A better than average pony ride: Half Moon Cay, Bahamas

Several large cruise lines purchased their own Caribbean islands.  By doing so, they provide their guests with some beach time fun and also have a captive audience for their own profitable excursions.

Carnival Corporation has ten major brands including Aida, Costa, Cunard, Princess, Seabourn,  Holland America and others.  Holland’s logo is Henry Hudson’s Dutch explorer ship the Half Moon, and so the corporate island is Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

Guide

One can lounge on a beach, rent a private cabana, jet-ski, play with stingrays, look at fish snorkeling or in a glass bottom boat, kayak, bike, hike and horseback ride.

Having snorkeled together at St. Thomas, friends Brendan, Traci, Marcia and I chose to horseback ride.  Wayne, who once had a horse throw him and roll over on him, chose not to go on this one.

Wayne need not have worried.  In this lawsuit-conscious world, Holland America took every precaution to protect its guests.  It was rather like a child’s pony ride.

Traci

But it was fun.  They even had steps one could walk up to mount the horse [nice for those of us with knees destroyed by marathon runs].  We were given helmets and encouraged to wear long pants to protect against the brush and a sadddle’s chafing.

Once mounted, we walked along a sandy trail past fenced pastures where horses roamed along with goats and chickens.

Returning to our start, we dismounted and changed into bathing suits or other

Traci & Brendan at Half Moon Cay

clothing that could get wet, life preservers and soft shoes.  Meanwhile, the horses’ saddles were changed out for what was little more than a thick foam pad with no stirrups.

Thus equipped, we headed for the beach and plunged into the sea.  It was an uneventful ride except for one horse that wanted to swim toward our ship.  Nonetheless, I have to say it was fun.  We didn’t gallop in the surf like movie stars, but we did swim with our horses — and that is not an everyday experience.

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  If you cruise frequently, consider buying 100 shares of stock in a parent company. Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean give generous on-board benefits to shareholders.  That amounts to an exceptionally large dividend, and in recent years the shares have appreciated as well. [As the brokers say, however, past performance is no guarantee of the future.]

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Snorkeling at St. Thomas

Yellowtail with a Sergeant Major in the background.

This blog post will not be tagged “photography.”  We have a new pocket camera that takes photos underwater, but I haven’t mastered it.  I tried.  I fumbled with the buttons.  I accidentally made a movie — mostly of the sky — and ran out of memory.

Nor would I recommend a cruise-sponsored snorkeling tour for someone who seriously wants to see fish.  People new to the activity splash around and frighten the fish.  Guides legitimately concerned for your safety herd you along in a “school of tourists” with little chance to explore on your own.

Marcia and Wayne

But I had fun at St. Thomas anyway because I was with Wayne and Marcia, and Brendan and Traci.

Wayne retired recently as a sheetmetal worker who put copper roofs on steeples and domes.  Marcia, a nurse almost as old as us, seems enthusiastic about everything and loves to ride motorcycles.

Brendan and Traci from New Zealand were on their honeymoon.  She wore her wedding dress to the first formal dinner and looked lovely.  Everyone in the dining room was taken with her.

Traci and Brendan

They met online.  Brendan was uncertain about seeking a relationship on the Internet, so he called himself Justin Case. Traci didn’t catch on and called him Justin for the first three months they knew each other.  They were new to snorkeling.

My photos aren’t much, but I had a plastic bag with some bread in it and was able to toss pieces in front of Brendan and Traci who were immediately swarmed with fish.

The water was not as clear as the Caribbean often is.  Mostly we saw yellowtail near a wreck.  At one site, we saw lots of turtles, but the camera was out of memory.

It wasn’t a great snorkel, but we enjoyed being there.  It was fun.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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The next time we are on Saint Maarten, we will …

Peter Stuyvesant

“Peg Leg Pete” – Peter Stuyvesant

Saint Maarten, locally called Sint Maarten because it is Dutch, takes up just thirteen square miles and 40 percent of a Caribbean island.  The other 60 percent is called Saint Marten.  Dropping or adding that one “a” in the name, however, makes a big difference.

Saint Maarten with two a’s is an independent Dutch country, a constituent country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, an equal partner with the Netherlands.  They have their own government.

On the other hand, Saint Marten with one a, is an overseas collectivity, an administrative division of France, and like Martinique is represented in the governmental bodies of France.

Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, has a good harbor and had a cruise ship dock when we first visited in 2003.  That dock has been expanded and improved, and now there is an elaborate facility with shops and restaurants.  It can take the largest ships, and many cruise lines stop there.

We had our fifth visit this January.  A major arthritis flare put Alie in a wheelchair , and I just was ready for an easy day.

I pushed Alie to the downtown area.  As it was early, shops and restaurants were just beginning to open.  It was a pleasant day for a stroll.

430We saw nothing new to us but did learn a little bit of history.  The Spanish captured the island in 1633, and Peter Stuyvesant, later the famous Director General of New Netherland in New Amsterdam [now New York], tried to take it back in 1644.  He failed and lost a leg in the battle.  I recall seeing his portraits with a wooden peg leg like some fictional pirate.  I gather he wasn’t liked by those under his tyrannical rule.  Perhaps that facilitated the English takeover and name change to New York.  Meanwhile, the island continued to change hands.

Back on our ship, we sat and enjoyed the day.  In particular, I enjoyed seeing the sailboats in these photos.   They once sailed in the America’s Cup races.

The next time we are on Saint Maarten, we will sail on one of those boats.

Click on photos to enlarge.

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The worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century: Martinique.

Fort-de-France

Fort-de-France

Martinique comprises four hundred thirty six square miles of France.  In 1902, St. Pierre, it’s largest town, was completely destroyed.

Martinique, like its Caribbean neighbor Guadalupe [629 square miles] is single overseas department of France.  They elect four Deputies to the French Parliament, are part of the European Union, use the Euro, speak French and drive on the right side of the road.

Most people on Martinique also speak Creole, a mixture of French, Carib and languages brought from Africa.  While not identical to the Creole on other islands we visited, someone on one of those islands – Dominica or Barbados, for example – could probably understand them.

Fort-de-France market

Fort-de-France market

Fort-de-France, the capital, has about one hundred thousand of the four hundred thousand people on the island.  It has narrow streets built around the ancient protection of the fort.  Alie and I walked around a bit.  It seemed more prosperous than many of its neighbors.

I took a tour through a rainforest filled with ancient ferns the size of trees and gigantic bamboo.  The mountains catch the moisture off the sea, and obtaining fresh water is not the problem it was on Tortola or Barbados.

We then went to St. Pierre on the coast.  Settled by the French around 1600, it was a prosperous almost cosmopolitan town in 1900 with a population around 20,000, the largest town on the island.

Pelée

Pelée

St. Pierre was completely destroyed by the eruption of nearby Mt. Pelée in May 1902.  The volcano became more active in January that year, and by April, there were earthquakes that sent animals and insects fleeing, including thousands of poisonous snakes.  Domestic animals panicked as insects crawled up their legs.  It is estimated that 200 animals and 50 people, mostly children, were killed by the snakes.

But the people of St. Pierre were used to the active volcano, and elected officials wanted them to stay around for a May 11 election.

On May 5, a lake broke through the crater wall creating a notch aimed at St. Pierre.  The rushing boiling water created a lahar, a mix of water and mud the consistency of concrete, that poured down the mountainside at over sixty miles an hour to the sea killing 23 workers at a distillery and creating a three meter tsunami which flooded low-lying areas.

That same day, a committee issued a report that St. Pierre was safe.  People from outlying areas fled to the town.  Governor Mouttet, concerned that the wealthy patrons of his Progressive Party might leave before the election, sent in the Army to turn back refugees.  The population rose to 28,000.

All twenty-eight thousand except for two survivors were killed within minutes when the volcano erupted on May 8 sending a blast of superheated gas, ash and rock through the town.  Thousands of barrels of rum stored in the city exploded.  Ships in harbor were destroyed including the Canadian ship Roraima which had arrived only hours before.  It was the worst volcanic destruction of the twentieth century.

The two survivors included a tailor near the edge of town who was severely burned and a felon who was put in solitary confinement in the prison dungeon that morning; he later toured with the Barnum & Bailey Circus as “The Sole Survivor of St. Pierre.”  A ten year old girl witnessed the eruption and rowed a boat to safety but was knocked unconscious and found drifting at sea.  Others on the outskirts survived with severe burns.

Today, rebuilt St. Pierre is a popular tourist destination.  It has narrow streets running parallel to the hillside.  One can see the ruins of 1902 St. Pierre on those streets.   Clouds come and go over still-active Pelée, but it has been relatively quiet since 1929.

Pelée over St. Pierre

Pelée rises over St. Pierre

Click on photos to enlarge.

P.S.  Wrecks of some 18 ships destroyed by Pelée still lie near St. Pierre making it a wonderful place to scuba dive.  The Roraima, 103.6 meters long, is probably the best of these.

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A guide who loves his country: Barbados.

Bridgetown, Barbados

Bridgetown, Barbados

We unabashedly take tours when we are in a new place.  But a great tour guide can make all the difference.  We’ve had some good guides and some duds.  Ronnie Carrington on Barbados was a great one.

Good tour guides must like what they are doing.  Like teachers, preachers and politicians, they like to inform people.

A good tour guide needs to know what they are talking about and needs to be well rehearsed.

But a great tour guide needs to love their subject.

Mr. Carrington’s tour is called The Barbados Photo-Adventure Tour.  My fellow participants had everything from very sophisticated cameras to cell phones, and their photographic experience reflected the same disparity.

Repeating images

Repeating images

I would call myself an advanced amateur;  I know a little about composition, less about shutter speeds and aperture, and nothing about white balance.  I fit right in.  With all the inexperienced people in the group he had to help, the tour was not one for someone looking for sophisticated pointers.

But it was clear he loved Barbados.

Barbados is the easternmost Caribbean island.  Discovered in the 15th century by the Spanish, it remained uninhabited until the British took control in the early 17th century.  It has been British ever since.

Barbados is an independent country within the British Commonwealth.  The Barbados Parliament is the 3rd oldest parliamentary body in the English-speaking world.

Curves

Curves

The country provides free education and health care.  University education was free to those who qualified until 2014 when it became too expensive.  Now students pay 20% of the cost.  As a result, Barbados has a very high literacy rate and the second highest percentage of centenarians in the world [Japan is first.].

There is also strong land use control; a plantation owner is likely to wait a couple of years to convert his property from agricultural use, and his non-agriculture uses still will be limited.  For example, lot sizes may be restricted.

The country has 166 square miles.  It is not volcanic like its neighbors to the northwest. Six-sevenths of the island is relatively flat coral and limestone; the eastern seventh is a ridge of sandstone and clay pushed up at the meeting of tectonic plates.  Reminded of the original countryside, settlers called the eastern portion Scotland.

Five Hundred sugar plantations once produced over 300,000 tons a year.  Now, just 40 produce around 12,000 tons, mostly to make Barbados rum.

Until slavery was abolished in 1834, slaves lived in little villages around the plantations.  Later, they could own their houses but not the land, so they built movable houses on stone foundations.  The houses were wood buildings with steep roofs.  The style came to be known as “chattel houses.”  In English common law, chattel means movable property.  Eventually, government assistance enabled people to buy the land under their homes.

There is a strong tradition to avoid debt, so often a house is not painted [paint is expensive].  A house may remain unfinished for years until the owner gets sufficient funds to complete it.

Pride, in self and country, would seem to be the watchword.  Pleasant people living in a lovely patchwork of fields and tree-lined gorges interspersed with small villages all on an island graced by balmy tree winds — it justifies their pride.

Click on photos to enlarge.

For more about Ronnie Carrington go to http://ronniecarrington.com

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My bodyguards: Castries, St. Lucia

Castries in the early morning.

Castries in the early morning.

A rheumatoid arthritis flare kept Alie on the ship when we arrived at St. Lucia.  We had been there before.  So, I just decided just to walk around a bit.  Several people seemed to feel they needed to be my “bodyguards.”

The portion of Castries’ city market closest to the dock primarily sells items to tourists.  Further in,  items are more aimed at locals.

Captain Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame was transporting breadfruit, so when a woman told me I was looking at breadfruit, I asked her how to cook it.

We had a nice conversation, and as I was about to leave, she warned me several times to be careful because there are “many robbers.”

Alie and I prefer back roads.  When walking, I like to get away from the main avenues and tourist areas too.

As I continued to stroll, a workman at a school called out to me.  We talked for a while, and he invited me inside to look at a typical class.  Then as I left, he said I should head back the way I came.  But I told him I planned to go a little further up the street, so he left the school and walked with me to the 1894 Holy Trinity Anglican/Episcopal Church.

As we left the church grounds, he called over a police woman and spoke to her.  She soon joined me as I walked down the street.  Her strategy was not to warn me that I might be in danger wandering alone but to suggest I really might be interested in seeing their Cathedral.  She gave me very specific directions how to get there.

It seemed the least I could do for all these nice people was visit the Cathedral.

Derek Walcott Square is next to the Cathedral.  Derek Walcott was a poet, painter and playwright born on St. Lucia in 1930 who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

I asked a fellow on the street about the huge tree at one end, and he told me the name translates to “massive tree.”  Maybe he was joking.

After I left the Cathedral, a massive young fellow sitting in a doorway said hello.  We exchanged pleasantries.  He looked like someone people had been warning me about.

He reached out his hand, perhaps wondering if this white-bearded man would take it.  I did.  We shook hands and talked for a while longer.  As I left, we exchanged a fist bump.

It was nice the people I met seemed concerned for my safety.  They weren’t wrong.  The U.S. State Department says “Crimes…do occur” and warns you not to leave valuables unattended anywhere. The listed crimes range from petty to violent.   Nonetheless, rule four above is to let curiosity replace fear.  So I should probably add — and keep aware.

The beautiful people of St. Lucia

The beautiful people of St. Lucia

Click on photos to enlarge

7 things to do on St. Lucia:

  1. Walk and shop at the local markets in Castries.
  2. Visit the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Castries.
  3. Visit Magriot Bay; James A. Michener called it the most beautiful bay in the Caribbean.
  4. Visit one of the twenty Marine Protected Areas.
  5. Visit historic Soufriẻre.
  6. See the Pitons.
  7. Enjoy one of St. Lucia’s many beautiful beaches.

 

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A stop at Dominica, not the Domenican Republic

Roseau from Morne Bruce

Roseau from Morne Bruce

Dominica is not The Dominican Republic. I admit I confused them before our visit.  The Commonwealth of Dominica is an island with a population of about 80,000.  The Dominican Republic shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti and has about ten million people.

Dominica was the last Caribbean island colonized by Europeans.  Perhaps as a result, a few thousand indigenous Kalinago people still live in eight small villages on the east coast. Disease, slavery and genocide wiped out most First Americans on other islands.  Simply because they exist, the Kalinago Territory is worth a visit the next time any of us head that direction.

The French settled the island in the 16th Century.  The British took control in the late 18th. The English abolished slavery in 1833.  A monument to emancipation is near the President’s offices in the capital, Roseau.

The  English also started a botanical garden in 1889.  The garden was severely damaged by Hurricane David in 1959, and one can still see the remains of a bus crushed by a falling African Baobab tree.  Fortunately, no one was in the bus.

Listening to the guide on our more fortunate tour bus, I learned I was mispronouncing the name.  It wasn’t “dough MIN ee ka.”  She called it “dahm in EÉK uh” with the accent on the third syllable. [The accent in the Dominican Republic is on the second syllable.]

Roseau has 17,000 people.  Being part of the British Commonwealth, they drive on the left side [as do the folks on Tortola in last week’s post].

Dominica is an independent republic with a President, Prime Minister and Parliament.  Mary Eugenia Charles was prime minister from July 1989 until June 1995, their longest-serving prime minister and the first woman to hold that position in the Caribbean.

Steep hills and mountains rise from the Caribbean shore.  The tallest is 4947 feet high.  These central mountains catch moisture and are covered in lush rainforest.  There are 365 rivers, one for each day of the year.

It was an agricultural country raising sugar, coconuts, breadfruit, bananas, pineapples and citrus.  It still raises some of everything except sugar.  Falling banana prices, however, have caused them to try to grow tourism.

My tour took me to little Hibiscus Falls and to the gardens. The country has three national parks including one that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

It is still a relatively poor country, but I enjoyed walking the streets of Roseau.  It seemed just about every building held a small shop, and vendors had set up tables under umbrellas in front of many.  The shops were often little more than shelves along the walls with an odd assortment of whatever they could find to sell.  There were also a couple small “supermarkets,” some hotels I would be reluctant to enter and some restaurants.  Fort Young, however, has been converted into a very nice looking hotel.

Despite the relative poverty, cars, vans and small buses were everywhere.  But Dominica has not caught on to using license plates as a source of revenue or advertising.  The plates are just plain black with a few letters and numbers, a rather refeshing change from our home state of Florida and its multiplicity of causes and slogans.

518

Click on photos to enlarge.

On our next visit, I plan to see the Kalinago Territory.

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