Caribbean Cruise

My husband and I decided to forgo a holiday gift exchange, and instead book a cruise as our gift to each other.  We travel often for work and adventure, but rarely do we completely let go with no calculated schedule.  At least not me since I research and plan our itineraries.  A seven-day Caribbean cruise in March aboard the Norwegian Dawn seemed perfect. Although our home state, Florida has many cruise departures, we chose Puerto Rico as our starting point.  Less time at sea and more time on the islands.

In San Juan, we rented a car and drove to the Serafina, a boutique beach hotel.  It’s located in Condado, the resort area of the city and perfect for staying close to the hotel at night with easy access to our car for day trips.  Since Hurricane Maria crime in the city had increased, but this area seemed safe with attractive restaurants.

“Let’s drive to the west coast,” my husband said the next morning. “It’s only an hour and forty minutes.”

I looked out our beach view and then down at the sunbathers by the pool.

“We have a two and a half days.  I’d like to spend one of those days in old town, but if you want to do a drive today, that’s fine.”  I secretly wanted to hang by the pool, something I rarely did.  “Why the west coast?”

“They have whales, and the waves and surf should be pretty big.”

“I’m game.” I said, knowing whale spotting wouldn’t happen so randomly.  “We can have lunch there.”

riconWell over three hours later of stop and go traffic we arrived in Ricon, a small but cute surfer hangout.  I was starving, irritated and ready to get out of the car. We stopped at a hilltop restaurant, luckily the food and drink amazing.

“Did you spot any whales?”  I asked after a while.  “Tomorrow, we stay closer to home.”

I got to know old town from my morning jogs.  We explored the fort and surrounding shops, had a leisurely pace and enjoyed the rest of our stay in Puerto Rico prior to boarding our ship.

biminibarOn the ship, we discovered the Bimini Bar on the top deck, aft overlooking the pool. Ironically, we were on the cruise to get away from some drama we have at our island house in Bimini.  It became our favorite bar where we could drink, smoke and meet new friends.  On our first day at sea, I sun bathed below it as I read, listened to live bands and swam in the pool.

At our first port of call, Barbados, we had no plans except possibly exploring the island by scooter. We walked through Bridgetown, an unattractive, busy port with our google map set on scooters for hire.  It led us to a questionable part of town, so we hailed a taxi.  After finding out the place closed our taxi driver, quite outspoken about deplorable conditions of Barbados economy, offered to drive us wherever we wanted to go.

“I’d like to see monkey’s,” I said.  “Or some history.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee monkeys since they’re wild.  But I recommend Gun Hill Signal Station for the views and history.”  He said with elegance.

It was worth the visit, so peaceful and full of information.  Next he suggested a good place for lunch only a 40 minute drive to the east coast, the wild coast.  The vegetarian choices were abundant, something I didn’t expect on the islands.  The scenery equally impressive.  Our driver pointed out a monkey crossing the road on our return drive, and he made it clear they were considered pests among the locals.  He was full of facts and opinions, and I liked his honesty.  Over lunch we learned he lived in Connecticut for a decade, but he’s truly Barbadian and loves his beloved island.

The following day, Antigua was a warm welcome.  An adorable port with plenty of shops, and friendly faces.  We found a scooter rental from a nice Canadian couple, turned local.  With map in hand, we set off sightseeing.  Up and down hills from St. Johns to historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour.  The marina was full of mega yachts and sailboats from around the world, admiring the view we sat for a beer.  Afterwards, we meandered through the rainforest along scenic Fig Tree road.  I felt free.  Our scooter hugged the coastline as I glimpsed at views of the turquoise sea, eventually finding our way back to the busy port.  It was a fine day indeed, and Antigua became my favorite port of call.

In St. Kitts I ran on shore, taking a break from the monotonous treadmill.  I’d been to the island previously, so I didn’t feel a need to see or do anything.  We took a taxi to a fort with a great view of the island, shopped at the port and chatted with others at the Bimini Bar.  Some never left the ship, while others ran to meet the last boarding call.  We fell in between the two extremes.

“So what are you doing tomorrow?” Someone asked.

“The airport beach.”  I said without hesitation.  “It’s a must see, they have YouTube video’s if you haven’t heard of it.”

“You’re the second one to say that,” she said.  “I guess I’ll get off the ship and check it out.”

I looked forward to our stop in St. Maarten with its famous airport at Maho Beach.  Jets arriving and departing so close, its wake sandblasting tourists below.  From the tiki bar we watched some tumble in the sand.  We spent hours observing, sipping and eating while checking arrival times for the larger jets. It was fun.  Prior to our afternoon stop we’d rented a car and drove a good portion of the island.  The damage from hurricane Maria was noticeable at the north tip, and traffic gridlocked leading up to Maho Bay.

stthomasOur last island St. Thomas, part of the US Virgin Islands, did not disappoint.  I sipped coffee while watching boats scoot about from our balcony.  Some sailboats seemed permanently anchored, and I felt in full vacation mode.  I wondered if the sailboats had to relocate from time to time to avoid fees.  After all they’re on prime property with a marvelous view.  We disembarked before noon and took a shuttle downtown, a short ten minute ride.  So many jewelry stores, but I didn’t need gems or diamonds.

“Free gift.” Several vendors called out as I passed.

I browsed a few, looking for a watch I’d seen with a certain brand and style in mind.  I didn’t find it.  We did stumble onto a quaint lunch spot.

“I’m craving a veggie burger.”  I told my husband prior to looking at the menu.

“Ha, you’re in luck.” He gloated.

Afterwards, we checked out a local art market and found our way back to the port.  We took a skyride to the top of a mountain for a good view.  A great way to overcome my fear of heights.  My hands sweated. The wind blew our hanging cage, but the view was priceless.cruiseship

Departure day was a full day of travel from the San Juan port to the airport with lots of waiting in between for our flight to Miami. We flew on a 737 Max, the same day and type of the one that crashed in Ethiopia.  My heart goes out to those on the plane and their family members.  It could have been anyone of those planes and I understand why they’re currently grounded.

Pirates, the Pope and the Crown

I find the colonization and trade patterns of the new world extremely fascinating.  I recently learned a few fun and interesting facts, somewhat generalizing some history below in the sake of making it simple.

spanish flagThe pope acting on behalf of God granted Spain the entire western hemisphere, with the exception of Brazil which he bequeathed to Portugal. In the late 15th Century, just a year after Columbus “discovered” America, one man increased Spain’s real estate 80 times it’s size.  The Spanish couldn’t possibly defend such a huge chunk of land so they ignored anything north of Virginia, allowing French and English  settlements along the east coast in North America.

Spain also had huge problems securing land and precious goods in the Caribbean. The English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese all wanted a piece of the action, each dominating  and conquering different islands throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Jamaica, Haiti, and Nassau were all strategic and sought after seaports. Since the royal navies were engaged in what seems like constant warfare, they encouraged, financially supported, and legally backed privateers. Robbing enemies boosted the colonial economy and helped finance their war efforts.

So what’s the difference between a privateer and pirate?

privateersPrivateers were licensed to attack enemy ships for a percentage of the plunder. They were like private contractors who profited during times of war.  In periods of peace, they became desperate and turned towards piracy, capturing and looting any ship they could.  Pirates is a generic definition referring to anyone who uses the sea to commit theft.  So privateers are basically legal pirates.

spanish galleonBetween the 16th-18th century Spain was often a target of theft since they manipulated and controlled trade routes.  By the early 18th century, Spain had three highly armed treasure fleets with 30-90 vessels. Two of these fleets sailed every spring across the Atlantic from Seville, Spain to the new world.  The ships hulls  were filled with soldiers, weapons, wine and European goods needed in the American colonies.  The New Spain fleet sailed to Veracruz, Mexico and loaded gold, silver and goods from a third Manila Fleet bringing porcelain, silk and other products back from Asia. The Tierre Firme fleet headed to Cartagena, Columbia to collect millions in silver and other goods from various ports.  The two ships met up in Havana, Cuba and sailed together through the Straits of Florida back to Spain loaded with treasure.

treasure fleet 2Hurricanes were also a threat to these fleets, the worst occurring in 1622, 1715, 1733 and 1750.  The remains of the 1715 fleet is one of the most sought after among treasure hunters.  The fleet departed Havana on July 24th. The first five days were uneventful with the six day bringing large swells and early signs of a tropical storm.  By 2:00 am on July 31st, a hurricane hit at full force destroying the entire fleet with the exception of the Grifon, which is believed to have survived the devastation by defiantly staying one-half point farther northeast than the rest of the ships.  The fleet had no chance and were smashed against the Florida shoals, south of Cape Canaveral.  In total, over seven hundred lives were lost, eleven ships destroyed and more than 14 million pesos of registered treasure submerged.

Seamen also had to deal with diseases such as scurvy, the plague, malaria and typhus. Their ships often corroded from the salt air and it was difficult to get replacement parts. This is still true today, and living in the Bahamas a personal nuisance.  Our golf carts and boats are constantly breaking and corroding due to the harsh saline environment.

 

 

 

 

book two excerpt. Bimini

I have a question for readers and writers alike.  I’m beginning my second book which spans several time periods and locations.  It starts in first person, but most of the book will be in the third person.  I’m thinking about putting it all into third person.  Any thoughts about the two?  Below is an excerpt in first person of my second book, unedited.  I’m sure it will change by the time I’m finished.  Any feedback is appreciated.

 

I ordered big fluffy pancakes and Luke opted for an omelet with cheese, a side of bacon and hash browns. Luke is over six feet tall with a muscular frame so he can afford a large meal.  On the other hand, I have a small frame and the pancakes would just sit in my belly for the rest of the day.  I would probably only make it through one of the pancakes, especially since I didn’t run this morning.

“Service in the Bahamas is slow,” he said gazing into my eyes.

“Can we walk along the beach while waiting,” I implored. 

“Sure.”  He signaled the waitress to let her know of our plans to return in a half hour.

We strolled hand in hand around the marina admiring the crystal clear turquoise water.  Jellyfish pulsated in unison as they clustered in small groups.  They were transparent pink with design similar to a four-leaf clover in the center, except more rounded than clover-like.  Some floated upside down exposing their tentacles while taking in salt water to the rhythm of a heartbeat.  So gracious.  A long Barracuda swam through the jellies.  Completely opposite the jellyfish’s grace, the Barracuda was clumsy and vicious looking.  His smile exposed his big teeth as he seemed to stare at me.

“That Barracuda is staring at me,” I said as I gawked back.

“It’s harmless.  The locals here eat them.”

“Yuck.”

We crossed over to the beach and I immediately started looking for shells, a collection hobby of mine.  Most of them were just pieces of shells, but I still rummaged through hoping to find a nice souvenir from our morning stop in Bimini.  The wind was lightly blowing from the southwest. As I was searching I stumbled upon a wooden statue.  It stood about two feet tall and was very primitive looking.  It was in good shape with only a few small barnacles clinging to the crevices in the statue.  It obviously had landed in Bimini from the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

I ran over to Luke standing near the rocks jetting into the sea.

“Look what I found,” I said, keyed up and slightly out of breath as I held up the statue.

His eyes widened. “Wow.  That’s quite the find.”

I handed him the statue.  “Where do you think it came from?”  I asked, curious about his reply.

“Well it’s a southwest wind.  So perhaps Cuba.”

I took the statue back to examine.  “It doesn’t look Cuban.  Look at the eyes and nose.  The features are more African.”  I tilted the statue forward towards Luke.  “And there’s a large hole at the base of his head.  Like it was attached to something.”

He glanced at the top of the statue.  “Perhaps it was part of a ship or something.”  He smiled.  “You’re the archaeologist.  Research it.”

I lightly kissed him on the lips. “Do you think breakfast is ready yet?”

“Let’s find out,” He grabbed my hand and I proudly carried the statue back to the restaurant.