The Caribbean. Ever since I was a child, listening to the tales of my seafaring father, or browsing through his stamp collection, the Caribbean has held a special place in my mind. Some sort of magic place in the sun with endless white beaches and coconut palms; reggae playing softly in the background.
Alas, in the way of many youthful memories the reality is not quite the same.
We are coming into Montago Bay, Jamaica, the first of four Caribbean islands we are to visit before the long trek across the Atlantic.
Entering the cavernous cruise port building, we find it nearly empty. The hop-on-hop-off bus stand is deserted and we are left with the option to walk the two kilometers to Montago bay or use the shuttle provided by the ship. The walk is not an option so we sign up for the shuttle.
The gravel voice of the driver glides us past swish hotels and the international airport before depositing us at the “Rose Hill Shopping Centre”. This is a tourist only facility basically in the middle of nowhere much, and a five minute circuit sees us back on the bus. Not our thing! I can’t imagine that any of the locals would frequent such a place.
Back on the bus and down to the Hip-Strip, the famous beach area of Montago Bay. We are dropped outside a pay booth … the entry to the beach, but decide to walk down the street instead, past a few desultory shop keepers extolling their wares until we reach Margaritaville, supposedly a famous Jamaica Bar. Mmmm …
Oh well … give it a try … we ask for a coffee. “Not ready … you can get one across the street” is the response. Oh well, across the street it is. Everywhere feels a bit deserted and we wonder where all the people are.
We walk further along the strip looking for the craft market which alas never appeared. It all seems rather run down somehow. What are we expecting? Well, I suppose the image is of white beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze … wait a minute … this sounds a lot like home. Hey ho!
Curacao (pronounced Cure-a-soh) is part of the Dutch Antilies and seems to have faired better under that regime.
The island lies just off the north coast of Venezuala and is quite different in character to Jamaica. The Dutch influence in the main town of Willemstad is very obvious.
Like many of the Caribbean islands, the economy of this island was based on the slave trade. Many of the population now reflect that past.
These days there are not too many slaves around and so these islands are firmly wedded to tourism. The cruise ships that visit regularly are vital to their prosperity.
Curacao seemed to be much more alive and civic pride was obvious after the seeming poverty of Jamaica.
Aruba is another of the islands of the Dutch Antilies but lacks a slave trade past. The island is very dry and nowadays uses desalination widely for their drinking water. Again the economy is dependant on tourism, but the recent discovery of oil will probably change all that. The island is only twenty kilometers from the coast of Venezuela, one of the worlds biggest oil producers.
The island boasts a vibrant and socially sensitive economy with plenty of jobs and good educational opportunities. As a result the population has arrived from all over the world. ‘Aruba is a happy island’ proclaim all the banners around it’s capital Oranjestad.
We walk through the backblocks and find some not quite so prosperous buildings. It seems that there are always those who get left out when prosperity arrives.
Walking back though the main tourist area we can’t work our who is actually getting the money. The image arises of sucking money tubes which whisk the money off to those tax havens we have been hearing so much about lately. Can’t really imagine any of the locals shopping here.
However, it’s a very pleasant place to stroll around and we wander through the town centre before returning to the ship for lunch.
The last stop on our sweep through the Caribbean is Bridgetown, Barbados, and since it is almost a part of England we should at least be able to understand what they are saying. We decide that this is the place to take a tour to look around the island and so we board a local minibus tour outside the port for a twenty dollar, three and a half hour ride.
Off we go around the island on an obviously well trodden path. Having been claimed by the English, the island is solidly Anglican. First stop St James Church, the oldest on the island.
Off up into the middle of the island we go; a glance at the monkeys on the golf course; a pause next to the exclusive hotel where Tiger Woods got married and up into the sugar cane covered highlands for the panoramic views.
Next stop is St Johns church, high up on the cliffs above the Atlantic coast.
And so our sojourn in the Caribbean (at last I have learned how to spell Caribbean) comes to an end and we are faced with six sea days in a row as we cross the Atlantic Ocean and make for our next port of call, Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Here’s hoping for a smooth crossing. I wonder what we will do with ourselves.