New Year's was uneventful - it's great having satellite because you can watch the Eastern feed at 9 pm and pretend it's the New Year already.
The weather continues to be beautiful but cool. We met two really nice couples in the hot tub. Cathy and Larry from Campbell River and Cheryl and Brad from Nanaimo. We have found that the owners here are not that inclusive to renters - having their own groups and activities already set from coming down here for so long. So we gravitate to fellow renters! We spent several quality Happy Hours with them as well as a nice dinner at Kobe Steakhouse. Cheryl and Cathy and Maureen went shopping several times and Larry, Larry and Brad went golfing. We went to the FMCA (Family Motor Coach Association) Western Rally in Indio on January 9. A freak windstorm came up while were in the vendor tents. They actually had to take one down. When looking outside there was dust everywhere sprinkled with plastic lawn furniture and loose papers. By the time we got back to our site it had all died down.
We had booked an Eastern Caribbean cruise through FMCA in April 2012. On January 18 we headed to San Diego at 6 am in the Jeep. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive. We had found parking at the Sheraton - valet for the week at $10 per day. Very convenient because they have a free shuttle to the airport from there. Our flight was at 11:15 so we had a bit of a wait. We flew first class using points and the food on the flight (US Airways)to Charlotte, NC was excellent. The day was clear and Maureen was able to spot the Rio Grande through Texas and the Mighty Mississippi along the way. Charlotte is an airline hub for the Eastern US and is quite beautiful. We arrived in Miami quite late and checked into the Best Western Premier about 10 minutes from the airport. We were not supposed to arrive at the port before 1:00 pm so we got there about 12:30 using the $10 per person shuttle from the hotel. The ship sailed promptly at 5 pm. We were not impressed with the dinner service in the dining room. They seemed very disorganized. Our tablemates, Bonni and Dave from Toronto, were great but we decided to try other options after that. We had pizza, burgers (from Guy's Burgers - created by Guy Fieri), and the buffet. Monday night we ate in the Diamonds Steakhouse which was excellent.
We arrived in Half Moon Cay (San Salvador Island) about 9 am on Sunday. It is one of about 700 islands that make up the archipelago of The Bahamas. It is a private island, owned by Holland America Line, which uses it as a port of call for the cruise ships it operates in the region. Prior to being owned by Carnival Corp, Little San Salvador was the private island of Norwegian Cruise Line. We had to tender ashore because it is not a deep-water port. We did a little walk on the beach and had a BBQ lunch hosted by the ship. When we got back to the ship, we purchased the Cheers program - a per day charge for alcoholic drinks ($42.95). This created some pressure to drink a lot! The drinks could not be over $10 and managed to include all the fancy cocktails such as Long Island Iced Tea and Strawberry Daiquiris. It also enabled us to drink high quality wine for dinner (not by the bottle though). We sailed at 5 pm.
We sailed all night and arrived in Saint Thomas, US Virgin Islands at 10 am on Tuesday. Saint Thomas is an island in the Caribbean Sea and with the islands of Saint John, Saint Croix, and Water Island, is a county and constituent district of the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), an unincorporated territory of the United States. It was purchased in 1917 from Denmark for $25 million, as part of a defensive strategy to maintain control over the Caribbean and the Panama Canal during the First World War.
FMCA had arranged with a local jewelry store to shuttle us to their stores on Main Street. They had also arranged that if we wanted to, we could get on a tour of the Island for $25. We had quite a bit of time before our tour left so we did a walkabout - mostly jewelry and souvenir stores on Main Street. We discovered Backstreet (one block up). We found Coconuts Bar and Grille. We had been told about the Backstreet BushWacker, their famous drink. The recipe is: (Blend over ice) 1 oz vodka, 1 oz Irish Cream Liqueur, 1/2 oz Amaretto, 1/2 oz Kahlua, 1/2 oz Lt. Creme de Cacao, sprinkle with nutmeg. Larry had that and Maureen had a Mango Smoothie. We also had a great thin-crust pizza with shrimp and pesto. Our tour left at 1:15. You can see from the photo that the taxi/tour bus is a modified truck, open air and a hard worker on all the steep hills. First we passed Fort Christian which is the oldest standing structure in the Virgin Islands. Building began on the walls of the fort in 1672. Driving is done on the left here which is a little hairy. The hills are steep up and down and the hairpin turns are like no other. We went all the way up to Mountain Top where we had a bit of time to browse the shops and look at the view of Magen's Bay, also world famous. On the way down we stopped at Beacon Point for a sample of a non-alcoholic banana daiquiri. Then all the way around to the other side of the island stopping briefly at Sapphire Beach for some photos. Then through where the natives live and back to the ship. Quite the drive and well worth it. We sailed at 6 pm.
The ship arrived in San Juan at 7 am. San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico is the oldest city on US territory (St. Augustine, Florida the oldest city in the continental). Founded in 1521 by Juan Ponce de León, who named it City of Puerto Rico ("Rich Port"). Old San Juan, where we docked, is a 465-year-old neighborhood originally conceived as a military stronghold. Its 7-square-block area has evolved into a charming residential and commercial district. The streets here are paved with cobbles of adoquine, a blue stone cast from furnace slag; they were brought over as ballast on Spanish ships and time and moisture have lent them their characteristic color. The city has more than 400 carefully restored 16th- and 17th-century Spanish colonial buildings. Larry didn't want to do any walking today so Maureen went on a 3.5 hour walking tour of Old San Juan. It was quite hot and humid but a very good tour. We saw many beautiful old buildings on narrow streets.
In front of El Capitolio are life-sized bronze statues of all the presidents that have visited Puerto Rico - there's not as many as you'd think! The building contains some beautiful architecture and it was a relief from the heat to go inside. Castillo de San Cristóbal was built by Spain as protection against land attacks on San Juan. It is listed as a San Juan National Historic Site. On to Castillo de San Cristóbal which is the largest fortification built by the Spanish in the New World. When it was finished in 1783, it covered about 27 acres of land and basically wrapped around the city. Entry to the city was sealed by San Cristóbal's double gates. After a period of relative peace, about a third of it was demolished in 1897 (see the photo of some of the original wall) to help ease the flow of traffic in and out of the city. It was an excellent tour and the guide was very knowledgeable. Hard to believe she is over 50! Back to the ship to leave at 3:30 pm.
Thursday we arrived in Grand Turk at 11 am. We had a great guide for our bus tour of the small island. Larry asked if there was any truth to the rumour circulating back home that Canada wanted to buy the Turks and Caicos. James said that was true and is currently on the back burner. Paul Martin, former Finance Minister and Prime Minister of Canada, apparently has a $20 million shack on the Island somewhere. We also saw a Scotiabank and a CIBC. There are no taxes on the Island so it is a bit of a haven for those from other countries. James said the only taxes he pays is 3% for health care - and the hospital is actually run by Canadians. They do have a 11% tourist tax though that the cruise tourists pay when they purchase goods. for people who He took us through the very old beach district. There is still a lot of devastation around from Hurricane Ike in 2008. The main industry on Grand Turk, while now tourism, used to be the harvesting of sea salt. There is still some available in the gift shop at the Salt House as well as bath salts. Below is some information about the salinas and salt making. James also said that a 24 pack of Heineken beer on Grand Turk is $68.99 and a bottle of Rum is $11.00
"Raking & Making Salt
"The large, shallow, stone-bordered ponds in the middle of Grand Turk are not just nesting sites for flamingos and other brilliant birds: they are called salinas, abandoned artifacts of the salt industry, which ruled the Grand Turk and Salt Cay economies for 300 years. The salt industry began with seasonal salt-rakers coming to the Turks and Caicos from Bermuda in the late 1600s and lasted until commercial exploitation of the salinas ended in the 1960s. Grand Turk and Salt Cay, the original salt-producing islands, have several natural, shallow, inland depressions (salinas) that filled with salt water directly from the sea or percolated up from underlying rock. Bermudians improved the natural salinas, making them into rock-bordered salt pans or ponds. Salt was made by letting seawater into the salinas through sluice gates located at the beach. Water was concentrated by evaporation in one pond, then concentrated again in a second. The slushy brine was then let into smaller drying pans, where the salt crystallized. The cycle took about 90 days from start to finish, but "crops" for each set of pans were spaced by the individual stages into 20- to 30-day periods. Workers raked the crystallized salt into piles and shoveled it into wheelbarrows. Raking salt under the midday sun was an incredibly labor-intensive business, and many who worked the salt (including a number of slaves) were felled by the brutal conditions. Windmills were used to drain the water from one salinas to another.
"Who used all this salt? From the time of the first European settlements in North America to the middle of the 1800s, salt was a critical food-preservation item. The United States was dependent upon salt imports to some degree until almost the end of the 19th century. The relative importance of the Turks islands, however, dwindled as the demand for salt expanded. Dwarfed by the demand and other producers and unable to expand pond acreage, mechanize loading, or achieve economies of scale, the salt industry in the Turks Islands finally collapsed in the 1960s after 300 years of production."
Here is a link to an interesting story about a woman who was able to walk away from slavery. There is a memorial to her at the Salt House. http://www.timespub.tc/2008/09/toiling-in-the-salt-ponds
The lighthouse was interesting too. The colours of the water were amazing. There were lots of wild donkeys, horses and cows around. One little donkey stopped traffic in all directions as he stopped to do his business in the middle of the road. We returned to the ship and we left at 5:30.
The rest of that night was followed by a full day at sea. FMCA had put on a couple of little seminars on both the sea days. They also hosted a cocktail party on Wednesday night. The ship arrived back in Miami about 6 am Saturday morning. We found it to be the quickest and smoothest debarkation process we've come across. We were at the airport several hours ahead of our 2:45 flight. The short leg to Charlotte was in the daylight, the rest was in the dark. It turned out that our gate for San Diego was right beside where we landed from Miami. Our flight arrived in San Diego right on time - 8:35 pm PST. Then with the 2 1/2 hour drive back to the motor home our trip ended about midnight. On the way we encountered quite a bit of rain and a lot of very dense fog. We thought we'd landed in Vancouver by mistake!
The weather is still a little cooler than normal in Palm Springs but the sun is so beautiful. The fruit is ripening quickly. Maureen has zested, juiced and frozen lemons. She also simmered and juiced some pink grapefuit and will be drinking that to get rid of her cold!