Tag Archives: extended cruising 35 days

Martinique: Pompeii of the Caribbean

It’s St. Pierre, Martinique

 Today we join our first Maasdam tour, and I am particularly interested in it because it will allow me after 15 years to revisit St. Pierre, where each and every of its 30,000 inhabitants—except one—died following the eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902. St. Pierre is located on the east coast about 45 minutes north of Fort-de-France, too far for the volcanic explosion to have impact there.

 Although St. Pierre was designated by France as a “Ville d’Art et d’Histoire” in 1960, the town of is not a frozen-in-time archaeological relic. Today, according to our guide, St. Pierre has about 5,000 residents (a net loss of 25,000) who rely on fishing and agriculture for their income. 

This is a big contrast to St. Pierre at the beginning of the 20th century. It not only was the thriving capital city of Martinique, it was called the “Petit Paris” of the West Indies due to its economic and cultural vitality. The people who died were, literally, the victims of politics. 

This was because early May was the eve of elections. And, according to our guide, the sitting governor used soldiers to block the single road leading in and out of the city so everyone was forced to remain so they could vote for him.  The residents of St. Pierre knew Mount Pelee was going to erupt. The volcano—still active today–had given all the warning it could: spewing sulphur and jolting the countryside several times. Nonetheless, everyone was kept under house arrest, unable to flee..

 When the volcano erupted at 8 a.m. on the morning of May 8, 1902, some people were praying in church. Others were asleep at home.  In perhaps 3 minutes or so, a cloud of ash erupted from Mount Pelee and covered the city.  The hot ash ignited wooden roofs and sides of buildings blazed in fire throughout much of the town. Yet the people probably were dead already at this point, killed by the volcano’s poisonous fumes.  Almost instantly. Petit Paris was transformed to Petit Pompeii.

Is there a moral to this catastrophe? Or only blind, dumb luck? Just one person survived the explosion: A man thrown in prison overnight for drunkenness due to too much “demon rum.” He was protected  by the walls of his thick stone cell about the size of a small mausoleum.  

When rescued from his cell, the prisoner had severe burns over part of his body and needed hospitalization. After recovery, the man (whose named is variously reported as Cylbaris, Syparis and Cyparis) celebrated his fame by traveling the world in the sideshow of Barnum & Bailey Circus. This real-life “survivor” not only became rich from circus life, he did not pass away until the 1950’s.  

 Today, more than a hundred years later, St. Pierre looks like it still is recovering from a war. Although many structures have been rebuilt, quite a few of the old stone constructions exist in various phases of destruction, resembling the burned out remnants of a bombing raid. And the new town of St. Pierre growing up around the old one seems somehow more tired than the empty stone cubicles sometimes framed by modern buildings.  

 Our tour bus stops for a 30-minute at the small Volcanological Museum containing relics found in old St. Pierre.  Our guide does not mention—although the sign is in plain view—that the ruin of a great 800-seat theater is only a half-block away.  Perhaps she does this for a good reason. Our group is traveling on two buses, and a fair number of people are not that good at climbing or walking on building foundation stones that are wet due to the drizzle that harasses us everywhere.   

 Thanks to a previous visit, I know what to look for. It turns out Linda and I are the only ones who visit some of the actual ruins of old St. Pierre, leaving the others to view pictures of the destruction.  First we climb the stairs to the hallways and stage of a once elaborate 800-seat theater. The theater was built in a grand style, constructed as a smaller replica of the theater in Bordeaux, France.  The citizens of Bordeaux, in turn, referred to  St. Pierre’s building “Little Red Riding Hood.” 

To me the most striking aspect of what befell St. Pierre is a statue inside the theater that was prominently displayed during my last visit but now shunted to the side so that most visitors overlook it.  Although badly weathered, I find this a haunting statue: It is of a woman who appears to have been instantly calcified during the eruption. Struggling on her hands and knees, her face cries out in agony, symbolizing the pain and loss of everyone that day in St. Pierre.

At the back of the theater, on the left, you look down on more ruins that surround the famed jail cell. It is easily identified by its rounded roof and the fact it is the only unblemished structure amid the rubble. Access to this second site, not well marked, is located on the main road a short distance from the theater.

Today, Mount Pelee is actively monitored by the government so inhabitants of St. Pierre will have good warning if /when the volcano threatens again.  Which it probably will at some point. Brave to rebuild St. Pierre or foolish?

 Consider all the people in the States who– with government permission–rebuild year after year in proven flood areas, knowing they will be flooded again; and probably yet again. Seems we should become a smarter species.

Well, let’s not get morbid! Rum was instrumental in single happy ending of St. Pierre. And in my Barbados post tomorrow, expect a rum punch recipe you are guaranteed to like because you get to choose your favorite flavors.  Rum, remember, was invented in Barbados. It’s considered some of the Caribbean’s finest, if not the best.

St. Barts Shopping

 

                             St. Barts Shopping Mall

It’s wonderful if you’re movie-star rich

 

After a morning of hiking the beautiful hills above Gustavia, we intend for me to shop part of the afternoon. Mistake!  Many shops in town are open only from 10 am to 1 pm, then reopen from 4 to7:30 pm.

With the last tender back to the Maasdam departing at 4:30, that didn’t leave much time to check out the upscale, exclusive shops in much detail.

A few stores were open, including Goldfinger, a jewelry store recommended by the ship.  When I walked in to take a look around and no one said a word. Not “bonjour,” “hello,” “go jump in the water.” They completely ignored my presence. With my fanny pack and Nikon, I am obviously from the cruise ship or another tourist group.  That is fine with me, since no prices are visible on any of the diamonds or the Rolex or Tag Heuer watches.  All tags intentionally are turned over. If you have to ask the price of an item, Goldfinger is not for you.

Next, I make my way to the Cour Vendome which I believe means the place of shops or maybe the place of spending. This is where the most impressive shops were but the renovated mini-mall is an unimpressive location for shops such as Hermes, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Bvlgari and Ralph Lauren.

As I approach the Robert Cavelli store, I hear a man inside say, “I don’t mind spending the money but this is ridiculous!” The entry door is suddenly discreetly closed by the sales clerk. I am intrigued and interested is what is happening.

As I enter the store and begin looking around, I overhear a “May/December” couple and the sales clerk having a three-way exchange.  The man is furious that his wife wants a dress costing 700 Euros. The clerk tries to convince him what fine material the dress is made of. At this point the man lolls his head back and rolls his eyes, saying, “Oh brother!”

The young trophy wife stomps her foot and complains, “But I really like it! And I can wear it Palm Beach, too!”.  The husband counters, “You could buy the same dress for $100 in Palm Beach. This is crazy”!

Trying not to laugh, I continue to look through the clothes. For 400 Euros, I can purchase an off-white cotton eyelet halter sundress. With the exchange rate (US$1 = 1.40 Euros), that’s almost $600.  For the rest, you can figure out the exchange rate easily by simply increasing the price 40-percent.

In Robert Cavelli, a cute white cotton ruffled white shirt that would look great with jeans goes for 700 Euros; a silk floral tank top is 840 Euros;  a sweater with tags of material like fringe 1,180 Euros;  with a matching tank top for 700 Euros.

Stuart Weitzman Shoes is closed but Lolita Taca is open.  There, I can buy the same cotton eyelet dress for 350 Euros (50 less than at Robert Cavelli) but a beach cover up robe goes for 450 Euros!  Lolita Taca does have a stunning sequined halter cocktail dress I like, but not at 690 Euros.

At You and Me, a shoes and purse store store, I find a black straw bag for 130 Euros. It looks like something any of us would find for $30 at Target in the States.

A man’s bathing suit catches my eye at Vilbrequim. It appears to be a child’s size because it is so small.  Instead, it turns out to be a man’s large. That brings up unpleasant images of how squeezably tight it must be on the average guy. Still, because it’s a white bathing suit with little blue turtles, it really looks better suited for a boy. It’s 300 Euros, big boy’s prices, while kid’s suits start at 280.

In a state of shock, I stumble into Edgar, a store for young men.  Just their T- shirts range from 145 to 180 Euros, jeans 285 to 510 , base price for baskets (Converse style tennis shoes) 295.  Men’s sports coats average 1000, ties 240, pants 290 upward and shirts start around 240.  Please realize these not extraordinary pieces of clothing.  Just basic black pants, white pants and gray shirts.  All very Gap-like in quality.

At Louis Vuitton, I locate a nice carry-on tote for 1,390 Euros and a pair of Jackie O sunglasses from 285 Euros.

Finally, I end up down the block at Tom’s Shop, The Funny Store where I’m greeted by Zoltar (the mechanical fortune teller in the Tom Hanks movie Big).  They have a large variety of things, from beach mats for 14.57 Euros, towels, shot glasses and mugs to pirate flags, magic cards and ice cream.  We actually buy something here: a pirate Christmas ornament for our tree.

St. Barts is a good day of fun, shooting pictures, exploring and laughing.  Now, on to Martinique.

by Linda O’Keefe

My 35-Day Caribbean Itinerary

Here’s how you can spend 35 days in the Caribbean

     This is where we go, and when.
    I guess I should point out that I’ve paid for this cruise and am  not a guest of Holland America or the ms Maasdam.  This is cruise is an incredible value, although after three stops I suspect I’ll get tired of Half Moon Cay.

                               THE GRAND ITINERARY

DAY DATE PORT ARRIVE   DEPART
Fri Nov 12 Fort Lauderdale, FL   5:00pm
Sat Nov 13 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 4:00pm
Sun Nov 14 At Sea    
Mon Nov 15 Tortola, British Virgin Islands 11:00am 8:00pm
Tue Nov 16 St. Barts 8:00am 5:00pm
Wed Nov 17 Fort-de-France, Martinique 8:00am 5:00pm
Thu Nov 18 Barbados 8:00am 5:00pm
Fri Nov 19 Grenada 8:00am 5:00pm
Sat Nov 20 At Sea    
Sun Nov 21 Bonaire 8:00am 5:00pm
Mon Nov 22 Curacao 7:00am 11:00pm
Tue Nov 23 Aruba 8:00am 5:00pm
Wed Nov 24 At Sea    
Thu Nov 25 At Sea    
Fri Nov 26 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7:00am 5:00pm
Sat Nov 27 Nassau, Bahamas 7:00am 2:00pm
Sun Nov 28 At Sea    
Mon Nov 29 San Juan, Puerto Rico 10:00am 8:00pm
Tue Nov 30 St. Barts 9:00am 5:00pm
Wed Dec 1 Roseau, Dominica 8:00am 5:00pm
Thu Dec 2 Antigua 8:00am 5:00pm
Fri Dec 3 St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands 8:00am 5:00pm
Sat Dec 4 At Sea    
Sun Dec 5 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 4:00pm
Mon Dec 6 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7:00am 5:00pm
Tue Dec 7 Half Moon Cay, Bahamas 8:00am 4:00pm
Wed Dec 8 At Sea    
Thu Dec 9 St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands 10:00am 7:00pm
Fri Dec 10 St. Kitts 8:00am 5:00pm
Sat Dec 11 St. Vincent 10:00am 7:00pm
Sun Dec 12 Barbados 8:00am 5:00pm
Mon Dec 13 St. Lucia 8:00am 4:00pm
Tue Dec 14 St. Maarten 9:00am 8:00pm
Wed Dec 15 At Sea    
Thu Dec 16 At Sea    
Fri Dec 17 Fort Lauderdale, FL 7:00am  

 

A 35-Day Caribbean Cruise? For Real?

The typical 7-day Caribbean cruise may be fine for most people but I find them disappointing. Just as you’re becoming accustomed to ship-board life, it’s time to return to port. And 7 days, even from Florida, doesn’t offer the chance to travel very far.

Still, when I spotted a 35-day Caribbean cruise aboard the ms Maasdam on VacationsToGo.com, I thought it had to be a misprint. Thirty-five days is a third of the length of most around the world voyages.

Yet it was true, a 35-day tour of 19 different islands with only two repeats—St. Barts and Barbados, two of my favorites. Plus three stops at Half Moon Cay, Holland America’s water sports playground, and two returns to the home port of Fort Lauderdale.

cruise-ships-maasdam
The Maasdam, My Future Home For 35 Days

The 35-day cruise is actually a piggyback of three different itineraries of the Eastern and Southern Caribbean, including such rarely visited islands as St. Vincent and Martinique and quite a few ports off the regular milk runs: St. Barts, St. Croix, Grenada, Aruba Bonaire and Curacao.

The Maasdam, carrying only 1,250 passengers, is able to visit these islands that mega-ships ferrying between 4,000 and 5,500 cruisers cannot dock at and whose ports cannot handle such hoards of cruisers. Long live the smaller ships!      

Perhaps the most amazing thing of all is the price of this itinerary. Including government taxes and port charges, it averages $73.35 a day for an inside cabin.  (Hey, I’m a blogger!) My wife and I signed up for the cruise, which departs from Fort Lauderdale in just 10 days.   

But planning for a cruise of this length presents some unusual problems. Living in Orlando, it’s not worth flying to Fort Lauderdale but Port Everglades charges $20 a day for parking ($20 x 35=$700). Has to be a way around that!

Join me and Linda on this blog for the next few days as we check off and solve the problems before sailing and anticipate a few issues we expect to encounter on board.

Then follow us as we explore the islands and life on board the ms Maasdam for more than a month.