Sunday, 24 March 2013

Aruba. "A whole new world"!!!

March 21,2013
Welcome to the Dutch West Indies, also known as the ABC islands. Today we get to explore the island the Beach Boys made us all want to see. Aruba! We had booked a car rental but figuring out exactly how to find it was our first challenge. Coming off the cruise boa there were lots of offers for trips around the island by enthusiastic entrepreneurs with various modes of transportation, from open bus like vehicles that would carry 30 or more, to jeeps, and  air conditioned cars(few of these).
It was hot and humid as usual so we were looking forward to the car. One of the locals offered assistance first in the form of a tour and then when we explained he pulled out his cell and asked if we had a phone number. Corrine pulled out the agreement and found the number. Within ten minutes a driver picked us up and we were soon on our adventure. The city could have been any place in southern California and as we drove out to the less populated area we could see an expanse of organ pipe and barrel cacti and we realized just how arid Aruba was. What really caught our attention were th brightly painted houses. Churchill Orange was a favourite colour for buildings. Tyson could happily live in a bright orange and blue house and be right in style. The beach we wanted to go to was at the far end of the island but we realized the map scale was only a few km per inch because we were there in twenty minutes. We first went to the point where a light house was marked. We did find a light but the house part was a little sketchy. After winding through a little town filled with bright houses and deserted buildings depending on where you looked we found a road that looked like it might go to the water. Signage is not done. I guess they figure tourists should come with a guide or see the whole island while looking for a specific place. Happily we found a snorkel gear rental and were soon ready for our first snorkelling experience. Those who know how much Bet loves to put her face in the water may be curious about how this might turn out .I put the mask on and immediately felt panic as I was sure I was going to smother as it completely plugged my nose. And I was without my glasses so felt impeded by my blindness.  We waded out a little and Corinne and Scott gave us pointers and encouragement. ‘Just relax. Breath through your mouth. Listen to the rhythm of breathing into the snorkel tube.” Okay I can do that but when I tried to put my masked face down into the water panic over came me and I thought “Oh great we just wasted $20 because this is not going to happen” I tried again and sort of got floating on my belly with the mask revealing little fish right in front of me but the little things came at me and began nipping my hands,” Piranhas!” I thought and found footing and pulled the snorkel out of my mouth so I could gasp some air. Scott talked me out a little further and I tried again. This time I wasn’t so close to the shore where people had obviously been feeding the fish and I could see yellow and black striped fish and blue fish with black fringes, little orange fish with brown fringe.. Wow It was so amazing. I was getting the hang of the breathing thing and though I couldn’t wear my glasses I was seeing some pretty awesome things. There was a larger Aqua blue fish that was just amazing swimming right below me. Rex was being coached by Corinne and fighting the urge to breath through his nose. It was exhausting trying to feel natural with the snorkel. I was finally really relaxed and felt more secure in the water so I really got into the explore. We swam over a coral reef, not as colourful as some but with lots of interesting kinds of coral and schools of fish.  I really was amazed, amazed not only at what we saw but that we could do it.. That I could do it an enjoy it so much! The water was wonderfully warm and clear as we were there before early enough that we were almost the only ones exploring where we were. Rex tired and went back for his camera but I stayed a bit longer as I really was having such a fun time.  Once we had our fill we headed buck to return gear. Somehow between coming out of the water and collecting stuff to return it we lost one of the snorkels. It had detached from the mask. We were told if we could find a replacement at the dive shop down the road we could replace it otherwise the fee was $85. Thank goodness for the nice man at the dive shop (JADS Dive Center, Aruba). He was very helpful and found a superior replacement that he gave a us a deal of $40. If you ever are in Aruba at Baby Beach go to the dive shop at and rent his equipment. It’s superior and you won’t have to wait for service from the multi-tasked bar server, rental guy at the beach.  We still had lots of day left, so we headed off to find a bird sanctuary that was marked on the map. After travelling all the roads in the area we gave up and blamed the lack of signs for the disappointment. There was more to see so on we went to the east side of Aruba. It was quite a desert wasteland crawling in little lizards if you ventured very far on the sandy shrubby terrain. There was an old rock castle-like structure built on edge of a big rock formation. Lack of signs left us wondering the history...guess we needed a guide. There was a very aqua blue inlet where the waves washed in and had made some interesting cliffs. The road turned to a sketchy sand road and after the warnings bout flat tires from going where you should not drive we decided it was time to head for the northern most tip of the island where another lighthouse was marked. California Lighthouse, as it was called was more to our expectations. A stone lighthouse sitting high on a ridge of land. To the south we could see Oanjestad the main port town To the west was the oh so blue Caribbean sea with white beaches and to the east was a wide expanse of orange beach. It looked like Oklahoma’s red soil. We did not make it to the Arikok National park on the south east side of the island but we will leave that explore for another day. We drove by a few neat old churches and then by a soft yellow church with a steeple and I was sure I saw the Church’s name. We back tracked and sure enough it wasn’t written in English but it most certainly was The Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Latter-days was how the translation might have gone. The drive back to the town was along a long stretch of one white sand beach with Catamarans, Sailing boats and even a shipwreck where divers were busy exploring. What a fun place for a week of discovery .The guys let Corinne and I out for a shopping expedition and they returned the car and headed back to the ship
Supper was over so we had buffet and there were tacos and empanadas and it was yummy. The entertainment was a Vegas Show time and we were again impressed with the fantastic energy and choreography and costuming.
Wow what a fantastic day!!
                                       

Friday, 22 March 2013

A day at Sea

March 20
Today was one of our days at sea. Corinne and I got up early for our jog around the track. The morning was already hot and sticky and after doing five laps which made it a mile we retreated to the fitness centre where we could do some sit-ups and other body toning and stretching. I still needed a little more running time so after I did five more laps to make a total of 2 miles. Cooling-off is always a challenge after running in the heat that we went down and had a quick shower and prepared for breakfast. After breakfast we walked along the promenade deck and saw flying fish. They almost look like little birds flying along, skimming the water. There were schools of them and they would just jump out of the water, skim along for a couple hundred feet then dive back in.

 This was our day to lay out and enjoy the warm Caribbean sun. I took my book and tried to read but it was so hard to concentrate with so many other things going on so I just laid and watched people and enjoyed soaking up the warmth of the sun. After an hour and a half I could feel the warmth of the sun and knew it was time to find some shade. Not long after a little shower started with the sun shining a fine mist of water was coming down and everyone headed for cover. Corinne and I decided we had enough sun and liquid sun and headed for our rooms. It was okay it was lunch time. After lunch Corinne went to find where to sign up for the volleyball tournament. She was put on the team with four guys and they were called Adventure. The first round if your team lost you were done, but their team was terrific and won quite handily. They also won their second round which put them into the finals. It was fun watching Corinne play and she did well playing with guys, in fact she loved to be the organizer of their team. She was really in her element. The final game was a tight one, they got behind but were able to go ahead and win.

We had all had enough sun so we looked for a quiet place to play cards and found the games room where we could sit in relative cool and enjoy a couple of card games and watch the coming and goings in the pool area. The day flew by and it was soon suppertime. After another amazing meal we parted ways. Corinne and Scott were ready for an early night to rest up for Aruba. Rex and I went to check out the Karioke but it was pathetic so we went in to see the evening show which was a female comedian/singer. Her humour was fun and though she was no Whitney it was an hour of smiles.

Another terrific day has gone but can’t wait for Aruba!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

St Kitts

March 19
Today was our excursion to St. Kitts. We had another wonderful breakfast. Then we were off to see what there was on the little island of St. Kitts.The Island looked much greener with less rocky cliffs and rolling hills that may have bee crop land at some time in the past. The walkway from the boat opened into the square of the old town. It was obvious that this area was a much poorer island than others we have been on. First thing we saw was the museum and wanting to understand better the history of the area Rex and I paid the three dollars and went up an old staircase into the hot stuffy room that was encircled with displays and writing of the history of St. Kitts. It was by no means a fancy building or a fancy museum but there was much history recorded for us to see and understand. The first inhabitants were Indian-American which they believed arrived between 1000 and 800 BC. It told of the first Europeans coming and looking to get rich off the cane crops and how the first cane workers were indentured servants from Ireland in the early 1600s but as the Europeans-at some point Spanish, French, and then English,  began to become rich from the sugar industry they wanted  it to be bigger and better. This is when the slave trade began and they began bringing slaves from Africa. Thank goodness for men like James Stevens and James Ramsey who saw the plight of the slaves and realized how pathetic the conditions the slaves were living in and wanted to do something about it. After much effort finally in 1833 the slavery abolition act came into effect. This had detrimental to influence on the sugarcane business. Because workers now had to be paid money this decreasde profit margins. Eventually with lower prices the sugar industry was not as lucrative as it had been before and by 1972 the sugarcane business was in jeopardy. In 1980 sugar prices crashed and in 2005 the sugar industry was no longer a part of the economy of St. Kitts. Tourism is now their main industry.
We walked the narrow streets withnarrow sidewalks and small stores filled with dollarstore items but at higher prices. The store in the middle of town had prices in their own coinage so you would have to ask how much in American dollars. I sam an ironing board for $110.00 obviously not American dollars..or at least I hope not. We explore the two old churches that were in town. The oldest was the third church built on the site as the two former ones had been destroyed, one by a hurricane and one by fire. It was a stone church with beautiful stained glass windows.  The grave markers in the court yard were mid 1700's. And English and Irish names. We wandered some of the streets that felt like back alleys with small shack like apartments. With not much for a yard. On the way back to the boat we looked through some of the shops along the cruise ship docks. I heard a fellow waiting on his wife comment to another guy “ Just getting stuff for next years garage sale” :)
When we got back to the boat we had a late lunch and we laid in the sun and listened to the band at the pool. It was so beautiful with the green island as a backdrop, the blue rippling water and the gentle Carribean breeze. I felt so lucky to be having that moment. I said to Rex “ I feel almost guilty living in such luxury and these people so poor” His immediate reply was”look at all the jobs you are providing! What would these people do if we did not come and spend our money in their country” How true. So many of the workers on the cruise ship are from many of the cental and south American countries. 
We had another wonderful evening with our supper in the dining room and then a great Elton John impressionist who gave us a real rocking concert with lots of audience precipitation. The party then went on all night but after a little dancing on the promenade we called it another terrific day and headed to our room.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

St Thomas

March 18, 2013
 I couldn’t help myself I woke up before dawn to catch the sun rise. We were passing by islands with the lights of pockets of civilization sparkling in the early morning. The sky was just getting warmed in the area I figured the sun would come up. Was a bit cloudy and the son snuck up behind the clouds and warmed the sky in a orangey yellow glow. I caught a great snapshot of a cruise ship silhouetted in the early morning glow. I could tell it would be the start of another fabulous day. Unable to sleep anymore I put on my jogging gear and headed to the upper deck. It was already busy with people walking in the jogging path. It was soon evident the suggestion of one lane for running and one for walking was ignored by most people. But those of us that were running managed getting around those that were chatting as they walked. It was then back for breakfast and getting ready to get off the boat. Corinne had a few things to do so we decided not to disembark till 10 o’clock. Just as we got off the ship it started to rain and people were heading for cover. Remembering our umbrella of the suitcase we headed back inside to quickly grab it. Back outside it was almost s sunny and we began to walk in the direction we figured town was. Of course there are many little shops along the way to catch our attention and in one Corinne from the skirt she really liked but it was definitely too early to purchase. We walked along past housing projects that were probably for the poor people. There were chickens in the front of the houses and no fenced yards. It was a colourful site with beautiful flowering bushes, laundry hanging from lines and people coming and going.
Of course we  had many taxi offers but had refused them believing we would just walk into town but not sure where town was. As we went along we began to realize we may not want to walk the whole distance. As we were trying to make a decision a taxi stopped at a light and called out to us. We ask him how much for a drive around the island to show us the sites, he told us $25per person or four dollars per person for a trip into town. We said will take the trip into town as 25 was more than we wanted to spend. He was a handsome older black man and very cheerful. He told us his name was Percy. He chatted and told us history of things that we passed and told us what he would show us if he did take us around the island the things he would take us to. After a few minutes we realized perhaps that was what we wanted to do and told him we would take his $25 offer. It was a great choice he was pleasant, humorous and full of knowledge of the islands. He told us he had lived on St.Thomas for 42 years. He asked us where from and when we told him that some of us were from Canada he was so excited. As a young man he had worked as a herdsman for Abbott Farms in Ontario. They had raised show Herford’s and he has gone often two different places to show cattle. He said he had a nephew in Alberta. He also told us all the wonderful things Canada had done in the Caribbean with the Peace Corps and with helping build schools and provide other help. We had noticed many of the banks were Canadian banks and he explained that  was why Canada had a large presence in the Caribbean. The little island of St. Thomas was beautiful. The houses are brightly painted and like all places in the Caribbean you can find beautiful new houses next to abandoned ruins. We drove past the government house where the offices of the governor were and on up the hill where we had a breathtaking view of the bay where the cruise ships were parked. He then took us where we could see the other side of the island .On this side we could see the Atlantic Ocean. The British Virgin Islands were in the distance and made me think of Marvin. We could see the beautiful Megan’s Bay which St. Thomas is known for. It was most beautiful turquoise with white sandy beaches. We all said next time we come will go spend time at that beach. At one of the stops Percy showed us an island that was shaped as a sailing schooner. He told us how in the fog during the war the English had fired upon the island believing it was a sailboat. He shared many such fun anecdotes. He was such a darling man we enjoyed our time with him immensely. What a great choice to go with him to see the island. After our tour he dropped Corinne and I at the Kmart as we wanted to do a little looking around and took the guys back to the boat as they didn’t want to do a little looking around at shops. As he let Corinne and I  off he hugged us both and told us to have an enjoyable time and remember “ Percy” when we heard Oh Canada. I had written on a pass along card with a picture of the Salt Lake Temple a thank you and put our names and told him this spoke of precious truths that were important to us. I hope it can touch his life.
 I bought a pretty coral top at the Kmart and Corinne bought a couple of tops that would match the skirt she had seen then we headed back to purchase that skirt. We made our  way back to the cruise ship just in time for a quite late lunch as it was almost 3 o’clock.
We napped after lunch then got ready for the formal evening. Was such a pleasant night in the fancy dining room all dressed up in our duds. The other couple at the table are from New York. The moment he opened his we knew he was from the Bronx. Their names are Steve and Sylvia. He’s a big tall guy and she is a petite gal from Ecuador. After wonderful supper we invited them to meet us at the Lyric theatre for the show. It was a show of dancing and singing and was excellently done. The choreography was amazing and the back drops so first class.. We figured we still weren’t ready for bed so we went to watch a game show at one of the bars for a while which is really fun.It was Finish the Lyric. Rex and I then went to see if we could get hooked up to the internet ant used up 20 minutes of our time just trying to post a bit and read mail. Sorry if we will just be doing the bare minimum to get you pics etc.
Great day!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Sweet Sunday

March 17,2013
Time to leave our wonderful little hotel. It surely was a comfortable pleasant place and in such a great spot for doing things. We had a great Sunday morning attending the San Juan Metro ward which is the only English speaking ward on the Island. It was a very friendly ward. We chatted with the sweet sister missionaries as we entered the building and then were pleased to see they were the speakers. The first speaker was a young man who was a recent convert and then the Sister missionaries. They all gave excellent talks and I was so glad we could be there to feel the wonderful spirit. We could only stay for Sacrament meeting because we had to check out of our hotel and return the rental car and catch a shuttle to the port where our giant pleasure boat awaited us. Since boarding I have felt pampered and spoiled...like one of the beautiful people. Such luxury!!! We played table tennis, sat and watched the masses enjoy the sun and fun. Our lunch buffet was tasty and tonight’s supper was superb and I was adventurous and tried a coconut lime seafood soup that was incredible watched the beautiful city fade into the distance with the warm Caribbean wind in our hair and the moon overhead catching the evening star in its upturned crescent. We are now in the music rocking theatre awaiting the evening show and hoping it will be better than the sleep we feel ready for. (Poor old fuddy duds).

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Grade 8 Social Studies repeated

March 16, 2013
Another beautiful day, Rex and I walked on the beach before breakfast. I never tire of the roar of ocean waves. Top of the list today was an explore of Old San Juan. So after breakfast Scott took us on a crazy ride through the narrow streets to drop us where we could then make our way back to the designated pick up spot 2.5 hours later. Scott wasn’t feeling up to another  day of walking all day having had a restless night so he agreed to chauffeur. I had two”want to see” places on my list. One was Casa Blanca, the oldest standing Mansion from the early times. It was the home built for the family of Ponce de Leon. De Leon himself never lived there as he died in Havana of  wound inflicted by Indians in his attempt t conquer Florida. The house was steeped in history. It had a throne room with portraits of Spanish kings. The floors were beautifully tiled. The rooms were open to the beautiful ocean view by several doors and windows. I could imagine the women standing on the balconies staring out to sea, wishing for a glimpse of their loved ones returning from their usually violent  explorations. The other area we spent time enjoying was out the city gate where there was a walkway built outside the 3 mile long old city wall below the fort we explored yesterday. We had seen the path but could not find a way to get to it. We stumbled upon the huge old gate to the city that open up to this area. The path through the gate lead directly up the hill to the old church where, it was said, the conquering heroes made their first stop when they returned safely from their escapades. Oh it was grade 8 social all over again. Mr Bunnage you would have loved it!
After walking the narrow streets, peeking into a few shops, looking inside the open courtyard to the university and making our way past the piers and back to find Scott we tried our hand at finding the Mission home with use of a google map printed instruction. Slight problem...not many streets have signage and often it they do it does not match the name used by google. Ie: PR22 or what ever the street name may be at that point of the highway. So we tried the GPS and ended I up in a infinite loop where it sent us up on to the highway looped ua around off the highway and then sent us back on to the highway again. Problem was we were in the same spot and it was telling us to repeat what we had just done. What a cruel sense of humour that thing has. We tried recalculating but it just started the whole thing again. The missionary package was not delivered but we sure did have a giggle over the new infinite loop definition.
We took a long stroll up the beach tonight. It was cloudy in a storm cloud sort of way but very warm and humid. It sprinkled a little while we sat out and played cards but not enough to fall on us in the court yard under the little palms. I lost at Dirty Joe but nothing could spoil another fabulous day!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Pirates of the Caribbean

March 15

Another warm beautiful Caribbean day. The cotton candy clouds in bright blue sky and the white crested waves on a turquoise blue ocean makes for a tourists dream.  After breakfast and lunch shopping we headed to the far point of Old San Juan’s headlands.  There sits a six layered fort called San Felipe del Marrow. It stands bold and proud of the many would-be conquerors it turned away disappointed. This is the setting for Pirates of the Caribbean and looking out from the fort you can see the very old ruins of the first protected area on a thin strand of land and you can almost see the ghostly pirate ship in the bay.  El Marrow is said to be the oldest Spanish fort of the New World. The first phase of it was constructed in 1539. It was history lesson explore, we were walking with the ghosts of Ponce de Leon, Sir Francis Drake, Sir George Clifford and Sir Ralph Abercromby ...just my cup of tea(herbal) or bottle of rum(non alcoholic) as the case may be:).. a fun explore!
We made lunch at the hotel and then it was siesta time. As I am in a sunny climate wanting to soak up all the rays I possible can Rex and I went to the roof top lounge/jacuzzi area to lay out and read or look for birds in the little palm trees. I read a bit in the sun, soaked in the hot tub and then looked for shade. At our appointed meeting time of 3:30, we headed to the beach area just a block north of our Hotel. Jumping in the big rollers was fun and a bit frightening for me and we brought enough seaweed home in our swim trunks to line a flower basket. We ate supper at a little Tex Mex cafĂ© called Mona’s. Corrine tried the authentic Puerto Rican dish Mufongo. It had a plantain base , spiced with garlic and other seasonings and looked quite amazing. We had Fajita’s for two. Delicious and filling. We walked a little after showering and tidying up. The party atmosphere was certainly prevalent. Time for a game of cards and some down time a our quiet hotel:). Fantastic Day!!