Caribbean Journey – Part 6: Willemstad, Curacao & Oranjestad, Aruba (2022)


     The morning of April 2 found us docked in Willemstad, the capital of Curacao.  We have visited Willemstad previously several times, so if you want to read more background about Curacao you can go there:

We had spent our previous visits entirely in the town of Willemstad, which is a fine approach because this is a very interesting and enjoyable city.  But we decided on this visit to spend some time seeing the rest of the island, which we were able to do on an excursion.  Our first stop was a “Kunuku House,” a slave house from an old plantation.  It is a small structure with white walls and thatch roof and only a door and two small windows in front.  As in Bonaire, there was a cactus fence around the property.  Our guide on the property gave us an extraordinarily detailed and interesting tour, demonstrating just how people used the items on display in their daily lives.  A bit of a downside was that most of the lengthy presentation involved standing outside and it was very hot.  During the presentation a nice little bird with an orange head sat in a bush listening.

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     In 1795 more than 60% of the population of Curacao were enslaved.  A slave named Tula led a revolt that continued for months before finally being defeated.  Tula and others were executed but later the slaves were granted some additional rights in an effort to stave off another revolt.  We saw several modest monuments to this revolt consisting of a raised fist on top of a column a few feet tall.  A broken chain was hanging from the fist on the one at the location where the revolt began.  Slavery was not finally abolished in Curacao until 1863.

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     Shete Boka (Seven Inlets) National Park stretches some 7 miles along the seashore.  It was established in 1994 to protect these inlets that are nesting areas for sea turtles.  We didn’t see any turtles but the surf pounding the rocky shore was quite a sight.  There was some interesting small flora eking out a living in the dry, hot and rocky area behind the seashore and also some cacti.  And a monument to the island’s ubiquitous iguanas.

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      On the way back to Willemstad we stopped to look at Playa Kenepa Grandi beach, which the guide said is the most beautiful on the island.  We also saw flamingoes in a salt lake.

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     It was still lunch time when we got back to the dock so we decided to walk to our favorite restaurant, which is built over the water in a large inlet (you can see it in the previous visit postings).  We crossed the Queen Emma Bridge, a 130 year old pontoon bridge that is moved aside for ship traffic in and out of the bay, and walked along the colorful streets of the city to the site of the restaurant.  Sadly, when we got there it turned out to be permanently closed.  The lack of tourism during the pandemic has undoubtedly taken a toll on stores and restaurants on these islands so this wasn’t a shock, but definitely a disappointment.  Hopefully someone will buy it and open a new restaurant here. 

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     The Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad is reputedly the oldest surviving synagogue in the Western Hemisphere (not sure how it compares to the one we visited in Barbados).  As in Barbados, the first Jews here came from Brazil and the Netherlands in the mid-17th century and this synagogue opened in 1730.  We had seen the building before but this time we wanted to tour the inside and see the museum.  Unfortunately for us it was closed to the public on this day.  Foiled again!

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     We did find a nice place for lunch on our way back.  I think it was called the Iguana Café and we were seated under a canopy right on the edge of the bay on the Punda side.  We had a great view of the bay, the Queen Emma Bridge and the Otrabanda waterfront across the water.  A cruise passenger at a nearby table spent the whole time talking with friends and family at home in England.  From what we could hear it sounded like most of them didn’t know where Curacao is and didn’t know that this woman was away from home.  She was trying to impress them with her exotic Caribbean locale and I think she was rather disappointed.  She told them she was sitting near the world’s oldest bridge, but I would wager that there are older bridges where she lives in England.  The lunch was good and the ambience pleasant and the day was warm, so following lunch we walked back to the ship after a very full day in Curacao.

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    We spent April 3 in Aruba, the last of the Dutch ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and our last port on this voyage.  We have been here several times before:

As with Curacao we had never ventured beyond Oranjestad on our previous visits, so we decided on an excursion around the island.  Our first stop was at the Casibari Rock Formations, a hill made of huge boulders in the middle of the island.  The origin of this striking rock formation in a desert setting is unknown, and apparently the indigenous people who lived here considered it sacred.  The rocks are surrounded by attractive garden areas.  On the way there we passed an interesting cemetery with rows of above ground tombs. Behind it was Mount Hooiberg, a volcanic cone mountain rising straight up out of the desert, known locally as The Haystack

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     You may have noticed in one of the pictures above that people were on top of the large hill of boulders.  In fact, two routes have been built for climbing to the top.  Mary stayed below but Rick climbed to the top.  The path on the side we were on went up through the rocks.  At one point it seemed to come to an end well below the top & I (Rick) was about to go back down in defeat.  Then I saw two teenage boys disappear into what looked like a cave in the rocks about ten feet before the end of the path.  Following their lead, I found the path branched into the rocks.  Climbing on some rocks was required and there wasn’t always sufficient head room to stand up, but ultimately this branch of the path emerged on the top of the hill.  This provided panoramic views in every direction, including the Nieuw Statendam all the way back at the dock.

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     The climb up had been steep and twisty but not too exhausting.  However there was a lot of wind at the top which made me feel unsteady unless holding on to the railing.  And it seemed that going back down through the hill was going to be tricky to say the least.  Then I saw that on the other side of the hill a very steep staircase had been built all the way down, complete with hand rails.  So that’s where I went, holding tight to the hand rails the whole way.

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     Leaving Casibari we drove on to our next stop, on the Atlantic coastline.  On the way we passed several old farmhouses surrounded by cacti.

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    Arikok National Park encompasses a stretch of dramatic sea coast that includes a natural bridge.  There was originally a large bridge, 100 feet long and more than 20 feet above the water, but it collapsed in 2005.  Still standing near it is the Baby Natural Bridge, measuring 25 feet long and about 3 feet above the water.  Still beautiful though.  There is a sign reading “Caution. Possible Collapse” and who could doubt that after what happened to its big brother.  But some people still walked out on it.  The surf on the nearby shore line & what is probably the remains of the larger bridge is pretty spectacular.

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     We drove through more cactus country to the Alto Vista Chapel.  The first Catholic Church in Aruba, it was originally built in 1750.  After a plague devastated the area the church was abandoned in 1816.  The current building was opened in 1952 on the same spot as the original church.

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     The California Lighthouse is situated above a cliff at the northwest corner of the island.  I had the idea that perhaps it was called this because it is the closest spot on Aruba to the state of California.  But actually it was named for the SS California, a British steamship that went down here in 1891. Opened in 1916, the lighthouse was intended to ensure that this wouldn’t happen again.

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     While we were there we saw cactus flowers, birds and lizards.  And there was a nice view across the bay of some of the resort hotels on Palm Beach (which we later drove through).

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     We drove along the beach hotels back to the pier.  It was still early enough for lunch so we took a chance and walked to our favorite beach restaurant (which can be seen in posts of previous visits).  To our delight, unlike in Curacao, this restaurant was still open and fully operational!  We enjoyed grouper sandwiches and french fries along with local Balashi beer.

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     After lunch we walked back to Nieuw Statendam, a fairly long walk on a hot day (especially after a beer).  On the way we stopped in Queen Wilhelmina Park, a popular hangout for iguanas.  So here are pictures of a few of them because, who doesn’t love iguana pictures?

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     After boarding the ship we sailed back to Ft Lauderdale, retrieved our car and drove home.  We were glad to get home, still in good health, but we did enjoy the ports we visited.  Originally envisioned primarily as a pandemic get away the trip turned out to have many interesting and engaging moments.  The ship and its management could have stood some improvements in our view, as you may have read in the previous episodes, but all in all we are glad we went on this voyage, particularly since it had been three full years since the last time we were at sea.  We are still keeping our fingers crossed that it will be a much shorter time until our next adventure, because in the time of Covid you just never know.

Caribbean Journey – Part 4: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas; Ft Lauderdale, Florida ; and Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos (2022)

Half Moon Cay

     After a relaxing day at sea we dropped anchor off Half Moon Cay on March 26.  During the sea day the ship held a Mariner event (Mariner Society is HAL’s loyalty program, giving credits for time at sea and onboard purchases).  They award medals for number of days on board HAL ships and we received gold medals this time.  They look like you won an Olympics event, but actually they represent being one of HAL’s best customers.  Our picture was taken with the Captain (left) and Hotel Manager.

HAL Gold Medal ceremony (1)

     Located about 100 miles from Nassau, Holland America purchased Half Moon Cay, then called Little San Salvador Island, for $6 million in 1996.  It has developed just 50 acres into a cruiser’s playground with the remainder of its almost 4 square miles left as wildlife habitat.  The current name of the island comes from its 2.5 mile long soft white sand beach.

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     There is no deep water dock here, at least so far, so we had to tender ashore.  We waited for the early rush to subside while having a leisurely breakfast, then boarded the local tender (not one of the ship’s lifeboats) which dropped us off at the pier (on the right side in the picture above).  We walked through the facility, mostly shops, and down to take a look at the beach.  There are cabanas at the beach that can be rented for the day, but at a very high price in our opinion.

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     We walked down the beach for a while, beyond the cabanas to the paddock where the riding horses live.  A platform was set up on the beach to help cruise passengers mount the horses and a donkey was wandering around the paddock.

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     We returned along the inland path surrounded by many flowers, palm trees and other fauna.

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     On the way back to the pier we passed a small white wooden church that is used for weddings and a conch shell fountain in the vendor court. The children’s playground had an impressive pirate ship to climb on.

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     We were back on board in time for a late lunch and spent the afternoon reading before the ship set out to sea toward Florida.

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Ft Lauderdale, Florida

     The first leg of our voyage ended in Ft Lauderdale on March 27 and we sailed again that evening to begin the second leg.   More than 200 passengers were staying on for the next leg but everyone had to leave the ship and be re-identified before reboarding. This process has been known to take up to a couple of hours so we decided that rather than waiting around for that we would take an excursion to the Everglades, where we had never been.

     The Everglades ecosystem covers much of southern Florida up to Lake Okeechobee, basically a slow moving river 60 miles wide and 100 miles long.  Florida has been inhabited for 15,000 years by indigenous people, who were driven into a much smaller area of southern Florida during the Seminole Wars of the 19th century.  European settlers wanted to drain the area for plantations and in 1882 construction of canals began, continuing through the first half of the 20th century.  In 1934 the Everglades became a National Park. A flood control project established by Congress in 1948 led to more than 1000 miles of canals and other water control measures being built, much of the water being diverted to the booming metropolis of Miami and to support the farming of sugarcane.

     We were bussed across the metropolitan area to a place called Everglades Holiday Park.  Located on the edge of one of the Everglades canals, they provide rides in large airboats throughout the nearby canals.  An airboat is a flat bottomed boat with one or two large fans or propellers mounted on the back.  These fans blow air back from the boat, which propels the boat forward at speeds up to about 60 miles per hour.  Mounting the propulsion system above the water ensures that it will not get tangled in the grass and other things growing below it.

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     As we were waiting in line to board an airboat (this works much like a Disney World line to board a continuous ride) we spotted some birds relaxing on a float and a fellow out fishing in the canal in a small boat.

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     We cruised through several canals lined with saw grass and what appeared to be some sort of water lilies.  This marshy area is natural but the canals are man made.  Everglades means “river of grass” and there was plenty of grass in the water and on the marshy shores to explain why.

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     We went down a side canal that was lined with grass and very pretty trees growing in clumps with above ground roots reaching into the water, which we think are mangroves.

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    The Everglades is famously home to alligators, among other indigenous species.  In the 21st century, however, Burmese Pythons began appearing here.  It is speculated that some young ones were purchased as pets (exotic pets being popular in Florida) and were released by their owners when they became more difficult to control.  Accurate assessment of their numbers is almost impossible for a number of reasons but it is estimated that there are between tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands living in the Everglades today, eating indigenous animals and causing many to become endangered.  We did not see any pythons (they hide and are tough to spot) but we did see alligators along the edge of one canal.

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     The  airboat ride was a lot of fun, but that wasn’t the end.  We have never seen the TV show Animal Planet but apparently they have featured an alligator rescue group called Gator Boys.  This rescue facility is located in this park so I guess those TV shows were filmed here.  Anyway, after the ride we were ushered into a small amphitheater where a bunch of alligators were on the stage with a guy who kept up a running patter about how dangerous these alligators were and how brave he was to be there with them.  The alligators actually were mostly lying all over each other and looked like they were having trouble staying awake.  It was all in fun, though, as he performed some tricks with them amid the humorous monologue.  There were also some large turtles in this facility.

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     We returned to the ship and when I took off my glasses to download the pictures to my computer, this happened.  These glasses are about 20 years old and fortunately I brought a backup pair, because you never know.  But it still was a pretty distressing end to an otherwise fun day.  We sailed away from Ft Lauderdale with a mostly new (and somewhat smaller) passenger complement to begin the second leg of our cruise.

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Grand Turk Island, Turks & Caicos

     On March 29 we visited Grand Turk Island, part of the Turks & Caicos archipelago.  We had stopped at Half Moon Cay again on March 28 but unless you were planning a day at the beach there was no reason to go ashore here for the second time in three days.  So we didn’t, staying on board and treating it as a sea day.

    The passengers continuing on the second leg were required to have a new COVID 19 test, which was administered before we reached Ft Lauderdale.  But that same day they apparently discovered they had a lot of positive people on board (not us, thankfully), because they suddenly re-imposed a mask mandate for most indoor venues and set up a quarantine section of the ship.  We don’t know why they didn’t anticipate needing this and set it up at the beginning of the cruise because quite a few passengers had been quarantined over the previous month or two & there were quite a lot of unused cabins on our cruise.  So with a minimum of planning they could easily have had a quarantine section prepared just in case.  Instead, to create a separate quarantine section now  they required a number of passengers to change staterooms to other areas of the ship . . . for one night before reaching Ft Lauderdale.  We talked to one couple in this situation who were, to put it mildly, not pleased.  Anyway, once most of the old passengers left in Ft Lauderdale the Captain eliminated the mandatory masking order and made masking only “recommended.”  You can imagine, I am sure, the low percentage of people who followed this recommendation (we did).  Then, on our first morning out of Ft Lauderdale it was announced that continuing passengers would have to get yet another Covid test; it was unclear why, but apparently something had been wrong with how the tests were administered on the way to Ft Lauderdale.  We duly lined up, took the test and were negative again.  We don’t know if anyone tested positive and was quarantined . . . they don’t release that kind of information to mere passengers. 

     So that brings us, finally, to Grand Turk.  We had never been to Grand Turk before, but it turned out to be essentially another beach stop similar to Half Moon Cay.  The island’s population is only about 5,000 and we had read that there really wasn’t much to see here that would make an excursion worthwhile.  The island is named after the Turk’s Cap Cactus found there.  Some experts believe this was the island where Columbus first stopped during his first voyage of 1492 but apparently that is not the majority opinion. 

     We were docked at a long pier which we walked down to reach the port.  We walked through the usual collection of vendors’ shops, the central feature of which was a Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville bar & restaurant complete with crowded swimming pool, and took a look at the very nice beach.

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     It seemed a lot more people were in the water here than in Half Moon Cay, perhaps because of the weather (hot) and because two ships were here at once.  But we spent the rest of the day on the ship relaxing until the ship left for the Dominican Republic.

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Caribbean Journey – Part 2: Bridgetown, Barbados, and Roseau, Dominica (2022)

Bridgetown, Barbados

     We visited Bridgetown, Barbados. on March 21.  We were told the night before that Barbados only allowed cruise passengers onto the island as part of a ship’s tour or with a certified taxi.  This was not a big surprise since we had read that a number of Caribbean islands had disallowed cruisers from setting out on their own, and this wasn’t a big disappointment since we had been here twice before:

    But it never hurts to ask, so we left the ship after breakfast and went into the port to see if we would be restricted.  Low and behold, no one said anything to us as we walked through the port and up the lovely seaside walk into town.

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   In the center of town we walked past the legislature building and the Careenage, where small boats come into town.  Our primary goal was the synagogue, which had been closed when we were here before.  It wasn’t that far from downtown but was hard to find without a map.  We had a map in a smartphone app but when we tried to follow its directions we ended up walking in circles (even less fun because it was so hot).  Finally, we just used the map in the old fashioned way without directions and found the synagogue fairly quickly.  Outside the entrance was a bush with nice purple flowers; the lady in the ticket booth said that on some days it blooms purple and on others white.

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     The Nidhe Israel Synagogue was first built here in 1654 by Jews fleeing Recife, Brazil, after the Portuguese instituted the Inquisition there when they supplanted the Dutch.  Rebuilt after being destroyed by an 1831 hurricane, it was ultimately sold in 1929 and was altered for several other uses after that.  In 1986 the Barbadian government agreed to donate the building to the National Trust and it was restored to its original condition and rededicated as an operating synagogue for the small Jewish community here.  They continue to hold services here to this day.

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     By happenstance, we arrived shorty before a tour conducted by a member of the congregation was scheduled to begin.  We were invited to join and were very glad we agreed to do so because we learned much more than we would have walking around on our own.  It started in the main sanctuary of the synagogue, just inside the door in the picture above, where our guide explained the history of the synagogue and the Jewish community of Barbados.  Only a few items are original to the old synagogue, notably the clock on the front of the women’s balcony above the bimah and the ark holding the Torahs (notable because those are the items I still remember).  For a transplanted American who retired here only a few years ago our guide was extremely knowledgeable.

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      In 2008 an archaeologist looking for the foundations of the rabbi’s house discovered a step leading down from the surface.  Excavation uncovered a stairway down to a tile lined pool that is thought to have been a Mikveh, a ritual bath for Jewish women, built a few years after the synagogue but probably lost after the hurricane of 1831.  The pool is fed by an underground freshwater spring and our guide told us that efforts to find its source have been unsuccessful so far.  A stone structure (seen at the right of the picture of the synagogue above) has been built over the Mikveh, but it is unknown what the original might have looked like. The alcoves in the wall above the pool were probably for lanterns to enable bathers to see under ground.

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     On the other side of the Mikveh and the synagogue is the cemetery.  Some of the Jewish gravestones date back 400 years and a few Quaker graves have been found in this area as well.  There is a sign outside the cemetery that shouldn’t be necessary, but apparently it was.

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     We walked back to the ship, taking the boardwalk path along the Careenage then the walk along the seaside again  At one point we encountered a lot of crabs congregating in a concrete culvert conveying water into the sea.  So ended our visit to Barbados.

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Roseau, Dominica

     This was our first visit to Dominica (emphasis on 3d syllable, like the Singing Nun’s song, if you are old enough to remember that).  The original itinerary had us visiting Martinique, a French province that is the next island over, but Dominica was substituted about 2 months before departure, presumably because of political unrest.

     Dominica is a particularly lush island situated between the French islands of Martinique & Guadalupe.  It was occupied by the Carib people (after whom the Caribbean Sea is named) when Columbus sailed by and named it Dominica, and there is still a small community of them on the Eastern side of the island.  Dominica became a British colony in 1763 at the end of the Seven Years War (French & Indian war in the US) and achieved independence as a republic in 1978.  Roseau is the capital and largest city in Dominica (about 15,000) and that is where we docked.

     Unlike Barbados, Dominica was still strictly enforcing its pandemic ban on individuals entering on their own.  There was a small area on the waterfront next to our dock where vendors had their tents but all the streets leading out were blocked and patrolled by police.  Since we had not been here before this was pretty disappointing.

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     Fortunately for us, though, this ban was inapplicable to ship sponsored excursions and we were booked on one.  After boarding the bus we had a quick panoramic (ie only on the bus) tour through the town of Roseau, then we drove up to Morne Bruce for a nice overlook of the city and harbor.  There were gun emplacements here from the late 18th Century to the mid-19th.  In addition to the city and the ship we had views of a cemetery and the soccer stadium.

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     Our next stop was the pleasant Botanic Gardens.  Begun in the 1890’s, the gardens were recognized as the best in the West Indies.  In 1979, however, Hurricane David destroyed a number of the old trees.  A beobab tree fell on an empty school bus parked there, smashing it.  The bus is still there, with the tree having grown a second trunk over it.  There are other trees, including palms, bamboo and a banyan, as well as flowers and shrubs with colorful leaves.  We were told the names of all of them, but the captions on these pictures only include the names I can remember (hover mouse to see caption).

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     In the gardens was the Parrot Conservation & Research Centre, working to study and preserve the endangered parrots native to Dominica.  The one below is a Jaco Parrot, also known as the Red-necked Amazon parrot.

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     Next we drove through the green and scenic mountains in the island’s interior to Morne Trois Pitons National Park.  Established in 1975, the park has been a world heritage site for 25 years.  It is named after its highest mountain, which has three peaks.  The mountain roads have street lights that are powered by the wind.  Each has what looks like a small airplane on top with a propeller to spin in the wind and a tail to ensure it always faces the wind.  Very clever.

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     We stopped at the visitor center at the entrance to the trail to Trafalgar Falls.  It is a nice walk through deep forest to reach the falls, where there is a wood viewing platform.  This is a twin falls, with the higher one on the left (about 125 feet) called “Father” and the shorter one on the right called “Mother.”  Each falls has a separate source. There are pools at the bottom of the falls and the one on the left has warm water.  The cascade of boulders on the left under the Father falls is the remains of a huge rockslide in 1996 that covered what used to be a cascade down a face of smooth rocks.

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  We stopped for a beer near the park then drove on to our last stop, also in the Trois Pitons park.  The Emerald Pool is a 40 foot waterfall feeding into a pool of green water (colored by light through the trees and reflecting on the green plants around the pool).  You can go swimming here but we didn’t.  The walk in to the pool was pretty easy, downhill, but the walk back was steep enough that steps had been built into the path.  Again, the walk took us through picturesque woodland. There were signs in the park reminding everyone of the pandemic and the rules to avoid it.

57. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica65. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica78. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica71. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica85. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica80. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica81a. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica_stitch79. 2022, 03-221  Roseau, Dominica     From there the bus took us back to the dock. We spent some time looking at the vendors’ wares but found nothing we wanted.  We would have walked around Roseau but of course we were now back inside the police perimeter and could not leave.  So we boarded the ship.  Altogether this was a very interesting day on a beautiful island.  There were some nice views of the island as we sailed away.

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Caribbean Journey – Part 1: Philipsburg, St Maarten & Castries, St Lucia (2022)

     After two days at sea we came to the island of . . .

St Maarten

     This is a divided island, half French and half Dutch.  Like most cruise ships, we docked in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch part.  This is a major crossroads for cruise ships and there have always been at least 6 ships here when we have visited.

52. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten

     We walked into town from the ship, a fair way, and spent a few hours there since there was nothing else we hadn’t seen that we particularly wanted to visit on this island.   You can read more about St Maarten and what we saw and did here ten years ago at this link:

     After a leisurely breakfast in the Main Dining Room we left the ship, walked down the dock and made our way through the port complex, which was full of shops.   Then we walked into town, passing many colorful flowers.

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     We walked over the little pink and white stone bridge into the town, then we walked around for a while.  St Maarten has a particularly beautiful and lengthy beach with a nice view, although we have heard that the water is somewhat polluted.

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     There were two landmarks in town we sought out.  One was the Guavaberry Emporium.  It is a small low wooden building painted a distinctive red and white, which is built on the site of a synagogue that was here in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Guavaberry liqueur has been made in St Maarten for hundreds of years.  It is made with rum, cane sugar and guavaberry fruit from bushes growing wild in the hills of the island.  When we were here before this Emporium was a lively place, selling liqueur, hot sauce, art works, tee shirts and other merchandise.  But now it is closed and the company is going out of business, with only a small shop in the port where they are selling off their inventory (some of which we purchased on our way back to the ship).  The building will remain, however, because it is protected as a National Historic Monument.4a. 2022, 03-19 Philipsburg, St Maarten_stitch

      The second landmark was the Philipsburg Courthouse.  Originally built in 1793 as a home by the city’s founder  John Philips, a captain in the Dutch navy, it was later used as a jail, a fire station and a post office before becoming a court house.  The cupola is topped by a carved pineapple as a symbol of welcome.  The current one was erected in 1996 after the original was blown away in a hurricane.  Behind the window in the cupola is a set of bells and on the facade below is the coat of arms of St Maarten, which has this building in its center.  The building was closed to the public on the day we visited so we were only able to see the outside.

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     It was pretty hot by now so after a couple of hours we headed back to the ship the way we came, passing all the same flowers as well as a cow that was tied to a sign outside a store, presumably so it wouldn’t walk away although it seemed very well behaved to us.  We found the Guavaberry Emporium store in the port and then reboarded the ship.  After lunch and a leisurely afternoon, we sailed away toward our next stop, St Lucia.

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St Lucia

     The morning of March 20 found us docked in Castries, St Lucia.  Because it was Sunday almost everything was closed, so we decided to just walk into the town & see what we could see.  We were not unfamiliar with Castries since we had been here before:

     The walk into town was long and complicated, so it was fortunate we had a map.  It was also a bit eerie because hardly anyone was on the streets.  As we reached the center of town near the waterfront we encountered a distinctive sculpture of rowers that we had not seen before.  It was erected here, near the entrance to the capital, in 2019 during the 40th anniversary of St Lucian independence.

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     In the center of town is Derek Walcott Square.  We have been here before but it looked different this time because of extensive renovations in 2020.  Originally called Place d’Armes, it was renamed Columbus Square in 1892 and renamed 101 years later for Derek Walcott, one of two Nobel laureates from this small island.  Since our last visit the white concrete fence surrounding the square was removed, the busts of the two Nobel laureates were gilded and there were other improvements to make the park more usable.  It looks very nice & there were a number of local people enjoying the park while we were there.

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     Across the street from the square on one side is the Cathedral of The Immaculate Conception, the largest church in the Caribbean.  The outside is gray stone, but the inside, where we went last time we were here, is delightfully colorful with ironwork roof arches reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower.  It was Sunday and Mass was in progress so we didn’t enter, but we did take a look inside through the open door.  Across the street on the other side is the Central Library.  Originally erected here in 1924 with a grant from the Carnegie Trust, it was called the Carnegie Free Library.  We were surprised to find a Carnegie library so far from the US the first time we visited but there were actually six of them built in the Caribbean.  In 1948 a fire gutted the building and destroyed 20,000 books but it reopened again in 1958 after extensive renovation within the original walls.  It is a beautiful library.

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     We walked back to the port, stopping in the Castries Market where a surprising number of vendors were open for business on a Sunday.  The port area is large and nicely built.  Our balcony view had the sea off to the left and a Ponant ship and Castries to the right.

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     Sailing out of the port we passed a lighthouse on top of a hill and were visited by several sea birds.

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     Sounds like that was the end, right?  But wait, there’s more!  We sailed down the coast to Soufriere to get a view of the Pitons, two pointed mountains situated right by the town.  We had been to Soufriere on our last visit but this was to be a viewing from the sea as we passed.  It makes for quite a sight, but this time was really special because of a spectacular rainbow appearing over the shoreline as we came within view of the Pitons.

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     We sailed around the outcrop for a full view of Soufriere and of the Pitons.  The rainbow was back, shining over the town, providing a spectacular farewell from St Lucia.

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Caribbean Journey In The Time Of Covid — Prelude: Texas, Louisiana & Florida (2022)

      Well, as everyone knows, the Covid pandemic has really inhibited travelling for the last two years.  Our last seagoing adventure was a voyage to South America and Antarctica in the first part of 2019.  Our voyage planned for the Fall of 2020 was cancelled and sea voyages pretty much disappeared, along with our favorite ships, Prinsendam and Amsterdam, both of which were sold as cruise companies fought to survive without income.  Since we are in a particularly vulnerable demographic (over 65), we followed Shakespeare’s advice that discretion is the better part of valor by mostly staying home and wearing masks when venturing out. 

     But by the Fall of 2021 things started looking a little better.  The spread of Covid seemed to be diminishing, cruise ships began returning to the seas, and we had both been fully vaccinated and boosted.  We had family business to take care of in Texas so we decided to extend that trip to include a Caribbean cruise departing from Ft Lauderdale in mid-March that would be restricted mostly to vaccinated passengers and crew.  We had second thoughts as the spread of Covid rose again in January and we read about many cruise passengers ending up in isolation cabins or disembarked mid-cruise.  But the incidence of Covid began to drop rapidly during February which made us more confidant about our plans.


    Before embarking on the ship we spent a couple of weeks on the road, leaving on March 2.  Stopping in Memphis on March 4 on our way to Texas to visit Mary’s brother Joe we wanted to have dinner at our favorite BBQ restaurant, Corky’s, but discovered that it was closed for repairs after a fire.  We ate at one of their other locations instead where the food was good but the ambience not nearly as much fun.  On March 5 we came across a rural library in Maud, Texas, near Joe’s house, then on March 6in Ft Worth we all dined at Cattlemen’s steakhouse, which was still as good as when we had our pre-wedding dinner there almost 50 years ago.  We continued to San Antonio, where we spent the afternoon of March 7 shopping among the myriad Mexican vendors at the Market Square emporium, and also enjoyed delicious Mexican food at a restaurant on the River Walk.  We walked around the River Walk for a while, then back on the street we encountered horse drawn carriages lit up like they were part of the Disney electric light parade.

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     New Orleans, Louisiana

          We spent two nights in New Orleans, where we had not been for some time.  We stayed in a hotel a block off Canal Street, a main thoroughfare running along the edge of the French Quarter.  We spent our full day in New Orleans walking around the French Quarter, an area rife with atmosphere,  It has rows of old houses, most now stores, with wrought iron balconies.  Its crowded streets are always fun to explore, as are the boutique shops selling many kinds of local wares.

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     We stopped for café au lait and beignets at the Café du Monde in the French Market.  In operation since 1862, this awning covered patio is a favored tourist attraction these days.  When we have been here before waitresses served the tables with coffee and beignets on ceramic plates and cups, but that is now gone.  We sat down expecting the usual waitress but none materialized, then we noticed the line of people waiting to ;purchase their food at the back of the patio.  Joining the line, we obtained coffee in paper cups and beignets in a paper bag and sat down at a table.  For those who don’t know, the coffee here is laced with chicory which alters the flavor noticeably.  Beignets are hole-free donuts covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar, most of which we brushed off before removing them from the bag.  They are really tasty.

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      New Orleans is a city filled with music.  While we were at the Café du Monde a local jazz band was performing on the sidewalk outside, occasionally passing the hat (actually a bucket) for tips between songs.  They were a good bit better than you might expect from street musicians.  Also hanging around outside was a character you would probably never see anywhere but in New Orleans (she didn’t perform).

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     Leaving the Café du Monde we walked down the block to Evans’ Candy Factory, which has been making New Orleans pralines here since 1900.  Pralines look like flat cookies but are made mostly of brown sugar melted with butter or cream and nuts (usually pecans) on top.  In Texas this is pronounced “pray-leen,” but in New Orleans it is “praw-leen.”  We also walked by a small square with a gilded statue of Joan of Arc, a native of the city’s namesake in France.

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     After visiting the waterfront and some art galleries we began walking back toward our hotel.  In Jackson Square (named for an equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson, the winning general in the 1814 Battle of New Orleans)  we came across a larger brass band, complete with Sousaphone (tuba).  Very colorful and very engaging music.

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New Orleans is justly famous for its fine restaurants.  That evening we dined at Broussard’s, a century old award winning Creole restaurant in the French Quarter.  The food and the service were outstanding, a memorable dining experience. 

     St Petersburg, Florida

     We drove for two days to reach St Petersburg on the evening of March 13 for a visit with Michael and Irene, Mary’s uncle & aunt and their dog, Zoe.  Since we would be on the road again for Mary’s birthday on March 15, we had an early celebration there at dinner on March 14 with a small cake.  Longtime readers of this blog know that we are always on the lookout for interesting libraries to visit (Mary was a librarian).  Here we visited the Mirror Lake Community Library, the original public library in St Petersburg which opened in 1915.  It was a Carnegie library built in Beaux Arts style and is still very attractive after renovations in the 1990’s.

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     To board the ship everyone had to present a negative Covid test taken within two days of boarding, a tight schedule for folks travelling to Ft Lauderdale.  We had purchased a couple of rapid home tests that were monitored over the internet (a HAL requirement) and we used them on the morning of March 15 before leaving to drive to Ft Lauderdale.  We had been very careful about mask wearing and social distancing during our road trip, but there was still a lot of anxiety about successfully using the tests (the instructions seemed complicated) as well as the result.  After all, with so much planning and two weeks on the road to get there it would have been hard to be refused boarding because of a positive test.  But once online with a monitor we found the tests much easier to use than it had seemed and both of us tested negative (yay!).  It only took about half an hour to complete both tests and then we were away  to Ft Lauderdale to embark the next day on Nieuw Statendam.