Back to Reality

On Monday, the first of two sea days heading north, I began the day with a treadmill run in the fitness center on Deck 9. We at a late breakfast in the main dining room with a nice couple from Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri and Roland, a very proper Englishman (from London), who really wanted to believe that all Texans wear boots and Stetsons.

Most of the day we spent reading and relaxing. Dinner was our final formal affair, and we enjoyed another meal with Joe and Doris, our regular dining partners.

Tuesday was much of the same. We’d received an invitation from the captain to the Mariner’s Lunch, an event for those of us who have accumulated a lot of cruising days on Holland America, and we were impressed with the size of the crowd and another delicious meal.

The other big event on Tuesday was packing. Bags were required to be out in the hall before midnight, and ours were early because we’re usually fast asleep by that time, and Tuesday was no exception.

We had prepaid a shuttle service to get us to the airport, so when our debarkation group was called and we had scanned our key cards to leave the ship for the last time, we had an easy time finding our bags, moving through customs, and boarding the bus.

We were so early at the airport that they wouldn’t even check our bags for a couple of hours, but we found a comfortable place to sit, some food and drink, and just enjoyed another day of reading and relaxing as we waited for our Southwest flight to Austin. Our Wingz driver met us at the Austin airport and whisked us home.

The house was just the way we’d left it, thanks to our wonderful neighbors, who had not only collected our mail, but also come in and opened the under-sink cabinets and dripped water when subfreezing temperatures unexpectedly hit. We made a quick run to a pharmacy to get a prescription refill for Diane, then found a restaurant, since there was no food in the house.

Now, we’ve unpacked, shopped for groceries, begun the laundry, and taken a deep breath. The cruise was a great experience. We enjoyed meeting new people, seeing new places, and sailing on a new ship. The various islands were fun to learn about and explore, especially the parade in Aruba – a certain highlight. The food was good, the service even better, and the room was bigger than we’re used to on a ship.

Overall, we’re glad we went, and we’re glad we’re home. It’s good to feel a little more grounded, a little more permanent, a little more in the old routine.

It’s good to be home.



Filed under Caribbean 2019

One Happy Island

With no scheduled tour, we slept in on Sunday morning, and when we woke up Koningsdam was already docked in Oranjestad, the capital city of the island of Aruba. A fully independent nation since 1996, Aruba bills itself as “One Happy Island,” and it’s true!

Boasting a population of 70,000, the island also has close to 7,000 hotel rooms to accommodate the more than 500,000 visitors who arrive each year, making it one of the most popular Caribbean destinations. Aruba is known for its beautiful beaches, and some of the Oranjestad downtown area sits on reclaimed land, in keeping with its Dutch heritage.

We were pleased to learn that the largest and longest parade of the season would be held on the day of our visit, and although they called it the Grand Carnival Parade (Karnaval, in the Papiamento language), we decided it really was in honor of our 35-year wedding anniversary. The captain extended our call here by an extra couple of hours, so we passengers could more fully enjoy the festivities.

Our originally scheduled tour in Aruba was canceled , probably because of the parade. That was fine with us, as it saved us a few dollars and allowed us to attend the parade without any other schedule to meet (except, of course, being back on board by 7 p.m.).

Just outside the cruise terminal, the streets were blocked with official barricades, and crowds were gathering along the sidewalks. The aroma of barbecue wafted on the sea breeze, and, under a blue canvas awning, a DJ played calypso and reggae through a speaker the size of a small house. Young children, their faces painted with glitter, struggled to tame balloons that wanted to be gone with the wind. Their parents staked out prime viewing areas on the curb, complete with lawn chairs and coolers.

Without knowing the exact schedule, we first joined the growing throng. We talked with some local people, who told us they expected the parade to pass that point around 4 p.m., three hours later! Rather than subject ourselves to the sun and heat for that much longer, we went back on board, had lunch, and ventured out again later.

Our timing the second time was much better. Just as we arrived on the sidewalk, the first floats and dancing groups arrived. Steel bands, colorful costumes, and various merrymakers marched, played, and danced their way along the street. We didn’t so much hear the thumping bass from the passing floats as feel it in our sternums.

These folks had started parading at noon, so they’d been moving in the heat for four hours by the time we saw them. We noticed that some of them appeared to have been drinking since noon, too, as some of the dancing was just a tad off beat, and many carried beverage cups. In fact, interspersed within the floats were trailers that served as bars for the paraders, complete with mixologists, distributing colorful potions to the marchers, musicians, and dancers.

We, along with everybody else, completely ignored the brief tropical sprinkle of rain; it couldn’t stop the dancing to the throbbing rhythms of the steel bands, the pageantry of the costumed dancers, or the joy that permeated the air.

Back on the ship and after dinner, we strolled around the Promenade Deck as Koningsdam cast off her lines and eased away from the pier. The party in town continued, and the sight of the crowds and sound of the thumping bass faded into the distance as we set a course for Fort Lauderdale, where we were scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

Our entire experience in Aruba exemplified the Papiamento expression: Bida ta Dushi! Life is Good!

More photos than usual today, because … well, just because.

One Happy Island

Diane’s happy to be in Aruba.

I Love Aruba

I love Aruba!

Chichis Cooking

Chichi was cooking up some good-smelling barbecue.

Superfood Queens

Superfood queens and princesses.

Steel Band

These steel band musicians marched along inside the frame of their trailer. They had to keep the start-and-stop pace, or else they’d be run over by their own float!


Some of the costumes looked like they might take flight any minute.

The Secret

“The Secret” float. I missed the photo op, but the back of this float featured a pretty remarkable image of the Buddha.

White Costume

Some were pretty elaborate.

One of the Men

One of the few men in the parade. Notice the beverage cup.

Red and Black Feathers

Amazingly intricate costumes.

Red Fan

Lots of beauty queens.

Sharp Costume

Marchers stopped frequently to pose.

Previous Year Queen

Another queen.

Another Queen

This queen got to ride in a Mercedes, instead of walking.

Purple Feathers

Now we know what happens to all those ostrich feathers from Curacao!

Orange Circles

Elaborate, colorful costumes.

Posing with kids

Marchers often stopped the parade to allow photo ops for proud parents. We expect that encourages the next generation of dancers/marchers.

All Shapes and Sizes

The dancers came in all shapes and sizes.

Blue and Yellow

Four hours of marching in high-heeled boots, but they weren’t done yet.

Feathery Costume

Some of the costumes might have been inspired by the Arawak Indians, the original inhabitants of the island.

Blue Feathers

Each set of costumes more ornate than the last.

Black and White

Piano-inspired costume.

King Neptune

King Neptune’s float.



Filed under Caribbean 2019

An Omelette for 22, Please

At 7 a.m. on Saturday, Koningsdam tied up at the cruise terminal near downtown Willemstad, the capital of the Dutch island of Curacao (kyoor-uh-SAH-ow). There are several possible explanations for the origin of the name of the island, and most of them have to do with healing (cure).

As we boarded the comfortable, air-conditioned bus, our guide Corrine greeted us with “Bon Dia” – “Good morning” in Papiamento, the local hybrid language. It’s basically the same thing spoken in Bonaire and, presumably, in Aruba.

An immediately noticeable feature of the downtown area is a floating swing bridge that pivots from each end and separates in the center to allow boats to pass. A local legend explains the colorful buildings that dominate the cityscape. At one time in the past, the then-governor was plagued by chronic headaches. Blaming them on the reflection of the harsh sunlight from all the whitewashed buildings, he ordered the buildings painted various colors, and the custom became entrenched. An entire area including over 800 buildings is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1997).

Curacao is the largest of the “ABC Islands.” Its history parallels that of Bonaire – Arawak Indians, 1499, Alonso de Ojeda, Amerigo Vespucci, Spaniards, British, French, Dutch, slaves, etc., etc. The economy is tourism-based, with international trade and oil refining adding their share. The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism, and we passed several large Catholic churches on our tour, each accompanied by a cemetery and an elementary school. (Cemeteries almost all feature above-ground burial, because of the dense limestone just beneath the topsoil.)

Our tour was titled “Ostrich Farm and Aloe Plantation.” When we arrived at the farm, we transferred into an open air 4×4 vehicle to carry us around the grounds. The ostriches live in fenced enclosures. The farm guide explained that the taller African ostriches can live for as long as 75 years. In the wild, the ones who live that long are those who can outrun their natural predators, which isn’t too difficult, since ostriches can run 50 miles per hour!

They are born (hatched?) gender indeterminate, then develop male or female characteristics at around nine months of age. Father ostriches incubate and hatch the eggs. At the farm the people use a bit of trickery to encourage breeding and egg production: They place lookalike eggs (made of concrete) in the enclosures to encourage laying, and they steal newly laid real eggs so the birds will feel the need to replace them.

This farm was originally established to raise ostriches for meat, but seems to have moved more into the tourist business. Our guide said one ostrich egg can make 22 omelettes, and they sell the unfertilized eggs for food. They showed us a couple of new hatchlings, one born only the previous day.

A few other odd animals inhabit the grounds, including a pair of Egyptian crocodiles. The guide said they are lazy, and he is not afraid to go into their enclosure. “They are well fed,” he said, “and they will not move any more than they have to. On the other hand, if they were hungry ….” He didn’t have to finish the sentence.

The bus then took us to an aloe vera farm, where we saw the cultivated plants growing in rows. Corrine said aloe grows most everywhere on the island, and “everyone has some in their yard. I eat or drink it every day.” The guide explained that aloe is a member of the lily family, and originally came to the islands from Africa. This was a commercial operation, and they export the products internationally.

The farm guide demonstrated the harvesting process and distributed samples of the gooey gel she extracted from the leaf. I rubbed mine on the spot on my hand where an ostrich had bit me. Inside the conveniently located store, we were invited to buy hand cream, soap, shampoo, lotion, juices, and more. Diane escaped with one jar of hand cream.

On the way back to the pier, Corrine mentioned that the population of Curacao is 160,000. Eighty percent of their TV programming is American, so English is widely spoken, along with Dutch and Papiamento. The governor of the island is appointed by the Dutch king and serves as the head of state. An elected prime minister runs the government.

We left the bus in the downtown area, so we could shop and walk a bit. It was easy to find a “Curacao” cap. On our way back to the pier, Diane offered to take a picture for an attractive young couple who were taking selfies in front of our ship. They returned the favor. We chatted for a minute and discovered they were on vacation from the Netherlands and liked the big Holland America Line lettering on the front of the ship.

We boarded the ship and relaxed the afternoon away. Koningsdam was scheduled to depart at 11 p.m. and make the short overnight sail to our final port of call, Oranjestad, capital of the island nation of Aruba.

Today’s post concludes with the thought from a sign we saw on a travel agency today: Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.

Some photos of our day:

Otro Banda

An area of Willemstad called Otro Banda (“other side” in Spanish). The Curacaoan flag flies in front.

Ostrich pair

A pair of ostriches.


A face that only a mother could love.

Diane feeding

Diane’s suddenly very popular among the ostriches.

Mike feeding

Feeding the ostriches from a bowl was easy. The more exciting part was having them eat out of my hand — one of them nipped my hand pretty hard!

Male ostrich

Male ostriches are bigger than females and have a dark, almost black, body of feathers.

Diane balancing

Diane balances all her weight on a raw ostrich egg. The guide said an egg can support up to 420 pounds without breaking, but will crack if dropped onto a hard surface from ten centimeters. The male ostrich usually sits on the eggs to incubate them.


Our view of the live crocodiles was very limited, so here’s a version from the tiny museum at the site. The guide told us that a croc is capable of consuming 200 pounds of food in 15 minutes, but then would need three months to finish digesting it.


These two macaws were enjoying life at the ostrich farm (a blue and gold in the back and a scarlet macaw in front).


At the ostrich farm, one of the wandering peacocks felt the need to show off for a passing hen.

Aloe vera

At the aloe vera farm, they have over 100,000 plants growing on their seven acres.

With Koningsdam

As we returned to the ship, a young Dutch couple on holiday returned the favor after we snapped a photo of them. The shopping bag holds a “Curacao” cap for me and Diane’s hand cream from the aloe vera farm.



Filed under Caribbean 2019

Bon Bini na (Welcome to) Bonaire!

On our Thursday at sea, I took a run on a treadmill in the fitness center. We had lunch with a lovely Canadian couple and dinner with our regular tablemates, Joe and Doris. It was a good day for some quality reading time, which we both enjoyed.

Friday morning seemed to arrive too early, even though the ship’s time is now one hour later than Eastern Standard. By 8 a.m. we were docked at Kralendijk (KRAH-len-dike), the capital and largest town on the island of Bonaire. The town is locally referred to as “Playa.”

As the ship docked, we saw a small business jet landing at Flamingo International Airport, adjacent to the cruise terminal.

The island is home to about 20,000 people, around 3,000 of whom live in Kralendijk. Until 2010, Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles, along with Aruba and Curacao. Now, it is grouped with Sint Eustatius and Saba as a special municipality of the Netherlands. The original residents of the island were Arawak Indians, and some of their rock paintings and petroglyphs have been found and preserved in caves. The name “Kralendijk” is from the Dutch “coral dike,” and “Bonaire” derives from the Arawak word meaning “lowlands.”

Spanish, Dutch, and British have all had their turn in exploiting the area and its people. African slaves were used to work the salt pans, until their emancipation in 1862. Our tour guide, Jandy-Ann, said individual slaves didn’t last very long, suffering infections from skin wounds in the hyper-salty water and blindness from the brilliant sun’s reflection on the white salt.

Jandy-Ann said the language most used is Papiamento, a creole of Dutch, English, and Spanish. Dutch is the official language, and most residents can speak at least one other one, as well. The predominant religion is Roman Catholic, but our bus passed four gigantic antenna towers of Trans World Radio, an evangelical broadcasting operation that the guide said boasts 100 million listeners around the world (if I understood her correctly)!

As our bus cruised the narrow asphalt roads through the rural areas, we realized how arid the climate is. The island is known for its snorkeling and SCUBA diving, but the scenic beauty seemed to stop at the land’s edge. The land seemed mostly made up of coral and limestone. Average annual rainfall is 30 or so inches, but some years it doesn’t rain at all. Large cactus dominated the landscape. There were trees, but mostly scrubby, low-lying ones. The small, unpopulated island of Kleine (Little) Bonaire, just offshore, looked like it was the same.

Much of the water along the coast is designated as a national marine park, and the underwater photos we have seen are spectacular. Jandy-Ann pointed out former and current homes of some celebrities as we passed – Gloria Estafan, Harry Belafonte, Roger Moore.

She said the island’s fresh water is produced by reverse osmosis. Wind turbines provide 30 percent of the electricity; 30 percent comes from solar panels, and 40 percent from gasoline-powered generators.

Our 18-passenger bus descended into a shallow valley to the tiny Spanish village of Rincon (population 2,000), the oldest town in the Dutch Caribbean, where we had a few minutes to visit a “museum,” repurposed from a low-ceilinged adobe house. It contained some common artifacts, many of which we had seen in other places. Some of our braver fellow tourists sampled locally produced Cadushy liquor, made from cactus. The little souvenir stalls there also afforded me an opportunity to purchase a “Bonaire” cap.

We drove along the coast, with the spectacular colors of water beside us on the way to the salt flats. The Dutch created a system of dikes to channel seawater into shallow ponds, where it evaporated. The salt was raked up and exported, and the manual process was a brutal one for the African slaves who actually did the work. Today, it’s still done, but by machine. A docked ship was receiving salt into its hold via a conveyor belt that arched across the road.

The island has no property tax, but a 34 percent income tax, which pays for all health care. There’s one hospital on the island, but no educational facility beyond the one public high school and private (mostly church-related) schools. Jandy-Ann said the closest university is on neighboring Curacao, although the Bonaire students who can afford it often travel to the Netherlands for their higher education. Online courses are also available.

She pointed out lots of roadside plants: Brazil tree, acacia, cotton tree, aloe vera (also an export). She mentioned lots of trade with Japan and with Venezuela, saying that the recent political troubles in Venezuela have negatively affected the Bonaire economy.

Our tour complete, Jandy-Ann and driver Elvis returned us safely to the cruise terminal, where we boarded Koningsdam in time for a late lunch in the Lido. At 6 p.m. the ship eased away from the pier, made a 180-degree turn, and at a leisurely pace began the overnight voyage to Willemstad, on the island of Curacao, where we were scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m. on Saturday.

Some photos of our day on Bonaire:

From our balcony

One of the best views we saw on the whole island was this one, from the balcony of our room on the ship. The closest structures are part of the cruise terminal.


Our tour guide, 19-year-old Jandy-Ann.

Cactus fence

We saw lots of these fences, made by encouraging cactus to grow together. I’m pretty sure it would keep ME out.

Donkey crossing

While driving, you must keep a lookout for “ezels”! We saw a few of them, roaming wild on the island.


The Museo Chich’i Tan, one of the stops on our tour.

Museum model

A model structure inside the museum. The Bonaire flag is on the thatched roof.


A flock of pink flamingos lives around this brackish lake.

Water color

The colors in the water were astonishing. It’s no wonder this place is a favorite for snorkeling and SCUBA diving.

Diane on beach

Beautiful subject AND background.

Slave huts

These structures were built in 1850 to provide a place for the slaves to sleep, so they wouldn’t waste much time traveling to and from their backbreaking work in the salt flats.

White slave

This hut was designated for a “White Slave” — not a white-skinned person, but one of a group of black slaves assigned to the “white” work area, one of three labelled by the red, white, and blue colors of the Dutch flag.

Salt mountain

A mountain of salt ready to be loaded onto a waiting ship for export (probably to the U.S., for use in de-icing roads and softening water).



Filed under Caribbean 2019

Happy Independence Day!

On Wednesday morning we once again had breakfast in the main dining room, this time with two ladies from Portland, Oregon, and a couple from Toronto. As Koningsdam backed down to her berth at Amber Cove, we couldn’t help but notice the German cruise line Aida’s ms Luna already tied up on the other side of the pier.

The island of Hispaniola consists of Haiti (the western one-third) and Dominican Republic (the eastern two-thirds). Our cruise port of Amber Cove is situated on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. The capital city, Santo Domingo (population three million), lies on the southern coast, a three-hour drive away.

Before Carnival Corporation spent $85 million in 2015 creating the 25-acre cruise port now known as Amber Cove, the small community was known as San Felipe. Now there are swim-up bars, zip lines, water slides, and floating cabanas (only $300 per day!).

The nearest town of any size is Puerto Plata, population 350,000, and that’s where our tour was headed. We boarded a comfortable, air-conditioned bus and met our guide, Natividad, who said he also was “a detective,” although I never knew for certain whether he actually worked for law enforcement or was simply good at telling stories.

He was good at that. In giving us the usual statistics and facts about the area, he said, “The three main religions here are Catholic, Apostolic, and Alcoholic.” As we bumped along a muddy, rutted track flanked by Precaucion: Hombres Trabajando signs, he said, “They tell us they will finish the road construction in one year. We just don’t know which year.”

This was another landing point for Christopher Columbus in 1492. Dominican Republic declared independence on February 27, 1844, but not from Spain – from Haiti, which had annexed them 22 years earlier when they broke from Spain. Coincidentally, February 27 was the date of our visit, so we were right in the middle of Independence Day celebrations.

The political history of the country is long and complicated, and most recently featured dictator Rafael Trujillo, until his assassination in 1961.

We passed a huge rum distillery, the courthouse, and a big baseball stadium. Natividad asked Carlos, the driver, to stop beside the ball park while he held forth about all the major league ball players who hail from Dominican Republic – Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez, David (“Big Papi”) Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, etc. He held strong opinions about each of them, based primarily on how much each player had done to give back to his homeland.

We drove along Ocean Boulevard, AKA the Malecon, with beautiful beach views. The bus was diverted from that wide boulevard into the narrow streets of downtown, because of the Independence Day parade. Marching bands, uniformed school groups, and flag-waving children crowded the streets. Schools were out for the national holiday. Motorbikes, some carrying families of four, buzzed dangerously close to our big bus, but Carlos managed to avoid killing anyone.

Having deposited us at the central plaza, called Parque Independencia, Carlos and the bus disappeared, while we toured the plaza and cathedral and made the obligatory shopping stop. (Score one for the cap collection!)

The current cathedral, made of concrete, replaced the original wooden one, which was destroyed by fire in 1863. Earthquakes in 1946 and 2003 further complicated the restoration, which was finally completed in 2008. The materials in the new building are concrete, marble, and mahogany wood, from the national tree.

Our tour ended with the return drive to the cruise port at Amber Cove. The rain showers diminished, and the sun reappeared to give us fine views of the lush green mountainsides of the Dominican Republic from our seventh-deck balcony.

With a 6 p.m. departure, Koningsdam was scheduled to arrive at the Dutch island of Bonaire on Friday morning, giving us one day at sea, or, as Diane calls it, “a day off.”

Some photos from our day in the Dominican Republic:


From the Malecon, AKA Ocean Boulevard. The Dominican Republic national flag flies alongside Neptune (or Poseidon, if you’re Greek) on an island just offshore.

Parque Independencia

The center of Parque Independencia, the central plaza we visited on the national holiday. Rain sprinkled on us for a minute, but it was a cooler day overall than the previous one.

Donkey Rider

Clever street entertainer at the central plaza. He (and his mount) often danced the merengue to the amplified music.

Carnival Mask

Carnival mask and costume in the central plaza. The intricate costume hearkens back to the native Taino people, who populated the area since the 7th century.

City Hall

Puerto Plata City Hall. It’s difficult to see, but the “F” and “Y” in the crest up top stand for “Ferdinand” and “Ysabella,” king and queen of Spain when Columbus arrived.

Refreshment Stand

Portable refreshment stand beside Independence Plaza.

Post Parade

Although we didn’t really see any of the parade, afterwards, marching bands and uniformed school groups were disbanding. National flags were everywhere.

Flag and Cathedral

In Parque Independencia, the national flag by the two towers of the San Felipe Cathedral.

Stained Glass

One of several pretty stained glass windows inside the cathedral.

Cathedral Altar

The altar inside San Felipe Cathedral.

San Felipe Fort

From the bus window, the Fortress of San Felipe. We couldn’t get off the bus there, because of the bus parking and traffic jam.


Filed under Caribbean 2019

Two Explorers Landed Here

We ate breakfast in the main dining room on Tuesday at a table for six. The other two couples, from Wisconsin and New Jersey, were also retired teachers, so the odd man out, a retired accountant, couldn’t get a word in edgewise (although he didn’t seem to try very hard, either).

Koningsdam arrived around 11 a.m. at Grand Turk Island, one of the 40 islands in the British Overseas Territory of the Turks & Caicos Islands. About 3,700 people make their homes on the island, the largest of the Turks chain, named after the Turk’s Cap cactus, a species that grows there and resembles an Ottoman fez.

Two famous adventurers’ landings took place there. The first supposedly occurred in 1492 when Christopher Columbus made his first landfall in the new world on the island. Other Caribbean locations argue, however, that they were the explorer’s first stop.

Four hundred seventy years later, the second famous landing certainly occurred there. It was the splashdown of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule in 1962, and Grand Turk was the first land he reached after that successful space journey.

We disembarked and made our way down the pier to the plaza where we were to meet our tour, “The Rainbow Calypso Tram.” We boarded a double-length, open air tram and met our team of guides, headed by a friendly man named Austin, who narrated our trip around the island.

We immediately noticed that they drive on the left, in keeping with their British heritage. We passed government buildings, beautiful white powder beaches, and vestigial salt ponds. These ponds were set up by Bermudans in the 1670s and were worked by west African slaves. According to Austin, in the mid-nineteenth century Abraham Lincoln purchased salt for the U.S. from Grand Turk Island.

The now-feral donkeys we saw are descendants of animals who were imported to carry the bags of salt harvested from the ponds. They are protected by law and just wander around, grazing in the yards of houses or alongside the road.

The tram made a stop in Cockburn Town, the island’s capital, where I was able to buy a “Turks & Caicos” cap to add to my collection. We then made a complete loop around the island, stopping at the lighthouse, situated on the island’s highest point – elevation 163 feet – and passing the community college and the airport.

Austin said that all the island’s food and supplies are imported, mostly from Miami. That leads to high prices like $5.50 for a gallon of gas and $10.25 for a gallon of milk.

Grand Turk has been hit by several hurricanes in the last few years, and we saw some seriously damaged buildings and landscapes. Average rainfall is 36 inches a year, and one of them fell on us during the tour. The tram was covered but open on the sides, and those unlucky enough to be seated on the end of a row (like me) just got pretty soaked. Fortunately, though, I had a plastic bag from my cap purchase, and that protected the camera and notebook.

Overall, it was a very pleasant, breezy day on an island that has seen some tough times. The beautiful beach views alone, though, were worth the effort. Koningsdam got under way about 6 p.m. and set a course for Amber Cove, on the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, where we were scheduled to arrive at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

A few photos from our day:


The “Rainbow Calypso Tram” that we rode around the island. The rain pretty well soaked me, since I was sitting on the end of a row!


Taken from the pier Koningsdam shared with P&O Line’s ms Ventura. The most beautiful beach was right there at the end of the pier.


The flag of the Turks & Caicos flies above Holland America’s flag and the multicolored flag that I assume belongs to P&O Line.

Salt rake

Austin demonstrates use of the salt rake that slaves used to harvest salt from the ponds.

Mike and Diane

The water was a dozen different shades of blue and green. By the end of the day, Diane and I were merely pink.

Beach colors

Beautiful colors in the water everywhere.


Grand Turk lighthouse, situated at the highest point on the island — 163 feet.

Donkey mouth

Austin feeds bread to one of the feral donkeys by allowing it to snatch the food from his own mouth.

Donkey drinking

After we were severely warned about touching or getting close to the donkeys, we saw a tourist from another group doing this. The donkey seemed to like it.

Community College

A former U.S. Navy base has been converted into a campus for the community college, the highest educational opportunity in these islands.

John Glenn

At the airport entrance stands a replica of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 capsule, which splashed down nearby in 1962.


Not sure if you can read this official government sign, but it says “Complaints Commission.” We had no reason to stop there.


Filed under Caribbean 2019

Monday Is Moon Day

On Saturday, our Wingz driver Phillip whisked us to the Austin airport on time, safely, and comfortably. For some unknown reason we were pre-checked through TSA, so we got to remain mostly clothed as we made our way toward the gates.

We’d been seeing lots of stories about Southwest Airlines and their battle with their own mechanics – lots of planes out of service and many flights canceled – as well as weather problems around the system, so we were happy when our flight took off on schedule and arrived early in Fort Lauderdale. We had to fight our way through the usual craziness at the hotel shuttle stop at the airport, but we finally found the van for Candlewood Suites.

The next morning another van delivered us to the cruise port, where seven cruise ships were turning over their passengers on that day. A little confusion was predictable in that situation, with somewhere near 30,000 people coming and going in a relatively small space. And, oh yeah, they all had baggage.

Once we were on board ms Koningsdam, however, things smoothed right out. Our room was ready, food was plentiful in the Lido, and our bags were delivered in good shape. At dinner we met Scott and Lori from Idaho, and they were pleasant dining partners. The show for the evening in the main theater was a big-screen broadcast of the Oscars, but since we haven’t seen many of the movies, we chose instead to get in some quality rest time in our cabin.

On Monday morning we were up early to watch the sail-in to to Half Moon Cay (pronounced KEY) in the Bahamas. Even though the island is owned by Carnival Corp. (Holland America’s parent company), there are no docking facilities for large ships, so we rode a tender boat in to the dock. The island was formerly known as Little San Salvador, but after purchasing it in 1996 for $6 million, Carnival changed the name.

The island is only about five miles long by two miles wide, and only 40 to 50 people reside there permanently. The rest of the staff, like the guides for our “nature walk” tour, commute by boat from nearby islands, mostly from Eleuthera (population 12,000). They showed us lots of plant life – sea grapes, love vines, thatch palm, dilly trees, royal palms, sea lettuce – along the paved walking trail, and even more when we reached the demonstration nursery.

There’s no need for agriculture on the island, but the demonstration garden and nursery were established, apparently, just to show that they could grow things if they wanted to. We saw small patches dedicated to dill, asparagus, melons, peppers, beets, cabbage, collards, corn, carrots, tomatoes, and more. The low-lying island doesn’t support any large wildlife. The most we saw were some free range chickens and a few lizard tracks in the sand.

The entire experience was pretty much what we expected. It’s a “manufactured destination” – someplace that exists solely for tourists to have a place to go (and the cruise lines to have tours to sell), so a sort of Disney World-like atmosphere prevailed. And the manufactured experiences were plentiful. Many of our fellow passengers enjoyed horseback riding, swimming with sting rays, riding bikes, riding jet skis, kayaking, snorkeling, and just getting sunburned at the beach. I suspect that if there were a point on the island higher than its natural elevation of 60 feet, a “zip line adventure” tour would materialize.

Overall, though, it was a pleasant day on a beautiful island. The colors of the water are magnificent, and the beach is sheltered and clean. About an hour from now the Koningsdam will get under way and head for tomorrow’s destination: Grand Turk Island.

A few photos from our trip so far:

Celebrity Edge

Across the pier from us in Ft. Lauderdale, the Celebrity EDGE featured a restaurant that raised and lowered along the side of the ship.

Lots of ships

There were seven cruise ships in port in Fort Launderdale on Sunday.

3Koningsdam atrium

Koningsdam’s central atrium extends three or four decks high.

Main pool area

Koningsdam’s main pool area.


A couple of beauties.

Historic ruins

Our nature walk included passing by the remains of some early-1700s structures.

Beach area

Two cruise ships ensured lots of customers for the beach areas.


The water was so clear we could see this starfish on the bottom. Not sure why he was upside down.


I was there, too!

Nieuw Statendam

Riding our tender boat back to the ship afforded us this view of a sister ship, the Nieuw Statendam.


Filed under Caribbean 2019

Down South

Well, it’s been a while, and it’s February and cold and wet, so let’s go cruising!

On Saturday, Diane and I will fly to Fort Lauderdale, where we will board Holland America’s ms Koningsdam for a ten-day cruise through the southern Caribbean. We’ll make stops in the Bahamas, the Turks & Caicos, the Dominican Republic, and finally the Dutch “ABC” islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao.

Five of the countries we’ll visit will be new ones for Diane, and three will new for me. We’ve been together to the Bahamas. And I was on a ship that stopped in the Dominican Republic and Aruba back in the 1960s. That ship was big and gray, and nobody else made my bed (rack) or cleaned the bathroom (head). I wasn’t a passenger – I was part of the crew of the USS Fort Snelling (LSD-30), a U.S. Navy dock landing ship.

In 1966, the Fort Snelling called at the Dominican Republic to withdraw U.S. Marines from that island. There had been some trouble there, the U.S. sent Marines in, and once things calmed down, we served as their ride home. We loaded 300 troops and all their gear – including trucks and jeeps – and with our onboard population doubled, we headed back to our home port of Norfolk. On the way there, we dropped off our “guests” at their home base of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

On another trip the same year (or maybe a year later), we made a stop at Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba. That occasion also involved Marines, but not U.S Marines. These were Dutch – because the island at that time was part of the Netherlands Antilles – and they loaded some of us into their olive drab two-and-a-half-ton trucks and took us for a tour of the island. It wasn’t exactly a “guided” tour, though, because they didn’t speak much English, and we spoke even less Dutch, but they pointed out some of the interesting sights. We were mostly left on our own to figure out what we were seeing.

We called these forays from Norfolk “going down south.” I expect this experience will be quite different. First, the part of the Dominican Republic we’ll visit is on the other side of the island – the northern coast, instead of near Santo Domingo, where Fort Snelling called to pick up the Marines. Second, I understand Aruba has developed greatly since the mid-sixties, so I’m expecting to see much more than the dusty, arid, desert island landscape we encountered then. And third, our floating home away from home, ms Koningsdam, will carry us and 2,650 other passengers (as well as 1,036 crew members) in a style to which I was not accustomed in the Navy.

An acquaintance who recently visited Aruba mentioned how much Spanish she heard while there. She was a bit perplexed as to why. When she asked, the locals told her that all the Venezuelans who could afford it were making the 15-mile jump across the water to the island. So we’ll be within that distance of the troubled South American country. I expect we’ll be able to see the Venezuelan coast from Aruba, if it’s a clear day.

Here are a few other places we might see:

Half Moon Cay

Half Moon Cay, our first stop, in the Bahamas. The shape of the island reveals the source of its name.

Grand Turk Island

We probably won’t see this, because we’re not planning to snorkel in the Turks & Caicos, but it will still be neat to know it’s down there.

Puerto Plata

Our shore excursion in the Dominican Republic will take us to the small town of Puerto Plata.


Kralendijk is the capital city of the island of Bonaire.


Willemstad, capital city of Curacao, looks like it will be a colorful place!


We will be in Oranjestad, capital city of Aruba, during Carnival. It’s possible we’ll see one of these parades.

I hope you’ll follow this blog and come along with us. Let’s go cruising!




Filed under Caribbean 2019

Chock Full o’ Chocolate

On Saturday, we enjoyed sea day brunch at a table for ten in the main dining room. Most of our table mates were from Nebraska, and several were veterans, so we talked a little about military stuff. At 10:45 we attended the debarkation talk by the cruise director in the main theater. It was the usual information about the Sunday process of getting rid of 4,200 of us in time for a new 4,200 to take our place and still have the ship sail at 4:00 p.m.

At noon, the captain announced we were making 22 knots through a four-foot swell. While we heard all about weather and maritime data, we were in line for the chocolate buffet, which ended with us completely overstuffed and swearing never to eat chocolate again—until dinner.

At dinner we were seated with two other couples, both from Seattle. The wait staff performed their “goodbye” songs, including a sweet rendition of “(You’re) Leavin’ on a Jet Plane,” and our favorite headwaiter, Yolanda, brought us a heart-shaped dessert with a candle on it for our 34th anniversary. She and her helpers sang “Happy Anniversary” to us. The dessert? Chocolate fudge, of course.

Sunday morning’s debarkation went more smoothly than any we’ve ever experienced. Even U.S. Customs has streamlined their process—no more printed form to fill out. We left the ship, claimed our bags, shuttled to the parking area, and were in our car headed out of Galveston by 10:00 a.m.

As I write this on Sunday evening, there’s laundry in the washer and we’re contemplating our full calendar of activities for tomorrow, as we prepare to immerse ourselves back into “real life,” refreshed, renewed, and, as always, changed for the better by our travel experience.

It’s good to be home.


Filed under Caribbean 2018

City of Angels

As we ate breakfast Friday morning, the captain announced from the bridge that the U.S. State Department had declared a ban on U.S. Government employees’ traveling by ferry service from the island of Cozumel to the Mexican mainland (i.e., to Playa del Carmen, etc.). Therefore, he said, all the ship’s tours that would have utilized that ferry service were canceled. There was no word about the reason for such an action.

A couple of weeks ago, we saw video of one of the ferry boats exploding, in what was at the time believed to be an accident. Don’t have any idea if today’s announcement had anything to do with that or not. Fortunately for us, we were scheduled for something altogether different, but hundreds of passengers were sorely disappointed.

The ship arrived at Cozumel in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo about 10:15 a.m. and was cleared by Mexican officials. Because our stateroom window was facing open water, we were surprised when we debarked to see a total of six cruise ships tied up to the various piers. According to our guide, Cozumel’s population of 10,000 was easily doubled (or even tripled) for the day.

Our tour was again “Give Back with Purpose: Community Tour,” and it did in fact get us out of the tourist areas and into where the real people of the island live and work. A large part of the tour price is donated by Carnival to the places we visit—a church and an orphanage.

Our guide Rafael met us at the pier and herded us through the maze of jewelry and souvenir shops and to our waiting transportation. Not an air-conditioned bus today—it was a big Chevy truck with open-air seating of hard molded plastic.

The first stop was a church, but not San Pedro y San Pablo, as the tour description indicated. Instead, Rafael took us to his own church—San Jose del Mar. As a member of the parish, he helped rebuild it after Hurricane Wilma devastated the city in 2005. It’s just a sweet, plain, neighborhood parish church, but his pride in it was quite evident. He took our group of nine tourists into the church office to meet the secretary, and wanted us to meet the priest, but the padre was on an errand elsewhere.

We drove to the edge of town, past where the paved roads ended, and Rafael showed us the house he is building for his family. He emphasized the line that marked the limit of electrical service, and we couldn’t help but notice that his home-under-construction was on the dark side of the line. It didn’t seem to bother him, though, and he seemed very proud that he and his family would soon own their own cinder block house, rather than living in a rented apartment.

Nearby—and still off the paved roads—we stopped at Ciudad de Angeles, the orphanage we were to visit. Sponsored by Church of Christ and assisted by other Christian denominations, it provides a safe and healthy environment for orphaned, abused, and abandoned children, or, as Julio, our guide through the campus, put it, “the children that nobody wants.” The institution began in 2001 and quickly outgrew a series of houses, so they bought land in 2007 and began building on the current site.

There are several houses to accommodate the 40 kids, eleven of whom are now older than 18. Julio said when a child turns 18, he or she may decide to leave or stay, and so far most of them have stayed—some because they have younger siblings at the facility, and some just because it’s the best place they can imagine living.

We toured several of the homey buildings, staffed by paid house parents. Siblings are housed in the same building, and the general feel is that of families living together. We didn’t get to interact with many of the kids because they were in school off site.

There is a space for music lessons, a community laundry facility, a central basketball/soccer venue, a vegetable garden, and a playscape for the younger kids. Fruit trees dot the campus. Julio pointed out several murals and other art work done by the children. There are two psychologists and a speech therapist on staff, and special needs are fulfilled as funds and other resources are available.

After our tour, Julio invited us to contribute by purchasing T-shirts, mugs, or other souvenirs. Diane chose a necklace with the facility’s angel-wing logo. If you’re interested, you can learn more about Ciudad de Angeles on their website: .

Rafael, our tour guide, then took us back into town to the mercado. After a walk through the market, we proceeded to “a restaurant that is not really a restaurant,” and indeed, it seemed to be kind of like a restaurant, but in someone’s home. Our lunch of milanesa de res was quite good. (When one of our table mates asked what it was, I said that in Texas we would call it chicken fried steak.)

A few miles on the open-air truck back through the city and we were at the pier, where we reboarded Breeze, being careful to choose the correct big white ship. As we prepared for dinner, and with the sun sinking below the horizon, she cast off her lines and departed to the north, heading toward Galveston, Texas, where we were due to arrive early Sunday morning.

Here are a few photos from our day:

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Cozumel hosted a total of six large cruise ships the day we were there, but the town seemed equipped to handle such a tourist invasion.

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Our wheels for the day.

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The church of San Jose del Mar.

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Both side walls of the church are filled with stained glass windows, the lower series depicting the Stations of the Cross.

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Diane’s shot of a stained glass window inside the church. This one depicts a Christmas scene.

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Wall hanging inside the church. The Spanish translates as: “Am I not here, that I am your Mother?”

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Rafael made sure we passed by the site of the house he’s building. (And by “he’s building,” I mean with his own two hands.) When it’s done, there still won’t be electricity at the site.

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Julio, the PR person for Ciudad de Angeles, showed us some murals painted by the kids.

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Diane’s photo of photos of some of the residents of Ciudad de Angeles.

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The orphanage does have electricity, but they get their water from this well. They also are constructing more buildings as they receive donations.

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Carlos, one of the over-18 residents at Ciudad de Angeles. He’s attending university and studying TV communications.

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Alicia works in the laundry at the orphanage. Julio said that because electricity is so expensive, after washing the clothes she runs them up a rudimentary elevator through a hole in the roof, where they utilize “solar technology” to dry them.

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Fruits and vegetables for sale in the market.

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The “restaurant that’s not a restaurant.” It’s really someone’s house.

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Our guide Rafael with the lady who runs the restaurant in her home.



Filed under Caribbean 2018