Tag Archives: West Indies

Caribbean Cruise Jan-Feb 2015

Azores Cruise Ship

Yes, we’re off on our travels again, mainly in the hope of missing the worst of the UK winter, but I know that’s not guaranteed, given we’ve had snow as late as April these past couple of years. This time it’s the Caribbean, and though we’ve been there a few times before, it never loses its appeal, and at this time of the year we should be safe from hurricanes!

We’re cruising on the Azores, a new addition to the Cruise & Maritime fleet. The Azores replaces the Discovery, and meets our preference for smaller ships that offer a more personal cruising experience, with a capacity of 550 passengers.

It seems the Azores has had a bit of a chequered history. According to Wikipedia, in 1956 she (at the time she was named the “Stockholm”) was involved in a collision with the SS Andrea Doria off the coast of Nantucket. Although most passengers and crew survived the collision, the larger Andrea Doria luxury liner capsized and sank the following morning. A number of ships responded and provided assistance, which averted a massive loss of life.

Then on 3 December 2008, the Azores (at that time named the Athena) was attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. There were reported to be 29 pirate boats surrounding the ship at one stage until a US Navy maritime patrol aircraft circled above which led some of the pirates to flee. The crew prevented the pirates from boarding by firing high pressure water cannons at them. No one was injured and the ship escaped without damage and continued on her voyage to Australia.

I trust our cruise will be a lot less dramatic ….or traumatic!

The map and schedule has (once again) been created using the new Google Maps features.  Use your mouse to zoom in or out, click on the location tabs to see the schedule.

 

Bridgetown, Barbados – and farewell to the West Indies!

We arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados on Saturday 2nd February. This is our last port of call in the West Indies before starting our homeward leg across the vast Atlantic. After Barbados we can look forward to (!) five days at sea before arriving at Horta in the Azores.

Known for its beaches and cricket, Barbados is one of the mots popular islands in the West Indies. British influence is everywhere, from place names to Anglican Parish Churches. The legal and political system is very much based on that of Britain; judges wear robes and wigs, cricket is a national passion, they drive on the correct (left) side of the road, and the epithet “Little England” is often used.

The Portuguese came to Barbados en route to Brazil and named it “Los Barbados” (bearded-ones) after the island’s fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance. The first English settlers arrived in 1627 and within a few years much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton pltantations. Sugar cane was introduced and a market for slaves who came from Afica.

After slavery was abolished in 1834, many of the new citizens of Barbados took advantage of the excellent education system. Barbados remained a British colony until 1961, gaining full independence in 1966.

Bridgetown is the capital, and home of the Kensington Oval, which was the venue for the 2007 Cricket World Cup final. South of the city is the historic Garrison area, where the British once maintained the Caribbean military headquarters. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Outside the main entrance to the cruise terminal is a village made up of historic chattel houses (colourful movable houses which were standard housing for plantation workers after emancipation). These small, brightly painted houses are now filled with art, handicrafts and souvenirs.

We decided to go on the “Discover Barbados” tour, which took in the Highland Adventure Centre, at an elevation of over 1000ft, overlooking the Atlantic. We then descended to the East Coast with its rugged landscape and pounding Atlantic surf to reach Bathsheba – a popular beach resort. We then headed to St John’s Church, situated on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. The original church was built in 1660, but mostly destroyed by a hurricane in 1831. The present church was rebuilt in 1836. A feature of the church was the pulpit, which was made of six different types of wood: Ebony, Locust, Mahogany, Manchineel, Oak and Pine. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

And so we finally departed the West Indies on the evening of Saturday 2nd February. Strangely enough, our cruise director thought a themed evening of County & Western music was most apt for our last evening in the Caribbean. Surreal or what?!

We now have five days at sea to look forward to before reaching Horta in the Azores. Homeward bound!

East Coast of Barbados showing the Atlantic Ocean
East Coast of Barbados showing the Atlantic Ocean

 

 Bathsheba, Barbados

 Bathsheba, Barbados

 

Chattel House
Chattel House

Kingstown, St Vincent, the Grenadines

We arrived at Kingstown, St Vincent early in the morning of Thursday, 31st January after an overnight cruise from St George’s, Granada. The island is the largest of the Grenadines, technically part of the Winward Islands, which are themselves part of the Lesser Antilles. 

The island was originally named Hairouna (“The Land of the Blessed”) by the native Caribs. The Caribs aggressively prevented European settlement on St Vincent until 1719. Prior to this, formerly enslaved Africans, who had either been shipwrecked or who had escaped from Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada and sought refuge in mainland Saint Vincent, intermarried with the Caribs and became known as Garifuna or Black Caribs. Following the Seven Years War, marked in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, Britain was granted control of St Vincent. St Vincent gained independence in 1979. 

The northern third of the island consists of an enormous and active volcano, La Soufrière, which erupted in 1902 killing 2,000 people. Much farmland was damaged, and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, La Soufrière erupted again. Although no one was killed, thousands were evacuated, and again there was extensive agricultural damage. The main export is bananas and the main industry is tourism.

 

Kingstown is the capital and is a bustling hub of activity, with many craft shops, and vibrant fruit & veg and fish markets. Located on the northern outskirts are the Botanical Gardens, founded in 1763 and the oldest of their kind in the Western Hemisphere. We walked the one mile or so to the gardens, but there are plenty of taxis around all offering lifts to the gardens. Apart from the many varieties of trees, flowers and shrubs, the gardens have a sanctuary for the rare St Vincent Parrot (Amazona Guildingi), which is the island’s national bird. We had some fun answering the parrots’ calls of “hello” and “good morning”. I couldn’t coax any other words from them, but I’m sure they knew more. We also spotted – albeit very briefly – a mongoose as it scurried across our path. These were introduced to the island to control the snakes, but are now considered pests because of the damage they do to the agriculture.

 

From the gardens we took a taxi ride to Fort Charlotte, six hundred feet up on the hill outside Kingstown. This was a 19th century British battlement that once housed 600 troops and a battery of 30 cannons, mostly pointed inland for defence against the Caribs. The Fort is named after King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte. A section of the Fort is off-limits as it is still used today as a women’s prison, housing between 6 and 12 residents at any one time. The death penalty is still retained on St Vincent and the gallows are located close to the Fort.

 

The other noteworthy site for tourists is the St George’s Anglcan Cathedral on Grenville Street, with its exquisite stained glass. The Cathedral is famous for its Red Angel window, commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her first grandson, the Duke of Clarence. However, she rejected the window because the angel was dressed in red, not white as she had requested, and so years later the window was brought to St Vincent and displayed in this Cathedral.

 

Once again, we only had the one day to do our exploring of St Vincent. Our ship sailed the same evening for our next destination, St Lucia.

 

View of Kingstown, St Vincent from Fort Charlotte.
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Me at the Botanical Gardens
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Lynda at the Botanical Gardens
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Lynda on the Hibiscus walk, Botanical Gardens

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Granada, “Spice of the Caribbean”, and spicy gossip!

Continuing my travelogue of our epic cruise from Tilbury, to the Amazon, the West Indies and the Azores (and ultimately back to Tilbury).

I should be writing about our experience in Granada, where we arrived on the morning of Wednesday 30th January after two days at sea from our previous stop, Ile du Salut. But before I describe our visit to Granada, I thought I should say something about the growing number of incidents that have spiced up our days (excuse pun) on board our cruise ship, the Marco Polo. I guess one should expect a few issues and problems when over 700 passengers are confined together in a fairly limited space for a period of 6 weeks, but even I’ve been surprised by some of the things that I’ve seen or heard. I should perhaps note there is a degree of hearsay and anecdotal “evidence” in what follows, with occasional circumstantial evidence that might give credence to some of the gossip.

The first incident relates to the ship’s doctor. People on cruises fall ill, as a result of either a pre-existing condition or as a reaction to the food, or sea-sickness or whatever. We also have a fairly ‘aged’ demographic on board, so the doctor has been kept fairly busy. It takes a while before you see a trend, but I noticed after a couple of weeks into the cruise that there were a growing number of passengers walking around with bandages on their arms. This was followed by stories of medical bills running into several thousand pounds. A visit to the doctor (it is alleged) would result in a charge of £400 before any treatment. The standard treatment seems to be anti-biotics, invariably delivered intravenously (hence the bandages on the arms), which would then rack-up costs of over £1000 per day. One passenger (it is alleged) had a medical bill of over £7000. There was speculation that a letter had been written to the Daily Telegraph by a passenger describing one such case – though I have not so far been able to locate this letter. A number of passengers have corroborated the high medical bills, which has caused some consternation about the perils of falling ill, and what precisely is covered by travel insurance. Suffice to say, I move around the ship very carefully – can’t afford to have an accident!

We’ve seen one passenger leave the ship semi-concious on a stretcher – without returning. Goodness knows what their medical bill looks like – or maybe they saw it and hence the stretcher!

Then there was the arrest and detention of a passenger during our stay in the Amazon, specifically our stop at Manaus. For anyone familiar with cruising, you will know that all passports are given up to the ship’s administration, who liaise with the appropriate immigration authorities for each of the countries visited. We had Brazilian immigration staff permanently on board throughout our stay in the Amazon, and they found “a person of interest” to them during their audit of the passports. The said person (a lady) was detained as soon as she set foot ashore – allegedly on a fraud charge – and she hasn’t been seen since. 

There was some speculation about the removal of a passenger following our visit to Boca da Valeria on the grounds of suspected pedophilia. However, there’s no real evidence to support this.

There has been more than one fracas in the dining areas, one of which I personally witnessed where two men squared up to each other about who had the rights of ownership of a particular table. It was just handbags at 10 paces, but possibly indicative of the increasingly fractious nature of some people now that we’re 4 weeks into the cruise. Will there be an actual physical assault before the cruise is over? Watch this space!

And then there are the seemingly growing number of passengers who will complain about everything and anything – the music is too loud/not loud enough/don’t want a radio/want a radio, it’s too hot/too cold/too wet etc. One lady complained of poor service in the restaurant because the waiter hadn’t cut her food up for her. It takes all sorts.

Anyway, about Granada. Granada the largest island in the Grenadines; smaller islands are Carriacou, Petit Martinique, Ronde Island, Caille Island, Diamond Island, Large Island, Saline Island, and Frigate Island. Sighted by Columbus in 1498 (though he didn’t actually make land) and named by Spanish sailors after the city of Granada in Andalucia, the island remained uncolonised for over 150 years. The island changed hands between the British and the French until 1783, after which it remained British. 

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The islands are of volcanic origin with extremely rich soil. Grenada’s interior is very mountainous with Mount St. Catherine being the highest at 840 m. It is a leading producer of several different spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels and especially nutmeg, providing 20% of the world supply, are all major exports. The nutmeg on the nation’s flag represents the economic crop of Grenada; the nation is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg (after Indonesia).

The culture is a fusion of Africa, East Indian, French and British practices. They drive on the left (as all ‘proper’ countries do) and their national sport is cricket.

The capital is St George’s, which has a very picturesque harbour and lots of colonial architecture, such as the Georgian York House (the Houses of Parliament). Only two miles to the south of St George’s is the beautiful Grand Anse Beach, a stunning stretch of immaculate white sand. 

We took advantage of the “Rhum Runner”, a sort of motorised platform complete with steel band and bar serving bottomless rum punch. This did a cruise around St George’s harbour before heading out past Grand Anse Beach on the way to Mourne Rouge beach. We had about 1.5 hours to swim and snorkel at the beach, with the staff of Rhum Runner continuing to serve us with lashings of rum punch. On the return journey the party continued with a limbo dance challenge and dancing to the steel band. Yes, we had a good time, and it’s a pity we couldn’t have stayed longer in Granada, but our ship has a schedule and we sailed at 10pm to our next destination – Kingstown, St Vincent.

St George’s Harbour, Granada
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St George’s Harbour, Granada
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Limbo dancing on the Rhum Runner
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Lynda joins the steel band!
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Creating a travel guide from Wikipedia

A much-overlooked but useful feature of Wikipedia is the “Create A BooK” tool. This enables you to source useful reference information from Wikipedia’s pages into your own personalised book, that you can either download for a free as a PDF or in open document format.

Alternativley for a small charge, you can have it professionally typeset and bound. Why would you want to do this you may ask? Well, for me it was the desire to have my own personalised reference guide for the places I am visiting on my trip (cruise) to the Amazon and West Indies.

For my guide I’ve sourced information about the places I’m visiting, the indigenous peoples, the animals and wildlife, the climate, the languages and much more. All neatly indexed and collated with photos, text and hyperlinks. If travel is not your thing, you could maybe create a book about your favourite music, composer or a specific professional interest. If you’d like to give it a go, read on. 

How to Create A Book Using Wikipedia

(Adapted from an original article in MakeUseof)

Search, browse and navigate to the Wikipedia article of your choice. On the left hand side, near the bottom is the create a book menu. It includes two items – Add wiki page and Books help.

Start adding the pages to your book by clicking the Add wiki page link on the relevant Wikipedia pages you want to include. The number of pages in the book gets automatically updated in the menu on the left. Two additional menu items ““ Show book (with a page counter) and Clear book appear in the menu.

You can also add an entire category within which the relevant page falls with just a single click. You can find the category hierarchy at the end of the article page.

Add The Title Of Your Book

 

With all pages added, click the Show book button to review your book. Here it is possible to add a book title (and a subtitle) and change the ordering of the wiki pages of the book through drag and drop. Unwanted pages can be dumped by a simple click of the “dustbin” icon. New chapters can be included using the Create chapter link.

Many advanced functions like adding a particular revision or saving a book and improving the layout can be achieved through a combination of advanced functions. The Help page details those steps.

Download Or Order A Printed Copy

Voila! You have just “written” your first book with the help of Wikipedia. Now, the finished book can be downloaded in PDF or OpenDocument format or ordered as a bound book. To download in the format of your choice, select the format from the dropdown and click theDownload button. To order the book as a bound book, click the Order book from PediaPressbutton.

Wikipedia’s built-in rendering engine assembles the pages, grabs the images and parses them before they are passed on to the user in the final downloadable format. In its final format my 469 wikipedia pages transformed into a 95MB file downloaded as a 275 page PDF book. The end result was good, with neat alignments of photos and text.

If you take the PediaPress option as I have done, you’ll pay for typesetting, layout and binding. Cost will depend on whether you want colour (I did) or black and white, and if you want a hard or paperback cover.  I was pleased with the end result (see photo) and will be using this as my everyday companion during this holiday.

 

The Amazon, West Indies and the Azores

This is the first in a series of posts I hope to publish (Internet access permitting) about my forthcoming adventure to the Amazon, West Indies and the Azores. Though I travelled fairly extensively during my time in the Royal Navy (more years ago than I care to remember), and since then during my tenure at Reuters – (I left in 1999 after 17 very happy years) – I have never been to many of the places on this cruise itinery. I might add I’m not too familiar with cruise ships or cruising holidays, but anticipating a bit more space and better cabin service than what I experienced on one of Her Majesty’s anti-submarine frigates!  

I will be using this blog to keep a personal record of this once-in-a-lifetime (?) trip, and to maybe share part of the experience with family and friends. I’m hoping to keep the blog posts synchronised as far as possible with the places and events experienced.

A brief outline of the trip:
The great adventure starts on 3rd January, at Tilbury, where Lynda – my wife – and I will be embarking the Marco Polo for the start of our 43-day cruise.

Our first stop will be Amsterdam, before sailing to Lisbon and then Funchal on the beautiful island of Madeira – at least it looks beautiful, but somewhere else that I’ve never visited.

We then head for Mindelo in the remote Cape Verde Islands, and then onto Brazil, stopping at Santarem, gateway to the Amazon River. We call at the Indian community of Boca da Valeria before reaching Manaus, where we hope to see the “Meeting of the Waters”, the confluence between the Rio Negro, a river with dark (almost black coloured) water, and the sandy-coloured Amazon River.

After that we visit Parintins and hope top see the “Boi-Bumba” Festival Show, and a brief stay at the little fishing village of Alter do Chao. We continue to Almeirum and Santana for Mecapa on the Amazon Delta for the return to the Atlantic.

We then head for the West Indies, stopping at Iles du Salut, the forma penal settlement better know as “Devil’s Island“, made famous by the film Papillon, and continue to St George’s, Granada. Then to St Vincent in the Grenadines and St Lucia. After that it’s Barbados and then homeward bound, with calls at Horta and Ponta Delgada in the Azores, finally returning to Tilbury and then home. 

The full itinerary as follows and the Google “route map” is shown at the bottom of this blog post.

03/01/2013 Tilbury, UK
04/01/2013 Amsterdam, Netherlands
08/01/2013 Lisbon, Portugal
10/01/2013 Funchal, Madeira, Portugal
18/01/2013 Fazendinha, Amapa, Brazil
19/01/2013 Santaram, Para, Brazil
20/01/2013 Boca da Valeria, Amazon, Brazil
21/01/2013 Manaus, Amazon, Brazil
23/01/2013 Parintins, Amazon, Brazil
24/01/2013 Alto do Chao, Para, Brazil
25/01/2013 Almeirim, Para, Brazil
26/01/2013 Santana, Amapa, Brazil
28/01/2013 Iles du Salut, French Guiana
30/01/2013 St Georges, Granada, West Indies
31/01/2013 Kingstown, St Vincent, West Indies
01/02/2013 Castries, St Lucia, West Indies
02/02/2013 Bridgetown, Barbados, West Indies
08/02/2013 Horta, Faial Island, Azores
09/02/2013 Ponta Delgada, San Miguel Island, Azores
14/02/2013 Tilbury

 

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