Wednesday, April 18, 2018

You Went Where???

Our visit to Grand Cayman was the only port where we used tenders between the ship and the dock. We didn't have any specific excursion booked for this stop. Our plan was to use the local bus, aka shared taxi, system. The onboard port expert insisted that we would need Cayman Island dollars to pay the fares so we made a stop at an ATM first. Turns out they would have accepted US Dollars as well.

Fares are fixed as are the routes. $2 Cayman or $2.50 US each direction would take us to the end of the line for either Route 1 or Route 2.

Our first destination of the day was the town of Hell. It's a little enclave but sports its own Post Office which is rather big busines given the name. There were three geocaches within about 100 yards.

For 25 cent Cayman we could sent a post card, so a few people got post cards although I was shocked to realize the number of people whose addresses were not in my phone.

The area got its name from this small area of eroded limestone that supposedly looks like frozen flames. It looked sharp to me!



The residents seemed as conflicted as we were.

As we left there, I noticed this sign. Some people might see a connection.

After visiting the three geocaches in Hell, we walked a short mile to the area near the Cayman Turtle Center where we completed the requirements of three more caches.

Another bus ride back to town took us past a long row of resorts before dropping us at the bus terminal about a block from the minimal remains of Fort George.

A couple more geocaches, a nice lunch overlooking the beach, a bit of shopping for BJ, and it suddenly was time to raise anchor for the (first &) last time for this trip.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Aruba

Both Aruba and Curacao are constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and they're very close to one another, but I found them to have a very different feel. Aruba was much smaller and more inundated with tourists. We joined the flow, taking a guided tour around the island. This was the best photo I got of the Aruba sign!

Aruba (and Curacao) are much drier than the islands located further east. They get more rain than Phoenix, but not significantly more.

Aruba is located just 14 miles off the coast of Venezuela. There is a lot of trade with Venezuela, especially with the fishermen.

Much of the western side of the island was shoulder to shoulder resorts on the beautiful beaches, backed by lots of international name brand shops.
Our tour started by heading out of town the other direction, towards Casibari Rocks. These LARGE rocks almost seem like glacial erratics, seemingly appearing out of nowhere. There seems to be a couple theories to explain their existence.

The rocks, as viewed from the top of the largest rock, seem to be constrained to a relatively small area.

Some of them are more obviously wind shaped, taking on some unique forms.

From there, our bus (and many others) went to Natural Bridges.The 'real' natural bridge fell down over 10 years ago but there's still a 'baby bridge' to see.

The site draws bus tours, Land Rover tours, and ATV tours to watch the waves and see the bridge.

Apparently the 'real' bridge reached over 20 feet above the water and spanned 100 feet. The baby bridge is smaller and lower. As a spoiled southwest desert rat, I was impressed with their marketing skills.

Our tour continued with a semi-submersible, aka Disney style submarine. They had a fair amount of wind and as a result the water was murky.

The highlight of the boat part of the tour (at least for me) was the story of the Antilla. This 400 ft. German registered ship was intentionally scuttled at the beginning of WWII. The Antilla crew spend the majority of WWII interned in Jamaica. The ship lays in about 60 feet of water and is a popular dive site.

The last stop on our four hour tour of Aruba was California. More specifically, the California lighthouse. This lighthouse was named for the steamship California, which wrecked on the nearby shoals in 1891. The lighthouse is no longer functional except as a tourist attraction.

Perhaps if we'd gone exploring on our own I would feel different, but Aruba was the biggest disappointment to me. It's arguably the most well known Caribbean island, but left me without any interest in returning. Curacao, on the other hand, is pulling me back.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Best Surprise

It was still very dark when the Pilot boat approached us outside of Curacao, and the swells were such that he was occasionally taking waves over his bow. We were making our approach earlier than normal, hoping to beat the wind that would add to the challenge of threading the Rotterdam through the narrow channel of St. Anna Bay to Schottegat Bay where we would turn around.

But to get there, we first needed to pass through the Queen Emma floating bridge that was originally built in 1888 and under the Queen Juliana bridge.

Both Curacao and Aruba have these massive signs, just in case you forgot where you are. It was impossible to get a picture without people.

The beauty of Willemstad were the old buildings, painted in all sorts of pleasing colors. These buildings date back to the 18th and early 19th century.

Occasionally you would see one that had not been restored, but most of them had been reinforced so that the walls would continue to stand until a building owner could come up with funding for restoration.

We were told that these buildings had once served as warehouses for trade between South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. They now serve as homes, shops, and restaurants.

As we wandered a bit further from the core of the original development, we started finding small boutique hotels, dive shops, and hidden restaurants and bars. It reminded us in many ways of Bali.

This little place caught our eye, not only because of the ambiance, but also because of the chalkboard on the BACK of the restaurant's sign. Unfortunately, we weren't there on a Sunday, but it did seem like a wonderful excuse to go back again.

The Queen Emma bridge intrigued me. The locals refer to it as The Swinging Old Lady which I could understand. The other end is attached to the far shore. There are a series of floats that look like boat hulls to hold it up. The hull nearest this end is fitted with two engines and propellers to power the bridge open or closed.

When it was originally built, it was a toll bridge. The toll was only charged to people wearing shoes since it was assumed they could afford the toll. Turns out the rich would take off their shoes to save some money while the poor would wear shoes to prove they weren't that poor!

There were once fortresses on both sides of the entrance. The stone remains, but they're now home to shops and other commercial establishments.

I didn't know what to expect of Curacao, but found delightful surprises around each corner. This is a place that needs some serious exploration!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Visiting the Brits, Sorta

Once again, I was up to watch the sunrise as we approached St. John's on the island of Antigua in the country of Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda are a member of the Commonwealth. Antigua and Barbuda sounds like it should just consist of two islands, but there are other islands as well, it's just that A & B are the most populated. Barbuda was declared "barely habitable" following Hurricane Irma last September.

In the 1700's Antigua was a base for British ships (some might call them pirates, depending on your point of view) and most of the harbor entrances still have visible fortifications. As always, you can click on a picture to get a larger version. In the bigger picture, remains of Fort Barrington are obvious.

We'd planned to go zip-lining while we were here, but the cruise line cancelled since we were the only two that signed up. Plan B was to take a quick walk about town, visiting three locations with Earth caches, and then see what else we could do.

As we left the dock, one of the many taxi drivers selling island tours caught our eye. We told him we'd chat more if he was still there when we got back.

One of the earth caches was associated with the large (and old) Anglican church that was visible as we approached town. The church is currently undergoing restoration.

I found the graveyard to be more interesting. There were a lot of old graves. This was the oldest grave, dated 1692. Other graves were much newer, including at least one from the past year. It's not very often we find places with this sort of history in continuous use.

Most of the town streets were lime cobblestone but a few had been paved with asphalt. Sidewalks were narrow and busy.

As we returned to the dock area, we spotted Eldon, the taxi driver we'd talked with earlier. He was easy to spot since he was the tallest guy around.

He'd rounded up some others that were interested and within a few minutes the seven of us were loaded up and ready to roam the rest of his island.

Perhaps the most interesting highlight of the tour was this viewpoint overlooking Nelson's Dockyard at English Harbor. This compact, easily defensible harbor was home to Lord Nelson for several years in the late 1700s.

Antigua claims to have 365 beaches, one for each day. The compact island was once home to sugar plantations, but now depends on tourism as their primary industry. The government even has a process encouraging expats to settle and build on the island. Citizenship is an option if you make adequate investment and meet the other 'good guy' requirements.

We decided against settling in Antigua and continued our voyage of discovery. I was disappointed to see that we were landing at the cargo terminal in Saint Lucia instead of at the cruise terminal. There was a geocache at the cruise terminal and I was on a quest to find at least one in each country we visited. Saint Lucia is also a Commonwealth country.

As we were tying up, the Britannia, flagship of the P&O Line, arrived at the cruise terminal. This was one of those times where bigger (3x bigger) was better since they got to claim the cruise berth because of their greater draft, or maybe it was because of the flag they fly.

We were scheduled for an island tour that included a Segway segment, but it didn't start for a couple hours so we headed out to walk around the bay. It was early enough that it was still relatively quiet but the farmer's market was open for business.

As was typically the case, our Captain did his maneuvering on approach to the dock so that we could depart straight out at the end of the day.

The walk around the bay was interesting. Since it was a Sunday morning, the small boat Fisherman's terminal was quiet and provided us a shortcut.

The cruise terminal had a series of small shops that were open so BJ was able to get a Saint Lucia magnet to adorn our cabin door, adding to the growing collection. I was able to get a 'smiley' on the geocaching map for my collection and she was able to keep her Fitbit happy. Spoiler alert - the cache is at the base of the old steel tie-off in the front LH corner of the picture.

BJ and I did a Segway tour 'behind the scenes' at Disneyland a few years ago so it didn't take any practice to pass our driving test.

We even got comfortable enough that we could drive it hands free.

We left port in Castries a little earlier than normal so that we could sail Soufriere Bay before sunset. The Pitons are volcanic plugs that are now a World Heritage site and we had a beautiful evening to view them.