March 18, 2016

Shore Excursions & Exploring (Part 2)

Truck-based jitneys in St. Thomas
Outside of the cruise excursion offerings (see previous post), taking time to casually explore the Islands is always a good thing to do, which is the focus of this post. There were two islands I couldn’t explore due to all day excursions; those being Barbados (for the Jolly Roger) and St. Lucia (for snorkelling).

St. Thomas
A St. Thomas town north of the Waterfront
While St. Thomas is part of the US Virgin Islands, one thing that’s different from the mainland United States and Puerto Rico is people travel on the left instead of the right. Many other Caribbean islands (including Barbados, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts) also travel on the left, though Sint Maarten travels on the right. The terrain outside the cruise terminal and nearby town is hilly and the only thing resembling public transit is jitneys seating ten to fifteen people and based on older trucks.
Even run down areas can have beautiful sights such as this
During the jitney ride up to Coki Beach for scuba diving and walking into town via an alternate hilly route – the safer route to town for tourists is along the Waterfront – I noticed the island was impoverished outside of the port area. Many buildings appeared run down, a couple of auto repair shops were almost open air, and wild roosters could be seen running around. Closer to the Waterfront, a blue tarp market could be found, where you better get your negotiation skills up before dealing with some slick talkers, along with taking your time in order to get the best deal. Heading back via the Waterfront, I came across some building artwork and was able to capture one of the most beautiful nature photographs I’ve ever done.

Crabs are barely visible when viewed in high resolution
Of the five ports, Barbados was the only one where tourists were required to bring their passports when disembarking. While waiting for the bus to the Jolly Roger port, small crabs could be found along the rocky coastline. As with St. Thomas, the buildings in Bridgetown (the main Barbados town) were also in rough shape. Unlike in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas, this was the first port where I saw Toyota minibuses (also found elsewhere in the Caribbean), which carry about fifteen people and are smaller than the Ford and GM vans found in North America.

St. Lucia
Cattle farm in St. Lucia
In spite of not being able to walk around St. Lucia much, the excursion did require a 30 minute minibus ride to Marigot Bay. The terrain was easily the highest of the five islands, which provided good views of the rain forest, cattle farms, and unique rock formations. Murals could also be seen while heading back from the excursion.

St. Kitts
Old sugar factory in St. Kitts
Not interested in doing an excursion? $20 US will get you a taxi (or minibus) ride around St. Kitts. However, I was less than impressed with our driver, who used the word “folks” more than Doug Ford during the 2014 Toronto election and he made a big deal of boring sights such as the cable television station. Having to pay extra to visit certain sights such as Brimstone Hill (which we didn’t) was also a turn off. However, we stopped at a bird nesting area, an old sugar factory, a hill top with great views (and some nearby cactus), and a beach by South Friars Bay before returning to Basseterre. Compared to the other islands, this one was a letdown and home to one of the most stupid scams around. Some locals with monkeys will take pictures of tourists with a monkey (using the tourists’ own cameras) and then tell them they owe $10 US. No, thank you!

Sint Maarten

Fort Amsterdam in Sint Maarten
Given the French colony of Saint Martin on the northern half of the island, the Dutch Sint Maarten and its capital of Phillipsburg still offered many opportunities to practice French. During the bike tour I did there, the tour guide mentioned the French side uses Euros and European style 220 volt plugs, while the more tourist-oriented Dutch side uses American Dollars and American style 110 volt plugs. While tourism was developed in Sint Maarten during most of the 20th century, it was not until 1959 – the year Fidel Castro kicked the Americans out of Cuba – when tourism took off there and later across the Caribbean.
These paintings at the Lazy Lizard nicely sum up Caribbean vacations
Phillipsburg is a fifteen minute walk from the cruise terminal or less if you use a water taxi. There is a good quality beach in front of town, though like the one in Estoril (Portugal), you cannot get far without getting over your head. It is also possible to see fish in the water. After swimming there, I grabbed a bite at the Lazy Lizard, which does excellent Mahi Mahi burgers in addition to the customary low priced drinks. One thing that was slightly overwhelming about Phillipsburg is the large number of shops along Front Street.
One of the snorkel stops in St. Lucia
With the five ports wrapped up, this Caribbean blog series goes back to Puerto Rico where the journey started (and ended) for the final post.

Keep exploring! 
Rob Z (e-mail)

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