*This is a Guest Post by a Dear Friend, Irmi M.
NEVER TOO OLD
December 13th: A Real Commotion
First I was worried about the date. On top of it being the 13th, it was Friday. I had to leave that thought loose and not start making up something in my mind. Monika had given me a present and I would enjoy the trip and never even think about the date.
I must admit I packed for two weeks and unpacked for two weeks, several times. But finally, I also knew that I always pack too much so I had to let some go or else drag the stuff around.
Tom came over and we went for a light little dinner the night before. He stayed over because it was so much easier to do this with getting up in the morning at 4:00 am. We had coffee and toast, and it was so terribly cold outside. It was minus 16 Celsius degrees. At 5:00 a.m. we left the house in my car.
On the 401 freeway, it snowed and we could no longer see the line on the road. Tom had to slow down and on top of that, there was one big truck after another. Not good for Tom; he likes to be punctual, and this was not easy. We would be delayed.
Finally we were at the meeting point where we met Monika in Brampton. Berta took Monika there. It was then 7:48 am and we had planned to be at Toronto Airport at 7:00 am, but safety first. Tom drove us to the Airport. He was a bit tired and so the lateness irritated him.
Tom dropped us off and we ran into the Airport – we only had light clothes on too. We were at United Airlines. This was a real commotion, at least for me. All had to be done on the computer or whatever all these tablets were called. I was completely confused. I knew I would never have made it on my own – I would be still standing there with my suitcase in my hand and not go anywhere.
These machines tell you what to do; boarding passes come out and than we had to put the passport in and a photo was taken to compare it with your passport. Why are there no more desks where you can talk to real people, and ask real questions? We had to pay $25.00 for the suitcase – also something new.
Then long lines and customs. Jacket off, scarf off, belt off, shoes off and then finally got rid of some of my luggage and Monika’s too. By then I really got tired, and we sat around waiting at the United Airline area. The plane was delayed; they were waiting for a mechanic to repair something. Friday the 13th eh. Finally we boarded at 10:30 am and then we heard that the plane had to be de-iced a second time. It was a small plane with around 40 people on board.
We arrived late in Washington and were thinking that we won’t be making it on time to New York Airport. Everything was going fast and we had to be fast. But that plane was delayed and good for us. We had to use the trains in and out, and again up and down… it was crazy. But not for Monika – she just knows what to do. Finally we found the right plane.
Again I will say that I would be still in Toronto in a chair looking stupid.
At the New York Airport we hopped on trains. It was actually funny. We went in and then out, and in again, then we ran for gate 372 and were told it was the wrong Gate! We were supposed to be at Gate 144. Also that plane was delayed – again, good for us.
At 4:00 pm we finally sat down into our seats with American Airlines. This was a big plane and we had enough room. We left the Airport runway at 4:25 pm, had to go through customs again with shoes off, but luckily everything was fine. The flight to Puerto Rico San Juan was 3 hours 17 minutes flight time. It was something to see that the plane went right over a highway, just rolling along – it was awesome to see.
We arrived around 10:00 pm in San Juan. Warm weather – how nice. Now we waited for our suitcases… which never arrived. We went to the claims desk and they promised that they would deliver the suitcases to the Hotel when they arrive.
14th of December: No Luggage
The suitcases did not arrive until noon this day, but both of us had our carry-on and enough with us to get along. We went on the bus to see Old San Juan downtown; it cost us each 75 cents. This bus went all the way into the Old City. It was a beautiful drive along the shore, the hotels and the apartment buildings were very clean, still with the cobblestone streets and sidewalks. The roads and sidewalks were very narrow, very cozy looking and very European-Spanish, little restaurants and shops, many Galleries, some of which we visited, and many Statues of Christopher Columbus. The Fort was right on the ocean.
The roads are quite steep up and down. We both complained that our backs were hurting from all that up and down. We walked a lot and saw a lot and enjoyed everything we saw. People were very nice and they do speak English.
A lot of Cruise Ships leave from here into the Caribbean Sea.
We finally took the trolley to see as much as we could. We noticed it was not cheap here in San Juan, and everything is paid with American dollars. They do not have their own currency.
The temperature was around 27 Celsius, and humid. We met a very nice couple from Spain that came here and many other places to celebrate their honeymoon. We met them at the bus Station, and we finally gave up on the bus and agreed to take a taxi with them to our Hotel and theirs, not far away. We enjoyed their company. She was a lawyer and he an economist but both gave up their jobs and changed their lives and will spend three months in New York. Good for them !!
We finally rolled our suitcases into our room and we were glad to see them again.
I send three postcards off to Andreas and Jake and Tom and Dana. Monika and I went out to get something to eat. We ordered a very nice hamburger and a drink that came to $27.00 and five dollars tip. We ate outside. It was expensive but as usual you pay also for the surroundings.
In Puerto Rico, you find the most beautiful Rainbow Eucalyptus trees. They looked like Monika’s paintings. I asked her if she had been out painting the trees all night.
We walked home and had a shower and went to bed. Just to mention, we are now an hour ahead, just like in Nova Scotia.
It is the 15th of December: The City Disappeared…
We slept well – no wonder – we walked so much yesterday. Now we looked around for a breakfast place near by. Inside, it was air conditioned and cold inside. The Hostess understood and gave Monika her sweater jacket – that was very nice. From there we walked to the Art Museums. The first was interesting and nice, the second one was contemporary art, but there was not not much there. Again we walked towards the Hilton Hotel and took our luggage. Today we have to board the Cruise Ship Carnival Valor.
It rained big rain drops but not for long.
Around three pm we took a taxi to pier 4 for $22.00. There were already long lines of people to board. Boarding Papers and Passports and luggage had to be checked. The lineups were really long but it went fast and we finally got to our room: number 8353. It was a nice room with a great big balcony. Monika really went all out: she even got this upgraded. We had a light meal and everyone filled their faces.
There were a lot of obese big people on the ship. We were the minority in this adult world. After dinner we looked the ship over, and Monika took a lot of pictures. It was really nice to see San Juan from the Ship. It was another view point, and looked very interesting.
We also received our card for the ship so we have no money to carry around. This is for spending on the ship, for buying things and spending on drinks, gifts and so on. Around 7:15 pm we received some advice about our next Island: St. Thomas. Also we had safety advice for the ship and the lifeboat information. As I looked around there were a lot of 300 and 400 pound people, so that Monika and I had not much of a chance. No more of that.
We left the Harbor around 10:00 pm, and went to an information session about shopping on St. Thomas, but we didn’t stay long. We went on Board and ate a bit of fruits and cheese and then up to the room to unpack our summer clothes again. On the balcony we watched how the City disappeared in the distance…
December 16th: Swimming With Pelicans
The ship was rocking a bit around but it felt nice; after all, we were at Sea. We woke up early, had breakfast outside on board and got ready to go on a tour that we booked On Board. This had to be paid extra and was not cheap. We have to find a better way: $65.00 each. Crazy too.
Now first about St. Thomas: the Island is only 13 miles long and 4 miles wide, and the highest point is 1556 feet on Crown Mountain. It was first occupied by tribes of natives of the Cabana Indians and the Arawak Indians, then the European Explorers came in the late 1500’s. By the 1600’s the Indian population had died of diseases and raids by the Spanish. Columbus came in 1493 and he was not impressed and did not stay long. By 1671, the Danish West Indies Company came and built Plantations. Now it is Independent, like lots of these Islands in the Caribbean.
St. Thomas must have changed over to the English; why otherwise would they drive on the left?
We went way up onto the mountain, so lush and green – the leaves were bigger than me! There were beautiful views onto St. Thomas and the Harbour, and the roads were narrow because of the mountain. We both took pictures from up there. We could see the Virgin Islands; two of these islands are not occupied by anyone – they really want to keep them green and free. We visited the Captain Blackbeard area. He was a Pirate at that time. From there we walked down 104 steps through beautiful homes that belonged to the rich settlers in the early 17 hundreds. They were all connected downwards through steps and Gardens. It was very unique, and must have been a great neighborhood. From there we could also see the beautiful beaches with white white sand and turquoise water and pelicans.
After going through the houses, we went to a beach, and watched the pelicans diving and showing off their talents to catch a fish. We stayed at the beach for two hours and went swimming with the pelicans.
Everyone went into the water, even the people that could not swim. It was so refreshing and warm and clean. At three o’clock we were picked up and went downtown. One store after another was a jewelry store with many precious stones; everything you wanted, they had.
After walking around, we took a ferry back to the Ship. We had a wonderful dinner, but had to pay for that; it was very different. Afterwards, we walked down to the Third Deck for a Comedy show. We also saw an Art show, but Monika was not impressed. We went back to the room at 11:00 pm. It was a great and long day.
December 17th: Too Late?
Well, I must say time goes by way too fast. We are now on our way to Barbados and as we were told, it will be 36 hours before we arrive. So for a while we will not get off the Ship, but it is so nice that we enjoy being on the ship. And there is enough going on. The sea was very rough and windy, and when we went up to the very upper deck, we had to hold on to the railing. White caps and a very strong wind.
We were going 34 to 45 miles per hour. It was sunny and 27 degrees Celsius again with small showers. It was nice to just sail along and smell the sea. On the ship they have many little stores and we went shopping on Monica’s ship card for $56.00
After we went back on the Forward Deck which was rocking away. The sun was beautiful. I went swimming in the pools and they were also seawater so they were salty. The rocking spilled the pool over. I usually get seasick but never did, even when it rocked quite a bit.
We enjoyed all of it and I did not even think about all that cold and snow. I should get a job on this Ship or any other one. Toooo LATE!!!
At least I should end my life in a warm beautiful place. But I am not be able to do so. And there are many other people that have that wish.
If it would not be for Monica, I would not go anywhere. She really does spoil me and I know this.
It is really weird when you sit on the balcony and see nothing but water. How must have it felt when the first Seafarers sailed along the Oceans and saw, for days on days or even weeks, only water, and often not enough drinking water and food on the ships. And they still conquered the Oceans to find these Islands.
We arrived in the Port at around 7:30 am December the 18th in Barbados. Here a lot of people from the ship parted and new ones arrived; around 150 people came on Board. We decided not to go with a Tour guide or group, and took a taxi and go to a nice beach. This we did and paid $30.00 with return, only 15 minutes outside Bridgetown. It was beautiful white sand, not a stone or a piece of wood or anything other than white sand like sugar. Blue and turquoise water – blue like the sky, and not even shells.
We went swimming several times. The surf was strong at times, but nothing to worry about. Children were playing around in the water too. We had a free drink there and a snack.
At three pm we dressed and went off again with a taxi with other people. We met quite a few people from Denmark. They told me that they do this every year and as a group. Here I bought Andreas and Jake some T-shirts; they were good quality. I bought some magnets for Bobbie and Tracy, and Cathy a necklace and earrings for her Birthday. On board, we had dinner and went to a Comedy show; it was good and we laughed a lot. On the Upper Deck there was a lot of partying and people really had a lot of fun. It was so nice to see this. We again had a lot of fresh air and a lot of fun; a nice day.
Tomorrow we will dock in St. Lucia. We booked a very long outing for 99.00 dollars each. I paid this time – high time too.
December 19th: “But That Money Is Old.”
We sailed all night and it was so peaceful, but today we would arrive at St. Lucia and before I start on what we will do, I will write down some information.
St. Lucia’s land area is 617 square km and the population is 174,000. Castries is the Capital. It was a French Colony and the first European population. They speak French, English and Creole. The Government has a constitutional monarchy, and parliament system. The very first settlers were the Arawak Indians. Around 200-400 BC, pottery was found. Taiwan has made an E.C. Dollars of 543,000 donation to St. Lucia. It has a Rain Forest and Sulphur Springs. This should be enough information for now.
We had to get up early because we booked this Land and Sea Trip departing at 8:30 am. We packed up, ate breakfast in the room and off we went, boarding onto a little bus. In a combination excursion with a motor coach, we drove through the narrow streets of St Lucia up the very high hills up to 6000 feet on a mountain winding road, snake-like, and also left hand driving. It got a bit scary at times, especially around the corners. Noelina was our guide and the driver (I forgot his name), had to be good. He drove though Castries. Then he drove on to this a very picturesque town of Soufriere, really French-looking. It was a shame we could not stop and walk around there.
We drove on to see Petit Picton, the volcanic Mountain. There are two of them, side by side, with very pointed tops.
From there, we drove to the botanical Gardens and Diamond Mineral Water Fall. Here we took some pictures of very unusual plant life. It is a natural wonder of trees and plants with no insects at all. The people also speak lots of Creole.
In Soufriere, we went on a Catamaran, received a Creole Lunch and sailed to a cove. This thing bounced us plenty around and we were completely wet. Than we went to the tranquil cove of Anis Ochoa for a swim and then a glass of rum.
Here, everyone had lots of fun. After that they took us back to the ship. Even then, there was lots to see. The Catamaran took us right there to some new settlements where the very rich had yachts; they were huge! To fill them with fuel for one day will cost the owner around $30,000 for a day. Unbelievable !!
This yacht even had it’s own helicopter landing pad!
Back on ship, we changed and went for dinner and to a Show, after which we were tired, and after sitting for a while on the balcony, we went to bed.
PS. We all laughed at what happened when we drove along the road. Some kids stood on the side of the road to sell us some of their little work. Monica paid the one kid one Dollar and than I paid the other one a Dollar too. It was funny; he looked at it and said,
“But that money is old.”
The whole bus started laughing. But the boy had a reason. The tour guide told us that the reason for his statement is that old looking money banknotes would not be accepted at their Bank in their money. So he had a reason.
December 20th: More Monkeys Than People
It was beautiful on the balcony. The sun was just coming up and there were very unusual clouds formation around the sunrise. We sailed again all night and arrived in St. Kitts. The weather was perfect.
Just a bit of information about St. Kitts and Nevis…
This small nation is regarded as a jewel of the region with the most dramatic panorama. Before it was named St. Kitts, it was named St. Christopher. The national flower is the Poinciana, and the Island even has a coat of Arms. The National Bird is the brown Pelican. St. Kitts and Nevis is one country in the West Indies and a sovereign state in the Americas. Population is around 53,584 and the government is a federal monarchy. Languages are English and French.
It was settled by Europeans. There were French and English colonies. The first people arrived almost 3000 years BC and migrated down the Archipelago from Florida. The Archaic Indians people came in 800 BC and disappeared too.
Columbus came in 1493 and then the Spanish arrived. What I found special for me was that on St. Kitts, French Huguenot refugees arrived from France from Dieppe and established some towns and named one of them Dieppe right around 1538. The Spanish then deported them. This information is interesting especially because I have a Huguenot background. In 1640, the first African Slaves arrived. That is enough information.
We were not sure if we wanted a tour or not, because it is such a small island, but we decided to do it anyway. It was a van-bus and we were eleven. We paid each $65 with tip. We were really glad that we went on this trip and on top the driver was really good. It is a volcanic Island too. The population is not big, but as we were told they have more monkeys than people. and we could see that. Everywhere were children caring little monkeys around with diapers on. Some are wild and some are kept by the residents, and some in cages – not fair to the monkeys.
All around were beautiful lush park-like areas and rain forest with very old trees, some of them 400 hundred years old. There was so much fruit of all kinds. The population should be so healthy, after all everything grows around here. I was very impressed that it was so clean whereever we went.
We drove through the city and it was pointed out that their jails are overpopulated, mainly by the age group around 18 to 37 or so. Their education is very good and also the Taiwan Country invested in the population and there are many businesses. They donated also computers for every child in school.
As we drove along we took many pictures, especially of the volcanic lava that went into the Ocean and just cooled off there. This island was great, and even the driver was great. He took us to a beach for 2 hours and than picked us up again for $7.00. Also here was left hand driving, which is spooky at times for us right hand drivers. Terrific day and fun too.
December 21st: The French-Dutch Split
Another night on the sea, nice, and beautiful sunsets too.
Now we were on Sint Maarten and French St. Martin. Here is a bit of Information about these last islands we visited.
Sint Maarten, Netherlands, is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Southern half of the Caribbean island is Dutch, while the Northern half of the island is the French overseas collectivity of Sint Maarten. The population of 37,000 lives on 34 square km. This island is split between the French and Dutch territory, formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, but now a constitutional state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is one of the smallest land masses divided between 2 countries.
The French side is 54 square km. There is no real border, only monuments, but they have a separate dissimilar utility system. Power on the French side is 250V/50 Hz while the Netherlands side has 110/120 60 Hz. Another differing system is the telephone: to call from the French to Dutch side or from the Dutch to French side, it is an international call.
High development is in the Netherlands side. The language is Dutch but everyone seems to speak English. There are no Casinos on the French side but plenty of them on the Dutch side. The French side is less developed.
As of 2006, there were 1338 inhabitants. It was first sighted by Columbus on November 11, 1493, but the Arawak Indians already had settlements. In 1763, John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch Navy made it a bustling international Trade Center. There is a Fort Amsterdam and a Fort Willem.
The last hurricane, I think 4 years ago, destroyed 75% of the hotels and the landscape.
The Flag of 1985 has the colors of the Netherlands: red, white and blue and they arranged with Sint Marten a coat of arms within a triangle with the Courthouse, a sprig of sage and a pelican. The French “Zonk” is Creole word and means “Party”. SABA is very famous lace and only made there.
The Netherlands side is for the very rich and they are owners of huge complexes and casinos. There were unbelievable homes plus private planes and yachts. They did lose a lot of properties during the hurricane but they also lost lives. And some crooked Insurance company owner, just left and took the money with him, but now he is in jail somewhere in the U.S. Monika and I spend $85 for a trip around the Island and we heard over and over again that the French side does not care enough to make their part cleaner and look after their roads. Things are expensive on the French side: different people and different mentality.
We walked around the streets along the Caribbean side and decided to go one more time into the beautiful water.
After that we walked back to the Ship at around 4:30 pm, had a shower, went to the Art show, and went to dinner. It is amazing how many people work on the ship. Coming from all over the world, their name and their country was on their name tags – lovely people, and very sophisticated too. It was really nice to see the camraderie between them. They work for 8 months and have two month off.
We saw a show and really had to start packing our suitcases. That was very sad. It was sooo super having this trip and all the knowledge we collected throughout this one week, on the ship and off the ship. We walked a lot and ate good. There was so much wasted food – unbelievable. This was sad to see.
December 22nd: Eighteen Percent Taxes
We just sailed this morning into Puerto Rico. It was still warm and beautiful. We had everything done, filled out all the forms and we were waiting with the suitcases. One was picked up last night at the door. We had to find our suitcase and then again started to get the last suitcase and off the Ship.
We finally got a taxi and it drove us right to the same hotel, the Double Tree Hilton, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and we stayed there overnight for the flight to Miami tomorrow. Boy, there were a lot of people coming off the Ship and lines already for the next to get on.
We stayed at the Hotel’s pool for the rest of the day, and just relaxed. Later we just walked to the Ocean one more time to see the waves and smell the salt water air, and then good bye to that too.
We had something to eat at a restaurant and walked back to the Hotel. We needed to rest since we would have to get up early the next morning to get to the Airport in San Juan. Monica paid the Hotel Bill and the taxes were 18% on top of the bill. What is that? We could not believe this. Puerto Rico is not cheap.
We received a note from Tom that it is ice-rain in Ontario. That worried me, and we e-mailed him, but he still wanted to come from London to pick us up in Toronto. That will be a climate change.
December 23: Your Irmi
A taxi took us to the airport. Well here we go again, with all that pushing this box and that box, and fill out custom papers, I am tired. I am so so glad Monika knows what she is doing with the whole routine again. I would be lost by myself. I would so scared that I would forget my own name.
Monika and I had to pay again for the suitcases. This time I paid for both, so $50.00. I never ever remember to pay for them, but then I usually flew Air Canada. We flew with American Airlines, a nice big plane. We flew to Miami now at 7:45 am. Monika is so good with everything – even my luggage. The carry-on was a bit to high but she knew right away what to do. She just moved things out and into the small bag. The flight to Miami was not very long.
We didn’t wait very long to board the flight to Toronto. It is ice cold weather and I already feel it and dislike it. Again, as always, I hate going home. I wonder what that is.
Well, this time it is not that bad as usual because I have Monika here, and I will see Andreas and Jake on the 25th. Monika spent a lot of money on this wonderful vacation and Dear Monika, I will remember every minute of this trip for the end of my life. Even if it is not that long anymore. But as long it is, it will be great memories. Thank you soooo much; I love you so much.
Always your Mom
Tom, I thank you that you went out of your way to drive us to Toronto and pick us up from Toronto, that was great.
P.S You’re just never too old to travel… personally, I plan to continue till I’m at least 99.
Story by Irmi M.