Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mariposa Gifts

Last stop. The Butterfly House on St. Thomas. A photographer's paradise.

Butterfly nursery.

Butterflies mating.

Butterflies drunk on banana juice.

And even little anoles hanging around.

All under one tent. What more could you want?

They are breathtaking.

Mariposa gifts.

A perfect way to end the trip.

Taxi Evasion & Giant Hermit Crabs= paradise

Ah our last island. How can it be over so fast? So many gifts left to find in the Caribbean Sea.

St. Thomas. We decide to take the ferry over to St. John with our two favorite Dutchies, Eva & David. There, we'll snorkel at Honeymoon Beach.

Just off the ship and harassed by hard-working (pushy) men assigning us to taxis. How much to the ferry station? $10 each. What? We're pressured. Pushed. Intimidated. Not liking it, we succumb to their demands, pay the money and get to the station (making a vow not to be THAT naive again!)

The ferry ride is quick and peaceful. Gentle azure sea. Gorgeous rocky shores. Colorful homes dot the hillside. Quaint sailboats bob all around us. We reach St. John, just to be bombarded by more HARD WORKING (even pushier) taxi guys. "No thank you," we say.

But the dilemma is now how to get to Honeymoon Beach ALL the way around the other side of the island. Too far to walk. Buses too unreliable here. Sounds a bit like the taxi guys designed the island transport systems.

We get an idea. Let's go ask a ranger. (St. John Virgin island--a National Park!) Rangers are always so...nice. And we're right. We don't need a taxi, or a bus for that matter. Honeymoon Beach is too murky today. We can hike (yes, hike...yay!) to a better snorkel spot for today. Soloman Beach. Aquamarine water. Seems almost photo-shopped. How could anywhere be this serene?

The hike is perfect. We enjoy hanging out and chatting with Eva & David. Finding out all about their life back home. They sail, live near Amsterdam. David's a detective & Eva a teacher. It's so great to discuss life; differences and similarities between countries & cultures. They are truly lovely people. Friends we look forward to visiting in Holland soon--if they'll have us!

Soloman Beach is a dream. White sand. Palms waving. A back float in the water. So light.

David and Eva lend us a snorkel/mask so Dan and I can snorkel together. Great temperature. Warm sea. Gorgeous fish--more pipe and trombone fish, huge schools of angel-types. Red. Purple. Two treasures of the day: a HUGE hermit crab--I spotted a shell bookin it across the white sand bottom. Dan pulls it up out of the water, and HELLO! He pops out, waving his big claws, eyes at least and inch and a half long. He makes me laugh, and every time I do, the mongo-crab hides. He comes out. I laugh. He hides. We do this little dance for five minutes, and he's had enough. Back to the ocean floor. Next we spot a ray--gracefully hovering over the sand. He's got a few companion fish, swimming along, cleaning him and gaining protection. We follow above him and it's peace. It's a nothing-else-matters kind of moment.

Back to shore. Eva & David snorkel. We relax (sleep) on the beach. It's a bit cloudy--but still warm. Still inviting. Still a paradise.

It would be so easy. "Just stay," the ocean calls. "Right here. Forever."

Why did I wait so long to go to the Caribbean?

No responsibility suits us well. But we miss our beautiful kids. Our crazy family. And naughty dogs too much.

Back off the ferry, we evade the taxi guys, and find our way to another "two-dollar" bus. It's a roller coaster ride through town . Yippee! We zip and zoom past the taxis. A fun, cheap, and fast way to get back to the ship.

Time to head north. West. Home.

Taking island dreams with us.

Thermal Pools, Mangos, & Rasta-man tea

We knew right away that Dominica (pronounced DOM-i-ni-ka) would be different. No massive resorts or hotels along shore, no posh jewel or watch shops. Just locals. A busy downtown. People making a living.

Our excursion takes us up through the rain forest (Dominica is 7 volcanoes!) to the beautiful Trafalgar Falls & thermal pools, and then back down to shore to snorkel. It's a zippy ride up the mountain--we love our driver, who gives us the low-down on their blessed island, the people's longevity (recently a woman who was 128 just passed away!) Here, there are few storms & few predators. Much pride, for obvious reasons. It's a lush, rich green island with mangos growing right along the road.

At the falls, Dan and I ditch the tour group and head up to the waterfall (we're on a tight schedule!) Igneous, rocky steps lined with massive ferns lead up to the falls. On an overcast day, the leaves look almost neon. I hop into a thermal pool--nature's jacuzzi. The water soothes me, and I breathe in this lovely place. The falls are warm, and we wish we could stay longer.

Back on the bus, we enjoy the conversation and commentary. Stop at sulfur flats--pee-you! We walk down a trail through sulfur smoke. Bubbly pools of gray muck. Being sold as age-defying creams and soaps :) Through the island's botanical gardens (bus crushed in an earthquake--they do have earthquakes!) and back to town. Snorkeling is fun--a little murky, but Dan dives down far enough to see rays, coral and lots of fish. I'm happy just floating in the water--soaking up every atom. Every molecule.

We head into town, passing stands of fruit and veggies, women carrying loads upon their heads. I'm reminded a bit of Kenya. We find a place to kick back, a bar constructed out of an old fort. We relax and drink to Kubulis. Soaking it all up.

I find a shop to buy island tea: soley (dominik,) mango, sweet sensation, pina colada, and hibiscus. The guy behind the counter--dreadlocks down to his butt--tells me, "If you really want to relax, buy the 'rasta-man' tea!" I laugh (What's really in THAT tea?) and stick with my fruity choices. (Later, I ask the concierge on the ship if I should declare my tea? LOL)

I don't want to leave Dominica. I want to go to the heart of the island. Meet more of its beautiful people. Learn and appreciate.

But alas, time ticks away.

And I'll be coming back.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


Departing from an island gets its own post. We discovered how fun it was to go up on deck nearing departure. Everybody is up there and it's just a big party (a party for EVERY reason on a cruise!)

BUT, if you're late, not so fun. We actually made it back to the ship on time on all four islands. But we enjoyed watching the stragglers get back. The first couple walked, and boy did they hear it from the crown on deck. The second couple RAN (a poor guy loaded down w/ packages!) --and they got full cheers from us!

NOBODY wants to be left behind!

Time on the islands is just not enough, though. Not enough to experience much of any real feeling for the heart of these places. Just makes me want to go back to all of them. I truly respect the people that work so hard to help us enjoy and experience their island homes.

Gifts scattered across the seas.

Floating Markets and Purple Urchins

In Curacao, we head past the high-end shops (tailored for cruisers--jewelry, watches, etc.) in search of the markets and the bus station. The shops are actually built around and old fort--stone walls still in place which gives it a bit more charm.

At the Central Market--we cruise past island fruits and veggies--a tangy, clean scent. Whole & chopped fish for sale--a not-so-sweet-scent, and by a make-shift internet cafe :) I buy sticks of cinnamon from a sweet lady inside, and we talk in Spanish. She brightens up and I'm thankful once again for the language. To be able to connect makes me lighter.

Outside, at the "floating" market--more goods inside boats that float along the canal. The colors astound me. Yellows. Oranges. Reds. Fruit so lush. A climate so warm, so rich. We buy a hand-painted scroll-type piece of art that depicts the people and the goods. Just a slight reminder of the dynamic energy here.

We find the bus station and hop into our "bus." It's really a small, mini-van from the '80s and we're stoked to be able to get to Mambo Beach for $3 each. The two women driving are friendly, engaging. I use my Spanish, but quickly am told that she speaks English. They speak three languages: English, Spanish, and their native Papiamento. It's a language derived from Dutch, Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and African tongues. Spoken here in the Dutch Leewards, it's a beautiful, energetic language that I wish I could speak! We cruise through neighborhoods--modest, colorful cottage homes-- to drop people off, and we're loving the feel of being away from anything touristy. We know right away that Curacao is somewhere we'd like to spend time.

At Mambo Beach, we find crowded shores (resorts and all,) but secure two lounges on a quieter corner on the sand. Snorkeling is great. Tons of coral, schools and schools of fish--big and small, all colors of the rainbow. There's something magical about swimming through or alongside a school of fish. It's like you become one of them, if even for just a mini-second. The highlight for me is watching tall, spiny purple urchins creep across the ocean floor. And they can move!

We end our day at Mambo Beach--filled with sun--more ocean waves and smiles (and a little taste of green Pistachio liqueur--Curacao is famous for it! Yum.)

So lucky to experience this island life.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Aruba, Orange Peels and Iguanas

Excited to get off the ship and explore. We've planned a kayak/snorkel excursion for the afternoon, so we decide to cruise around the shore in the morning. The fine, white sand is heaven on my toes. I'm reminded of faraway images as a child- paradises that I dreamed up. Walking the curvature of the coastline brings me peace. Small, wooden boats bob in the gentle waves like a rainbow of floating lilies. Along the trees, we notice tiny green lizards scampering (and I mean scampering!) under the brush. Chasing each other--pumping arms in a territorial race? What kind are they? We find Papa's Beach Resort--a quaint little restaurant/bar right on the water. The Dutch women that work there are beautiful and friendly, and lounging on the sand with a drink in hand seems to be more perfect than anything I can think of.

Running back to meet our excursion bus (late, as usual!) We notice more lizards. But those minis have now become 3-foot long, spiny-back iguanas. And there everywhere! Munching on grass, crossing the pathways, climbing up trees and walls. Not bothered in the least that we gawk at them.

We kayak against the ocean current--warm sun on our back. The water temp is just right. Stopping at the mangroves, we get out to stretch, relax on the beach & eat oranges (and toss the peels onto the sand for the iguanas!) We snorkel off shore. Bristle stars (tickle on your hand,) huge sponges, fire coral (watch out for those white tips) and curious, long-bodied pipe and organ fish. It's an underwater paradise.

As the late afternoon sun sets, we kayak back into the bay where we started.

Being on the water all day soothes me. I'm still moving along with the current, the waves still rocking me through the day. And it feels amazing.

Thank you, David Engel for your awesome close-up photo of the spiky iguana!