Category Archives: Caribbean

Caribbean – Underwater

Nov 27 to Dec 2

As usual, it was a a challenge to find time to sort photos once I returned home to my normal life, so it’s taken a while to select a few from the hundreds I took with a waterproof camera on my recent Caribbean trip.  I never missed an opportunity to go snorkeling; I love watching life beneath the surface. As I bobbed, I tried to steady my camera and take pictures of moving fishes, most turned out blurry. Twice I donned a BCD, buoyancy compensator device, a vest which keeps a tank of air firmly attached to my back, and I descended fifty feet to the sea floor, once to a sunken tug boat and once to a beautiful coral garden, where I was mesmerized by the sea life.

Caribbean – St. Maarten

I spent an amazing week cruising around St. Maarten in the Caribbean on a 52’ catamaran, with seven fellow passengers, Harley, Nancy and their friends, with a crew of two.  I almost had to pinch myself to confirm I really was in the land of turquoise waters depicted in so many advertisements, a place I’d dreamed of getting to, maybe, someday.

As the week progressed, the warm moist air, rhythmic rocking, and frequent swims, washed my tensions, and psoriasis, away. I landed more relaxed than I’ve been since I spent three weeks on the Big Island in Hawaii a half dozen years ago. That feeling is fading, now that my cell phone is back on, but I’m savoring the memory.

Nov 26, 2016

I flew with Harley and Nancy from Fort Lauderdale to Philipsburg, on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, where we met our fellow passengers and got a ride to Marigot, on the French side of the island, where our ship was docked.

 Nov 27 to Dec 2 – At Sea

My cabin was entered via a DeLorean-type hatch adjacent to the dining area on the port side of the ship and I was awakened just before dawn each morning to the click of dishes being set on the table. (I remember that left is port because both words have four letters, and since port is reddish, I remember that the lights on that side of a ship are red, making the other side starboard and green.) About half the space in my cabin was taken up by a double bed, surrounded on three and a half sides by walls and a couple cabinets, one containing a life jacket, though I’m not sure I’d want to run back down the stairs to retrieve it if the ship was sinking. The other half of the cabin was comprised of more cabinets, a few square feet of floor, and a tiny, smelly head, a.k.a. bathroom, so small that water fell on the toilet when the shower was on. I only use it once all week, instead rinsing off with a sprayer on deck each time I climb out of the very salty sea.

When the dishes clicked, I coated my body in sealife-safe sunblock; one day I missed and acquired a streak of red on my back. I put on shorts and a sleeveless top, something I own only because of prior vacations to warm locations, and ascended to the aft deck, i.e. the back of the boat. My feet stayed bare, better to grip the textured surface of the ship. I enjoyed a cup of tea and watched the sunrise. After breakfast, we received a short briefing from our captain about the day’s activities – typically sail-or-motor, snorkel, lunch, sail-or-motor, snorkel, watch sunset, eat dinner, and if the sky is clear, watch stars; the sequence varied daily. Though on a sailboat, we motored more than sailed, usually due to the wind – too much, too little, or wrong direction.

Soon after we reached each destination, the steps were lowered, a floating line dropped, and the “pool” was open. I snorkeled often and dove a couple times – see next blog post for underwater pictures. Sometimes I floated on a noodle at the end of the swim line, drinking tropical cocktails, and conversing with fellow passengers, new friends.

I spent much of my time on the top deck, sometimes remembering to duck when walking beneath the boom. I downloaded pictures and keyworded them daily, otherwise I’d lose track of all our stops. One day I learn to play Farkle, a game with six dice. Meals were yummy, grilled fish, crispy Caribbean salads, and fruity or chocolate surprises for dessert. Once we ate dinner on shore and the sounds of the sea were replaced by noisy frogs, who outnumbered the crickets, and my body swayed as if it was still on the boat.

At night, in my cabin, I read one page of my book and fall asleep. Though the ship is partially powered by solar energy, the generators kick in each evening primarily to convert salt water to fresh. I blessed the quiet when they turned off, but missed the air conditioning. My feet cooled quickly one night when rain fell on them, followed by the sound of footsteps along the deck and the snap snap snapping down of the hatches. I used a blanket that night and slept soundly until the dishes clicked and I arose to another day in paradise.

December 3

I got up early to catch a 9:00 a.m. flight which was delayed an hour and a half while we waited for a part to be delivered from Puerto Rico. The flight to Miami took three hours. I had just enough time to clear customs, use the restroom, buy food, and board my next plane, for a six-and-a-half hour flight back to San Fran. This is my first trip since my dog, Zelda, died and I missed her welcome home greeting. I also missed the warm weather; we had a cold spell (by S.F. standards) and I shivered for a couple days.


I spent eight days in Cuba, traveling with ten other women, friends and friends of friends. We took an educational people-to-people trip with Globe Drifters. This country is definitely different than any I’ve visited. For the most part, development stopped in the 1950’s and it’s been decaying ever since. With the introduction of some private enterprises, it seems to be shifting from communism towards socialism, and with increasing tourism, restoration is beginning. It’s definitely on the cusp of big changes and it will be interesting to see what happens when Raúl Castro steps down in 2018.

Scroll down past the photos if you’d like to read more detail.

11/15/15 – Havana

We were warned to arrive 3-4 hours early for our flight from Miami to Cuba, but, even with the crazy scene of returning Cubans loaded down with piles of plastic wrapped packages, two hours would have been plenty.

It was relatively easy to get through customs and change money, .87 CUC (convertible Cuban pesos) per dollar after conversion fees. We were met at the airport by our Cuban guide, Mikel, and shuttled in three taxis to a half dozen casas. I’m sharing a room with Anne, one of my hiking buddies. We had the afternoon free so most of us had lunch together at Habana 61, a new private restaurant that opened within the last couple years. My swordfish was delicious, better than any meal I had in Florida.

We then split into small groups to explore historic Havana. It was sad to see so many once beautiful buildings in such decay. Hopefully the overdue end to the U.S. embargo will lead to funds for restoration of this UNESCO site. Music was playing on almost every block.

The group rejoined just as the rain was starting. We were soaked by the time we reached the restaurant where we experienced a crazy scene of people crowded onto wet curved marble staircase with waiters passing by with trays of food, wind blowing over rooftop tables, and other chaos. We were eventually seated inside and I enjoyed my first mojito.

11/16/15 – Road to Trinidad

 Breakfast at our casa was moved indoors due to more rain. It was the same government-dictated meal we would receive every morning – eggs, rolls, fresh tropical fruit (which we were assured was safe to eat), juice, and coffee/tea. We met the others at our rendezvous point. Our bus was significantly bigger than the van we were expecting, so with a row per person the long drive to Trinidad was quite comfortable.

Along the way we learned a bit about history, from the Cuban perspective. We stopped at Museo Giron, which documented the great inequities leading to the revolution and the Bay of Pigs invasion. The American invaders were mostly upper class Cubans who either fled or were asked to leave after the revolution. (Those who refused to accept the small offerings for their land and business holdings received nothing). Due to leaked information, Castro knew about the invasion in advance and the Cuban Americans didn’t have a chance. Most of those that survived were returned to the U.S. after their families paid ransom.

 11/17/15 – Trinidad

 Anne stayed in all day, suffering from traveller illness. I almost got lost when I went out to find her a soda, but was able to retrace my steps on the cobblestone street by the sights along the way – primary schools filled with children, pregnant women in a row of rocking chairs, and interesting buildings.

I later joined the group for a walking tour of the historic district, another UNESCO site – homes of wealthy families on the square (sugar cane plantation owner, factory owner, railroad owner, and slave owner). More than a million African slaves were brought to Cuba and many of the island’s inhabitants are descendants of them. I later purchased a couple souvenirs at the handicraft market, one of the few places to buy anything. They had small wooden items, embroidered linen, jewelry made from old silverware, and handbags made by crocheting the aluminum tabs from flip top cans.

In the evening we had a wonderful dinner on a terrace with a live band. My mariposa lobster and Bucanero beer were both delicious. I had heard that the food in Cuba was mediocre, but Mikel obviously knows where to find the best. It felt a bit extravagant knowing that we were eating much better than most Cubans whose staples are rationed and “supermarkets” are tiny.

 11/18/15 – Waterfall and Playa

 Seven of us took a hike to the Javira Waterfall in Parque Natural el Cubano. Though I didn’t feel a thing, I later noticed a large red swelling on my elbow. While it has gone down, it has not disappeared. After a short break, just enough time for me to walk back to the plaza for an iced Torquino coffee served with ice cream (yum), we boarded the bus again for a short drive to the beach. We went swimming at one beautiful sandy spot then had a picnic dinner and bonfire at another. It was wonderful to watch the stars come out while barefoot in the sand.

 11/19 – Long Drive to Vinales

We spent the whole day on the bus with a few stops along the way – a sugar plantation, Manaca Iznaga (an estate previously owned by a wealthy slaver trafficker with a tower from which slaves were watched), and the Che Guevara memorial.

 11/20/15 – Vinales

After an early morning walk (colorful casas, horses, bicycles, oxen) and another identical breakfast, I joined the others for a tour of a tobacco farm where we learned how cigars are made. Permits are required for this family-run operation to allow tourists and it’s heavily taxed. We had time to walk to the town square before lunch. After a siesta, we toured an organic farm where we were served a huge family-style dinner while watching the sunset. I showered before heading back to the town square to see a band, but don’t know why I bothered since I was sweating again before I’m got dressed.

11/21/15 – Back to Havana

On our way back to Havana we stopped at Comunidad Las Terrazas where we learned abut this model town, then visited the river where we ate yet another ham and cheese sandwich (it was either that or cheese and ham). Our dinners may have been amazing, but most lunches are boring. On the way to our casas, we stopped to stroll though Fusterlandia with amazing tiled artwork and walls reminiscent of Gaudi.

I had dinner in an outdoor plaza with about half the group, an ever-present band playing. We then met the others for a taxi ride to a club. We were the first to arrive at 10 pm and didn’t stay for the live band, which we later heard started at 1:00 a.m. (Needless to say, many Cubans are on a later time schedule than we are). Back in our neighborhood, I took a short nighttime stroll with Anne, Nancy, and Harley (for the first time we are staying at a casa with fellow travelers).

11/22/15 – Havana

Mikel took us on a walking tour and to lunch on the roof of Hotel Ambos Mundos, Hemingway’s first residence in Cuba. It rained a bit in the afternoon, but stopped just in time for our city tour in old convertible cars. That was great fun and our only chance to see other parts of Havana. We had another delicious dinner and then went to a theater performance at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.

11/23/15 – Back to Miami

Taxis picked us up after breakfast and took us to the airport where I spent my final CUC on digestive biscuits. Part of me would have liked one more day in Havana, but my digestive system was happy to return to the U.S. where I can brush my teeth with tap water.