Sunny Getaways Cruise on the Oceania Riviera
3/20/16 to 4/2/16
Due to the length of the review, it is in 3 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page.
Page 1 - Embarkation, Ship, Dining, Entertainment, Activities, Ports of Call: Santa Marta, Colombia; Oranjestad, Aruba
Page 2 - Ports of Call: Kralendijk, Bonaire; St. George's, Grenada; Fort de France, Martinique
Page 3 - Ports of Call: Pointe A Pitre, Guadeloupe; Basseterre, St. Kitts; Gustavia, St. Barts
Ports of Call (Continued)
I had visited Bonaire on a diving trip almost thirty years ago. There were just a few small hotels for divers and not much to do in town. But the diving was incredible and I had a wonderful week underwater in the coral paradise. As we approached the island, it was apparent that a lot had happened in 30 years. It was now a pretty popular tourist destination. The below photos were taken in the afternoon when the sun wasn’t shining into the camera and the water looked its best.
Right in front of the pier was a market area where vendors were setting up shop. Since it was early, there weren’t many of them open yet.
I found the tour company we were using and paid them for the tour. They told us to come back around 9:00 AM, when the tour would start. Since we had time to walk around, Hans, Barbara and I headed further into the shopping area. Carol found a place to sit in the shade to wait for us. The area had many shops; but most weren’t yet open.
I came back to sit with Carol. She pointed out the colorful birds that were flying around. Since she was sitting quietly, she had been able to take photos of them.
I was glad she did, since they weren’t as cooperative for me. I was able to get one of a bird with what looked like a black eye. Not quite as impressive as Carol’s shots.
We walked over to the tour booth and met our guide, Edwin. He was with one of the owners of Bonaire Vista Tours (www.bonairevistatours.com).
Since this was a semi-private tour, we loaded into the van with the other six people on the tour. The van itself was comfortable with a good sound system to hear the information that Edwin was giving us. Edwin was an excellent guide and provided a most enjoyable tour for us.
Our first place to visit was the slave huts on the flat southern part of the island. These small buildings were used to house the slaves who worked in the salt flats in the 1800’s. They are really small. Hans went inside one to see for himself.
With our visiting during Easter week, some of the huts were occupied. Apparently on Bonaire and some of the other islands we visited, residents are allowed to camp on the beach during Easter week. Edwin didn’t think that they were allowed to use the huts; but many had set up home in them. With the ocean front view, I could see why they would.
I had to take a photo of Carol on the beach.
Our next place to visit was the salt flats. Salt is a major industry on the island and is quite a tourist attraction also. The salt flats are quite a sight, since they are pink due to bacteria in the waters. It was quite fascinating to see the white foam along the edge of the pink water moving with the winds.
Across the road from the flats was the equipment extending out into the turquoise ocean to load the salt from the giant mounds in the flats onto ships to take it all over the world. It was quite a contrast to have the blue water on one side of the road contrasted with the pink salt flats on the other side.
During the day Edwin pointed out brightly colored obelisks along the roads. There are four of them. The one in the salt flats was the only one I took a photo of. They were used for navigational shore markers to guide the ships coming in to load.
We then headed back north getting a view of the Riviera docked in town.
After going through town, we began to see the more mountainous part of Bonaire. They weren’t large mountains, but it was quite different from the very flat south.
The volcanic rock had caves cut into it. There was lots of cactus, since Bonaire does not get much rainfall and the area is very dry.
Along the way, Edwin stopped and pointed out a large termite nest in a tree along the road.
Our next stop would be at Gotomeer Lake. It is one of the most picturesque areas on the island with the mountains in the background. But the main attraction there is the flamingos. We stopped at a viewing area for photos. You might be able to see all of the pink spots in the water. Those are flamingos.
I took a photo of Hans and Barbara enjoying the driving break.
It was also an opportunity to get a photo of Edwin without his boss.
Since the flamingos were so far away, we drove down toward the water to get a closer look. We weren’t allowed to stop and get out of the van; but were able to take photos through and out the windows. Not the most desirable way to get good photos; but it was better than nothing.
While driving to our next destination, Edwin pulled over to the side of the road to show us a cactus fence. That seemed like a great way to keep out intruders and keep livestock in.
We arrived in the small town of Rincon, which is the oldest town in the Netherlands Antilles and founded in 1527. We stopped at the second oldest building on Bonaire. It used to be the building where government slaves would come for their provisions. Now it was a small market and museum.
The building itself wasn’t much to look at, but it was nice to see the trees loaded with flowers.
This property also had a cactus fence. They were popular in this area.
After leaving Rincon, Edwin pointed out some wild burrows on the side of the road. He said that there are lots of them on the island.
Our last stop would be at Seru Largu, which means “large hill”. It is the best lookout site on the island. It is hard to miss with the large yellow structure crowned with a cross.
It is probably the best view of the island, since it is in the middle of it and you can see almost the whole island from there; but with the island being so flat and dry, there isn’t that much to see. We could see the Riviera as well as the salt flats in the distance.
It was the one place that I could get a photo of Klein Bonaire, the small uninhabited island just across from downtown Kralendijk.
Edwin showed us the Bonaire flag. I found the license plate on the van to be quite attractive, since it highlights the main Bonaire attraction, scuba diving. The “Divers Paradise” motto is definitely the perfect description of Bonaire.
On the way back to the ship, Edwin pointed out a tree that we hadn’t seen before. He called it a sandal tree. I guess people left them there when they went back home after a vacation.
We headed back to the ship for lunch; but on the way I had to stop to take a photo of a rowboat floating on the gorgeous water.
After lunch I wanted to walk around town to see any attractions that I might have missed earlier. I walked back down the long pier and took a right. Not far away was Fort Oranje, which was originally built in 1639. It was rebuilt numerous times since then and the main building is now used as a courthouse. It is open for tours, but not when I was there.
Since there didn’t appear to be anything else to see down that way, I headed back toward the ship. I ended up back at Wilhelmina Park, where I had walked earlier in the day. I had not seen the plaque on the monument. It commemorated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Bonaire Lion’s Club in 2002. It contains a time capsule with letters and contemporary articles that will be opened in 2042.
Since I wasn’t interested in shopping, I had exhausted my sightseeing walk. One sign that I had been seeing while on our tour and in town was for Polar Beer. I thought that was quite a clever name, so I decided to purchase one of these exotic imported brews.
I stopped at a bar on a pier close to the ship to rest and quench my thirst. When the beer came, I was surprised to find that it was actually made in Florida. Rather disappointing; but it was most refreshing. At least the view from the bar was most satisfying.
As we were leaving port, we got a nice view of the fort from above, as well as some new brightly colored condos that we had passed by earlier in the day in the distance.
It had been an enjoyable port visit, especially since we had been worried that they wouldn’t allow us to get off the ship after our Aruba experience. We were having a string of beautiful, mild, sunny days, which we were thoroughly enjoying.
St. George's, Grenada
After a day at sea and spending the prior port day on relatively flat Bonaire, it was a pleasure to see the mountainous island of Grenada from the ship.
I was surprised that they had not removed the abandoned ship, Anina, left in the harbor. I guess it must now be a tourist attraction.
We had a private tour for the day with Grenada Sunsation Tours (http://grenadasunsation.com). We were to meet our guide inside the cruise terminal. Even though it was Easter Sunday, we still hoped that our guide could find enough interesting places to show us.
We met our guide, Terry, who would provide us with a great tour on a most interesting island.
When the six of us started to board the van, Terry asked if I wanted to ride up front, since I had my large camera with me. That sounded fine to me. Since we were now in a British colony, I would be on the left side of the car and we would drive on the left side of the street. Carol thought it was funny to see me sitting where the driver would normally be, so she took a photo with Terry showing me where we would be going on a map.
As we were driving out of town, we saw some of the less scenic areas and many fruit stands along the way.
Terry told us that unemployment is very high in Grenada. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan damaged 80% of all the buildings on the island and destroyed around 90% of the nutmeg trees, the islands main industry. Since it takes 15 years for the nutmeg trees to mature, there was no work for the people for many years. They did plant a variety of nutmeg tree that matured in five years; but the production level is significantly below what it once was.
While driving along the water, Terry told us that many of the roads were washed out from the hurricane and had to be built further inland since the land was gone.
While we headed for our first destination, Terry would point out the many types of fruit trees on the island, including cashews and breadfruit.
I got a kick out of the some of the road decorations we passed by. Rather creative.
We did pass by some nice neighborhoods and houses along the way. We even had a nice view of the Riviera at the dock.
Terry stopped by a cotton tree. This wasn’t a cottonwood tree; but what looked like a real cotton plant on a tree.
We then stopped along the road to get out for a scenic view. Once again there was an abandoned ship in the cove.
We headed up into the mountains. The roads were very narrow and there were a lot of curves; and up hills and down valley action. This meant that Terry had to drive slowly, since the roads had potential for being treacherous. Fortunately, there wasn’t that much traffic in the mountains. He stopped to get out of the truck and grab a large fruit off of a tree. It was a cocoa plant.
He broke it open to show us what it looked like inside. It didn’t look that appetizing. It looked more like intestines than cocoa beans to me. He separated one of the beans from the rest and asked if I wanted to taste it. Right! He told us it was very tasty and that you only suck on the coating around the cocoa nut and then spit out the nut when the flavor was gone. I wasn’t overly enthused; but I didn’t think that Terry would try to trick me, so I put one in my mouth. He was right! It was rather good and refreshing. It tasted kind of like mango to me. Not what I would have expected from a cocoa plant. He said that the nut itself would not taste good. When he was a child working in his father’s nutmeg orchard, he would suck on the cocoa seeds all the time. I can now understand why. Since the guinea pig had tried them, the rest of the van figured it was safe for them to try them, since I didn’t spit it out immediately.
Further up the road, he pointed out what a nutmeg tree looks like.
Our destination was the Concord Waterfalls. After the long drive, we were ready to get out of the van. There are actually three falls, but we could only see the one that was just off the road. The others would require a long walk into the woods. This waterfall had a 35-foot cascade and was most refreshing looking. It actually had a nice little runoff on the right of the pool.
There were some little stores right by the fall. In addition to having restrooms, they also had a local beer called Carib beer. Terry told us that Carib isn’t the same on every island, since they make it in different locations and use the local water. He thought that Grenada’s Carib was better than the others. I don’t know if it was better, but was quite refreshing. The owner of the store we bought the beer from had broken open a nutmeg fruit. The covering of the nut itself, which is called mace, made it look like a small brain.
Terry pointed out the fruit of a tree called the Guanabana in Spanish or Soursop in English. This fruit has apparently been determined to be more effective than chemotherapy at curing cancer. In reading about it briefly, it is a controversial subject.
We next stopped in front of a small monument. It honors a famous calypso singer from Grenada called the Mighty Sparrow. I liked the old canon. It had lots of character.
Continuing our drive, I looked out the window and saw a large sailing ship. A rather nice looking vessel.
Terry regularly pointed out interesting sights along the way, like this yucca plant decoration with egg shells. Rather creative. We saw several of these things along the way, so I guess that it has caught on as “the” Easter decoration.
We drove into a small town to visit a nutmeg factory. It was more of a nutmeg sorting and bagging facility. We were only able to look at the ground floor, where they had bags of nutmegs ready to be shipped out. Since we were visiting on Easter Sunday, there was no work going on. On this tour, we would normally see all the workers sorting and examining the nutmeg before being put in different quality bags. Most of the work goes on upstairs where we weren’t allowed to visit. I did get a kick out of the sign on the wall. I guess that Grenadians like playing cards.
Since no production was going on, I was able to take photos of sacks of nuts; but this was not a particularly exciting stop. One of the workers did show us the device that they use for sorting the different size nuts. I am sure that it would be a more interesting stop had the plant been in operation. This was one of the disadvantages of touring on Easter Sunday.
Our next destination was next to a church cemetery. Apparently the remains of the first recorded case of Sickle Cell Anemia was buried in this cemetery.
We walked through the cemetery, which had a lovely view of the ocean.
At the edge of the grounds, just before it dropped off to the sea, is a memorial to the Carib Indians who died at this spot in 1651. The French who owned the island back then were being murdered by the Caribs because they wanted the French to leave. The French army fought back and the Carib’s last stand was at the edge of the property. They told the Carib’s to either surrender and become slaves or jump several hundred feet down to their death. The chief and forty other Carib’s jumped. This spot has since been called Leaper’s Hill.
The white picket fence prevents people from accidentally falling off; but most tourists go around the fence to get a better photo of the drop. It was a long way down.
Our next stop was to a 300-year-old plantation, the Belmont Estate. We were here to visit a cocoa bean processing facility and to have lunch if we wanted it. The main building looked inviting. It was where the restaurant was located.
Terry took us to where a tour of the cocoa processing facility started. A woman showed us into a building and explained how the beans were stored in bins (fermenting boxes), aged and polished. She also showed us a bunch of fruits that are grown on the island. I am always amazed at the cashew nut growing on the end of another growth. It makes sense why they are so expensive compared to peanuts that grow in bunches. She gave us some very delicious hot cocoa tea. They had many other cocoa products for sale also.
We then walked outside to see where the nuts are aged and dried. While we were there, a man was walking through the nuts to move them around to allow air flow to the beans. It was interesting how the large trays can be moved under the building if it starts raining.
We then walked over to the next phase where it is an even warmer enclosed environment for the nuts to dry. This is a very large operation and still very manual. I took a close up photo of the nuts themselves.
They also had some nutmeg nuts with the mace still attached. Really strange looking.
When we finished the tour, the guide took us back to the building we started the tour in. She told us that we needed to pay $5 each for the tour. We didn’t know that there was a cost for the tour; but since it was not expensive and she did take a lot of time with us we paid her. I was very disappointed that Terry had not told us there was a charge for the tour and I did let him know tactfully. I went up to the buffet restaurant to see if we wanted to eat there. The cost was about $26 per person and there were a lot of ship excursions already eating there. We all decided to just skip lunch and head back to the ship. It had already been a long day’s touring with all the driving and sightseeing. We could have seen some other sites; but everyone was tired and ready to relax.
As we were headed to our last stop, Terry pulled over to a small shopping area, where some small Mona monkeys were attracting a crowd. They were so cute.
It was so funny that they sucked on the cocoa seeds and spit them out just like the humans. I guess that is where the humans learned that they were good!
We then continued the drive back toward the ship. The area was so lush. After the drought conditions we had experienced in Santa Marta and Bonaire, the green was a welcome sight.
On the way we stopped at a very scenic overlook of the island and St. George.
Further down the mountain, Terry showed us some pineapple plants. There were so many different fruits growing on Grenada. They call it the spice island, since many spices grow there; but lots of fruits do too.
We made another quick stop to take photos of Grenada’s brand new cricket stadium. Since this is a British island, cricket is a big sport here.
Before we got back to the ship, we saw a mountain where they quarry the red volcanic rock for construction on the island.
We then stopped at our last scenic overlook looking down on the town of St. George. I was thrilled to be able to get a closer view of the large sailing ship we had seen earlier in the day when the tour first started.
We had a steep road to descend to get back to the ship. We had been most grateful all day that the van’s brakes were well maintained, we were especially pleased when we began to come down this hill.
As we were leaving port, we had a great view of the lovely city and terrain of Grenada. This is an island I would enjoy returning to. There were several places I would like to see that we didn’t have time for.
Fort de France, Martinique
We had visited Martinique on our first cruise in 1994. We had taken a ship tour of the island and didn’t spend any time in Fort de France at all. So Carol had planned on just doing some shopping close to the ship and I wanted to walk around to see the city. Unfortunately, we were there on Easter Monday, which is a big holiday on many of the islands and most of the shops and restaurants would be closed. Since I wasn’t interested in shopping, that didn’t bother me.
Looking out at the city, I could see that it had changed quite a bit in 22 years. It was much more modern, accented by the high rise ultra-modern Simon hotel. It was quite an attractive city now.
From the ship, I could see the very long pier. I would walk it several times during the day. It looked even longer from ground level.
Unfortunately, some rain was forecasted for the day. So far, we hadn’t seen any rain on the cruise and the weather had been perfect. So I guess that we were due. It had been raining and the streets were wet, so I brought my umbrella. I did need to open it a few times during the day; but for the most part, it was sunny most of the day. As I started to walk down the streets of the old town, I was surprised at how empty they were. Martinique takes Easter Monday seriously and most people don’t work. The only places I found open were hotels.
During the walk, I saw an unusual tree with multi-color flowers. Kind of pretty.
I was looking for the St. Louis Cathedral. It was easy to see the tall steeple from anywhere in town, but I had a bit of trouble getting to it. I first saw the lovely courtyard in front of the cathedral. It had a New Orleans feel to it. Sounds reasonable, since they both have a French heritage.
I was impressed with the lovely flowers all around the courtyard.
Across from the courtyard was the cathedral that was under renovation. The scaffolding really took away from the experience. At least I was able to get a photo of the steeple itself.
I was also able to see the back of the building, but that isn’t its best side.
Continuing my walk, I passed by the archeology museum that was, of course, closed. At least I could see the lovely exterior.
Across the street from the museum was the La Savane Park. Inside the park is a statue of Napoleon’s wife, Josephine, who was born in Martinique. It is a nice statue; but vandals repeatedly removed Josephine’s head, because she was not liked in Martinique. It is a shame. The plaque on the front of the statue shows Napoleon's coronation.
Further up the street, across from the park is the beautiful Schoelcher Library. This gorgeous structure was built in Paris and displayed at the 1889 World Exposition. It was then dismantled, shipped in pieces to Fort de France and reassembled in its current location. I sure wish that it had been opened. I would have loved to see the interior. Maybe next time.
Continuing my walk through the empty streets, I decided to go by the large market. It was also closed.
I came back down by the ship and got a different view of the modern Simon Hotel skyscraper. It is a pretty structure.
After looking at the map provided by the local tourist bureau at the dock, I found the only attraction I hadn’t seen was Fort St. Louis. I could see it in the distance, but wanted to get closer to the massive fort.
I had to walk along the edge of La Savane park to get to the fort, where I found another statue. It was of Pierre Belain d'Esnambuc, a French trader who established the first permanent colony on Martinique in 1635.
I then got closer to the fort itself. It was quite an imposing structure.
As I got around to the entrance, I could see some large anchors and canons displayed near the gate. Once again, it was closed due to the holiday.
On the way back though the park, I came to another statue, La Martinique Reconnaissante a ses Fils Morts pour la France. I don’t know what it represents, since I have not been able to find out anything about it on the Internet; but it is an attractive statue.
After seeing everything I could and getting a very good walk in, I headed back to the ship. I wanted to catch one of Sandy Cares lectures on an upcoming port.
During dinner in Polo Grill, I noticed that the sun was lighting up the sky nicely, so I walked outside and got a photo from the upper deck of the ship and Fort de France with an orange cloud above it. It was a nice ending to the day.
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