Tag Archives: Blogging

Lock Lore

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A lock near us.

One thing I know for sure about living on a narrowboat in England. A lot of work is involved in maintaining it and cruising on it. If we could simply cruise along the canals, unimpeded by obstacles that get in the way, things would be jolly. Some of those obstacles are natural, while others come in the form of locks and swing bridges.

If all this sounds like boat-speak, you’re right. When I first got into this lifestyle, I knew nothing. And I’m still learning. What is a windlass, you ask? What are gate paddles? What is a pound (not money)? What is a cill? All questions I know you’ve been asking yourself. Expat Larry is here to answer all your queries about narrowboating. If only he had all the answers.

Be that as it may, he knows about locks. Last summer, a few of us spent our days moving other people’s boats from here to there to get work done. Every so many years, the bottoms of our boats need to be blacked. This is a process that uses some form of bitumen that is applied with brushes and rollers to the hull that first has to be blasted clean of the old black. The blacking protects the bottom of the narrowboat’s hull. Most people pay to have it done. Our boat is due this year and we’ve decided to do it ourselves.

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One of the boats we moved in a lock.

You can’t just do it any old place. Some marinas have facilities for maintenance. Ours doesn’t, so it’s off to places north or south to do the work. In our case, last summer, a few people needed work done and some of us provided the crew to get them there and back. We became the lock crew. And we were good. 2 of us got the lock ready for the boat to go in, then walked to the next lock to get it ready. The other 2 crew waited until the boat left the lock and closed it up for the next boat that would eventually come along. We had our system.

But, if you can share the lock with another boat, all the better. Locks on the Grand Union Canal (where we live) are double locks….2 narrowboats or 1 widebeam. If you can travel in 2s, you save water, a vanishing commodity in the canals these days. You’d never think that living in a country known for its abundance of rainy days. Apparently, it’s the wrong type of ground in this country to retain all that rain water. Don’t worry about it or try to figure it out. I never do.

Approaching the low side of a lock. Two of the intrepeid crew wait to open the gates to let us in.

Approaching the low end of a lock. Two of the intrepid crew ready to open the gates to let the boat in.

So, here we are, a couple of locks down the way on one of the trips, when we meet up with a couple on one of those what we call plastic boats, the kind you find on lakes. Anyway, the folks navigating this craft were, well, not quite entirely with us if you know what I mean. They were away with the fairies, on some kind of mind expanding substance, not a care in the world. “Where you heading to my friend?” I asked after about the 3rd lock. “Huh? Heading to? Uh….not sure. What direction is this?” “South” I said. “South? What direction to Birmingham?” he asked. “North” I said. “Oh yeah? I guess we’re going the wrong way. ” “I guess. What’re you going to do?”

He just shrugged his shoulders. He insisted on pulling his boat into the lock rather than cruising in. It took a lot longer. He said he was afraid the boat we were moving would crush his if he drove in. No logic there, especially since he had fenders the size of a pilates ball. But he kept up this odd behaviour, heading in the wrong direction with no plan. He decided to moor up after the next lock anyway. Thank da Lawd.

By the end of the summer, we became the best lock crew anyone could hope to acquire. We decided not to get back on the boat between locks as we can walk faster than the boats are allowed to go on the canals. In total, we walked about 50 miles that summer, rain or shine. Many locks and many good laughs. And quite a feat considering every one of the lock crew have bad knees and bad backs. Brave bunch….but no medals.

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Lock gates open, ready for the boat to enter.

We got to know each lock very well along this stretch of the canal. Some of the paddles are buggers to open and the gates are heavier than hell to open and close. Some leak badly while others are just plain old and falling apart. This is why we have the CRC, the Canal and River Trust. They are the organisation that looks after the canals, most of them anyway. And the locks.

The locks are getting older too. Some of the gates are from the later part of the 19th century and early 20th. They have been serviced here and there, but there are a lot of them and budgets don’t allow for a complete overhaul of the system. Well, budgets and money wasted on ridiculous salaries for the top dogs and some frivolous projects. It seems the only time locks get serviced is when they completely fail, through age, overuse and vandalism….mostly age.

It was a relief when news came that a lock near us, that has been leaking badly, was going to be fixed. The notices went up and then the materials needed began appearing. Barges with water pumps and cranes then appeared and finally the steel fencing to keep us out and the workers in went up. The work began. The top gates were replaced and the bottom gates repaired. What fascinated me was the junk on the bottom of the lock once the water had been drained away. Treasures galore, mostly of metal that had fallen off boats over the years and tossed in by locals….like car hub caps and road signs of one type or other.

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Stuff at the bottom of our local lock.

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Preparing the lock for work.

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The new gates at the top of the lock.

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Finishing things off in the repaired lock.

This work went on for a few days. On one of those days, I was walking along the towpath to shop at the local Sainsbury’s (Supermarket) and noticed a narrowboat inching up to the barrier put up to shut off the lock. An older gentleman, who had the demeanor of an original boater, complete with old, unattended boat, stood at the tiller, grumbling to himself.

I stopped and stated the bleeding obvious. “The lock is closed for repair” I said. “I can see that” said he of the Cut. “Did you check the online lock closure reports?” I asked. “Don’t have a computer” he said. “Did you see any of the signs as you were coming along?” I inquired. “There’s always signs for this and that” he said, “But I didn’t see any of them.” I asked the next obvious question, “Did anyone along the way warn you this lock was closed?” “Yeah” he said, “A few people did, but I didn’t believe them.”

He did now.

 

 

Camden Greed

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I don’t usually get caught up in what might be construed as political rhetoric, and I don’t think what I am about to say is as political as it is about greed. Ever since money became the way we do business, it has become the prize many have gone for no matter what has to happen to get it. We know it as greed, one of the 7 deadly sins offered up by Christendom, especially the Roman Catholic branch. The problem is, the more money a person or organisation accumulates, the more greed rears its ugly head. This includes the Church.

Well now, call it what you will, you can see evidence of it everywhere in today’s world. More and more. There are those who want nothing more than to get as much cash as possible to support a lavish lifestyle that is thought to be deserved. Maybe it is. But more often than not, it is to the expense of so many others’ wellbeing and involves some degree of chicanery and larceny on the part of the takers of this world to afford the kind of exclusivity they crave. Those and no conscience.

There is something to the old bartering system that remains essentially honest….for the most part. I’m sure some of those guys (and they were guys way back when) cheated the people they traded with. Greed is as old as time. Seems humanity has a touch of magpie or raccoon in it. Of course we would say that in the animal world this is instinct. For humans there is an element of this that has passed down through eons of evolution, but, in the end, we ought to know better. The old ‘do unto others’ golden rule you find in the good books of every culture was not written there by chance.

Lots of folk have forgotten that rule. The implementing of it shall save the human race. The abuse of it shall be our ruin. At the moment, all signs would lead you to believe we are heading for ruin. I could cite many recent cases where the abuse of riches and the instances of greed are pervasive in today’s society. Cite the recent demise of BHS (British Home Stores) run into the ground by high-flying ‘Sir’ Philip Green. I’m sure you have stories chez vous. There are simply too many to tell.

But the one I want to talk about involves a favourite place of mine, the Camden Locks Market and the attached Horse Hospital market, a meandering mishmash of bohemian boutiques and now you see ’em, now you don’t market stalls. That was the charm of the place in recent years. Folks who made jewellery of all sorts as you wait, beer bottles made into clocks, leather-bound journals with weird covers, any vintage vinyl album you could want (at a reasonable price), crafts of all descriptions and Indian goods that were cheap and cheerful. Lots of vintage clothing, posters from every era and anything bohemian you can imagine.

Then a billionaire started grabbing up parts of the market and now has it all. He has grandiose plans for the market, which might be a good thing except that it involves dismantling the unique character of the place, turning it into a high-end, expensive shopping mall for the rich Euro trash to have as their London playground. Like they need another part of London for that. They already have Knightsbridge, the South Bank and St. Katherines Dock etc., etc., etc.

But my concern is with Camden Town, home of Bob Cratchit. He could never afford to live there now, especially if he was a real person. And it’s getting worse. Local vendors and developers try to get every penny out of the rest of us. They are also eroding the traditional fabric of the area. Leather shops, vintage clothing, tattoo parlors, souvenirs and probably the myriad music venues are sought by greedy land-grabbing developers. They can’t wait to get their greedy mitts on this choice land and turn it into a playground for rich, high-flying foreign oligarchs.

And now this billionaire has most of the Camden covered markets. What was once a hospital and service stalls for horses that pulled canal barges and a gin factory became a market. But it had kept its history alive with bronze statues of horses and men shoeing them and the rest dotted all over the market grounds. They’re gone. Much of what has made the market a bohemian treat is gone. That’s the problem with billionaires. They never think what is good for the area and for ordinary people. They have in mind upscale shopping for the rich.

Rent has gone through the roof, shutting out the average artisan. I spoke to one chap who operated a gin distillery, something new in the market. He said rents had gone up drastically and many vendors lost out. I won’t get into the nationality of many of the business people moving to the market. Everything British is being sold off to foreign investors because the Brits don’t want to own anything. They just want cash so they can buy big homes outside of London and go on cruises and such. Unless something changes, Brexit is going to be a joke, if it isn’t already.

And there you have it. Who to blame? Everyone. The ones who sell, the ones who buy, those who own land and develop it, those who make the rules regarding who owns what, and the mob of complacent folk who say and do nothing. Am I one of them? Well, I hope not since I refuse to go back to shop there. And places like it. I’m tired of ‘upscale’ places charging the moon for not much. And let’s be clear. Greed is rampant and so things cannot end well in a society that cares more about the bottom line than providing good service and good value for money. If you don’t see it, you are part of the problem.

A call to arms? Nah. Just a call to common sense. Without it, you may as well let Kim Jong-un, Trump and Putin nuke the world and let it get back to basics.

 

 

Mad March in the Marina.

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Mad March in the Marina.
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Snow between boats on the first day.

You’d think all my years living in Canada would have prepared me for winter weather in England. Well….it didn’t. My 12 years living over here have turned me into a giant wuss. All I’ve had to do is get used to the wind and rain. I don’t mind rain. The wind I could do without, those 70mph winds that is. Even 50mph winds become tiresome. And I expect some cold weather and maybe a dusting of snow when it’s wintertime. But this? In March?

It all began on a Monday near the end of February, leading into March. Calls for big snow and ice storms for Britain, coming in from Russia. They don’t need nuclear weapons. Just send us your weather. Usually, the media plays up this kind of doomsday weather. Everyone knows that snow, any snow, cripples the infrastructure of Britain, especially the south of England. So when the weather gurus (Met Office) get it right, all hell breaks loose. Mostly, it hits in Scotland. Not this time.

Right about now, all my compatriots in Canada are laughing their collective faces off because of our whining and moaning about a little bit of snow. But this time it was serious. High winds, drifting snow, ice rain and ice pellets, the lot. All for several days. As I write this on the 2nd of March, the snow continues to fall. My best friend and I braved our way to Sainsbury’s this afternoon for a few needed comestibles and returned in a hail of pellet-like snow balls whipping our faces and pummeling our bodies.

It all adds credence to the old saying about March weather, ‘In like a lion and out like a lamb’ and vice versa. In like a rampaging elephant here. For the south of England anyway. Kids love it. Schools are cancelled, snowmen made, sleds and toboggans dusted off and hot chocolate served. Unless you have to drive, it’s very pretty out there.

 

Wildlife seems confused on stormy winter days. Some ducks sit on the frozen surface of the marina or on the cut wondering where the water went. Swans and geese slide around like very bad skaters. Finding shelter isn’t easy for these foul. Good thing they have feathers and all that down. Nature’s way of looking after the defenceless.

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Birds on ice.

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The frozen marina.

Here in the marina for we mammals, things go on as usual except that getting on and off the boat can be tricky. More on that in a moment. But the thing that gets used overtime is the old solid fuel burning stove. Day and night we stoke the fire and keep things positively cosy in this 60 foot long, 6.6 feet wide narrowboat. This week we decided to burn wood. Usually it’s coal, but that blows back when it’s very windy and has a thick choking quality to it. So wood.

We don’t live out on the cut where boaters gather up any wood they can find along the towpath from felled trees and tree branches to broken fence posts. Wooden pallets (skids) are a favourite if they can be obtained. A few people buy peat to burn. Smells terrible. The little shop in the marina sells wood. Not cheap but dry and useable. Wood burns much more quickly than coal. You use a lot more of it. And it smells better. Everyone has a preference.

We had to learn about coal too. Some burns more slowly but produces more ash. The one we use burns more quickly but is cleaner. There are a lot of things to learn when you go from a regular house to a boat. Keeping warm in the winter is a big one. It’s surprising how warm these boats get when the stove is on with the central heating. We have that too. It’s run off the boat’s diesel fuel. Sometimes it gets so warm on the boat, we have to open windows.

No one can figure out who is responsible for spreading salt and grit around the marina when the walkways and jettys become icy. Seems to be up to we boaters. There is a container at one end that contains grit. We help ourselves. Of course you have to get to it first. And therein lies the problem on very slippery days.

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Snow at night. 5 inches this time.

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Car covered in snow in the marina.

 

And so back to that thing I mentioned about it being slippery getting on and off the boat on such days. My best friend had a meeting in London and I was left to do the laundry. She slipped on the jetty as she got off the boat, but walked off to the train station unscathed. I got off the boat to check on the laundry and slipped on the same spot. This time, I was heading into the water….the very cold, icy water.

But I was determined not to fall in all the way. Only one leg went in. On the way down into the abyss, I shot out my arm toward the jetty and threw my other leg back toward the boat. The result? A badly bruised and wrenched right arm and a twisted left leg. I was stuck. I couldn’t move. And I was in pain.

To the rescue, my good neighbour Eddie the Brave. He heard the thud as I collapsed between boat and jetty. Out he came and gingerly lifted me up, battered and bruised and shaken but very much alive. Instead of doing the smart thing, I thanked Eddie and continued on to the laundry room, sloshing along on my soaked and frozen leg. Stupid boy.

When I got back to the boat, I changed into dry jeans. I was still a little bit in shock but surprised I felt as good as I did….that is until the next day. Amazing what stiffens and shows up overnight. Stupid boy. Even after all that, the snow continued. A crazy week in March. Bring on Spring.

 

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 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.