09.12.2022 Manaus to Ocho Rios
We flew out of Manaus to Panama City and on to Montego Bay. We had to have some stern words with the no-name car rental company in Montego Bay who failed to show up as agreed but we eventually got on the road in a battered but working car and headed towards Ocho Rios which was a couple of hours drive along the tatty north coast of Jamaica.
Our hotel for the next two nights was the Jamaica Inn. A stately oasis in a sea of untidiness. An excellent hotel. Our suite was right on the west-facing rocky water’s edge with seabirds looking in at our outdoor sitting room decorated in a Wedgewood blue with white sofas and dark wood furniture. Apparently, Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller stayed in this very place on their honeymoon in 1957.
10.12.2022 Ocho Rios and Port Royal, Jamaica
We took a drive through the Blue Mountains to find the fabled lost pirate kingdom of Port Royal. We were mugged for the first time by the toll-road people who didn’t take cards but would let us pay in US dollars at double the normal exchange rate. The route took us through the city of Kingston. I didn’t have high expectations for the place to begin with but at one point we had to drive in a flooded street created by a big fountain of raw sewage coming from the middle of the road. Expectations were exceeded. We circled around Kingston Harbour and out on to a narrow peninsular leading to Fort Charles and the remaining parts of Port Royal. Port Royal was an infamous nest of pirates, and associated trades, in the 17th century. The city sank beneath the waves following an earthquake in 1692. We were mugged again paying the Fort Charles entrance fee as we had to pay in US dollars and it was a similar extortionate rate to that used by the toll-road.
We rushed back for lunch at our hotel as we were promised juicy Jerk Chicken legs and thighs by the chef. It turned out to be a sliced chicken breast and pork version which was a bit dry for our taste. Maybe it needed more of the Red Stripe and less Pinot Noir Brut to wash it down.
11.12.2022 Ocho Rios to Montego Bay
We breakfasted on our terrace with the Full Jamaican with tropical fruits including ackee which is a tree-fruit which is apparently very poisonous until fully ripe. A sort of blowfish of the plant world. It tastes a bit like scrambled egg.
We checked out of the hotel and drove back to Montego Bay to drop off the car and get a transfer to our next ship, the AIDAluna parked in Montego Bay. The no-name car rental company also had no address that our transfer driver could find on a map, so it slowed us down a bit. We were finally mugged by the Jamaican Customs people who wanted US$35 for a departure tax as we had been in the country for more than one day. Naturally no credit cards and no Jamaican dollars accepted.
We were reinstalled in a nice balcony cabin on the AIDAluna. I’ve never actually been on the AIDAluna before, but the Sphinx-class ship design is very familiar to us. As we spend most of our time on this type of ship these days it was essentially a return home.
13.12.2022 Puerto Limon, Costa Rica
We just had a short walk into town. There was a large market at the port exit selling the kind of tourist tat that even H couldn’t bring herself to buy. There were three large cruise ships in port carrying 8,000 or more passengers, so I guess, statistically, there are always enough souvenir hunters to keep the stallholders in the lap of luxury. Outside the port gates, the town is not the slightest bit touristy and is just messy with scruffy shops catering to local tastes. There is a small park with statues, palm trees and the occasional three-toed sloth but it’s not worth a special trip.
The attraction of the place must be entirely in Puerto Limon’s hinterland of rainforest with it’s ziplining and animal spotting, but we will save this for our next visit.
14.12.2022 Colón, Panama
I’m reasonably familiar with Panama having been through the Canal a couple of times. Colón itself is not a great attraction and street-gangs make it a place to be avoided when wandering on foot and alone. I thought about a group tour to see the Canal and Panama City on the Pacific side but having seen them both before, and not really liking group tours, I decided to stay home instead. I did visit the large duty-free shop in the cruise terminal though. I was mainly looking for a good Panama hat. I used to have one that rolled-up and fitted in a tube, but they only had cheap tourist hats with the word “PANAMA” writ large on the band.
15.12.2022 Cartagena, Colombia
Stayed on the ship and watched the workings of the busy port. I’ve done Cartagena as a tourist before, and H was busy. I will do this again on the next circuit in two weeks’ time.
After departure, I was invited to dinner with the captain and senior officers. The conversation, partly in German, was about women in senior positions in the cruise industry. There were several female officers present including H. One mentioned a well-known American female, Celebrity Cruises captain that travels with a Naked Elf Sphynx cat that has an Instagram following. By the time I had slowly and inexpertly translated to the English, “lady captain shows her hairless pussy on the internet”, the conversation had already moved on.
17.12.2022 La Romana, Dominican Republic
This location seems to be good for beaches, snorkelling and diving but we had a more urgent need to make some purchases in a shopping centre in town to replace worn out clothes and used up toiletries. First impressions are that the place is reasonably civilized. Next time.
The following day was a sea-day and the World Cup Final which I watched on the big screen in the captain’s rooms. There were half-time sausage refreshments in Germanic style.
19.12.2022 St. John’s, Antigua
First impressions are favourable. The natives seem friendly. H and I took a bus trip across the island to a place we could swim with stingrays. There was a boat trip out to a floating platform where we climbed down into chest-deep water with snorkels and masks. The stingrays were abundant enough to knock you off your feet sometimes. We fed them with squid until we got bored with it then went back to shore and had a couple of cups of rum punch before the drive back to ship.
20.12.2022 Basseterre, St Kitts & Nevis
Basseterre is set in a dramatic location at the foot of some large volcanoes. Apart from that, there is not a lot to see in town. We walked the streets to look at the fountain in Independence Square and the clock tower in the Circus. Almost every shop seems to sell the same range of cheap plastic stuff that I would guess nobody really wants to buy. We didn’t manage to find a restaurant in town that looked to be worth eating in but out of desperation we did stop at the food court in the port and had some jerk chicken and curry goat, but it wasn’t fine dining.
21.12.2022 Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
I took a water taxi into the town from the port. H was busy on board. The beach is very pleasant with umbrella concessions and smoky barbecue restaurants. I ate lunch in a restaurant called Caribbean Blend and had barbecue ribs, rice, beans and plantain washed down with rum punch. The street behind the beach road, called Front Street is mostly one big duty-free shop made up of jewellery stores. They have had some hurricane damage over the years and one restaurant building claimed to be made entirely out of driftwood washed up after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
H arranged a movie and sushi night for officers and spouses in the captain’s conference room. It was a showing of “Rose Island” which is the story of a steel platform built off the coast of Rimini and declared an independent state. It was a pretext to introduce the concept of micro-states for the following day.
22.12.2022 Tortola, British Virgin Islands
It was the Staff Captain Kristina’s birthday this day. We had been preparing a gift of a Noble title for Sealand for her. Sealand is the former WW2 gun platform in the North Sea which is now a tongue-in-cheek independent nation and can create Lords, Ladies, Counts etc for a fee. The bosun was commissioned to make a frame for the certificate of title and the tailor was commissioned to make the Sealand national flag. The flag was hoisted at the bow of the ship to the sound of the Sealand national anthem. The cake, similarly, commissioned from the galley, was also decorated with the flag and topped with a model of the platform in marzipan.
I think I was expecting Road Town to be full of red phone boxes, warm beer, and fish & chip shops. I was a bit disappointed. There were just American tourists off other ships waddling about in the port between duty-free jewellery stores and T-shirt shops. There was not much outside the port either. Just small utilitarian buildings and a scruffy marina. I’m sure that outside the town it is very pretty but as with all these islands, getting out of town will have to wait for our next visit.
23.12.2022 Samana, Dominican Republic
The ship anchored in the very sunny Samana Bay on the pirate island hangout of Hispaniola, but I was trapped on the ship working and never got to shore. My work at this time of year is to deliver Christmas presents to the crew. There are almost six hundred crew on a ship this size and it is a big task. I was well-disguised in a Santa outfit to make sure nobody thought that I was not the real Santa. Santa’s little helpers this year were the Hotel Director and the HR Manager (Mrs Santa Claus) together with some volunteer reindeer and a photographer. There are compensations as some of the girls that hang off Santa’s arm and sit on Santa’s knee are very good-looking. The very prettiest though are allegedly sometimes not technically girls which is a bit disturbing.
The 24th is Christmas Day for Germans and the festivities and musical shows come to a head then. I had a final gift giving session in the engine room for about sixty oily-boiler-suited engine people and another for the Deck officers on the Bridge. There were also group photos in the sunshine on the foredeck which was an unnecessarily cruel way to treat someone forced to wear a fur-trimmed coat and thick beard. I got a reviving beer from the captain’s fridge as compensation. That evening I also had to greet all diners arriving at the Crew Mess for the Christmas Dinner, but I was getting a bit tired of the whole Christmas thing at this point.
25.12.2022 Montego Bay, Jamaica
We arrived at sunrise, and it was the end of this Caribbean cruise. I had to pack up all our stuff which had grown somewhat in volume, mostly due to H’s unwise souvenir buying. It was sad to leave our port-side balcony cabin, but it was just a short walk to our new starboard-side balcony cabin where we will be for a repeat of the same cruise over the next two weeks.
“I went with my wife to the West Indies. Jamaica? No she…”