Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series
Sail away with me
People say, “I can’t wait to hear about your vacation” and “Take plenty of photos to share with us.” I really don’t know if they mean it, but here it is. By posting here, you can look if you want or just nod and go on. If you enjoy it, leave a comment. If you have a question, ask, but there’s a lot I don’t know about the places we visited.
The initial purpose of this trip was to visit my seventh continent. (Leah now has six, lacking only Antarctica.) As we searched for how to make it happen, Leah said she really wanted to visit the Amazon River. The result was a 25-day cruise, roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that visited several Caribbean islands and spent eight days venturing some 900 miles up the world’s largest river.
In order of our visits, following are a photo or two from each port along with a little commentary.
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
Like Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands are an organized, unincorporated United States territory. I have always thought our country’s relationship with these territories to be, at best, strange.
Because it’s technically in the U.S., Leah was able to mail postcards back home with only a domestic stamp; that was cool. One major disappointment was that our walk around a bit of the capital, Charlotte Amalie on the island of St. Thomas, found a lot of trash. However, the mural shown in the photograph suggests it’s a topic being addressed. The painting was on the fence outside Addelita Cancryn Junior High School.
The strangest thing was traffic.
Most of the vehicles come from the United States, understandably, but Virgin Islanders drive on the left side of the road. So, the driver operates the vehicle from the outside part of the lane rather than the inside. It made me uncomfortable just looking at it.
One of the neat things about this particular trip was being able to get past the touristy areas in most ports. When you first get off the ship, there is always a group of vendors with the usual types of items, but once you get past there, you often find life less focused on the tourist.
That was especially true in Basse-Terre. One block from the pier, we were immersed in hectic comings and goings as residents took care of shopping and visiting. Signs and conversations were almost entirely in French or the local creole language. (Guadeloupe is to France as the U.S. Virgin Islands are to the United States.)
This is a good place to note that we never felt at risk during the trip, even when walking well away from the main tourist areas. Of course, it was always morning to afternoon; I cannot say anything about any night life.
The photo is of a creek flowing through town, a block from a bustling marketplace.
Castries, Saint Lucia
We found Saint Lucia interesting. Early in its history, it moved between the French and British but settled under England’s control almost 200 years ago. Therefore, the official language is English.
Our walk took us around the one-runway airport to reach a small beach, but the highlight was strolling through a cemetery. Pictured here is an example of the burial sites.
What was particularly neat about them was they were all different. It was obvious that each was individually prepared. I wish we knew the story of this black and white version.
Returning to the ship, we stopped at a market and bought a couple of local beers from a woman who pulled them from an ice chest. Meanwhile, another woman all but pulled Leah away from me to braid her hair. There was also a stop in a store where an outstanding 8-year-old salesman who was helping his grandmother impressed us with his salesmanship.
Apparently, shopping is a major shore attraction for many cruisers, which led to several advisories and near-apologies that our visit to Barbados coincided with the nation’s independence day.
For us, however, it was a blessing.
The streets were not too busy as we walked toward town center, but as we neared the bridge that gave the city its name, we saw what looked like people waiting for a parade. After crossing the bridge, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of it.
It was so entertaining, Leah got caught up enough to purchase a flag.
Finally, after more than a day of cruising up the Amazon River, we made a port call in Santarem. Since the port was a ways from the downtown area, shuttle buses provided rides.
The area was incredibly busy this Saturday morning. The bank of the river was lined with all kinds of boats, most of them rather small. Several, we figured out, served as something of a regional transit system, bringing shoppers and sellers from up and down the river.
As we walked down the river wall, we noticed quite a few parked cars with cardboard under the windshield wipers covering the glass. As we walked and observed, we realized several guys had on T-shirts that said “Guarda Auto” and that they were watching the cars.
We came to the area in the photo and saw most of the motorcycles also had cardboard covers. Apparently, the cardboard may have helped protect from the sun, but its primary purpose was to mark the vehicles they were guarding.
The second photo is my conquest shot (posing with the Geriatric Adventure patch provided by friends Pam and Mike), chronicling visiting my seventh continent. With that, a big item was ticked off my bucket list.
Boca da Valeria, Brazil
After all of the rushing of Santarem, we visited this rustic village of a couple of hundred people.
We had to use lifeboats as tender craft to reach a small pier. As we stepped ashore, there were many of the community’s children there to serve as escorts. Silently, they took our hands and proceeded up the trail.
We visited the small Roman Catholic church and their two school rooms. Leah communicated haltingly and without any degree of certainty with one of the teachers.
Next, we encouraged them to take us to the top of the bluff – a fairly significant climb – which offered a view of the river and village. Coming down was a sliding and falling experience which left us both filthy.
Manaus, a huge city of some 1.7 million people, was the ship’s turning around point and the site of an overnight stay.
The first afternoon, we walked away from the port into an awfully busy street. It was so pressed that I never even tried to take a photo. Leah was looking for a post office in hopes of determining how to mail a package to the school in Boca da Valeria, but our two different sets of directions did not help.
We met on the sidewalk two young men wearing white shirts, ties and name badges that identified them as Mormon missionaries. One was, incredibly enough, from Dallas. Alas, they had no idea how to find the post office.
Early the next day, we headed out on our only paid excursion for the cruise. Our group boarded two boats and rode about an hour up the Rio Negro. Originating in Colombia, it is the largest left tributary of the Amazon, the largest blackwater river in the world, and one of the world’s 10 largest rivers in average discharge.
There we visited what was identified only as “an indigenous village.” One of the guides communicated with the shaman in Portuguese, but one got the impression most of the villagers spoke only their native language. Following a few words of introduction, we were escorted into a large hall and entertained with traditional dances and songs.
On the return trip, we visited a rubber plantation exhibit that operated off of an old movie set. The rubber boom filled this area with riches, but like most booms it eventually went bust.
As we started the slow journey home, our first stop was the interesting home of the Boi Bumbá festival.
No, I really cannot explain it. The appearance seems to be a smaller version of the famous Brazilian Carnival – think Mardi Gras.
Boi Bumbá, however, appears to be more deeply entrenched in local history and customs. Try the Web site boibumba.com for more information, but the bottom line is that everyone in town supports either the Blue Ox (Boi) or the Red Ox, and that loyalty is displayed through displays of one color or the other.
I cannot explain the sign in the photo since it seemed others, like the three carts to the right, pick only one color. Perhaps it’s a his-and-her thing.
Alter do Chao, Brazil
Our final stop in South America was primarily a beach call. We strolled along the shore until we ran into a couple from the ship who had become friends. (Like us, they were among the younger travelers on the ship; we are all around 60 years old.)
We found a spot where we could get a couple of beers and enjoy the scenery before walking back to the ship.
The photo is just another example of what we saw up and down the river. Roads and automobiles are not quite as important as have a boat for the river.
Scarborough, Trinidad and Tobago
We took our longest walk since Saint Lucia on the island of Tobago, starting with a botanical garden and ending at an old fort overlooking the bay.
Our trek took us through several neighborhoods and once again reinforced what we’ve found on our travels – people are people.
The photo shows just two panels of a long mural on a wall next to a sidewalk. Those two images are representative of all the Caribbean. Various invading nations – notably Spain, France, England and the Netherlands – continually fought amongst themselves and the native Caribs for control of various islands.
When European nations took over, they eventually shipped in slave labor to work the land for profitable crops such as sugar cane. Every island we visited had its own slavery story.
Our final port call was this beautiful pastel-colored Dutch city just off the coast of Venezuela.
We walked the huge, floating pedestrian bridge across the ship channel to a large shopping area, backed by a variety of businesses. To the left, in a small harbor, was the floating market – an assortment of farmers from the mainland.
Away from the tourist area, we found small homes and businesses, many backed up to the ocean and a lot of them undergoing restoration.
This wall of a building otherwise needing attention, spoke to me.
This was our third cruise. The first was a seven-day trip to see if we liked it. Just over a year ago, we spent 15 days crossing back from Europe and really enjoyed that. This trip ran 25 days, almost a month aboard the ship.
After such a journey, one evaluates. The length of the cruise was fine and I’m thinking we could do something even longer if we really want to, but that’s the real question.
For us, a cruise is a great way to just sample an area, maybe to find some place to which you’d like to return for a longer visit (hmm, maybe Saint Lucia or Barbados?). It’s also good for visiting places difficult to see otherwise, such as the Amazon River.
However, we really enjoy getting to know a particular area better rather than just nibbling at the edges. That’s the theory behind our summer work plans that have put us in Yellowstone, the Black Hills and western New York the past three years. That’s why we’re planning to hike the Erie Canal late next spring.
So, there may be other cruises, but we are more likely to pull our RV to some spot in this country we want to explore and spend a month or two there. Or, if we get exotic, we might rent a place overseas for a month. We’ll see.
For the record, this trip was aboard the ms Princendam of Holland America Lines. It’s a relatively small ship, maybe 900 passengers, and we enjoyed a fantastic crew. A highlight was an hour of music and dancing each evening before dinner with the Station Band, a four-member group from the Philippines who could play just about anything and do it well.
Thanks for traveling with us.