Saturday, 2 January 2010


St Thomas, 1 January 2010

Post-Barbados, the islands dissolve into a collection of English Parish Churches as in rapid succession we attend service at St Kitts, St Lucia, St Thomas and continuing the Sunday theme, Dominica.

Dominica stands out as one of the poorest islands in the Caribbean, memorable for its long-serving and now late Prime Minister Mrs. Eugenia Charles who regularly came to Britain to intercede with the Queen (to whom she bore a striking, if negative-coloured, resemblance) and petition the European Union to allow the import of Windward Island bananas which were technically too curved for Brussels’ standards.

In brightly-painted ex-army trucks we climbed the crumbling roadways to one of the tall peaks that dot the island, to hike up through the rainforest to a cave used in the filming of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ where high rocks surround a narrow river and you then swim in warm rain through the cave to a thundering waterfall. So in a sense, I’ve been through Johnny Depp’s cleft.

On St Lucia we just said to the taxi driver ‘beach’ and were lucky to arrive at Reduit where many of the cruise passengers wouldn’t venture because the tide was so high it had flooded the carpark, but we found a welcome at the Bay Gardens Resort with comfortable loungers, crashing surf, cheap beers, an excellent lunch and a great massage in a muslin-curtained cabana on the beach from a girl who did more for my aching shoulder in 20 minutes than I could expect from a month of physiotherapy.

Of all the islands we’ve visited, St Lucia’s the first one I’d think of for a future holiday, so it’s been a useful exercise and possibly saved thousands in airfares, to know I wouldn’t again want to visit so many others.

St Kitts is pretty rundown, all the formerly British-administered islands seem to be, and the weather was overcast and rainy, so the promised carnival in the afternoon got cancelled and I was glaid I had ducked out of the 7-hour sailaway to Nevis. I did have an amble round scruffy Basseterre, the capital, where a presidential election seemed to be in progress, the bright red or yellow banners of the rival parties fluttering from telegraph poles and paint-peeling buildings.

In the ship, the preparations for New Year’s Eve are fervid, with half the crew apparently up ladders rigging equipment for a massive ‘balloon drop’.

For me, this falls deeply into the ‘why bother’ category since I never quite understand the fuss made over the change in date from Dec 31 to Jan 1. I’m feeling edgy at cocktails which is made worse by the provision on the tables of rattles and squeakers which the entire dining room begins to trumpet from 9.45pm onwards. I also find myself becoming irritated with people whose company I’ve enjoyed on every other evening, so it’s clearly the shadow of the night affecting my mood, although Louis did have too much to drink too early and became a bit incoherent as his attention span dwindled to nanoseconds.

Just before midnight we paraded down to the Queen’s room and for once it wasn’t mis-named as we raised more than a few eyebrows by dancing in same-sex pairs although no-one dared to say anything out loud. Since this was also captured on video by the official photographers, I look forward to seeing whether it will feature in future Cunard advertising.

After the midnight countdown, the gang plan to take over the G32 night-club, a space reminiscent of commercial discos from the mid-80’s before the advent of laser light or digital sound, it’s pretty awful. I go back to the cabin about 12.30 to get some cooler air and sit on the bed for ten minutes ... then the next thing I know it’s 3.45am so perhaps I missed some fun, or possibly escaped the meltdown.

Either way, in the morning I’m brighter and more clear-eyed than most of the ship and enjoy a comparatively early breakfast and the fact the decks are all but deserted. The view is of deep turquoise water dotted with yachts and I set out to explore the last island.

St Thomas is arguably the best-kept outpost in the Caribbean with neat beaches and decent-looking houses, since it’s run as a US state and everything’s in reasonable repair and seems to work. I suspect the cost of living is therefore comparatively high although this is mainly on the evidence of being charged $7.50 for a banana daiquiri at one of the stops on the tour. It majors in duty free sales and the whole of the city centre is so completely given over to diamond, emerald, gold, perfume and liquor stores that you wonder how on earth the locals shop for food and essentials.

Still, a cocktail on the sunny terrace of a Plantation Great House is not a bad way to start the year, even at $7.50, and I reflect on my good fortune at being able to do it.

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