Monday, February 16, 2009

Dominica - Or Can Suzanne Regain Our Trust

When I last left off in the journal of our trip to the Caribbean, I planned to be back in a day to continue the saga. I had a minor diversion in handling employee questions after the corporation from which I derive my income filed Chapter 11.

But, I'm back and ready to resume. If you remember, Suzanne, the "guide" we met at Bacardi and who gave us a long list of things to do at each stop, wasn't exactly in our good graces after St. Martin's. Not a great recommendation of things to do, but
we decided to try again in Dominica. Suzanne recommended we call a certain guide
service and ask for Dave. He would give us a tour of Dominica, taking us wherever we wanted in his taxi-van for a flat fee. Sounded all right, so one of my fellow travelers called. Three men were going off on a zip-line adventure under the rain forest canopy, while the wives decided to trust our day to Dave.

Dominica looked gorgeous from shipboard. Gorgeous town tucked under towering volcanic peaks. I couldn't wait to explore. After breakfast, we went ashore to find Dave. We found his scheduler, Jou Paul, instead. I was ready to scrap Dave and go with Jou Paul.

Eventually, Dave arrived and we bid fond farewell to Jou Paul and to the pirate ship in the harbor. (At first I thought it was a prop leftover from filming Pirates of the Caribbean, but it sailed off into the sunrise. Silly me.)
We wound our way up the volcano to Titou Gorge, where we were able to swim though a cave to a waterfall. Mountain water is cold! After Titou gorge, we went back down

the road, picked up a hitchhiker Dave knew (more about him in a minute) and went to Papa and Mama Falls for photo ops and lunch.

We talked with our hitchhiker for nearly half an hour. I learned so much. Turned out Elvis (yup, real name) was a biologist with a grant from Clemson U mapping biospheres on Dominica. He was a fountain of knowledge about the flora and fauna and we picked his brain mercilessly.

Sadly, we had to say farewell to Elvis, dropped him off, visited the falls, and found a small restaurant for lunch. The three mouseketeers, Tara, yours truly, and Michelle, posed for a windy picture while waiting for some of the best curry I've ever eaten to be put on our tables.

Our last stop of the day was at a sulphur spa. Heated by dormant volcanoes, the pools were so relaxing. We had been told the name of the spa, but didn't believe it. Would you? Yes, it is called Screw Spa. And this is Mr. Screw. It's really his name. My friend Michelle wasn't quite sure of Mr. Screw, but a second cup of rum punch helped change her mind!

We did have to leave, but it was hard. I could have stayed for many hours, but the ship had to sail. We did stop for a picture along the road. Even Dominica had a large poster of hope. With that image fixed firmly in our minds, we bid a sorrowful farewell to Jou Paul, Dave, Mr. Screw and Dominica in general. Suzanne was redeemed. We loved her recommendations, both Dave and Mr. Screw.

Next port of call: Grenada.

St. Martin - or Our First Day Ashore

You should all know one thing: when we went on the Bacardi tour, we met two couples who had just gotten off our sister ship and had visited the four islands we were heading for. (Yeah, I know, ended a sentence with a preposition -- sue me!)

Anyway, Suzanne and Teresa were a wealth of information about what to see and how to see it -- and mostly without booking through the ship. That would save us lots of money. Suzanne kindly wrote everything down, island by island. So, after our first night at sea, we pulled out our "guide" and prepared to board a water taxi for a wonderful beach.

Wrong! The water taxis did not go to the beaches we wanted, but a taxi did. We piled into two cabs, crossed from the Dutch to the French side of the island, and stopped at a water taxi that would take us across a small bay. Suzanne promised excellent snorkling, and she was right.

We waited for the water taxi, which turned out to be little more than a large Boston whaler. I watched children play as children do everywhere -- on docks, on the beach, in the water. Eventually we arrived at the beach, secured chairs and umbrellas (for a fee of course), and proceded to look like the creatures from the black lagoon as we became intimate with our snorkling gear.

Our two young men were in for a surprise -- the beach was top-optional. Gorgeous bronzed bodies romped in string bikini bottoms. Others showed off the ravages of gravity. None of our group had the guts to go topless, not from modesty, but because we didn't trust our sun block. None of us wanted to spend our vacation sunburnt in places that weren't normally (or ever) exposed to the sun and unable to scratch when we began to peel.

At the end of a long day, and a bit disappointed in Suzanne's recommendation, we returned to the ship. We had seen beautiful waters, gorgeous fish, warm smiles, and blue skies. And there was this: the ugly American. You got it: ET, phone home.

But the day ended spectacularly and wiped out any visions of ugliness. As we made ready to sail for Dominica, we were blessed with one of nature's great sunsets.

And tomorrow, Dominica and a chance for Suzanne to redeem herself.

Cruisin' - day one

Okay, so I had terrific plans to blog nearly daily while on vacation. Like New Year's resolutions, I didn't succeed. I managed to get one entry from San Juan, but once we boarded the ship, two things happened.

1. I realized that the ship had a hand in my pocket every time I turned around. I know from experience that drinks, shopping, and spa treatments cost extra. But Internet access???? $.65 a minute!!!!

2. I remembered that I'm cheap. I decided to wait until I had photos to share before updating my blog.

I took nearly 500 photos. I love my new Nikon camera. I shot everything that moved -- or didn't move, depending on my mood. Don't worry. I have no plans to share each photo! But, check out these flowers on the "peony" tree.

Eleven of us gathered on board ship and settled down to have a good time. I watched body language as we boarded. Many of us were closed off and up tight. However, my husband Terry (aka Kenny Rogers) and our friend Don (from snowy Salt Lake City) showed no sign of stress.

We dressed up and joined as a group for a late dinner in the dining room. Two from Nashville, five from Salt Lake City, two from Haymarket and us. Before you ask, the food was excellent, the drinks plentiful. In fact the drinks were so plentiful that the younger son of Don (see above) ran up a bar tab the first night of nearly $135.
Dad was less than amused.

And so we sailed. First port of call, St. Martin.