Southern Caribbean (or how I really miss my Nikon)

Just finally coming down off the high of my latest travels. I think this is probably one of the best trips I have taken if measured in terms of complete relaxation. I decided to literally go with the flow for nearly everything, which made the excursions and ship experience itself much different than previous cruises.

To boot, I’ve upgraded my bucket list; It’s my intention to eventually visit and semi-educate myself on every island in the Caribbean. Now to get a map and start working on this New List.

While my forte (do I even really have a forte?) is really not Travel Blogs per say, l’m going to give this a try.

First I should start by saying this trip wasn’t all the Southern Caribbean. It’s booked as such, but in looking information up on the islands, I found that technically only two of them; Aruba and Curacao, are considered part of the South.

That’s about as much education as you will get from this particular entry.

I think. Let’s see as we go.

Starting Destination: Puerto Rico

Let me start by saying this particular bucket list of mine will eventually rack up quite the airline miles. Outside of living in the Pacific Northwest, or perhaps Alaska I don’t think I could fly from a worse U.S. starting point for the Southern Caribbean; Los Angeles. While most of my friends were flying four, maybe five hours, my travel time was twelve hours without time change. With time change it gets a little foggy, because it calls into state my inept math skills, and my fascination and yet inability to understand time travel. (Yes, I’m aware that I am not time traveling, but it always feels that way to me). I’m four hours behind Puerto Rico time, so I guess technically I only travelled 8 hours, minus 1 between flights give or take. Whatever. It was a long fucking trip that had me in the air at 8 AM and arriving my final destination by 8:30 PM.

I won’t even get into my starvation issues on both flights, but suffice to say I will now be one of those old ladies who pulls out a baggie of snacks on planes in the future and offers you one.

Puerto Rico wasn’t my first international solo flight (and for those who correct me on the fact that technically PR isn’t international because it’s still part of the U.S., can bite me. It’s international to me. – such hostility in this blog! Ha!) – but it was the first one that I flew into alone for the first time. In other words I had zero idea of what to expect. The airport was small, and like my local airport in Orange County it apparently closes down early. We must have been the last flight in, which actually made the baggage pick up quick. I loved that a baggage/transportation guide was right there, and I never had to touch my bags (thank God because I packed a fuck ton of clothes). He grabbed them off the carousel for me, and had me nearly running after him to keep up til we hit a cab. I’d say seriously from departure of the plane to Old San Juan was maybe 30 minutes.

Puerto Rico, or Old San Juan (which is all that I really saw of it – that’s a reoccurring theme here; one destination per island) really was beautiful, and the people we encountered were so friendly. English was spoken I think literally everywhere we went, although we did have an interpreter with us when needed in the smaller establishments. It just really made things faster. English is just as prelevant there as it is here.

The first night we made the awful mistake of heading next door to our hotel; Senor Frogs. I was starved (read above about no food on the flights) and one of our roommates had headed over earlier and was told it was Ladies Night and for a small cover charge, women drink for free.

Plus they served food.

I heard food and booze and BAM! was sold. We paid something like six or eight bucks to get in, and get our little wrist band. There was absolutely no doubt that we were the oldest women in the place. And not by a couple of years. By decades. The first indication that we were not going to really score on that All-You-Can drink bennie, was the fact we had to order not from the bar, but from these strategically placed tables. The first one we went to, the bartender could a). Barely understand English (so see not EVERYONE here speaks English) and b). Couldn’t make a drink to save his life. I was ordering off his menu which clearly called out the liquors he needed, and he still had to stop and look up to see what he needed next. Eventually he realized he didn’t have even half the boozes required. In slight frustration I just revamped my order to a simple rum and pineapple juice, tipped him well, and quickly scurried away.

Being as old as we are, we were able to score the “Old Ladies Booth” (I like to call it), in the corner where the waiter kindly ran to the other manned bar-table and got us real drinks that were on the menu. The problem was it took him a good fifteen minutes between orders. The menus definitely were not highlighting the fact we were in Puerto Rico. It was chain bar food for all, except me, because I ordered spaghetti and meatball (no “s’ – meatball in the singular form). I had been taunted with it on my last flight. A bar serving spaghetti? I felt it was a sign from the Food Gods. Plus how can you really fuck up spaghetti? I was too hungry to be adventurous. With the music thumping at a bass level so high I could feel it in my chest, and conversation between me and my two friends in that screaming manner, as soon as we finished eating we pretty much hightailed it out of there.

Of course not before myself and friend sucked our drinks down as fast as possible, only to find we could have taken them with us.

The rest of the trip was a bit easier. We had a fantastic breakfast with the best coffee I had had since Costa Rica. Later we hit the large 400 year old El Morro Fort that sits on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic, with this spectacular view; as well as San Juan Cemetery, which I swear if I were inclined to be buried, I’d want to get a spot in there. We didn’t get a chance to actually head into the cemetery, but the views from above were unreal. Of course I have a weird fascination with old cemeteries, so it makes sense to me.

San juan coffee

Best. Cup. Of. Coffee. EVER. (Old San Juan)

 

One of the things this trip brought back out in me – starting in Old San Juan, was my inner amateur photographer. For reasons I am not completely certain of, after the big break-up, I just put the camera away. Whether it had anything to do with him or not, was moot. I took it out once, and it felt alien and foreign to me, and I haven’t really touched it again. Instead, I’ve relied on my iPhone which is so limiting. This was the first time I felt the longing of the lenses and the ability to get more detailed shots. I think the next vacation might require me to pick her up once again. Since I didn’t have her, I went ahead and did my best with the phone, shooting like crazy and feeling like I was missing an old friend.

San Juan Cemetery

If my body has to be buried, take me here please. (Old San Juan)

 

The rest of Old San Juan was good food, drinks and merriment. Hit La Placita de Santurce one night and it was probably one of the highlights. Even though it was teeming with American’s, it was very local and had more of the energy and flair that I hoped for in PR. We ended the night with a midnight dinner, where I opted to come out of my comfort zone and have dinner with strangers. Not random strangers. Three women who would be traveling with our group, but who I had never met. For seating purposes it made more sense that I ate with them, and in the interim, I learned a lot about them. Very sweet and funny ladies, who probably questioned amongst themselves who the kinda drunk & crazy lady that was seated with them.

We lost a day of sunshine to the unpredictable weather patterns of island living, but we made the most of it, and it gave me the opportunity to finish off a bottle of pineapple infused booze I bought at a local bar the day before. There was no way I was going to get that on the ship, so while in PR, do as the Puerto Ricans do.

San Juan Bottle

The bottle of pineapple infused “moonshine” that had to be drunk before boarding the ship.

 

Soon we were heading onto the ship where my roommate and I found the area we would be frequenting the most. It was like we planted our asses there and never left unless it was time get off the ship, or sleep, which is more often than it sounds in that statement. As I stated, it was a very relaxing trip.

First Island: St. Thomas

Our first port stop was St. Thomas, the following day. For educational purposes, St. Thomas is part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and like Puerto Rico is an unincorportated territory. Just basically means it’s an area controlled by the U.S., but not in all matters. I had to look that up, because my illiterate self didn’t completely understand. I knew they were territories, but I didn’t exactly understand how or why.

Anyway, I opted out of any ship or group related excursions and trusted my roomie who had been here several times before. A group of us on her recommendation took a shuttle, and headed over to Coki Beach, which is apparently famous for its snorkeling, especially for beginners. It’s this perfect little beach cove nestled on what felt like the other side of the island. I think this was my favorite stop on all four islands visited, although I will admit the tractor-trolley type ride there had me grabbing on a few times, questioning our method of transport.

Driving thru St. Thomas won’t overly impress you if you are looking for pristine highways and drivers that stay in their lanes. It was rugged in some areas, and poorly developed in others. The drivers take these hairpin turns at terrifying speeds. Someone started to tell me the story of how one of these tractor trolleys went over an embankment a year or two ago in another location, and XX cruise passengers were killed. Not exactly the adventure I was looking for, but after this version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, I totally understood the plausibility of it happening.

Once we arrived the Cove and negotiated our chair and umbrella rental, we were set. The waters were a breathtaking turquoise and were seriously to-date the prettiest I had seen. The waters, because we were in a cove were calm, and that made wading or swimming an absolute breeze. The beach, while itself was small, was wide and had a large scape of eateries and bars that argued and vied for your business. Literally argued and vied. The place we chose eventually had the owner come out and apologize to us because of the drama between his staff and the neighboring place.

Coki2

Coki Beach, St. Thomas

 

We hadn’t been blessed with the greatest of waitresses, but I had ordered a bucket of beers and split it with a friend and was set. Taking a walk to one end of the cove placed me in the unincorporated area of Iguana City Central (I just totally made that name up), where about a half dozen carefully camouflaged iguana’s were spotted. Later a friend took the veggie remnants of her burger lunch down to the island lizards, and I clicked away on my iPhone while they slurped up bright red tomatoes. Again, my Nikon would have done a spectacular job there.

Coki

Tomato Slurping Iguana of Coki Beach (St. Thomas)

 

I really didn’t want to leave this little island paradise, and was almost granted my wish when during our group exit I came out of the bathroom and found none of my group nearby. With the roar of a nearby diesel engine I looked over and saw them all piled on the bus headed back, looking like they were willing or considering — leaving me. I am not sure I would have survived long on the island once the credit cards maxxed out, and I might have ended up on the rocks, begging for scraps with the iguana’s. I milked the fact they almost left me during the entire trip. That’s me, running a joke out until it crashes and burns.

I think on my next venture here, I’d like to take a ferry over to St. John’s, a neighboring island. St. Thomas is definitely on my list of “Y’all Come Back and See Us All Again!” places.

Second Island: St. Kitts

St. Kitts is almost the antithesis of St. Thomas. Again, I decided to go against the grain of established excursions, and follow my roommates advise, since she had travelled these waters so much before. There is nothing like the voice the of experience to guide you in my opinion.

Where St. Thomas was rugged and questionable in some areas, St. Kitts was manicured with beautiful clean roads. Where St. Thomas drivers use lanes and speed limits as a suggestion, St. Kitts follows their road rules to a T. Instead of an open tractor-trolley, we had an air-conditioned bus. The driver we got for our group, either mistook us for wanting a tour, or threw it in for free. I had the good fortune to sit up front with him, and felt bad at how much chatter was going on while he tried to explain the history of his homeland, so I really tried to seem involved and intrigued. Unfortunately a good part of the time I couldn’t quite understand him. He did get us to our destination of Cockleshell Beach.

I would never complain while on a beautiful vacation in a gorgeous location, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was underwhelmed by almost everything on Cockleshell. The water, while beautiful didn’t have the serenity that Coki did. Getting in and out of the water alone was a little more challenging than Coki and the sands were rougher on my delicate toesies. I think my daughter would call this #whitegirlproblems. “Ooo the beach sand wasn’t as soft, and I could only see thru the water to a depth of 15 feet, instead of 16 feet at the other beach”, she whined while the violins played My Heart Bleeds For You.

St kitts

There really should be a Go Fund Me for the suffering endured here at Cockleshell, in St. Kitts.

 

But wait, the whining isn’t over: The wait-staff on this beach wasn’t arguing for our business, and all but ignored us (at least when I was around).I did most of my business at the bar, which was about as friendly and helpful to customers as a blood bank is to a mosquito. Have you ever had to chase a waitress down to pay her before you leave an establishment? I have.

They did have wi-fi, and tables with umbrella’s, so I was able to take pics and load them quickly. And seriously, all kvetching aside — I was on freaking St. Kitts! So what if it took longer for me to get that delicious Mango Colada – I was freaking on St. Kitts!! Drinking fucking Mango Colado’s on a Monday, no less! To be honest, the picture opportunities were actually better for me here, and this is when the jonesing for my Nikon really took shape. That should be my theme here. Jonesing for my Nikon.

Ultimately, would I want to head back to St. Kitts? Yeah I definitely think I would. I really loved how clean and pristine the island felt. I might pass up Cockleshell, that’s all.

Third Island: Aruba

I cannot say Aruba, or think Aruba without immediately humming or singing the Beach Boys line, “Aruba, Jamaica, oooo I wanna take you to Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go …..” – Not even certain if I have those lyrics in the right order, it goes thru my mind every time.

I LOVED Aruba. Of course I did, it follows every single faction of shopping in my life which is: Leave me to shop on my own for anything; clothes, shoes, handbags, homes and now vacations – and I will find and fall in love with the most expensive item there, completely unknowingly.

I believe Aruba is ultimately for millionaires, but I’m sure an average Joe can either spend one day there (as did I) or save their pennies and vacation like a Peasant.

This was the first island that I did a paid excursion on. A large catamaran that took us out onto the clearest most beautiful waters. Snorkeling, swimming, rope swing and slide, plus booze and a little bite to eat. LOVED IT. Not only could I completely see myself living in Aruba, I’d have to have one of these Catamaran’s. I could deal with a smaller one. I’m not greedy.

Getting back from the boat, we opted to stay on the beaches, which are much more expensive than the other two we stayed at. First they tried to rent us an umbrella for $50.00. We could have bought a used umbrella at that price. Then there was the bickering over who was going to pay what to sit under these thatched umbrella’s (which let’s be honest here, we could not have bought one of those) that were going for a mere $35.00. I had enough and headed down the pier in hopes to find the perfect little beach bar and as fate would have it – there she stood. From there I sipped on a local beer (which I did not reorder – Mango Colado’s had stolen my heart) served by a local who spelled her name Janet, but pronounced it Jhah-NET, which is what I think all my Janet friends should go by now. Looked over the once again, but never tired of, turquoise Caribbean waters, watched the water sports and sail boats and talked with a new friend.

Aruba

The view I vie for during retirement (Aruba)

 

Time slipped by quick on this island, and pretty soon we were hunted down and told it was time to leave. I could have almost cried, I loved it there so much. In my retirement dream I want to find a little local wooden bar on the end of a pretty pier, that is run by a Jhah-NET, where we sit and discuss those crazy American’s and their politics and maybe the local goings on. I would erase the hotels and the fifty dollar umbrella’s and the Palapa’s (the thatched umbrella’s, and I’ll be honest I just looked up what they were called) would be free. I’d bring my freshly picked mango’s to Jhah-NET for her to slurry me up some tasty coloda’s with the local rum, and life would be GOOD.

Fourth & Last Island: Curacao

Our last island, and fifth day out to sea was Curacao. Curacao is a hard word for me to pronounce, because up until – oh this past December I had pronounced it Kur-raw-coh. Fortunately I heard someone else pronounce it while I was on my Vegas trip and realized I had been saying it wrong all these years. Not that Curacao comes into my conversation a lot over a lifetime, but I almost felt like Elizabeth Berkley in Shows girls when she pronounces Versace as as Ver-says. I looked up the phonetic pronunciation of it when I got home, and when I say the word I have to hesitate as I visualize the word Cure-ah-sow.

I’m sure when I hit the lottery and buy enough homes to island hop, that saying the word Curacao will be said so often, that I will simply slip off my tongue as easily as Peanut Butter. 😉

Curacao was the only island we didn’t beach it during the day. I had originally booked a small excursion with a bit of tour, bit of beach, but the call time to meet was 8:15 and by God this was my vacation, and I wasn’t going to work office hours by setting an alarm. I was willing to take the financial hit by simply ditching the event, but got super lucky when an honest soul took my spot on the excursion at the last moment and then later found me and paid me for it. I would have never known, and thought it quite commendable on her behalf to be so honest.

Of course I gambled this found money in the ship’s Casino the following night and lost it faster than it took for her to hand it to me.

Instead of the excursion, the roommate and a few friends ventured into town and walked the cobbled streets, which I both LOVED and HATED. I only hated it because I wanted my fucking camera so badly at this point! – This was a photographers haven, especially for people and buildings. We did our own form of a pub crawl and had a great time during it. Very relaxing, and best yet, I finally got some shopping time in.  Prior to that was me running in as quickly as possible to a small shop here and there buying my magnets. Oh and an overly priced, yet very loved ballcap. Haven’t bought one of those in years.

Curacao

Curacao

 

Curacao was seriously lovely, from the moving bridge which is similar to a drawbridge only this moves sideways, instead of up and down – to the colorful landscape and buildings, to the free roaming dogs, sometimes only with three legs. Made it back in from town onto the ship just in time to rinse, later, repeat as we repeated the same walking venture, plus about a mile or two to a hotel suggested to us by — well let’s just say fellow passengers arranged this. It’s rare that the ships dock as late as this one did (11 PM) so we took full advantage like a kid without parents for the night and headed out.

The location of the hotel itself was great, but getting there was a little more than I anticipated. Between the un-level walking that reminded me more of the streets of New Orleans, to the length of the walk itself, I was very happy that the hotel actually exceeded my expectations. When I arrived I was a grumbling little mess, but the moment I walked into the outside bar and restaurant which were nestled in this tiny little cove, all anger subsided. We had arrived just in time to get libations and watch the sun go down.

Curacao2

The sunset 430 miles north of Venezuela (Curacao)

 

428 miles from Venezuela. That’s like Vegas close. It’s the second farthest point South ever traveled for me (Costa Rica edges it out, just barely). Friendly, and clean. Not cheap, but not Aruba prices either. I would definitely come back to this last of our island travels for this particular trip.

The Ship:

The ship was a Royal, and it was nice. In fact, while I wasn’t overwhelmed by the beauty of it, it was probably one of my favorites. We had a great balcony room. I was really lucky with my roommate choice, because we just gelled really well living together for a week. We had been very new friends before, but I think the trip cemented things for us. Like, I’d have her out to my place for a weekend if she ever wanted. Can’t say that invite extends to everyone I know.

Back to the ship, there were some areas I really liked, like their promenade area, which is almost laid out like a mall. Very easy to locate what you are looking for. The nightclub was nice as well. Larger dance floor than most, and ample seating around the floor.

I can’t really report too much on the food, because that part about me taking it so very easy? It extended itself to dining hours. I literally never stepped foot in the dining room except when we were going from floor to floor in the beginning, checking things out. Plus we tend to do as our company does, and my friend almost seemed to have an allergic reaction to the dining room. While I wasn’t purposely avoiding it, and had even considered a point of going, the timing was always off for me. The buffet? It wasn’t too bad. Nothing to write home about, but I could always manage a meal when needed.

What I did get in lieu of the dining room was an evening at one of the specialty restaurants, which really did exceed my expectations. The food and service were exemplary, and the dining company wasn’t too bad either.

We only had two sea days, and those honestly flew by. Having had a lot of direct sun on those days that were at dock, I spent my at-sea days in shade, ass planted firmly in an area that had excellent cocktail service.

So that’s it. That’s my take on the four of the islands I was lucky enough to spend a small amount of time on. I still want that boat to retire on, taking it from island to island, until my time comes and they just throw me into the water and make me fish food.

Until then I will just bide my time and island explore to the best of my abilities. And take pictures of course. Lots of pictures.

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