Category Archives: Nature

Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 5, The Finale

And about time too. This Blog has been going on for months and needs to conclude. Problem? There are 3 more islands to visit. But as one island is much the same as the next (Aruba notwithstanding), the final 3 shall be handled here with much the sameness. The only difference is St. Vincent, though it is much like St. Lucia except that its claim to fame is providing the Jamaican scenery from Pirates of the Caribbean. So, I guess apart from that, St. Vincent is St. Lucia.

Some might disagree. It’s all a matter of perspective. It’s also a matter of all those hills, or mountains of a sort and bendy, twisty roads and palm trees and banana groves and volcanoes and hot weather. Oh, and very nice, but ubiquitous beaches. The other exception to this is St. Kitts which has mountains but we didn’t drive through them, just around them. St. Kitts also is where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean in this part of the world and you can see the two collide.

And since all of the Caribbean islands were formed from volcanoes spilling land from their tops and sides, it is no wonder that the islands in this part of the world have so many similarities. The third of the last 3 we visited, Antigua, was another beach day. We didn’t see much of the island. The sea was rough and someone said there was a shark sighting. More shell gathering. Not so memorable.

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Fryes beach, Antigua.

St. Kitts was another story. Our tour guide made the day. I called him Fancy Danman. He had a very dry sense of humour and loved to tell us at every turn that the British pretty well wiped out the indigenous people of St. Kitts. Never mind that everyone on the bus was British.  No one took the bait. We all acted like the polite British people we used to be. I say we because my family background goes back to William the Conqueror and Border Scots even though most of my life was lived in Canada. Mostly I am polite. I wanted to tell old Fancy Danman to blame the privileged classes of Britain for past misdemeanours, but my best friend gave me one of those looks and I kept quiet. That too is very British unless one is a Football/Soccer Hooligan.

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Fancy Danman (aka Rastaman) our guide on St. Kitts.

Most of St. Kitts seems to be for Medical and Veterinary students from everywhere. Then there is the old sugar plantation with a Batik shop that is the real reason we were here. Lovely stuff….not cheap. We didn’t feel guilty because St. Kitts had been spared the worst of Hurricane Irma. We stopped where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea complete with a lady in a shack painting pictures for tourists. I went in and bought one of an island couple in traditional dress.

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One of the medical colleges on St. Kitts.

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Woman working on Batik.

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Batik drying at old sugar plantation on St. Kitts.

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Where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Caribbean Sea.

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The artist’s studio on St. Kitts.

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The artist in her ramshackle studio on St. Kitts.

Back on the bus and off to a cliff that overlooked a lava rock beach. Quite a sight. But the best feature of this tourist spot was at the back of our bus. Our driver, not Fancy Danman, had lowered a ledge behind the bus and was supplying us with another very potent rum punch. I kept going back for refills, and though we were supposed to have only one, the driver obliged with a knowing wink. Tourism is thirsty work.

I felt no pain for the rest of the trip. When we got back to Bassetierre, we walked into town to find a bank to replenish our dwindling funds. In the middle of one garden square is the statue of a half-naked island girl. It was commissioned by the British government to stand atop the tall plinth in Trafalgar Square. But it was deemed too risqué for the sensibilities of Victorian England and so Admiral Horatio Nelson won the honoured spot. That’s how Fancy Danman told it anyway. I have been unsuccessful in finding any corroborating evidence to Danman’s story, but he would be the first to say it is a conspiracy of silence.

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The clock tower in Bassetierre’s town centre.

So much for politics. On to St. Vincent. Our day began on a catamaran, the reverse of our day on St. Lucia. The sea was rough this day and we bobbed about like a cork. Some people were sick and the rest of us just hung on. We passed all the places used in the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean, including the bay that substituted for Nassau Town (Jamaica) where actor Johnny Depp was said to have been drunk for the entire 3 months of filming here. Apparently, it became impossible for Depp to stay at the resort nearby because of the damage he did to the place and so he was moved to a boat anchored in the bay with his own onboard chef and rowed to the day’s film shoot.

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Rainbow from the bow of the catamaran.

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Scene used in first Pirates of the Caribbean film.

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Lava Beach where I snorkeled.

We anchored at a beach consisting of black lava sand. One of the film’s scenes was filmed here (the one with the big wheel for all those who know the movies) and we were told we could swim or snorkel. Problem is, the trip planners had not said we had a swimming break. I went in any way with mask and snorkel….and not much else (island fever had taken over). Lots of colourful fishies. But the current was strong and at one point I had to crawl up on to the lava beach to catch my breath. Ended up cleaning lava sand from every part of me for the rest of the day.

When I got back on the catamaran, the crew was handing out ….you guessed it….more of that potent rum punch. But before that, those of us who had braved the waves were asked if we would like to sample a special rum. I am a gamer. What I didn’t know was that this rum was 90% proof and I swallowed it all at once. Like lighted gasoline in the throat and belly. Forgot my pain. And washed it out of my system with a few rum punches.

We headed shoreside to the place where lunch was arranged, along with one free drink. But to get there, we ploughed through some of the roughest water yet. By this time, I was feeling no fear or pain and ended up on the bow of the catamaran, holding on to a guy wire, woohooing all the way to shore. No wonder sailors drank rum. Gets you through anything.

Once safely ashore, we had lunch at a restaurant by the water. I ate my chicken something or other and drank my locally brewed Hairoun beer as I watched little sand crabs moving about, disappearing down holes at the slightest sign of danger. They move very quickly. After a stop at another Botanical garden and waterfall, we drove the long, twisting, up and down road to our ship in Kingstown. Then it was off to Barbados and the flight back to cold, wet England.

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Enjoying a Hairoun brewski on St. Vincent.

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Waterfall at the Botanical Garden on St.Vincent.

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Crossing the rickety bridge in the Botanical Garden on St. Vincent.

Ciao Caribbean Cruise. Like a distant memory as I write this. Will I ever go back? Most of me says ‘Been there, done that’ but you never know. If I ever do, it won’t be to Grenada. I’ll probably stick to Majorca….closer and cheaper….so far.

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And it’s goodbye from the Caribbean.

Caribbean Cruise: Part 4, Hurricane

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 4, Hurricane

The islands of the Caribbean may appear to be paradise, but even paradise on earth has its downside. Weather. The best and worst of weather is the story of many of the Caribbean islands. Mostly good, but there is one time of the year when fingers are crossed and prayers said. That would be during hurricane season. The one in September of 2017 was particularly nasty in the Caribbean.

And so when we had returned to Barbados from St Lucia to let off half the passengers and pick up some more for week 2, we headed for St. Maarten (Dutch side of St. Martin – the French side) and then Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. We couldn’t believe what awaited us. Everything looked pristine from the sea, but up close? Another story.

We docked at Philipsburg and took a shuttle boat to the long beach that fronts the city. We were only the second boat to visit the island since Hurricane Irma hit at the beginning of September 2017. As we approached the shore, we could see the damage done by this Force 5 Hurricane. Store fronts were gone. Roofs had been ripped off and palm trees broken. All was calm when we arrived except for the sound of hammers and drills along the beach front.

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The beach at St. Philipsburg.

We walked along looking for a place on the beach, feeling a little guilty that we had come to enjoy ourselves while so many on the island had very little since the storm hit. Then, out of the door of one of the restaurants came smiling, effusive Ahmed. He guided us to his booth on the beach, pointing to the water’s edge, assuring us that he would look after our every need for the day, including the supply of his ‘world famous’ beach umbrellas and chaise lounges.

Problem is, he pointed toward some beautiful umbrellas and chairs already set up that weren’t his to rent. Wait here, he said, and he’d be right back with our beach needs. He returned not long after with umbrellas that looked as if they had barely survived a hurricane, torn, twisted and rusty from years of abuse. The chaise lounges fared no better. We ended up replacing the umbrellas a few times due to collapses.

We stuck with Ahmed and his tattered gear, paying full price because we felt bad for all his troubles. And the endless stream of hawkers continued all day. Hats, bags, jewellery and island clothing, every kind of tat known to man was flogged at ridiculously high prices. We ended up buying the lot. They played on our sympathies and it worked.

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More destruction on St. Maarten

We all took a walk into the town. I have never seen so many jewellery and gold shops on one street. We talked to a guy who was fired from the police after the hurricane. Apparently, he was guarding one of the jewellery shops and at the height of the storm rushed home because his family were in danger. When he left, a gang of Jamaican looters robbed the shop and because this guy left his post, he was fired. We were told by more than a few islanders that this happens during hurricanes. Looting gangs from Jamaica come over and wait until the storm is at its worst before looting. Some of them die trying. Madness.

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Road Town, Tortola, from the bow of our cruise ship.

After a pleasant day at the beach, we headed back to the ship and left for Tortola. A depressing sight awaited us. We moored at Road Town and went ashore to the mini bus awaiting us. We were the first ship to visit Tortola since Hurricane Irma hit. Everyone was grateful to see our money. This was to be another beach day, but we had to drive across the island to Brewers Bay to get to it.

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Some roofs fixed but ships wrecked at Road Town, Tortola.

The drive there was not jolly. None of us in the bus could believe the scale of destruction wreaked all over the island. Some of it had been cleared away by the time we got there 2 months after the storm, but the level of ruination was still palpable. Everywhere we saw people sitting beside the road, dejected and lost. Homes were blown apart. Many had roofs missing. Roads were washed away. Vehicles were slammed against houses, up in trees, blown down valleys and abandoned altogether. Boats and ships were washed up on land and torn apart. Bits and pieces of buildings, ships, cars and all kinds of detritus were everywhere. This was 2 months after Irma hit.

We arrived at the beach in silence, having witnessed what we all hope we’ll never see happen where we live, feeling deeply for all those who had suffered such loss. The beach had been cleared of debris before we arrived. It was a depressing scene, all these mini bus folk shuffling onto a beautiful beach on a hot day having just weaved our way around the destruction. But we found a spot and sat in silence for a while. We knew the islanders needed the tourists but it seemed cruel to enjoy ourselves at others’ expense.

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The beach on Tortola just before the rain.

To bring home the message, it rained. We all huddled together until it passed then settled back to wait until the mini busses came back for all of us. Some of us decided to walk along the beach, gathering up shells and conches that had been washed up on the beach during Irma. I walked a little further than the rest, off the beaten track and out of sight of everyone. I found some lovely shells. But just around the bend from the beach, the hurricane debris remained. Pieces of roof, bits of boat, all kinds of rubbish. I stopped short to take in the scene before me.

Coming back from gathering shells was a single woman in her fifties. We both saw an intact conch just in front of us. I told her to go ahead and take it. She said she felt guilty, as if she were looting. I said these were articles of nature, not someone’s goods. She said, ‘Can you believe the level of destruction on the island?’ I just shook my head. ‘I hope it gets back to normal soon.’ A bit trite, but in such cases it’s difficult to know what to say.

I brought my shell haul back to the group. We brought some of them home. They remind us of our day on Tortola and we think of the people there, hoping they are all safe and sound, in homes that have been repaired and living as best they can after the hurricane.

Caribbean Cruise: Part 3B, St. Lucia

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 3B, St. Lucia

No bones about it. I love St. Lucia. Every moment we spent on the island was worth it and I had some of the most fun I’ve ever had. That part involved a catamaran and rum punch. But the whole island is a treasure trove of tropical and geological delights….if you are into those kinds of things.

Botanical gardens, banana plantations, a volcano, a salt town, a cocoa plantation that is now a museum of sorts and….oh, the Pitons. Not to forget the most fun I’ve had on the catamaran party from Saltière back to the tender boat that took us back to our ship. 8 hours of fun, sun, facts, flora and fauna that spun my mind and taxed my body.

We were tendered into port at Castries by one of those boats with uncomfortable seating, packed to the gunnels with passengers from our ship. To make matters even more unpleasant, it is a hot, humid morning. But, who’s complaining? It was freezing back home in England. So, we get to port and have to queue like captured prisoners waiting for our mini buses to take us to our touristy spots.

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Leaving Castries, St. Lucia, on our mini bus.

Let’s go first to the Pitons, those two 2,500 foot cone-shaped volcanic plugs at the southwestern end of St. Lucia near Saltière. They are a World Heritage Site and require a guide if you wish to climb them. I didn’t want either. Bet the view is incredible though. The whole island is a verdant wonder. And the going up and down the steep hills and twisting around bends seemed far more tolerable than they had on Grenada.

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The Pitons from afar. You can see them to the right in the heading photo.

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The Pitons with Saltiere below.

St. Lucia’s Botanical Gardens end at a waterfall that emanates from the volcano. I have never seen so many colourful flowering plants and species in one place. I am not, you see, one to frequent botanical gardens. But this one was both beautiful and entertaining. They even have one beautiful flower that can kill you if you simply touch it….and a caster oil plant that produces ricin, a deadly poison. At least that’s what our guide told us and the sign said.

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A Gecko welcomes us to the Botanical Gardens.

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Touch this and you’ll die.

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More deadly stuff.

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Name that exotic flower.

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Name these too.

Our group walks along the garden path, a narrow stretch with an array of flowering plants on either side. Mind boggling. To the point that the group left me well behind as I tried to get photos of everything. After all, I may never pass this way again. We came to a table laden with island specialties, everything from cocoa beans to coconuts. Did you know that palm trees aren’t indigenous to the Caribbean? I didn’t. They were brought from across the Atlantic (Germany….just kidding) and introduced to the Caribbean back in the early slaving days.

I ended up at the waterfall as the rest of the group was heading back to the gift shop. I had it to myself for a minute or two. I wanted to plunge into the lagoon beneath the waterfall, but the problem with guided tours is there’s never enough time to do it all. I’d need a week. I’ll be back. After Grenada, St. Lucia was paradise.

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The volcanic waterfall and lagoon in the Botanical gardens.

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Another beauty.

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White bell flowers (real title?)

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A Poinsettia Tree/Plant.

On to the volcano. It’s not dormant and it’s not ready to explode. Our guide said it was bubbling and steaming to remind us that there was still life and activity deep in the earth under St. Lucia. We walked right down into the crater and watched the earth bubble and steam in pools. But it’s the smell of sulphur that gets you. And, believe it or not, it’s good for you in small doses. Will cure anything. The latest research says that smelling fart gas (which give the same odour and effect) is good for you. We are supposed to thank those we are with every time he or she farts in our presence. They are lengthening our life expectancy. So far my best friend has refused to say thanks at such times (rare as they are).

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Volcanic Steam.

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Boiling mud pots

And, back on the trail again, to a cocoa plantation of yesteryear where we had a typical St. Lucian lunch and a tour of the huts where plantation slaves lived and worked, the huge manor house and an old taxi/bus that shuffled slaves and cocao about the island. Behind the manor house was an old guy hacking coconuts apart with his machete (those things make me nervous), discarding the husks on a large pile and preparing coconut juice for us to sample and the raw coconut flesh (the white stuff) to eat. Coco means head and it really isn’t a nut. It’s a drupe, or stone fruit. But it’s too late to change the moniker now.

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Plantation Huts.

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The Plantation Manor House.

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Ye Olde island transport taxi/bus on the Cocoa Plantation, St. Lucia.

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Coconut Husk/shell Pile behind the Plantation Manor House.

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View from the Plantation to the bay below.

Back to Saltière and on to the catamaran. We say goodbye to the Pitons and travel north along the coast back to Castries. On the way, we duck into Marigot Bay where the rich and famous holiday and play. From there, a beach near a 5 star resort being rebuilt. We climb down the steps at the front of the catamaran and swim in the warm waters of St. Lucia. Lovely.

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Marigot Bay from above.

Back to the catamaran and into the rum punch….very, very strong rum punch. I had enough to get me up dancing island style, which I never do. The crew inspire us with their moves. More rum punch as Bob Marley is blasted out of 2 enormous speakers. We are deafened by the sound but we are feeling no pain. We drink and dance all the way back to Castries, ready to board the tender back to our ship. What a day. Takes me ages to come back down to deck.

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Adieu Soufriere from the catamaran

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Adieu Pitons from the catamaran.

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Yours truly partying on the catamaran after a swim.

If ever you decide to go to the Caribbean, you have lots of choice. We still had another 5 islands to visit. But St. Lucia stands out to me like a beacon in the night, a siren on the shore (but in a good way), a tropical paradise. The people are friendly, the food good and next time, I’m going under the waterfall and bathing in the sulphur springs and snorkeling and sailing on a party boat and……..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caribbean Cruise: Part 3A, Grenada

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 3A, Grenada

I’ve talked to a lot of people about the Caribbean Islands. Everyone has a favourite. And it follows there are islands they don’t particularly care for. We had a great time on St. Lucia, one of the next 2 islands we visited. Someone I met said they hated the place. Someone else loved Grenada. Not me. Here are my reasons for loving one and not so much the other. A tale of two islands. Grenada first.

Grenada, the Spice Island. Well, it’s supposed to be. But Hurricane Irma of  last September decimated the crop and because the storm hit the United States, everyone forgot about Grenada. Not a good year for the island. And not a great tour of the island for we tourists. Not because of the problems of the poor islanders, but because of our tour guide. The worst in history. My history at least. He was, without doubt, out of his depth and quite useless. I’ll tell you why, shall I?

The day was a very hot and humid one to begin with. This must be understood or nothing I am about to tell you is going to sound as harrowing as the day ended up being. And before I get too Dickensian about it all, let me say I could write a book about our day on Grenada. I still remember in 1983 when America, plus some others, invaded the island to rid it of a perceived communist threat. Anyway, without researching, that’s how I remember it. Weird politics and machete wielding islanders makes you wonder. Still, fascinating all the same.

So, our driver picks us up in the worst minibus of those waiting at the port at St. George’s to take others from our ship hither and yon over the island. We were supposed to be on a 3 hour trip. Turned out we were the last to get back to the ship. First, let me tell you about driving through St. George’s. The streets are narrow and clogged with traffic, both vehicular and human. People stare at us as we go by….slowly by….as if we have no business being there, but please leave us your money. I guess you can’t blame them in one sense. Most of us only barely tolerate tourists in our back yards.

Finally we leave the confines of the city and begin the endless ascent into the very high hills, along winding roads, hairpin bends, houses on stilts and amazing views of the bays below. Our driver hadn’t said a word to us yet, after 30 minutes on the tour. We had to wonder what we were looking at. And the young driver delighted in shifting gears so that the minibus lurched forward with each change of gear. Then we stalled, started up again, stalled again. This happened a few times before we finally came to a halt for good, on a hill between two sharp bends. It was hot, humid and we were nowhere.

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houses in the hills on stilts.

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Going nowhere in the heat.

The driver mumbled something and got off the minibus, looking the thing over as if it might tell him what was wrong. He managed to communicate with one of our passengers that he would call for help and we should stay on the bus. Forget that in this heat. All 18 of us filed off the bus, taking our chances in the hot, humid morning air. The driver protested our leaving….health and safety and all that….but we were having none of it, being stuck in a hot tin can.

Some of us questioned the driver as to the possible reasons for the breakdown. He just shrugged his shoulders and got on his mobile (cell) phone to call for help. The rest of us tried to find shade where we could find it. Fortunately, we had parked right in front of a house with a large veranda that seemed to be empty. The front of the house was on pretty solid ground. The back was on stilts. Most of the passengers sat on the steps of the veranda, battling the ants that kept trying to greet them. Some of us wandered about exploring the area. We became a great source of amusement to all who drove by, especially the locals.

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Keeping cool on the veranda in Grenada.

Good news, the driver announced to a couple of us who stood near him, waiting for information. Help was on its way and would be here in 15 minutes, a replacement vehicle he said. An hour and a half later, a taxi with a couple of tourists inside pulled up behind the bus. A man got out carrying a jerry can full of petrol. We hadn’t broken down after all. The twit had run out of gas. He claims his petrol gauge was broken. He also told one of our fellow travellers that the reason he could not give us any information about what we were looking at was his microphone was broken. Strike 2

The chap who had the jerry can forgot to bring a spout to get the petrol into the bus. He hunted around until he found an empty plastic water bottle and proceeded to ask us if any of us had a knife. Oh yes, of course we do. They issue them to us as we leave the ship to fend off marauding communists. No, we don’t. You’d never get them by the ship’s scanner anyway. Another search for something sharp. He finds a coconut shell, smashes it in two and uses a sharp edge to cut the plastic bottle into a makeshift funnel. Enterprising but an annoying waste of time.

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Pouring the petrol everywhere.

As the petrol spilled over on to the side of the road as much as was poured into the bus, we all began gathering back around our vehicle in anticipation of finally getting on our way. As the gas cap was closed, we noticed movement from our bus. The driver was not back inside and we were all standing outside. The bus was moving backwards on its own and about to ram the taxi behind. We all yelled and our driver was quick enough to get to the brake in time. Just. He said the parking brake failed. Actually, he hadn’t put it on. Strike 3 and we still had the whole day ahead.

So we got on our way, in silence, trying to guess what sites we were viewing as we twisted our way up one hill and down the same, then around a sharp bend and up again and down until we found ourselves in one of those villages that time has forgotten. Locals walked around as if in a trance. We were here in a village with no name….our driver didn’t tell us and when asked mumbled something incoherent….to visit a nutmeg factory. It was an open barn with lizardy things crawling around the floor. The place had not had a makeover since being constructed many years before. Nothing was going on and the guide from the factory was incomprehensible. So, we learned nothing.

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The Nutmeg Factory

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A shop in Nutmeg Town.

I left the group and wandered about looking at cobwebs and sacks of what I presumed contained nutmeg at some stage of  usefulness. Put me off the spice once and for all. Nothing worse than knowing where your food comes from. Everyone was herded through the strangest gift shop before getting back on the bus. A few items on rickety shelves and postcards that had been on display since who knows when, dog-eared and wrinkled. No one was in the mood to purchase anything. The shopkeeper, a sour-faced woman, didn’t seem to care. She sat reading a magazine, never looking up. Island malaise.

And back on the road, this time to a volcanic lake. That was it. A small lake surrounded by trees. Nothing to see here really and, of course, no info coming from our driver, with or without a microphone. We drove up to a place that overlooked the lake….ought to have come here in the first place….where souvenirs were sold and gardens could be viewed. But we were behind schedule and had no time for that. Three old toothless men played island tunes badly on instruments they really had no idea how to play. But you have to make money some way I guess.

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The Volcanic lake

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The Volcanic lake from the tourist spot.

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The Touirist Spot

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What we had no time to explore.

By now the sun was sinking but the driver was determined to get us to every scheduled site. The last stop was at a lovely waterfall with beautiful gardens and the chance to swim in the lagoon beneath. Trouble is, by now it was nearly dark. At first the chap looking after the entrance booth didn’t want to let us in because it was too late. But somehow our driver convinced the him to let us enter. By the time we reached the waterfall, it was dark and the pathway wet and slippery. No time for a swim. A quick photo, with flash, and off we went, back to the bus, slipping and sliding all the way, iPhones lighting the way.

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The Volcanic Waterfall in the dark.

Friday night in St. George’s. Traffic worse than when we left that morning. People everywhere. A ballet of chaos and colour. Our bus edged along. We could see our ship now, but couldn’t get to it. When we arrived at the port….finally…. everything was shut. No one was around to let us onto the quay. We yelled. We banged things and finally a man came and let us through. The ship couldn’t leave without us, but all they knew, once we arrived at the gangway, was that we were missing. No one had told them on board where we were. Lost on Grenada.

We went as a group to the desk on the 5th deck that handled trips and we complained through a group rep. They don’t like complainers, but a mob they cannot ignore. We got a refund for the trip. Don’t misunderstand me, please. The island is lush and verdant, teeming with life and lots of mountainous terrain. Invading it would not be easy. Exploring it is not easy. Never going back is a breeze.

 

Caribbean Cruise: Part 2

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Caribbean Cruise: Part 2

And so to the islands. Our cruise ship, the Marella Discovery, sailed all night and the next day from Barbados to Aruba, the first of 3 of the Dutch Antilles Islands we visited. Not what I expected. I had always imagined Aruba – having remembered it from the Beach Boys song ‘Kokomo’ (no Wilsons involved) about an island off the Florida keys – as a tropical island with palm trees and monkeys and all that.

Instead, most of the island was rocks, cacti (or cactuses if you prefer), snakes (including the non indigenous boa) and scrub. You may be surprised, if you’ve never been there, to realise that I refer to Aruba. Our tour from the ship took us across the island to a place where a natural stone bridge used to be. It collapsed in 2005, but we all still troupe out there to see where it was. Don’t get me wrong, there is rugged beauty where the bridge used to be….and a gift shop, naturally.

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Part of the natural bridge that is now also condemned.

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The old natural bridge….another angle

The sea on this side of Aruba faces Venezuela which is only 18 miles south of the island. It’s a rugged sea and beats against the lava rock and coral coast mercilessly. No wonder the bridge eventually collapsed. The wind here is so strong, the coast is veritably uninhabitable. No structure can withstand the beating from the  lava and coral sand laden wind. Nothing much but scrub can grow here. Not the Aruba I had imagined.

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People pile up rocks. it’s the thing to do. I didn’t.

That Aruba is on the opposite coast where all the white beaches, 5 Star hotels and resorts can be found. Very impressive. So much so that our guide drove us past the whole lot of them, bragging about it all. Didn’t need to really. It was evident. This is why people come here. An average annual temperature of around 29 degrees celsius and virtually no rain. Guaranteed great weather the year round. A no-brainer. But from atop the Ayo Rock Formation….just another pile of Aruban rocks….all you can see for miles is scrub, more rock and cactuses. Oh, and our ship way over on the horizon.

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Our ship, on the far right, from Ayo Rock.

The other highlights were the Alto Vista Chapel, only because we got watermelon there. It was a very hot 32 degrees Celsius. And the equally exciting California Lighthouse, named after the steamship ‘California’, wrecked nearby on 23 September, 1891. The lighthouse was built-in response to the steamship’s sinking. Better late than never I suppose. I walked toward the sea to see the white dunes and watch the lizards darting across the path where I walked. Speedy little buggers they are too.

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The watermelon stand near the chapel.

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The California Lighthouse. Closed for renovation.

Aruba is part of a what is known as the ABC islands, 3 islands in a row, all 3 just off the Venezuelan coast. Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. But not in that order. C, in this case, comes before B. That’s where we sailed to next, Curaçao. Straight into the harbour, docking just before going under the very large Queen Juliana Bridge. From the upper deck of our ship, either side of the inlet looked like toy town, coloured buildings set up like doll houses. Very colourful and very clean.

Two sides of the harbour. We were docked beside the Punda District. The Ortobanda District is on the other side. Our side is more residential and the other side is all business. Very colourful businesses, but business all the same. Because of its uniqueness, the whole town of Willemstad has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Apparently, all buildings had to be white a few centuries ago. It was the law. Then one island governor changed the law and said everyone was free to paint his home any colour at all. He also happened to own the town’s paint factory. Enterprising.

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Curacao, Otrobanda side.

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Curacao, Punda District.

The Punda side near the harbour had a huge square dedicated to Christmas, decorated with snowmen, a Christmas tree and even a Christmas train. Market stalls lined part of the square. I bought an island shirt at one. It seemed the thing to do. Inside the old harbour fort is another market, restaurants, bars and souvenir shops. An islander played his lone steel drum on a stage set up in an open area. He was playing, ‘I’m dreaming of a White Christmas’. He could play until he was blue because at 30 degrees celsius, it was indeed a dream.

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Christmas on Curacao in the square.

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The Christmas Train on the square on Curacao.

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Snowmen in a row on the square in the Punda District, Curacao.

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More Snowmen. Did I mention that I love Christmas? Even in 32 degree celsius temperatures.

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The Island shirt. A must in the Islands and the first of my life.

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He’s dreaming of a white Christmas in 32C heat.

A tour guide drove us through Punda to a resort where we boarded a boat that had a compartment underneath allowing us to view the coral reef below us. They called it a mini-sub. Not quite. Anyway, everything was happening on my best friend’s side. I was looking down over a 300 foot drop. Very dark, no fish. I protested to my best friend and was called a baby. I just wanted to see some colourful fish and the Ray on her side she said they all saw. Only when our boat guide got out in his scuba gear to feed the critters did I see anything. All very lovely, but in such a confined space with the ‘mini-sub’ bobbing from side to side, I started to feel queasy. I was glad to go back up on deck.

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On the deck of the mini-sub.

From there, we drove over the Queen Juliana Bridge to Otrobando to the factory where booze is made….specifically, Curaçao Blue liqueur, made from the Laraha bitter orange citrus fruit and various spices. The blue colour comes from E133 Brilliant Blue food colouring. Not so appetizing, but it looks cool and very islandy. Nice taste. Very strong. I kept sampling the various flavours and felt quite fine after a while. I bought the Rum and Raisin flavour. It was too heavy to bring home, so I drank it in my cabin on the ship….no, not all at once.

That evening, we sailed for Bonaire, last of the Dutch Islands in this part of the Caribbean and the smallest. Most of Bonaire is a nature reserve of one type or another. We went on a tour of the Mangroves at Lac Bay. And it was a very rough ride in an open-back Mercedes truck that was about 50+ years old. Dusty road too….off-track. It was our lucky day. Half way up the rough road, the flamingos had gathered. Sometimes they do, others they don’t. Today they did, right here at the Pekelmeer. Bunches of them. They came to the shore near us and began fighting with each other. We moved on. They weren’t there on our way back.

We arrived at a beach on Lac Bay and got into a rubber raft to go through a Mangrove tunnel into a world of colourful fish, eels, Mangrove trees and upside down jellyfish. The latter look like roundish rocks on the bottom of the lake. In went our guide and came back into the rubber boat with one of the jellyfish. We passed it around, among the 8 of us. My best friend and a few others didn’t want to touch it. Yes, it was a sticky, gooey jelly thing. I felt sorry for it. It went back into the water and took its place on the bottom. No harm done. We then went looking for tortoises, saw a couple come to the surface, went back to the beach and swam until it was time to get back to the ship.

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The Mangrove Tunnel.

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A reverse jellyfish reversed.

On to Grenada, then St. Lucia. We hear about the debacle on Grenada in Part 3. And….did you know that those white sand beaches are created from a fish that eats the coral and poops out the grains, which are white. Lying on fresh, white fish poop. Why not.

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Those fish poop white dunes of Aruba.

Marina In The Mist

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Marina In The Mist

Once upon a time the great city of London, England was shrouded in a fog so thick, you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. My parents told me about those days. Not great for the health and certainly dangerous getting about in such a large city. They happened quite frequently back in the 1950s. During the Great Fog of 1952, I was just a year old living in East Sheen, near Richmond, the west of London. It was the worst fog/smog in Europe’s history and killed between 8-12,000 people.

Parliament was slow to act, having been used to fogs. The city’s homes had coal fires as did all businesses and industry as well as automobile fumes and diesel fumes from the buses. In 1956, the government finally passed a clean air Bill and people gradually converted to other sources of heating other than coal. But it took time and another big fog hit in 1962 causing around 750 deaths.

Today, London  smog fogs are fairly infrequent. They happen on days when there is no wind and the pollution count is high. Hot weather  and cool mornings can cause havoc too. On clear, cold days when the night sky has been cloudless fogs occur, but not all the time. We’ve had some dillies, but not so much of the really thick smog. Still, London air is never as clean and clear as, let’s say, the Green Party would like it. There is a peoples’ movement called Clean Air in London that monitors the city’s air quality. And there is the clean air zone to persuade drivers, especially of commercial vehicles, to reduce carbon emissions in the centre of London. It’s all a slow process and after all the years since 1952, the battle continues to get clean air for London.

But clean air these days is subjective. Nowhere on earth is there a haven of pure air, not even at the Poles or on top of Everest. And fog can roll in from anywhere. Just add cold air at ground level to warmer air from above and there you have it. Mist and fog. As you can tell, I’m not getting too technical about this. It is, after all, a common occurrence all over the world….a natural phenomenon. It’s only when you add polluted air that the Smog hits. Just ask the good folk in Los Angeles. They know Smog. so do the good folk living in Chinese cities.

So, I get up one lovely English morning to find that much of the outside of our boat is shrouded in the mists of time, space and atmospheric conditions. One of those days. Glad I’m not driving anywhere, either in the car or on the boat. Dangerous out on the cut in these conditions. Chilling. Best stay put, in the marina, get back into the boat and make a hot cup of java. But before I do that, I think to myself, ‘would the readers like a couple more photos of the marina in the mist?’ Of course they would.

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In the marina looking toward the canal outside.

And there you have it. I can barely make out my fellow boaters’ boats. I think they are still all there. It’s all very unclear. The mystery of standing at the end of our jetty, staring out into the gloom, overwhelms me. But not as much as realising I have just stepped into a pile of fox poo. Didn’t see it. Forgot to look down. I was too preoccupied with the mist. Time to go rinse my shoes under the tap at the other end of the jetty. No sign of a fox. Wonder if he got confused and fell in. Wouldn’t be the first time.

I’m leaving the cold air of England and heading for the Caribbean on a cruise. Never been on one of those or to the Caribbean. But I’m told I’m of an age when you do these things….if you can afford them, which I can’t. But I’m going anyway. At least there ought to be plenty of Blog material out there on the high seas, a vast difference to the canals of Britain. And….there may be fog. That would be weird, at sea in a fog. I’ll let you know when I get back. Anchors away.

 

 

Jungle Madness

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Jungle Madness

I wrote last year about the garden we had along the pathway behind our narrowboat. This year, earlier, I talked about a Spring Clean and featured the beginnings of our new garden, complete with an added arch between our neighbours Eddie and Mimz’z boat. The arch was made possible because we moved our boat during the Spring to its present location, sharing a jetty with Eddie and Mimz.

Well, things have progressed to the point of complete madness. Everything from lilies to a flamingo have been added to the collection and plants grow alongside both of our boats, hiding nearly everything from view….the boats that is. We are nearly overgrown and the strange thing is, we keep adding to it.

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The garden in the early Spring

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The garden between the boats in early Spring.

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A narrowboat planter added to the mix as the garden evolves.

Don’t get me wrong, it all looks lush and lovely. The colours and smells are intoxicating. Everyone who walks by tells us how wonderful it is and the solar lights light up the night in what can only be described as magical. And, up until the end of July, we had lots of sunshine to keep the old solar lights lit long into the night.

Eddie and Mimz, my best friend and I have sat out many a long evening, surrounded by our jungle, sipping rum and cokes or drinking red wine and even getting trendy with Gin and mixers, discussing life and laughing at Eddie’s antics. Mimz tells a good story too. The weather had been unseasonably dry and hot through May, June and most of July, with the light lasting until after 10pm. Paradise some might say.

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Add an arch with a straw bird on top.

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Yours truly under the arch.

And well it was. Then came the end of July and into August. Cool, damp and terribly uninspiring as far as summer goes. So, what did my best friend and I do? We left the gardening to Mimz and took off to the city to look after the few plants at my best friend’s son’s place near the River Thames. Mimz, bless her, has been holding down the fort. I think Eddie leaves it to her anyway.

The assortment of plants has been overwhelming. Besides lilies, we have geraniums, honeysuckle, juniper, jasmine, lobelia, gladioli, Virginia Creeper (otherwise known as Parthenocissus Quinquefolia….but you knew that), marigolds, busy lizzies, crocosmia (Lucifer….scary plants), dahlias, passion flower, panzies, petunias, anemones, ivy, mixed wild flowers for the bees, mint and other herbs, french beans, tomatoes, strawberries and other things I can’t remember and neither can my best friend as I write this. Oh yeah, almost forgot the sweetpea. Unforgivable.

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Welcome to our jungle.

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Mimz’s garden. Spot the hidden hedgehog.

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A new addition.

So you see, welcome to our jungle. The marina warden says he loves it and it has inspired others around the marina to grow more flowers and plants this year. A lady just moved in to a mooring near us a couple of weeks ago and already has some huge ferns along the pathway that runs around the perimeter of the marina. Some other residential boaters said they were going to put in an arch, but we’ll see. Getting late in the season and, well, maybe it’s just wishful thinking at this point.

Meanwhile, our garden continues to take over everything.  I look out our portholes and all I see is plants and flowers….pretty but a little claustrophobic when we already live in a narrowboat. I suppose that may be construed as sour grapes, especially when winter comes and I’ll pine away for the days when I could see green outside instead of frost. Still, a little light would help. Who knows what it’s going to all look like when we go back to the boat tomorrow.

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And this is how it looks now

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Our side of the boat.

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Jungle madness along the jetty.

But, for the moment, we can all enjoy the jungle while it lasts. The bees are loving it. They leave us alone and we them as we sit among the floral madness. They buzz right past our ears and off they go to the hive. Bumblebees of every kind and, finally, the honey bees found their way to us. Just doing our bit. One of our neighbours, Jools (you can read about her a couple of Blogs ago), is rather skittish around the buzzy creatures. If one of them comes near her, she screams so loudly and piercingly, that even the bees scatter in fear.

The metal arch at the entrance to our jetty is now unrecognisable. Even the straw bird perched atop the arch, with the lobelia growing out of its butt, is nearly overgrown with Virginia Creeper and Honeysuckle. Wild. Earlier in the season, we found stone planters in the shape of a narrowboat at a local florist and each bought one. You can hardly see them anymore. Our old man of the woods looks out from the foliage as if about to be strangled by one of the plants. The rubber ducky sailors keep having to be moved to be seen and Mimz’s little hedgehog is outta sight….literally. Some of the windmills have ceased to turn because their blades are overrun with plant leaves and flowers. Madness.

Mimz has taken some of the plants and flowers down to the entrance to the marina and a kind of second garden has been growing there. To top it off, we decided to raise money for the hospice where Eddie used to work (until the other day) and Mimz volunteered, by rescuing plants from a nearby garden centre that was going to throw out a bunch of flowers that looked unhealthy. Mimz and my best friend nursed them back to life, put them on the wall along the perimeter path as giveaways to donors.

As if that weren’t enough, we started buying battery operated bubble blowers to entertain the young and old as they passed. All that has been missing are the clowns. Mimz and my best friend would probably tell you that would be me and Eddie. But I ain’t dressing like Bozo for nobody see. Anyway, all I can tell you from this moment is that the madness continues. Mimz texted us the other day. She went to the garden centre and rescued some more plants for our return. Will this summer never end?

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Mimz with plants for charity.

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Sitting in the jungle.

 

 

A Jolly with Jools

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A Jolly with Jools

My best friend and I, along with our boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz, are becoming excellent boat movers. We really do need to rent out our services to people wanting their narrowboats taken from one place to another. But, being the lazy sod that I am and chief procrastinator, I don’t think that’s going to happen. But the times we’ve done it recently are worth the whole experience.

On this occasion, we moved a friend’s boat because it was going to be painted. The name of the boat is Lyra, a 68 foot Titan Trad owned by one Julie, or Jools as her friends call her. She owns a tiny Spaniel named Nysa, but she doesn’t factor into the following equation until the very end of the trip. We had to take it up to a place called Bolbourne, just past the Tring Summit on the Grand Union Canal and back again. Up on the Wednesday and back the following Monday. So now, those are the boring facts of the case.

The trip usually takes about 10-12 hours. We did it, both ways in less than 7 hours each way. That’s because we were under the orders of Mr. Boat himself, Admiral Edward (Eddie) Starck. The man is lightning in a bottle….after the bottle breaks. And, to be fair, he had the best crew no money can buy. Not to mention we’re all handicapped in some capacity given our ages and other medical particulars not for public records….I’m old OK? My knees hurt. My back aches, my hands ache. I get headaches….and I’m the healthy one.

Nothing stops us when the promise of SADS awaits at the end of a long journey (Safe Arrival DrinkS) and I ain’t talkin’ tea or coffee here. We are a dedicated crew that stays with the job until it’s done. It’s as if we were a unified machine with Eddie as our engine. Not only are we motivated by the promise of a bevvy at the end of the day, but the promise of good exercise for those of us who need to drop a few pounds and inches. Plainly and simply, it’s good for us. Keeps the blood flowing and the sinews stretched.

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In the old lock at Bolbourne. The boat is painted and ready to go.

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Jools on the gunnel. Last minute checks before casting off. A-Team to the side.

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Water rising in the lock at Bolbourne. Nearly ready to go.

So, the crew is off, early mind you. Got to keep ahead of the late risers. Boaters are, by and large, a lazy bunch. Just look at the state of many of the boats along the cut. We did and were not impressed. Don’t know how some of them stay afloat. But our ship was sound and ready for a new paint job. The way up provided no drama. I rode in the front some of the way. Very calming. All alone, only the sound of water lapping against the sides of the boat. Eddie had wanted to do the locks but we elected him as driver. He had more experience and this 68 footer gave him all he could handle.

The girls walked all the way to Cowroast. Then they were picked up and driven to Bolbourne where they sat on a bench outside a pub drinking until we showed up, with the chap who was doing the painting. Took us another 50 minutes to get there by boat. 5 minutes in the car. At 4mph on the boat, we don’t get anywhere fast. But that is the point of boating after all. Leisurely does it….unless you’re with Eddie.

The way back, after the boat was painted a lovely blue was more eventful. Partly because Jules drove from Cowroast. None of us was impressed with the facilities at Bolbourne. An old Lock converted into a dry dock for working on boats. Electric cable tangling in the water, rotting wooden steps and gangplanks, old unused tools hanging about and the back-end of Jools’s boat not under cover. Not ideal. And filthy with it. But Eddie deftly backed us out and turned us around for the trip back.

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Leaving the old lock at Bolbourne. Good riddance.

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Admiral Eddie and Jools as we begin our journey from Bolbourne to Apsley.

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Bolbourne Ironworks with CRT (Canal & River Trust) equipment beside it on the Cut.

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Admiral Eddie at the helm instructing Jools on the Tring Summit.

Back to Jools. She took to steering her long boat with style. Problem is, every time the boat scraped against something she had a fit. But this boating. You get bumps and scrapes in the locks and along the banks of the canals and occasionally from other boaters. And you must have your wits about you every moment. Lose concentration even for a moment and the boat can veer off to one side or the other. Jools has a short attention span and a few times things went awry. Especially when another friend joined us further down the cut. The friend sat on the roof of the boat at the back with Jools. The two chatted away….well, you can imagine what happened next. A stiff warning from Admiral Eddie, “Pay attention Jools!” Not too much damage done thankfully.

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Jools at the helm. She’s steering in the rain….

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Jools steering her boat toward a lock. The gates are open. A-Team has done its work and moved on. B-Team awaits the boat to enter the lock….come on Jools.

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Jools in a lock ready to leave. B-Team has opened a gate for her.

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Admiral Eddie of B-Team heads down the Towpath toward the next lock.

So, we carried on. The A&B teams worked in a seamless harmony until a few locks from home. Jules was tired and making more errors of judgement so Admiral Eddie mercifully took over driving and Jools’s boat buddy took over with me on the B Team. Problem? She was working on a huge hangover from the night before and I had to keep waking her up as she leaned on an arm of the lock gate. “Don’t forget to lower the gate paddles” I’d say as she walked by them in a fog. “Oh yeah….thanks” she’d say and continue walking on by. It took a few goes, but they got closed.

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Moored at Berko (Berkhamsted) for lunch.

The highlight of the trip? Well, the high and the low wrapped into one. If you follow my Blogs, you may recall way back when that I wrote about Admiral Eddie when he was Photographer Eddie, searching for the elusive Kingfisher bird last year to get a photo. He never did. Then I wrote more recently that he spent over 2 hours on the back of our boat from 6am at Cassiobury Park. No Kingfisher. I had seen it 3 times. You see, they flit onto a branch and at the slightest movement, they’re off.

So, here we are on the Tring Summit, Admiral Eddie at the helm, heading to Cowroast where Jules would begin her driving apprenticeship, when up ahead, a Kingfisher flits out of the trees and lands on a branch hanging over the Cut. What to do? I had my camera handy but couldn’t get in focus thinking any second the little bugger would be gone. My best friend and Mimz scrambled for their iPhones and poor Photographer/Admiral Eddie had left his camera at home on his own boat.

We glided by the wee kingfisher in awe. It just sat there, on the branch, watching us go by. Eddie swore (and he did) that the little so-and-so wagged its tail feathers mockingly at us. Then it flitted off. We saw another one later but neither B Team Eddie nor yours truly had a camera then either. But, Eddie at least saw one at last. Beautiful plumage. Just have to see one when Photographer Eddie is around.

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The amazing, incomparable A-Team: My best friend on the left and Mimz on the right. Windlasses up! At the main lock at Berko.

 

JAMES for PM

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I have met some real characters in my life. My best friend would tell you I’m one of them. Most of them I’ve got to know after spending time with them. My boat neighbours Eddie and Mimz are real characters, formed by the trials, tribulations, adventures and sensitivities their lives have led them to. My best friend is a character. That’s all I’m going to say about that. Except that she’s a character in a good way as are our boat neighbours.

We’ve all run across bad characters, sociopaths and even psychopaths. I have known a number of the former and a couple of the latter. Dangerous characters in so many ways, many of which are undetectable by normal characters. A normal character is a person who is crazy but has learned to curb the crazies and has great empathy for all the other crazies around them. We support each other rather than use each other….mostly.

I knew a man, a character par excellence, the mayor of a town I used to live in, who proposed that prozac ought to be put in the water system of our town to chill everyone out. Not a bad idea I thought at the time. He was a good politician because he told me of his plan in confidence, never making it a public statement. And, after all, most of the world relies on one drug or another to get them through the day. All I need is a small pork pie, a hunk of cheese, an apple and a glass of wine. And music.

I like rebels. Not destructive ones mind you. I like the kind that stand against the system when it has become lax, lazy, fat and even corrupt or just too big for its own hat. The rebels that I like in particular are the comic sort, the ones who tell it like it is but who also make us laugh while doing it. There are some clever clogs out there. Astute, funny, fearless types that make us think as well as laugh.

So, I was sitting with my best friend and neighbours Eddie and Mimz (she of marinagate and Cagney and Lacey fame) by their boat in Cassiobury Park a while ago enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine, when two men walked by. As they passed, one of them turned sharply and called back to us, “Did you vote?” Stunned silence on our part. “Pardon?” Eddie asked. “Simple enough question mate. Did you vote?” My best friend and I indicated that we had. “Did you vote for Corbyn?” he asked. Silence on our part. Didn’t stop him from carrying on….”Well, if you didn’t, you should’ve.” he said.

“They’re all rubbish.” says Eddie, “All politicians. Liars, the lot of them. Don’t matter who’s in, they all promise the moon and give you nothing in the end.” Well, that set old James off. Back he trots with his friend in tow and begins a 4 hour tirade on the evils of the powers-that-be, the NHS (National Health Service), the invasion of foreign workers (with a tip to their industriousness over British workers), the lazy and disrespectful youth of Britain, foreign policy, the price of things, greed, sloth in general, the righteousness of Corbyn (the Labour Party leader who gave Theresa May and the Tories the fright of their life in the recent general election), the lack of justice….well, you get the idea.

He did it all in a machine gun verbal delivery that left us breathless and by hour 3 quite ready to do him in. But we didn’t. We listened politely and laughed at his take on things, which were, as I said earlier, quite humorous. At the end of each topical diatribe, he would end with, “And you know what they can all do with that? They can all f..k right off!” It became a theme. I’m no prude. I would have written the word fuck, but I felt it might be a smidge indelicate given the wide group of readers you’ve become.

And, I must say, most of what James had to say rang true with the 4 of us. His powers of observation dazzled us. He had that old kind of cockney wit that said it like it is and makes no apologies for it. Well stated, quite pithy in parts, great delivery and passion behind it all. I told him his talents were wasted. He ought to go down to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be a hit there. James said he would have to decline on the grounds that only old geezers with a grudge and religious nuts ended up there. “Besides,” he said, ” you’re not allowed to curse or swear. That’d do me in right there. And you mustn’t say anything against her Maj. Well, she can f…k right off with the rest of them.”

With all due respect to the Queen, James had a point. Really, what has she to do with his life on a daily basis? James relies entirely on the people around him to give him support, be trustworthy, keep him safe and feed him. James, you see, lives in a place that looks after those who have broken down mentally….at least as society sees it. Rather than deal with the growing number of people in Britain with mental issues, the government feigns doing something by coming out with pamphlets warning us to be aware of this or that mental condition and to seek help. They don’t say where or how long you have to wait to be seen. And, bless her, her Maj can’t do anything about it….or can she? Does she? If she does, James doesn’t know about it.

So, they can all just ‘F’ right off. Maybe James should be the Prime Minister and the Royal head of state all in one. Couldn’t do any worse and we’d all have a lot of laughs. Anyway, after 4 hours of James’s platform, he said his goodbyes. His mate, an Iraqi who came here a number of years ago to escape the madness in his own country and ended up going mad here, had gone 2 hours previously. He’s obviously had heard it all before from his mate. I wish them both well. I’d vote for James. And if you think I’m crazy too, you can just….well, you know.

WE WENT THAT’A’WAY!

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WE WENT THAT’A’WAY!

Yes we did. And I don’t have any photos to prove it (the one heading this Blog is from last yearat Cassiobury Park in Watford). I wasn’t allowed to take photos because I was driving and I have a tendency to lose concentration while photographing….not a good idea while steering a 20 ton, 60 foot boat. And my best friend was too busy working the locks to worry about a camera too. But we did, in fact, go. Please read on.

I begin with this….after a long winter moored in the marina, it was time to get away and banish the cobwebs, dust and just the plain inactivity of those winter months. The last time we left the marina was at the end of August last year, returning 2 weeks later. You forget things, and your confidence level sinks a little having not steered this 60 foot beast in so long.

We had talked about going out on the cut for ages. But the weather had to be just right and there had been quite a few breezy days in the Spring. Wind is a narrowboater’s nightmare. And we were just plain nervous. How do we adjust to the electrics on board? Will we have enough capacity in our toilet cassettes? Will I be able to navigate around the sharp turns and get into locks without ramming things? Will we find a good mooring with all the new boats coming online daily? So much to worry and think about. We were more than comfortable in our marina. Why risk all the potential hazards?

Well, in the end, Eddie is the reason we went. Shamed me into it actually. My good neighbour said to me, “Larry, if you don’t go out now, you never will. You’ll always have an excuse not to go.” So, I went, following Eddie and Mimz’s boat, ‘My Precious’, out of the marina and left toward Rickmansworth, I had wanted to go north to Birkhamsted, but, in the end, I was overruled. And so, we went that’a’way, south to Cassiobury Park. We wanted to get to Rickmansworth but didn’t have the time.

The trip began well….under the first bridge near the marina and along a very pretty part of the cut, under a canopy of trees. To the first lock and there she was, ‘Sexy Beast’. I can’t begin to tell you the adventures we had with Essex boy and his moll. But they were on the wide beam ‘Sexy Beast’ and just ahead of us at the lock. Our trained crew went over to help them with the lock gates. “Oh, fanks for that,” says Essex boy, his lithe moll looking as sexy as ever (we had seen the boat several times before in our area), “Look, we’re in no ‘urry, so we’ll go frough and moor up. You can go ahead….Roit?” We stupidly took him at his word. 8 locks later, he had found a choice spot and we did go on.

At every lock after the first, our crew leaned on our boats watching them struggle on their own to work the locks. Etiquette is everything and Essex boy had none. To his credit, he later apologised. I think his moll insisted, poor thing. Felt sorry for her. Except for the money and such. Essex boy was a hulking figure, rough around the edges and reminding me of a younger, but not by much, Ray Winstone. Apart from the palava with ‘Sexy Beast’, we got through the last lock and found a mooring sight.

It has been a rather dry Spring here in the south of England. The canal water levels have suffered and, at times, we were literally scraping bottom. Eddie’s boat has a shallower draught than ours and still he had problems. But he managed to moor alongside the towpath at Cassiobury Park. We, on the other hand, had to moor 3 feet from the edge and borrowed Eddie’s gangplank to get on and off the boat. We stayed for 3 nights. No use risking damage to the bottom of the boat and the prop by going any further. (The image of our boat heading this Blog was our boat at Cassiobury Park last year).

Cassiobury Park. Where do I begin? Lovely place. Been around for centuries, but not always as a public park. In 793 King Offa gave the land known as Caegesho (Caeg’s land by the fort) to St. Alban’s Abbey and remained theirs until good old Henry VIII banished abbeys and gave the land to one of his lords. Nothing much remains from those heady days of manor houses and ornate entrance gates. The former was demolished in 1927 because it had been left empty and couldn’t be maintained (pity) and the latter was destroyed in 1967 to make way for wider roads for traffic. Peasants in those days thought only of ‘progress’ not heritage.

There you have them….not my photos you understand. Meanwhile, back in the park, it was an eventful few days. The first event had to be the zip wire in the play area of the park. My best friend tried it last year when we moored here. She loved it. So, the first morning there, all four of us had a go. I was last. It was another ‘shame me into it’ moment. Trouble is, I’m a big guy and these things are made for kids under 14 years of age. The bump at the end is quite jolting. I won’t tell you what part of me was injured. I’m a gentleman.Eddie took the following photo.

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I’ve heard that Watford (where the park is located) is a rough town. The park is no exception. Gangs of kids roam around looking for victims to steal their mobile (cell) phones and their expensive bikes. I am proud to say we caught 2 of them….or rather Mimz did. It’s a long story involving the victim, a young 14-year-old boy who we took under our wing after the assault we witnessed. We called the police, who actually came quite promptly, and Eddie and I went looking for the perps. I went back to the boat and Eddie and Mimz went to meet the police.

Once they got there, the 2 perps, quite unexpectantly tried to cross the bridge that spanned the canal. Mimz became both Cagney and Lacey (her terms), got in front of the lads and yelled,”You’re not going anywhere. Get off your bikes!” You’d have to meet this former Psych nurse to know how intimidating she can be. She’s actually a pussycat, but don’t tell her I said so. The 2 lads were arrested and Mimz went off to the police station to give her story. She was there for 5 hours. Probably telling the whole constabulary the story and adding all the graphic details. Nobody does it better.

The rest of the days were quite ordinary. Walks into Watford to shop. A concert at the park bandshell by a brass and woodwind band from Kansas. Their music kept blowing all over the place. A BBQ where Eddie set the grass on fire….and put it out handily, as Eddie does. We had a raucous but hilarious encounter with an English madman, James, who spent 4 hours by our boats ranting about the recent general election and the state of the kingdom. Nothing he said was ridiculous and he was funnier than hell. I suggested he go to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. He’d be brilliant.

I’d go on about the wildlife….the kingfisher I saw 3 times, but Eddie has yet to see one and capture it on film. He stood on our boat one morning from 6am to 8am without a kingfisher peep. I’d tell you about the fact that just over in the woods where we moored Jar Jar Binks first met Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn in the Star Wars movie ‘The Phantom Menace’, but I’ve run out of space….nearly.

We made it back just fine. It was very windy but I got into the marina and parked the boat expertly along our jetty. We had to go a little further down the cut from Cassiobury to turn around to go home, but met ‘Sexy Beast’ on the way back at the Iron Bridge lock at Cassiobury Park. He was heading south to the Thames (where wide beams belong) and we were heading back to the marina. This time, though, we were first in the lock. As our boats rose with the water in the lock, we could see Essex boy with his moll wrapped around his loins as if no one could see. We all looked at each other in mild disgust. Oh to be Sexy Beast.