Back to Barbados

Thursday, 3 March 2016

When we woke up early this morning we found that the Adonia was docked right back where we’d started, in Bridgetown.  But we weren’t going home quite yet; we had the whole day and overnight in this fantastic country; in fact this is our seventh visit to Barbados – we love it here.  🙂

We could see that the Braemar was back in port again, as was the Azura.  We determined to make the most of the day.

After breakfast we decided to take a walk into Bridgetown city centre.  It’s only just over a mile and is a pleasant stroll.  So, ignoring the taxi and mini-bus drivers all vying for our business, we set off on foot, the sun already very hot.

We walked along, passing the sea wall and the gardens that run alongside, with their grass, trees, flowers and benches where you can sit and people-watch.  At one point we crossed over a small bridge and, when we looked down, we saw numerous small crabs on the concrete ledges below; they had been brought in on the tide.

The main city of Bridgetown has many good shops, including the well-known duty free department store, Cave Shepherd.  There were also lots jewellers, clothing and shoe shops, off-licences and souvenir stores.  Along the roadsides were stalls selling fresh fruits and vegetables and household goods.

We found what we were looking for – a little ramshackle bar where the locals hang out.  When I say “bar” however, it’s really just a shelter with a corrugated tin roof and a few wooden caravan-type vehicles with a serving hatch at the front.  The ‘caravans’ contained ice-chests full of bottles of Banks’s beer, “the beer of Barbados” and there were a number of rickety, mis-matched tables and chairs where you could sit and enjoy it.  We’d been here before, a couple of times, and the beer is much cheaper than in the cruise terminal (a third of the price).  There were a number of locals in there, including some off-duty drivers from the nearby bus station.  We enjoyed a couple of Banks’s each before making our way to Carlisle Bay Beach.

Carlisle Bay is a hidden gem; most people visiting Barbados will no doubt go to the more fashionable areas such as Oistins or St. Lawrence Gap.  But there is a Radisson Hotel at Carlisle Bay, as well as the popular Boathouse, which (for a fee) allows sunseekers to use the facilities such as water sports and large inflatables, along a large boardwalk.

We kicked off our shoes and walked along the gorgeous white sandy beach, the surf lapping at our ankles.  We had thought about bringing our cossies and going swimming, but I didn’t fancy walking the mile back to the ship in a damp swimsuit.  So we just made do with enjoying the surf, sand and sun, and feeling sad that this time tomorrow we’d be at the airport, waiting for our flight home.  😦

As we walked along the beach we noticed some guys up ahead leading some horses to the surf.  The horses took some persuading but eventually they went into the sea and started to swim, going a fair way out.  I suppose it’s a nice way for them to cool down, the way we do ourselves.  🙂

We spent the best part of an hour at the beach before deciding to make our way back to the ship, as we still had a mile to walk in the hot sun and we hadn’t brought any sun protection with us.

We arrived back at the docks and walked along, looking at the other ships moored up.  One of them was The World, a ship that is different in that the passengers permanently live on board; they must be very wealthy.  It has 165 residences (106 apartments, 19 studio apartments, and 40 studios), all owned by the ship’s residents. Average occupancy is 150 – 200 residents and guests.  The World was built in March 2002, and we had seen it before, during our cruise of the Baltic in August 2002 on board the Caronia.

Back on board the Adonia we went along to the Lido Café on the pool deck for some lunch, before making our way back to cabin A006 and reluctantly making a start with our packing.  Then we sat out on our balcony for a while, just passing the time in its usual pleasant way.

At dinner tonight we were missing a couple off our table – Bob and Thelma, who had left the Adonia to join the Braemar for its transatlantic voyage back to Dover, via the Azores.  We are already booked to do the same trip next year.  We enjoyed our “last supper” and the company of Colin and Christine as usual, then off we went for the final show in the Curzon Lounge, which was called “We’ll Meet Again” and featured war time songs, where we were all encouraged to sing along amid much  flag-waving.  It was an enjoyable show.

We then went up to the Crow’s Nest where they were holding an 80’s disco; there were not many people there (maybe they were all packing) but I was encouraged to get up and dance by some of the entertainment team. I asked for Oops Upside Your Head, the 1981 hit by the Gap Band where everybody gets down on the floor, one behind the other, and “rows”.  But only three of us were doing the rowing on an otherwise empty dance floor, so it fell a bit flat.

Then it was up to the Conservatory as usual to do the syndicate quiz. However, we were on our own this time, as John and Linda were packing and said they’d have an early night.  So we were pretty rubbish in the quiz, coming last.

Back in our cabin we finished the packing, leaving out only the stuff we’d need in the morning, and we put our cases outside the door for collection.  Then we settled down for our last night on board.  😦

Friday, 4 March 2016

So here we were, our holiday over.  We had to be out of our cabin before 8.30am, so once we’d had our breakfasts we just picked up our hand luggage and went along to Anderson’s Bar, where we waited for the call to disembark.

After about an hour, we heard the announcement for the Manchester flight, so we went down to Deck 3 and disembarked the Adonia for the last time, before making our way to the buses waiting nearby.  Once the bus was full, we set off for the 45 minute journey to the airport.  As the bus pulled away, clouds gathered and it started to rain – the first rain we had seen in a fortnight.  🙂

When we arrived at the airport, the bus pulled into a layby behind another bus, and an airport official came to tell us that, since the airport was a little congested with all the disembarking cruise passengers, we would have to sit here and wait.  This has happened before, and it is a bit of a nuisance.  I’d rather be sitting in the comfort of the executive lounge than on a bus!  It was another half an hour before the bus finally made a move, and we could go and check in.  The good thing was that our luggage had already been checked; we wouldn’t see it again until we arrived at Manchester airport tomorrow morning.

We got our boarding passes and went along to the exec lounge, where we had about an hour and a half before our flight.  We enjoyed the usual gratis drinks and canapés before making our way to the departure gate.

When we boarded the aircraft, we found we were sitting next to Colin and Chris, but we were right next to the toilets so we didn’t know whether that would be an advantage or disadvantage.

Once everyone was on board, the plane taxied to the runway and took off into the wide blue yonder, on time.  Then it was just the usual; pre-dinner drinks, aeroplane food, post-dinner drinks etc.  The only bit of excitement we had was when the guy sitting in front of us started to feel quite ill, and fainted.  Then the call of “is there a medical professional on board?” was announced, and a couple of nurses made themselves known to the cabin crew.  They let the bloke lie down across three seats, and they put the oxygen mask on him, until he recovered and started to get some of his colour back.

I did not sleep on the flight.  All night long people were coming and going to the toilets; the door would open, the light would come on, the door would bang shut, then there’d be the noise of the vacuum flush – it went on and on, all night.  It was a relief when the lights finally came back on for breakfast.

Afterwards we just had an hour or so of the flight left before we landed at a cold, dark and snowy Manchester at 5.00am.  We had quite a while to wait until our cases arrived, then it was along to the shuttle bus to take us back to the Jetparks car parking.  The car was freezing and we had to brush snow off the front and back windscreens – about a 30 degree drop in temperature from the good old Caribbean.

We set off about 6.00am on the road for home.  There wasn’t much traffic around at that time on a Saturday morning, and we arrived back in the house just after nine o’clock.  Then I went straight to bed to try to catch up on my lost sleep, and jet lag.

The Best of Bequia

When we went out on our balcony upon waking this morning, we saw that the Adonia was about to drop anchor just off the charming little island of Port Elizabeth in Bequia, in the country of St. Vincent & The Grenadines.  We hadn’t been to this port before, and indeed it looked more like the Caribbean used to do, that is wild and unbridled, full of natural rugged beauty, and no hideously-commercialised tourist-attracting cruise terminal in sight.  🙂

This morning we were free to explore as we wished, as we were not booked on a tour until after lunch.  After breakfast we therefore made our way to the liberty boat pontoon on Deck 3, and took the short ride across the bay to the landing stage, which was conveniently situated near plenty of individual little shops, bars and cafés.

Bequia (pronounced Bek-wei) is the second largest of the Grenadine islands and its name translates as “island of the clouds” in ancient Arawak.  We could see lots of private yachts and catamarans gliding in and out of the bay, with the Adonia in the distance, turning slowly round on her anchor.  The beaches looked very inviting and we could see quite a few people sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling.

We wandered along the quayside, looking for a bar or café which would allow us to access free wi-fi (sad, I know!) to check emails and our online banking.  It was very pleasant walking around and just enjoying the laid-back atmosphere.  All the locals seemed friendly and smiley, and the taxi drivers touting for business were not too pushy if you refused.

We bought a couple of postcards and stamps from a general dealer-type shop, then went to find somewhere to write them out.  Eventually we decided on an attractive-looking little bar-café which advertised wi-fi, so in we went to enjoy a couple of ice-cold Carib beers.  Afterwards we just pottered around before making our way back to the landing stage, where we were to meet the tour guide at 12.30pm.

When the buses arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to see that they were small, open-sided vehicles, which held a maximum of eight passengers.  We piled into one of them and set off through the sunlit streets; on our tour of the island.

We passed shabby-chic dwellings, colourful shops and other businesses as we slowly made our way through the uneven, winding roads, gradually climbing higher.  Our driver stopped frequently to allow us to take photos of the rugged coastline, the Caribbean Sea sparkling under an unblemished blue sky.  At one stage the guides from the different buses got together and gave us an impromptu a capella rendition of some Bequian folk songs, all in perfect harmony.  The songs each had a story to tell and were quite amusing.

We then arrived at Hamilton Fort, on the northern point of Admiralty Bay, beyond Hamilton village. The original structure is long gone, but both French and English cannons retrieved from the waters around Bequia are now placed there; the view alone was worth the visit. The defence of the entrance to Admiralty Bay was a priority for the British. In 1771, the harbour was described as being “very fine, where Ships of Force may safely ride”.

We then made our picturesque way back down again, passing through the remains of the Spring plantation, where sugarcane grew in abundance and some of the old sugar mills are still standing.  Now the Spring plantation is used mainly for growing and exporting fruit and has many tall coconut palms; we spotted the odd cow grazing in among the shade of the trees.

It was now time for us to stop for some refreshments (rum punch!) at a small bar which had a whale rib running the length of the bar.  Bequia is one of the few places in the world where limited whaling is still allowed by the International Whaling Commission.  Natives of Bequia are allowed to catch up to four humpback whales per year using only traditional hunting methods of hand-thrown harpoons in small, open sailboats. The limit is rarely met, with no catch some years.

We enjoyed a cold glass of rum punch each and browsed in the small souvenir shop next door, before it was time to set off for our final destination this tour – the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary.

The Turtle Sanctuary was founded in 1995 by Orton ‘Brother’ King, who was concerned by the over-fishing and poaching (for turtle shell) of the endangered hawksbill turtles.  He made it his mission to rescue new turtle hatchlings or injured turtles and nurse them back to health until they were fit enough to be released back into the sea.  The new hatchlings were originally raised in large plastic tubs and fed a diet of canned tuna fish and other meats; it was a case of trial and error to see what worked.  Today, hatchlings are raised at the sanctuary until they are about five years of age, then returned to the beaches where they hatched.  To date, Brother King has returned over 900 turtles to the wild.

At the sanctuary we were able to see various turtles swimming around in their salt water pools; they ranged in size from about 10cm in length to over a metre.  The sanctuary buildings are only a stone’s throw from the ocean and we could hear the waves washing onto the sandy shore.

After our visit to the turtles it was time to return to the Adonia.  The mini-bus took us back to the landing stage but we didn’t want to go back on board yet; instead we found a pleasant bar with a balcony upstairs, and we went up and enjoyed a freezing cold bottle of Carib beer each.  We then made our way to the landing stage where a liberty boat waited; it didn’t take long for us to glide across the bay and return to the ship, round about 4.30pm.

What a lovely place we’d found Bequia to be – I could easily come back and spend a week or two here, and even explore some of the other islands of St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Tonight the dress code was smart-casual, so we just spent a bit of time pottering around the ship after dinner.  The show this evening in the Curzon lounge featured former comedian and TV game show host, Roy Walker, of Catchphrase fame.  Roy Walker was a household name in the 1980s with his gentle Irish humour, so we were looking forward to his show and he didn’t disappoint with his stand-up routine.

Then it was up to the Crow’s Nest to watch one of the show members’ own solo cabaret.  His name was Terry Gleed and he entertained us with his musical theatre singing and dancing.

We finished the evening off, as ever, by going to the Conservatory for the syndicate quiz with John and Linda.  Our team won!!  Yes, for the fourth time “team number five” won the quiz, and we enjoyed a free bottle of house white wine.  🙂

Then it was back to cabin A006 to settle down for the night.  Tomorrow we’d be back where we started, in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Magical Martinique

We were up again early this morning, and we went straight out onto the balcony to have a look around.  We were docked in Fort-de-France, principal town in Martinique, which is one of France’s overseas départements.  Once again it was a new port of call for us, and today we were booked on the full day tour.

Fort-de-France is one of the major ports of the Caribbean.  Exports include the inevitable sugar, rum, tinned fruit and cacao, and our visit today would include a tour of the St. James’ rum distillery.  😉

As we were eating our breakfast on the rear decks, we saw the Anthem of the Seas making her big ungainly way into the port opposite Adonia.

Once breakfast was finished, we disembarked the Adonia and made our way to the quayside to be directed to our waiting coach.  We set off along the east coast, which allowed us to have fantastic views of the beautiful coastline, rugged hills and palm-fringed beaches.  Our driver stopped often to allow us to capture photographs.  At one stage we could see the Anthem docked across the bay, with the Adonia looking tiny in front of her; she was less than a third of the length of the Anthem.

Our first stop was in the town of Sainte-Marie, at the St. James Rum Distillery.  Similar to when we were in Guadeloupe, we were able to see the machines cutting the sugar cane and collecting it up to be put into the processors.  The distillery, which is also a museum giving a fascinating insight into the history of rum in the Caribbean, was set in lush gardens which were pleasant just to walk around and try to find shade from the sun.

After we’d learned how the sugar was processed and the rum produced, we were then invited into the shop, where an array of different rums was on offer for us to taste.  There were the aged dark and amber rums as well as the white rums, rum liqueurs and rums flavoured with coconut, coffee, pineapple, orange and other exotic fruits.  It was a rum lover’s paradise.  🙂

We opted to buy a bottle of the coconut rum, which was a bit like the Malibu in the white bottles we get at home.  It will be a nice treat and reminder of our visit to Martinique.

Continuing on our way, our next stop was at a large banana plantation.  We saw lorries loaded with unripe bananas taking them to the packing centre, ready to be shipped to France.  We also saw the rows of banana trees, some of them with the large, unusual purple flower hanging down, and the start of little bunches of baby bananas.  Bananas are botanically classed as berries and, as well as the eating bananas we all know and love, you can get the shorter, plumper fruits used in cooking, and known as plantains.

Back on the the bus (enjoying an air-conditioned respite!) we next went to the town of St. Pierre, one of the most famous places on the island due to the devastating volcano of 1902. Thirty thousand people perished when Mount Pelée erupted.  The only (known) survivor was a prisoner named Ludger Sylbaris, who was saved by virtue of the fact he was being held in a dungeon in the prison at the time.  Sylbaris was later invited by Barnum & Bailey circus to travel with them, where he made a living by exhibited his burns.

We were able to see the remains of the cell where Sylbaris was held, as well as some building ruins, most notably those of a theatre.  It was interesting to see how Martinique has combined its new buildings with these historical relics.

It was then time to go to lunch.  Our bus took us to the “Restaurant Le Bambou” in the little village of Morne Rouge, at the foot of Mt. Pelée.

As we entered the restaurant, we were given a cold glass of rum punch.  We started off the meal with French bread and a dish made with chickpeas, fish and some sort of oily sauerkraut – I wasn’t too keen on it to be honest.  Then we had the main course, which was a spicy chicken curry-like dish, served with butternut squash and washed down with red, white or rosé wine.  Dessert consisted of baked banana soaked in a rum-infused caramel syrup.

Then we all piled back on the bus to start making our way back to the port.  This time, we went via the west coast through some gorgeous little villages, including Case Pilote, which is one of the oldest fishing villages on the island.  We were able to see where Columbus landed in 1502, as well as where the French artist Paul Gauguin was inspired to paint some of his most stunning coastal landscapes.  All in all, it was a great day out, and we arrived back at the Adonia around 4.00pm.

We didn’t really want a big dinner tonight, after our substantial lunch, so we decided not to go to the restaurant.  Instead we opted to eat in the Conservatory, where they were holding an Indian buffet.

We enjoyed a selection of authentic Indian dishes washed down with a bottle of Tiger beer each (they didn’t have Kingfisher!).  Then we had a wander about out on deck, as we’d finished dinner earlier than we would have done if we’d been to the restaurant.

The show tonight was another one we’d seen before (on the Ventura in 2012) called “Reel to Reel” and featuring songs from famous films.  Yawn.  I’d say the entertainment so far on this trip has been reasonably good over all, but certainly nothing out of the ordinary – we’ve seen much better.  Also, the same shows must do the rounds on all the P&O ships; I think they need to look at some newer and original material.  Never mind, it gave us the chance to sit down, have a drink and let our dinner get down a bit.

We then finished the evening doing the usual things – went up to the Crow’s Nest for a while (the band, Quintessence, we performing country music), did the syndicate quiz (we didn’t win this time) and finished off by returning to the Crow’s Nest where they were holding a St David’s Day karaoke.  As usual, not many people got up and the gaps had to be filled by some of the entertainment staff (one of whom was the Phantom of the Opera singer Mike Sterling who we’d seen the other night.  Of course they kept dragging me up to sing as well and, fuelled with one or two proseccos, I was happy to oblige.  🙂

Afterwards, Mike Sterling came over and thanked me for “holding the show together”.  We told him how much we’d enjoyed his performance the other night, but that was a big mistake; he sat down at our table and never shut up.  It was basically a case of “I love me – who do you love?”.  It was getting on for 1.00am before we could make our excuses and leave.

Back in cabin A006 we commented that our fantastic holiday was rapidly coming to an end.  But we still had a few days left, and tomorrow we were due to drop anchor in Bequia, in St. Vincent & the Grenadines.