Saturday, March 19, 2011

Bridgetown and Beyond

Friday, March 18, 2011

Beautiful Bridgetown, Barbados

Today was the first port where we had arranged a tour; hence, it was our first early morning. We were awake before the 6:30 alarm because the sun was right outside our window, the light illuminating our cabin despite the heavy curtains. Opening the drapes produced a blinding blaze of light which was blocked once in a while by other cruise ships as the moved to their spots at the pier. We had breakfast in the room although D did venture to the Java Bar for cinnamon rolls. As big and gooey as the ones from Cinnabon, they are only available at the Java Bar and only 8 per day are set out. He took two to be safe.

Although there was grumbling, we were among the first off the ship. Our journey began with a shuttle from the ship to the cruise terminal [read: shopping arcade] because the pier is so long and narrow. Walking would have been dangerous because of equipment being moved on the pier. We traversed the empty terminal quickly [by our standards] and found ourselves looking at an outdoor bus terminal. There must have been room for more than a dozen tour buses. Of course they were not all for our little ship; there were five cruise ships in port plus the World, a condominium ship which sails wherever her residents want. We ventured forth, looking for a round park with a big tree and a bench. We found the little park and our guide after passing the vehicle checkpoint.

D had booked with Glory Tours and the owner, Sarah, was our guide. Although she has others working for her, especially during cruise season, she prefers small groups and ours was the smallest – just the two of us. We started for Harrison’s Cave, one of the recommended sights on Barbados. For the whole 40 minutes we drove, Sarah talked about the history of Barbados and the assorted non-European and European conquerors. She was also busy on her phone making reservations for us Harrison’s Cave as well as for two other groups her company was escorting.

Driving over, under, around and through the island reminded us of driving in St. Thomas. There were very few level or straight pieces of roadway. The road surface was full of broken places and potholes due the compacting of the clay soil. The roads were lined with ramshackle houses and, often, livestock. Although we saw cows and horses, the predominant farm animal was the black-bellied sheep. This breed is a coffee brown and has a black undercarriage. The black-bellied sheep are not raised for wool for they are as hairless as goats. Sarah told us they are raised for lamb chops. Yum!

Our first stop, Harrison’s Cave, is a limestone cavern which was finally explored and mapped in 1970 under the aegis of the government although it had been discovered decades earlier on land owned by someone named Harrison. The cave now boasts of a ride from top to bottom with live narration on electric trams. It also features dripping ceilings, so no one leaves with dry clothing. We, on the other hand, had our rain jackets and D had his hat. In the car. Sarah had not warned us about the ‘cave rain,” so we were as wet as everyone else by the time we emerged half an hour after starting the ride. The cavern was warm and humid with some quite stunning stalactites and stalagmites [Stalactites with a T are at the Top of the cave; stalagmites with an M are at the bottoM]. There were pools and waterfalls in addition to little pocket caves, small caves within the walls like shop windows. The designers of the road bed which had been dug or blasted through the limestone knew exactly where they were going and what they were doing because of the 1970 mapping project.

GEOLOGY LESSON: All of the other Caribbean islands are volcanic, but Barbados was formed from sedimentary rock produced by the action of the Caribbean and Atlantic tectonic plates. The plates, remnants of the break-up of Pangaea [the original land mass], meet near Barbados and their action over the millennia formed the island through pressure and earthquake action. Although not as active as the tectonic plates in the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire, they still produce earthquakes which are measureable [As this is being written, Japan is still in turmoil following the earthquake there, so it really strikes home to the Barbadians].

From Harrison’s Cave, we drove up a hill, down a hill, whirly-go do to an orchid garden. This was one of the places we had asked to see since we have been to orchid gardens in Tenerife [in the Canary Islands] and Singapore. When we got there, though, Sarah was not enthusiastic about it. Since being taken over by a large tour company, which made more money sending its own buses there, the gardens had been allowed to deteriorate. Knowing it was built on the side of a hill, we decided that it was not going to be worth the time or effort, so we told Sarah to pick someplace else.

She picked an old sugar plantation, St. Nicholas Abbey. The tour was abbreviated because we joined a group which had already been told about the two rooms on the ground floor. The second floor was not accessible because of safety concerns since the stairs had not been tended to in decades. We continued into a short hallway where we were shown original furniture several centuries old and old photos of life in Barbados and on the plantation. Then it was time to go outside where saw a 400-year-old tree and then into another, smaller building where we were served rum or non-alcoholic punch and shown more pictures and a timeline of the property. We had a chance for more rum samples which D declined but MA accepted before viewing a film dating to 1935. Made by probably the last owner of the sugar plantation, it showed daily work life on the plantation from threshing the cane to crushing it to boiling down the juice. The film had been processed and then put in a drawer only to be discovered when the photographer died. The plantation and the attendant molasses and rum-making facilities were closed down in 1947. We also were able to see the community bath house and latrine; reminiscent of the one we saw in Ephesus two years ago, it was a four-hole commode with different seat sizes to allow the user to find one which was comfortable.

LUNCH! We ate at Round House, a restaurant overlooking the Atlantic in the Bathsheba area of Barbados. It is called this because its beauty was compared to that of Bathsheba, wife of King David. Sarah joined us after very little persuasion; we gave up our table by the window overlooking the ocean for one which would hold three of us. We both had the most wonderful coconut shrimp and Sarah had what she called her “usual,” spinach quiche.

Our last stop was another synagogue. We have visited them in Curacao, St. Thomas, Florence and St. Petersburg, so there is a tradition to uphold. This synagogue still holds services every Friday at 7:30 but we were told by Sarah that there is another active congregation elsewhere on the island. The sanctuary was plain with a marble, not sand, floor and a balcony where, we presume, the women sat or stood. There was no guide, docent or pamphlet and the batteries in both cameras picked here to die. We walked past the restored mikvah [ritual bath] and into the museum where we could get a clearer picture of the history of the Jews in Barbados. Let’s just say that they had their ups and downs.

Last call for boarding the ship was 3:30, but we were back by 2:45 and went straight to Trivia. Even though teammate Sandra was there at 2:00 to get “our” table someone else had already parked there. Our team of four sat at another table and still had fun. We also had sixteen correct answers today out of seventeen possible points. Too bad we only wrote down fourteen of them. We finished with our customary 14/17 [3rd day in a row?] and settled for third place. Not bad for a team of four.

Sandra and her husband Alan joined us for dinner tonight. With no one around us, dinner has been boring. We may invite others, too, as this first leg continues to Venice. Oh, before dinner, Linda came over to say she would be back at Trivia tomorrow since it is a sea day. We said we understood as we might miss some/many days when we are in port, too.

Dinner was very pleasant. MA decided to try snails in the hope that they will agree with her again. She had a Caesar salad with shrimp as an entrĂ©e so the only normal part of her dinner that she missed was the jumbo shrimp. Shrimp for lunch, shrimp for dinner; there’s no need for sympathy. D had rainbow trout [and the jumbo shrimp] tonight.

We will lose an hour tonight so we set the clock and watches ahead before bed. We skipped the comedian and read and blogged. We have several sea days in a row, so this may be the last posting for a few days. We’ll update the Trivia results and menus in a few days.

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