14th Mar 2012 - 5th Apr 2012 - West Indies 2012
West Indies Trip – 14th March to 7th April 2012
Report 1 - Nashville
WEDNESDAY14th MARCH was a very long day – started by rising at 5:30am, 10:20am flight to LA, arriving at 7:45am that same day, 11:45am flight to Nashville, arriving 5:30pm, and in bed by 8pm. So it was a 40 hour day, and I was awake for 31 hours straight. I slept very well for 12 hours when I finally made it to bed, and I’m fine today, Thursday.
So back to the beginning – I had to get to the airport early to make sure I could have a window seat (I was too stingy to pay $20 to book a seat, and my airfare was so cheap it didn’t entitle my travel agent to preselect my seat). So window seat achieved, I was even more delighted to find that the seat next to me was empty, and the very tall chap on the aisle didn’t encroach much on the extra space. So I was set. They managed to find several problems with our plane after we were all seated, but better to find them then than later! We left over an hour late, so it meant we were seated for 16 hours, but I didn’t complain! I even pulled down the window shade when they asked me to - we were above the clouds anyway and flying over the ocean, so there wasn’t a lot to see, and they had Skycam which shows the view from the tail of the plane (and is much appreciated by me). I saw more than my annual quota of movies – 4! I saw Happy Feet 2, The Artist, The Sitter, and Bridal Party (or similar name about 4 English idiots who come to Australia for the wedding of one of them). I also listened to lots of music, and had my eyes shut for about 20 minutes (but no sleep). The food was good too, so all was good.
It took 2 hours to get through customs and immigration, but that didn’t really matter to me as plenty of time until my next flight. So then I sat in the Qantas/American Airlines lounge like a zombie for an hour or so.
The American Airlines flight to Nashville was quite a contrast - the Qantas A380 was a delight, whereas the AA 737 was so noisy, rattled, food was available for purchase (but the ground staff said to take your own as they usually didn’t have much food to sell – so I took my sandwich and banana in a paper bag.) Another difference was the entertainment – you use your own computer to connect into their system (I didn’t, as I had a window seat and couldn’t be bothered getting the computer from the overhead locker, and I didn’t have any earphones). You could also use the internet for free the same way.
It was a delight to finally make it to Nashville Airport, rang the hotel shuttle bus to be picked up, and a pleasant trip to the Millennium Maxwell Hotel. Of course, those awkward decisions – the sign says“Tips are authorised and much appreciated” – how #@% much! I know I have to pay something as the staff get paid so little, but I hate deciding how much.
The room is very pleasant, but another Americanism – no fridge, no electric jug – but there is a machine which makes a surprisingly nice cup of filtered decaf coffee. Ordered a hamburger on Room Service, ate a quarter of it and collapsed into bed at 8pm. It would have been 15 minutes earlier if I hadn’t had so much trouble working out how to turn off each of the 4 lamps, each with a different mechanism.
THURSDAY 15 MARCH
Woke at 8am – ah a glorious 12 hour sleep! Downstairs for a fairly basic hot buffet breakfast in a very pleasant location, beside the window with a garden outside (flowers will do it every time for me!) Pottered around reading tourist brochures, doing washing (I left my usual washer-lady, and report-writer, at home – sad!).
Used the shuttle bus to go downtown (ugh – another decision about tipping), and had lunch at the Hard Rock Café. Far too rushed as I had booked a Music City Trolley Hop on-Hop off tour for 40 mins later. The waiter at the café was trying to be super friendly and cool (slimy?), and I just wanted my meal, and quickly. However all was well and I made it to the bus/trolley in time. It was an hour trip around town and a very good introduction. Andrew, our driver/guide was good, and we saw the river, the Ryman Auditorium, the State Capitol, the Farmers’ Market, the Bi-Centennial Mall State Park, The Parthenon / Centennial Park, Music Row, lots of churches and hospitals, and the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (all from the bus of course). It rained quite heavily for part of the trip, but didn’t adversely affect anything (except some photos). Actually the weather is intriguing me – my research said the average max in March is 16, but it has been 25 all week and major and spectacular thunderstorms. Lots of lightning from my hotel window, and the cloud formations as we descended through yesterday were wonderful.
Wandered up Broadway (Honky Tonk area) and to the Tourist Centre, beside the Bridgestone Arena, a huge complex, and getting ready for a major sports something [discovered later it was NCAA Basketball]. Rang for the shuttle bus to bring me home – very convenient. I planned to see some of the live entertainment in the bar here tonight, but thought I had better get my reporting under control. Actually I have found a nice radio station playing country music, so I am writing with that in the background. Dinner in the restaurant was fine – the prices are quite a bit cheaper than Melbourne (even after adding the tax and the tipping). As they say, cost of dining out in Australia is very high. There are lots of people staying here, including several College basketball teams – there were heaps of very very tall fellows in the lobby earlier.
FRIDAY 16 MARCH
I had a “free” day except to move over to a different hotel for the evening and show, so I decided I really wanted to have a good look the Country Music Hall of Fame (and Museum! – yes – me – choosing to look at a Museum!) So after buffet breakfast, and checking out (but leaving my case in storage at the hotel), I caught the shuttle bus Downtown, and spent 4 hours really enjoying everything. I included the tour of Studio B at Music Row – which is a trip a couple of kms across town for an hour to this Studio where Elvis recorded hundreds of songs, and Dolly Parton, Charlie Pride, Roy Orbison, The Everly Bros, Jim Reeves and heaps more recorded and many still do. A very simple studio in today’s terms, and the piano that Elvis loved still there and is still used. They told us stories of those singers and played excerpts – just lovely.
In the museum proper, there are heaps of references to Keith Urban - he is just so popular here. The women were swooning about him after the evening concert, and also at Sat night’s show (see tomorrow!). Most Aussies only know of him as Nicole Kidman’s husband (if they know anything of him), but he is huge here. There was also high praise of Tommy Emmanuel.
Before I left the museum, I had lunch, which was good as it was the last decent feed for 24 hours. However I still get surprised by the sandwiches here – huge – but at least the offering was half a sandwich (which came with a packet of crisps!) plus soup.
My shuttle bus didn’t work so well getting me back to the hotel and my luggage. I had to wait for 50 mins, and was then lucky as the only reason he came was to bring others into town. Their mobile wasn’t working, so he never got the message from Hotel Reception. This led to leaving the hotel much later than I had hoped, so into the peak traffic we went and I didn’t get to the Gaylord Opryland Hotel until 5pm.
The Gaylord Opryland hotel is absurdly huge. It takes 7 minutes of decent speed walking (plus 2 escalators) to get from Reception to my room – 700 steps on my pedometer – half a kilometer - and that is without getting lost. It has 2,881 guest rooms, atriums, waterfalls, boat trip, over a dozen restaurants, lots of shops, heaps of gardens, multiple levels and a 2-dimensional map. It is wonderful for a holiday, but a disaster for time-constrained activity. So I didn’t have time for tea, as I had to get the 6pm shuttle to the Grand Ole Opry – THE reason for coming to Nashville.
Had a lovely night there – they have live performances which go direct out to the Radio on WSM (and internet, etc). The show is in 4 segments of 30 mins each, complete with live spoken advertisements. Many of the performers are members of the Grand Ole Opry, and many others are up-and-coming. It is one of the highest honours to sing there. Some Aussies have performed there (eg Troy Cassar-Daley) and the aforementioned Keith Urban who was one of the lead performers last week – Full house for Keith. I hardly knew any of the singers at this show (except for Vince Gill). Our performers were John Conlee, Jim Ed Brown, Casey James (a young spunk!), Jeannie Seely, Jesse McReynolds, Sarah Darling, Mike Snider, Jan Howard, George Hamilton IV, Mark Wills, Vince Gill, Will Hoge, Connie Smith.
After the show there was a backstage tour. I got to stand centre-stage on the special “circle” of wood from the Ryman Auditorium, which was incorporated 38 years ago when the Opry was moved from there to this “new” home.
In 2010, Nashville had a big flood – The stage of the Grand Ole Opry was 4 feet under water. So it took them several months to restore, and do some remodeling, but they didn’t miss a show (3 days a week) by using other venues. It seems the reason that the flood was so bad was that they had to let water out of the dam or else they would lose the dam wall – but they didn’t warn anyone, so much more property and cars were lost than should have been necessary. The Gaylord Opryland Hotel “only” had 300 rooms damaged (plus lots of underground facilities).
On returning to the hotel, I was hanging out for some pasta and a cappuccino – but after eventually finding the Italian restaurant, it was closing! So tea was a muffin! Sad to go to bed hungry in such a place.
SATURDAY 17 MARCH
Breakfast was another tricky event as I couldn’t be sure to find the only restaurant that served breaky – well at least not in a timely fashion. So I chose the “guaranteed max 30 min room service delivery” – only to be told it was a 45 min wait. I had to accept as I was going on a morning bus tour, so there was no other reliable opportunity to get food. In frustration, I rang the smiley face “Consider it done” button on my phone, and managed to get my breaky in 30 mins – just in time!
A good tour of Downtown, covering similar places as Thursday, but that was fine. It included a tour of the Ryman Auditorium, which still has lots of concerts (and started life as a church). There was also an hour at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which was good as there was a session by two Singer/Songwriters – Bobby Tomberlin and Jim Glaser – which was lovely. No – I don’t know their names, but I knew several of the songs that Jim wrote, and sang live there.
Back home to the hotel, and tried again for my pasta – but the restaurant was shut! However I found another that had acceptable food (chicken and mashed potato and broccolini), so life improved!
I wandered around the property during the afternoon – much more pleasant when not in a hurry. I have pondered the full name of the place and it is a “Hotel and Resort and Conference Centre”. I need to beware the “Resort” in future planning.
Tonight I celebrated my birthday (Melbourne time, but not USA time) by going on the General Jackson Showboat – a 3-hour cruise up the river, with a very pleasant dinner and then a 1 hour show with 7 singers and a band, representing the music of Tennessee over the years. It was a great show. On my table were a two interesting groups – a 17yr old boy (+ parents and girlfriend) who used to be into heavy metal music, but now wants to get into country music and also basketball and also physiotherapy. The other group was a husband and wife and friend. The wife is blind (from birth, I suspect), but she is a practising physiotherapist, she and her husband are country music singers, writers, performers and multiple-instrument performers. They only perform at gigs which pay, or are charity events. So she was a brilliant role-model for the 17yr old. She was in her sixties, and studied in England, and while there, was being taught to play blind cricket. She was physically run over/into and hurt by someone who was teaching her, so she gave up her potential cricket career. She and her husband are recently into cruising – they went on a Celebrity cruise (same company Bev and I went with in the Mediterranean in 2009). Their trip was around southern South America recently. So it was a fascinating dinner chat.
SUNDAY 18th MARCH
One thing the Americans do well – checkout time is 12 noon. So I was able to potter last night until well after 1am, and then sleep in to after 9am.I had bought some Sultana Bran and milk last night for my breaky, so didn’t have to worry about finding food. Pottered more (ie wrote more of this diary), and checked out (via the TV), and wandered around the gardens, dragging my suitcase behind me. Actually that was the better of two options, as the case has 4 wheels and rolls well, and storage of luggage is half a km away. Had some lunch at the Conservatory Café and wandered to the front of the hotel, and caught a taxi to my “Airport” Hotel.
A much more normal-sized hotel, with one restaurant (with a very acceptable menu), and a heated indoor swimming pool, and they let me check in early – so all is good. Free internet, so I could “watch” Australia lose the second ODI (cricket) to the West Indies. I’ll be there for the third ODI, so hopefully they will do better.
Time now for a swim before tea! A lovely swim, and a lovely meal of Alaskan Grilled Salmon and veggies and orzo (rice), and Apple Pie and ice-cream – all served to my room as I type.
Well the Nashville portion of my holiday is nearly over – I leave tomorrow morning at 4am for a 6am flight to Miami, then on to Barbados and finally St Vincent, arriving at 6:20pm in the evening (and a 1 hour time difference). I have loved Nashville, and the activities I have done, and I haven’t overdosed on Country Music!
Report 2 – Nashville to St Vincent
MONDAY 19th MARCH
Something I meant to mention a couple of days ago - Grizzly bears – there was an item in the paper about the big increase in numbers. Back in 1974, Bev and I travelled in Alaska and were told to make a noise in national parks, etc, to deter the bears. However if you did find one, climb 10 feet up a tree as grizzlies can’t climb. However, black bears can climb, but aren’t as violent. We were never sure we would be able to tell the difference under that pressure, but were also sure we couldn’t climb 10 feet up a tree. So our solution was to sing (10 little ducks went out one day ...). The report now suggests you lie down and cover up and stay still – a much better solution. Another aspect of the story was that some fellow discovered on swimming in his swimming pool.
Back to today - Well it was an early start – 3am to catch my 6am flight to Miami. This plane is much better than the last AA flight I told you about – we aren’t rattling, and I have a new toy! There is wifi on the plane and I have paid $10 to connect to the internet for the flight so I have received and read my emails (thank you to those who have sent them), and sent some too. Exciting! I have tried to upload photos to getjealous, but it throws me out – it did at the hotel too – I won’t take it personally, but I am pleased that I have sent everyone the attachment with the photos (and I just hope you can open the pdf file).
The man next to me is using a Mac Air. Bev bought one recently too, so I might have to look into getting one myself. I bought the Netbook I am using over 3 years ago, and it is VERY slow. It has done wonderful service. I looked into getting a more powerful one , and they don’t seem to make them in the same small size, so I might have to consider a larger one and get a daypack that it will fit into.if necessary.
Miami Airport has a nice Skytrain to get from one area to another. It was fun. Not much time between flights, so I gobbled a choose-your-own omelette – it did the trick – and then on to a 757 to Barbados. No wifi this time, but a pleasant flight with magnificent views for the first half. Aqua coloured water around Bahamas and various other islands, but then we went into cloud.
On our holiday to Japan last year, Bev described to those receiving our reports about the boarding procedures, where they addressed the 20 waiting passengers and waited for all those in wheelchairs to board, then all the pregnant ladies, etc, etc, even if there were none of the above. In the USA they have a less obvious arrangement where each Boarding Pass has a Group number, which must have a priority arrangement, so they board all Group 1, then 2, then 3, then 4. I have been the lowest priority each time, which is fine. They also allow people to pay a surcharge (about $10, I think) to be able to board in an earlier group and therefore guarantee that they can store their luggage in the overhead lockers.
I managed to find my way through Barbados airport, and check in for my flight to St Vincent. Caused a stir at most points! However, so far so good, and I have been fortunate that there haven’t been big queues each time.
Back in 1974 I had trouble with the American accent and found it easiest to order the “last” item being offered – back when we had never heartd of eggs being “easy over” or “sunnyside up”. I had to do the same for my lunch here. I have no idea what drinks the girl was patiently describing to me, so I had the last which was water.
Liat Airlines is a Caribbean Airline and flies the short routes between the different countries and islands. I was intrigued to see the list of departures at 10 minutes intervals from Gate 9,and amused to see a row of little aeroplanes. At Gate 9 there is no screen of departures, so I was reliant on listening the announcements. So I was one of the last to join the queue, and when I boarded our Dash 8 (about 15 rows of 2+2 seats), there was no room in the overhead lockers, so I shoved my bag under the seat. Also even though the tickets had a seat number, it was open seating. After waiting a while, we all had to get off while they fixed the plane. Half an hour later, we re-boarded, waited until everyone’s bags had someone’s feet to be stowed under, and were on our way.
On arrival at St Vincent, all was fine and I was one of the last off and through Customs, and out into the melee. I looked for the “Australian Sports Tours” sign, didn’t see it but someone checked my name and off we went to the hotel, and then he wanted money for my prepaid trip – turns out it was just an ordinary taxi! Oh well we sent him back to the airport with my name (and my money) so that AST would come to my hotel WITH my CRICKET TICKET! All was fine with the help of a couple of calls to Australia. Received the ticket, and was told to be ready for 7:45am pickup for the cricket match at 9:30, Had tea at the lovely hotel, and flopped into bed.
TUESDAY 20th MARCH
Up at 6:15, breaky at 7, all set for departure at 7:45.No pickup! Saw several other car loads go, made enquiries, assured all under control, but at 8:45 the hotel got the message from the driver that he was stuck in traffic and for them to call me a taxi.
Now I need to explain – small island, very mountainous, only one narrow road around the coast. The significant features for this story on that road are Kingstown (the Capital), the airport, the cricket ground and my hotel in that order. Furthermore, the Country of St Vincent was so pleased about the Cricket Scores being one game each after Sunday’s match, and the third game also being on St Vincent, they declared a Public Holiday so the cricket ground would be full. The capacity of the ground is 10,000 which is 10% of the population! Tickets were quickly sold out on Monday, and everyone was trying to get there from both directions, and going nowhere! My driver left Kingstown at 7am to be at my hotel at 7:30, and was still stuck on the city side of the cricket ground at 9am.
So they called me a taxi from our side of the island, and we joined the queue just outside the hotel. After 25 mins, and about 1km, (during which time we had been entertained by the car behind playing a rap song of Fuck Australia Fuck), I got out and walked the last 1km. Had I realised it was only 2km away, I could have walked in the first place. So I made it to the game and only missed 3 overs.
It was a great experience at the ground – very pleasant breeze through our stand – so it wasn’t as oppressive as it was outside the stands. There were quite a few Aussies near by – well maybe 20-30, and lots of very excitable West Indians. I was fascinated by the agility of the fellow maintaining the smaller scoreboard. He has to hang out the open window, using one arm to support himself, and the other to push numbers over one another to maintain the scores of both batsmen and the total. They have a “party” stand, where they pay for free grog all day, and they have loud music, and get stirred up by the cricket, led by a chief stirrer. Another sponsor distributed free long sturdy balloons in our stand so there were heaps of those being bashed – colourful and noisy.
My ticket was $11, and I think it was one of the better stands, but the toilet facilities were awful (three toilets, one of which was already out of order). Re food, I didn’t trust my ability to discuss the spiciness of the stewed things they were serving, so my intake for the 7 hour game was a box of popcorn and two large lemonades. Then to get home! I managed to find my bus (labelled Sailor Wilderness Tours – you can’t miss it, they said), and the driver eventually found me, and home we came.
I had a lovely “steak” – porterhouse, I think, but unlabelled, and 5 nice side dishes that weren’t spicy (they say the spice is in the sauces), so that topped a day of great experiences.
WEDNESDAY 21ST MARCH
Ah! A day off, and an 11 hour sleep. So I woke just in time for breaky – continental breaky - and I added English Breakfast of 2 poached eggs, bacon, beans and mushrooms. I have learnt to accept protein whenever I can get it.
Pottered and then had lunch (hamburger), whilst arranging with the hotel for a taxi to give me a tour for the afternoon. That seems to be the way “tours’ happen, although I believe there are some pre-arranged ones. I spoke with the driver and suggested a couple of places I wanted to see, and he outlined a plan, and he quoted a price of US$100 – sounded fine to me.
So Leroy turned up and we had a lovely informative 3 hours driving around the south-east of the island. The whole island is less than 30km by 15km. We started in Kingstown, which happened to be at school breakup time, so there were gorgeous kids everywhere. They seem to happily share the roads with tooting drivers and very wide and deep gutters. The tooting is frequent, but nowhere near as aggressive as China – except for the buses, which are minibuses that go screaming around and you have to negotiate a price. I just couldn’t come at that experience (not yet anyway). A lot of the tooting is just saying hello to people who we know. I was very pleased that I could get some local money in Kingstown as I was finally in a place that had an ATM. It is a bit scary not having any local currency and just a bit of US cash in a country that generally uses the Eastern Caribbean Dollar. The ATM at the gas station that I tried to use on the way to the cricket doesn’t exist anymore, so my meagre purchases at the cricket were bought with US dollars.
After Kingstown, we went inland to the Mesopotamia Valley. It is a very fertile area, due to being volcanic – the volcano at the north of the island is still active. There were lots of crops and trees and palms and animals all being productive on the steep sides of hills. We continued on to the Montreal Gardens, and on observing the locked gates and the sign that said “open 10am – 4pm”, and it was 4:20, Leroy just tooted a lot and the owner came and let us in, on condition we were gone by 5pm as he was going out. The gardens are magnificent and lush and near the top of the hill. The owner has been there 17 years and set it up himself, with helpers.
We came home around the east coast road, which is on the Atlantic side of the ocean, so lots of waves! They are building a brand new airport, so have bulldozed quite a few houses, and are flattening hills to make the runway suitable for international flights. The airport I came in on can only take the small planes, and they want to boost tourism.
There is a stark difference in the quality of the housing – in the country it is very poor, but there is also quite a bit of that in the city area, but then there are some nice places and a few very nice ones (and a couple of ridiculous “castle-type” ones, privately owned).
I am writing this sitting on my balcony in the evening, watching the reflections of the boats in the harbour, listening to the waves lapping, and the frogs and crickets chatting amongst the trees, bushes and flowers, I am also noting the occasional short sharp shower. All good!
THURSDAY 22ND MARCH
Up early (well, my idea of early at 7am), and had breaky beside the pool – lovely. Now a bit of writing time and about to go for a dip in the pool and the sea.
Delightful swim in the pool, then a walk along the beach, and a swim in the sea – same temperature as the pool. All packed, and having lunch before being picked up at 12:30 for my 2:30 flight – a whole 30 minutes to St Lucia, and joining my full AST tour.
I have worked out what went wrong with the transport when I arrived here. The company making my arrangements on behalf of AST is Sailors Wilderness Tours, but no-one told me that. I recall a “watery” themed sign at the airport, and ignored it!
Well my time in St Vincent has been well worth while, and lovely.
Report 3 – St Vincent to St Lucia
THURSDAY 22ND MARCH - continued
All went well with the pickup at the hotel to go to the airport in St Vincent, and we had a pleasant short flight – only half full – and only 20 mins flying time, so all good. I realised at the airport upon arriving in St Lucia that my itinerary said “Transfer to ...”, whereas in St V it had said “will be transferred to ..”. So after making a fuss, and insisting I had to wait to be picked up, and that I wasn’t “ROBINSON”, I decided I had better get a taxi. (Later I discovered that I WAS supposed to have been picked, and my driver had got there a bit late and our flight had been early - oh well makes for a good story, and I was recompensed.)
Lovely hotel, nice big room (up 34 steps which takes the edge off doing it often, even if it is good for me). I arrived about an hour before the main group, and I caught up with them ok. Pottering time, and frustrated because the internet wouldn’t work to send report 2. The problem turned out to be the hotel’s, and it worked 24 hours later.
The group gathered at 6pm at happy hour at the bar (of course), then adjourned to a quieter area near the pool. General intros from Damon, and a chat from Merv. The group seems to be 2 couples, 2 women friends from a previous trip, and the rest single males (some of whom have left their wives at home). The ages are spread through the 25 – 70 range, I made some assessments of the troublesome ones!! Spent the evening still trying to sort out the computer, and had room service tea.
FRIDAY 23RD MARCH
Up at 6:30, buffet breaky with a pleasant sea view (again!). On the bus at 8:45 and arrived at the Beausejour Cricket Ground for the 4th ODI and found our seats shortly before the start of play. All good. The ground is in the middle of nowhere, but built there as it was the driest part of the country. Our seats were towards the back of stand not far from behind the wicket. They were under cover all day, and had a pleasant breeze most of the time. They have a replay screen (unlike St Vincent which doesn’t). The facilities were all much better than St Vincent, and that was matched by the increased ticket price of $18 (cf $11 in St V).
There were a lot of empty seats, most of the sunny seats were empty, but even in our area, which meant people could move around. There were lots of school children in uniform. Three of our group joined the “Party Stand”, and became very red and degrees of “worse for wear”. It was much emptier that at St V, but Sunday’s game should be sold out.
Lunch was a much greater success than St V. They had several banks of hot food, clearly visible, and I had seen what others had been eating so I got brave and had chicken and several salads which were nice.
Now – to the cricket itself – we lost! But there was some wonderful batting eg (WI) Kieren Pollard’s 100 with something like 8 sixes and 6 fours, and Brett Lee’s lots of fours and sixes. The locals moved closer to our crowd as the day wore on, and had a lovely time at our expense! All good fun! I might have been on TV – holding the Aussie flag with two other ladies. Later on the cameraman came back with an interviewer, and Merv got them to interview one of our more inebriated members, so I don’t know how that went!
Returned home about 6pm and pottered and got ready for the Street Party – on Friday nights, “Gros Islet goes off”. So we went (I decided I had better go, even though it isn’t really my scene). A couple of the small streets are blocked off and stallholders set up food stalls, and souvenir stuff, etc. Music is played, although not live which surprised many of us. I bought two skewers of chicken and pork, and even went back for the sauce. Later, I had a fishcake, a corn cob and a “pudding” ie chocolate cake. The lady was intrigued at my combination! I even bought a painting on canvas. Lots of tourists, a few of the Aussie and WI cricket teams and progressively more West Indians. The main intersection was hot with dancing couples. Most of us were there for 3 hours, as Damon had arranged a return taxi. Others were there for longer. [For info, mine mainly, Gros Islet is pronounced GROZ-i-lay.] Many were frustrated before we headed off for the Street Party, as all our water had been turned off for the previous hour, due to a pump problem.
SAURDAY 24TH MARCH
Up a bit later, as we didn’t leave until 10am for our 4 hour trip that became 7 hours – but a good day. Off in a bus (about 25 seats) with Nelson as our Driver, and Greg as our guide. Basically down the west coast of St Lucia – visiting Castries (the Capital), and along very windy (ie curvy, not blowy) roads to the Pitons- great conical mountains created by volcanoes, and half a mile high, then to a waterfall (I swam in the pool there), and then to a drive-in volcano, with boiling pools of mud. On the way back we called into a town and stopped in a very WI cafe, and most ordered fish and chips or similar. I went for a wander around the foreshore, and bought a bird made from a coconut, which is very cute, but I don’t think the Australian authorities will be keen about it. I also found a supermarket – great rejoicing as I haven’t been in places where I could buy food. I bought bananas and cashew nuts – did you know that there is only one cashew at the bottom of each big fruit/veg. I have a new-found respect for them. Along the way during the morning, we stopped into a cassava place where they heat and grate cassava fruit (bit like a coconut), and it then performs a bit like flour. They make saltfish patties, and fruit ones, which are very filling. I tried a saltfish one at the cricket the previous day (and shared with lots of others as it had lots of curry in it). The fruit ones are lovely.
We arrived home pretty tired and had a couple of hours to get ready for our Welcome speakers and dinner. The speakers were first, in the Conference Room. We had (WI) Ian Bishop and (Aussie) Geoff Lawson – Merv asked them questions, and so did our group (in various states of intoxication!). Merv, Ian and Geoff were great.
We were then escorted by a very dressed up and feathered lady to the Dinner on the beach. We had 3 tables, and there were lots of others there too. Lovely barbecue food plus lots of salads, then sweets. It was pretty dark, so hard to see what I was eating. There was a band and very talented fire-eaters and acrobats, I headed off after the food – not sure how long it went for.
SUNDAY 25TH MARCH
Another early morning for me – off in the bus at 8:30 for Beausejour Cricket Ground for the 5thand last ODI. Similar seats to the last game, but a lot more people around, being a Sunday. No groups of school kids. But not far from us was a West Indian Band playing drums and vivazelas (spelling!). They sounded quite good, but after 7 hours of constant playing, and getting progressively lounder – it was more than many could cope with! The Party Stand was fully booked so our people couldn’t get in, which may have been good. That stand was very noisy, as were the WI crowd when they were doing well, so it is no wonder that our fielders ran into one another and couldn’t hear one another calling
The game was great, and we won, thus the series finished with 2 wins to each side and a tie. A very fair result. It was very tense toward the end – tense for us Aussies, and wonderful for the Windies fans as they raced up to almost getting the total needed. It was such a relief when we got their last wicket. The Windies fans weren’t as exuberant as the previous game when they won – we didn’t get the hugs and handshakes.
The crowd was very large (sold out, I believe). There was a rain break about midday, and the official “lunch” break was then about 2pm. I went downstairs to fight the crowds and buy lunch – only to find there was no crowd to fight, and the only food left was 3 chicken wings and a couple of pieces of steak (I think). So I bought the chicken wings – that was lunch!
The game finished under lights, so we got home about 6:30 or 7pm. There was mention that there might be a group of the more sober ones going out for tea, but I was too tired and hungry to wait. So I went to the hotel restaurant – probably a mistake! The staff and the chef agreed there was nothing on the new menu I could eat! All the meat had been marinated in hot spices for days. So we went for the old menu, and I chose “grilled fish of the day’. It was just ok, and it took a while to come and I had to endure a singer who was flat on anything above a middle note. Plus Damon had just told me I couldn’t go on a Dolphin trip the next day, which was a free day (insufficient numbers), and the train trip in St Kitts had changed dates so I would miss out! This was a low point of the trip!
However Damo was able to lend me his mouse, and it worked on my computer, so I could resize photos – hooray! Had a good night’s sleep, and life looked up!
MONDAY 26th MARCH
An “at leisure” day - a lazy day – one where time didn’t matter – a good idea even if it would have been nice to see some dolphins and whales. A few went zip-lining (which Bev and I did in NZ in Jan and I didn’t feel a need to repeat – sadly it is less awesome if you keep your eyes closed). Others caught a water taxi to nearby Pigeon Island and climbed the peaks. A third group played golf, and another group went fishing. They saw the dolphins and whales – but also sea-sickness (and no fish). Maybe it was for the best that I couldn’t go out to see my dolphin friends.
It was good to have a long chatty breakfast, and catch up on a few chores. Then down to the pool for a swim, and a few puzzles and lunch of prawn cocktail and hamburger by the pool, and a virgin pina colada (the non-alco version). Headed into town (15 min walk) and negotiated the shops. Tried to buy food at a shop that sold clothes, etc. Had an iced coffee – the girl made up a recipe and wouldn’t charge me – it was fine. Found a shop who sold me a mouse – EC $30 = Eastern Caribbean Dollar = A$12. Found a Pharmacy – poor things, their computer system had broken down, and they had to write everything you bought on a paper docket – done in duplicate, and product numbers of each item. Found a supermarket, so bought more food things.
Back home, and in for a swim in the sea, as the sun was nearly setting. Quick shower ready for the sunset photos, but the cloud had snuck in. Tried another mocktail – a scorpion – banana and coconut -not as nice as the pina colada (pineapple and coconut), but broadened my experience. As we stood around the bar during happy hour, the TV was on mute, and all of a sudden, there was Gary on the TV, and then Clarke – both in our group. The TV company had been in the hotel earlier in the day, and interviewed them.
Two more people joined our group, just flown in, so we are about 20 + Merv and Damon. One of our guys took initiative and suggested tea at the local Chinese – so 10 of us headed down there. 8 had a banquet - I had something more predictable – combination Chow Mien -a lovely meal with pleasant company. Four others came later. Two Aussie cricketers were also eating there, so one of our guys jumped up to chat to them – Clint McKay and James Pattinson, I think.
Home to more pottering (finally sent out the Report 2 photos)
TUESDAY 27th MARCH
A lazy morning – pleasant breaky with good company and gorgeous scenery, and back to the room, and finally caught up with my diary writing! Now it is time for a swim!
Prior to the swim, I noticed they made decaf cappuccinos! So I ordered one, and the girl was a bit stunned, but I thought I hadn’t been doing my bit for the Cappuccino drinkers of the world. Pleasant swim in the pool, various others of our group there too, quick-ish burger lunch, and off to the first Twenty-twenty cricket match.
I was stunned by the lack of crowds at the cricket – 15 minutes before the game, it would have been less than 10% full. It was a work day, and there was a good crowd by half-time. We feared the drumming bands, but they were absent, except for pre-recorded stuff prior to the game. The atmosphere was much more sedate that the ODI’s – not the hideous music the Australian authorities play between overs, and even between balls. A good game for the Aussies, which meant the crowd was also much more subdued.
Home about 5:40 so time for a swim in the sea before sunset – lovely.
One of the guys, Alan, from near Terrigal had his 64th birthday, so Damon organised a group dinner at Spinnakers, which is the next beach resort. I had a seafood platter (grilled fish, scallops in breadcrumbs, king prawns and mussels which I gave away) – very nice. Damo organised a chocolate birthday cake, which we all shared. Home to pack, sadly.
WEDNESDAY 28th MARCH
Up early, pleasant breaky and off to the airport (left at 8:30 for a 10:40 flight).
Everyone was at the airport – well not quite – but Nathan Bracken, Geoff Lawson, Michael Holding, Ian Bishop. There were two flights to Barbados, which is only 30 mins flying time away. The Cricket Australia supporters tour and our group were on the second flight. A few more hassles getting through official procedures leaving St Lucia (officious staff – quite different to everyone else we have dealt with). On the other hand, coming in to Barbados, I was trying to declare my cashew nuts – and there was no-one on the queue to “declare” anything, so I mentioned it to the lady on the “nothing to declare” exit and she couldn’t care – they were just having a good joke about something.
As we collected our luggage all the Aussie team’s equipment was being loaded, but I didn’t see any of the team. However all the Windies team were there (must have had another airline?), and when they went out to the public area to get their bus, there were huge celebrations with people on high stilts, and ladies dressed with lots of feathers etc. All very exciting!
Report 4 – Barbados and St Kitts and Heading Home
WEDNESDAY 28TH MARCH – continued
My last report concluded at the Barbados Airport amid the excitement of the Windies cricket team arriving. After they were transported away, so were we, but with much less fanfare. Our bus was yellow and green, but I think that was just a coincidence.
Lovely hotel, Accra Beach Hotel and Spa, right on the beach (again!). Very adequate room, albeit it is being refurbished slowly, so I am writing with the computer on the ironing board so that it can reach the power point and the Internet cable and I have something I can sit at.
Pottered, sorted out currency as we now use the Barbados Dollar and there is an ATM over the road, sorted out the internet (which is very patchy during the day, but very fast at night), had a drink with some of the group beside the pool, updated the diary and sorted out some photos, and realised I wasn’t being productive so went downstairs for some lunch at 4pm. This place is much more Anglo/American than the previous two islands, which suits me, but isn’t as authentic. So my lunch was a turkey club sandwich and fries, with a fruit cocktail (drink). Caught up with some others in the group to hear that one member had been taken to a medical clinic and treated for a combination of dehydration and a bug. And then hearing that another member had tripped and cut her neck badly, so was given 24 stitches – very lucky!
Time for a swim in the pool before all (well, those who weren’t crook – see previous para) going to dinner at “Harbour Lights”. A very good night, fully set up for the tourists, on the beach, with a great steak (choice of steak, chicken, fish and shrimp), and wonderful entertainment. We had a band, and two great WI singers, and then stilt dancers (amazing), and a (pretend) monkey (Merv loved the Green Monkey), limbo dancer, fire eater, etc. Half of us left at 10:30 on the bus, and the rest stayed to enjoy the ambience (and the all-inclusive free drinks until 2am). We were impressed by the sign on the front of Harbour Lights:
“Everyone brings us joy
Some when they come
Some when they go”
Decided it was time to complete the 3rd report, so ploughed on and was blessed with reliable internet, and all sent by 1.30am. Very satisfied.
THURSDAY 29TH MARCH
A later start, with breaky about 9am with an ocean view of turquoise water including waves. Off on our 4 hour tour of Barbados.
Up the west coast, past ridiculously expensive properties with lovely beach outlooks. Fortunately, the government has declared all beaches as public, so the hotels can’t take them over. Crossed over to the east side going over a high pass with lovely views, and down past some of the east and then inland to a very old church – St John’s Parish Church, and then a decision – would we go past a Plantation or straight home? It was at this point that the crowd mutinied against our driver’s constant monotone descriptions, which were highly debatable, so the vote was – straight home! One of our guys in the front seat had been having a discussion with the driver about the gear system – the driver was saying slowly “I .. am .. going .. to .. prove .. to .. you ...” and he repeated this several times until the back of the bus requested that the conversation be done in private rather than over the microphone. We suspect our guy was right.
Pottered, bit of a snooze, then out for a coffee beside the pool as I swam. Then I walked a few metres over to the beach and it was magnificent – lovely predictable waves in the turquoise water, and I was able to bob up and down and not get water in my ears. Quite a few of our crew were there in the late afternoon. The sun sets a bit after 6pm, so the weather is delightful at that time.
The “Eaters” group dined over the road at the Chinese cafe – very pleasant. There were 6 of us, and obviously we have labelled the others as the “Drinkers”, which is only true in degrees.
FRIDAY 30TH MARCH
Breaky and a quick swim in the sea, before thoughts returned to cricket. Nathan Bracken is staying in our hotel, so Merv arranged to have him chat to us. Merv interviewed him, and opened it to questions. A good session. Nathan is here doing media commitments. Then as we prepared to board our green and yellow bus, it was moved aside and the WI team bus took its place, the guard with a machine gun stood nearby, and the West Indian cricketers boarded. Then we were allowed to board our bus and head off. Soon after, there were police cars and sirens, and we moved to the side of the road and along came the WI bus followed by the Aussie team bus.
We reached the ground about 12:15 (for a 2pm T20 match), and already there were queues, but we didn’t care as we were going to the Cricket Legends museum nearby. Having enjoyed that, we progressively returned to the ground and tried to find out where we should be. I showed my ticket to one security person, who said gruffly ‘join the queue” – which queue? – this queue. So 30 mins later we finally got to the gate, only to be told it was the wrong queue. So we headed further round the ground, found our leader, Damo, who had just been tossed out of his queue, which was going to the right stand, but was the Members entrance. So we all walked further round, found another queue and got in during the first over.
The atmosphere was great, particularly the terrific start the Windies made 110 after 10 overs, and then towards the end when we lost. The ground, Kensington Oval, has much better facilities that the previous grounds- particularly scoreboards. The food stalls were more Anglo, rather than Caribbean, and in particular there was a lolly stand a few rows behind us, and there were two groups of English school students, about 12 years old, and after the innings break, someone decided to give away all/most of the unsold lollies, so there were packets of M&Ms, mars bars, peanuts, funny “crazy hair”, etc thrown to the students and then some given to us Aussies. All this going on with lots of sixes etc.
So the cricket result is very even – the One Day Internationals (ODIs) were 2 each plus a tie, and the Twenty Twenty (T20) are one each. Now for the Test Matches – which I won’t see, sadly.
Home from the cricket in time for a quick dip in the sea, before going with 3 of the fellows to the “Greek” restaurant, which turned out to be Japanese/International. It was Greek two years ago. However it was a lovely meal – I had “Pulled Roast Pork” and “Caribbean Sun Maki Rolls”. The guys were all excited as on the table behind me were James Pattinson and Peter Siddle and someone else they didn’t recognise. I tried to get them to take my picture with the cricketers behind me, but they were too polite.
SATURDAY 31ST MARCH
Up early, 7am-ish, few chores and breaky, and had to get ready for our Pirate Ship experience. Two very cosy mini-buses to get us into town.
Lovely trip on the Jolly Roger – quite rough to start with, but then calmed down as we sailed (motored) up the coast past lovely beaches, and then we anchored in a spot near a beach – and the plank was put out for those brave enough (which was most) to jump in the water. I climbed down the ladder! Then they put the rope out and people swung from it before jumping into the water. Beautiful in the water.
Lunch on board was a choice, and I had chicken (and salads) – all good (once I took the spicy skin off). Then we were all called upstairs on the boat for a “pirate wedding” and then a conga-line and dancing. Lots of loud pre-recorded music and a happy return.
Home for some more chores, then a coffee while in the pool, and then another surf bob up-and-down (but I was forced to go under twice, so my ear-doctor will not be pleased).
Very pleasant stroll along the boardwalk, with my (virgin) pina colada, at sunset, which was impressive. All good until it rained heavily, just for a few minutes – still got quite wet. So home to change again!
Pasta dinner over the road with two of the fellows, and home to catch up with the diary, and pack.
SUNDAY 1ST APRIL
Up early, and taxi to Bethel Methodist Church in Bridgetown. Lots of people – 250-300, all very well dressed, including 35 kids who had a Children’s address and then left for Sunday School, and returned at the end to be individually blessed at the communion rail after we had communion. The choir sang and was applauded. Service from 9am to 11:25! Lively and good.
Bus home – simple statement, but not so simple. Buses are minivans, labelled as taxis, with a maroon stripe (this is the key feature) and a small painted number (11 in my case). You jump in and sit down, and somehow yell/wave at the driver when you want to get out, and pay him two Barbados dollars (about A$1). There are bus stops, but I think you can probably get on anywhere.
Buffet lunch at the hotel (including Roast Beef which was lovely). Sat in the cafe listening to the Caribbean band, which was very pleasant. 2:50 departure to airport for our flight to St Kitts via Antigua on Liat Airlines again. Ridiculous process at Antigua, as we had to disembark for the maintenance of the plane, even though it was only 35 mins between landing and takeoff. They made us go through full security (shoes off, computer out, moneybelt off, etc, ). We hadn’t even gone through that when we were told to hurry as our plane was boarding! Stupid!!
Bus to the Marriott hotel in St Kitts, arriving about 9pm. The Eaters plus Merv had very pleasant Italian food at La Cucina (another multi-restaurant hotel/resort and huge, but not as big and complicated as the Gaylord Opryland at Nashville, fortunately).
MONDAY 2ND APRIL
Lazy day. Late breaky, aqua-aerobics at 11am in the main pool – a very good workout. Lunch of Guava BBQ spareribs – lovely.
Looked at craft stalls which are set up each day by women from the city market. Chatted to Jean, one of the women, and said I would be back when dry. By the time I returned, she had packed up (and I was disappointed), but I bought some stuff from a couple of others.
Had a swim in one of the pools and the beach. The beach is lovely, but they are plagued with seaweed, which they have to remove with tractors etc. Chatted to WI man with a donkey and a monkey on the beach. He takes pictures with your camera for a donation. Sadly I didn’t have either a camera or money.
Tea with 3 others – lobster – down the road. Bed by 10pm.
TUESDAY 3RD APRIL
10 of us caught a taxi into town (Basseterre), and caught a boat to Nevis (45 mins). St Kitts and Nevis is one country. After some leaderless rambling, Alan and Gary took initiative, and we hired a taxi to drive us around for a couple of hours. The cost was US$15 per person, so that worked well for us all. Curtly was our driver, and he was very happy to have some Aussies and wanted to talk cricket. We saw lots of plantation properties, now hotels (left over from the sugar industry), including the one that Princess Di used to stay at, and a public hot bath of mineral water. All very good. Curtly assumed we wanted an all day trip I think – based on us saying we wanted a swim at a beach, and a stop for lunch – which in retrospect was ambitious when we wanted to return on the 1pm boat (as the next one wasn’t until 4pm). So there wasn’t a swim, but a couple of us grabbed a quick hamburger and we all returned on the 1pm boat. All delightful.
Did a bit of shopping in Basseterre – most of the group found good stuff at a closing down sale in a shirt and souvenir shop. I didn’t find what I wanted, and in desperation (most of the readers will know of my dislike of shopping), I went to the market and at the second little shop was Jean from yesterday. I was delighted and amazed, and bought several things there. We gathered for sustenance in a nice upstairs cafe (much more appealing than the fish being sold on the street with flies all over it). Home by taxi and into the sea to cool off. A fellow just near us with goggles told us that a stingray had just passed him – a bit disturbing, I thought. But still we stayed in the water – no waves there, in fact they have protected the area with rocks to make it safer for the kids.
I waited on the beach for the man with the donkey, but I was stood up! He had told me that he would return, but apparently he came about lunch time instead. I was very pleased that I had seen some green vervet monkeys on Nevis – sort of made up for it.
Time for a swim in the pool, and a drink with some of them, and then we all had 8pm Italian dinner in the foyer, where they cooked our personal choices. We rarely all ate together, but some of them thought we should as it was my last night, so that was nice. On Tuesday nights, La Cucina takes over the foyer and has 4 stations where you choose, for example, prawns, scallops, fish and broccoli, with whatever sauce, and penne, and they cook it on the spot. They also had other “northern Italian” food including pizza and salads and desserts. They take bookings every half hour from 6pm, and 8pm was the earliest we could get.
Sadly back to the room to pack.
WEDNESDAY 4TH APRIL
Up early to be ready for our St Kitts Scenic Railway tour. We left at 8am by bus and onto the train which goes right around the main part of the island (30km). The track was built for the sugar industry, but they ceased the sugar industry a few decades ago. The train was fun, with 5 open (and associated enclosed) carriages, and free drinks, commentary and 3 singers. They proudly call themselves the slowest train in the Caribbean, which was endorsed by most of the group! Two-thirds of the way around, we changed onto buses and experienced their traffic (narrow streets, but feel free to decide which side you will drive!). They have lots of churches, some 400 years old. I wonder how they maintain them. It seems there is employment for anyone who wants it, at probably a low wage. The people seem to be housed, so it is a simpler life, and seemingly satisfying enough.
There are 5 medical universities in St Kitts! And quite a few industries. Not bad for a small population – 50,000 between St Kitts and Nevis.
Home by midday, final pack and quick lunch with Merv and Hugh (paid for by Merv who happened to getting his lunch at the time). Left at 1pm for the airport and flight to Miami (3:05 to 6:15pm). Pleasant flight with 3 seats to myself as the back 2 rows were empty and people shuffled around. So I was able to catch up with this diary.
I hate farewells, and it was sad to leave the group. We had gelled quite well, some more than others, and I would have liked more time to get to know the younger ones more. They started off heavily into the alcohol, but eased up later on and became easier for an oldie like me to communicate with. I always find the first couple of days difficult while I sort out the heavy/medium/light drinkers as they all seem to be heavy drinkers (due to their noisiness). I think the Victorians on the tour might get together some time later – people from Hepburn Springs, Footscray, Oak Park and Keilor. Another 20 or so are joining the group for the first Test Match, so the dynamics will change. Most of our group goes home after the first test, and the others will stay on.
The weather has been mid-to-high 20s and humid. So there is no option for many of us but to sweat - lots. However having acknowledged that is a permanent state, the weather has been quite ok. It is usually partly cloudy so that provides a bit of relief.
Getting through USA Customs is always tedious and time-consuming. The queues at Miami looked pleasantly short, however I was in the queue for customs/immigration for 65 mins – each person takes between 2 and 7 mins. Then I was lucky to not be searched, etc, as it took the entire 2.5 hours to get to my departure lounge for my flight to LA, and they were already boarding. So, there was no time to eat, and I was disheartened to look at the American Airlines menu, to see it is only “snacks” after 8pm, and my flight was 9pm to 3am. I was also put in the “exit” row, which means more legroom, but no window, and all hand-luggage including handbags had to be stowed in the overhead lockers. So I couldn’t get to my reserve food supplies until the “seatbelt sign” went off – which was four hours later! However about 11pm they came around with snacks so I had some cheese and nuts (charged to my credit card).
A very smooth process at LA airport - just had to get my case and go right outside to where the Shuttle buses pick people up. My “Holiday Inn LAX” bus arrived a few minutes later (every 15 mins) and off I went. The time difference was 3 hours, so I got to my hotel at 1am LA time, and quickly went next door to Macca’s for a hamburger.
THURSDAY 5TH APRIL
Only slept about 6 hours which was disappointing but then had a lovely buffet breakfast, and now hoping to get this report and photos sorted out, before a swim and a 16 hour flight home tonight. I am scheduled to take off about 11:30pm, Thursday, and land at Tulla at 8:20am Saturday, so I skip Good Friday completely (unless you call 7 hours of darkness “Good Friday” – which may be entirely appropriate really!).
Thanks for your interest in my travels.
Best wishes and Easter blessings and love