A few years ago i'd booked a cruise to all the islands I'd dreamt of seeing since working with a girl who told me all about Barbados. Various things happened and i never went but it was now November 30th and on December 3rd I was off to Barbados having blown my life savings on an 18 day Caribbean Cruise . I really ought to get packing then ! 2 hours and 1 extremely full suitcase later i was ready , no real plan with the packing , just chuck everything lightweight in with a couple of sweaters and some long walking trousers just in case . I was more concerned with the weight allowance for the cabin bag.....a paltry 5 kg's was going to be a struggle as 1 lens and 1 body weighed in at approx 1.7kg's and i was taking 2 bodies ,3 lenses plus filters -basically everything !
My good and long suffering friend Andy ( total superstar ) arrived just before 5am to take me to the airport to find me in a minor meltdown about the camera bag and where had i put my ESTA .......i hate airports , i find the whole process terrifying ! We roll into Manchester airport terminal 1 just before 6:20am and i put on my long knitted jacket for no other reason than it has fair size pockets ........My hold bag is just 1kg under weight and for the 1st time ever my cabin bag is weighed.......just under weight ! I haven't actually been near a plane yet but the decision is already made that i shall never travel with Thomas Cook Airlines again simply due to the ridiculously small cabin bag weight allowance . I manage to get through the whole security process without too much bother and quite speedily ( baring an inhaler i'd forgotten about ) , made my way through to the departures area , checked the info boards for gate the number, did a bit of shopping then found a seat and made a couple of phone calls . We boarded around 8:30am , I watched an episode of House , fell asleep and woke up to find i'd missed lunch ! Watched a film , started writing up the Northumberland trip and a steward bought me lunch after which I fell asleep again....... I just can't seem to stay awake on planes !
Some 8 hours later we land at Bridgetown Barbados and are swiftly off the plane and transferred to fleet of coaches that take us to the port . The bits of Bridgetown I see on the drive vary from looking like shanty towns to very up market areas with expensive looking boats moored in large marinas . On arrival at the port we're taken in to a large warehouse type building where we are checked on to the ship , have our ESTAS checked , photographs taken and we're given our cabin key which also acts as payment card whilst on board . The card is pre-loaded with money that was included in the cruise cost and anything you spend on board is charged to your room , cash is not accepted for anything as far as I can tell . On entering the warehouse each passenger is also given a welcome drink and a garland of flowers (fake but its the thought that counts) and a really nice touch is being offered a cool damp towel as you wait in line to be checked in . That done I board the ship which is just mind blowingly massive , pictures don't do it any justice , this ship is just crazy big . I know where my cabin is as I'd checked on the website , finding it proved fairly easy and I was pleasantly surprised at how plush it was . I'd gone for a standard inside cabin as the intention was to be out n about most of the time so spending an extra £4-500 on a balcony room seemed a little pointless My case hadn't arrived and on reading the info pack it could take 4-6 hours to arrive.....i really needed a shower and some clean lightweight clothes ! I decided to go for a look round & as my room is on the sundeck , I wander out to see the view across Bridgetown in one direction and out across the deep blue ocean in the other . The heat is wonderful , a slight breeze stops it feeling too intense and for as far as the eye can see there are sun loungers spread out on every available piece of floor space . 2 minutes after I get back to my cabin my case is delivered by my room porter who informs me that he' ll be cleaning my room twice a day.....dear lord , I may not be the tidiest person ever but that is overkill .
Showered and dressed in lighter weight clothes I head off to find the restaurant , I'd booked freedom dining so i just rock up whenever i feel hungry rather than being stuck to a specfic time . The restaurant is plush and full so i'm given a bleeper and have a 20min wait for a table . I love dining out , a chance to try something new but tonight I play safe with Prawn cocktail starter , grilled seabass in veronique sauce and finish with bread n butter brioche...beautifully cooked and presented plus I suspect , far healthier than I normally eat . Even though I slept for most of the plane journey i'm starting to feel tired , though its only 10pm local time , my body still appears to be on UK time which makes it around 2am . I set the alarm for 5.30 am and turn in , finding the bed is as comfortable as it looks .
Day 2 at Sea
So day 1 is a sea day and I'm up on deck at a little after 6 am with camera and tripod to see what sunrise has to offer. Being on a ship leaves little choice for composition so i settle on a view over the pools and try a long exposure which appears to work quite well , the sea is almost flat calm so hopefully the image won't suffer from too much motion blur . I then head down to breakfast choosing the relatively health option of continental....lots of fruit & a yoghurt but i treat myself to toast as well .
Breakfast done i decide to have a go at this sunbathing lark.....i'm not too good at sitting still in the sun but as I don't fancy any of the deck games ,the pool area is noisy and the cinema isn't open at this time in the morning I have little choice. I apply suntan lotion and settle back on the lounger , ipod in to drown out the chatter all around me & after what seems like at least 4 hours, I nip back to the room to re-fill my drink bottle....it's just gone 9am.....OMG , its gonna be a long day ! I force myself to stay on the lounger all day only moving for comfort breaks and some lunch where I discover I have stripey red n white legs plus a red nose....lol , I don't get this sun bathing lark ! Dinner is in the Meridian restaurant and I treat myself to a Goats cheese starter followed by pan fried Seabass and finish off with a 3 chocolate torte , calorific & totally scrummy . It's around 10pm and i'm feeling incredibly tired even though I've been asleep for most of the day so I head back to my cabin and turn for the night as I want to be fresh for the 1st island stop tomorrow.
Curacao Day 3
I wake round 3 am but fall back asleep fairly quickly and wake again just before 6am , enough time to get out on deck for sunrise then breakfast before heading off on to Curacao for the full day. Rucksack loaded complete with tripod I head down the gangway onto dry land , its good to be in a wide open space and on terra firma again . Have to mention the ship set up for leaving / returning.....they set up a secure zone which includes the same scanning machines you go through at airports plus you have your cabin card scanned on exit and entry , quite a slick operation .
As I walk past the tourist info stand I collect a town map & hear someone shouting , a woman approaches asking if I'm a photographer . We chat for a few minutes and decide to head off together , her name is Kathy , she's travelling with friends but they've gone off on a tour & she enjoys photography . We spend a pleasant if very hot morning walking through Curacao , streets lined with houses painted in all manner of bright colors , a floating market that brings fresh fish daily from Venezuela and a myriad of outdoor market stalls presumably there for the tourists . I was surprised at how little hassle the stallholders give though , if you express any interest they do try to barter with you....thankfully Kathy was way better than me at saying NO . Around midday we headed back to the ship for a bite to eat and to book a tour for the afternoon . I decided to go back to the stalls and buy a beach type bag i'd seen earlier so arranged to meet Kathy at 12:30 . The beach bag turned into a small canvas painting and porcelain dish as well.........I'm worse than a magpie ! My little detour also resulted in getting a trip on the free ferry as the floating bridge was opened to allow a large tanker in.
On meeting Kathy we had a chat with a couple of tour guys and settled on Robert who seemed friendly and less shark like ! The tour was $20 and would leave around 3.30pm gettng us back in time for sunset . The tour bus was an american style school bus with the windows removed, and painted in the same colors as a rastafarian hat , I belive they're called Chiva buses . Robert the guide had an easy going manner , a great sense of humour and certainly knew his stuff . We drove across the high bridge with an obligatory photo stop , through a maze of back roads filled with yet more brightly colored houses & the reason for the colors is apparently as follows : many years ago all the buildings were painted white & The Govenor of Curacao decided that the brightness was giving him migraines so he decreed that all buildings from then on should be painted any color the owner wanted except white & this was to be done at the home owners cost .
Co-incidently , the Govenor also owned the one shop on the Island that sold paint.........
Size of the Ship . Bridge across the river . View from the bridge
Floating Market . Brightly painted houses . The wedding cake House
The mid point of the tour was a stop off at the original Curacao production plant ( the islands famous blue liquer )where we did a tour including a small taste of the liquer at the end . The liquer is actually made from the rind of the fruit as the flesh contains too much acid and in the main the colors are added afterwards....I tried the orange one which was quite pleasant with a bit of an after kick . They also produce a cooling liquid that the locals spray on themselves to help keep them cool..... know locally as " air-con in a bottle".
From there we drove through the extremely expensive area of the island where homes cost between 1 and 20 million dollars but wow , they were mighty fine looking homes with possibly the best views across the ocean . A short stop at a beach complex completed the tour and we were dropped off in time to wander back to the floating bridge and await sunset . The row of buildings on the opposite side of the water are illuminated at night as is the bridge & I was hoping for colorful sunset behind them .The sunset didn't really happen but I managed a couple of shots even though I'd forgotten my cable release ! I pottered on to the bridge to try a few shots with the phone camera when the alarm sounded which meant the bridge was going to start opening . Instead of clearing all the people off the bridge they simply stop any more going on and if you're on the bridge there you'll stay till its back in position.....the UK health n safety brigade would have a coronary ! We headed back to the ship around 8pm through streets decorated with christmas lights , large santas and a couple of christmas trees....there is something not quite right about seeing christmas decorations when the temperature is 29 degrees.....
Showered n changed (tonight is casual dress) i met Kathy for dinner and w e shared a table with 2 other couples ,one from Scotland who own a B&B and the other breed and show dogs ...possibly Lhasa Apso's. Starter was Twice cooked crab souffle followed by a main dish of Grilled Baramundi , a tasty white fish and finished with white chocolate dish which was awful , tasteless and like blancmange . Tiredness kicked in around 10.30pm so I retired to my cabin & watched an episode of Top Gear before turning in for the night .
Curacao by night
I'm up and on deck for around 6.30am to watch the sunrise which sort of happened but today I just wanted to see it rather than photograph it.Today we are visiting Aruba & I have a tour booked to local butterfly house along with some sights of the island so i make way through securuty and onto dry land at 8.30 ready to go . The air conditioned coach is comfortable and the guide has a great sense of humour & our 1st stop is to drive into a hotel/apartment complex to see some Iguanas lounging on rocks in the early morning sun . Back out on the highway we continue to the butterfly house which takes approx 20 mins along the beach front road . The road is a line of hotel / holiday complexes and beaches to the left and a mix of hotels and shopping centres to the right along with a considerable amount of building work , new hotels being the main buildings being built . Our guide tells us that all the beaches on Aruba are public and the lcals very often camp on them for their holidays and I can see why.....miles of white sandy beaches dotted with palm leaf topped sunshades leading down to clear blue waters all under perfect blue skies.......camping there would be perfect , what a view to wake up to !
The Butterfly house tour is informative but I wander off to try and get some photos , however Butterflies are not the easiest of subjects. I could quite happily have spent all day there but we have other sights to see so after an hour we are back on the coach and heading toward Baby Natural Bridge , a naturally formed bridge created by the power if the sea over many hundreds of years .
The landscape here is very different , lava flows cover the land as far as the eye can see , tall cacti abound along with smaller trees all looking very green which Fernando , our guide , tells us has happened over the last few weeks as the rainfall has been higher than previous years . We turn on to a track , not as rutted as a country track as due to elections looming next year those in power are currently spending money improving the roads . The track runs close to the sea , groups of jeeps filled with tourists could be seen snaking across the lava right at the edge of the sea along with a few ATV's and several other tour coaches coming away from the bridge . We had 20 mins to view the bridge which was nowhere near long enough in photography terms......the bridge itself was a bit of a let down as the water had a layer of rubbish floating on it but there were endless possibilities along the lava flows as the waves crashed over them .....oh to have had more time .
All too soon we were back on the coach heading back down the track to Hato rocks , another location that cried out for sunset or sunrise photos . Hato rocks is a formation of massive rocks towering over the countryside and currently home to a herd of goats , one of the rocks looks like shark , another like a whale with its mouth open (apparently - I couldn't see those shapes no matter how hard I looked ! ). A small path winds down the hillside with smaller rocks scattered about between various little trees and bushes and as I'm walking along a sudden movement caught my eye . A small lizard with striking emerald green coloring ran across the path and perched himself on a small rock just long enough for me to get couple of shots before everyone else caught up with me , startling the lizard who promptly dissappeared underground . These little critters were everywhere and I would have been more than happy passing a few hours just photographing them but again , far to soon we were back on the coach and heading back to the port .
On the trip back we passed a graveyard where almost every tomb was painted in a bright color...Fernando explained that the tombs were generally painted in the same color as the persons house , it was certainly different . During the trip back he explained various things about the lifestyle in Aruba , everyone gets healthcare ,a bit like the NHS , the only difference being that its all essentially free , even to the un-employed and he passed round some local currency , the most curious of which was a square silver coin .
On arrival back at port i decided to grab taxi and head back to Eagle beach , we'd passed it on the morning drive & I'd spotted a couple of lone trees and some beach huts which were exactly what I'd been hoping to photograph . Taxi fares were far more sensible on Aruba , still not cheap by any means but sensible . Each journey had a set fare which for Eagle beach was $13 each way irrespective of how many people were on board . Curacao taxi charges were person and started at $20 . Eagle beach was exactly how I'd imagined a Caribbean beach would be......miles of golden sand , palm leaf topped beach huts , palm trees and crystal clear azure water stretching to the horizon . I even got brave enough to have a paddle and found the water surprisingly warm ! I spent a a very pleasant couple of hours at the beach, walking for a couple of miles & finally managing to capture some images that said " caribbean " . before heading back to the port where I took a walk round the local shops and bought a couple of souvenirs .The main road though Orangestad (named with reference to the dutch connection...The House of Orange ) is lined with tourist gift shops and high end jewellery stores along with designer clothes stores such as Armani .
Back on board I showered and headed down for dinner and whilst waiting for a table i treated myself to a Mocktail called Tropicana , a heavenly mix of fresh banana , coconut cream , pineapple juice and ice....i could drink that all day long . Dinner presented yet more wonderful choices with mine being Prawn cocktail again followed by Paupiette of Sole ( you may be seeing a bit of a theme here....I love seafood ) and finished with strawberry Romanoff ( far to sweet and heavy but scrummy none the less). I then headed back to my cabin and watched Paddington the film before snuggling down for sleep . Today had been a brilliant day :-)
Day 5 -sea day
I was out deck a little after 6am as usual on Wednesday morning , sunrise was faint but it was clear and already warm . Breakfast was the healthy fruit option again and I then resorted to sunbathing...or burning in my case ! Other than a wander down to listen to a Port presentation on St Lucia I managed to do very little other than sleep...and get sunburnt . In the afternoon I found myself a lounger next to a door which gave a cooling breeze each time it opened which was a bonus .
Dinner was another gastro delight of Prawn Cocktail followed by Lobster with Mango Sorbet to finish . You can literally eat 24 hours a day whilst on board , I have yet to take Afternoon Tea or try the Pizzeria or at least 3 other dining options....I really don't understand HOW its possible to just eat all day . I also don't understand why folk just stay on the ship when in port , whilst its not that cheap to go off and explore surely the idea is to see something of all these wonderful places ?
Grenada - day 6
The weather report for Grenada was not the best , the storms from the USA are pushing rain showers in our direction and as we pulled into port a veil of mist shrouded the island and we could see bands of rain sweeping in . Who cares , it was still warm , even the rain was warm , showers lasted just a few minutes and there were places to be explored . I went down on to the quayside and after a few minutes found a tour that sounded ideal so I joined 6 others and boarded a small red mini bus .The driver / guide chatted away in a thick Grenadian accent but we all got the gist of what he was telling us as he navigated his way along the very narrow and twisty roads , barely wide enough for 1 vehicle .The roads are lined with palms and native trees , little streams flowed below the road level and mountains with tops still shrouded in mist rose upon either side . Houses painted many different bright and pastel colors were dotted on hillsides and along the road , some looking incredibly expensive , others in need of some TLC and some beyond repair .
Our 1st stop off is Concorde Waterfall , set on a corner of the road , to the left a series of 6 shacks selling local niknacks , cold drinks and some local food stuffs , on the right is a small brickbuilt hut selling souvenirs with a steep stairway down to the base of the falls . I head down to the bottom and take a couple of snaps , the sun being almost directly behind the fall making it difficult to get a good exposure but its impressive just to see it . After 20 mins or so, just as we're about to board the minibus a tour guide from another bus climbs to the top of the falls and dives off.....i'm not prepared with the camera on wrong settings but I fire off 5 shots and hope i managed to get at least one vaguely in focus( I failed on that one ).
We carry on along the road to our next stop,an estate that grows,picks and prepares various spices for sale and export. The place looks almost abandoned , ramshackled buildings that have definitely seen better days , few dogs asleep on the concreted areas and a female guard complete with gun.....apparently the guard is needed to deter locals trying to take the spices to sell themselves. Inside one of the buildings is a row of 5 tables all of which have a selection of spices laid out on them ready for a staff member to give us a talk about them. We get to smell the fresh cocoa balls and learn how they are produced (they smell devine ) , that cinamon sticks are made from branches of the tree with the bark removed and All Spice is soaked in liquid to create a Rum that could get you drunk by just smelling it ! I didn't realise just how labour intensive these spices are , we simply buy them off the shelf in glass jars or boxes in our local supermarket without any idea of the human effort that goes in to getting them there . At the rear of the building was a stream , fast flowing due to the unusual amount of rain over the last few months which also explained it's murky color .
From there we're back on the narrow windy road heading to the GCMA Nutmeg processing Plant , a fascinating insight in to the labour intensive process that gets Nutmeg on to the shelves in our supermarkets . The sign on the wall states NO photography and our guide confirms this as he spots several of our party snapping away merrily with camera phones , then he says "oh you can take photos at this end " so we did .We spent about 1/2 hr watching the ladies at their work then headed back to the bus through the little gift shop....everywhere has a little gift shop or 2 . From here we continued on our little road trip along the now familiar winding lanes edged by palm trees , lush green bushes , brightly colored houses , tumbled down shacks and the occasional abandoned car to our last destination....Grand Etang Lake . The small entrance fee of $2 paid I set off up a narrow track to the main viewpoint ,we had just 20 mins so i didn't want to waste a second . The view point was about 5 mins at a brisk walk and offered great views across the valley in both directions but the weather still wasn't on side so just a couple of records shots . There was another path that led down to the shore of the lake but there was no time for that today , 10 mins later we were back on the bus and heading back to port .
In port we were berthed next to Azura (Britannia's sister ship ) which it made for a pretty impressive sight , Britania is the bigger of the two , slightly more rounded at the rear , an extra deck and possibly slightly longer with matching livery . I set up to try a long exposure , the idea being to use the big stopper to lose the crowds of people on the gangway and get a clear view of both ships . Easier said then done for although Azura was moored tight , Britannia was moving very slightly so i suspect some jiggery pokery in photoshop is called for .
Back on board I grabbed a light lunch and headed back out to see something of the town on foot . I started by climbing the steps that led to the ruins of the Fort over looking the harbour , took a couple of record shots as the light was quite harsh (it was mid afternoon) then wandered back down and steeled myself to walk through the tunnel. The tunnel is a smidge over 1 car wide and lacks a pavement so you take your life in your hands when you go through,its not too bad until you meet people walking toward you at the same time as a wide pick up truck heads through!The other side of the tunnel takes you down to the other harbour,full of working ships,oil tankers,dive and tour boars plus a rather flash looking super yatch moored at the far side. The road is lined with a mix of older buildings and new buildings designed to blend in , government or council offices a library that appeared to be long abandoned plus a couple of restaurants . The waters edge is marked by yellow paint on the pavement , that's it , no health & safety here ! I walked as far as I could , the end of the road leading to a small bar that was built out into water , there was nothing particularly photographic , no good reflections as this is a tidal port so i head back to the ship .
To exit the port you walk though a small shopping mall filled with virtually everything a tourist could need , every port has one , but if you wait till you're outside there are generally street vendors selling identical goods for less dollars , these feel more authentic and you can barter-something i'm useless at ! They do try to engage you in conversation but one polite & firm No thanks and they leave you alone . I'd spoken to Eve in kiosk 9 on my way out of the mall in the morning , I liked her demeanor so I called in and purchased a couple of gifts , she was jolly and friendly and not at all pushy and she recognised me from earlier....must have been the stripey legs !
Back on board I get ready and head down for dinner plus another Tropicana ( I'm going to start making these at home ). Dinner was another fish fest , Salmon mouseline starter , baked Monkfish main and Baked apple to finish , oddly enough i quite fancy beans on toast ! Tiredness kicks in again so I head to my room , watch a little tv and turn lights out around midnight.
St Vincent & The Grenadines - day 7
St Vincent & the Grenadines is the next port of call and as is now normal for me i'm on deck a little after 6am for a walk around and to watch the island come in view. The weather report says rain showers likely but the skies are beautifully blue with banks of large fluffy white clouds , i pack my lightweight waterproof jacket just in case . Breakfast of fresh fruit and toast (i'm going to miss this when i get home ) and i head down the gangway into the shopping mall stopping to look at the amazingly clear blue water with shoals of brightly colored tropical fish .
The port entrance is swarming with taxi guides all loudly claiming that theirs is the best tour . I really want to visit the Vermont Nature Trail but its gonna cost around $140 dollars so i opt for a tour that takes in Mesopotamia with a pleasant young guide who seems less pushy than the others . After 10 mins he has enough folk to fill his air conditioned minibus so we set off at a very leisurely pace , he says hes in no rush which is just as well given the roads are crowded with all manner of vehicles . Brand new looking pickups , american style trucks , vans that look to be on their last legs piled high with oil drums , fishing crates and people on foot , it appears to be chaos but there's no horn blowing or shouting or fist waving , in fact everyone looks happy & relaxed .
We wind our way out of the city up in to the hills to Fort Charlotte our 1st stop for a wander and take in the panoramic views across the city and out to sea . At the top are few original canons , some of which face inland as apparently the likely hood of attack from natives trying to take over the island were as , if not more likely , than attacks from the sea . It seems the Dutch , English and the Yanks all had designs on this beautiful Island . A pleasant 1/2 hour passed and we were heading off again .The road leading to the fort is a steep climb , 1 vehicle wide with hairpin turns , the drive up was good but coming down we met several large buses going up which brought everyone to a standstill whilst both drivers figured out who was going to back up 1st. Our guide (name escapes me ) chatted away in a lovely light accent , giving details on buildings we passed , the country's health and employment systems and the general history of the place , he'd been doing the job for 10 years and clearly enjoyed it.....in his words : far less like hard work than the daily 9-5 of other careers:-)
Next port of call is The Botannical Gardens for about 3/4 of an hour . We are advised to take a guide but i'm happy enough just wandering around looking at the varied plants , listening to the birds chirruping and trying to photograph the lizards without any success. There's a small area that houses various birds including an endangered Parrot but as there's 2 layers of fencing between us the birds i give it a miss . Just outside this area is a young gentleman with a guitar and an incredible voice , he really should be on stage or at the very least on a cruise ship . In the car park a local lady is shouting out " black friday deals here now, buy 5 bottles of water and get 1 free ". From here we head off at the same leisurely pace to our final stop.......Mesopotamia view point . We climb up and up and up some more , tight twisty roads with varying degrees of poor surfaces , passing yet more brightly colored homes and run down shacks with dogs lying outside all looking painfully thin and dejected . I just wanted to cuddle them all and give them a proper meal . Many of the inhabitants live just above the poverty line so a choice has to be made , feed the family or feed the dog .
Just before christmas each year the government creates road gangs of under privileged folk , those who have no money , and set them to work clearing the road edges and tidying the place up for which it pays them , so even the poorest of the poor have some money for christmas food . We reach the top and are the only tour bus there so we have the place to ourselves for 10 minutes , the platform being essentially a decked area affording fabulous views across the lush green valley to the sea beyond . The wind is fair blowing but i set the tripod up and try for a shot , the sky is far brighter than the valley so i need a filter to try and even the exposure and there's a haze in the distance but at least i have a reminder of the amazing view.
There was a little dog walking around in the scorching heat , a bag of skin and bones with such a folorn look about him , his paws must have been burning on the tarmac & it broke my heart watching him .
The drive back to the port was at the same steady pace down back roads with a final quick stop at a view point across the bay then it was back in to heavy traffic to the port. St Vincent is possibly the least Touristified island that we have visited , a few duty free shops as you exit the ship and then you're straight in to the town amongst the locals as they go about their daily business . After a quick bite to eat on the ship I decided to get brave and go for a wander around . I walked along the main street from the port and turned up a side street at which point i decided it was maybe not such a good idea to be out and about on my own . I was probably over reacting but I felt decidley uncomfortable walking past groups of locals . It's hard not looking like a tourist when you have sunburnt legs and an expression that says "i have no idea where i am or where i'm going " ! I head back to the ship ,shower , watch a film in my cabin then head down to dinner and more seafood dishes.......I'm so going to miss this when I go home ! Tomorrow is St Lucia which I'm really looking forward to so I hit the sack about 11pm with camera batteries on charge and my bag packed in readiness.
St Lucia -day 8
I'm up on deck for 6:15 and can see the Island already , the pilot boat is alongside ready to guide the ship to her berth at Pont Serraphine and there's already 2 or 3 other ships already docked . The view from the deck is deck across the port is impressive and beyond I see a plane coming in to land at the International airport the runway for which starts about 200 yards from the waters edge. Over the distant mountains I can see a rain shower approaching and within 5 mins it starts raining so I shelter beneath one of the stairwells and wait for it to pass . A few minutes later the sun is out and there's a rainbow above the Island behind the ship.
I grab my bag and head off down the gangplank , through security and toward the shopping mall which you have to pass through to get out of port .There's not too many people milling about yet as its still early so I go for wander to see whats about close to the port . We have been advised that Castries is not the best place to be so I don't want to go too far but I'd spotted a small marina when I was up on deck and wanted a closer look . The sun was shining , it was pleasantly warm with just a light breeze & there were white fluffy clouds drifting across the sky which looked promising for some long exposure photography . Out through the port main gate and I see a road to my left , bollards blocking vehicle access and some chaps trimming the grass verges and it seems to lead to the marina so i follow it round and come to the entrance of a Dive centre . The gates are open so I wander in and spy a wooden pier ( 3 piers in fact but 2 have boats moored at them ) which looks a promising spot for some shots across the water to the rustic building on the far shore . A chap appears and I ask if its ok to do some photography. Its a working dive centre & it's only polite to ask , no problem he says which puts a huge smile on my face. I set the tripod up ,settle on a composition , pop on the Lee 10 stop & .6 hard grad and use the remote cable to take the shot . It feels great to be in the sunshine , at a pier & to have time to use the camera rather than the phone camera for a change ! It doesn't get much better than this :-)
Eventually i drag myself away and back to the port entrance and find total choas , it seems everyone from the ship has arrived to book their tour at the same time , you just can't move for bodies ! I talk to a couple of guides and settle on Papa Boat tours after talking to a Belgain lady who did the same tour last year and highly recommended it . The trip is leaving at 10:45 so i have about 3/4's of an hour to spend wandering round the little stores though i'm not buying anything till i get back from the trip . We set off for the boat at just before 11am and standing on the boarding pier we see him coming in to the bay at a great rate of knots , he seems to be racing another boat ! We board the small boat and set off , a lad by the name of Job is our captain and he's soon winding the power on , the nose of the boat lifts and we're skimming across the water . We get a brief safety talk which comprises of being told where the life jackets are and if we see the crew bailing out then we need to do the same.....i love the attitude to health and safety .
Job slows the boat briefly to point out a couple of beaches then powers on again to get us to our destination of Anse chanstene , a very upmarket small resort just before the Pitons . The resort hotel looks like a multi storey carpark , each floor apparently has its own infinity pool and will set you back a mere $1800 per night...exclusive to say the least . Bizarrely , all the beaches on St Lucia are classed as public so you can pay your $1800 per night then have to put up with groups of cruise holiday makers invading your beautiful beach ! There was the option to snorkell but I'd seen a couple of places I wanted to photograph so i headed off on my own leaving the rest of the group to snorkel and sunbathe . The beach was black sand , glistening in the sun as if it was sprinkled with a million minute diamonds , a few rustic buildings housing a bar, restaurant and dive shop , rattan style sofas and loungers with plump cushions were laid out under palm leaf parasols , palm trees surrounded the area and behind were rocky mountains , this is how i imagined a Caribbean beach to look.
We had an hour and a half to do as we pleased so I took a steady walk across the beach to a track that lead round the rocky mountain to another small black sand beach . By this time the temperature had gone up considerably so it was a very very steady walk ! I stopped and took some long exposures on my way as the perfectly clear blue water was lapping against the rocks which were there to protect the land from sea erosion . A little bird appeared - I have no idea of the breed - on the rocks in front of me and very kindly stayed put for about 10 minutes and eventually angled himself so I could get a clear shot though it was a bit of a struggle using the 17-55mm lens . A sudden rain shower passed over which bought welcome relief from the heat but it lasted no more than a few minutes .The 1st section of beach I came to had been freshly raked and was totally empty ,just a single palmleaf topped shelter ( which I couldn't get a decent angle on ) , a couple of palm trees and a single small green leafed tree . I fired off a couple of shots then continued on toward the rocky outcrop at the far side of the next beach.
I was the only person on the small secluded beach , from where I stood you couldn't see the sun loungers or the bar , it was just like being on a desert island , perfect golden black sand , waves crashing over the rocks and blue sky for miles . I sat & watched a few smaller boats speeding across the crystal clear blue sea then decided photo's needed to be taken ! I had to keep a very close eye on the time as I couldn't afford to miss the boat back (much as i wanted to) and I spent a very pleasant hour playing with long exposures using the Lee 10 stop for perfect smooth water and then the .6 ND with .6grad to get a little bit of movement in it as it rushed over the rocks which were covered in vibrant green seaweed......i could have stayed all day. Time flies when I immerse myself in the scene & I never get bored trying to get my timing right for the perfect ( in my eye's) image .
I checked the time and it was already 1pm so i packed up and headed off back across the wonderful black beach to the boat and surprisingley i wasn't the last one back ! The next stop was a little rock jutting out in to the ocean , rather like a mini version of Durdle Dor , which the locals jump off in to the warm ocean but before that we had rum punch......definitely moreish . Marigot Bay was our next stop , made famous as a location for the Bond film Dr Doolittle and almost every restaurant , bar and boat made some reference to this . We had about an hour here so I took myself off for a nosey about . The bay was crowded with boats and the small beach was full with sun loungers and folk laid on towels so I settled myself on the end of rocky outcrop and took couple of shots across the little bay then sat and watched the world go by for a while . All to soon we were back on the boat and heading back to port at the same rapid rate of knots that we'd left at in the morning , putting your foot down St Lucian style was infinitely more fun than the usual run home from work .
On arriving back I took a long walk round the shopping area & being my usual in-decisive self I went in to every shop at least twice ! I finally settled on a couple of small momentos to remind me of this amazing place & then set off to find a spot for sunset as we weren't sailing until 10pm . I set the camera up at the edge of the landing stage we'd boarded the Papa Boat Tours from and watched the sky start to color up whilst listening to the locals playing music in a nearby bar . It wasn't the best composition ever but I didn't want to wander too far fro the safety of the port with dusk approaching . A few shots done and and I head back to my cabin to get ready for dinner which , i had no doubt , would be seafood again .
Day 9 - sea day
Another sea day en route to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands so I spent my time topping up my red bits.....my legs are still steadfastly refusing to tan ! In the evening I took myself off the the cinema to watch Dads Army then headed to the Caribbean Buffet ( not a patch on the main restaurants ) then headed down to watch a show which was quite good fun . Back in my cabin I charged the camera batteries and filled out the I-94 form ready for the Immigration interview in the morning so I would be allowed on US soil . It is the 1st time in US waters for the Britannia and so the 1st time organising some 3500 passengers to go through the immigration process and given that at least 700 off them hadn't sorted their ESTA's before boarding i had a feeling it could be chaos !
Since I'd been on board I'd taken a few shots of various meals , just using my phone as they looked so good . I really wanted to use the big camera & set the shots up properly with better lighting but that would have looked a tad odd in the restaurant !
St Thomas - day 10
I headed down to my allotted station at 7am to find the queue already formed but moving and in about 10mins i was standing in front of a US port immigration officer who checked my documents , stamped my passport and wished me an , enjoyable stay....simples . I had a tour booked at 11am to visit St Johns Island so to fill some time I took a wander round the port shops , of which there were at least 20 , full of sparkling gems i could never imagine being able to afford , bottles of rum in many different flavours that would not make the journey home in 1 piece and brightly colored sarongs and beachwear which i wanted but didn't actually need....talk about testing a girls resolve not to spend anything !
The Island Girl was moored the other side of the gangway , opposite Britannia and was crewed by 3 Americans all bubbly and talkative as you'd expect . I sat as close to the sharp end as possible so i had a fabulous views as we cut through the waves , passing impressively large homes with equally impressive views across the ocean . Our american host gave a nonstop commentary which I'm sure was very interesting but as I was being buffeted by the wind didn't hear a word of it . Approx 40mins we pulled in to a beautiful little harbor along side a couple of Catamarans , disembarked and hopped on a minibus to visit Trunk Bay , allegedly one of the worlds top 10 beaches . The bus was open sided and powered by what sounded like a V8 , in fact , almost every vehicle we saw seemed to have a monster of an engine and almost all of them had fancy paintwork to the doors and bonnet . The perfect black tarmac snaked uphill through rows of palm trees and vibrant green bushes and occasional gaps afforded us stunning views out across bays of sparkling bright blue water and golden sands . On reaching Trunk Bay we were greeted by chickens who'd obviously cottoned on to the fact that minibuses = visitors = food.
Trunk Beach was quite simply Stunning ! 2 semi circles rather like 1/2 a figure 8 fringed with palm trees and the same vibrant green bushes that lined the road , crystal clear aquamarine water lapping on to perfectly clean light golden sand . Folk had set up little camps under the trees , an area to sit and cool down after a snorkelling session . It was busy but not crowded and in true US style they had a lifeguard station....sadly no David Hasslehoff though .
I spent around an hour taking shots at the far end of the beach which was the more crowed area due a large coral bed , perfect for snorkelling then wandered to the other end where I sat for a while just drinking in the beauty . I fired off a couple more long exposures & then reluctantly headed back toward the minibus this is a place I would love to return to & explore more .The whole of Trunk Bay is a nature conservation I belive , immaculately clean as I'd come to expect , signs all over to be cautious of strong tides , take your rubbish away , don't walk on the coral when snorkelling etc . There were also shower blocks for him and her so you didn't end up taking half the beach home with you.
The mini bus dropped us off back at the quay side and I went off for a little nosey around as I had 20 mins to kill before the boat picked us up . There was a small selection of upmarket boutiques , half a dozen bars and cafes and a Real Estate agency where I discovered a 4 bedded villa with pool and a/c etc on top of a hill with views across the island and out to sea could be mine for a mere 1.2 million.......hmm , maybe next year ! A single scoop of ice cream would set you back $5 !
The Island girl arrived on time and all to soon were were back on St Thomas and I grabbed a quick sandwich whilst sitting on the walkway to the shopping area soaking up the sun then headed off toward town for a look around . I'd spotted a cable car ride to Paradise point so paid my $21 (eek !) and hoped in a carriage for a smooth trip up the hillside to the viewing point . The view was indeed spectacular but from a photographic point of view the light was in front of us and a rain storm was heading in.....bad timing but it is what it is so I just enjoyed the scene across the Island below . The rain starts so I jump in the next carriage and head down to the street where I mosey along the main road to another marina which takes about 10 mins , have a quick wander round admiring the large selection of large yatchs then take a steady wander back to the ship as we sail at 5pm . This is another Island I hope to return to in the future !
The evening sees me dining on seafood again followed by a calorific dessert then I turn in for an early night in readiness for San Juan in the morning . I haven't really bothered with the evening entertainment , being on my own it seems a little odd going to the disco and the acts that are on haven't particularly appealed plus I'm normally falling asleep by 10.30pm.
San Juan - day 10
The weather report for San Juan is looking less than favourble so I opt for my lightweight walking trousers and pack a skirt in my bag just in case . It's still warm but raining when I venture out for my morning deck walk , I can see the island coming in to view and the pilot boat is along side ready to guide Britannia in to her berth in the large harbour . I see an area I'd like to visit but when i get down on to the gangway I realise its way to far off to get to on my so I jump on a minibus tour of the main attractions with a dozen others , just in time as the heavens open ! Our lady driver chatters away in a lovely local accent and our 1st stop is a street lined with statues of american presidents and the town hall .The rain has stopped so we all hop out and I take a few record shots .The town hall is very impressive creamy white marble building which reminds me of the USA White House in it's construction , San Juan is a very Americanised city .
Next our driver stops along side a small park area which fronts onto a beach , this is the Atlantic side of the country so the sea is rougher , colder and not the same fabulous color as the Caribbean waters we've seen on previous Islands . A 10min stop allows me to take a few long exposure shots then its back on the bus and we head across a bridge and into Old San Juan . We start with a flying visit to 2 of the Forts (flying because again the heavens have opened ) then drive down in to the town itself . I opted to leave the bus in the town & head off on my own for a few hours. We aren't due to sail until 6pm so I have plenty of time to find the ship again should I get lost !
The narrow streets are bustling with tourists and locals going about their daily business,a few small market stalls are dotted about selling trinkets , handmade jewellery , locally made soaps and natural beauty products but the stall holders sit quietly and don't hassle you , a change from previous islands . There's a chap crafting jewellery from recycled aluminium & I can't help myself....I buy a small ring , only $4 & quite unique . There's a mix of gift shops and coffee houses along the mainstreet and again most of the cars and mini buses seem to be powered by V8 engines , even the local police car sounds awesome & where our police cars flash red and blue lights the police cars I've seen on all the islands so far flash red and greeny yellow.
Refreshed by a strawberry lemonade at Starbucks (only to use the free wifi ) I head back up the hill to the more interesting Fort Castillo San Cristobal , a steep walk and now the sun is out again I needed to find somewhere to change in to my skirt ! I find a walkway down behind the entrance to the ruins that is empty of folk so quickly put my skirt on then start looking for a suitable spot for a shot I had in mind . I wander down in to the main ruins and clamber up in to one of the cut outs used to fire the canons through as there is a lovely view up along the coastline,sea to the left crashing over the rocks directly below then a steep hill covered in greenery leads up to a restored turret . I could see the storm clouds bringing the rain & sure enough a 5 min downpour ensues & I try to shelter behind the walls of the ruins . The sun follows closely behind & within a few moments it's beautifully warm with sunshine & blue sky again .
From there I head off in search of a beach and as I'm strolling along I pass a young couple staring through a wire fence ,i ask what they've spotted and its an Iguana , calmly munching grass about 6 ft away...too good an opportunity to miss and I fire off half a dozen shots before I feel the rain starting again . Up ahead I spot the town hall and the statue we'd seen in the morning so I up my pace in the hope there's somewhere to shelter , there wasn't so I pulled on my waterproof mac , crouched down behind one of the small walls and tried to keep my bag sheltered from the worst of it . My god , it came down in stair rods for about 10 mins , my jacket kept the worst off me & the camera but the bottom of my skirt and my shoes were drenched ! On the plus side it was warm rain and when the sun came back out it only took about 10mins to dry out completely .
I notice a beach below & spot some steps leading down so off I go , and what a cracking beach it is ! Beautifully clean golden sand with few rocks on the shoreline and another bank of rocks a little further out so the water is relatively calm near the shore . I wander along the beach looking for photo opportunities , clamber over what appears to be a bank of lava rock heading toward some ruins right at the waters edge , I guess it was approx 1 mile from the steps I'd come down . I reached the ruin and as I had no idea of tide times I looked round to see if there was an escape route ! The only option was a tricky climb up the sea defences to the street above which was approx 30ft , I wasn't too keen on that route but what the hell , it was lovely bay and I wanted some shots so thought sod it , I'll take a chance . I dragged myself away back down the beach after an hour or so , spent another hour getting shots over the small seaweed covered rocks near the steps then started the long walk back to the cruise port .
At this point I had a bit of wobble , I didn't really have a clue where the cruise port was or how long it would take me to walk back or even if I was going in the right direction ! I was following the coast line hoping it would bring me to a bridge I'd seen from the ship in the morning , the area was mainly businesses and industrial units and there were very few folk walking about . I continued on ,I had about 90 mins before the ship was due to leave so plenty of time to find a taxi if necessary ! After a couple of miles I crossed the road and started heading toward what I hoped would be the port and sure enough I spotted water in the distance between 2 buildings , missing the boat from St Thomas would not have bothered me in the slightest but I didn't fancy being stranded in San Juan . This city loves its statues , I passed several more on my walk back , beautiful pieces of art but all with crappy backgrounds so merely record shots were taken .The road took me out of the industrial area and back into the quaint residential area again , houses painted in the typically bright colors that are the norm in the Caribbean and locals were sat outside small cafes relaxing after work . Finally I rounded a corner & saw the ship and I heaved a sigh of relief .
The interior of the ship was trimmed with christmas decorations which added to the slightly surreal feel of the trip ,I've added a few phone pics of some of the area's to give you a bit of an insight .
I dined in the Peninsular restaurant for a change , the only real difference between this one and the Meridian is its on a different floor . I again shared a table with 2 other couples , all seasoned travellers and cruise addicts . The general concensus appears to be that the Azura is a nicer ship (Britannia's sister ship) though no one could actually explain why , its just a feeling you get when on board apparently . I opted for Seafood starter and Veal for a change , not tried it before and found it rather nice but dessert presented a dilema . Tropical fruit pavlova or Chocolate Pineapple upside down pudding........When the waiter arrived to take our choices I was chatting with the lady to my left , we were discussing which dessert to go for , I was going for the upside pudding with Pavlova being my 2nd choice which she agreed with . All of us at the table got quite a shock when the waiter re-appeared with our choices swiftly followed with a Pavlova for everyone....I did think about leaving it but well , it would have been rude wouldn't it :-) its fair to say i could barely move after eating that lot !
St Marteen - day 11
St Marteen was the next destination and I was up on deck around 6.30 am for a look see . The weather forecast was much better , not a rain shower to be seen just blue skies and 29 degrees . I didn't really have a plan for the day , I wanted to look around the stores to see what all the fuss was about with the jewellery and I fancied a trip to see the planes coming in at the airport which sounds very anorakish but i can assure you its anything but ! My usual little video walk about on deck failed in the sound department....the wind was awful on deck !
On leaving the ship you have a short walk to the cruise terminal where , as you pass through the security gate , a young lady hands you a wad of leaflets some of which offer you free gifts or extra discounts , and then you're at the 1st selection of shops , selling everything you didn't realise you needed in your life along with a selection water taxis to take you across to the main town of Phillipsburgh which , according to the ship info was about a 30 min walk . Wanting to make the most of the weather I opted to walk and headed out of the port , through the array of taxis and mini buses , turned left and settled in to a steady pace along with a dozen or so others . Maybe 10 mins latter I turned off the pavement and found myself on Front Street , the main shopping area in Phillipsburg and given that it was still not 9 am it was relatively quiet .There had been 2 other ships in port when we berthed and 2 more had been visible across the ocean , given that each carried an average 3000 passengers it was more than likely going to get very busy . The 1st area you walk through is like a typically European town square , cafes to the left with tables & chairs under palm trees for shade and small wooden huts (for want of a better word )to the right all being opened up with brightly colored dresses , scarves , local crafts and jewellery being laid out to tempt the hoardes of tourists . I turned up a narrow side street which had little shops all displaying yet more local wares , dresses , hats , sarongs and keepsakes , lining the narrow pathway which leads me to the main shopping street
. Now, let me just confirm,in case you are in any doubt , this place has but one purpose and that is to severely dent your bank balance ! The street is just wide enough for 1 vehicle and has a narrow pavement on each side , a lot of the buildings are painted in the customary bright colors , every 2nd store seems to be a jewellery shop and all the stores have signage stating "the best place to buy on the island" & "duty and tax free ,cheapest deals anywhere " and on top of that a fair number of stores have someone outside thrusting leaflets in to your hand and urging you to go in and look around . I window shop initially then temptation gets the better of me and I drift in to several jewellery stores , immediately a staff member will greet you and enquire if you're looking for anything particular . I didn't think they'd appreciate me saying "something cheap" so I stuck to responding with "just looking" . I did actually want a Larimar Ring but couldn't find one in the style I liked but it was touch and go when I spotted Oyster Pearls and Australian Emeralds.....holy crap this is a dangerous place to be if you lack will power , have a penchant for all things shiny and sparkly and have a credit card in your pocket ! The souvenir shops are just as tempting so I nip in to a Liquor store thinking they're a safer option , looking for miniature bottles of spiced rum and almost immediatley regret that decision as alcohol does indeed seem cheaper here . I force myself to carry on along the street , refusing to get my credit card out ( quite proud of that given how much i like spending money) and I make it to the otherside where I see the salt pond which was the only other item on my To See list today.
To reach the Salt Pond I have to cross what appears to be the main road , 2 lanes in both directions and not a pedestrian crossing zone anywhere that I could see and it's clearly rush hour . I spot a gap in the traffic to my right , take a chance and make it to the middle and am pleasantly surprised as a local driver stops and lets me cross to the other side ,so polite of them . I cross a large dirt carpark , climb over a small embankment on to a dirt track and start looking for a route down to the waters edge . The lake is framed by a large mountain range and has industrial looking areas along the left and right sides with more residential looking buildings directly across from where I'm stood . I have in mind to do a long exposure but need some foreground interest which sadly , having walked about 1/2 way round , I fail to find , in fact its almost impossible to get to the edge of the water as it's ringed with large green bushes and no clear paths & given how I get bitten so easily I didn't fancy walking through them . I do manage to find a small gap , not ideal as no rocks or stumps in the water to lead your eye in but fire off a couple of record shots anyway before attempting some shots of the birds flying overhead and I then spend 10 mins chasing butterflies but fail to get a decent shot . I gave up with the birds in flight as I had the landscape lens on but I did manage a shot of a large bird perched at the waters edge ....some kind of Stork maybe ?
I head back across the still busy main road and down on to Front Street again to find the place has been swamped with cruise goers , it was absolutely heaving , barely space to breathe , folk jostling for the best view of the shop windows and crowding in to shops that really weren't intended for more than 2 customers at a time . I battle my way along until I come to the Guavaberry Emporium where I nip in and ask for a taste of what looks like a slush puppy . I'd been told that Guavaberry was a Must Try and boy were they right , fruity without being too sweet and a bit of a kick , yup , I could happily drink that all day long but at $7 a glass I just had the taster . Refreshed , I carried on through the street resisting temptations all around me and headed back toward to the port to get a taxi out to Maho Beach .
The ride to Maho took about 30 mins along the twisty hilly coast road which in places afforded us stunning veiws out across the many beaches and bays below . I wasn't sure what I'd been expecting from Maho Beach but in my mind it was definitely large than the reality . You drive just past the end of the air port and turn left which puts the beach on your right and the airport on your left , drive approx 500 yrds where you see a bar on your right and into a car park rammed with taxis and tour buses . I walk up in to the bar area , its open plan built from wood , a small pool in the centre and no windows , just an open balcony running all the way round where folk sit on bar stools looking out over the ocean ,very Caribbean style . I make my way though the crowds to the beach area which at a guess is maybe 100ftwide , difficult to be sure as every available inch has a sun lounger or towel on it , and in front of me is a sea of parasols as far as the eye can see , its absolutely rammed . The only place I can see to stand is on the end of the low wall that runs the length of the road so I duly park my butt and start waiting .
It's an International airport but it has a very very short runway so when planes come in to land they need to be on the ground at the very start of it which means they come in over the beach low , very low , so low in fact you can almost reach up and touch them and this was what folk came to see . The bar has a surf board with all the flight times on it for that day & it seems to be smaller planes in the morning with the charter flights in the afternoon . The1st plane I see is a small possibly 2 seater affair ( i don't know , much about planes) ,you can tell when a plane is approaching as the noise level from the bar and beach drops .3 other similar type planes follow over the next hour and then the 1st charter plane comes in....Air America I think it was and OMG, what a noise and what a sight ! Planes seem to be coming in around every 15 minutes so I hang about for the next one , then the next one ....this is in danger of becoming addictive !
About 3.30pm I drag myself away , find a taxi and head back in to town where I avoid the shops and take a stroll along the front , the bars are still full and the beach is still crowded with sun loungers and parasols . Cruise ships equal happy times for local businesses as tourism is the main source of income for the Island . This Island is one of the , if not the only , dual nationality Islands in the world . The South of the Island is Dutch and the North is French with the border being marked by a simple obliesk . The French part uses the Euro though accepts dollars and speaks mainly French but also Dutch , English and Spanish , the Dutch side uses Dollars and speaks Dutch primarily with English , French , Spanish and a local creole thrown in for good measure . History has us belive that one night a drunk dutchman and equally drunk frenchman decided to walk around the island with the area they covered becoming theirs . The Frenchman covered a greater distance to the North but the Dutchman covered a more important area to the South ( port access ) so the island was split approx 60% to France , 40% to the Netherlands and they have lived in hamony for some 300 years now . I would have liked to visit the Northern area but neither time nor funds would allow . I made my way back to the port ready for sailing at 5pm , showered and went for dinner in the Meridian around 8pm.....and yup , you guessed it , seafood again .
Sea Day - day 12
Thursday was the final sea day and I set about topping up my red bits again though it was a losing battle with my legs which were slowly losing the redness and reverting to white ! The day passed without notice baring booking the Barbados Mystery Tour for the Friday . I'd overspent badly enough that another £30 wasn't going to make much difference ! I really wanted to do the Barbados Photography tour but due to my airport transfer time it wasn't possible & P&O were being very inflexible about that ! As we were going to be transfered directly from the ship to the plane we had to complete all the immigration paperwork whilst still on board & then attend an Immigration interview on the ship in the morning .
Barbados - day 13
Friday morning saw me on deck at about 6.10am for my regular walk about then I whizzed down to deck 7 to queue for the immigration process.This was to enable us to be taken straight from the ship to airport security and our bags to be collected from the ship on friday evening , put on the plane to magically appear (hopefully) at Manchester airport . Immigration took 5mins and I whizzed back up to deck 16 for a quick breakfast before rushing downstairs to deck 4 and the gangway for 8.30am to join the tour .
The gangway lead to the usual array of duty free and souvenir shops so I browsed as I had 15 mins to kill then hopped on the bus and I was off on the Mystery Tour with 12 fellow passengers . I had no idea what to expect but it actually turned out to be pretty dam good , the only thing that would have been better was a few more photo stops . We set off in a Southerly direction with the 1st stop being at Grantley Adams Airport for a comfort stop which struck me as a little odd....I can't imagine Heathrow or Gatwick allowing bus loads of tourists to use the facilities when they were'nt taking a flight ! Barbados is split in to 11 Parishes & we were heading to the beach at Martin's Bay which meant taking a cross country route through small towns & villages , the guide chattering away in a very heavy accent and repeating everything 3 times which was driving me insane !
We stopped at Codrington Theological College in the parish of St John , an old imposing building reached by a long straight avenue lined on either side with tall palm trees and a small lake just before the entrance and a raft of ducks waddling over to the tourists in keen hope of getting fed . The centre was a series of arches which linked the building on to both sides and on walking through the the arches you are greeted by a stunning view across the perfect green lawn to the Caribbean ocean . An incredible place to continue your education .
We had approx 20 mins to wander around the tranquil gardens then it was back on the coach to the main attraction of Martins Bay also in the parish of St John and reached by negotiating some very narrow and very very steep roads just wide enough for 1 vehicle . We made 1 more stop on the way , Ragged Point Lighthouse with superb views across the ocean , an abundance of Aloe plants , Australian Willow Trees with their soft greenery and some rather interesting spiders . Our guide informed us that Barbados does not have any dangerous insects or creatures but I still wouldn't fancy finding one of these spiders in my house !
We also passed numerous Chattell houses which are essentially the original mobile homes . In the days of slavery the Master could at any time demand his slave moved on ( if he'd upset or done wrong by the master) at which point the slave would literally pack up his home and set off to find another piece of land to settle on . There are also numerous church's of many denominations though there are 3 main religions in Barbados - Christianity , Anglicanism & 7th Day Adventists - one will be the main parish church and others were built so residents didn't have far to walk to a church .
Phone pics of Chattel houses taken from the bus
We made one more steep descent to Martins Bay and what a place. As we turned in to the carpark at the Bay Inn I could see a small beach area through the palm trees ahead of us and couldn't wait to get out of the bus however , 1st we took a walk in to Bay Bar for a glass of the local Rum Punch , ice cold and quite potent ! I took my glass and headed down to the beach , soft golden sand with palm trees dotted along the edge , hiding the few houses that looked out across the sea and a few rocks covered in vibrant green seaweed leading down to the water . Trying not to rush I set up the tripod (we only had 40 mins) , framed my 1st shot and promptly dropped the release cable in a pool of seawater . It wasn't happy at all and from there on long exposures became a battle , intermittently it would work ok but more often than not it released the shutter around the 20 sec mark , no good at all when using the Lee 10 stop ! I persevered and came away with a couple of images I was happy with and got in to trouble with the bus driver for being late back on board....I could cheerfully have stayed there all day watching the clear blue water lapping over the goldy sand & drinking the Rum punch :-)
The journey back to the port took a little over 30 mins through small villages with more chattel houses , past some bigger houses all of which were painted in the bright colors that are customary in the Caribbean and in to the town where I spotted a boardwalk running alongside the beach which looked perfect for a photo . On arrival at the ship I grabbed a seafood salad in the restaurant , put my flip flops on and headed off to the nearby Carlisle Bay to see if I could find the boardwalk again . Carlisle Bay was thronged with tourists , some in the water , some soaking up the rays , others out on boats and jet-skis with sun loungers & parasols laid out in rows 5 deep over at least 3/4's of the sand . I headed past the loungers walking right at the waters edge where the odd wave caught me out & I got soaked but it was warm water & the intense sun dried me within a few minutes . I headed on toward a pier on Brownes beach which I'd hope to walk under and continue my journey to the boardwalk but there was no way through so I stopped at the beach bar and asked a local for directions . It was about another hours walk and I really didn't fancy being out after dark on my own in this area as although the large hotels and resorts at the waters edge seemed quite safe the other side of the road appeared a little less appealing . I settled instead for sitting on a lounger and watching the world go by for 1/2 an hour , making the most of my last day in the sun as , although the trip hadn't been quite as I imagined , I was enjoying the endless sunshine & good food and really didn't want to head back to a gloomy UK .
I made it back to the port just as dusk started to fall & the sky had all the makings of a good sunset , the palm tree lined path and rocky breakwater looked to offer something of foreground interest and a couple of ships on the horizon would make perfect silhouettes . As we weren't sailing tonight it didn't really matter how late I arrived back on board so I was going to make the most of this last sunset . The sun was setting in front of me & the whole sky turned the most peculiar color I have ever seen , sort of dusky pink /purple , a kind of haze I guess . The sun was rapidly heading toward the horizon when one of the ships I'd spotted , a large tanker , changed course and slowly but surely moved across the sun so I missed actually seeing it dip below the horizon....frustrated doesn't even begin to describe it ! Sunset lasted about 45 mins & I snapped away like a mad woman , determined not to miss any angle ! When the last of the color faded away I headed back in to the port toward to the ship looking forward to a last sumptuous evening meal , pleased with a few shots & happy that the sun had treated me to a great last night . As I walked toward the ship I spotted a couple of last photo opportunities that I couldn't resist , last night blues were starting to kick in......plus I really wasn't look forward to having to pack !
Cases need to be left outside your cabin so the next 2hours saw me packing , unpacking & re packing , trying to cram everything in with little success so I jettisoned a few pairs of shorts , my wedge shoes & deck shoes then sat on the case to zip it up ! I'd left out my bikini and a sarong with flipflops for the morning along with a toothbrush & toothpaste plus travel home clothes , it was a strange feeling knowing my case would next be seen in Manchester tomorrow morning....at least that was the hope .
Dinner was another seafood extravaganza with a medley of Prawns , octopus , mussels & crab to start followed by Mahi Mahi with local vegetables and finished with a tropical fruit meringue.......I am so going to miss this food , baked beans on toast just won't cut it any more . As it was the last night of the cruise all the chefs and kitchen staff ( the ship has some 130 chefs)came out in to the restaurant to the applause of all the diners , its something of a tradition on P&O cruise's apparently .
Barbados - final day
I woke at 6.30 on the last morning , did my usual little wander round the deck , grabbbed my last breakfast then checked out of my cabin and bagged a sun lounger to catch a few last rays . The bus to the airport was due at 12:45 so I had 4 hours to fill and given I only had a tankini and sarong or Jeans and a sweater I figured sun bathing was the best the option . The heavens opened at 11:30 , a typically short Caribbean downpour , 2 mins and the sun was out again but I decided to head down to the luggage store , collect my travel clothes and get changed in readiness for the coach which duly arrived 15 mins late though given that some flights had been delayed by 6 hours I wasn't complaining . Grantley Adams airport was a breeze & because we'd gone through immigration the previous morning we simply had to show our boarding cards at the entrance then we were in , no baggage check or security check , which was a relief as my rucksack weighed in at considerably more than the permitted allowance . I did a little last minute trinkett shopping , joined the queue at boarding gate 14 and at 17:30 we boarded the plane...this was some 90 minutes late due apparently to the airport not being able to cope with the volume of passengers .
And so my trip was over , I was heading back to Manchester in winter conditions & I was so not looking forward to it ! This trip had been the holiday of a lifetime , a chance to experience many different places and get a suntan in the process . Not my usual holiday and not something I'd do again mainly because there's not enough time on each island BUT I did enjoy the whole cruise experience and have seen some wonderful places I'd love to revisit and spend more time at . But for now I'll have to settle for editing the photos from this trip and planning next years holiday.......