Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Cruise Day 5: Montego Bay, Jamaica

Because of Hurricane Paloma, our stop in Jamaica was switched from Ochos Rios to Montego Bay. It didn't make much difference though because most of the trips are available from either port. When we looked through the excursions booklet, we couldn't decide what to choose, but I wasn't sure I wanted to spend 3+ hours on a 'bus'. We watched the Excursions channel on TV, and one immediately said we had to choose it. A day of off-roading!! You don't get to drive the trucks (I don't think there are any Royal Caribbean excursions where you can drive yourself and actually go 4x4ing; there are some that are 'off road' but not our idea of 'off road'). It was an early meeting time, and even with having to go back on the ship for money (after not having any money when we went on the excursion in Cozumel and then not being able to buy lunch....), and shop for sunscreen in the port terminal building, we were still early. We talked with a couple in line in front of us, from the San Francisco area. They were interesting. Then our 'driver' met us.

Keisha was a tall, solidly built young lady, and guided us out to our trucks. It was nice seeing all the 'bus' and taxi drivers dressed in 'uniform' of black pants and white shirts, although I felt sorry for the ladies wearing nylons (pantyhose)! There were 16 people, and two trucks that each held 8. We headed for the first truck, Rob suddenly wanted the other one, it was full, so we ended up being the last two on Keisha's truck (and we had been the last two to purchase the excursion too). We left the port terminal area, and this was the view as we drove away.

Click on any picture to enlarge it, then Back Arrow to get back here.
The top railing is the jogging track, deck 12. The next level down, with the blueish glass is deck 11, where the pools, hot tubs, and the Windjammer Cafe is. Yes, it is the biggest cruise ship currently on the seas!

It was a long drive out of Montego Bay during morning rush hour. The traffic lights are set so that in-coming traffic as the right of way, and we waited a long time. So long is the wait, that people walk among stopped traffic selling newspapers and drinks. We learned a bit about Montego Bay, included a further explanation of the "No Problem" saying. There are 'no problems in Jamaica; only "situations" '. LOL. We also learned that just because they don't drive on the right, doesn't mean they "drive on the wrong side".

We finally made it out of Montego Bay proper, and Keisha took us on a detour on the old main highway, past the Red Stripe distribution center. The reason they had to re-route the highway?

Jamaica is full of underground springs, and there was one large one next to the highway which caused considerable flooding frequently.

Keisha drove us up a hilly, curvy area (OMG. "Situations" everywhere!), and showed us large homes that were being built, either for foreigners or Montego rich people. Many old plantations are being cleared, cleaned up, rehabilitated, and 'planted' with vacation villas and timeshares. We drove up a very steep hill on one plantation (there were men working very hard repairing the old sidewalk up the hill. Who would walk up that hill?!) and had our first stop at a scenic viewpoint. We also had a lesson on Patois (the local French/Creole/English dialect) and rum punch.

That white ship in front of the girl in the middle is our cruise ship. The girl in the middle is a Dutch girl, travelling with her parents, and they were on the second truck in our convoy. We'll see her again later.

Pretty much the same view of Montego Bay. The islands in the bay are protected nature reserves.

We drove from the ship on the far left, through the flat area, past the squarish ponds (water/sewage treatment), around to the right, and up this big hill. It took about 45 minutes including the nearly 15 minute stop to allow rush hour traffic into Montego Bay. While we were near the water treatment ponds, we were stopped on a busy 4-6 lane road. On one side was a field (and a sidewalk), but no fences. In the field were a few horses, cows, and goats. Either they were very smart, or there was Invisible Fencing!

The view going down the hill, seen while we enjoyed rum punch and Rob examined the tread wear on the tires. He proclaimed the tires entirely unsuitable for a Canadian winter, and perhaps a little scary for the trip down the hill. Notice the sidewalk on the right? Despite it being fixed up, we weren't given the option of a little exercise.

On our way up the hill, we saw this dumptruck that had just been towed out of the ravine. The driver had lost brakes on the way a few days before, and I think he first tried to put it into the shoulder on the right (remember, they drive on the left!), then he bailed out, it crossed the road again and over the side....because we were in the covered back of the Land Rover, the picture turned out too dark, so I tried to lighten it up, but some details were lost. That hand is the Californian man, LOL.

This is an important church from the time of the slave uprisings. I think it was a Baptist church, perhaps in the Anchovy or Trelawny area, and it had been extensively updated. The architecture of the area was interesting. Shipping containers were used as roadside shops and sometimes homes. Homes were built in stages, out of cement blocks and re-bar, as time and money allowed--meaning that a lot of homes looked abandoned, but were merely waiting.

We entered the Montpelier Citrus Orchards. I had no idea that oranges were such a huge crop in Jamaica.

View of the Blue Mountains, where the best Jamaican coffee is grown.

We entered a former plantation. This tree is called a silk cotton tree, and is the largest/oldest tree species on plantations. They were planted at the entrance to plantations and were used to hang slaves caught trying to escape.

This is another old, important church. I think it's St. John's Anglican Church (although it could be St. James as that was the area we were in). Keisha, our very knowledgeable guide, told me that 7th Day Adventist is probably the most popular religion in Jamaica (which explains the vegetarianism), along with Baptists and Anglicans. There was a couple from Atlanta in our truck, and she said 7th Day is very popular in their area. Rob grew up near the provincial and federal headquarters of the Canadian 7th Day Adventist Church, but I don't think I know a single member.

While we were looking at the church and getting a religion lesson, the Dutch girl came darting around the side of the church, flapping her arms and slightly shocked. We asked what was wrong, and she tried to explain, and then simply cried "BAAAA!! BAAA!!!". This fellow followed her around the corner:

Goats were everywhere in Jamaica.

The corner stone of the church. The revolutions were in 1836, I think. The church has walls 3 feet thick, built from ballast stones. It was wonderfully cool inside.

The inside was also interestingly surprisingly universally Anglican/United. The hymnal board

and the baptismal font were the same as every other one I've seen in Canada. That pew beside the font is an original one from 1847. Notice how straight the back is? LOL. The lovely stain glass windows pivot open on a center rod so they can get the breeze from any angle, and the thick walls keep the heat out. I also believe that the blocks absorb moisture from the rain and that helps to keep them cool. Supposedly the grout is made from molasses and....something.

It was a beautiful area. The people and children looked happy and healthy and adorable in their school uniforms (a federal law). It was mentioned by Regna and her husband at dinner that while they might not be wealthy, the people rarely lack for what they need. Obesity was uncommon and ailments were treated with a visit to the garden.

We got back in the Land Rovers and headed through the citrus orchards. This is when the 'off roading' started. It wasn't as 'off road' as we would have liked, LOL, but it was scenic and out-doorsy and fun.

We stopped at a spot in the orchard for some more rum punch and a trip to a waterfall. We had originally thought about going to see Dunn's Falls, but after seeing it on the TV, and the number of people there, we chose this trip instead. It was a slippery walk down into a ravine, and the second guide brought some bug spray. Keisha was staying with our vehicles to make sure they were secure (earlier, another employee travelling with us in a car had done that job).

At first we passed this small waterfall, lots of ooohing and aaahing. Further along the path was some bamboo

I think it had been brought to Jamaica after the slaves were freed and the plantation owners brought over Chinese and Indian workers. It can grow several inches a day when it's in the sun.

After a tricky spot through some running water, we came upon the waterfall. It wasn't huge, or terribly high (and the volume was increased by the overflow pipe near the upper left), but for a short while, it was OURS (and now it's the desktop picture on our computer!).

At first, I was eager to go in, but a little cautious. You couldn't see the bottom, but the guide walked right in and it was about waist deep (and he was short). We had been advised to wear water shoes or sandals, so I went in my sports sandals. Rob asked why we didn't have places at home. I said because if it's not dammed up by Hydro One, it'd be too cold to actually swim. LOL. This was refreshing, but not cold.

The guide had a hard time figuring out our waterproof camera; I had a hard time keeping my top up. LOL. The Dutch girl had a hard time understanding just about everything, and Rob had to help her out for her photo shoot.

Off to the right was another waterfall. A bunch of us bobbed around the river and had a lovely time. Some people came in for a couple minutes, and others didn't come in at all. Turns out the lady from Atlanta is a nurse and said she sees the 'aftermath' of swimming in places like that. The guy from California said "A little giardia won't kill you". OMG. LOL. I piped up that while it didn't kill me, it was a very unpleasant six weeks. I hadn't even thought about those sorts of things in the water; I was more concerned with crayfish, leeches, water snakes....LOL.

These are the trucks we rode in, two rows of 4 seats on the edges faced inwards. We had seatbelts. LOL.

Once we emerged and trekked back up the hill, we finished off the rum punch, and they got out some orange juice made by the company that owned the orchard we were in. It was the best orange juice I had ever had, and I don't really like orange juice. It was sweet, and refreshing, and not too thick. It tasted like an orange!

We chatted with Keisha for awhile. When we first met, she had asked everyone where they were from, and she seemed thoughtful when we replied "Canada, Ontario, north of Toronto". She asked again, and then told us about her one and only trip off the island. Last year she had a couple on a tour who seemed very interested in her. They asked a lot of interesting questions, about Jamaica, the company she works for, and even her. A little while later, on the fourth anniversary of her employement with Chukka Tours (I"m not sure that's the proper, full name), they came back, and presented her with completed papers and tickets for a trip to visit them in Ontario, partway between St. Catherines and Hamilton. She was able to go in April/May for three weeks and had a great time (esp. when they went to the Niagra River and threw rocks onto the US side, LOL). She seemed to really enjoy her job, and could answer just about anything we asked.

This little flowering plant is a mimosa plant. When you touch it it will suddenly 'wilt', but refresh in about 15-20 minutes. The plantation owners used these plants to be able to tell if a slave had just tried to escape. However, the slaves soon learned that the plants also wilted in the rain!

They grew along the roadway and around houses and especially the important buildings. We saw the ruins of old mills, banks, and other plantation buildings.
Then we saw this interesting sign:

"Trelawny Gun Club; No Shooting". LOL.
We were shown a traditional Jamaican garden, complete with a sugar cane plant and Jamaica's national fruit which is cooked to be their national dish.
Then we headed through the plantation towards the "Outpost". This is a small cluster of buildings owned by the tour operator. There is a gift shop, washrooms (ladybugs for "Ladies" and Anacondas for "Men"), a BBQ stand selling jerk chicken, beer, out-dated Lays, and Jamaican patties. Rob wouldn't buy any food except the chips. There was also lockers and supplies for some of the other tours.

Most of the buses had 'snorkel' intakes.

We had considered some of the tubing/rafting options, and if we ever go back I definately want to. Rafting and tubing is actually government regulated here.

Some of the off roading:
I'm sure it would have been much more boring if we had had 'better' tires, LOL.
THe drive back was a little scary---and it wasn't off-road! It was a very twisty, hilly road, bordered often by deep ravines....and their guardrails are about the equivalent of our parking curbs. And we were on the wrong side of the road, facing the wrong way. I was surprised to see (while we had been in rush hour) that most people wore seatbelts and didn't overload vehicles, but apparently speed and passing at questionable times is still an issue. You know when your 'native' drivers gasps and says "Now THAT was almost a situation!" that someone was truely being extreme, but most of the time it was just us gasping, LOL. I could see the speedometer, and we were travelling up to 70km/hour on these roads.
One other thing we really noticed again, was the car honking. Apparently, honking is not used as a warning, it's a friendly greeting! The Atlanta couple said that you're only supposed to use the horn in extreme situations there as it's a noise violation. Not in Jamaica!

Back on the ship I took my standard pictures of the port area. I was trying to figure out where we had gone.

THese last three photos travel from the right edge of the port to the left edge.

After leaving port it was surprisingly rough, although the water didn't show it.

We learned from Keisha what "KFC" really stands for (notice the tall KFC bucket below). "Keep From Cooking". LOL!

Apparently the tall hotel on the left is the place to stay in Montego Bay. We learned that from Dale. Dale found a taxi driver to drive him around most of the day, bar to bar; he seems especially fond of Jimmy Buffet's "Margharita Villes".

"Margharita Ville" is the place right in the center with a tube slide.

We were all aboard at 2:15, and the ship left awhile later. THe show this night was another production show; actually a magic show starring Drew Thomas and backed by the Royal Caribben Singers and Dancers. I think this ship is the only one that has 3 nights of productions shows. It was a neat show, but it started (for us) at 10:45pm. It was a little hard to stay awake!
This little fellow was in our room, and there were also two Crown and Anchor baseball hats, which I really appreciated as I had forgotten my hat again for this trip. And surprisingly, these hats were small and I could actually wear one!
Our day in Jamaica was awesome. We hadn't really wanted to go to Jamaica; thinking it would be too commercial and perhaps 'dangerous'. While we didn't really see the 'real' Montego Bay, I truely enjoyed getting into the countryside and seeing the 'real' Jamaica. Keisha was an excellent driver and guide, the weather was great, our private waterfall was lovely, and it turned out to be one of our favourite things we've done on the two cruises!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cruise Day 4: Georgetown, Grand Cayman

We awoke on Day 4 to the sounds of the crew getting the tender dock ready for our day in Georgetown, Grand Cayman. I was really looking forward to this day---it's unlikely we would ever get back to Grand Cayman. We pushed our way through the crowd waiting for the tenders and headed up to breakfast. We were in no rush, as we had no excursions booked for the day (although I really wanted to do one!). We were a little surprised when we looked out and saw that we were one of FIVE cruise ships docked off shore! It's not a huge island, so we were a little worried about what we'd fine on shore.
The tender over was pretty quick, although we were on an open boat and it was quite hot in the sun. Our ship is the one in the far back---it looks far away, but it's an optical illusion in the picture. While we were waiting to unload we watched a large red jogging stroller roll backwards and off a 5ft wall onto the lower dock. No body on the upper pier seemed to notice, but the boat crews did try to 'catch' the stroller but weren't quite quick enough. After a minute, the parents did come over. There was no baby in the stroller. Many times we saw this same family during the week, and rarely was the baby in the stroller. They were constantly struggling with the stroller, esp. in the elevators--they often had to wait a long time to get an empty elevator. I couldn't imagine taking something like that on a cruise vacation. I know by the time our kids are ready to cruise we will be long past babywearing, but man, that was one very good example of how much more convenient---and safe---babywearing is!!The ship in front is a Carnival Cruise ship---the only cruise line that puts a spoiler on the stack, LOL!
We started walking to the left once out of the dock complex. One of the first shops we found was a Dairy Queen. Despite being hot, Rob wouldn't go in. Then there was this cute little "Ye Old England Bakery". I really wanted to check it out, but Rob wouldn't go in. LOL. He's not too adventurous sometimes. We noticed something on the fence next to it....
A chicken on the fence! We were having trouble figuring out the map---I don't think any of the maps provided by the cruise ship on either cruise were very useful---and before we could figure out where on the map we were, we were actually OFF the map! A north arrow and a scale would have made this geography grad a little happier!
It soon became apparent that chickens ruled the roost here. They were everywhere, including this little parkette where people were sitting and eating lunch.We walked around the 'off map' area for a little bit, winding our way along the shore and then inwards and back towards the main section. It was interesting, the juxtaposition of poor living next to a wealthy financial institution. You hear of Grand Cayman being a financial hotspot....but there doesn't seem to be much trickle down effect.This 'little' fella is a blue iguana. There is reportedly only about 30 left on the island. I think the statue is life size---a preschooler posed for a picture sitting comfy on his back before we took this.
We went in a post office and I bought a postcard to send to my parents. I forgot to ask them on Sat. if they ever got it. We got the change in Cayman money, which looked alot like Canadian money because of the Queen on it!

We walked around some more, being a little frightened of the traffic on the 'wrong' side of the road. Horns honked a lot, even when there didn't seem to be any issue. There were a lot of SUVs and nice (expensive) vehicles. We stopped at a little shop to see what the "Hole in the Floor" was and talked with the shop owners for a bit. They told us that everyone has at least one car as there are no limits on vehicle ownership like on some islands, and there is not any reliable public transportation. As well, although the island is small and flat, it is very rural and rugged, especially after a hurricane. He said they had not had much damage from Hurricane Paloma, but the smaller sister island did. When a hurricane comes, they just board up shop and pray he said. As well, he mentioned that in the high season, there could be SEVEN cruise ships docked off shore!!!
We continued our walk up the other side of the town, along the shore. We noticed that many vehicles had these little mirrors on their front quarter panels. Some of the vehicles were right hand drive, but a lot were left hand drive too.
The strip right near the dock is like most of the other ports---lots of shopping for jewellry. Not too interesting for Rob!
Another shot of our ship (the one at the back). And another shot without the interesting cars...As we walked back towards the downtown, we found this area of tidal pools.Most of the pools were puddles, but there were a few neat spots where the rocks had openings above the water line so the waves came in and spewed up through the holes. One tide pool was quite large and a couple kids were swimming in it.On the other side of the dive shop that was right here is a little narrow inlet. I forget the local name of it. I mean, it was narrow! You could enter at the closed end near the shop, and wade/swim out through the tiny opening into the ocean proper. You can just make out a person snorkeling on the left side of this picture: We headed back towards the dock and the only taste of local cuisine I got was a can of cold, but slightly out-dated Diet Coke. Rob was still suspicious; after all, it was cold because of the ice in the bucket....We bought the kids some stuff at Del Sol---the store where everything changes colour in the sun, but nothing has a price tag, and another smaller shop with the same type of stuff. We finally found our dock, and headed back out. Do I look hot? Oh, it was hot. But a nice hot, LOL.Bird's eye view of one of the tenders.After we got back we went for lunch and then some quiet time in our room ;)

I like being up on the open decks when we leave ports, and Rob likes to swim, so it's a good deal. It's great being alone together, but sometimes you just need to be alone, too.Grand Cayman, like Cozumel, is very flat. Very, very flat. Not my type of place, LOL.Flat. The topo map for this island would not interest me very much!It was interesting to see the other ships there. I'm not sure why this Crystal Cruises ship looks like it's listing. By itself, it looks like a good size ship, but next to us, it was teeny-tiny. The Crystal ship was next to the Carnival shipThe Carnival ship (and I think the Celebrity ship) used 'proper' tender boats, the other 2 ships used their lifeboats as their tenders. The Celebrity ship was next to Carnival...We had just found out at the Crown & Anchor's "Captain's Welcome Back" reception the night before that Royal Caribbean had bought Celebrity.Next to the Celebrity ship was a Holland America ship. They were quite a distant from the dock, and were using the lifeboats for tenders. I'm not sure that I would like that!Last year I took a great picture of Rob kissing the mermaid in the Schooner Bar, but this year it didn't turn out as great, LOL.This was our night to see the ice show, and it turned out to be the last show for this cast. It was really good (a few falls though), but I think last year we were 'wowed' more because we were stunned at what they could do on such a small rink. The ice show was still great, and the best part was when the pirates 'stole' a little kid, probably not even 3, from the front row and took him for a ride in the pirate ship.The props and costumes are fabulous, and there were guest artists---jugglers on ice. No good photos, but I did take a video. I just can't figure out how to post videos.
We missed a live music show featuring all the live musicians on the ship, unfortunately, had to go to dinner. It was 'Surf Night' and everyone at our table enjoyed at least TWO lobsters...except for me, LOL. We heard all about the swimming with the stingrays excursion, which sounded interesting but not worth the cost (in my opinion). I had wanted to visit Hell, but didn't know enough about it when we were looking at the trips.
There was Big Band Dance Music at 9:45, but we were still in dinner.

After dinner we went for a deck walk. Almost every night the front helicopter pad deck was closed. This night though was extremely windy. I think this was the night that the relative wind (what the wind actually feels like taking into account the ship's speed) was around 55-60 mph. We went up to the top open deck and it was incredible. You couldn't use any of the sliding doors to go inside because they had been locked, to prevent gusts of wind from blowing in when opened. I could feel myself being lifted a few times. Although, I don't think I was wearing that dress that night...maybe that was the next night. Most nights were pretty windy!

There was a nice full moon...(that little white circle in the black sky)...

We popped back into the room so Rob could change and then headed out to the "Love & Marriage Game Show". This is a hilarious version of the Newlywed Game, but using one newlywed couple, one 'medium wed' couple, and one 'olden wed' couple. The newlyweds were from South Africa and England, and the old couple were from Wales, so it was interesting. Even though the questions were the same as last year, the people are different, so the game is also different. A little racey, LOL, but definitely a good time!

I thought this was the midnight buffet night, but it's not on that day's "Cruise Compass". I thought I took this picture at the midnight buffet, but I guess not, LOL. I don't know what time we got to bed, this picture was taken after midnight!