|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 2
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Located within the Turks and Caicos Islands, Grand Turk has a history stemming from its natural saltpans and you will see evidence of this in its old Salinas. The pristine white sand beaches lapped by stunning azure waters are just a short distance from the world’s third largest barrier reef. Grand Turk (population, 5,600) is one of the Turks and Caicos islands, a group of low-lying islands 30 miles to the south of the Bahamas and 100 miles north-east of the Dominican Republic. Grand Turk is only 7 miles long, from the southern tip near the Cruise Centre to the lighthouse in the north. It is only 1.5 miles wide which is just enough for the airport runway which stretches from one side to the other.
After one day at sea and a gentle overnight passage close to the islands the Queen Victoria berthed in Grand Turk at 0830 in the morning. It was Saturday and the weather was wet, windy and warm which was a bad combination for our wet-weather clothes. Grand Turk was a new port for us. There are over 40 islands in the Turks and Caicos Islands group. Cockburn Town on Grand Turk is the administrative and political capital whereas Providentiales, an island just over 60 miles away, is the main town. It is a British overseas territory, everyone speaks English and cars drive on the left, but the currency is the US$ and the cars are all left hand drive.
The Carnival Corporation Cruise Centre in the south of the island was built in 2006 and has a finger pier which can cater for two cruise ships. It is a popular destination and in January 2018 there was a ship visiting every day. The Cruise Centre has a shopping centre, restaurants and bars, a large swimming pool and cabana huts for rent. The clean sandy beaches stretch in both directions from the wharf. Unfortunately the weather was really unpleasant in the morning and so the delights of the resort were not appealing. Ships tours concentrated on water sports : lounging on the beach, scuba diving, snorkeling boat charters, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, fishing, and whale watching. We instead paid $5 each for a shared taxi-van to take us to Cockburn Town about 3 miles away.
Our driver pointed out the sights on the way – starting with the Turks Head plant at the Cruise Centre which features on the island flag alongside a lobster and a conch. Driving along the main road there were several building damaged by the hurricane, including many empty buildings formerly belonging to the US base on the island. The next pier was for cargo ships and soon after there was a glimpse of Governor’s beach. The Governor’s mansion, “Waterloo” was hidden behind a wall but there was the Waterloo Golf Club in his grounds. It was raining too hard for photos through the bus window. The Airport is on the other side and has a regular service to Providentiales. There is no ferry between the two islands, only the aircraft.
The main street to Cockburn Town, Duke Street, passes a series of ponds which were used in the past for producing salt. The wet weather had caused standing water on the roads and the tide was high too, so the road which the bus would normally use along the coast was deluged with spray and there was a short detour along Pond Street. As a consequence we saw the clock tower and the Police Station beyond, before turning onto Front Street to rejoin the coast. We rushed past a number of old colonial houses which we returned to later on foot. We were roped off beside some shops and opposite a small number of small restaurants which were right against the sea wall which had waves breaking against it. Our destination was the National Museum in Front Street and the bus drop-off point was just beyond.
After a quick exploration of the area beyond it was clear that most of the historic and interesting buildings were to the south and we started by visiting the National Museum in Guinep House, one of the oldest stone buildings of the island. It has not been re-opened to the public because of damage to the roof during the hurricane, but with care we could see it was full of interesting information about the island’s history and industry. The gift shop was open and there were a number of nice local souvenirs and books about the islands. The National Museum also owns the Botanical and Cultural garden next door which was closed.
The street has many historic houses and they generally did not suffer as much from the hurricane as the newer properties. The first was Sunny Side which was built in the 1870s. Then the Freemasons building which showed some minor damage and the Seventh-day Adventist Church next door. Further along had been properties belonging to the two important salt families in the 1860s, the Froth's and the Stubb’s. The first building was the salt warehouse of the Stubb’s. Further south, Eunice Oddfellows Lodge, on the corner of Market Street, is now a cafe and bar and was where it is believed that the proclamation ending slavery was read in 1834. The Market Hall faces it. Further along the Victoria Library and its books and papers had been destroyed by fire in March 2017 in an incident not related to the hurricane. There are lots of gaps in the street where properties have been demolished and others have been boarded up.
Today was the third annual National Honours and Awards Ceremony, delayed from October 2017 by the hurricane and planned to be held at the Parade Grounds but moved to the Hon N.J.S. Francis Building, the House of Assembly, due to the weather. Thirty seven Turks and Caicos islanders were recognised with the order of Turks and Caicos Islands, the patriotic award Cayos medal, the long service award, the meritorious service award and the national young achiever’s medal. We passed the building as the event finished and then walked into St Mary’s Anglican Pro-Cathedral Church next door. The church was built in 1900 and was designated a Pro-Cathedral in the 1990s. It was undamaged and inside there are traditional pews and a beautiful set of stained glass windows dating from 1997. As we prepared to leave the sky darkened and heavy rain started so we took refuge in the church until the sun came out again.
It was too wet to continue along the waterfront so, like our taxivan, we made a detour towards the ponds and found a pair of tame heron birds. This route passed the government administration buildings but not the Post Office. Back on the waterfront, the first interesting house is the Old George Frith House belonging to the salt family, which is estimated to be built in the 1830s. The owners of the Grand Turk Inn purchased it in 2003. next, the Turks Head Inn was a mansion built in the 1840s by the shipwright Jonathan Glass which was then was occupied by the American Consulate, became the government doctor’s residence and dispensary and in the 1960s was sold to the government as a hotel. It then became owned by a Hollywood movie producer and must have new owners because there were signs selling food and drinks. Further along is another famous inn, the Salt Raker Inn, is of a similar age and also designed by Jonathan Glass. Originally a private home it became a hotel in the 1960s and still operates as a hotel today. Both the inns were on the land side of the road were in good condition but a small bar on the ocean side, popular with our taxi driver, had suffered in the hurricane and is being rebuilt. The next house directly on the ocean, the Old Roberts Family House was in excellent condition. It was built in the 1850s for Mr Roberts who was a carpenter and built the old salt wharf opposite Nova Scotia Bank. He was also the lighthouse keeper. When we drove past earlier our taxivan driver explained that the old houses did not suffer as much from the hurricanes. It was numbered #1 on its historic plaque and so was the first, and for us the last, on our wander through the historic precinct. On our return we noticed the plaque #6 for the old dwelling house of Alfred and Millicent Coverley which was said to be among the most famous houses on Front Street. Built in the 1830s it was moved from the ocean side of the street to the opposite side.
Having seen all the historic buildings in the main street the plan was to walk back and perhaps have a beer or something for lunch. However the weather was changing again and as we came within sight of the round bandstand by the Town Pond the sky opened and it rained horizontal stair rods. Thoroughly wet we decided it was time to go back and some friendly local people waved down a taxi. As we went back to the ship the taxi passed two of the wild donkeys fighting on the pavement. They live freely on the island having been used for working in the salt industry.
The sun was already shining again when we reached the Cruise Centre and so it was possible to explore the facilities of the resort area. We hoped to find local beer on tap at Margaritaville, but there were only bottles and we could buy plenty of those on board. The duty free shop had lots of expensive jewelery souvenirs and alcohol and a few bottles of expensive European wine. The only special area was an exhibition devoted to Space exploration. In the 1960s the US had a missile tracking station on the island and both John Glenn and Scott Carpenter splashed down in the ocean nearby after completing their missions.
The Queen Victoria departed at 1600 and it was possible to get some good views of the coast in the sunshine as we cruised away.
Martinique is one of four French overseas territories in the Caribbean which together comprise the French West Indies. It still grows sugar cane and bananas and is well known for the quality of its rum agricole. Our last visit to Martinique was on the Cunard Countess in 1993 and we expected to find the island has changed. After a day at sea we awoke to see the island on the port side and berthed at the Quai des Tourelles at 0900. P&O Azura was already berthed at our old berth at Pointe Simon which is closer to the town centre.
The Quai des Tourelles is close to the Fort Saint Louis, which is a listed historic site and also an active naval base. It is closed on Monday. It was only 15 minutes to walk to the town and was not only well signed but there were also lots of istinctive tourist office representatives pointing the way. The first interesting building was the magnificent Schoelcher library which could be seen from the ship. It is an unusual building with a dome and overhanging roof. The architect was Henry Pick who arranged for even the bricks to be transported from France following its dismantlement after display at the 1889 Fair in Paris. It was completed in 1893. On Monday it is only open in the afternoon. In contrast, the nearby cathedral of Saint Louis is open in the morning and then closes at 1130.
Our route passed through the old Palais de Justice which was opened in 1907. There is a statue of M. Schoelcher at the entrance, and the building has the words “Liberte Egalite Fraternite” over the entrance door. Inside is a large courtyard with interesting information about the history of the town and of Martinique. The other side is in the Cour Perrinon where there is a shopping Mall and the small Carrefour supermarket. Before turning towards the cathedral it is worth visiting the splendid Hotel de Ville which is also the Aime Cesaire Theatre. The area near the cathedral is full of small shops selling cheap clothes and souvenirs. The Cathedral is a real gem and must be visited. It was very busy with visitors from the two cruise ships. The present cathedral is the sixth on the site and dates after the fire of 1890. It was built by Henry Pick and has a metal framework and 186ft high steeple with a hemstitched spire. It was inaugurated in 1895. Subsequent earthquakes in 1946 and 1953 and the 1970 hurricane resulted in a need for restoration work between 1975 and 1980. The metalwork continues to need maintenance and work was being carried out on the gallery while we visited. The stained glass windows and the organ are to be admired. The Cathedral is unusual having the organ behind the altar. There is a good view of the steeple from the Place Mgr Romero.
The narrow pedestrian streets were full of shops selling cheap souvenirs and clothes but we guessed that There were dozens of stalls all selling local herbs, spices, jams, cordials, fruits and vegetables. There were also local arts and crafts and we watched a madras cotton dress being made. It was still early and we walked back to Place G. Gratiant to check our map and plan the rest of the morning. Then it was onwards back to the Grand Marche and past the Meat (Boucher) Market Hall towards the Gueydon Fountain and Footbridge over the canal. In 1853 the Gueydon aquaduct, built by Admiral de Gueydon, brought drinking water to the city. The fountain was built in 1856 but is now dry.
The main road, the Boulevard General de Gaulle, went past the cemetary and the bus station. The square had a material shop on the corner – it is the first time Pete has wanted to go shopping with me and the main reason was that the shop was air-conditioned.
It was just after 1300 and the Schoelcher Library was now open. Our direct route went past the Hall of Justice, the City Hall and the Prefecture. The Prefecture was built between 1928 and 1931 and is of reinforced concrete, replacing an earlier wooden building. The main building is, according to tradition, inspired by the Petit Trianon in Versailles.
After visiting the Schoelcher Library and admiring the main reading room here were two other interesting buildings along the Rue de la Liberte which runs along the edge of the Savannah Park. They are the Post Office and the Musee Departmentale. The Savannah Park has two statues: the statue of the Empress Josephine which was vandalised and decapitated in 1991 and the memorial to the men of Martinique who died for their country. The memorial is at the corner of the park near the entrance to the Fort Saint Louis and the small sandy beach at the foot of the walls.
Barbados is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands and was our last stop in the Caribbean and one of the few ports on this cruise we had visited before. We were here only a year ago on our way to the Amazon. You will find that this write up is very similar to last time and has many of the same pictures as we did an almost identical walk round Bridgetown. This time we were on a Tuesday so the Parliament buildings and Museum were not open but we have left the details of our visit last year on a Friday as we enjoyed the tour so much.
Queen Victoria arrived at 07.00 and two other cruise ships joined us shortly afterwards. It was going to be busy in town later. As we strolled towards the port gate there were already catamarans full of tourists setting off for their morning beach excursion. 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. It is also famous for its shopping with a number of highclass stores selling jewelry, designer clothes and electronics. The main industry is tourism, followed by growing sugar cane.
The most popular tourist trips involve the beautiful white sandy beaches - either simply sitting in the sunshine with a cold drink under a palm tree, or swimming and snorkelling in the clear blue waters. On a previous visit in 2011 on the Queen Elizabeth we booked a 5 hour catamaran and turtle tour on the Tiami. 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 see and swim with turtles. We first did such a trip many years ago on the Wind Warrior when we used to visit on the Cunard Countess. The first stop was at Carlisle Bay which has many Green and Hawksbill Turtles and a few fishes. As soon as we were in the water we were joined by five or six large turtles which 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 catamaran then moved towards the Hilton Hotel where there was a wreck and lots more fish. The pictures of turtles and fish are a mix from 2006 and 2011. The beaches at Carlisle Bay are close to the cruise terminal and would be an easy taxi ride. The other popular beach for swimming, Paynes Bay, is further north.
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 into town from the ship, but there were lots of taxis waiting at the port gate. At every road junction there were friendly people offering taxis but they understood that we wanted to walk. Founded in 1628 Bridgetown is a bustling centre of commerce and seagoing activity. It was not far to walk into the town along the waterfront, first passing the Pelican Craft Village next to the Bus Station. It was approximately 2 kms to Parliament Square along the Princess Alice Highway and there were several air-conditioned supermarkets where we looked unsuccessfully for local ground coffee. There was also a Fish Market, with a mixture of small fish and chunks of very large fish for sale. Their fishing boats were visible, moored beyond the market. Usually there are wild cats patrolling fish markets, looking for scraps, but here there can also be hopeful white egrets which the locals treated as a pest. Our target was to reach Parliament Square but turning along Prince Alfred Street towards Broad Street gave the chance to admire the Barbados Mutual Life Assurance Society building. The building dates from 1894 and is a recognised historic building and although it seems in very good condition was undergoing some internal renovation. There are many beautiful colonial buildings ion this area. Nearby was an italian coffee shop where for ~US$13 we bought a large (12oz) packet of local ground coffee, a dollar more than last year but we know that good coffee will be hard to come by on the rest of the journey.
We continued to Parliament Square with its statue of Nelson and its fountain. Parliament Square was surrounded by a number of government buildings, and proudly flying the national flag. In 2006 the National Heroes Gallery and Museum of Parliament was established in the historic west wing of the Parliament building. This time we came on a Tuesday when Parliament is active so we could not visist but normally entry is US$5 and includes a guided tour of the House of Assembly and Senate. The Museum is self-guided and explores the history of the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth. In 2014 it celebrated its 375th anniversary. The development of political institutions, and the varied personalities who provided leadership are described. Initially it seems to be a small museum but it opens out to describe the lives and qualities of the ten individuals who have been chosen for their National Heroes Gallery. These are : The Right Excellent Bussa (Born in Africa and killed during an 1816 slave uprising fighting for his freedom in Barbados.), The Right Excellent Sarah Ann Gill (1795–1866), The Right Excellent Samuel Jackman Prescod (1806–1871), The Right Excellent Dr. Charles Duncan O'Neal (1879–1936), The Right Excellent Clement Osbourne Payne (1904–1941), The Right Excellent Sir Grantley Herbert Adams (1898–1971), The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow (1920–1987), The Right Excellent Sir Hugh Worrell Springer (1913–1994), The Right Excellent Sir Frank Leslie Walcott (1916–1998) and The Right Excellent Sir Garfield St. Auburn Sobers (1936– ). We were only allowed 45 minutes before our timed tour of Parliament and we found we could barely complete looking round in that time. Unfortunately it was not allowed to take photos within the museum because of copyright of the material on display.
The guided tour of the House of Assembly and the Senate is exactly that - the building is on the opposite side of the carpark to the museum and the groups climb up to the room of the House of Assembly with its seats for 30 members. It was like a miniature version of the British House of Commons, which we have visited both as tourists , invited visitors, and to advise Ministers as civil servants. The second House, the Senate, meets in a large room on the other side of the building and currently the leader was a lady who is blind. The chandeliers are Waterford crystal. The screens were closed so it was not possible to admire the stained glass windows. It was pointed out that the carpet in the House of Assembly was green whereas that in the Senate was red. It reminded us of the port and starboard colours and that the Cunard ships also have two different coloured carpets, but they are red and blue. It is an excellent museum and it is very interesting to visit Parliament. The Parliament is not open everyday for visitors and is always closed on Tuesdays when Parliament meets. We wished there were information books for purchase, as there are for example about the Beehive in New Zealand. Limited information is found at www.barbadosparliament.com
We next crossed over the Constitution River on the famous Chamberlain Bridge and through the arch to Independence Square. After browsing in the colourful shops we were confronted by the old BOAC Speedbird building in art deco style. Barbados used to be a popular destination for aircraft and Concorde flew here in the early days. The park in front of the building gives a good view back to town and has a statue of the Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow looking across the river to the Parliament building. He is one of the Ten National Heroes described in the Museum of Parliament.
Then crossed back on the Charles Duncan Oneal bridge, last time we walked as far as the market where there were interesting vegetables at all the pavement stalls but no special fruit. Everything was locally grown and it must have been the wrong season for exotic fruits. A few minutes walk further, 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. There was a service taking place in the area behind the main altar but we could look round the rest of the building.
We again wen as far as to the Courts of Justice the Free Library opposite which was the Fountain and the and Rotunda. We then backtracked slightly to the Nidhe Israel Synagogue and Museum where the cemetary contains graves which date back to the 1660s and is surrounded by a high wall. The present building dates back to 1833, located on the site of the original 1654 synagogue. The paper celebrating the consecration of the New Synagogue is framed on the wall inside. The building now belongs to the Barbados National Trust but it is not a museum; it is also used as a place of worship. The associated Jewish Museum was expensive at about $12.5 US to go into and did not interest us greatly so we gave it a miss. Most of our prices here are approximate as the currency is the Barbados $ although US dollars are taken almost everywhere. Beware that credit card charges will be in Barbados Dollars even if advertised prices are in US dollars (as in the Duty Free) and one can lose out slightly.
We mingled with the crowds in the shopping streets along Broad Street. Across a small park is St Mary’s church. In 1660 it was the site of the first parish church which was then moved to the present site of St Michael’s cathedral. The building dates from 1825 and it stands on the oldest consecrated land in the city. Nearby is the Cheapside Public Market which is a two-storey market, a design similar to the market in Funchal.
We returned towards Chamberlain Bridge where we sat in Parliament Gardens in front of the fountain to look at our map and looked up to see some huge catapillars above us devouring all the leaves on a tree and moved on quickly. We walked along the old Hard opposite Bridge House which was too packed to contemplate a beer. We passsed the old bonded store which was shown as a museum on ourmas but now seems to be offices. It was now the start of the walk back to the ship passing some old cannos on the way.
There was plenty of time for a local Banks Beer (or two) at the Cruise Terminal before returning for a late lunch. Barbados also produces rum and the Mount Gay distillery, established in 1703, is just outside Bridgetown. It is proud that it is the world's oldest rum producer. The Queen Victoria sold their standard rum in the Duty Free shop but we paid a few extra dollars at the Cruise Terminal to buy the Black Barrel "small batch handcrafted rum ... finished in deeply toasted and charred Bourbon oak barrels". last year and this year we went even further up-market and bought the XO which has won the 2017 International Competition in Paris. It was reduced in one of the shops in the Duty Free area to $30US for a litre, initial trials are very favourable! Twenty five years ago we noticed that local rum was cheaper than water in the shops, but that is definitely no longer true, at least in Barbados.
This ends our time in the Caribbean and the next part ontinues in South America at Fortaleza in Brazil
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th March, 2018