>Now that it is almost over, I am definitely adapting to being on a cruise. I’ve really enjoyed the port calls that we made so far, although, as I bitched before, I think only a few hours in a place is criminal. It strikes me as fucked up that you spend days traveling to a place and then have such minimal time there. You can barely experience anything, which is what most cruise enthusiasts seem to love. They want a quick taste of something and then it’s time to head over to the next destination. Cruises are Epcot on water. Oh well. Maybe I will get back to some of these places another time. At least I got to go for a little bit, which is more than most people will ever have the chance to experience. I know that I am lucky in that sense. Anyway, a quick recap of where I visited over the past four days:
St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands) - Actually, I do not regret that our port call at St. Thomas was so short. I found it to be a grotesque mix of poverty and extremely high end retail. All of the stores in the downtown area sold mega fancy jewelry and Swiss watches, as well as expensive fashion items. The one thing that I enjoyed about St. Thomas was the synagogue, which was a cool Caribbean pastel set of small buildings. Unfortunately, it was closed on Sunday, but I would have loved to see how the inside was different from other synagogues I’ve been to. (Visiting/seeing synagogues in foreign places has become a strange hobby of mine in the past few years. I just really enjoy seeing how Jewish traditions blend with local ones.)
In St. Thomas, I also went with Husband and Brother-in-Law on a shore excursion to Coral World, a cheesy small outdoor aquarium. We participated in Sea Trekkin, which is a 30 minute walk on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. We were outfitted with special 72 lb. helmets (fortunately, they were only 15 lbs. underwater) which were designed for deep sea divers (or possibly astronauts) and walked with a guide along a path 10-20 feet under water. I held a sea urchin and some weird thing that looked like a spider. Fish swam right by our faces. It was cool. I hope I can post some pictures when I get back.
Tortola (British Virgin Islands) - I loved Road Town, the tiny main town in Tortola, an island of only 10 miles. It was adorably quaint and super laid-back. I would have loved a few days to explore the island and also to travel to the other British Virgin Islands. Alas, in the 8 hours were allotted, Husband and I only had time for a historical walking tour, which included two poorly curated and totally charming museums, two trips to the famous post office (to buy stamps and to mail a post card to my folks that I filled out over lunch), lunch, a visit to the botanic gardens, and a break for some seriously delicious gelato. I had to forgo a trip to the other side of Tortola to the North Shore Shell Museum because there was not enough time.
People on the island have a great combination of Caribbean calm and British sensibilities. I so love almost anything British!!! Oddly enough, the accepted currency in the British Virgin Islands is the US dollar, not the British pound. Since the current exchange rate is about $2 for £1, that makes the island much more affordable. I would love to go back.
St.Maarten/St. Martin - I also loved St.Maarten/St. Martin, a 37 mile island split by the Dutch and French. In the morning, Parent-in-Laws rented a van, and Husband, Brother-in-Law’s Girlfriend, and I piled in with them for a drive around the island. It is fairly undeveloped, with some small towns sprinkled between Marigot (the French capital) and Philipsburg (the Dutch capital). The drive was pleasant, although when I urgently needed a bathroom between Grand Case (a town with tons of gourmet restaurants) and Marigot, this was difficult. Eventually, we pulled into a strip mall on the outskirts of Marigot. After searching for 15 minutes, we learned that the small outdoor bar had the bathroom key. The bathroom itself was very isolated and behind a bunch of buildings. They key opened the padlock that kept random people from using it. Fortunately, I had already dealt with a similar situation in the DR, so it did not freak me out as much as it otherwise would have. The family took turns using the bathroom and standing guard.
Marigot was very interesting. It is full of designer shops, bars, and restaurants. We browsed in the open air market. I split an amazing pan au chocolat with BiLG. It was the best bargain on the island at only $1. (Another interesting discovery we made is that the exchange rate between dollars and euros, the official currency, is 1:1, which is absolutely not the real exchange rate, as euros are stronger than dollars. So that also worked out well.)
We completed our drive around the island by driving up a mountainside with a stunning view and returned to the ship. Parent-in-Laws and BiLG picked up Brother-in-Law, who had been on a morning power snorkel excursion, and went shopping in Philipsburg. They reported that it was very nice. If there was more time, I would have loved to walk around Philipsburg myself, but Husband and I had signed up for a shore excursion to Rhino Riders, which are some sort of hybrid two person boats. The plan was to motor out with a guide through Simpson Bay, past the zillion dollar yachts parked in the harbor, under the cute bridge dividing the Dutch and French sides, and out into the sea, chugging up the coast of the island past Marigot to Happy Bay for snorkeling. Happy Bay is what our amusing guide referred to as a “nudie beach.”
Our start was quite slow, literally, as the engine on our boat was not working. Guide called in a replacement boat, which we transferred to in the middle of the water. Exciting! The new boat actually worked, so we were soon speeding our way up the coast of St. Martin. It was incredibly fun. (I think that Husband should get a motorcycle when we get back as I imagine it would be very similar.) When we arrived at Happy Bay, we tied our boats together away from the shore. (I noticed a nude person, but we were a bit far off the beach, and I could not tell if the person was male or female. I did notice that he/she was disturbingly tan.) We strapped on the snorkeling equipment, which was the first time I ever snorkeled. I loved it! I like having my face in the water yet being able to breathe. It was way better than Sea Trekkin, too. I saw tons of fish of various sizes and colors.
San Juan, PR - I spent our 5 hour port call in Old San Juan with the family. We went to El Morro, an amazing fort built by the Spanish several hundred years ago. I also convinced everyone to go with me to a re-created house and pharmacy of a 19th century Puerto Rican family. I loved the old pharmacy, although it did not have very many objects, and even fewer disturbing ones. The house was very interesting. Everything was written in Spanish, which none of us read well, but it was a very pleasant visit anyway. We shopped for a while and had lunch at a hole-in-the-wall type of place. It was crowded with Puertorriqueños, so we knew it had to be good. I had the best mofongo con cerdo (mashed boiled plantains with pork, a traditional dish in PR and the DR) ever. Fuck, it was tasty. And that was pretty much all the time we had in PR.
Today we are back at sea for the day. The big event on the ship is the Chocolate Buffet from 11:15 pm to midnight. This should be a sight to behold, and of course, eat like a pig. Tomorrow we arrive at Norwegian Cruise Line’s private island in the Bahamas. It is the only day that I will go to the beach, as there is nothing else to see or do. BiLG’s birthday is tomorrow, so we shall do something special at dinner. Then we’ll be at sea again all day on Sat. I plan to do lots of writing and reading.