No place in the new world has a more colorful and exciting history that the Caribbean. Over a period of 300 years European nations fought each other, the native Americans and all fought the Pirates that found the area inviting and profitable. The Caribbean, over the centuries, has been a magnet for explorers, adventurers, old world losers, slavers, entrepreneurs, political refugees and of course the buccaneer. Roaming the Spanish Main with black flag and cutlass in fact and fiction the pirate has loomed larger than life for generations of young and old alike. And Hollywood has taken full advantage of this. From when Errol Flynn as Captain Blood shouted those 'immortal lines' "Follow me ye hearties" to Disney the Pirate legends live on.
So our recent Caribbean cruise aboard Holland American's Eurodam was the opportunity for this Writer to image those days of yore when the black flag created terror to mariners of many nations.
Our first port of call was Grand Turk. The first reminder that we were on British soil was the Union Jack flying in a brisk breeze as we arrived in Grand Turk. The second was when our driver, Captain Louis, pulled our van into the left lane as we started our tour of the island. Though still in dispute it is believed that Christopher Columbus first stepped ashore in the New World on this island. Grand Turk and Caicos islands, some eight main and 40 others, have a human history that dates back 1500 years. First the Lucayan native people, then Spanish control, then a pirate refuge and finally after the war with Napoleon Britain took control. After 13 colonies became the United States some British loyalists moved to the Grand Turk islands to remain under the British flag.
Some of the pirates that based in Grand Turk in the early 1700s were Anne Bonny and Mary Read as well as Francoise l'Olonnois. Captain Louis, a man who has lived his whole life on Grand Turk, was the perfect guide to give us a running narrative on the Island, its history and current status. Reminders of the devastating hurricane a few years back, which produced winds of 200 miles per hour, were present everywhere. Capt. Louis reported that some 80 per cent of the buildings on the island suffered some damage ranging from complete destruction to leaking roofs and water damaged interiors. One surprising fact is that the older building with classic island construction and design withstood the hurricane best and it was those with modern construction and architecture that suffered the most serious damage.
In its early years of British rule Grand Turk owned its prosperity to salt production . Before refrigeration salt was a necessity for preserving foods.. This trade no longer exists but the ponds built for salt refining are still to be seen on the island. Today the main attractions for tourists are its beaches and the clean, clear waters of the Caribbean for scuba diving and easy access to nature preserves. The dock and Cruise Terminal area is modern and offers easy access to the island's attractions. Our tour took us past the modern airport (built by the U.S. as a military installation in the 1960s, Waterloo, the Governor's residence and offices, the Turk and Caicos National Museum and early Anglican churches built when Bermuda salt merchants arrived on the Island.
Topping off our day at Grand Turk was a visit to the Bohio Resort, home to one of the top diving destinations in the world. After a slide show showing the wonders of the Islands presented by Brian Been of the Visitors Bureau we enjoyed, first the beach bar, then a buffet lunch at Bohio's Guanahani restaurant.
Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. Our port of call was San Juan. Established by the Spanish in 1519 it is the oldest city flying the U.S. flag. As the territorial capitol San Juan is a bustling 21th century city now with skyscrapers and McDonalds. We took a motor tour of the city which was even busier than usual with three cruise ships in port. San Juan does enjoy a beautiful natural harbor which explains why Columbus named the bay Puerto Rico that translates to 'port of riches".
Since we live in a very large metropolitan area when traveling big cities are not our thing so we probably ended our day ashore too soon. But the view of the city from the Eurodam's Crows Net lounge offered a sweeping vista of the city and harbor so it was here that we made out retreat to contemplate all with a Pina Colada in hand.
Of our ports of call St. Thomas best fit my personal expectations of what a Caribbean island should look like. Our ship took anchorage in a quiet bay after gliding past clusters of small islands just as a rising sun was tinting occasional clouds a delicate pink.
St. Thomas is the capitol for the American Virgin Islands. Originally Danish it became an American territory by purchase in 1917. The Danes controlled the island for 300 years. However we never did get an answer to one puzzling question--If it has been a U.S. possession since 1917 why do cars drive on the left side of the road? Thanks to the St. Thomas Visitors Bureau we did see much on our short visit One of our first stops was to take the Paradise Point Skyride to the top of a ridge which offered a commanding view of the whole city as well as surrounding islands. Some of these islands are now a national park. Here too one can admire the lush flora and fauna on an island which is all hills and almost no flat land.
Next was a motor tour with Alina Henneman as our guide. This was either up hill or down hill so much so as to make a native of San Francisco like this Writer homesick. Then we weaved our way through narrow alleys that are so much a part of this old city. We imaged pirates clad in their garish silks making their boisterous, swaggering way through these same alleys seeking rum and accommodating wenches. Regretfully ours was a more sedate quest which ended at Gladys' Cafe. Gladys has achieved fame for her home made hot and spicy sauces as well as classic fare of the region.
At our table entrees ranged from curried goat to oxtails with rice to tuna over home grown avocados. Of all our ports of call we considered St. Thomas as the one we would most like to visit again for a longer stay. Our only complaint, common to all things American, was too many cars.
The Eurodam, as one of Holland American's newest ships, offered everything to be desired. Dining as always was exceptional and with Eurodam even more distinctive since two more specialty restaurants have been added. These are Tamarind, featuring pan Asian cuisine, and Canaletto with an Italian inspired menu. Also a new lounge called the Silk Den which is a uniquely decorated, serene lounge hideaway for cocktails and wondrous views as it is located on the top deck.
As for pirates their new addresses are Hollywood for make believe, Somalia for the real thing.
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