Pirates of the Caribbean 2-5

27.12.2022 Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

H was busy so it was just me going ashore. I didn’t go far though. Just a walk through the town again. I still can’t find anything good to say about the place.

28.12.2022 Colón, Panama

This time we had an explore. We hired a taxi to take us to Panama City and back. H usually does the negotiating in these circumstances as I tend to walk away if I don’t like the price, but H prefers to argue until they offer something better. The drive there was mostly through misty rainforest, but we stopped for a quick look at the Miraflores locks and then over the Bridge of the Americas to Cocoli where the new Pacific-side locks were recently built. The security guards there wouldn’t let us get anywhere near or take any photos for some odd reason. We went on to Panama City. I remember little of the place from the last time I was there as it was in a party bus with an open bar. This time we went to the old part of town around Independence Square and strolled to the Panama Canal Monument. I bought a new Panama hat for the walk. This area is very pleasant with old Spanish Colonial buildings that are dripping with flowering plants.

On the drive back we stopped at the Gatun locks and then on to the visitor centre for the Agua Clara locks. These are the new locks on the Atlantic side. There is a viewing point where you can take as many photos as you want which makes the restrictions at Cocoli seem even more pointless. On the way back to the ship in Colon we stopped at the duty-free Zona Libre shopping area. This area is almost a city itself with block after block of outlet shops for electronics, sportswear, shoes etc. We detected no bargains here, so my guess is the prices are as for normal shops and the retailer pockets the tax savings.

29.12.2022 Cartagena, Colombia

We took a taxi into town and waded through the old historic centre brushing off the street vendors. They are very persistent hereabouts and seem to outnumber the tourists. We had lunch in Sophia Rooftop restaurant then took a taxi back to the ship. At the cruise terminal they have a lot of parrots, peacocks and flamingos wandering free and squawking at the passengers.

31.12.2022 La Romana, Dominican Republic

Using Google Maps, I found a nice-looking beach a short distance from the port, and we set off there with beach bag for a swim, but the taxi drivers said all nearby beaches had gone private recently and could no longer be visited. As the only accessible beaches were some distance away, we ended up just walking to a pizza restaurant for lunch instead.

Midnight was at sea for us with the ship being dynamically positioned off the coast of La Romana. H and I brought in the New Year on the bridge with the officers there. The bridge was in darkness, as is normal to maintain night vision, with only small flashes of coloured lights from the navigation instruments and screens. We toasted with prosecco and watched the New Year firework displays going off along miles of the Dominican Republic coastline. Later, at the pool-deck party, I found some medicinal “berliner” jam-filled doughnuts, the traditional NYE fare in Germany. Happy New Year to all.

02.01.2023 St John’s, Antigua

I walked through the mean streets of St.John’s and out towards the Fort James Beach and Fort James. The beach was perfect sand and palm trees and almost deserted with just a few natives frolicking in the waves. Fort James is the ruin of a British fort built in the early 18th century. Most of the buildings are in need of some repair work but there are many 24-pounder cannons, still on the walls, that once protected St.John’s harbour from the unspeakable French.

03.01.2023 Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis

I took a shared taxi to Frigate Bay and had a swim. There were some beach restaurant shacks there and I gravitated to one with Indian food for some reason. There were many other diners of British extraction there that were mostly from the English-speaking cruise ships in port. AIDAbella, a ship we travelled on for a while, was also in port which added a lot of Germans to the island mix. The distinctive white and yellow beach towels, firmly attached to beach chairs with clothes pegs, were everywhere on the beach. Before departure there was a massive party on the pier between the two AIDA ships with gallons of rum punch and steel drums. After departure we had a movie and sushi night in the captain’s rooms. The movie was Robert Redford’s “All is Lost” about a small yacht sinking. More of a training video than entertainment for this group.

04.01.2023 Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

There were a lot of cruise ships in port besides us, including Wonder of the Sea, MSC Seaside, Viking Sea and Sky Princess. It’s hard to imagine how these small islands cope with such a large number of people suddenly turning up. There are only so many small monkeys for photographs available.

05.01.2023 Tortola, British Virgin Island

We rented a car at the cruise terminal for officers, Nick and Kristina, as a joint birthday gift. As a last-minute thought we also got a car for ourselves to explore Tortola. From Road Town we headed down the coast road going west on the fabulously named Sir Francis Drake Highway. This is a type of road that would have been familiar to Sir Francis himself, but modern SUV rental cars struggle with the narrow lanes, very steep slopes, massive sleeping-policemen, and even more massive potholes. We got to the marina at Frenchman’s Cay then headed north to Smuggler’s Cove over even worse roads. As we arrived, we met Nick and Kristina who reported sightings of many AIDA beach towels, so we drove on to Long Bay Beach and had a short swim. The water was very cold. We returned over the mountains to the ironically named Road Town and further west to Brandywine Bay where we stumbled on a restaurant overlooking the bay at the Brandywine Estate. The restaurant was empty apart from us and the food was excellent. I stuffed my face with a large grilled lobster. It was a heavy day for food as we were also at a big steak dinner for officers that evening to mark the changeover of captains.   

06.01.2023 Samana, Dominican Republic

Today is 12th Night so the end of Christmastide, apparently. I only know it as a Shakespeare play I read at school. Samana is a big place for watching humpback whales although early January is a little before the season starts. I took the long tender-boat ride into town intending to visit the whale museum, but I ran out of time and had to return without seeing it as there was to be a birthday party for Nick’s actual birthday. The museum can wait and next time I’m here should be the actual whale peeping season.

08.01.2023 Montego Bay, Jamaica

We took a walk to a supermarket near the cruise terminal. Anybody attempting to walk here attracts swarms of very persistent, shouty taxi drivers that don’t understand No. Every’Tings Irie in Jamaica! We were looking for protein shake powder as H currently thinks this is an antidote to eating too much.  We were also looking for coffee capsules for my caffeine fix and we were also commissioned to get some unsalted cashews. We didn’t have a lot of success with this modest shopping list as, well, it’s Jamaica. On the walk back we stopped off at The House Boat Grill, a floating restaurant anchored in Montego Bay with a tiny little ferry to go the few metres from the shore. We had some drinks and some soup and salad. It looked like a nice place and might be worth a visit sometime for dinner. Ya Mon.

10.01.2023 Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

11.01.2023 Colón, Panama

12.01.2023 Cartagena, Colombia

14.01.2023 La Romana, Dominican Republic

Walked to the Jumbo supermarket. Bought some coffee capsules. Bought some underpants which strangely became two sizes too small on the walk back. Must not have been paying attention.

16.01.2023 St John’s, Antigua

17.01.2023 Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis

H and I took a taxi to the Park Hyatt St Kitts at Christophe Harbour at the south end of the island. The taxi driver was called Adonis who was obviously a die-hard Bob Marley fan and could easily have been off his head on something judging by the loud hands-off-wheel Reggae singing and gratuitous car-horn tooting we had along the way. The Park Hyatt was very nice with a pool and private beach. We had lunch and a snorkel and a ride back with Adonis.

18.01.2023 Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

There were six very large cruise ships in port so you can imagine what stresses this puts on the infrastructure of a small town. H needed to go to the dentist and never did get her transfer taxi back to the ship.

19.01.2023 Tortola, British Virgin Island

We walked to Pusser’s, a restaurant not far from the pier, and had drinkypoo’s, some chicken wings and shrimps. It was disturbing to eat chicken with actual chickens clucking under the table. I bought some Pusser’s Rum on the way back to the ship. This rum has some association with the British Royal Navy. At least there is a white ensign on the label. This one was 54.5% alcohol and described as “Gunpowder Proof”. Something to do with testing it with gunpowder to see if it had been watered down by the Ship’s Purser or “Pusser”. H manages the Purser on our ship, but cruise ships have other departments responsible for the watering down of grog.

20.01.2023 Samana, Dominican Republic

I declined a whale watching trip on a boat tied up alongside the ship, thinking they may not see much being so early in the season. I might have been wrong with that. Instead, we took a tender boat ashore and walked to the whale museum in Samana, expecting to at least see some interesting whale bones but the museum was naturally closed for refurbishment. We did have a nice lunch though in the Santa Bahia Kitchen & Bar and a walk along the Malecon waterfront but not a great stop overall.

22.01.2023 Montego Bay, Jamaica

We ran the usual gauntlet of aggressive taxi drivers outside the cruise terminal and turned right to take a look at the bay peninsular which we knew had a few all-inclusive resorts on it. Security is fairly tight at these places, and even H couldn’t blag her way in, but we ended up having lunch at the Marina Palms Restaurant at Montego Bay Yacht Club which is not as swanky as you might think! Next time we will have to go further east on the coast and find a resort that will let us in for the day with maybe a day pass.

24.01.2023 Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

25.01.2023 Colón, Panama

H went to Shelter Bay Marina by taxi

26.01.2023 Cartagena, Colombia

Parrots and giant anteaters

28.01.2023 La Romana, Dominican Republic

Shopping for luggage and batteries in Jumbo supermarket

30.01.2023 St John’s, Antigua

Negotiated $80 for four hours in a taxi and went to Nelson’s Dockyard at English Harbour. Looked in the museum and had lunch at the Admiral’s Inn. We wanted to look at a beach or two on the way back, but the taxi driver decided he wanted to improve his earnings even though we were well under the four hours including the waiting time. Lots of shouting and cursing followed including a visit to the local police station. The amused desk sergeant seemed a bit sympathetic but was not really helpful. The crazy taxi driver attempted to strand us at English Harbour by telling every taxi driver in the area that we owed him some unspecified sum of money and they shouldn’t take us. This naturally made the natives restless. We hitched a ride back to the ship with some Canadians who turned out to be fellow boating people.

31.01.2023 Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis

We tried to find our driver Adonis of last time we were here, but he couldn’t be located. Instead, we talked to a Rastafarian called Einstein with a tourist truck and negotiated a trip to Belle Mont Farm Resort in the far northwest of St Kitts. H had been there before. We had lunch next to the pool with a great view of Sint Eustatius Island which is part of the Caribbean Netherlands. H had a swim in the very lovely pool. You apparently needed a day pass for that, but H doesn’t care about such niceties unless bodily thrown out.

01.02.2023 Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

Stayed aboard resting. We will have a couple of days of real vacation here soon, so nothing wasted.

02.02.2023 Tortola, British Virgin Island

We took a catamaran trip from Road Town, Tortola to Devil’s Bay and The Baths at Virgin Gorda Island. An interesting place. The catamaran anchored off the beach and everyone snorkelled ashore. The Baths are an exhumed granitic intrusion that has broken up by weathering into a jumble of giant granite boulders combined with a perfect sandy beach. As we had to snorkel ashore, I had to leave my phone on the boat, cursing that I forgot my underwater camera, so there are only limited pictures of the place but the pathway with wooden ladders between the overhanging and perched boulders is spectacular. After a fresh coconut with rum at a beachside stall H and I had a bit more snorkelling and then a swim back to the boat and then back to the big ship. AIDAdiva, a sister ship, was parked up next to us in Road Town.

03.02.2023 Samana, Dominican Republic

Call me Ishmael. I went on a whale-watching trip in Samana Bay. Unusually, at this location, tourist boats here take on passengers from a floating platform tied up alongside anchored cruise ships. She blows! There were plenty of humpback whales to be seen when one could get a view over the heads of other bobbing tourists. On reflection, the noise from the engines and propellors of the tourist boats pursuing the whales must be deafening for them. Presumably they would like to be left alone when doing a bit of breeding. I hope the tourist boats can find a way to keep the noise down in the future. Maybe by making electric motors a condition for a licence to operate. Maybe not.  

05.02.2023 Montego Bay, Jamaica

We wanted to go to Half Moon Bay Resort for lunch and a bit of seaside time. First we had to find a taxi which was becoming an increasingly irritating exercise. The first offer was $100 but this came down to $10 as we walked on. Half Moon is a very nice resort we had lunch, lobster roll and rum punch for me, and a swim in the sea and in the pool. I’m not sure if a day pass was needed or not but the lunch was expensive enough.  

07.02.2023 Puerto Limon, Costa Rica

Just a quick walk into town to a pharmacy to start to fill our boat’s medical kit for our upcoming long sailing trips where we might be weeks away from help. Getting antibiotics, analgesics, and other stuff in the EU for possible problems in the future is very difficult. Getting counterfeit medication is less likely.

08.02.2023 Colón, Panama

Another dash to Panama City to check out some marinas there. We went firstly to Ocean Reef Island Marina and found it nearly impossible to get through security. It turned out to be ridiculously expensive and there was not a single sailing boat there. A call to Flamenco Island Marina, where I been before, was also very expensive. I settled for a look at the Panama Canal Museum and H did something else.

09.02.2023 Cartagena, Colombia

I was feeling under the weather and stayed aboard. H went into town spending money.

11.02.2023 La Romana, Dominican Republic

We taxied to Altos de Chavon which is not far from La Romana. An odd place. It is billed as a replica of a Spanish village, but it is no such thing. The architecture is very Gaudi-esque with organic-looking brickwork and stone walls. It’s main feature is a large amphitheatre. Rod Stewart, yes, THE Rod Steward, happened to be performing there that very evening. The tickets were eye-wateringly expensive. We had lunch overlooking the Chavon River.

13.02.2023 St John’s, Antigua

The day started with a tragedy. When I was going down the gangway, the wind caught my expensive Panama hat from Panama, and blew it into the water where it drifted away and slowly sank. According to regulations, it had to be reported as a full-blown Environmental Incident and the news was flashed around the world.

After sidestepping some of the usual rip-off taxi offers, we found a pleasant older chap called Samuel who took us on a trip to some beaches for a half-day. We drove to the east of the island to Long Bay which had perfect sand and sea but was too crowded for us. Then on to Half Moon Bay which also had perfect sand, but the only beach restaurant just had a busload of tourists arrive and it would have been a big wait for food. Then onwards to Darkwood Beach. The landscape of Antigua is hilly but neither thick jungle nor much cultivated and all looks a bit abandoned, which it probably mostly is following independence and the collapse of the sugar industry. The island housing is nothing special and most villages are a handful of poor tumbledown wood shacks. At Darkwood we had a snorkel and a lunch of jerk chicken and rum punch in a beach shack restaurant with a view of the island of Montserrat in the distance.

14.02.2023 Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis

St Valentine’s Day. We stayed on the ship.

15.-17.02.2023 Philipsburg, Sint Maarten

We finally left the ship, rented a car at the airport, and moved into a rented villa high on a hillside above Little Bay. It was a quirky house with strange artwork and bathroom fittings made to look like natural rock and slightly reminiscent of artificial climbing walls. The patio was huge with a nice pool overlooking the sea far below and also overlooking a salt pond with diving Brown Pelicans. The garden was on steep terraces and made up of palm trees and flowering bushes with Green-Throated Carib hummingbirds (Dutch: Groenkeelkolibrie) flitting about. We left the on the 17th and after a swim in the surf on a completely empty beach at Little Bay, then a scenic drive to Fort Amsterdam and a picnic at Marigot to use up our remaining groceries, we headed to the airport for long, long, flights to Amsterdam and Cape Town still a bit sandy and salty from the beach as there was no shower at the airport. H was travelling Business and we tried to upgrade me, but the flight was full. H later got downgraded on the first leg to Schiphol on the spurious grounds that the flight was overbooked, and she was travelling alone. So, as I write, pre-departure in Princess Juliana Airport Sint Maarten, I’m expecting to be a bit uncomfortable overnight.