we left the parking lot was full and there were people throughout the gardens, so if you didn’t get your pictures before going inside you had strangers in all your pictures. Luckily, I took most of my pictures before shopping, although I did go up to the lookout point afterward.
Afterward we drove to Brimstone Hill Fortress, which is 800 feet up and offers spectacular views of the island (and nearby islands). Along the way I saw my first wild monkey, who was sitting under a tree eating something. When we reached the top of the hill, Thenford gave a tour of the fortress, but we broke off on our own to explore, which I was glad of. Although it is nice to get a historical perspective from a guide, I like to move at my own pace and take pictures. There were signs everywhere that explained what I was seeing, so I didn’t feel like I missed anything by not going with a guide. I actually got to see more because the group never even made it to the old barracks on the other side of the parking lot, which offers more awesome views of the water and villages below, as well as just some cool shots because the buildings there are more like ruins than actual structures. I really enjoyed exploring the fortress though (I love forts back home as well), and the views of the water, islands, mountains, and villages were superb.
Next we headed for the south end of the island, stopping at Timothy Hill, which had perhaps the most beautiful views of the entire trip. The hills and mountains of St. Kitts aren’t covered in dense foliage like on Dominica or St. Lucia, so you always have a clear view of everything around you. It all seems so open. The area near Timothy Hill is growing a bit touristy though. That’s where the mansions and the Marriott are, as well as the condo development that I imagined moving into. (Not that I would have the money for many years to come, but it was a lovely thought.) We then continued down to the tip of the southern peninsula, where there is no development–yet. They are planning a huge resort down there, but one that is more eco-friendly and that will blend in with the surroundings, the way the Four Seasons on Nevis does.
After driving down a dirt road into what seemed like the middle of nowhere, we arrived at the most touristy (and unattractive) place we went the entire trip–Cockleshell Beach. This was definitely an overpriced, locally owned, more secluded version of Margaritaville or Carlos ‘n Charlie’s. Because I’d gotten quite a bit of sun in Antigua (and hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast), we decided to eat at the restaurant and forgo the beach. A burger alone was $10, I believe, and there were flies everywhere–very annoying to constantly have to be swatting them away. And I do mean constantly. The service was not good there either–we had to find someone to take our order, to bring us a drink, to bring ketchup, to bring the check. They never came to the table voluntarily, it seemed.
When we finally finished we still had half an hour or so to kill, so we went over to see Wilbur, the enormous 700 lb. pig who lives there, and to take pictures with the baby goat that roams the beach and the baby monkey they have in a cage there (he’s a rescued monkey–his mother was killed). The beach was extremely crowded and dirty compared to other beaches we visited over the week, and the people were a bit trashy as well. I’m not trying to sound judgemental, but it just wasn’t my kind of place. There were a number of topless women, which normally wouldn’t bother me, but they were up dancing around, and there were some young men who were paying them to dance and even lay on each other. I found it really offensive when there were also a number of children around. I definitely wouldn’t want to take my children there, although I think if you walked further down the beach away from the restaurant you might be able to escape the worst of it. Either way, we were glad to leave the place, and so although I absolutely loved St. Kitts, I would not recommend going to that particular beach. If you are the type who really loves to party and drink, though, it is probably for you. There were a number of people on the ship who said they loved the place, but these were the same people who were giving the baby monkey sips of their strawberry daiquiris and laughing when it started affecting him. Not kidding.
On the way back I got to see several other monkeys in the wild, as well as the cows and goats that are all over the island. Wild goats are just something you get used to on the islands though–I can’t remember going to an island that didn’t have them. We made it back just in time to reboard the ship, so I didn’t get to do any shopping in port, but it was a long (but good) day, so I was ready to shower and relax anyway. As we were leaving I got to take a lot of fantastic pictures of the island from the water, too, one of which is the header above.
Winter is officially here in Alabama–it is below freezing and the wind is fierce and steady. Today I received an email offer for another Caribbean cruise vacation, and all I could think was “ahh, warmth.” Antigua was already on my mind because I just finished reading A History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave, which chronicles Prince’s journey from Bermuda to Turk’s Island to Antigua and finally to England. Reading about the slave history of Antigua was eye-opening, since the island I visited has changed so much over the last two-hundred years. Of all the islands I visited, Antigua was probably the most modern (and expensive!), due to the heavy British (and celebrity) presence still there.
I honestly didn’t spend a lot of time on the actual island though. We did the Xtreme Circumnav tour with Adventure Antigua, and it was fantastic. Our guides for the day picked us up right at the cruise ship dock, and after a brief stop at the Sandals to pick up some other passengers, we were on our way around the island. It was warm, sunny, and the water was a perfect, clear blue. We rode past Bird Island and stopped for a photo op of Hell’s Gate before heading on to our first real stop–Stingray City. The “city” is far away from shore, but the water is shallow and the pinned area where the stingrays are is open on one end so they can leave if they choose.
First, we took turns getting our pictures made with a stingray (very slippery-smooth and hard to hold on to), and then we were free to snorkel around with them. They were everywhere, and it was so cool to have them swim right past you or under you. There was also a reef area to snorkel in, but I didn’t spend much time there because I was trying to get pictures of the stingrays underwater.
Soon we were back on the boat speeding around the island, and our guides pointed out all of the houses (mansions?) we passed and who lived there. (People like Eric Clapton, Oprah, J.K. Rowling, etc.) Our next stop was on Green Island, home to one of the world’s best yacht harbors, where the boats all dwarfed ours. One yacht even had its own helicopter! We lounged on the beach and swam a bit before having a delicious lunch right on the beach. I was glad (as always) to have my ground cover. It is perfect for a picnic and super lightweight. I highly suggest getting one if you like beach bumming–it keeps the sand off your towel and lets you sprawl out a bit without worrying about getting sand in your bag or clothes or whatever.
After lunch we headed for Nelson’s Dockyard and the Pillars of Hercules. Along the way we got a nice view of Montserrat (which was spewing smoke and ash–Chris said it is when it is not spewing that you have a problem). Mostly we just motored around the dockyard while the guides gave us the history and we took some pics (more huge multi-million dollar boats!). Then we went back out to the Pillars to snorkel. The snorkeling was very good, though the current was strong in some places. The fish were a bit too deep to get any good pictures, but they were very colorful.
After snorkeling we headed for our last stop of the day, and potentially the reason I loved Antigua so much–Rendezvous Bay. This beach was the picture of tranquility; I’m pretty sure we were the first people to step foot on it all day. You have to get there by water, and the water was a little choppy, so we had to jump overboard and swim in a bit–that means no pictures from the beach. 😦 (Although the fourth picture is one I took of the beach from the boat.) But it was absolutely heaven. The sand was as soft and fine as flour. With each step I sank up to my ankles. (And since there were no footprints on the beach when we got there, that’s why I assume we were the first visitors of the day.) The beach was a perfect crescent of white sand, perhaps half a mile long, and the water was a crystal clear, cool blue. Again, I never wanted to leave, and when I go back to Antigua, it will be with the specific goal of getting back to this beach for an extended time. (Perhaps a full day, if possible. There are no beach chairs or bathrooms or hotels there, which is both fantastic but also limiting in terms of how long you can spend there. However, its isolation is what makes it so amazing.)
All too soon we had to leave that slice of paradise and head back for the ship. On the ride back we hit some of our highest speeds, and it was fun to be on such a fast, powerful boat in the open sea. The water around Antigua is so perfectly blue and clear, and the landscape is rugged, with lots of interesting cliffs and rock formations, so the journey around the island was never dull. In fact, Antigua was one of my favorite islands, even though I never really saw much of the island! When we got back, I did do a little shopping in the markets right by the dock, but those are very touristy, so I don’t really judge the rest of the island by them. Overall, though, it was a great day, and Antigua had a wonderful feel to it–very different from the other islands we went to. It definitely had its own personality (they all do, really), and the water is such a huge part of life there that I would have to own my own boat if I lived there. (If nothing else, just so I could make trips to Rendezvous Bay!)
I woke up at sunrise the day we arrived in St. Lucia and got my first view of the Pitons long before we reached the port.
We booked an island tour with Cosol Tours and it was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Bumpy was our driver, and we left Castries and drove inland a bit to a banana plantation. Bumpy gave us all a fresh banana to try and then explained the way bananas are grown and harvested on the island. All I can say is that it is amazing how cheap bananas are in America; the process to make them is so long and expensive it is amazing anyone even makes a profit growing them. After we left the banana plantation we drove through our first fishing village, Anse La Raye, and stopped on an overlook above the village to take pictures.
Next, we continued along the coast to the village of Canaries. St. Lucia is a lush, gorgeous island full of hills and mountains, and the drive along the coast was beautiful. Canaries looked a lot like Anse La Raye in some ways, and we went up to another overlook over the town where we had a feast of local dishes waiting for us: wonderful Johnny cakes, rum cake, fresh pineapple, fried plantains, and lots of other yummy snacks.
After our breakfast stop, we continued on down the coast to an overlook where we could see Soufriere and the Pitons, as huge and gorgeous as I’d imagined. We went to Sulfur Springs next, which is the drive-in volcano. You literally pull right up, get out, and you are there–no hiking required. The rotten eggs-sulfur smell is really pungent–I had to breathe through my mouth the whole time. But watching the steam rise was really cool. The area is much larger than it looks in pictures (you can’t really capture the height/size in a single photograph). There are also several different viewing points, and we walked around to the one on the far left, where you can watch the pools of hot mud bubbling.
We didn’t have long there, and all too quickly we were heading back down to the beach in Soufriere where we boarded water taxis to take us to Jalousie Beach between the Pitons. Taking the water taxis was really fun, especially since we went right past the Grand Piton to get there. The water was a gorgeous deep blue-green, and the air, sun, view were all perfect. We finally arrived at our destination, and I thought I was in paradise. The beach could not have a more perfect location. It has its own little, hidden-away nook, with the Pitons rising up on either side of it. It feels so quiet and secluded, despite the fact there is a resort there. The resort, though, is set back in the trees, so all you can really see is a stretch of white beach with lounge chairs and beach huts and dive shack where you can rent snorkel gear and such. There is a snorkeling area right off the beach that I was told had fantastic coral and fish, but since we only had an hour there I wanted to just relax and enjoy the view. I went swimming for a bit and then just sat on the beach, trying to soak it all in. Seriously, it felt like heaven, and I could have spent days there just sitting on the beach and admiring the waves and water and Pitons.
All too soon the water taxis arrived to take us back, and when arrived back in Soufriere Cosol himself was there to greet us. We all had a drink and reboarded the van to go to the botanical gardens and Toraille Falls. Unfortunately, the area was really crowded, so I didn’t spend much time near the falls but wandered through the gardens instead. They are small, but there are some beautiful flowers there. My camera battery chose that moment to die and my extra one was in the van, so I didn’t get any pictures of the flowers though.
On the way back to the ship we stopped again in Canaries and Bumpy ran into a house and came out with a loaf of bread for each of us. In a way they were shaped like wiffle ball bats. This was our “lunch,” and it was definitely filling–and some of the best bread I’d ever had. When we started to leave Canaries we got caught in a traffic jam–a traffic jam in the middle of a village. What happened was this guy stopped right in the middle of an intersection to get out and run into a house. People from all directions started trying to go around his vehicle, but we couldn’t move. There were about six cars involved, and all of us were at a stand still. Eventually we were able to all wedge this way and that (with much shouting between drivers as they orchastrated a plan) and were on our way again.
I think I dosed off for most of the way back. Even though we spent much of the day driving around, it was a long, busy day, and I greatly enjoyed my brief time in St. Lucia. It was truly a beautiful island (one of my two favorites that we visited), and I can’t wait to go back for an extended stay (maybe at Jalousie Beach!). 🙂
It’s been over a month since the trip, but I’m going to (eventually) blog about all seven days, even though it is slow going with the semester in full swing now. Mainly I don’t want to forget anything about the trip, and in many ways I see this blog as a journal of my experiences that I can print and read later in life when I’ve forgotten details about my travels.
This blog should (hopefully) be a bit shorter, as our day in Barbados was probably our least favorite day. No day in the Caribbean is a bad day, so I’m not saying we didn’t like Barbados, only that our experiences on the other islands far exceeded our experiences there.
We had booked the Best of Barbados tour with Glory Tours, and I was a bit nervous from the beginning, as this was the only tour we had had to pay for in advance and there was a small problem with our reservation that I had never been able to straighten out beforehand (despite many emails to the company).
We found the meeting place easily enough (after getting directions from another tour guide; again, friendly, helpful people on these islands!) and met with Sarah, owner of Glory Tours, who checked us in and said that the problem could be easily resolved. We then had to wait for about half an hour for people from the Princess, which had been detained by customs. There were about eight ships in port that day, but there were only about twelve people on the tour, I believe. The rest of our people finally got there and we met our driver and took off across the island for the first stop of the day, Harrison’s Cave.
I honestly don’t remember a lot about the drive. There wasn’t much in the way of scenery to look at, unlike the other islands. At the cave we got on a tram with maybe thirty or forty people that took us through the different tunnels. That was kind of different because every cave/cavern I’ve visited in the States was a walking tour, which I find to be far more adventurous and fun. If you haven’t been to many caves, you may find this one to be more interesting than I did. I found the tour to be just okay; there were a few good “rooms” and some nice formations. It is a living cave, so water was dripping on us constantly, which was interesting. I don’t think I’ve been in a cave like that before. We stopped long enough to get off and walk around/take pictures in a couple of different rooms, but a lot of my pictures of some of the more interesting rooms are blurry because we just drove through them, and with such low light it was impossible to get a non-blurry picture.
After leaving the cave, we drove along the coast and stopped for pictures. I didn’t find the beaches or the water to be as pretty as on some of the other islands, but, again, it is the Caribbean, so it still beats home. We stopped for lunch at Sand Dunes Bar and Restaurant (A ham sandwich and Coke; nothing special. I wish I’d been brave enough to try to flying fish sandwich, but I’m extremely picky about fish and figured ham was safe. I’m not sure what all the restaurant makes, but Glory was paying and didn’t give a lot of options.) and then continued on to the Wildlife Reserve.
The animals here are free to roam, and I was especially excited by the idea of seeing some green monkeys, but we never did see any free monkeys. Turns out they are free to leave the reserve whenever they want and typically disappear in the early afternoon, although they spend mornings and late afternoons there (feeding time). I’m not sure why the tour is arranged so that we arrived during the one two-hour period when the monkeys are gone, but that was the first semi-frustrating thing that happened.
We did get to see free-roaming peacocks (although I’ve seen them before in England) and deer (my parents live in the middle of a national forest, so I’ve seen more than my fair share of deer). The tortoises that were crawling around everywhere were probably the coolest thing. They were very quick and were all over the walkways–you had to be careful when walking. There were also some green monkeys in a cage, but I didn’t go all the way to Barbados for that–I can see caged monkeys at any zoo in the world. (Plus I hate it when they are caged.) One of the monkeys was right beside the side of the cage, and he was very smart and obviously enjoyed having an audience. (Although he was also aggressive; some kid stuck his finger through the wire and got a nasty bite.)
Afterward we drove to the coast for our snorkeling/glass bottom boat experience. Glass bottom boat was definitely an exaggeration. There were two panels of glass in the center of the boat about 1×6 feet each. The driver gave us some mediocre snorkeling equipment (I would suggest bringing your own) and stopped the boat a short way from our departure point, where we were supposed to snorkel a shipwreck. Not so much. I had been really looking forward to the experience, but the visibility was absolutely zero. We snorkeled around for about fifteen minutes and saw absolutely nothing. Not a single fish. I have no idea even how deep the water was. Literally, I couldn’t see more than three feet because there was so much sand kicked up.
Finally, extremely disappointed, we got back on the boat and motored a short way to our second stop, where we were to swim with the green sea turtles. This was something else I was really looking forward to, and just as we pulled up, two other boats pulled up, one with about thirty passengers. At first I was really annoyed that there were so many people in the water in such a small space (the boats made a sort of triangle and we were all in the center of it), but it actually worked to our benefit, I think. While our boat driver stayed on board and gave us little direction, the big boat’s guides got in the water and were feeding the turtles fish to get them to come to the surface. I’m not sure if they would have come up if it wasn’t for that other group, but because of them I saw four turtles (or maybe it was the same turtle four times. Who could tell? You had to pretty much be standing on the thing in order to see it with such poor visibility.) It was a cool experience, though, because they would come out of nowhere and suddenly be right under you or would brush up against you. That was probably the highlight of the day, but I didn’t get any pictures because the turtles came and went so quickly.
After that it was time to go back to shore and then back to the boat, and I (for once) was kind of ready to go back. I’m sure Barbados has many fun activities that we missed, but overall the day was just okay, and we won’t be in any rush to go back there, unlike the other islands we visited.
The Carnival itinerary said we would be in Dominica from 10-6, but we docked at 9. This might have been good (an extra hour in beautiful Dominica would never be a bad thing), except I had arranged a tour with Levi Baron of Bumpiing Tours, and my email said to meet between 10 and 10:30. We got off the boat a little before 10 to make sure we found the meeting place on time, and it was very easy to find the little alley directly across from the ship that Levi told us to wait in. When we arrived, though, he wasn’t there. After standing around waiting for a few minutes, another tour guide asked who we were waiting for and offered to let us borrow his cell phone to call Levi. (Everyone in Dominica was super friendly and nice–truly one of the most hospitable places I’ve been!) Levi, however, had picked everyone else up at 9 and was already at the trailhead for Middleham Falls, our first stop of the day. Turns out the ship had been coming early the last few weeks and he had corresponded to everyone else to meet at 9. Somehow I didn’t get the email, but it worked out fine, because Levi talked with the cell phone owner, and a few minutes later we were in a taxi to the trailhead.
After a beautiful drive up through the lush, rain forest-covered mountains of Dominica, the driver dropped us at the trailhead and said we didn’t owe him anything–Levi would take care of it later, and we should just begin the hike and we would meet up with our group eventually. We started out at a quick pace, and it was actually nice to be doing the hike alone, without a bunch of strangers. The hike was straight up, though, and I began to tire quickly. We passed another tour group and had been climbing for some time when Levi came back and found us. He had left the rest of the group at a stream to rest while he came back to find us. He was extremely apologetic about the misunderstanding and hiked with us for awhile before running off to check on the rest of the group.
After slowing my pace and drinking some water, I was ready to take on the rest of the hike. My new Keen sandals were essential. I’m so glad I invested in them. We had to cross many shallow streams along the trail, and it was so nice not to have to worry about getting my shoes wet. I have the Keen Newport H2s, and I highly suggest them to anyone who hikes in warm weather. My feet never bothered me, and I tend to get blisters easily. (In fact, more than once I swam in them on this trip, and I really never even felt them on my feet. They are lightweight and waterproof, plus have a closed toe and are made for hiking–a perfect combination.)
Levi ran back another time to check on us, but we were almost to the falls by the time and were making our final descent into the gorge. The rest of the group had just gotten there shortly before us, and everyone was up on a wooden platform taking pictures of the falls. Middleham Falls was absolutely gorgeous and huge–too huge for me to get the whole waterfall in one picture. The water fell into a green pool, and in the cloud of mist at the base of the falls was a rainbow.
Most of us chose to hike down to the pool and swim across it to that little cave on the other side. The swim was brutal, partially because I’m not good at swimming against a current and partly because the mist from the falls was blinding me. The water was a bit chilly as well, but I didn’t even feel it really because I was too busy fighting to stay alive. lol After cramming into the tiny cave, it was time to swim back, and we dried off and began the hike back. I would have liked more time at the falls, but we had such an action-packed day planned that there really wasn’t any time.
The hike back was very easy (mostly downhill), and then we piled into the van (there were about fifteen of us, I think) and drove the short distance to Titou Gorge, where they shot part of Pirates of the Caribbean 2. This was one of the highlights of the trip, and I’m sorry I don’t really have pics from it. (None of the ones from the water camera really came out.) Again, we had to swim into the gorge, although there was no real current to fight for the first 3/4s of the way. The rock walls rose up beside us, and the rain forest rose up above them, the trees and ferns shading the narrow stream that drifts through the gorge. At the end of the gorge was what we had come for–another waterfall, this one small but beautiful. The current was extremely strong where the waterfall was, and Levi had to swim across and throw us a life preserver and pull us across individually. Again, we all huddled in a tiny nook in the rock wall and took in the beautiful surroundings. Then it was time to jump back into the stream and let the current take us back out.
Next, Levi took us to Trafalgar Falls, where we took some snaps of Dominica’s perhaps most-famous twin falls and soaked in the hot springs for awhile. Everywhere we went it seemed to be just our group (we were always getting there right before or right after over groups, although Middleham is never crowded), so it always felt like we were off-the-beaten-path, even at Trafalgar. We were supposed to go snorkeling at Champagne Beach after that, but we were all getting a bit worried about making it back to the ship on-time, so instead Levi made a brief stop at Sulfur Springs to show us the boiling pools, then we headed back to the ship via Roseau, and Levi pointed out things in the city.
Overall, it was a very tiring but wonderful day in Dominica. The island was absolutely beautiful, and I definitely plan to return one day, hopefully for several days. It hasn’t been hit by tourism yet, so the Caribbean’s “nature island” is still very lush and undeveloped, the rain forests still dense, the rivers still pure. It is definitely the place to go for an eco-vacation, and if you are ever in the are, for a day or longer, look up Levi. He was extremely professional, caring, and helpful, even with the hiccup at the beginning of the day.
***The wide-angle lens on my new camera definitely came in handy–I was the only one who could get both waterfalls in one picture!
I was going to wait until tomorrow to make this post, but why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? (Bet you never thought you’d hear that coming from me, the queen of procrastination!) St. Thomas was one of our laziest days, so I thought perhaps this post wouldn’t have to be as long-winded as they usually are.
We arrived in St. Thomas at seven a.m., but we weren’t scheduled to meet our taxi driver until 9:00, so we got to sleep in a bit and enjoy some time on the balcony and room service before finally disembarking. We were planning a day sailing onboard the Independence with Captain Pat (the sailing in St. Thomas is first class), and she had arranged for the cab to meet us. After fifteen minutes of waiting, however, we started to get a bit nervous and called the cab driver, Blondelle. (Thankfully, T-Mobile has service in the USVI!) It turned out that Blondelle was stuck in traffic because there had been an armed robbery at a grocery store in Charlotte Amalie, and the police had blocked off all of the main roads. Her husband and two other passengers from another ship actually walked down to meet us, though, and a few minutes later she showed up with the cab.
After a frenzied drive across the island to Red Hook, we finally met up with Captain Pat, who was waiting on the dock for us. Blondelle promised to be back in the afternoon to meet us, and then Pat took us in the dinghy out to the sailboat. There were only two other passengers–a woman and girl about my age who had just finished her master’s degree–and the first mate, Ray, aboard. We started out immediately, and the wind, weather, everything was perfect. The boat was keeled over and we were moving at a steady clip. I was in heaven. Ray was an excellent tour guide, pointing out all of the various neighboring islands and telling us stories about who lived where and which beaches were best and the stories and fables that surround St. John and St. Thomas. He also had fascinating stories to tell us about his own life and was by far one of the most interesting people I’ve met in quite sometime.
We finally reached our destination, a snorkeling spot right off one of the most exclusive/expensive resorts in St. John. Ray was our guide again, diving down to show us various coral formations, plants, and animals, including some gorgeous angel fish, green turtles, and anemones. After about an hour of snorkeling, we headed back to the boat for lunch. Unfortunately, I was feeling a bit nauseated, partly I think because I’d been having trouble with my snorkeling mask and has sucked in salt water more than once, which always makes me feel a bit sick. While everyone else lunched, Pat and Ray took good care of me, giving me Sprite and ginger candy (who knew?), and I was better in no time, well enough to enjoy the delicious lunch Pat had prepared (a gourmet pasta, salad, bread, and for dessert, death by chocolate). They said I was the first person who’d actually recovered enough to eat lunch, but I figure that’s because I wasn’t actually seasick.
We relaxed on the boat for awhile, just enjoying the company and the conversation. We sailed over to another snorkeling spot, but everyone just decided to stay onboard and lie in the sun and talk. It really was a gorgeous day, and Pat and Ray’s stories were so entertaining, none of us had any desire to go anywhere else.
We finally sailed back to Red Hook, and the day had passed much too quickly. I was feeling completely relaxed, enjoying the perfect temperature, sun, and wind, and the beautiful turquoise water, but we had a boat to catch, so by 3:30 we were back on shore. If I ever go back to St. Thomas, though, I will definitely go sailing again, and the hospitality and conversation aboard Independence was second to none. If you are ever in St. Thomas, check them out.
It’s been more than five months since my last post, but since this blog is mostly about travel, I, unfortunately, didn’t have much to contribute during that hiatus. Although I was horribly lax about blogging when I was in New York (nothing beyond day one–nothing of Toronto or Niagara Falls, of wineries and children’s museums), once school began my traveling days were over. The fall semester (my first in the PhD program) was so busy that I couldn’t even get away for a weekend. Other than a few days at Disney World with my family over the Thanksgiving break, my first trip away had to wait until after the semester ended, but it was well worth the wait.
Eight days in the Caribbean, seven aboard the Carnival Victory on its Southern Caribbean Itinerary.
The cruise, like my last, was mostly flawless. I couldn’t have asked for better weather. Although weather.com promised rain every day, it only rained once the entire time–for about five minutes in San Juan on the last day. The temperature was warm and the breeze was steady. I honestly never wanted to return. The new picture in my header is from St. Kitts, which I’ve actually looked into moving to. ($350,000 for a condo on the southern peninsula, which actually isn’t bad, although way out of my current price range.) The islands were very inspirational, and I’ve felt more creative over the last few weeks than I have in a very long time. Coming back to Auburn and starting school was actually painful because the trip (and several other contributing factors) has really made me reevaluate my present career path and, as James Thurber says, what I’m “running from, and to, and why.” I’ve determined that this is the year in which I’m going to rectify all of the places where I’ve gone wrong in my life, the places where I’ve deviated from my true ambitions and true self and accepted a lesser version of happiness. Because I made that decision, I’ve been much more content the last week or so. For the first time in awhile I’m starting to feel like my life is in order. And that feeling is in no small part due to my trip.
Because I booked the trip back in September, before my seminar paper deadlines were finalized, I was literally writing papers in the hours before my flight. I turned my last one in on my way to Atlanta, and I had pretty low expectations of the grade it would receive. By that point, though, partly because I was burnt out and partly because I was already questioning why I’m getting my PhD and becoming a teacher, I didn’t really care what I made–I just wanted it to be done and for me to be on my way to Puerto Rico.
Of course, now I’m glad that whatever I did was enough to earn me a good grade in the class, but at the time I just wanted out. The next morning on my flight to San Juan I was pretty giddy. The clouds were flickering past the window and the sky above them was so clear and bright. Before I knew it, I was digging for scratch pieces of paper to jot down notes for my novel. For the first time in a long time, I had left on a trip without a pad of paper, but this was partly because it had been so long since I’d felt inspired, and on my last few trips I’d taken notebooks only to be disappointed that they came back blank. Luckily, that would not be the case with this trip.
When we arrived in San Juan, we caught a cab to the cruise ship terminal, handed our bags over to the porters, and then waited in the ridiculously long line to check in. The line moved pretty swiftly, but it still took us well over an hour to get checked in. I think it was around 4:00 when we finally got to our room (my first balcony room, and it spoiled me so that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go back to interior rooms), unpacked our luggage, got lunch on the lido deck, then headed back off the ship to explore Old San Juan at night. Really, we just wanted to find Walgreens and buy bottled water and a notepad for me. After all, I couldn’t depend on paper scraps all week.
The buildings were all spangled with Christmas lights, and the wrought iron balconies and cobblestone streets reminded me of the NOLA French Quarter or Charleston. The narrow streets were all congested while the sidewalks were nearly empty, so I was happy to be on foot. We had to stop several times for directions, and I really wished I remembered more of my Spanish, but eventually we found the Walgreens, on the corner of a lovely little square all decked out for Christmas. There was some sort of concert going on and we listened for awhile before heading back, this time by a different route. We were back on the ship well before our 8:00 curfew, and after going to dinner in the dining room (we were seated with a Korean couple who were professors at Auburn–such a small world!) and standing through the muster drill, we were able to relax on our balcony as the ship left port and the glittering of lights of Old San Juan behind. Then it was off to bed early to rest up for St. Thomas.
It only took one afternoon for me to be pleasantly surprised by the city of Rochester. I started the afternoon with lunch on Park Avenue at Camille’s Sidewalk Cafe–basically a Northern version of Panera. The BBQ chicken flatbread pizza was fantastic though, and I even had half of it left over to bring back to the hotel for a late night snack. The cafe was in a strip of outdoor cafes/art galleries in an historic area right outside downtown Rochester, a beautiful neighborhood full of tree-lined streets and restored Victorian homes. The whole city has this really great, artsy vibe and everything is really conveniently located. After lunch I went to the International Museum of Photography (and Film) located in the George Eastman House just a few blocks away. The house itself wasn’t overly impressive (but after seeing the Biltmore estate, what is?), but the museum was hosting an amazing exhibit called “Africas” which consisted of three parts–fantastic photography by well-established Africa photographers (including my favorite, Nickolas Muray), photography from dance rituals and masquerades, and photography from the Niger Delta oil rigs, including a movie that discusses how the people of the region have suffered due to the exploitation of the land by Shell, Chevron, and other big name oil companies. It was enlightening, to say the least, and I left with an even deeper appreciation and respect for the people of Africa. I also left the museum store with a hand-crafted vase from Kenya, which will join the collection of vases that are slowly taking over my living room (so far countries represented include Morocco, Honduras, Jamaica, and Pakistan).
After leaving the museum I went downtown and walked around the old mill district, where I was able to see and photograph High Falls, which, even though it’s huge, I was instructed to see before going to Niagara this weekend. I also saw St. Joseph’s Park, which is in the burned-out shell of old St. Joseph’s Church. I love things like this (nature overcoming civilization, and the beautiful mingling of the two), but it wasn’t entirely what I expected. The actual “park” is fenced off so that you can just walk around the church and peek in between the wrought iron bars–and then what you see isn’t pretty. Liquor bottles, beer cans, fast food wrappers–it’s obviously not well-maintained or well-respected by the community. So my pictures are all from afar, where all you can see are trees growing in the walls of a once-beautiful building. I also did a drive-by of Susan B. Anthony’s house and tried to find the cemetary where she and Frederick Douglass are buried, but no luck there yet.
I have pictures from throughout today’s journey, and will try to post some of these when I get home and am not using a borrowed computer. For now, it’s time to get some rest–tomorrow I’m up early and heading for Toronto!