Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Journey Continues

Where did I leave you?  Tortola?  I think it was Tortola.  Dolphins were involved.  (The internet around here, like everything else around here, is crazy expensive.  I'm on the "buck-a-minute" plan, whereas the alternative is something like $280 for unlimited access for the whole cruise.  So, I'm writing these posts offline, then sending them in really quick.  Usually, they post in less than two minutes, but it depends on how strong or crappy the wi-fi signal is.)

ANYWAY, after Tortola was what we've been politely referring to as "the big day," in Philipsburg, St. Martin (or, actually, Sint Maarten, since that's on the Dutch side of the island).  As holiday presents to each other, my parents and I, er, chartered a boat to take us out for a half day.  They took us for a cruise around part of the island; we went snorkelling; the captain (who was also a certified dive instructor) took me for a SCUBA dive; and they grilled us up a nice lunch while we sat on the deck and people-watched.  (A "show" was provided by a nearby party boat -- they had installed a trapeze near the side of the boat, so guests (in various states of inebriation) could swing out on the trapeze and drop in the water.  There were a couple of people who managed a full rotation before dropping in; most just swung out and jumped; one face-planted; another did a rather painful-looking "butt-flop."  And we watched them all, eating our lunch, sipping wine, and being perfectly relaxed.)  I really, really enjoyed this -- particularly as it came around the middle of the cruise.  I've been having a good time on this cruise, and have met a lot of nice people (Laundry Wench notwithstanding) but sometimes, it's really nice to get away from the 1200 people you've been trapped with on a small floating city, and have a little private time.

There was one small lingering problem.  Well, two, actually.  First, I was wiped from the dive.  I mean WIPED.  My brand new mask had fogged up (I hadn't used toothpaste on it to clean it beforehand), so I had to borrow one of theirs.  When we stopped for lunch, I wanted to go for a snorkel as more of an equipment check.  I'd tried cleaning the mask with some boat polish they had around (why not, right?) and jumped in to test it out.  I managed to swim maybe halfway around the boat when I realized my arms were too tired to complete the journey.  I kicked my way back (thank you, fins) and got back onboard.  On the plus side, the mask was slightly better.  On the minus side, I was well and truly spent.

Problem the second was the sunburn.  I'd doused myself in sunscreen (and, as directed, bug spray with DEET) and ended up fried nonetheless.  (I idly wondered if the bug spray acted as a thin coating of oil in which I sizzled.)  Clearly, I failed to sufficiently reapply.  But my back and arms got well and truly toasted.  (Still, it was worth it to sit on the front of the yacht, wind blowing in my face, sarong flapping in the breeze behind me.)

Both of these things were problems because we'd signed up for a snorkelling excursion the next day -- and this cruise line has a 36 hour cancellation deadline.  So I'd be stuck on a snorkel excursion when I had no strength left to snorkel, and CLEARLY no desire to be out in the sun.

But first:  shopping!  Of the ports we'd visited so far, Philipsburg was the best set up for cruise ship tourists.  First, it had a big enough port so that all the mega-ships could dock; there was no tendering in necessary.  Second, they had about two-and-half blocks set up of storefronts right freakin' there.  Some were stands where people were selling handmade stuff; others were legitimate shops (possibly second locations of shops that are normally located more inland) -- but everyone wanted your money.  I scouted around for gifts for people back home, a little something for myself, and some damn aloe for the sunburn (which I ended up not buying, because the shop in which it was $6 was closed when I went back, and I'll be damned if I'm paying the $10 the open shop wanted -- this was a decision I came to regret that night when the SHEETS HURT, but I digress). 

There must be a shoplifting problem in Philipsburg because all the shops had warning signs about security cameras and sending your ass to jail if you steal.  When I was in one shop, a store employee started yelling at a couple customers to open their bags, because she'd found an empty hanger on a rack where the customers had been  looking, and, y'know, there should have been something on the hanger.  English was not her first language, and she was raising her voice -- in a combination of that thing people do where they think shouting makes them better understood, and accusation.  The customers finally opened their bags and no shoplifted store items were found therein.  They were permitted to leave and then I listened to the store's proprietress give an earful to the employee along the lines of "You've got to be sure" before you accuse someone because it is otherwise "bad for business."  I figured now was a good time for me to make my own exit, so as to underline her point.  (Too bad; they'd had some cute earrings.)

After Philipsburg was Gustavia in St. Barts.  What you need to know (or, certainly, what I needed to know) about St. Barts is that it is the snootiest of all the Caribbean islands (to hear a dude on the ship tell it, an appetizer bowl of tomato soup ran him something like $28), where all the shops are crazy high-end.  (Also, French.)  Our quick look at the shops confirmed this, where even their crappy tourist scarves cost way more than the crappy tourist scarves we'd seen elsewhere.  I did, however, stop in a convenience store and grab the bottle of post-sunburn-aloe stuff for just UNDER $6 -- I assume this is the best buy on the whole island.

My dad and I went on the snorkelling excursion anyway (my mom stayed back on the ship -- she was too spent to even go), although there was no way we were actually going to snorkel.  This decision was confirmed by the really choppy seas when we were tendering over -- waves kept crashing to such a degree that water was raining in windows on the TOP of the tender (conveniently showering me with salt water -- and making everyone jealous of my awesome all-weather hat).  But the trip wasn't all bad -- there were about 20 of us they took out on a catamaran, and maybe 6 who didn't want to snorkel at all (my dad and I decided in advance; a few others were convinced by the state of the sea) and a couple more who snorkelled for a few minutes and gave up.  We gathered on that net/trapoliney bit at the front of the cat, and just hung out there while everyone else snorkelled.  Rum punch was also involved.  So, really, no complaints.

We're presently on our way to an island off the coast of the Dominican Republic (which is part of that country, although not technically sitting on Hispaniola).  We had (timely) cancelled our shore excursion for this one, as it was a "beach day" which was to include transport to a lovely beach and all "non-motorized water sports."  We cancelled because they decided that it no longer included non-motorized water sports, and I couldn't really see much advantage to paying $80 for transport to a beach when there is beach EVERYWHERE and I don't even get a kayak to play with.  We're trying to switch to a more city-based excursion instead, but that one is sold out.  (However, given our own experience with the snorkel thing yesterday, we know that some people who can't timely cancel still decide not to go, so we're hoping we can sneak some spare tickets at the last minute.)

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