Liz and John's South American Grand Cruise 2014 travel blog

Saturday 8 March

Day 65 - Bridgetown, Barbados

It was a very early start for us because of an early tour to the Island. After docking we noticed a lot of boating traffic with both cruise liners as well as two beautiful tourist clippers. The cruise port was enormous and it had its own shopping centre as well as free Internet, so I was at last able to upload and download some stuff. It was slow but after the ship, it was a dream! I think everyone on the ship including crew was there!

Barbados is a relatively small island, only 431 square km and is the easternmost island in the Lesser Antilles. It is just east of St Vincent and St Lucia. It was first discovered in the 15th century by the Spanish but it was the British who took ownership almost 200 years later. It has a strong economy from its sugar (and rum!), fish and booming tourist industry. It's Capital is Bridgetown and it's only other large city is Speightstown the other side of the Island. It is a beautiful lush island with white sand beaches. The Barbadian culture is a mix of African and British but the population is predominantly of African origin. It has a population of only 225,000 but has an excellent free health and education system as well as it's own parliament and government. It got its independence from Britain in 1965 so will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary in a couple of years.

We were booked on a coast to coast tour so we had a chance to see some of the beautiful though very different scenery on both the east (Caribbean) and the west (Atlantic) coasts. There were many spectacular views even though the maximum height of the hills is only 1000 ft. We also had a brief tour through Bridgetown the Cathedral, the Government House, the GGs house, the university and a church in one of the Parishes (St John's). We also saw the houses where the British indentured servants (convicts) and black slaves lived as well as the very rich British expats live now in the multimillion mansions! The slave and servant huts were still used but had been done up into colourful little houses. The guide was a lovely Barbadian women who was chatty, full of fun and very knowledgeable about her Island. It was a pleasure to listen to her and hear about the place she had grown up in and obviously loved. The history of the place was really interesting and I didn't realise that it's history went back as far as it did and it was yet another British penal colony as well as being a place where thousands of black slaves were brought from Africa to do the hard manual work in the cane fields.

The tour stopped three times for photo stops. The first was at a little Anglican Parish Church called St John's and was so English it would have fitted into any English village! There were lovely gardens around it and a view across the farmlands. We saw sugar cane, all types of market gardening for vegetables and fruit, citrus and avocado trees as well as their special breed of brown sheep, that look more like goats than sheep. Our second stop was to look at the views across the Atlantic coast and it was quite rocky with interesting limestone rock features.

The third stop was looking across the very picturesque Caribbean coast where we stopped for a glass of run punch. That was potent and I should have learned my lesson when I had the local spirit in Parintins! I felt quite woozy afterwards but it settled. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and as soon as we got back to the port building, we made use of the free Internet again. I was able to upload some updates hoping that some of my programs won't crash so often. all my documents, spreadsheets and accounts to the cloud. I also downloaded a couple of updates. I think our home wifi is going to work overtime when we get home!

We rested up for the rest of the day and it was a beautiful afternoon and evening. It hadn't been as hot and humid as we have experienced on the equator which is very pleasant. We did our usual trivia, have dinner and went to another excellent show with the Prinsendam singers and dances. The quality of the entertainment has been second to none and the fact that we have gone it virtually every show on the cruise (not bad for a 67 day cruise) is a testament to that. However it was yet another really late night and we are getting quite short on sleep.

Sunday 9 March

Day 66 - Sea day on the way to Willemstad, Curaçao

At least we were able to have a bit of a lie in, but I did want to have a swim before my choir practice at half ten. We have our final performance in a few days so are working hard at quite a large repertoire. Today we also had the 5 km 'Walk for a cause'. The money raised was for the cancer foundations in the States, Canada, Australia and the UK. The walk was 12 laps and obviously I wasn't going to do the twelve but I did manage 1 lap (about 1/4 mile) which wasn't bad. I did the other eleven in the scooter while John was walking. We donated and I think about $2000 was raised which wasn't bad.

It was a Pirates-in-the-Caribbean theme night tonight. All the waiters were dressed as pirates together with a few of the passengers. We haven't really got involved with the theme nights but some people seem to bring multiple costumes with them. Good on them but it's not for us because I have no idea how many suitcases you have to bring with you to accommodate it all! We had dinner with Mike and Carol and then made our way down to the Show Room at Sea for tonight 's show. This time it was an Afro-Canadian Guy called Mike Robinson who was another very funny comedian and brilliant ventriloquist. He had us all in stitches. Then at eleven, we had the Filipino Cruise Show and that was good too. There was plenty of life in it and we saw some of our favourite drink waiter staff perform.

We didn't get back to our room until gone 12pm and I had to do the week's tablets as well so it was 1am before I got to bed. We were exhausted. We also have a very early start tomorrow when we get to Willemstad in Curacao.

Monday 10 March

Day 67 - Willemstad, Curaçao

We docked at seven and the first thing we noticed was the pastel skyline created by the painted Dutch architecture that lines the waterfront. Legend had it that the 19th Century Governor Albert Kikkert suffered from migraines that he attributed to the stark white buildings of Willemstad, so he issued a decree that the buildings be painted any other colour than white. The buildings are therefore the Caribbean hues of blues, greens, yellows and reds. The result is a vibrant introduction to the city as the ship navigates the narrow Sint Annabaii Channel. The city is a blend of cultures from African, Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and native Indian from Venezuaela. That is reflected in their native language (Papiamento) cuisine, dance and music.

Curaçao is a beautiful Island with multiple beaches and reef systems making it popular with divers. Curaçao is the largest, most populous and most cosmopolitan of the former Lesser Antilles. It was discovered by the Portuguese in 1499 but was taken over by the Dutch many years later. It is still considered as part of the Netherlands although they have independence now.

We went on the Willemstad Trolley Train which was a tour past Curaçao's distinctive Dutch Colonial architecture and a visit to Fort Amsterdam, the seat of Government. It was a fun tour and were taken by taxis to the city centre where we got on the Trolley Train. We got a really good view of everything from the train which although was open, wasn't particularly hot because thankfully there was a cool breeze. We were taken to the Trolley Train by taxis so there wasn't much walking which is good for me. There were a several photo stops to get a better view. At the end we were taken to the Fort Amsterdam, which was a Government building that was originally built to guard the entrance to the harbour.

It was a good tour and gave us an idea of the city. After we got back to the ship, we had a drink and then John made his way back out to have a look at the waterfront and more of the city. He really enjoyed his walk and said the city architecture was very attractive.

When he got back it was barely time to relax as the night was to be really busy with a show after dinner and then fireworks at eleven from the Curaçao port put on my HAL as the end of our cruise comes up. We are both so tired a lie-in would be pure luxury but we've go another early tour tomorrow. That's the last excursion and the last port before we get back to Fort Lauderdale. The show was four attractive young women playing saxophones called Saxation. They dressed up in sexy dresses, danced around the stage and played the various saxophones brilliantly. The music was from different genres and my absolute favourite was 'Gabriel's oboe' played on the soprano sax. It was beautiful. When we came back to the room we opened up the blinds to watch us sail out of Curaçao, which was all lit up for us and at 11.15pm we had the firework show. It was a special end to our cruise.

Tuesday 11 March

Day 68 - Oranjestad, Aruba

We had another really early start for our tour.

Aruba has recently emerged as a major tourist destination. The first explorers were initially Portuguese and then Dutch. It is still closely tied to the Netherlands and Dutch is one of the four languages spoken as in Curaçao. It's economic history goes back to the Brazilwood which was brought back to Europe by the first settlers. Then there was gold mining which had a short history. Aruba has recently emerged as a major tourist destination with its beautiful beaches, snorkelling, scuba diving and friendly nature of the local people. It is only a small island measuring 15 x 5 miles and has a population of only 120,000 people. Approximately a fifth of it is the Arikok National Wildlife Park which has three primary geological formations that shape the island - basaltic lava, granite and ancient reef rock. It's this geological composition that creates the alien landscape of twisted divi-divi trees and cacti found here. The rainfall is only 15 inches per year so it is very dry.

Our tour was to have a brief look at Oranjestad, the capital city and then travel along Aruba's windward coast stopping at the granite Casibari rock formation, the Reef rock Natural Bridge and the 1750 bright yellow Alto Vista Catholic Chapel in the centre of the Island. We also passed the Ostrich Farm and donkey sanctuary. It was a pleasant three and a half hours but we were so tired at the end that when we got back to the ship we both collapsed in a heap and slept most of the afternoon! For the first time on the cruise we skipped dinner, had some fruit for a snack and then skipped the show.

We have a busy two days ahead of us and have to start packing. That is something we are not looking forward to because we seem to have accumulated so much!

Wednesday/Thursday 12/13 March

Days 69/70 - At sea sailing towards Fort Lauderdale

We had our choir performance on Wednesday and it went surprisingly well. It has encouraged me to get back to my music. There was a heap of stuff going on in the ship but we otherwise had a quiet day apart from the inevitable Trivia and eating. There's going to have to be some serious dieting when we get home even though we've been much more careful with our eating than on other cruises. Thursday was spent packing and redeeming all the HAL Dam dollars we've won for some gifts for people at home. We won nearly 500 of them in then end and that's not bad considering that the top prize at any time is $3! It was fun getting them though.

The packing has been a nightmare but we think we've got everything in. We are really looking forward to getting home now and should be landing back in Australia on Sunday morning 16 March!

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