In the latter part off 2022, Denise’s brother wrote that he and his wife were going to take a repositioning cruise from Lisbon to Miami and then continue to make a circuit of some of the lessor known Caribbean ports. Would we like to meet them in Miami or join them for some or all of the trip? Didn’t take long for us to decide that we were hooked. So, in early November 2022, we boarded a flight to Lisbon, via Zurich. The day after our arrival in Lisbon, we were off to Porto in the north, via a stop over at the Shrine of Fatima. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanctuary_of_Fátima
Arriving in Porto, we checked into an amazing hotel. The bad news is that it is on a pedestrian street, so we had to schlep our suitcases over the cobbles, the good news was that the hotel is a repurposed 16 th century townhouse/palace, with a new, modern building on the rear. So the public areas had parts that even included Roman constructions, while the hotel rooms were completely modern.
We were lucky to have superb guide. A former air traffic controller with the Portuguese Air Force, his English was better than ours. We started wth a visit to a port warehouse.
We then travelled up the Douro valley into the wine country.
We stopped to admire a small country church and a classic stone bridge as we continued up the valley. The views were beautiful.
We stopped at the Pacheca winery for a tasting and a fabulous, multi-course lunch with a different wine for each course. (The Pacheca Winery is spelled “Pacheca” and not Pacheco as it is woman owned.) For those of us who don’t usually drink port, it was fun to discover a new variety of wine. (https://quintadapacheca.com/)
Leaving Porto, we drove back to Lisbon, stopping in Coimbra to sample pastel de nata, custard pastries which were developed by nuns with too many eggs and are simply delicious.
After a quick windshield tour of Lisbon, [we will have to return,] we arrived at the pier just as Trevor and Sheila pulled up from their flight from UK. Check in/boarding is instantaneous, other than Fred having a momentary panic that he had lost his phone – found to be in his hand. (!!) Our actual sailing was delayed due to a heavy swell at the mouth of the river.
The next morning we plowed into the mid Atlantic swell and settled into shipboard life. We much much prefer longer crossings to daily visits to ports packed with duty “free” shops and other tourist traps. The ship was simply lovely and we quickly discovered that every day had to begin with a visit to the gym if we were to still fit into our clothes.
Our first stop was Funchal on the island of Madeira. Madeira is one of the rare islands with a self sustaining economy. That said, it also owes much to the transatlantic trade, all the way back to the 1500’s. Because of the prevailing winds and its westward location, it was a crucial provisioning point for ships sailing west. We started our visit at the market.
We enjoyed a cable car ascent, and visiting the market, glorious gardens, and a drug store for some essentials.
We left Funchal at sunset and set out for Miami.
Fred made friends with the two guitarists working on board, one a Colombian who played in the stage band, and the other a Brit, who played in the jazz combo. Both are conservatory graduates and the Brit noted that this is the only job he has had since graduation a few years ago. And yes, both read music very well and are jaw droppingly good.
The crossing was wonderful and we soon arrived in Miami for the turnaround for the Caribbean part of the trip.
Denise and Fred have lived around the Caribbean for years; Panama, Cuba, Venezuela, and Fred has done several temporary duties in the area, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Trinidad, and even a short, post-hurricane Ivan visit to the Cayman Islands, (https://pbase.com/diplostrat/cayman) but we have never done the classic tourist circuit.
First up was Puerto Rico and here we felt most at home. Not surprisingly Puerto Rico feels much like Ecuador, Venezuela, or any other former Spanish colony.
Our next port was Sint Maarten, an island shared, since 1648, between France and the Netherlands. The history of the island follows many of the same trends of other Caribbean islands – massive importation of slaves and indentured workers to grow sugar, cotton, tobacco, and salt. Fabulously wealthy colonialists and many, many slave revolts. Today, tourism is the life blood of the island and its airport is one of the busiest in the area, famous for a beach and road right at the end of the runway. We hired a taxi for a day trip ‘round the sights and a lunch in the market on the French side.
We had a rainy day in Guadeloupe. We hiked up a knee poppingly steep hill to Fort Napoleon. The views were tremendous and there was a surprisingly comprehensive little museum inside the fort.
Our next island visit was to Antigua and again we chartered a taxi and visited the famous Nelson’s Dockyard. The dockyard has been rebuilt as a tourist attraction, but has several reasonable exhibits on Napoleonic era sailing and naval operations.
Nelson? Well, it is called Nelson’s Dockyard today, but he was roundly disliked by the Antiguans, who resented his upholding the Navigation Acts which prohibited trade with the new United States. They even held up his promotion for years. In return, he dismissed them as worse than the American rebels. Still worth a visit.
The sugar trade, especially, made the Caribbean Islands as valuable as any gold mine or oil well for hundreds of years and most changed hands many, many times following bloody raids and sieges. Hence the proliferation of forts you can visit. Like many other islands, Antigua’s list of resident/vacation home owners is a real who’s who of Anglo-American actors, musicians, and other personalities. You might be hard pressed to name one who doesn’t have a place on Antigua.
St. Kitts is about as small as they come. Traveling around the island you are struck by the use of the singular; there is often only one of a facility on the whole island – “This is our …” Bank, hospital, car dealer, etc. Note that this is emphatically NOT the case with churches; here the quantity and variety is infinite. At the end of the 19th century the sugar trade was dying out and the plantation owners were eager to cut their costs. One solution was to build a narrow gauge railroad to link all of the major plantations and allow them to consolidate their harvests at one, modern sugar mill, as opposed to using windmills at each plantation to crush the harvest. In the end, it didn’t work, and today the bumpy tracks are used to to tourists around the island at the blazing speed of ten miles per hour. And even that is rough! But lots of fun.
From St. Kitts we sailed back to Miami via the British Virgin Islands and flew home.