The serenity of the ocean crossing was long gone.
We added about a hundred more passengers on the MSY Wind Surf in St. Maarten, and while the cruise was still only 320 or so people as opposed to the thousands on one of the big ocean liners, the overall vibe had been altered. The second leg of the journey would be very different from the one that took us from Lisbon to the Caribbean.
It reminded me of the Camino de Santiago, where we had been walking for more than 400 miles with many of the same people for over a month, and then reaching the town of Sarria and having this huge influx of new pilgrims arrive to start their trek. The sheer number of new people changed the feel of our journey.
Both in Spain and with the cruise, it turned out, in retrospect, to be a good thing.
New people, new adventures. Lots of laughs and lots of gorgeous Caribbean vistas. Plenty more outstanding dinners and flowing booze. We had six more countries to visit, and J’Nell and I were going to enjoy every minute of it.
December 15, 2019
After touring the bustling port towns of Antiqua and St. Maarten, Nevis was an elixir of tranquility.
As I wrote in my last post, whenever I travel, I greatly enjoy reading up on the locations and learning about the culture and different places to experience. But after being abroad for over three months, I had mostly abandoned that practice. Nevis was no exception, and other than one attraction, the Alexander Hamilton House, which turned out to be closed (it was Sunday), I had no clue as to what to see or do there.
After searching Google Maps when we got off the tender (the little boats that take you from ship to shore), we decided to make a mile or so walk to Pinneys Beach. The mountain of the island rose majestically to our right, and after following the roads through a residential area (which was exceedingly quiet), we reached the sand and the ocean. Surprisingly there were people renting lounge chairs with umbrellas. I can’t remember what we paid, but it wasn’t much and was well worth it, and there was also a wonderful shack nearby (the Lime Beach Club) serving cocktails.
This would be our first true beach day since leaving Hawaii in August. And my goodness did it feel nice to lie in the sun, swim in the ocean, and enjoy those boozy drinks on the sand. We stayed a couple of hours, and then on our way back found a place called Sunshine’s, which was an ex-pat sports bar. There were all kinds of college and pro memorabilia on the ceiling and walls, and even a Boston Bruins Stanley Cup pennant on the side of the brightly painted commode.
We had a snack and a couple of beers there, all with the mindfulness that we had to make the last tender leaving Nevis at 4:30 pm.
December 16, 2019
J’Nell and I had looked up a hike that would get us out of the teeming port town of Roseau and was only about a 30-minute walk from where the tender docked (in a very un-picturesque spot of stacked shipping containers). We trekked that way with a few of our friends from the ship, and it was clear the island was still trying to rebound after being devastated by Hurricane Maria 2 years ago. Our shipmates had no interest in a hike of any kind, so we left them and followed the path from Google Maps.
The trail was called “Jack’s Walk”, and it led us up into the lush hillside to a clearing that had gorgeous views of the bay and the Wind Surf. While it was muggy and sweaty, it felt great to finally go on a proper hike after being on the ship for so long. Just being that far above sea level also was a thrill.
We wound our way down the other side of the hill and eventually found a bar where we had Kabuli beers (Dominica’s Pride!) and rested from the hike. Going back to the dock we went to another place (the Hi Rise Beach Bar) for cocktails, and then ambled over to where we would catch a tender back to the Wind Surf.
December 17, 2019
Pigeon Island, St. Lucia
This was beach barbecue day, a really fun party Windstar throws for its passengers! Steel drum music, Caribbean food, and an endless supply of booze right on the bay in Pigeon Island. J’Nell and I also ambled around and checked out the old forts and barracks, and went swimming in the ocean.
December 18, 2019
Les Saintes, Guadeloupe
My favorite island we visited on the trip, Les Saintes is a tiny French enclave where we went on another, more ambitious, hike. The views from the top were stunning, and we also enjoyed roaming around the charming town and seeing goats and iguanas. I could have stayed on Les Saintes for months, and I hope to get back there someday.
December 19, 2019
Gustavia, St. Barthelemy
Walking around St. Barth’s, I could almost hear Robin Leach narrating as we passed all the mega yachts in the harbor. From what we were told, this island is the place where the rich and famous go for New Year’s Eve. Being neither rich nor famous (and knowing we would be gone long before January 1, 2020), J’Nell and I enjoyed checking out the town and also swimming and hanging out at the scenic Shell Beach. We also met up with our British friend Paul from the boat (who is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met) and enjoyed cold cans of Carib beers at the historic (from 1949) Le Select Bar.
December 20, 2019
Basseterre, St. Kitts
Using our ship credit that J’Nell’s family friend who booked the cruise passed onto us, we did our one and only shore excursion. It was an ATV adventure up in the hills, and it was a blast! Making it better was our overly humorous British buddy Paul who joined us. While he for sure uttered much funnier things, on the van ride we passed a cemetery, and while all passengers were completely silent, he turned to the driver and said, “from what I hear of this place, people are dying to get in”.
The last time I had been on an ATV was several years before at Kualoa Ranch on Oahu, and careening around these twisty, dirt mountain paths brought back that immense joy I experienced in Hawaii. When we finished there was a plantation-type house (the Fairview Great House & Botanical Garden) where we got to hang out for a while before driving back, and there was a big pool that looked quite inviting.
Paul asked if we could go for a swim, and one of the people who worked there said “yes” with a giggle, thinking who would want to jump in without proper bathing attire. Paul wasted no time by cannonballing into the water, and after a few seconds of contemplation, I joined him. Nobody else on the tour followed us into the pool.
We were driven back into town and still had some time before getting back to the ship, and Paul, J’Nell, and I decided to do some shopping and then grab some cocktails. As this would be our last night on board, we toasted a fun trip and then boarded a tender back to the MSY Wind Surf.
While I tried to convey the memorable parts of the Windstar Cruise from Lisbon to all the ports in the Caribbean, I know I missed so much.
I’ll borrow from Hemingway when I say I did not write about the many great and funny dinners with Charlene, Paul and Chris, and a particular one where the older (and very conservative) couple who joined us regretted their decision just minutes into the meal (it was cringeworthy and hilarious how they did not care for any of our banter). Nor did I write about Meghan, the very talented and cool singer from South Africa who, along with the guitarist (I’m blanking on his name), provided wonderful entertainment from the Compass Rose lounge every night. I also didn’t write about Bernie, who had a deep gravely smoker’s voice and seemed like a caricature of a New Yorker, but was a very nice man and he also had a great line about the beverage package and all the alcohol those of us on it were consuming; he said next trip he would get a t-shirt made that said “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m on ‘the plan’”.
There were no sentences about the night when they turned off all the lights on the boat so we could see the thousands (billions?) of stars in the sky, or the way the wake from the back of the ship shimmered at sunset. There were also many conversations with random passengers that I barely remember but I know were wonderful. I did mention how amazing the whole crew was, but they were all such terrific people, and I cannot thank them enough.
December 21 to December 23, 2019
Philipsburg, St. Maarten
The trip was over, but we booked 2 more nights in St. Maarten in Sunset Beach because we still weren’t ready to go home. Our hotel was right next to the spot where the planes come in remarkably low over the beach and people purposefully try to tossed in the wind from the jet blast when they take off. It’s one of those things that pictures and words fail, and you really have to be there.
We were hoping to get to the French side of the island, but didn’t happen because there were protests that shut down the border with the Dutch side. Though that just gave us more time to enjoy the beaches near where we were staying.
From Hawaii to San Francisco, then to France, Spain and Portugal, and finally across the ocean to the Caribbean . . . four months later we were heading back to the United States. J’Nell and I had tickets on American Airlines to Boston to spend Christmas with my family. Coming full circle to Honolulu awaited us after that.
Our hotel on St. Maarten was so close to the airport that we were able to walk there. We strapped on our backpacks, Camino style, and headed down the road. There was something perfect about that.
This post is dedicated to our amazing friend Charlene. I feel very lucky for the three weeks we got to spend with her on the ship, and our dinners, drinks, and conversations with her are some of the best memories from that special time. I would have sailed with her anywhere.