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Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Cruise diary part 2

Cruise diary part 2 (San Juan to Aruba)

Saturday 14th April (night)

I go up to the gym and have a nice long workout, then back to my room to take a shower and head down to the mess to get some food. As I'm walking along the deck I have one of those nagging little stupid thoughts. I did read the schedule right, didn't I? I'm sure i did, but have to go back to my cabin to check it of I won't be able to relax.

Turns out I did read it wrong. I'm on tonight at 5.45. It's now 5.42. Holy shit.

I get changed, get my props and - amazingly - get down there not too late, and do the show. It's not bad either. Afterwards I talk to the guy who handles my table and he says my next show is at 8.30. No, I say, 7.45. I tell him I'll go and check my schedule but I'm sure it's 7.45. Sure enough, when i go back to my cabin, my show is at 7.45. I run down to the mess, eat, and am back ready for my last show. My man with the tables hasn't shown up, but all is not lost as I borrow one from the cafe to use. The p.a. announces that there will be a safety drill at 8, which isn't a problem as long as I pull the show down exactly on time, which I do.

Only thing is, after I finish the show, my table man tells me that because of the drill, my show is on a 8.30. The schedule I have is wrong. It's not a problem, I say, I'll go on again at 8.30, and I do. It doesn't seem to be a massive problem.

Well that was a hectic evening, but all the shows were fine and I'm done now. Nothing more to do until Friday morning then I go home. The best part of a week to work out, tan and explore various islands. Could be worse.

Sunday 15th April

Morning - workout, then ashore to check out St Thomas. It's not my favourite place, bit of an industrial estate once you get outside of the little shopping mall surrounding the port. I walk up the coast for half an hour, then turn back. Nothing to note really. When I'm back to the ship I go up to the lido deck and lay in the sun listening to the Kevin Smith podcast, which is very disappointing. Juvenile and dull - and has abysmal production. It's got constant music and film samples in the background, so, for instance, when someone mentions Waynes World, the theme to the movie plays - this happens all the time. It's horribly distracting and seemingly indicative of the lack of confidence they had in just having Kevin and Scott Mosier chat, which is surprising being as that's one of the things Kevin is very good at - just apparently not on a podcast.

Later in the day I go to see one of the big production shows - "Destination Anywhere". It's got good production values and is free.

Monday 16th April

St. Kitts. On first inspection it's not quite as yummy as I had expected. perhaps I was confusing it with Eartha Kitt. But the more I pad around it's hilly, potholey streets, the more I like it. Like San Juan, it's honest - not just a bunch of shops that have desperately and cynically sprung up around a port, but an actual town that exists outside of tourism and has people that do actual real jobs and stuff. Sure, lots of the businesses make money from the tour groups, but by no means all - it's a real community - and that's important to me. I don't want to feel that I'm watching a Caribbean pantomime performed for the benefit of rich American tourists, I want to think I'm being given a lucky glimpse into another place. That was certainly true for San Juan, and it's a little less true, although still true, for St. Kitts.

Locals laugh and argue in small dark bars, chickens walk around the streets pecking for leftovers, Fisherman on the beach continually shoo away pelicans who are after their catch. As I walk down the smaller streets away from the shops, music plays from the windows of brightly coloured houses with sun baked yards. While walking along the coast the warm air smells sweet, then the pungent smell of fish and salt from some fisherman, then I walk past a young woman seemingly explaining why she is late for something, "I is a laaaazy girl", she giggles.

So I've been watching TV in my room, being a laaazy girl, and I take a look at my schedule for the next few days to see where we're going. Tomorrow Grenada, then Bonaire, then Aruba on the 19th. Hmm. I fly home on the 19th. From Antigua. But according to my schedule we don't actually stop at Antigua. I must have made a mistake, the flight must leave from Aruba, so I go and look at my flight reservations. Nope. Antigua. Ok, don't panic. Antigua and Aruba are probably really close together or something. I fire up Google Earth and take a look. Close together, not so much. Entirely different islands. With sea in between and everything. I start to panic slightly.

Time to ask a grown-up. Off I go to the information desk and explain the situation to the nice lady. "No", she says, smiling, "We don't go to Antigua", "I see", I say, "So how do I get from Aruba to Antigua airport?". She ponders my various sheets of paper for a while, looks at me, then looks at them again and thinks some more. "I will come back." she says, and takes them away with her downstairs. I wait. She returns, with a cheery "Aruba!" and presents me with my flight reservations with Antigua scrawled out and "Aruba" written in biro underneath it. Well I could have done that. Strangely I'm completely calmed by this simplistic resolution. "It's fine", I think to myself, "If there's any problem at the airport I'll just tel them that the helpful lady at the information desk wrote it, so it's all legal and binding and stuff." I have a feeling that although this is the end of the story for now, it's not actually the end of the story. Either way, I have celebrated by purchasing some peanuts and convincing myself that they're good for me because of the protein.

Tuesday 17th April

Grenada. All I know about Grenada is that the US military wanted a beach holiday here a while ago. They've gone now, as far as I can see, leaving a fairly run down, bustling and dusty place. I walk through the busy streets and up the steep stone stairs to the fort. It's hard work in the hot sun, but when I get to the top the view across the cluster of bays and waterways is worth it. Roofs cluster together, vying for space in a random clutter, their busyness contrasted by the wide, flat light blue stretches of water that cut through the town.

I local is chatting good-naturedly to a family near me, as we all take in the view and get our breath back from the climb. "You all English?", he says. "yes" replies the mother, slightly sternly. "Cool. From London?", "No.", she says, this time very harshly, as she turns around and walks away briskly. Jeez, it's not as if he tried to steal your purse. It's easy to forget that even when they're on a Caribbean cruise, some people still find a black guy that they don't know a threatening prospect.

I amble back to the ship in the almost too hot sun. As I walk through one of the many security checks, I see a couple of local security guards taking photos of each other by the ship like tourists. This makes me giggle. Something about the juxtaposition of guns and uniforms, with the physical theatre of taking each other's picture. A huge white American guy with a big white beard and a marines baseball cap strolls by them and smiles, "How ya doin' Sir?", he says, "All secured?", The one with the camera replies chirpily, "Yeah, probably...", they all laugh.

Wednesday 18th April

Bonaire. I know nothing about Bonaire. All the other stops on this cruise I've at least heard of, but Bonaire? Nada. Good reason to go explore.

It's pretty. All the other places we have docked at, with the exception of San Juan, have had a shopping mall where the pier meets land, so you have to go through the mall to reach the actual place. Lots of tourists have a heard time making it past the onslaught of shops as they head up the coast. It's like Saving Private Ryan but with more duty free. Bonaire has no shopping mall, you walk up the pier and you're on a dusty road that stretches up and down the coastline. I 15 minutes one way and end up a beach side bar watching the primary-coloured fish swim below me. Then I head up the coast in the other direction.

I walk for about an hour in the sun along the coastline, as soon as you're 10 minutes away from the cruise ship, it gets so quiet. The only sound is the waves on the beach and the calls of the various brightly coloured birds that swoop around and hunt for food in the shallows. The warm breezes carry the sweet scent of blossoms and the salt from the sea. I find myself unable to avoid breathing deeply as I walk.

I pass a tall skinny man with dark, leathery skin - partly due to his ethnicity and partly because he obviously spends a lot of time out on the water. He is sitting on the edge of a wooden pier fixing nets. He wears a T-Shirt that reads "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll spend all day drinking beer in a boat". Funny, but untrue, as, leaning up against my end of the pier is his bag with a large object with a tail sticking out of the top. Looks like he's got a good dinner tonight.

I drift into town, a little inland. The main drag is like one of those pretend Western towns, where stuntmen have gunfights and fall of roofs for tourists. It's all verandas and balconies made of wood painted pale light colours. Bizarrely, Bonaire is half American and half Dutch, which if you don't know beforehand, is surprising. You don't expect to see menus listing stroopwaffles alongside the more expected cocktails, but it's no bad thing. It also means that my favourite beer in the world, Amstel, is in plentiful supply. A fact confirmed by another guest entertainer on the ship who I see carrying a whole case of it back to his cabin, while moaning about the tiny cans it comes in.

Tomorrow I go home. It's been a fun time, cruising around the blue seas on this huge ship. I always miss home, so I'm looking forward to going back, even if it's only for two days.

Oh yes, home on Friday afternoon, Italy on Sunday morning.


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