Cruise Journal

[Sunder worked on and off on this ‘journal’ after we returned from our Caribbean cruise in December 2007. While he kept notes and collected material during the trip it is not a journal in the real sense, being a retrospective account. He never did complete it, but always had plans to go back and fill in the gaps some day.]
Living among the soaring spires of Oxford, we had become accustomed to holidaying in various exotic European cities whenever we could. When my wife moved to New York University, it was therefore logical for her to ask: “where shall we go this year?” So it was but natural for me to religiously surf the net to find out if (a site we had used gainfully in the past) and other similar sites had any attractive and affordable offers that we could consider. Having also heard my wife’s cousin wax eloquent about an Alaskan cruise that she had been on, we felt that it might be worthwhile to give the air and land a miss for a change and consider, instead, a holiday at sea. This was however not without some misgivings because of the commonly held view that cruises were meant only for the older generation to which we no doubt also belonged but had always believed that we were still very young at heart!

My surfing the net was not in vain for Expedia had advertised, among others, cruises by the Princess Line, to various islands in the Caribbean. Fortunately enough, there was also a 7-day cruise scheduled to islands in the South Caribbean,

DECEMBER 14, 2007

After an uneventful flight from New York to Miami, where we changed planes, we reached San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico only well after dusk. Taxis were available in plenty on arrival; though taxi fares based on the distance travelled were notified at the airport, these seemed to be of little relevance since we had to pay the zone-wise fare pre-determined by the Tourist Company and quoted to us by one of its many agents who were busy as bees conducting travel-weary passengers to their taxis.

Thanks to problems of communication and a consequential mix-up at the airport, we were driven initially to a wrong hotel and not to the one in which we had reservations for the night. Luckily, the taxi driver was English-speaking and dropped us off at the right hotel; this of course meant that we had to pay more than what we had been quoted initially. Because of the time difference, it was 8 pm by the time we checked in—our lodgings for the night were most unexciting filling me with regret and making me wish that I had been guided by my instincts back home and chosen the Sheraton opposite the cruise terminal in the Old town. I could not but help wonder if this was a portent of what lay ahead!


Some confusion re. plans for the day, prior to embarkation. Short walk to the sea—not a beach; rocky with no access. Returned disappointed to hotel and decided to take a taxi to the San Christobel Fort (Fuerte or Castillo San Cristobal).

Though called a fort/castle and described as “the largest Spanish fortification in the New World”, pales in comparison to the real forts in India. One tended to compare with Amber in Jaipur, Red Fort or even Fort St. George. Part of the San Juan National Historic Site, protected the city of San Juan from land attacks while the Castillo San Felipe del Morro , about a mile from San Cristobal, protected the rich port from enemies from the sea. Former known in its heyday as the Gibraltar of the West Indies. Number of tunnels connect five free-standing structures.

Walk towards del Morro before catching free trolley at next stop. Driver unnecessarily let us off at the foot of the drive though he himself drove up all the way to the entrance!! Was heartily cursed by us. The fort stands on a rocky promontory at the Old City’s north-western tip.

Taxi back to Holiday Inn—driver offered to drive us back to Pier 4 the embarkation point for the Princess.

Long queue outside pier—taxis disgorging passengers with lots of luggage—Orderly check-in—Almost two hours spent in the exercise. Dumped things in the stateroom which turned out smaller than what we had envisioned from the virtual tour on the website. Yet, cute and comfortable. And the cruise ship—-Hard to describe—a virtual floating hotel on a larger scale.

Since the Princess was due to cast off only at 11 pm, decided to wander around the Old City. Caught the free trolley, thinking it would drop us off at the Catedral de San Juan. Took us instead to the castles again. Got off hurriedly on Calle Norzagaray, at a stop much before del Morro and soon found ourselves on Calle Cristo.

Calle Cristo was bustling with life with cars crawling by and every other shop selling branded apparel. A large cathedral, of which the guide book spoke glowingly, nestled itself rather incongruously between the shops while a quaint seafood restaurant (La Ostra Cosa) advertised the fare on offer besides offering plenty of photo opportunities.  The cathedral was unfortunately inaccessible having been commandeered by a wedding party; we had therefore to remain content with merely admiring its facade from outside.

The street dead ends at the Capilla del Cristo, an old chapel. Legend has it that a young horseman (Baltazar Montanez) got so carried away during festivities in honour of St. John the Baptist that he raced down the street and plunged over the steep precipice at the street’s end. One who witnessed the tragedy is reported to have promised to build a chapel if the young man’s life could be saved. Historical records maintain the man died though the legend contends that he lived. We could not prove or disprove the contention but the lore seemed to have attracted enough groups of young local kids who were spread out in front of the chapel sketching the Capilla.

Though we were told that the Governor’s residence was well worth a visit, we could only catch a glimpse of the imposing edifice since it was the Christmas season and the grounds were closed to the public. Our wanderings soon took us to the Plaza de Armas, the old city’s original main square. Bordered by the Calles San Francisco, Fortaleza, San Jose and Cruz, the square is dominated by a lovely fountain (which was covered by a christmas tree and other buntings, it being the holiday season) surrounded by 19th century statues representing the four seasons. The old-world charm of the plaza was however marred somewhat by a Starbucks café tucked in round the corner, jostling for the attention of the weary tourist!!

Strolling down Calle Fortaleza, we soon reached the cruise terminal and found our stateroom to relax till it was time for dinner and a well-earned good night’s sleep after all the hectic wanderings of the day.

A strange intermingling of three cultures—those of the vanished tribe of the native Indians, the Spaniards and the Africans indentured to work on the plantations. And, of course, there is also the American culture now.


Sumptuous breakfast. Leisurely and lethargic.

Talk about discovering shopping in the Caribbean—Full of hype—Amazing how the offer of freebies tempts and attracts crowds!! Scramble for collecting goodies—In retrospect, an event best avoided; the couple of hours spent listening to a non-stop sales pitch could have been more gainfully utilised. Oh well, one learns by one’s mistakes.

The dining options available on board truly mind-boggling. Made us wonder how such lavish spreads could be possible given the cost of the cruise. Value for money was provided in real terms. Clock-work execution.

Francis from Phillipines and his Indian girl friend. Whereas we had forgotten that he had waited on us also the previous day, he remembered all that we had told him about us. Amazing given the fact that we were only one among a host of tourists.

Then there was Elena from Bucharest with her fiancée in the galley.

Amit in Passenger Services, and security personnel from Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh (Jagdeep, from Pathankot in Punjab (Manny) (guys far removed from the sea); Renny from Pattanamthitta in Kerala, not to mention a trio from Goa and a couple from Mumbai. Truly a world in miniature with personnel drawn from Brazil, Portugal, Latin America, Italy, Rumania, Phillipines, etc. You name the country and you are sure to find someone!!

Captain’s Cocktail Party—Colourful—smartly turned out crew and nattily dressed pax.

Dinner in the Michelangelo Dining Room. Looked after excellently—even excessively—by Francis and Elena.

Barbados: The “Most British” of the Caribbean Islands

Located east of the main Windward Islands between the Atlantic Ocean on its east and the Caribbean Sea on the west, Barbados is twenty-one miles long and fourteen miles wide. The island is distinct from its other Caribbean neighbours both geographically and geologically and is in fact a single mountain of coral and limestone submerged in the sea. Standing atop the plateau of this submerged mass, one beholds sights of sweeping seascapes, craggy cliffs and acres and acres of sugarcane.

Considered to be the “most British” island in the Caribbean, its natives, called Bajans, go to the extent of proudly describing Barbados as being “more English sheself”! Evidence of British influence and traditions abounds even today: a Governor General presides over the territory and Anglican churches are fixtures in most of the villages where many of the locals congregate to worship; old-timers scrupulously observe the ritual of tea in the afternoon and have not as yet given up another British tradition of dressing for dinner; and, of course, cricket is not merely a national pastime but a passion. The island even boasts a Trafalgar Square and it was the only Caribbean destination to which British Airways thought it worthwhile to operate its Concorde flights. The Barbados Concorde Experience-One of the many shore excursions on offer–includes a visit inside a Concorde aircraft stationed on the island. The close connections with all that is English are attributable presumably to the fact that the British ruled over the island uninterrupted for more than three centuries whereas other islands in the Caribbean were constantly buffeted by repeated and turbulent conflicts between the British and the French for control over them.

Passing overnight the northern shores of the island of St. Lucia and south of the island of Martinique, the Crown Princess entered the harbour in Bridgetown, the capital, just as the sun was coming up majestically over the eastern horizon. Our first glimpse of the island brought forth spontaneous cries of admiration and appreciation. The sun’s reflection on the glistening azure waters of the Caribbean Sea and the breathtaking beauty of the bounties of nature that our eyes beheld stirred up wondrous emotions. There was calmness, peace and tranquillity all around that seemed to infect the very cores of our being. The sensations experienced on our first look at the Caribbean can only be described as truly sublime. 

After gorging ourselves on a sumptuous breakfast on board, we caught the tour bus which promised to reveal the best that Barbados offers to those inclined towards lessons in history and soaking up nature. Our bus took us through the Main Street of Bridgetown, allowing us thereafter to catch glimpses of residences of the Governor General and Prime Minister, the university campus and old houses in what were earlier residential areas converted now into office accommodation. Soon, approaching a busy junction overlooking a cane field, we beheld a statue of a man with his hands raised and broken chains hanging from each of his wrists installed at the roundabout. We were told by our guide that it was the Emancipation Statue—commonly referred to as the Bussa Statue, named after the person who first led a rebellion of slaves in Barbados in 1816, which was the forerunner of the emancipation of the slaves in 1834. Against the backdrop of the sugarcane fields, the statue evokes powerful and poignant imageries of the struggles waged by the slaves brought in hoards to cultivate cane in the island to break free of their shackles of bondage.

The capital city soon yielded to unending fields of sugarcane, sea island cotton, carrots and sweet potato, not to mention tiny villages hugging the crossroads that were home to chattel houses painted in varied pastel hues and an occasional oil rig. We were told that these chattel houses, property of tenant farmers, were built in such a manner that they could be dismantled and transported easily to be re-installed elsewhere. Consequently, the expression “moving house” in Barbados could also imply that the house itself was being moved to another location!

The island is divided into a number of parishes. Our first stop was at the Sanbury Plantation House and Museum in the parish of St. Philip. Preserved as a national heritage site, it is over 300 years old and one is taken back in time to view a unique collection of period furniture and furnishings of the 18th and 19th centuries, old prints, antiques, a collection of horse-drawn carriages and various other memorabilia belonging to a bygone age when the slaves brought over from Africa tended the estate. Strangely enough, there was even a certificate signed by Dr Annie Besant admitting a British landowner to the Theosophical Society in Adyar! Jostling for attention with the past, there was also the incongruous cafe—a standard fixture in almost all places of tourist interest–where we were provided with the must-be- served complimentary rum punch. While the visit provided insights into the way of life when sugar ruled the island, one could not however help wondering whether it was necessary to glorify, in this manner, what was admittedly an inglorious past.

We moved on next to the Orchid World to enjoy a leisurely stroll through bowers of orchids of many magical shapes and shades and to view varieties of ferns, hibiscus, heliconias, begonias, cacti and bearded fig trees. There was enough and more to satisfy the nature lovers among us and our hearts felt at peace ambling through the not so neatly laid out garden.

Our last stop on the tour was the Gun Hill Signal Station. Situated 700 feet above sea level on Gun Hill, the Station was of strategic importance to the British Army offering as it did a 360-degree view of the surrounding area. Soldiers at the Station could communicate with the British Garrison on the south coast and their counterparts at Grenade Hill in the north. Apart from the spectacular views from the summit, what catches the eye almost at once is a carving of a huge lion on the side of the hill just below the observation tower hewn from a single rock reportedly by a Captain, Henry Wilkinson.

Our guide, Susan, was an articulate and talkative woman whose narrations about the history of and life in the island held us all with unwavering attention. As our bus passed the Pelican Chattel Village of Arts and Crafts—a well-laid out group of cottages very close to the cruise terminal—she pointed out that this was the place to buy typical and traditional local souvenirs, apparel, etc. Tongue in cheek, she also added that there was nothing Chinese about the articles on sale and that items “made in China” were in fact not permitted to be sold in the village shops!

To add local colour, she also pointed out a drive-through Cheffette, the local equivalent of Macdonalds or Wendys, which had outlets scattered throughout the island. She further informed us that though Mcdonalds had also set up shop in the island, they had to pull down shutters soon thereafter because of the refusal of the local population to continue to patronise the chain after having tried it once! According to her, Barbados was the only place where this world-wide chain could not survive.

Many of the ancestors of the present Barbadians had been brought to the island as slaves to work on the plantations. Though sugarcane plantations still abound on the island, because of the high level of literacy (the island boasts of a large number of graduates and even postgraduates), the younger generation is unwilling to undertake the hard labour involved in cane cultivation and its harvesting. Ironically enough, therefore, labourers are now imported from Latin America by descendants of former slaves!! According to Susan, the migrant labour just disappeared without a trace after the harvest and presumably continued to live illegally on the island.

As we wended our way back to the ship, we saw rising before us the Kensington Oval, home to cricketing legends—the three Ws (Worrel, Weekes and Walcott), Sir Garfield Sobers, Desmond Haynes, Gordon Greenidge, Malcolm Marshall et al. An imposing statue of Sobers stands sentinel, as it were, at the stadium entrance and one could almost hear the crack of the willow—bat despatching the ball effortlessly high over the stands filled to overflowing with boisterous and knowledgeable fans drunk on rum punch and beer. I was filled with a similar sense of awe that I experienced many years earlier having had the good fortune to dine with another great cricketer, Sir Leonard Hutton, in the Long Room of Lords, the hallowed mecca of cricket. 

After a satisfying lunch, we decided to explore Bridgetown on our own. Dropped by a taxi outside the central market and not inclined as yet to view the many artefacts on offer, we walked down to the National Heroes Square, considered to be the city centre. The Square offers tribute, in the form of a monument, to Lord Horatio Nelson who served in Barbados as a young naval lieutenant. We also find here a war memorial and a fountain commemorating the advent of running water on the island in 1865.

The Parliament buildings, Victorian in architecture, overlook the Heroes Square. Built in the late 19th century, the buildings are home to the third oldest parliament in the British Commonwealth. Unfortunately, the buildings were not open to the public and we could not therefore view the stained glass windows depicting the British monarchs from James I to Victoria about which Susan had waxed eloquent in the morning.

Not having set our eyes on any beach—which we would have had we chosen one of the many other guided tours—Raji insisted on seeing one. Braving the afternoon sun that had become quite oppressive by then, we crossed the Charles Duncan O’Neal Bridge and walked down to the Carlisle Bay to admire the white sands and hosts of scantily-clad swimmers frolicking in the surf. The bridge, along with the adjoining Chamberlain Bridge, traverses the Careenage, Bridgetown’s natural harbour that serves as the marina for pleasure yachts and excursion boats. It was here, in the early days, that sea-going schooners were careened (turned on their sides) to be scraped of barnacles and repainted as well as to seal any leaks.

Having spent but a fleeting day on the island, we cannot obviously claim to have done justice to our visit. Had we had the time, we would have loved to see Harrison’s Cave, a limestone cavern boasting of stalactites and stalagmites, subterranean streams and a 40-foot waterfall. Considered one of the most popular attractions, the cave is accessed by electric trams. Guess all these will have to wait till we are able to make another visit solely to this most British of the Caribbean Islands.

  1. LUCIA: Helen of the West Indies

Departing from Barbados as dusk set in, the Crown Princess set a north-westerly course through the Lesser Antilles. Passing then to the north of the island of St. Vincent, the ship travelled further north towards Castries, the capital of St. Lucia, involving a total travel of 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Barbados. St. Lucia is a mountainous volcanic island, 27-mile long and 14-mile wide, its exotic tropical landscape covered largely by a rain forest and vast banana plantations. Because of its striking natural beauty, St. Lucia is described in tourist literature as “an island of lush tropical dreams” that is “yours to fall in love with”.

The island’s past had been colourful and turbulent. The first occupants of the island were the Ciboneys, an Amerindian tribe of hunters who vanished soon without any trace. They were followed by the Arawaks—a peaceful tribe of potters, weavers, builders and shipwrights—who, after having occupied the island for nearly 800 years, were overrun by the Carib Indians (a fierce warrior tribe, also known as Kalinago) in the 9th century. The first European settler on the island—Francois Le Clerk (also known as Jambe de Bois or Wooden Leg)–was a buccaneer from France. The English settled in the island at the beginning of the 17th century (1605) more by accident than by design: sixty-seven Englishmen, actually destined for Guyana, landed on the island when their ship was blown off course and purchased huts from the Kalinago. However, only 19 of them survived a month later; even they were forced soon to flee from the Kalinago. Nearly five decades later, representatives of the French West India Company bought the island in 1651 signalling the arrival of the French. This also marked the beginning of hostilities over ownership of the island between the French and the English that lasted for as long as 150 years. After changing hands on as many as fourteen occasions during this period—when the French also established the town of Soufriere as their capital in 1746—the island finally ceded to the British in 1814. The prolonged conflict between the two colonial powers has also earned it the sobriquet “Helen of the West Indies”.

The Crown Princess docked, bright and early, at Pointe Seraphine. The view from our balcony as the ship approached the docks was truly spectacular: breathing the oxygen-rich air, one’s vision alternated between watching the sun rising in the east, slowly lighting up the hillsides; the boats and catamarans (not to be confused with those found drying on the marina in Chennai and other Indian beaches or bravely scaling the surf in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea) bobbing gently around our ship, dwarfed by its sheer size; or catching glimpses of a fast-approaching plaza with its Spanish-style architecture (so refreshingly different from what one witnessed in Barbados) that is home to more than 20 up-scale duty-free shops and of the houses dotting the hill slopes. 

From among the many excursions and activities on offer, we chose to tour the island by catamaran, primarily to see the Piton Rocks (a heritage site)—Le Grand Piton and Le Petite Piton—about an hour away. The Pitons are two very unusual mountains (actually massive outcroppings in the sea) that rise precipitously from the cobalt blue sea, south of Soufriere (the oldest town in St. Lucia and the former French colonial capital). Covered with dense tropical vegetation, the Pitons were stated to have been formed by lava from a volcanic eruption millions of years ago. The 2,619-foot petit piton is taller than the 2,461-foot Gros Piton, though the latter is broader.

The day proved to be very informative and anecdotal, thanks to our running into Brian, a resident of Antigua, on the pier while waiting in queue to be taken to the catamaran. Born, in fact, in St. Lucia, and married to a very quiet lady (whose grandfather, we were told, was an Indian and had married as many as three women), Brian seemed to have taken an intense liking to us (was it because of his wife’s Indian ancestry?) and talked virtually non-stop regaling us with stories and anecdotes galore—one felt that he just had to have willing ears to listen to him!! He also informed us that his brother, a civil engineer, had been involved in the construction of the plaza (Pointe Seraphine) at the cruise terminal.

Soufriere, founded by the French in 1746, is in close proximity to a volcano and is famous for its sulphur springs comprising more than 20 gurgling, belching pools of muddy water, with multicolour sulphur deposits and other assorted minerals baking and steaming on the surface. Brian informed us that a stupid tourist jumped up and down on the sub-stratum rock, only to crack its surface and sink in the boiling mass up to his knees which were obviously fried to a cinder.

Friendly Brian also regaled us with stories galore about the island. Apparently, an English lord (yet another mad Englishman) decided to transport a she-elephant to the island (god alone knows to what purpose, may be to breed a herd. If this was indeed the intention, one cannot but help wonder how the old chap hoped to populate the island with elephants with only a single lady!) That there was an elephant on the island was confirmed by the local guides on our catamaran—It appears that the lass created havoc smashing her way through the jungle and died a natural death.

Estate owners had imported slaves to work on the plantations who often tried to escape unable to tolerate their bonded existence. So, the owners decided to import a deadly poisonous species of snakes—Fer de Lance–(we were told that this was the most poisonous species in the world) and let them loose to check the runaway slaves. Unfortunately, however, the snakes did not distinguish or discriminate between the slaves and their lords! So, scores of mongoose were obtained and let loose to tackle the slimy creatures. The only problem was that the mongooses and the snakes never encountered each other because the latter frequented the nights whereas the former preferred to roam the wilds only during daylight!

Apart from the Fer de Lance, the Cribo, another species that is now extinct, and the Boa Constrictors that roam in the wilderness in much smaller numbers, other non-venemous snakes also inhabit the island: these are the Worm Snake—reported to be the smallest in the world–and the St, Lucia Raqcer (locally called the Courese).

Our next stop on the tour was the Anse Couchon (or the Bay of Pigs), a tiny cove with a short strip of black-sand beach—actually an apology for one—that provides ample opportunities for swimming, diving and snorkelling. A large number who had come prepared for a dip in the bay therefore had a frolicsome time. The catamaran was surrounded by locals in their multi-coloured fibreglass kayaks trying to exhort us to buy their wares (large conch shells, tender coconuts, crude carvings made out of coconut shells, miniature turtles claimed to be made of marble, onyx and other semi-precious stones) at prices that could only be called exorbitant. 

The final stop on our tour itinerary was Marigot Bay. It is said to be one of the prettiest natural harbours and most secure anchorages in the Caribbean. . James Michener describes it as the “most beautiful bay in the Caribbean.” It was the setting for the movie “Doctor Doolittle”, the original version starring Rex Harrison (not the version that has Eddie Murphy). It is a peaceful, tranquil, idyllic haven with sparkling clear water and swaying palms ideal for those who seek a romantic hideaway to chill out. – Research a little more.  


Marigot Bay was also the venue of a number of encounters between the English and the French. Our new-found friend from St. Lucia/Antigua informed us that, in order to deceive the French fleet in pursuit of the Royal Navy, the British ships found refuge in the Bay and, as a clever ruse, covered the masts of the Royal fleet with coconut leaves and coconuts. The French sailed by the Bay in search of the elusive Brits and, soon as they passed the Bay, were fired upon and overpowered by the British ships disguised as coconut trees!!

The excursion by the catamaran was real fun and thoroughly enjoyable with music—pop, rock and, of course, calypso at my request–blaring from the system installed on board and the folks on board (including a tottering old man from Canada in Bermudas and a colourful bush shirt) letting their hair down and swinging and rocking to the music. Potent rum punch and a local beer (also named Piton) flowed freely with chips to go with them.


After devouring slices of a most fantastic vegetarian pizza with the thinnest of crusts and packed with tomatoes and peppers (made specially for us by a very friendly chef, not from Italy as one would expect but from Thailand of all the places!), a liberal helping of salad and delicious and decadent desserts, we decided to explore the town on our own, Along with a couple of other Americans who had reportedly spent long periods in Chennai, Kodai, and other southern towns providing leadership training to the locals (whatever that really meant) we were driven by a friendly cab driver (Julien) to the Derek Walcott Square, named after one of the two Nobel Laureates that the island is justifiably proud of [Check if related in any way to the other Walcott—Clyde]. The other one was Sir Arthur Lewis, the economist.

The Roman Catholic cathedral that we were told to visit was closed and therefore had to be satisfied with merely looking at it from the outside.

Suddenly, we found an office building occupied by the New India Assurance Company!! [Check connection with the New India Insurance Company Limited].

Spent browsing wares on offer in the Central market—Not very different from the small kiosks one comes across in Kolkata or Mumbai or even the Burma Bazar in Chennai. Obviously, intended primarily for tourists as we could judge from the prices displayed.

As in almost the entire Caribbean, cricket is a bond that seems to unite the caribs readily with Indians. There was this encounter with a strange man in front of the Central market—Scruffy and unwashed, spotted us as Indians and all at once burst out repeating the name of Sunil Gavaskar. This was followed by a chanting of the names of all the great West Indian cricketers in a sing-song voice. His final verdict was that Viv Richards was the greatest cricketer of all times. The exhibition was most interesting, spontaneous and uninhibited.

It was truly amazing how many were drawn to us because of the kumkum on Raji’s forehead, not to mention her dress. There was an old man from Canada thoroughly enjoying himself, putting away bottles of beer and swaying gently to the music on our catamaran, who buttonholed me and said how much he admired the salwar kamiz that Raji had worn for the outing on the sea. There was also the lady from Tennessee who claimed to have played hostess to two international scholars from India (one of them, Keshavan) and adopted them subsequently as her own sons. There was yet another an American gent who told us that his son was married to an Indian girl from what he referred to as “a flower city” and raved to Raji about the wedding. We wondered if he was referring to Bangalore, the Garden City.

We were told that as many as 127 different varieties of banana were available on the island. Unfortunately, we never got a chance to taste even one of them, though I had often eaten a variety reported to be from the island when we lived in Oxford. To be honest, I did not find it any different from the green variety that one finds in North India.

There are lots more to see on the island: the town of Soufriere (St. Lucians will tell you that if you haven’t been there, you have not been to St. Lucia); Pigeon Island (where a pirate, Jambe de Bois (Wooden Leg), is said to have hid himself); Rodney Bay; Diamond Botanical Gardens and other natural reserves; St. Lucia National Rain Forest; La Soufriere Drive-in Volcano, to name but a few. One did dearly wish that the stay in this magical island could have been longer.


Antigua (pronounced An-tee-ga) is the largest of the British Leeward Islands; together with its much smaller sister island, Barbuda, it forms an independent nation that is a part of the British Commonwealth. As one sails into the deepwater harbour in St. John’s where the cruise ship terminal is located, the waters that part gently in the ship’s wake ripple from azure to aquamarine with shades of light grey. Travel brochures claim that the island has as many as 365 beaches, “sensuous” and “one for every day of the year”, as the locals love to say. Of course, having spent barely a few hours, we could not verify the veracity of this claim.

The island’s strategic location and its sheltered anchorages naturally caught the attention of the colonial powers that were drawn to Antigua like moths to a flame. The desire to gain control of and dominance over the island resulted in numerous bloody battles being waged between the Dutch, French and the British throughout the 17th century, with the British finally prevailing and seizing control in 1667. The advent of the colonial powers also resulted in the original Amerindian settlers (Arawaks and Caribs) being completely eliminated and eradicated. But for a brief two-year interlude from 1666 to 1667 when the island was occupied by the French, the island remained under English control until November 1, 1981 when it achieved full independence along with Barbuda, 26 miles (42 km) to the north.

The mere mention of the island conjures up visions of Viv Richards, Andy Roberts and Richie Richardson. The fact that I was acquainted with these great sons of Antigua alone endeared me to the locals resulting in the offer of discounts in the local shops. Talk cricket in the islands (which, unfortunately, was Greek and Latin to the majority of our cruise mates) and you are sure to endear yourself to even strangers on the street.

Wisely, we decided to give a miss to the conducted shore tours offered by the Princess Cruise line (termed adventures in their brochure) and venture out on our own. Instead, we teamed up with an American group—an elderly couple from Tampa Bay and their family friend from Minnesota—who had come ashore from a Royal Caribbean cruise liner. We were driven around steep, winding roads by a wizened old local taxi driver in a six-year old Toyota, who told us that he had eight children of whom six were alive. Given the narrow roads and the problems in negotiating some of the steep slopes while the air condition was on full blast, the drive was often hair-raising. As we careened around some of the bends that would put to shame the hairpins of Tirupathi hills, we could catch glimpses of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic through the lush green vegetation and of stretches of powdered ivory sand glistening the sun.

Our first stop was at an observation point that overlooked the town of Falmouth and its Bay. From our vantage point high upon a hill, we were able to see a large number of boats and catamarans with their sails lowered as well as a few yachts that seemed to stand still, unmoved, in the calm waters of the Bay that sparkled in the sun.

Soon we were at Shirley Heights, a bluff that affords a spectacular view of the English Harbour and was fortified in the late 18th century by the then Governor, Sir Thomas Shirley, to protect the sheltered harbour that anchored the British fleet. There was the Shirley Heights Lookout, a restaurant and bar built into what remains of the earlier fortifications. Cheek by jowl is the Dows Hill Interpretation Centre where visitors are provided insights into the island’s history and culture by means of a somewhat primitive multimedia sound-and-light presentation that spotlights life-like figures and colourful tableaux. The observation platforms of the Centre provide more sensational vistas of the English Harbour and its environs. 

Nelson’s Dockyard.

Drive through Carlisle Bay, Darkwood Beach, etc.


Tortola is the largest among the British Virgin Islands comprising a chain of some sixty odd {check} islands, islets and cays grouped together in close proximity and accessible by ferries. They have such exotic, and even weird, names like Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, Salt, Ginger, The Dogs (Seal, George, West and Great), Mosquito, Prickly Pear, Beef, Buck, Pelican, Scrub, Fallen Jerusalem, Dead Chest, Guana, Green Cay, Sandy Cay, Frenchman’s Cay, etc. Names of the bays that abound in the islands are also equally weird: Sea Cows, Cane Garden, Trunk, Shark, Apple, Carrot, Ballast, Brewer’s, Brandywine, Fat Hogs and so on. Tortola’s main city (really not even a town though it is called not a city but Road Town!!) is the prime port of call for cruise ships, the territory’s seat of government and commercial centre. The other major islands are Virgin Gorda (famous for its baths), Jost Von Dyke (sparsely populated and did not even have any roads or electricity till recently) and Anegada (a flat coral atoll and known as the “beach lover’s island”). Some islands are even privately owned.

BVI and USVI were havens and sanctuaries for buccaneers and pirates.

Having made the mistake of opting for one of the on-shore tours offered by the cruise line, we presented ourselves at the end of the pier, after a hurried and not so sumptuous breakfast (only by choice), promptly and well before the time notified (0820 hours). We had been forewarned that we would be transported in non-airconditioned vehicles and had feared the worst after experiencing the heat of Antigua the previous day. Apparently, there are not too many closed vehicles capable of transporting large numbers so as to make the business cost-effective. So, most of us from the ship were asked to get into open vehicles largely resembling buses. These were in fact only pick-up trucks converted to resemble mini buses and decorated in myriad hues and shapes. Fortunately, our transportation turned out to be a regular Nissan minibus, with air conditioning.

Vestiges of British colonialism still exist and there’s even a shop called “Best of British” that sells all goods British. One can even pick up a pint of ale or a shepherd’s pie!!

Raji had to meet a deadline and send an abstract of her talk in UCLA in January. So we located availability of internet access at the “Bits ‘n Pieces”, a quaint store (advertised as a Craft Café) in the Mill Mall, close to the cruise terminal. Apart from half a dozen computer terminals (of which one was out of commission—we were told it was virus infected—only hope others were not too), a tiny refrigerator stocking beverages and a coffee machine, one found here mostly stuff imported from South Africa, including wines, beer, canned fruits, juices and jams because the store is owned by a South African and caters to the needs of a large number of British expats (or Afrikaners??) settled in the BVI.

So we have the British and their South African brethren vying with each other!!

As we boarded our tour bus at Pusser’s Landing (also known as Sopers Hole Marina) at the West End of the island (which is essentially a large marina and shopping complex where one can also charter boats apart from eating Ben & Jerry or Haagen Daz ice creams) to return to the ship, whom did we meet but a typically south-indian looking guy asking us to open our window. This we did after much struggle and prompting not merely by our driver but also by other passengers (who seemed to cheer me on)!! It turned out that he was a Ganesan from Pondicherry (which happens to be my birthplace too) who had come to Tortola some six months ago to join his son who was the owner of a ‘Serenity Spa’ that provides massages, facials, nails, scrubs, wraps and Yoga. The visiting card he gave us does not however say “ ….; …..; …… and Yoga” but reads:


Wonder what the ellipses after “YOGA” signify? Unfortunately, we had no time to query Ganesan further. May be we should have met him earlier; if we had, he might have even offered a massage or facial!!. Truly surprising he spotted us as birds of a feather and took the trouble of talking to us. Amazing how one comes across “baradri” in most unexpected places.

Our conducted tour enabled us to explore the island’s north shore that traverses steep, picturesque roads. The highlight of the tour, that mostly offered from the higher reaches only views of various islands and cays in the group and the bays around with photo-op stops en route, was the few minutes we spent at Bomba’s Shack, a beach bar and road-side restaurant (if it can be called that!). This is to be seen to be believed and can even be considered scandalous by prudes. It is run by a fat local, Bomba (who unfortunately was not present on the scene obviously because it was early in the day). The tour brochures or other guide books offer little or no information about Bomba or his shack (it is literally two ramshackle shacks on either side of the road abutting a beach that offers fantastic swells for surfing). We were, however, told by our driver as well as by all the other posters and graffiti advertising the shack that the place goes wild and crazy on a full moon night when a potent concoction provided by Bomba (we were not given the recipe), when drunk by women, makes them shed their clothes (do a strip tease as it were) and hand over their panties to Lord Bomba who presides over the proceedings. I, for one, was unable to verify its veracity since the next full moon was due only on December 23, after we had sailed away from these exotic islands. However, if this can be considered proof enough, Fat Bomba sure had a few panties hanging around in the entrance to his bar!!

Pousser’s landing—we were not told who this guy was or why he landed where he did—is presently part of the Sopers Hole Marina with a row of shops selling tees and other apparel—the majority of them only in sizes large or extra large–a boat charter outfit, a bar that was a fixture wherever we went, and one (Harbour Market) even selling groceries, not to mention my Pondicherry friend’s spa.

Our tour of the islands also took us to Sky World, a tiny observatory that remained closed, The steep climb up was obviously intended only to provide clientele for the omnipresent restaurant and gift shop, the view from the top thrown in only as an incidental bonus. Cane Garden Bay seen from the top was however spectacular and one did wish that the tour had included a visit to the Bay itself.


The Virgin Islands, of which St. Thomas is a major constituent, appeared to have lured more foreign nations to its shores than any other territory and the flags of as many as six nations have fluttered over them. Settlements in the islands date back to 1500 B.C. It was during the First World that the US feared that the strategic location of the islands and the availability of excellent natural port facilities might provide a strategic and dangerous base for the German forces should they decide to venture as far as the Americas. They therefore bought islands in the territory paying 25 million dollars in gold.

The first European settlement on St. Thomas, presently a tourist mecca with over 400 shops along the Main Street area in Charlotte Amalie, consisted only of four taverns. A haven for shoppers today where the dictum “Shop Till You Drop” seems to unfailingly hold sway, it was once a sanctuary for pirates just as many of the other islands in the region were.

We once again decided not to avail of any of the tours offered by the cruise line. Lest we be accused of having found time only to check out the commodities on offer, of which there were plenty, we found Allison (actually a gent and not to be mistaken for a lass) willing to take us on an “island tour” at 25 quid apiece. In spite of Allison’s sales pitch, at which he seemed very adept, the tour turned out to be a damp squib. We set out in one of those converted pick-up trucks, an apology for taxis, only after an interminable wait since Allison was hell bent on collecting as many unsuspecting suckers as possible. The “Tour” turned out to be merely a drive around part of the island involving steep climbs and quite scary negotiations of hairpin bends. There were stops at the Black Point Lookout, the Mountain Top (at a height of 1,500 feet) full of shops and stated to be famous for its banana daiquiri (which I decided to pass up though Raji herself felt I ought to give it a try) and one more scenic observation post the name of which was not disclosed by Allison. He turned out to be a very poor example of a tourist guide and one could barely decipher what he attempted to convey, which he did only very infrequently. One could however appreciate a spectacular view of Megan’s Bay from Mountain Top with a solitary boat bobbing in the turquoise blue which elicited many ‘wows’ and ‘ahs’. The rain also decided to play spoil sport necessitating the deployment of plastic see-through protective screens which, surprisingly enough, were provided only on one side of the vehicle, the other remaining exposed to the elements!! Consequently, the tour was nothing more than a fast and furious drive covering a very small portion of the island, which itself is not very large [Add statistics]. To add to our woes, quite a serious crack developed in the taxi(truck)’s radiator and, not wanting to risk driving it further, Allison asked us to wait till a relief vehicle could be commandeered.

At our last stop before we had to change taxis, there were familiar calypso and reggae tunes being played on a single steel drum and also sung, including the good old “Jamaican Farewell”, a favourite of mine but somewhat out of place in the Windward and Leeward Islands, The artist on show was Darrien, a member of the Phoenix Band, who managed to persuade me to buy a CD containing performances by his band. With a flourish and a great deal of pride, he also insisted on autographing the CD. Who knows, one of these days, my descendants might well realize that the Phoenix Band having made good in the music world, the CD had become valuable beyond their wildest imagination!! So, the investment of 10 dollars might well turn out to be a gold mine.

We got ourselves dropped off in Charlotte Amalie in very close proximity to Fort Christian, as did all the others but for a couple in our group who never stirred out of the taxi throughout the entire trip and were driven directly to the ship. The tour book we had faithfully carried with us, borrowed from the New York Public Library, had waxed eloquent about the fort and Raji was very keen that we should take in a bit of history though I knew, in my mind, that what we saw in front of us could hardly be called a fort!! In any case, we could not gain entry to the fort because it was closed though a notice outside informed us that it would be closed temporarily only till the end of 2006 for renovation/restoration. Obviously, the locals had got their years wrong or the renovation was yet to be completed. So we had no option but to join the host of others who had come prepared to shop till they dropped and to peep into a few of the shops. Kaushik would have been furious had he been with us.

After collecting a couple of freebies distributed to shoppers from the cruise ships by shops in the territory, partaking of a complimentary can of Heineken and participating unsuccessfully in a raffle for a pair of blue diamond ear rings—all ruses thought of by various shops with considerable assistance from Freddie, the cruise ship’s shopping expert, to summon the shoppers to their doors—we decided that we had had enough of a shopping binge. We therefore ventured to negotiate a steep climb to locate the Danish Reformed Church, also mentioned in our guide book. After much huffing and puffing, we did find ourselves at the doors of the St. Thomas Reformed Church only to discover that all its doors were closed, not merely to us but to all those who ventured in quest of some religion!! Never willing to say die, we thought that the Church of St Peter and St Paul (the praises of which had also been sung in our guide book) would at least welcome us.

Our attempts to obtain directions to the church also proved futile initially. We learnt to our dismay that there were many denominations clamouring for the support of the religiously faithful on the island and that directions would be hard to come by unless we were able to specify the denomination of the church we were looking for, Surprisingly, even the three police women we encountered were very vague and unclear about the direction we should proceed in. After much effort, a Samaritan was kind enough to provide us with the necessary directions to the church which, incidentally, caters to the faithful among the Catholics.

On our way to visit the abode of Peter and Paul, we decided to drop in at Star Jewellers which advertised, apart from jewellery, the usual tees and other knick knacks. Guess what had the pride of place inside the shop? A marble idol of Lord Ganesh adorned with a colourful garland of paper flowers. My conversation with the owner elicited the information that he was a Sindhi, who had moved to the island from Jaipur. Having myself spent nearly half a decade in Jaipur, we soon established a common bond. He informed us that whereas 1% of the island’s population comprised Indians, mainly Gujaratis and Sindhis—the former mostly driven out from Africa and the latter crossing the seas to find new homes after Partition—controlled more than 70% of the business in the islands. Indians consequently had a virtual monopoly of the business in electronics, photographic equipment and jewellery, It turned out that even the jewellery chain Milano International, of which Freddie had waxed eloquent in the course of her shopping seminar and which has a number of outlets in the Caribbean, is owned by a Jaipuria!! Mumbaikars were also familiar faces on the narrow crowded streets of Charlotte Amalie. This only proves how the enterprising Indian diaspora is to be found in most unexpected corners of the world.

Purchase of Tanzenite as an excellent investment, even better than gold, diamonds or platinum—Research???

Arthur Fairchild’s gift of Megans Bay. Conditions stipulated by him.

With so many European nations waging wars to gain control of the islands in the Caribbean, these were like the pawns on a chess board!!

A tip for those interested in availing of cruise vacations—not merely to the Caribbean but in fact anywhere in the world. The cruise companies themselves offer a number of conducted tours. Very often tourists find it hard to make their selection in the short time available at their disposal. Ignorant as many of them are, they are guided more by the cruise brochures which are naturally full of misleading hype and end up paying much more than such tours ashore are actually worth. So long as one is not suspicious or afraid of being taken for a ride in a strange place, considerable savings (which can often be even as high as fifty to sixty per cent) could be realized by joining smaller groups of three or four other “cruisers” and seeing the sights by taxi. We learnt this only on day three in Antigua, thanks to the advice of obviously much-travelled folks originally from Bangalore but settled in Storrs in Connecticut, and when we decided to give a wide berth to the Princess’ offer and venture out on our own in Antigua. Of course, given that there is so much to explore and discover in the short time that the cruise ships are in port, it may be worthwhile to consider renting a car and driving around on your own. It is also desirable to research the places to be visited prior to the cruise so as to be truly able to concentrate, based on one’s own individual interests and preferences, on seeing the best in a short time.

The Caribbean may not perhaps be ideally suited for landlubbers, reluctant even to dip their feet in the crystal-clear waters of the Atlantic or the Caribbean Sea, or for those not inclined to be adventurous. These unfortunate folk may not want to swim, surf, sail or snorkel; or they may be nervous to attempt scuba diving, jet skiing, wind surfing or sink beneath the ocean in a submarine to gaze upon myriad schools of multi-coloured fish (activities for which there are endless opportunities in the islands). Nevertheless, they still can experience being in paradise by soaking up the sun, stretched out on the gleaming white, silver sands or on a rented deck chair, with a book in hand (preferably a book of verse) and a jug of rum punch (more potent than wine!!), and in lieu of a dancer beside them, the home-grown rhythms and beats of calypso, reggae, raga and soca keeping them company.

Obviously, only a day in each port is not enough to truly experience and savour all that the islands have to offer. In the result, one tends to arrive at only fleeting impressions and may have to return to selected ones to be explored at leisure without having to return to the cruise ships at designated hours. If I were to return, my choice would be St. Lucia while Raji’s will probably be Antigua.

All ye weight watchers, be prepared when you decide to board a cruise. You might return many pounds heavier, particularly around the midriff, and discover that your shorts no longer fit!!!

Indian Tourism Department can learn a lot from these much smaller countries (rather mere territories) about how to organize various tourism initiatives. We have so much to brag about and though we do brag, the end results are open to question.

Description of sunsets as the ship leaves ports.