Monday, December 3 – Welcome back to Castries, St. Lucia
After a while, one Caribbean island looks pretty much like all the rest. So it is with St. Lucia. A volcanic island with lots of greenery, St. Lucia boasts some very nice small natural harbors and quaint villages, but so do so many others. St. Lucia was batted around like a badminton birdie for years as the French and British fought over it. There remain still the 300-year-old ruins of a French fort as well as barracks and administrative offices. Castries has a wonderful park in its center and a cathedral across the street. Of course, with tourism being the main source of hard currency, the usual activities, such as jungle rides and zip lines, are offered.
We did none of that. We were here in March 2011 on the Grand Med [on this same ship] and avoided all of that then, so we figured we might as well avoid it today as well. Actually, there is a good chance that we were here on a Sunday last time, so nothing was open and transportation was non-existent. There is a shopping area at the dock, but last time only a few shops were open as well as the stand selling cheap beer. Beer is still two bottles for $3USD; at least that has not changed.
We wandered through the shopping area, similar to the shopping quay-side in St. Thomas without the charm or variety, and managed to find a new everyday watch for MA as well as t-shirts for The Boys. We were off the ship for no more than an hour.
We ate lunch around 12:30 by the Lido pool, our first outdoor venture since we boarded the ship. We have yet to walk the deck but we continue to use the stairs as much as possible. Two decks is routine, three decks is a stretch and anything more is wishful thinking.
We read at the table by the pool for a while after eating, then went to the Ocean Bar [to be noted simply as OB from now on] where Barry had already staked out our Trivia table. The whole team was in attendance today since we had to be aboard by 1:30 and Trivia was at 2:30. We scored only 11 of 16 points again and were just one point from tying for first. It mattered little since we were not even close on the tie-breaking question. We have enough HAL coasters anyway.
We sat and talked afterward, as usual. Five of the six of us were in education at some level. Barry taught in the local Canadian high school where he and Vicky live before ending his career as an elementary school principal; Vicky was a librarian. Mary from Wisconsin actually started her own school for the gifted 30 years ago while her husband Mark is a physician. We have made a good, if not wildly successful, team and are having fun. We try hard but don’t take it too seriously.
Dinner was interesting tonight. We have been sitting at a table for two in what is referred to as the “forward” dining room. It is much smaller than the MDR; fewer tables means fewer people and less noise. We also think the service is usually better. Tonight we noticed that table for four, which has been empty until now, was set with three places. We watched as Gildus escorted an older couple to the table and had them sit side-by-side. Then Fermin came into the dining room and sat facing them.
We greeted him, of course, and had some banter during the meal, but discovered that his guests were, like Fermin, from Belgium. We thought they might be special HAL guests or even speakers, but we discovered later that they were just a Belgian couple who had had their table changed. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a lively conversation in Dutch and we were left in the cold.
Just as things were going smoothly, a ceiling panel fell onto a table in the corner of our section. Fermin turned white but let his staff respond and handle the situation. Once everyone was calmed down, and there were no apparent injuries, he went to the passengers and led them to an otherwise-empty table, got them seated and made sure they were offered after dinner drinks.
When he came back, he was visibly shaken. Although none of the problems which the ship has faced were his fault, he has taken them personally. He is appalled at the plumbing problems; the lack of air conditioning in some cabins [including ours;] and the general state of the ship when it returned to service. “And now this,” he said. “What else can happen?”
Tomorrow – another day on the bounding Main.
Tuesday, December 4 – Time travels
Let’s start at the end first: the Belgian couple, Pedr and Manute, a just a Belgian couple for whom Fermin apparently felt some sympathy. They were back at the neighboring table again tonight and, presumably, will be there for the duration.
We got off to a slow start but by dessert were having a lively discussion of everything from learning English to raising children. Pedr does most of the talking, but his wife chimes in once in a while. She is less sure of her English than he is and even he kept apologizing for his lack of vocabulary and ease of communicating. We think he did quite well, especially since we know no Dutch.
Another Fermin story – we were reading in the Explorer’s Lounge around 2:30 this afternoon when we looked up to see Fermin tip-toeing past us in a very exaggerated style. He seems to like us because we have not seen him carry on like this with others.
Somehow, time got away from us this morning. We left the room to go to the OB for 10:30 trivia around 10 a.m. We saw Mary from the team just ahead of us and figured she was early, too. Nope, trivia started at 10 and by the time we got there, Carlos was reading the fourth question. Our team had reluctantly added a fifth player, so we formed our own team of two and sat next to our regular group. We couldn’t be HAL 9000, so we were HAL 9001. When all the answers were in and graded and the points totaled, we had tied for first. With our regular group. All any of us could do was laugh. There was a tie-breaker which both groups answered correctly. More laughter. There was a second tie-breaking question asked. Again, both teams answered correctly amid more laughter. And on the third question, we were both equally wrong, so Carlos called a halt to the hilarity and gave us all the not-exactly-coveted Prinsendam pins. We have now won twice in five days, but the glory is being distributed among most of the groups which is what it should be.
Whereas Sunday’s buffet at lunch was Indonesian, today’s was all curry. It was wonderful. We ate jasmine rice [of course]; both lamb and chicken curry; curried vegetables; and tandoori chicken. There were Indian desserts on the buffet as well although the mini-éclair may have been the best item there.
As noted above, we read before returning to the room for The Nap. At dinner, Endang once again surprised us with shrimp cocktail in addition to the other appetizers we had ordered. How could we say no? He is doing well with the surprises and with the service in general. While he doesn’t have quite the personality of Bahtiar from last year’s trip, he is still pleasant and eager to please us. Banto, the assistant, has also progressed in the past week, and they seem to be meshing as a team.
We sat and talked with Pedr and Manute so long that there was only one table with diners when we left. We must have had fun.
Tomorrow – The Devil you say!
Wednesday, December 05
We were careful to arrive early for Trivia today and the team did quite well, just not well enough. We were one point from a tie but the other team won because the CD threw out a confusing question that we got right but the eventual winners got wrong. Again, we already have HAL travel mugs.
As Trivia was winding down, the ship was approaching Devil’s Island, our “port” for the day. We were anchored off of Ile Royale, the largest of the three Iles du Salut. Devil’s Island lies to the north-east and Ile Ste-Joseph is off to the south-east. All three are deserted but they were once used, collectively, as a penal colony. Allegedly 50000 of the 80000 prisoners who were sent here died. Only 2000 could be housed at a time; only 30000 lived to tell about their experiences. The movie Papillon purports to take place on Devil’s Island but the main character was never interned there.
The tender service took passengers to Ile Royale where they could follow an elliptical path past the ruins of the old prison compound. There were no fences or walls on Ile Royale; the currents and sharks were both sufficiently well-known as to deter any escape attempts. The island is a craggy, uneven bit of rock just off the coast of French Guiana. The path, such as it is, is broken and difficult to manage. Most of the passengers returned to the ship exhausted from literally climbing around the island.
The surrounding seas had sufficient swells today to make the tender operation slow. With the tenders bouncing up and down, crew members had to be extra careful in handing the passengers off the ship and onto the tenders. The operation on the land side was not as difficult since only the tender was bobbing, not the pier.
The combination of swells and rough terrain was enough to convince us that we were not destined to go ashore, so we didn’t. From our perspective, this was just another sea day. We ate; we slept; we ate again…. And so it goes.