Well, this week of our Seven Seas Mariner South American adventure started off with even more excitement than usual. During breakfast, the captain announced that there was a medical emergency and a helicopter was approaching and would be picking up a sick passenger from the top deck! The helicopter hovered overhead and lowered two doctors to our ship, where they examined the patient. They confirmed the opinion of our ship’s doctor that an evacuation was appropriate, strapped the patient to a stretcher and raised it up to the hovering helicopter and flew off to a hospital in Cayenne (wherever that is). The rest of the day we were at sea.
The next day we were scheduled to anchor in the bay at Devil’s Island, French Guiana. This small island lies six miles off the coast of French Guiana. It was almost inaccessible and held political prisoners such as Alfred Dreyfus in isolation. It operated from 1852 to 1946. Unfortunately, the seas were too rough to be able to tender in to shore.
That evening was the “Jimbo’s Truck Stop Diner,” an evening of good ole’ food, trashy costumes and lots of fun. Some of the notes on the invitation included “You might be a redneck if your home is on wheels and your car is on blocks” or “your brother-in-law is your uncle if you’ve ever barbecued spam on the grill.” Among the public service announcements were, “Illiterate? Write today for free help!” and “Stay inside the lines: Remember our local police have begun a campaign to run down jaywalkers.” All of the servers were in outrageous truck stop costumes and wigs, and so were
half the customers!
The next night, the total opposite of Jimbo’s was a small elegant dinner for six hosted by Canadian Michael Coghlan, the general manager of the ship. That was followed by a guest performance by his wife, lyric soprano Stephanie Baldwin, in the Horizon Lounge. She is not only beautiful, she sings like a bird and was Miss California in 2001 and a semi-finalist in the Miss America Pageant. It was a fun, wonderful evening.
Then it was off the next day to Bridgetown, Barbados. Once on shore we went out to see Sunbury Plantation. It is over 300 years old and recreates life on a sugar estate in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is both charming and slightly shabby. Open windows and high humidity contribute to its musty charm. We learned the history of Sunbury and were treated to canapés and samples of homemade rum cocktail recipes.
Then our shore excursion continued on to Orchid World. Use of the word “World” might have been somewhat more enthusiastic than appropriate as it was a bit of a disappointment. Not so many impressive orchids as other flowers. Next was an old military fort. It just may be that our perceived image of Barbados in advance of arrival set us up for disappointment. It is definitely shabby and yet the guide kept telling us how expensive the houses were. It looked kind of dumpy to me.
Our next stop was Gustavia, St. Barts. Like in Barbados, I was less than impressed. Except for its gorgeous beaches and beautiful blue and green waters, it is not a pretty island. Less than eight square miles, it is in fact a bit scruffy and overgrown. They do not encourage cruise ships and do not allow large hotels. They must all be small boutique hotels and they limit the amount that may be constructed each year. The shopping areas are loaded with high-end (Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Ralph Lauren and on and on) shops.
Ballet dancer Rudolph Nuryev had a small house overlooking a beautiful bay and Jay Leno is building a place there. The most impressive thing I saw was a very short airport runway for small and private planes.
After a tour around the island in a mini-van taxi (they don’t permit busses), we did have fun riding in a submersible boat, the Yellow Submarine, looking at the sea life.
Sunday was our last scheduled stop and it was at San Juan, Puerto Rico, a candidate for 51st statehood. Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico in 1493 during his second voyage. The Taino people – a group of Arawaks who had reached Cuba, Hispanolo and Puerto Rico – greeted his party and took him to the river where they offered a gift of gold ore. The mineral was abundant in the riverbed and while the nuggets were considered attractive ornaments there was no association of monetary value to them, at least in the western sense. Columbus was delighted. He informed his Spanish benefactors of the riches and named the bay Puerto Rico (“port of the riches”).
The island owes its prosperity to Juan Ponce de Leon, one of Columbus’ lieutenants who returned, claimed the island for his own and changed its name to San Juan in 1508. He later discovered Florida. He is buried in San Juan Cathedral.
Attacks by non-Spanish explorers and continual struggles with native peoples who realized their homeland was being usurped caused the settlers to fortify the city in 1521 with thick walls and various fortresses to protect San Juan Harbor. By 1800, the city had been attacked and burned on many occasions, but no one had managed to wrest the territory from Spain. Great sugar plantations were producing the island’s wealth. The gold deposits had long ago run out.
During the 19th century, things began to change in the Caribbean as one nation after another abolished slavery. Political parties were formed in Puerto Rico for the first time, and by the end of the century, independence was granted, but autonomy came just in time for American troops to land on the island. The Spanish American War at the turn of the century resulted in Spain ceding all territory in the Americas.
The Foraker law, establishing civil government and free commerce between Puerto Rico and the U.S., was approved and residents of the island were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. The island has a flavor more like Latin America than the United States.
We arrived at the downtown pier in San Juan right on time only to find that a city-wide bike race had strangled traffic and prevented our scheduled tour of the old city, but didn’t prevent our visit to the Bacardi rum distillery.
WOW! What a beautiful distillery. The first thing you see are two wind turbines. The electricity they generate is used for some parts of the production and they save over $75,000 a year. The distillery campus is spacious and elegant with great swaths of green lawn between the buildings. The welcome center reminds you of one of architect Calatrava’s buildings. Inside, we enjoyed many different tastes of drinks made with rum. The family-owned business was moved from Cuba when Castro came to power. The current president is Joaquin Bacardi, III. He is the fifth generation to head the business. The museum was full of interesting portraits, old photos, early distilling equipment and memorabilia. The main building is cream-colored and has a defined Art Deco look.
Our visit to this Caribbean paradise was nostalgic for Brad. In 1962 while in the Army Reserves, he was stationed at El Morro fort in Old San Juan with his Army Reserve Unit. While we didn’t get to visit it firsthand, we sailed right by it on our way to Miami and home.
Since leaving in early January we have sailed 16,898 nautical miles which is 19,445 statute miles, on a Regent Seven Seas “Circle South America” cruise around the South American continent. We are looking forward to Spring in Kentucky.
About the Author (Author Profile)
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.