Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Can I still remember our trip well enough to do a trip review? Let’s find out. Of course the first thing I just did was open up my file of photos. Some people (hubbie included) think I take a few (lots) too many photos. Can there be such a thing? I’m not aiming to take the ultimate photo or distill our trip down to say a dozen great shots (sorry). Instead I aim to do a photo journal of sorts. That is part of the reason I never quite make it around to doing a trip review – by the time I have downloaded, edited (yes I do actually winnow them down – slightly), uploaded and annotated, I’m mentally pretty over the whole thing. I did just find a photo service (click on it to see the trip photos for this blog) www.fotki.com that I think I may well prefer to kodakgallery.com. Reason being that I am sad that people viewing my photos have to be content with tiny little versions on the screen – not even 4x6 size (at least not on my screen). I love looking at a few of them full screen and think others ought to have that pleasure as well (if they seek it out). Fotki seems to allow you to actually download the image – and thus see it in all its glory. It also allows one to actually put a price tag with a photo if you want – the albums are public. Theoretically I could earn perhaps a dollar or two over time if I wanted. Anyway, I’m trying it out. I am not sure if it lets me add commentary as I currently do in kodakgallery. We shall see. Perhaps the photos will have to stand alone…

OK, back to the promised trip review. Pete gets full credit for this trip. I was less than gung ho about the whole idea of the Caribbean. I mean, isn’t it awfully far away from here – don’t we have Hawaii closer? And heck, I loved Costa Rica and can’t wait to go back. Could it be any better than either of those options? How on earth do you narrow down the list of islands to visit? They vary from tiny little rocks to big islands that have real cities on them. Some are close to deserts and others are very very wet. Some are American and most are not. How to choose? Fortunately that was Pete’s problem not mine… My understanding here is that he realized that we could get there on frequent flyer miles with American Airlines. Ah ha. We also both had very much enjoyed our get a way sans kids to Hawaii last February, but had felt it was not nearly warm / tropical enough surprisingly. We barely got in the water as it was just a bit too chilly. It was delightful for walking / hiking, but not for sunbathing and swimming. Sunbathing and swimming don’t head the top of my list of things I am dying to do, but Pete rates them a bit higher. So on to island selection. Pete checks out good travel books from the library. That, combined with where American Airline flies, helped solidify the trip I believe. St John’s US Virgin island to start (fly to adjacent St Thomas) and fly out of St Lucia (connecting thru Puerto Rico) and it turns out that you need to make a stop over somewhere along the way between the two – Antigua on the local airline Liat and are not charged extra for stopping… Now we had a fully fleshed out 3 island trip. I think Pete’s parents’ reminisces over St John’s had a bit to do with that stop selection as well.

St John’s is a fairly smallish island and the bulk of it was turned into a National Park and hence preserved from tourism. There are still pockets of land that are privately owned. Pete selected an eco-lodge for our first visit. Maho Bay Camps to start. There are over 100 tent cabins on the premises – all located sprawling down a steep hillside on the way to the beach. The cabins are connected by many series of elevated boardwalks and steps – lots of steps. We were located in cabin B15 if I recall correctly. Luck of the draw - a good draw. We were only a few small flights of stairs from the communal bathrooms (very similar to what you find in better camp grounds complete with showers – albeit cold ones). We were located a bit downhill from the check-in area and general store. The group eating area was near the top of the property and of course the beach was at the bottom. After 2 nights there my calves were really feeling it to my chagrin. The cabin did have electricity. It really was made of canvas and screen material and a bit of wood. Fortunately (due to it being a dry island?) we didn’t have trouble with mosquitoes – although we had come prepared. We also never made it over the “goat trail” to the bigger section of the beach – we contented ourselves with the smaller area at the foot of our hill.

We set out from home Thursday around midnight, had breakfast in Boston’s airport and rented our car and took it across the ferry mid-afternoon on Friday. We had dinner with the masses that evening. The place is set up to serve about 5 items – 1 is vegetarian – and 1 is a kid selection. Aidan had the grown-up salmon with berry sauce that Pete enjoyed and Quincy enjoyed his mac n’ cheese or some such kid friendly fare while I had a very decent chicken (although the crème sauce on top had way too much flour in it). For about $20 per adult meal you got water or ice tea and a very nice salad bar – and no added tax or tip. Not bad. There was also wine and beer etc for purchase. The whole is covered but completely open to the air. Due to the small daily selection the kitchen cranks out the meals – the holdup was the person taking the orders at the cash register (despite most of us charging our “room”). We also surmised that you should always head there a bit off hour or half hour as there are a lot of groups (meet me at 6 p.m.). Of course we didn’t ever quite manage that so typically had a bit of a wait in line. Breakfast was pretty decent too. The view out over the cove was excellent. The camps offer art lessons for a price (we didn’t partake) and have a glass blowing session every evening (which we enjoyed watching). They blow glass from recycled wine and beer bottles from the camp. Cool. Other arts use other recycled things. They do also have grills here and there and each cabin has a cooler (you can buy ice from their store for $4) and a small hot plate so theoretically you can eat some or all of your meals in your cabin. The kids thought it all quite nifty although there was a bit of grumbling when we had to head back up the hill from the beach. The weather was balmy even a bit on the warm side and the water was fine. The beach wasn’t very extensive but there didn’t appear to be any tide to speak of either (nor waves to watch out for).

Saturday we started our day down at the beach. There was a sand castle building “competition” going on when we made it down. The kids didn’t want to participate as we had missed the first hour or so but the organizers encouraged us to join. We basically went with lots of coral decorations as our stand out feature. Turns out all the teams were “winners” and there were prizes for all (nicely they gave each team a prize for something different – I think ours was best decorated rock wall or something) and the kids got “ruler of the sea” rulers and a glass turtle from their glass blowers. We took a very short drive to an old plantation named Annaberg Sugar Mill Ruins. The National Park Service had a nicely paved walkway and good signage to explain what the buildings were and how the sugar had been processed (and rum made). We also saw our first wild donkey of the island. Saturday night the kids were worried that the Easter Bunny wouldn’t find them and it would be “the worst Easter ever” (normally they get eggs at home and eggs and brunch at Thomas’ house and sometimes additional eggs somewhere else and dinner at the Eggerth’s house). Fortunately the bunny found them and left them a few eggs around the cabin and a few small presents (book for Aidan and dot-to-dot for Q). Phew! There was even supposed to be an egg hunt down at the beach but we arrived about 3 minutes too late (eggs were gone). We hightailed it back to the cabin, packed up and headed off for the day. First stop – the famous (in Pete’s family) Trunk Bay – reputed to be the most beautiful bay any where. It is a lovely cove with pretty white sand and the perimeter is ringed with foliage that overhangs the beach and offers us pale skins some protection from the sun. The National Park service has also provided nice bathroom/changing rooms and there is a concession stand with rum drinks (of course) and other drinks and food. We whiled away most of the day and went snorkeling a couple of times. There is a small island just off shore and an established snorkel “path” complete with underwater signage. Conditions were rated “fair” that day – there was a fair amount of sand suspended in the water so visibility was less than ideal and the water was fully of bodies – I got kicked by finned people a few times.

After we had finished up (late afternoon) we hopped back in our car and trekked across the island to our next lodging. Concordia Eco-lodge was created by the same people but it is in a more remote location and is a much smaller (and more isolated) property over all (at least in terms of # of cabins). It seemed a big step up however. The cabin had its own bathroom! Complete with solar heated shower! Cool. All the electricity was provided by solar panels so we couldn’t actually plug anything in (it was direct current not alternating) but there were lights, small fans and best yet, a frig/freezer. I have to say that they did a really good job in trying to make everything “eco” and lowest impact possible on the environment in addition to some clever details in how they constructed the cabin. We manually flushed the toilet with a foot pedal to minimize water usage. The shower water was heated by hanging out in a black barrel over head – and you got the water up there by manually pumping it (think old fashioned water spigot outside) and much of the water was collected from rain water off the roof (and additional was trucked in – this was a pretty dry island after all). They were definitely trying to educate you a bit – with some signage about the cabin etc. but it was all stuff you could envision incorporating elsewhere with minimal effort. Nice. We made use of the property’s restaurant – a lovely view again but much smaller. This time they had 2 people taking orders and getting drinks – but only one chef. We waited quite a while for our salmon and my bean dish but they were worth the wait. This place had a lovely pool for us to use too. The cabin itself was bigger and much nicer in construction although building materials were still wood, canvas and screen. There was a mezzanine area that the kids slept in and our own private deck for breakfast. Full dishes etc were provided. All good. Not as many stairs to navigate either. It was immediately the kids’ favorite place. Did I mention the GIANT hermit crabs? Bigger than Aidan’s fist.

Monday we headed down to the local beach – a short drive then short walk. It wasn’t as beautiful – a bit scrubby on the sand and foliage, but excellent snorkeling. Pete and I saw a spotted eagle ray – absolutely beautiful. I can’t say for sure how big he was as everything actually looks smaller than it really is – or at least further away – under water. He looked to have a wing span as big as my arms reach and a stinger behind that was easily 7’ or so. Unfortunately I hadn’t been able to locate my underwater protection thing for my camera. Bummer. There was a short walk past Salt Pond over to the other side of the spit of land – the side that the ocean lashed against unhindered by any reefs or coves. Wow what a difference! Very windy and high waves. Tons of rocks and beach debris including a lot of coral. Someone quite a while ago started a tradition of creating “people” sculptures out of the coral and drift wood. Really really cool. We made our own of course. Just above the beach was a bluff with great views back toward our cabin. Interestingly this island is so dry that cactus are a permanent feature. We saw lost of organ pipe cactus and also Turk’s cactus (barrel type with little pink flowers) and a few prickly pear trees. We ate in the nearby town for dinner that night. Not amazing but fine. Tuesday we had pack up and head out relatively early to drive back across the island and onto the ferry – I think we were the last car to scoot on and then off they went – excellent. Then a short stop in St Thomas for lunch and off to the next island. We all enjoyed the experience of island hopping in small airplanes – used the airplane’s own little stairs to embark and disembark and both kids had window seats. I can’t remember the last time I flew in a propeller plane – we were all a bit fascinated to see that one propeller always started first – and also that they tied down the propellers between flights.

Antigua claims to have 365 beaches – one for every day of the year… We didn’t have a car so didn’t go see too many of them I have to admit. We moved into Siboney Beach Cottages. Yet another step up in comfort! This time the bedroom (with king bed) had an AC unit. The kids slept on the sofas in the sitting room – complete with hooks for mosquito nets. We had actually brought a net with us and the hotel provided us with another. It was a bummer to have so many mosquitoes. I couldn’t figure out why there were so many – but turns out that behind the property was a huge lagoon… (turns out that was where the pelicans and other birds hung out too). Our very cute hotel had a lovely courtyard with an even nicer pool and lush foliage and very cool multicolored lizards out and about. We had a very small cove to ourselves while adjacent to us was a huge Sandals (adults-only all-inclusive) property. Unfortunately there was no snorkeling to be had as the water was filled with sand and apparently the reef on this island is well off shore – at times up to a mile away. Which partially explains all the beautiful beaches surrounding the island – that and the fact of its’ relative flatness. We hadn’t pre-booked the eco adventure tour we wanted and of course it was fully booked. Our hotel found us another – a trip over the island through the “rainforest” complete with a stop at a roadside stand to try the local pineapple (scrumptious) and our driver made stops and picked some lemongrass for use to smell and guava to try. We arrived at the mangroves down on the southern end of the island (our hotel was on the west side and we had driven to the east side then down the coast). We were outfitted with 2 man kayaks and headed off for a short kayak through the mangroves. Quincy turns out to be an excellent kayak partner – very steady with his paddling. Aidan is much more stop and go so hitting paddles with him is a nuisance – I think he’s ready to steer his own 1 man kayak (at least I’d prefer not to share with him!). At the beach where we stopped there were conch shells in huge piles – the locals apparently fish for them then ditch the shells on the beach after prying out the conch meat (they use it in a variety of dishes). We brought home one of the shells. A small motor boat then took us and another couple off shore to the reef for some snorkeling. It was supposedly one of the best spots on the island but didn’t impress us after the snorkeling we had done on St. John’s. It was windy and lots of waves so the kids weren’t happy in the water (and the snorkel gear might not have fit them well as we hadn’t brought our own). We kept practicing snorkel in the pool though to build up their confidence level. It is a funky sensation after all. Our first dinner we went to a restaurant pretty much next door. They had a variety of eats from burgers to pizzas to pasta dishes. Pretty good all around (called Beach something?). I have no particular recollection of what I had other than it was pretty good. Food was very slow to arrive – something we had to deal with for the rest of the trip. Wednesday night we walked basically to the end of our property where we found the “Fish and Chips” truck parked. I had spotted it in the guide book (hadn’t noticed it driving in). A Brit and his wife show up on Wednesday and Friday evenings and serve a limited, but quick, cheap and tasty, menu. I think Aidan had a “banger” (sausage) and also shrimp perhaps that he split with Quincy. Forget what Pete had. I went with the mild chicken curry thing over rice that is only offered on Wednesday – they must truly be Brits as curries have become so British in a way after the swarm of Indians moved in. We were pretty pleased with ourselves after this little experience. Still had time to head back to our little cove for sunset and a rum punch. I guess it must have been Wednesday when we just puttered around the hotel beach and pool and Thursday when we went on our kayak/snorkel trip. Did I mention that after we got back from snorkeling that we were shepherded to one of the 365 beaches (called Valley Church beach I believe) that was close to deserted (and beautiful) except for one restaurant (Nest something?) and a water toy rental place. Our tour outfit seemed to own the restaurant and lunch had been included in the cost. We chose 2 chicken and 2 fish meals (our only choices) and they were quite tasty (and up immediately) complete with, yes, rum punch (and plain punch for kiddies). The proprietor came out and gave us a floor show of sorts. She sang! She danced! It was her birthday and she belted out “I Will Survive” while her husband accompanied her on the keyboard. She then got all of us in the restaurant (I got the sense that we had all been on one of their tours) to do the “money dance”. Basically a hip mover. Quite hilarious. There was a 10 yr old (or so) both that did a great job of it. Afterwards we hung out on the beach. We weren’t clear on how long we had there (turns out we basically could have stayed as long as we wanted). The kids were entranced by a water trike that a couple of other kids had rented. Some how (with Pete’s help I believe) they managed to get taken on board for a paddle (with the hip shaking boy if I recall). It was so beautiful. The amazing greenish blue of the sea, the white white sand, the turquoise sky and the big red wheels of the trike. Almost no other vessels in sight either. If we had had more time (or a car) on the island I would have enjoyed touring around Lord Nelson’s dockyard area. Sounded interesting. Thursday night we finally ate at our local restaurant Coconuts (attached to our hotel but not run by them). It was reputed to be one of the best in the island. As we found typical for the rest of our trip, they wouldn’t seat us (or at least serve us) until 6.30 (crazy as universally these amazing “beach view” restaurants lost their view with sunset – which was fully over just before 6.30). They also had a pretty limited menu that didn’t have that much that got us excited. What Pete did select think they were out of. I did enjoy the coconut prawn appetizer but don’t recall what else I had – oh yeah – think it was red snapper and it was good but Pete didn’t love his. We wouldn’t bother going back as it was pricey. Before dinner we had a bit of a chat with the 84 year old proprietor. Pretty spry guy for his age. He had an interesting history and clearly enjoyed what he did. Sounded like he still windsurfs.

Friday we had a fairly early flight off the island. We had arranged for our driver from the tour place to take us to the airport “Almond” was his name. We liked him quite a bit. He also apparently arranges tours himself – everyone seemed to jump on the tour bandwagon. Enough of us tourists to go around! He also said that Antigua was one of the better islands to work – jobs pay more etc. Certainly we didn’t see any abject poverty nor any sense that we had to be careful although we also were staying on a tourist beach – but we did drive down quite a few “back roads” and I think got a reasonable sense of the island.

St. Lucia was our next step. It is a fairly large island – at least compared to the previous two. I think over 200 square miles. Clearly water usage was not an issue on this island either. They get a lot more rainfall and because they are bigger they actually have rivers and waterfalls and the like. Almond had pointed out the Antigua didn’t actually have any rivers. Kind of weird when you think about it. Antigua clearly got much more rain than St Johns – enough to sustain plenty of agriculture like pineapples, guavas and the like. St. Lucia did come with more warnings in the guide books – plenty of people trying to hustle you for $ pushing trinkets and watch out for your stuff on the beach etc. Interestingly our hotel came with security guard. Looked like a dreadfully boring job and I certainly never saw anything that remotely needed a security guard but… Again, strange enough, we were located next to a Sandals! We stayed at the Villa Beach Cottages. Which were actually better than I expected from the website – when does that happen? It was our biggest and nicest lodging yet. We had essentially a full kitchen at our disposal (down to a blender) and a nice king bed and AC and our own porch overlooking one of their 2 pools and then the ocean. We were in one of the “old” units – I wonder what the new ones looked like? They had moved the kitchen table and chairs out onto our porch and set up two twin beds for the kids. Plenty of space. The place was very attractive with “gingerbread” detailing that Collin, the owner, pointed out worked well with the perfectly designed slope to withstand hurricanes… Collin sat down with us and told us all about his ancestry, how he came to own the place, the old lady (from Boston?) who had visited 25 times and had a room named after her… He also was very helpful in telling us where to spend what little time we had and in getting us set up with an alternate trip – we had hoped to go on the Brig Unicorn (Johnny Depp’s pirate boat in Pirates of Caribbean) that toured 100 or so folks a day from near our hotel up the coast to Soufriere with little side trips once there then a snorkel on the return trip – and quite possibly a firing of the canon. Pete had located this trip 6 months previous – but we hadn’t booked it. Doh! Something for next time… We did watch it cruise by off shore from our hotel at least twice a day. We couldn’t even get on the sunset sail (turns out it was a pretty darned wet “sunset” that day anyway). Instead we got booked with John “Poe-poe” (I have no idea how to spell his name). Day one we cancelled as it was pouring when we got up and didn’t let up until late morning. The next day (which looked to our eyes to be absolutely beautiful), HE cancelled (high winds he said – our palm tree wasn’t even waving). Thank goodness the last day we had, Monday, we were able to do it. But that is later.

The hotel doesn’t have their own restaurant but there is a very serviceable one next door – The Wharf. I ordered the “chicken roti” which I really enjoyed (mild chicken & potato curry in sort of a tortilla packet) and it was only $6 or so. Pete set out one day and walked to the nearby “mall” (which also has a grocery store). It wasn’t the most pleasant walk as it is along a busy street but he did it and came back with a few things for our refrigerator. We had paid something like $15 for a taxi from the airport to our hotel. Now I think I could pretty easily WALK the distance (granted I wouldn’t want to do it lugging my luggage) so that seemed a bit steep to me. Our guide book talked about the local buses. The hotel pushed the taxi option but we ignored them – especially since there was a bus stop in front of the hotel – and a person there told us that they bus came every two minutes (it did indeed). So for dinner, armed with the pages I had copied from the library guide book before leaving home (I no longer feel justified in buying guide books for all our trips – something I enjoyed doing – SF library has too good a collection to justify that!), we set off. The “bus” is just a minivan. There are “stops” very frequently – you shout out to the driver when you want to stop. I don’t think it is typically used by tourists but it was sort of nice as we got a better sense of the locals – and heard the local language/accents in full force. The island was traded back and forth (wrestled is better term perhaps) between France and England and there is still quite a bit of French influence although English won out. We headed down to Rodney Bay – just a few miles up the road. The bus stop was at a “mall” complete with grocery store – but also some fast food – I believe it was Burger King and KFC and there was a Domino’s Pizza situated a couple of doors down. The first time we had seen that on our trip since St. Thomas. Sad. Think their populace will soon look like ours? We walked off to find a restaurant. We went with The Edge which had come highly recommended by a co-worker of Pete’s and was mentioned in one of my guide books. It looked great. Open air on the water (open air is fairly common). Wouldn’t seat us until 6.30. Clearly VERY gourmet. I had a duck and salad appetizer that was fantastic both in appearance and taste followed by a really excellent entrée – beef I think. Pete had lamb if I recall – also incredibly good. There was no children’s menu AT ALL nor anything I really wanted to order for Aidan (mainly due to cost – he would happily eat any gourmet food served up) but they had a sushi bar so the kids were happy to chow down on sushi for their dinner. Thanks to a walk to the restroom (very nice) I had been able to pick up their sushi menu which even had pictures of the various items. This was by far the best meal of the trip to date and was a restaurant that could have held its own with some of the best in SF as far as I was concerned. Often you get some great items and some not, but everything we got at The Edge, including dessert, was excellent.

On Saturday after the rain gave up (we had passed the time playing chess and the game “Mastermind” on the porch) we rented the hotel’s two kayaks and went for a little paddle. Rat Island lay in the middle of Choc Bay where our hotel was located. Looked like a good distance for us to aim for (not too far). Turns out there were deserted buildings – ruins really – up on top. Apparently there was an order of nuns who lived there until the mid-80s when they departed in advance of a huge hurricane and never returned. We had fun tooling around and exploring a bit although our worrier Aidan wasn’t happy until we were back in sight of the kayaks. When we parked them we hadn’t pulled them very high up. He pulled them higher up – thank goodness – when we returned the water was already moving them around a bit. Guess we had gotten lulled by the very low tide swings on the previous 2 islands. We saved them from floating off and found some shells on the beach – sea urchins some still with drying out spines attached. I also spotted a little 2” fish that had gotten caught in a tide pool. Quincy chased around the poor thing. After we had had our fill we paddled off to another beach (one without any hotels nor even seemingly houses). We saw 3 guys running along the beach passing a soccer ball and another 3 people who were clearly searching for something in seaweed stuff on the beach – Pete inquired and learned that they were finding a type of sea plant that washes up that they boil and make some food out of (didn’t sound all that great – but hey – free). We also noticed a couple of cows tied up just inland. Apparently the natives can graze their livestock pretty much wherever they want. For such a lush looking island, the livestock tended to look a bit emaciated. Then back to our hotel. There were a few other people waiting to use the kayak – glad we got them first! Saturday we took Collin’s recommendation of restaurant and headed out in the bus the opposite direction to The Coal Pot located just by the airport (again on the waterfront and open air). Our bus driver was busy chatting on his cell phone (cell phones were ubiquitous on all the islands) and missed our stop. Not to worry one of the passengers told us – he’ll swing back around here shortly. It was great that we missed it as we circled through the downtown of the local village. Being Saturday eve it was full market day. It was the most “authentic” foreign looking place we had seen on our travels (and one of the poorest). I don’t think there were any tourists or hotels downtown. The bus driver then drove out of the way and drove us down to our restaurant (easily ¼ mile or maybe closer to 1 mile) away from the bus “stop”. Another phenomenal meal! Pete and the boys rated it higher than The Edge, I gave The Edge the edge. It was also open air but situated on a small inland looking cove that was very quiet (no hotels I don’t think). There were a lot of beautiful dishes on the table – apparently one of the proprietors had hand painted them all. The menu was on a large blackboard that was brought near by – basically about 6 different fish to choose from and 4 or so sauces. I went with red snapper (as did Aidan) with 2 of their sauces – a curry and a ginger – both really excellent. The accompanying veggies were also great albeit straight forward. Quincy got the shrimp dinner and Pete went with steak with the blue cheese sauce (out of 3 or so choices). Everyone’s entrée was cooked perfectly. We happily could have eaten there again but didn’t make it back unfortunately.

On Sunday since our boat trip was cancelled due to poor weather (on a beautiful day) we decided to follow Collin’s suggestion of a car rental and drive out to Pigeon Island. Driving was fine and this was the first island where we drove on the right side of the road (St John’s was driving on the left but with the steering wheel also on the left and Antigua was on the left but with driver on the right). There aren’t many major roads – and they are only one lane in each direction, but none of the roads are marked with any signage. After a mis-turn or two we made it to Pigeon Island – which is no longer an island… Apparently someone filled in the land to make a causeway (and provide nice beachfront property for another Sandals…). We went into the National Park which encompasses most of the island. The island was a military installation for many years and there are quite a few ruined buildings to explore and some have been rebuilt. The kids enjoyed climbing up to one of the peaks to the garrison (well they grumbled but liked it once we got there). There was a little room sort of down a bit complete with bars you could close – had been used for storing ammunition. Once back down we decided to stop off at the little restaurant (Collin recommended). A nice patio beach front so we placed our orders and took our seats. Good thing we did when we did – like most things island, service was very slow. The Unicorn Brig pulled up and fired off a few “cannon” shots at the garrison and the garrison “fired” back. Then a number of folk departed and came on shore to join us at the café. Good thing we got our order in first. Quite a few were older Brits from a cruise ship currently on dock on the island – loving their experience.

After lunch we decided to try our hands at snorkeling in the adjacent cove. Well I did. It wasn’t amazing but it was decent and I was seeing some nice fish although there was a fair bit of sand in the water. Quincy then decided to take the plunge and later convinced Aidan that it was worth doing. They also built sand castles (of course) on shore. All told a nice way to wile away the day. We then thought we’d head across the hills to the windy and big wave side of the island. Hah. Remember those roads with no signage? We remarkably did managed to get to the beach that Pete was aiming for (supposedly good wind surfing) over dirt roads. I was surprised how built up it was becoming with tourist lodging (despite dirt roads). I wouldn’t have wanted to stay there as there appeared to be nothing to do or anywhere to go and get a good meal. The wind was up and a bit of a rain squall passed through so our stay was short.

Since we had a car we decided to drive it back to Rodney Bay and have dinner at a Thai place some of Pete’s friends had said was decent. Had to wait until 6.30 of course… The restaurant was lovely. For some reason because we had kids with us we had to eat in the open air part instead of the AC part but that was no hardship. Pete and I both had excellent mixed drinks – mine made with lemongrass. The food was less than excellent and we had a very long wait. Crazy enough they didn’t have any peanut sauce to accompany our satay chicken (Quincy’s perennial Thai food favorite) and the chicken was less than excellent as well.

Monday was our last day and we anxiously awaited departure time for our boat trip. We really wanted to go boating! Phew, the trip was on! John’s wife picked us up and took us to the boat. The boat was painted gold with the name “Orgasm” on the side as well as “water taxi”. The boat was a similar size to my dad’s boat although it had higher sides so seemed a bit more ocean going worthy (but I could see how the “skipper” would have not wanted to go out if the wind had been up and waves had been high!) and there was a canopy of sorts that could be stood up for sun or rain protection. We had a very nice motor up the coast – maybe an hour and a half total. John did a great job of telling us info about the landscape, the people, the fish etc. The nice thing about being on such a small boat was that (by necessity?) we hugged the shore so were able to really enjoy the vistas. The “pirate ship” we had wanted to go on always seemed quite a bit further out to sea when we saw it pass by. We did have a few rain squalls pass through but more sun. We took a brief detour into what some say is one of the nicest bays in the world – and where the original Dr Doolittle was filmed. One side is only accessible by water taxi. Hotels but no cars… Our driver dropped us off on one dock and picked us up a bit further along allowing us bathroom and nick nack hunting time. When we got very close to docking in Soufriere we cozied up to the side of the mountain where there was a tall narrow crack – and you could hear the chittering of thousands of bats. Cool. In Soufriere we were met by another man called Poe-poe (John Poe-poe’s cousin) who was our “taxi” driver. The taxi could easily have accommodated 15 or so people and was in fact larger than the public “buses” from what I could tell. It seemed to be the typical taxi though – clearly many of these taxis accommodate the visitors brought up on boats from the cruise ships etc. Soufriere is located at the base of 2 pretty great mountains – the Pitons – Petit Piton (the taller one) and Gros Piton the fatter one. Both rise up steeply from either side of the town and top off around 3000’ or so – not terribly tall, but quite dramatic and scenic. The taxis drive you up up and up to the hot springs area. Complete with sulfur smells and bubbling pots of black ooze etc. Then onward we drove to our restaurant, Dasheene, situated in the center of the two peaks in a very swanky hotel. Open air of course. A fine lunch although not as fine as I had hoped from the kudos in the guide books and from our hotel proprietor – but a spectacular view. After lunch our driver took us down to some near by hot waterfalls/springs. A guide accompanied us down the hillside path to the water, pointing out various plants along the way. We all enjoyed seeing the cocoa pod on the tree and one cut open on a table complete with beans cut in half (a pretty purplish color inside). On our way back we saw a lizard and bird dueling it out over who got to enjoy some of the pod. The waterfall was delightful. They had a couple pools – one a bit warmer than the other. It was nice – we were the only people there at the time although we saw people leave as we arrived and others arrive as we departed. Then it was time to head back to the boat. John took us just a bit down the coast to a black sand (brown to me) beach (volcanic sand instead of coral sand of Antigua or even further up the coast near our hotel) where he fit us with snorkels and pointed us toward an excellent reef at the side of the cove. This part of the island has very dramatic drop offs into the water – supposedly very good cliffside scuba diving as well. Aidan gets a little concerned when the bottom (and scary large black spiny coral) seem too close. Not really a concern here and he was willing to stay out and snorkel with me for a long time. John had also given us some left over bread from his lunch – the fish appreciated it! There was an array of colorful fish. I love the parrot fish. I also had a fish guide that I had purchased in St Johns that we would refer to. When Aidan and I were swimming back in we saw a barracuda . Pretty exciting for him as it is a fish that had captured his imagination last year when they studied the ocean. I managed to capture a poor photo of it – but its markings clearly match those of a barracuda. Aidan and Quincy were then content to play in the sand while Pete and I headed out for a bit more snorkeling. We found ourselves surrounded by a fairly sizable school of needle nosed fish – a bit like barracuda in that they were 2 or 3’ long and very skinny and very silvery but they had very narrow mouths deserving of their name. A great way to end our trip with such a nice snorkel. Anse Caselet I believe was the beach. John then took us back fairly quickly along the coast. We did get to watch some native fishermen take their boat out of the water to their village – about 12 guys hauling as hard as they could what appeared to be basically a large rowboat with a motor. Apparently they completely load them up with fish. The fishermen stand in them ALL DAY long looking for fish. Didn’t look fun! John took us back to our hotel where we had to jump for it into the water and wade on in. Dinner was just take-out from The Wharf eaten on our porch. Pete brought back some ice cream from the local place down at the mall, Elena’s. Really good ice cream – we had had some in town after our Thai dinner too. Unfortunately a cloud burst hit Pete when he was half way home so he got a bit soaked. The rest of our evening was devoted to packing up for our return home. We departed our hotel around 7 a.m. or so Tuesday morning and arrived back in San Francisco around 11 p.m. in the evening. We had to clear US customs in Puerto Rico (I give the airport a failing grade although we did manage to make our connection with only about 1 hour layover – to my surprise). We had a 3 hour layover in Dallas which was stretched when they discovered mechanical problems on our plane – but fortunately they eventually got the “no fly” thing fixed and we just flew a bit lower than usual to take care of the AC issue. Phew! Then back to school for the kids bright and early (well, 9.30 a.m.) on Wednesday – which was “Bunkasai” day – celebrating Japanese culture with a bunch of different food and games and crafts. Thursday Aidan’s class went on an overnight field trip to Fort Funston on the lower southern western edge of the city. We had beautiful weather and I volunteered to help out from 9.30 to 5.30 then at the urging of the teacher I returned with Quincy to enjoy the (very good) pot luck dinner. Aidan didn’t see why I didn’t want to spend the night with them – hah! Friday our friends, the Goldschmidts, rolled into town to spend a couple of nights with us. Our kids had a blast with their 3 kids. It was a busy week!

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