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|Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2011
Caribbean Odyssey Cruise - Part 2
Barbados is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands and was our first stop in the Caribbean. Barbados is approximately the same size as the Isle of Wight with the Atlantic Ocean on its east coast and the calm waters of the Caribbean sea on the south and west coasts. It is famous for its fine white sandy beaches with gentle swimming on the west coast and fine beachfront hotels. The main industry is tourism, followed by growing sugar cane. We had booked a 5 hour catamaran and turtle tour which began at 0900 so we started the morning with breakfast in our cabin. It is a luxury we could get used to.
The seas around Barbados team with life and a catamaran trip is the best way to see the coast and to snorkel over reefs and wrecks and hopefully have a chance to see and swim with turtles. Even Pauline enjoys getting into the warm inviting water here although usually she hates swimming. We first did such a trip many years ago on the Wind Warrior when we used to visit on the Cunard Countess and Pete still has the fluorescent orange T shirt to prove it - it is the one he always uses when swimming as it shows up and avoid him being run down by motorboats and scooters. We repeated it in 2006 from the QE2 and enjoyed it so much we booked it again - our only Cunard organised tour this journey. If we had booked in advance the price would have been $99 but on board ship it was $105 each. So next time we will be better organised. However booking in advance has its risks; if we had decided to cancel a trip then only 90% is refunded. We were moored about a mile from the Careenage where sailing ships were keeled over, or careened, so the barnacles could be cleaned off and the timbers treated and the seams caulked.
This time it was a short bus ride to the nearby Marina for boarding the waiting Catamaran. Out of the marina we then turned left and off to Carlisle Bay, one of the many tranquil beaches on the west coast, for snorkeling with the Turtles. There are many Green and Hawksbill Turtles and a few fishes. We suppose they get accustomed to the regular visits from tourists, and the snacks fed to them by the crew. It was then a very short move along the same beach to snorkel on a wreck. Pete did both snorkel explorations but Pauline only wanted to swim with the turtles.
The first stop with the turtles was the highlight and almost as soon as we were in the water we were joined by five or six large turtles which, as last time, were close enough to touch the shells and for most of the time at least one was in sight - a magic experience - they are so much more graceful in the water than one would ever imagine. The pictures have some of the best shots from 2006 as well as the new ones as this time Pete concentrated on underwater video and close ups because we already had some good still shots.
The wreck was a different wreck to the one we had seen previously and had even more fish. At times it was difficult to see the wreck because of the density of fish! The coast must have lots of wrecks and suitable snorkel sites. It was however almost impossible to dive this year as we were forced to wear life jackets which even when deflated still have residual buoyancy and the promised fins were not available - we had brought our own on the ship but had not carried them as they were supposed to be supplied - in the snorkeling aspects the trip was very inferior to our one in 2006, both in location and equipment. Check thoroughly in advance and be prepared to carry your own equipment - at least one couple had their own wetsuits (completely unnecessary in waters of 30 degrees) fins and masks. From our boat there were views of the Governors house on the beachfront, and of the Hilton hotel on the nearby headland. Pete had, as usual, gone swimming in his old faded Wind Warrior T-shirt and the crew asked where he had obtained it, and were surprised that we had been on the old catamaran some 20 years ago. The skipper rang the owner of the company to check - she is still afloat, and the present owner of the company confirmed he had been her skipper many years ago.
Then it was time to up anchor and retrace our route, passing the QE and continuing along the coast to Paynes Bay where we stopped for swimming, lunch and then more swimming. The waters were so clear one felt one could touch the bottom, and the beach pure white in contrast to the unbelievable blue of the warm water. During the morning we had been offered a piece of cake and now it was time for lunch – pasta, rice, chicken, mahi mahi, salad, and garlic bread. There were unlimited soft drinks, Banks local beer (4.7%) and rum punch. Some passengers were drinking neat Mount Gay rum alongside the beer but it was all very restrained compared to the old days
We were back at the QE in plenty of time to change out of our wet clothes and walk into Bridgetown. The original departure time had been changed to 2000 so everyone could enjoy the first port on the Caribbean. And those who wanted to play golf, including our Captain, had lots of time ashore.
Bridgetown is a large town and the capital of Barbados. Of the total population of 250,000, it is home to about 95,000 people. We walked from the harbour, but there were lots of taxis and even a few bicycle rickshaws. Founded in 1628 Bridgetown is a bustling centre of commerce and seagoing activity. It did not seem far to walk into the town on the map, especially when it was along the waterfront and so was flat.Indeed it was only 2 kms to Parliament Square but the weather was warm and our pace was Barbados-style. As we passed the Fishing Harbour, distinctive from the smell of the morning's catch, we were halfway.
We strolled along Princess Alice Highway until we reached the entry of the Constitution River, where here was a catamaran moored at the wharf which reminded us of the old Wind Warrior. Turning along the Constitution River we could understand why Barbados is known throughout the Caribbean as 'Little England' with its houses, churches, government buildings, and even its love of cricket.
We continued past the moored boats to Parliament Square with its statue of Nelson. Now it was exactly 1600 and resembled London at 1730 - it was very busy as people finished work from the various Government buildings and headed towards their cars to go home. We crossed over the river to Independence Square where we were confronted by the old BOAC building in art deco style and then crossed back on the next bridge. Parliament Square was surrounded by a number of government buildings, and proudly flying the national flag. There are a number of elegant houses, shops and offices.
St Michael’s cathedral was originally built in the 17th century and then re-built in 1780 in coral rock, like the main public buildings. It was open but the area beyond the altar was closed for serious renovations. We mingled with the crowds in the shopping streets along Broad Street and crossed a small park to reach St Mary’s church but it was closed.
The area has a number of old colonial buildings, including the Barbados Assurance Building which dates from 1894 and is a recognised historic building and in very good condition, much better than the churches. It was too late to search for museums so we simply admired more buildings as the sun lowered on our way back to the ship.
Another early arrival and another beautiful sunny day. St Lucia is a volcanic island and the largest of the Windward group. There are only two cruise ship docks and we expected to be at anchor at the capital, Castries, but fortunately were not. We moored at Port Castries at the Queen Elizabeth II Dock, with another large Celebrity cruise ship at the Pointe Seraphine Cruise Ship Dock. On our previous cruises we had taken tours, the most popular being to visit the Soufriere volcano, the Pitons (two distinctive pointed volcanic hills), and swim in the sulphur baths. We decided we would prefer to visit the town of Castries instead.
Both cruise terminals had the usual range of expensive shops. It is assumed that everyone who comes to the Caribbean wants to buy diamonds, emeralds or Rolex watches, so these same exclusive shops are everywhere. There are also stalls selling colourful cheap clothes and T-shirts. Pauline wanted to buy souvenirs from the Bagshaws Art Studio and their website promised an outlet in Pointe Seraphine. Although it was very hot it was a pleasant stroll across to Pointe Seraphine but the shop was closed and only the shop at the airport and the main studio next to the Cunard La Toc Hotel (now one of the Sandals group) remained. The return walk seemed hotter as time passed and we wished we had waited for the water taxi which was based at Pointe Seraphine and went across to town. Taxi drivers, resting in the shade, enquired politely whether we would like a taxi. We plodded onwards, remarking that all the nice new buildings seemed to be for the financial sector. Business must be good here, not only for the tourist industry. We sat in a park for a few moments then continued.
Although it was only a few miles away the taxi price was expensive - $20 each way. We eventually found someone who would settle for $15 but would only do the trip as a return trip. We would have been happy to pay one way and then walk back. It was downhill to come back! Our Cunard map did not show the road to La Toc else we might have walked - it was marked La Toe instead.....Bagshaws Art Studio was established in 1962 and specialises in silk screen printing. We arrived at the studio as the Cunard tour was leaving; the private road down was narrow and steep and we were pleased our taxi had not met them on one of the sharp bends. We mentioned that we had purchased wall hangings and place mats 20 years earlier and were taken to the outside workshop to meet the printer, who had just completed a demonstration of how the colours are laid on the fabric. When we met him he was printing T-shirts for the local brewery. Some of the same old tropical motifs are still in production – including the pair of herons, various colourful tropical fish and the Macaw bird. The latter featured on the leaflet we had taken home 20 years ago. We left with several wall hangings and place mats all at very reasonable prices in comparison to the taxi fare. Bagshaws can also be accessed directly by a steep set of steps from the sandy beach occupied by the Sandals La Toc Hotel, and we were able to take pictures of the beach but did not take our towels and settle there. Going back over the hill and down to the waterfront was quick, but then the taxi was captured in the one-way system and slowed down because of all the traffic going back to the ships. This enabled us to have a short slow tour around the town at no extra cost.
We took our shopping back to the ship and came out for a final stroll. This retraced some of the route taken by the taxi, but we started at the old Craft and Food markets, which were full of colourful tourist souvenirs and clothes, with only a few vegetable stalls in the late afternoon. We presumed the empty slabs had been for selling meat and fish in the morning. We missed the live poultry and local atmosphere of the main market because most of the goods were only for the tourists. The smell of spices was everywhere and there were bags for sale, as well as bottles of local hot sauces. We have far too much of these at home but were tempted. The park in the centre of town, the old Columbus Square, is now renamed Derek Walcott Square in honour of the 1992 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The tree in the centre is a Samman tree which is said to be almost 450 years old. The 19th century Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is at the east end. The Carnegie Library overlooks the square on the north west corner, making the square the centre of local religious and cultural life.
Back onboard it was soon time for the SailAway celebrations, and everyone seemed to be out on deck in the pleasant balmy evening, as the sun went down, to wave 'Farewell' to St Lucia and look forward to the next day in another beautiful Caribbean island.
This evening we had reserved a table in the Alternative Dining restaurant, and our option for tonight was Asado. Each evening the Alternative Dining is different and the specialist restaurant is set up in a corner of the Lido on Deck 9. There was a small charge, just $10 each. Here are pictures from Asado and from our favourite, Jasmin.