Caribbean Contrasts

Caribbean Contrasts – 24th November – 9th December 2011


Thursday 24th November 2011

Manchester Airport – early flight 9.25am.  We were impressed by efficiency of ‘check-in’ and discovered that after we said bye-bye to our luggage at Manchester Airport, the next time we  would see it would be in our cabin on board the Braemar.

Flight very good.  Excellent meals and afternoon tea with proper scones, clotted cream and jam, complimentary drinks on board and plenty of leg room.

Landed at Bridgetown, Barbados at 2.30pm local time, 4 hours behind UK time. Straight down the aircraft steps and onto waiting buses to take us to the ship.  No messing about in airports.  This is the life!

A 1 hour drive through Bridgetown took us to the port where our ship, The Braemar, was waiting for us. It was very warm, 30° but disappointingly raining.  Bridgetown looked busy, a bit run down but with some prettily painted houses in various pastel shades. One quirky feature is that many bus stops have women’s names: Anne-Marie, Sophie, Penny, etc.

Our cabin, a balcony suite on the Bridge Deck, is gorgeous: so big. Open seating at dinner tonight but thereafter we will be sitting with the rest of the Ramblers group at our designated table.

After a quick look around the ship and a briefing about tomorrows’ walk from Andrew, our leader, it was an early night for us.  We had been up for 21 hours at this point and were feeling a little tired.

Friday 25th November 2011
Barbados

After breakfast we gathered together as a group for the first time: 22 of us in total.

Our trip commenced with a bus ride to Welchman’s Hall gully, which is Barbados as it was in pre-plantation days.  The gully is acres of lush tropical vegetation with marked path,s which take you into what feels like the heart of the jungle.  Amazing twisted tree trunks and tall palms with massive broad shiny green leaves and long creepers hanging off them vie with each other for light.  It reminded me of Tarzan.

The air is hot and damp; it was like being fully clothed in a sauna.  There are exotic flowers with massive blooms, mainly red in colour, giant snails and very long millipedes crawling over dead wood: they are good for the forest, the snails are not.

After Welchman’s Gully we visited the Andromeda Botanical Gardens where cobbled paths wind upwards through more tall trees but there are unexpected delights, such as a small pool with a waterfall, a wooden bridge over a stream and all overhung with many flowered blossoms and tall tropical trees.

It rained for a short while but clears up fairly quickly.

After an hour in the gardens we walked down the road to Bathsheba, a small village on the edge of the turquoise sea.  The grass meets the sandy beach in Bathsheba and it was here, on the grass, under the swaying palms, that we ate our picnic lunch, watching the 4 or 5 surfers on the swelling Atlantic Rollers.

After lunch there was just time for a paddle in the surprisingly warm sea before we boarded our bus and headed back to the ship in time for the compulsory Emergency Drill at 4.30pm. Delicious dinner, showtime, dancing, cocktail before bed and the knowledge that the ship had lifted anchor and we would be in Grenada the next morning.

Saturday 26th November 2011 Grenada

At 8.45am it is 86° and humid. Still, nice to feel heat like that in November.

Today we are going to the Grand Etang Forest where we will walk through a spice plantation and down to St Margaret’s Falls; a spectacular water cascade, by all accounts, where we have an opportunity for a dip in the pool beneath.

Our guide, Selwyn, is very knowledgeable about the plants and spices and how they are used in medicine and cooking.  We see ginger, black sage, nutmeg and mace, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, paw paw, avocado, pineapple bananas, cocoa plants and many more things you would never see in our cooler climate.  We have a fascinating description from Selwyn on how the strange looking cocoa pod ends up as Cadbury’s chocolate.  Amazing.

The walk down to the waterfalls is quite an adventure.  What would have been a reasonably easy walk down a 60 metre descent in dry weather becomes a precarious slither down thick squelchy mud slides and damp slippery boulders.  There were, once upon a time, steps cut into the earth to aid descent and ascent, however, as it has rained every day since January in Grenada the steps are not as defined as they once were, some of the path having been completely washed away in the last landslip and hastily repaired.

The last part of the way to the waterfall requires us to brave a river crossing by using boulders as stepping-stones as we are helped skilfully across from hand-to-hand by our three guides.

The waterfalls and pools are lovely and worth the effort.  Some of our party had a refreshing swim in the warm pool before facing the ascent.  Our walk back is surprisingly much easier than I was expecting and we are quickly back at the spice plantation, from whence we started.

Then by bus to a lake, a water filled volcanic crater, for our picnic lunch; just as we got there the heavens opened and it rained hard for a short time. After lunch we piled back into the bus and were at the ship one hour later.

Dinner was excellent as usual, but we confused the waiters by sitting in different places than on the previous evening, so that we could chat with other members of our group.

We spent our time after dinner in the Neptune Lounge where we danced until the show began.  We continued dancing in the Coral Club and ended our evening in the cosy ‘clubby’ atmosphere of the Observatory Lounge.

Goodnight!

Here are a few more pictures taken during this cruise and walk holiday.

Sunday 27th November

Full day at sea.

Relax. Enjoy. Wonderful.

Today we sat on deck in the shade, swam in the pool and dozed on and off until the next meal time.

Monday 28th November.

Curacao, Willemstad

Our walk today was in Curacao because that is where we docked at 7.00am, Willemstad. We were met by Howard, our local guide for today, and set off to walk by the side of a lake up to a viewing point on a hill 103m high. Our little bus took us to Boka Sami, an old fishing village, from where our walk began. It was a very easy stroll to begin with although the humidity was very high. The temperature was 86° at 7.30am and rising.

All was well until we have to wade round some very large boulders. We could either get our boots and socks wet or remove them and carry them to the other side. Most of us did the latter, which is all very well if you have the means to dry your feet again before putting socks and boots back on. One very slight member of our party was lucky enough to be given a piggyback by Howard. The rest of us endured sharp bits and pebbles cutting into our feet.

It was getting hotter by the minute and the mosquitoes were beginning to bite ferociously. Eventually we started to climb and after pushing our way through thorny branches and avoiding certain trees whose leaves give you a nasty itchy rash on contact, we made it to the top.

The view is, well, interesting. We were looking down on salt flats, a few flamingos a good binoculars’ view away, and some house roofs in the far distance – as well as acres and acres of forest of course.

We made our way back by retracing our steps and eventually got back to the bus, hot, tired, chewed by insects and scratched by thorns. Altogether a very respectable Ramblers walk!

We made it back to the ship in time for a quick tidy-up before a late lunch, which thankfully they were still serving.

Although the sky looked a bit threatening, Stewart, my husband, and I chanced a stroll into Willemstad to see the lovely Old Dutch style pastel coloured buildings and the floating market. This is where the fruit and vegetable sellers from Venezuela come into harbour to sell their wares straight from the boats.

We had only been off the ship a matter of minutes before the heavens opened, very suddenly. It was a deluge. Never have I seen rain as heavy and as violent as that. We sheltered under an awning where there just happened to be some benches to sit on as we watched in awe and trepidation as the water came ever higher round our feet and the road we had just walked along became a river. The water poured off the awning as if someone was tipping buckets out of a window.

Eventually, after about 15 minutes it stopped and as the water began to recede we continued on our way into the town. It was worth the visit.

We made our way back to the Braemar and continued our evening with dinner, entertainment in the theatre and a late night cocktail in the Observatory Bar.

Tuesday 29th November.

Full day at sea

Relax and catch up on a bit of washing.

The evening was very exciting; starting with a cocktail party for Ramblers in the Skylark lounge at 5.30pm; but even more exciting, it was theme night – International night.

Stewart and I went as Flamenco dancers; two others in our party dressed as French people, and one or two more also joined in the fun and dressed up. We were applauded by the other guests as we entered the dining room and throughout the evening we received many smiles and congratulations; probably due to the fact that only about 10% of the other passengers had bothered to dress up at all.

We ate, danced, watched the show and ended the evening as usual – in the Observatory lounge. Great fun!

Wednesday 30th November

Colombia. Cartagena

Rain. Warm, steady, heavy, pouring rain.

It’s still hot but very, very wet. We had a morning of city walking to look at the old town. The traffic from the port is dreadful, however eventually we got out of the bus to begin our tour. The old pastel painted plastered buildings are impressive with their wooden overhanging balconies, cascading with lush plants.
We visited, amongst other things, a monastery and church, and then a museum of torture – the latter not being my scene I just wandered about.

The tour ended with a mooch round the local shopping mall, formerly the castle dungeons, with emeralds, leather and wooden goods being the best buys. Sadly we didn’t get any emeralds but we did buy a couple of presents.

We were back on ship at 1.00pm for our 2.00pm sail.

After dinner, as usual we danced then went to the Observatory lounge in which there was only one other couple. Our usual singer/piano player was joined for an impromptu performance from Dean, one of the entertainment troupe who sang beautifully in the style of Michael Buble, and a piano recital by the guest classical pianist on the cruise. We felt very privileged.

Thursday 1st December

Panama

Today we had a trip to San Lorenzo National Park via the Panama Canal’s Gatun Locks. We drove out of the town and our very knowledgeable guide told us all about Panama’s history.

The locks are big and, of course, there is a network of lakes, dams, chambers and channels that assist in the operation of the canal. The fees for going through the canal are massive and calculated on tonnage and passenger capacity but for a big cruise ship to travel the 50mile length of the canal the fee is between $300,000 and $500,000, we were told. Expensive!

We reached the forest and had an hours’ walk in the 98 – 100% humidity. It was worth it as we saw Howler Monkeys leaping in the trees high above our heads, sloths, doing what sloths do – sleeping – Leaf Cutter Ants going about their business and a very large spider.

Lunch was provided by our guides; we had bread, sliced meats, fruit, tomatoes the size of an average mans’ fist, lettuce and biscuits. We had this feast in a clearing at a long-abandoned fortress overlooking the Chagres River, a very important river in the history of this area, where we learned about pirates and Captain Morgan (of the rum fame).

Unfortunately, just as lunch was spread out before us on a tree trunk the heavens opened. Our guides hastily packed everything away into the bus as we quickly donned waterproofs and put up our umbrellas – yet again – and followed our guide Fabio who gave us the history of the fortress. Eventually the sun came out, we ate, dried off and fed the leftovers to an adorable family of cats: mum, dad and a gorgeous kitten about 8 weeks old I would guess.

Next stop a thirty-minute walk along a forest path (yes, another one) to a beach, which was only small and full of rubbish from the ships waiting in the distance for their turn to go through the canal. Lots of ships, mainly container ships. These can carry up to 5,000 containers. Imagine that!

Back to the bus and back to the ship. Must get ready for the ‘Tropical Night’.
Most people dressed up tonight and conversation at dinner was great fun.
We danced on deck, we cha cha cha and Sambaed under the stars, but it was late and very hot so we eventually made our way to our usual haunt, for the usual late night drink, then off to bed.

Friday 2nd December

Full day at sea

Had a lie-in and relaxed by reading and writing this blog, sat at the tables at the stern of the ship.

Lunch was a small affair after the rather large breakfast and the fact that we didn’t want to do a rock n’ roll dance lesson with a stomach full of food. Yes, that’s what we did early afternoon, a rock n’ roll dance lesson. It was good fun – all we need now is a chance to practise it.

3.30pm and we, the Ramblers Worldwide Holidays’ group, were invited to the Observatory Lounge to be served afternoon tea. We were all dressed up for the occasion and it was a very civilised, elegant affair, small dainty sandwiches, little cakes and warm scones with jam and cream. Delicious.

Formal evening tonight so another excuse for dressing up. Whilst dressing we had the sparkling wine which was waiting for us in our cabin when we first arrived on board ship. It was very fizzy and quite dry, made drier perhaps by the fact that the glasses that had been sitting on our sideboard all week and were very dusty, were the glasses Stewart poured the wine into without washing them first. Oh well!

Also, whilst this was going on we had an announcement by the Captain that the ship has stopped to allow an emergency medical evacuation to proceed. This was apparently successful although we heard nothing more about it.

We had dinner, we danced, we chatted, we had a cocktail and we headed back to our cabin.

Goodnight.

Saturday 3rd December.

Full day at sea

We have plans; we are going to learn line dancing at 10.00am, then we are going to an afternoon tea dance at 3.30pm. Dress tonight is smart casual, I will think about that later.

Sunday 4th December

Honduras.  Roatan Island

Raining again. Today’s programme: Roatan Island in Honduras. Bus tour of island, Botanical gardens, monkey farm, beach and swim, then back round the other side of the island to the ship.

The bus picked us up at 9.00am. In the pouring rain we were driven through small towns and villages. The poverty surprised me because I didn’t expect it, not here. The towns, no more than villages as we know them, are muddy and dirty, drab washing hangs out in narrow alleyways, limping dogs and miserable people go by. The houses are poor, mean looking things on stilts many of them. This is for when the hurricanes strike; they must be more windproof that way.

There are lots of churches, mainly Baptist and Seventh Day Adventist, and as we passed the mayor’s house we saw it was very large and beautiful. Our guide was proud of the fact that we were on a metalled road, she said it was tarmacked in the 1980s and that they will be getting another one surfaced soon. Other than that they are just dirt, which becomes churned up slippy mud, heavily rutted in the teeming rain.

Our trip to the botanical gardens was uneventful, just more dense jungle trails but slightly manicured this time, and it was still raining.

We visited the monkey farm, which is not a farm as such but supposedly a sanctuary. The animals are in large cages in the open and I am not sure what the idea of the place is; they say it rescues monkeys from research labs etc. but it is a poor place, although the animals look well enough. Two of us were invited into a cage and the tiny monkeys landed on our heads and arms.

There are parrots and huge beautiful Macaws in cages and again a couple of us went into the cage. The Macaws landed on Stewart’s shoulder and my hat and were quite scary, though actually they were very good and soon flew off again. Don’t know what I think about that place.

Our next stop was a beach, here we had a picnic lunch and a refreshing swim. By this time the rain had long since gone and the afternoon was hot and sunny. The beach was lovely fine sand, warm blue sea and swaying palms, however there were bars playing rap music and many of them looked a bit tacky; not quite the image a ‘Caribbean Beach’ conjures up. After the beach we took the south road back to the ship

Evening was as usual but no less enjoyable for that.