Sunday, April 22, 2018

Lhasa, Tibet


April 18-20, 2018

Wednesday morning, we left the boat at 6:30 to visit the panda bears at the Chongqing Zoo on our way to the airport to catch our flight to Lhasa, Tibet. Pandas are beautiful, fun creatures to watch and we always enjoy seeing them but we were more intrigued by the fact that this zoo was more then just a zoo. We watched several groups of people doing Tai Chi together and in another area of the zoo people were playing badminton. The zoo seemed to be a meeting place for all sorts of activities. 

Tai Chi at the zoo
Lhasa, Tibet is a city of half a million people situated in the mountains at 12,000 feet. Having experienced a similar altitude on our trip to Cusco, Peru we came prepared with medicine prescribed by our doctor. Or so we thought. Upon deplaning, Tim grabbed our carry on bag and quickly moved down the aisle to the gangway. Once on the gangway he needed to stop because he was so out of breath. We both needed to stop several times to catch our breath before we arrived in the baggage claim area. The same thing happened once we reached our hotel. The simple task of unpacking a suitcase had us both winded. Everyone we talked to at dinner was experiencing the same thing, many were having worse problems then us, including headaches and dizziness. After dinner we both went straight to bed and slept fitfully until morning.

Thursday morning’s tour was suppose to start at the Jokhang Temple but the line to enter the temple was so long that our guide decided to take us to the Barkhor Market first. We took a narrow pedestrian street towards the market where we passed through an area where over 100 people sat, spinning prayer wheels while Buddhist chants were being played over speakers. 
Group prayer - notice individual prayer wheels
We also passed several small buildings that had a row of cylinders in the wall of the building. These were also called prayer wheels that people would spin as they passed, presumably saying a brief prayer as they did so. 
Prayer Wheels
Once we arrived at the main street of the market, again pedestrian only, we witnessed people walking down the street several steps, prostrating themselves on the street, crawling a few feet and then getting back up, taking several steps and repeating the whole thing over and over again.

Praying in the street
Our guide took us to a shop where he recommended we do our shopping saying that this was a government owned store, thus guaranteeing high quality goods. We discovered they were also higher priced. We were given time to shop so we did. Tim bought an authentic Tibetan trumpet for 63 US dollars. This was half of what the shop owner wanted for said trumpet. Probably not authentic. What we did buy that was authentic was a painting for the dinning room signed by the artist. We are looking forward to having it framed and hung.

Our guide was correct in going to the market first. When we got back to the temple the line was considerably shorter. The Jokhang Temple is the 1,300 year old spiritual center of Tibet. The Buddha  in this temple is said to be the first one in Tibet. The crush of people trying to bow before this Buddha reminded us of the similar chaos we experienced at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.  An interesting side note. Many of you are familiar with the practice of lighting votive candles in churches. In Lhasa temples there are large containers containing melted Yak butter that have several wicks in the container. Instead of lighting a candle one adds a small quantity of Yak butter to the container. While in line outside the temple many people tried to sell us Yak butter for this purpose.

Inside Jokhang Temple
After lunch at a local restaurant we were taken to a private home to see how a typical Tibetan lives.  We were welcomed with yak butter tea, don’t ask, whole roasted barley, and fried bread. We saw three rooms: the lounge, kitchen and a prayer room where several monks were meditating.
Lounge in typical Tibetan home
The last stop of the day was the Sera Monastery, the second largest monastery in Tibet housing 600 monks. While we were unable to see one of the monks' rooms we did see the Grand Assembly Hall.  The highlight of the visit was the debating yard where the monks gather each day except Sunday from 3:00 to 5:00 to debate. Lynda did not go into the Monastery because of the long uphill climb.  Tim assumed that the debate would be a very civilized discussion of a particular topic between a few people representing each side of a topic. Nothing could be further from the truth. The debating yard was just what the name implies. It was held in a large outdoor area where over a hundred monks  were paired off in groups of two. One monk would sit on the ground and the other would stand in front of the seated monk. The standing monk would start by expressing his point of view on the agreed upon subject. When he had made his point he would clap his hands and the seated monk would respond. This would continue for an hour whereupon the monks would trade places. The monks were debating with varying degrees of intensity. Some had very angry looks on their faces and there was even a pair smiling as they debated. At the back of the yard was where the older monks were located. Our guide told us that these monks had been doing this for 20 or 30 years so they took a much more leisurely approach to the whole business. There were also 6 monks sitting by themselves off to the side reading. There was no indication what they were reading. Probably not the latest John Grisham.

Debating Courtyard at Sera Monastery
The day concluded, after a 2 hour break back at the hotel, with a short trip to a dinner theater. The dinner was a buffet supposedly of Tibetan dishes although we don’t think French fries count as Tibetan cuisine. Dinner was followed by a show of typical Tibetan songs and dances, featuring traditional Tibetan costumes. The dinner was mediocre at best, the recorded music for the show was over amplified on a poor system, and the Yak Dance was the only portion of the presentation that held our interest.
Yak dance. Not an actual Yak.
The real highlight of the day was returning to our hotel, going to the bar on the top floor and having a drink while looking at the Potala Palace, the former home of the Dalai Lama, all lit up.

Potala Palace from our hotel
For almost 1300 years the Dalai Lama was both the political and religious leader of Tibet. The Chinese government has long thought that Tibet was rightly part of China. In 1959 the Dalai Lama was exiled and the Chinese took political control of the country. Our guides have assured us that Tibet has an autonomous government under the auspices of China. However, the flag of China flies everywhere, pictures of Chairman Mao along with the present Chairman are prominently displayed, and the military we have seen are all Chinese soldiers. Also until 1959, the Potala Palace was the home of the Dalai Lama. The palace has 1000 rooms and sits on top of a hill with a commanding view overlooking Lhasa. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 
Outside the Potala Palace
The Potala Palace was also the first stop of the day Friday morning. Visitors must climb over 300 steps to reach the entrance to the Dalai’s quarters and the other rooms of religious significance.  Lynda knew this would be impossible for her so Tim made the trek alone. There were many people besides Lynda who opted out of this tour. It was an arduous climb. Fortunately our guides made frequent stops on our way up for us to catch our breath. Photography was only allowed in the outdoor portions of the palace which left out all of the really good stuff and all of the really good stuff is beyond description. A couple of highlights: we saw the cave that served as the first temple for the Dalai Lama 1300 years ago and around which the rest of the palace was constructed. This cave also contained the original Buddha. The second highlight was the room that contained the tombs of the 3rd, 5th, and 11th Dalai Lamas. For some reason the 5th Dalai Lama was the most important of all of the Dalai Lamas and his tomb was the largest.All three tombs were made of gold. The 5th Dalai Lama’s tomb also contained over 1000 gems and a small piece of the brain of an elephant.The reason behind this was unclear. Surprisingly, there were not many monks around.  In the Dalai Lama’s meditation room and in his private room there were monks quietly chanting as we passed through. There was universal agreement among the people Tim was with that it was worth the awful climb.  Finally, in the spirit of full disclosure,  Tim must admit that he could not help thinking about the wonderful scene from the movie “Caddyshack” where Bill Murray describes his experience caddying for the Dalai Lama.
Courtyard at the top of the Potala Palace. The gold balcony in the middle is where the Dalai Lama would sit.
The final stop of the day was at a Buddhist Nunnery.  We did not know that there were nuns in Buddhism but Tim can testify to their existence. They dress in the same robes as the monks and have their heads shaved just as the monks do. We were fortunate enough to visit the small temple at the nunnery while a group of the nuns were chanting. They seemed to chant with more enthusiasm then the monks. Earlier in this post we mentioned prayer wheels. Inside these wheels are rolled up sections of scripture. In an adjoining  work room we saw another group of nuns rolling up these portions of scripture to be placed in the prayer wheels. The last highlight of visiting the nunnery was the fact that we had to take streets to get there that contained shops that the locals actually shopped in. Not a sign of a souvenir anywhere.
Nunnery Temple
This was our last day in Lhasa, a city we have thoroughly enjoyed. Tomorrow we fly to Xi’an where we look forward to once again visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Three Gorges & a Pagoda

April 15-17. 2018

As boring as the first two days on the Yangtze River had been, Sunday we woke up to fabulously beautiful scenery. 

Our only stop on this day was at the Three Gorges Dam. In addition to information previously published (maybe you need to go back and reread the previous post?) it took 17 years to build the dam and, amazingly, traffic on the river was shut down for only 40 days. There are 4 locks at the dam that took us 3 hours to navigate and raised the boat a total of 135 meters.  That is approximately 400 feet. The dam has 32 turbines that generate 1.8 billion kilowatts of electricity a year. It is 2.3 kilometers, about 1.2 miles, across the top of the dam. Needless to say it was an impressive thing to see.

Three Gorges Damn
We spent about 2 hours touring the dam before returning to our boat and continuing our cruise.  As previously mentioned, there was a lot of commercial traffic on the Yangtze River before we entered the first lock on Friday. Partly that was because the first lock was so small many commercial boats would not have fit in the lock. Our boat only had about a foot of clearance on each side when we were in the lock and we determined that we were raised about 75 feet.  We have been in many locks, from the Soo Locks to the locks on the Danube River, but have never experienced anything like going through this first lock. The boat passed through the 4 locks at the dam while we were at dinner so we did not pay much attention.  The other reason there was less commercial traffic above the dam was fewer towns, meaning less manufacturing. The scenery after the dams was incredible rugged with very little sign of life.

Monday morning we docked at a little village, no name that we know of, in the middle of nowhere.  We left our boat, walking down the pier several hundred yards where we boarded Sampans for an hour and half cruise on a tributary of the Yangtze called the Goddess Stream.  At points on this Sampan cruise the stream could not have been more then 50 feet wide with the mountain rising straight up from the stream.  All of the fellow passengers we talked with were, like us, in awe of what we had seen.  Monday, as we cruised further up river, the topography on each side of the river became less rugged and we saw more villages and other signs of life along the river.

The Goddess Stream by sampan
Tuesday morning we awoke to find the boat already dock at Shibaozhai, China.  Our tour today was a walking tour to the Shibaozhai Temple and Pagoda.  We enjoyed(?) a 30 minute walk through the town that led to a bridge that connected to the island where the Temple and Pagoda were located. The bridge is known as the “drunken bridge” because the bridge deck is supported by cables so that it moves up and down as you walk across it. Needless to say, a person’s balance is a bit disoriented as you traverse the bridge.  
The "drunken bridge"
The Pagoda was moved to this island in the 1950’s after a flood damaged the first level. The island now has a retaining wall around it to protect the Pagoda. At over 160 feet in height, the Pagoda is the tallest wood constructed Pagoda in China.  Amazingly no nails were used in its construction.  It is 12 stories tall but we only went to the 9th story. 

The Shibaozhai Pagoda
At the different levels of the Pagoda there were various signs and statues that we could touch. For example, there was a statue of a woman holding a baby. Should a woman touch this statue once she would have one baby, twice, two babies. Another example would be touch a sign representing “good luck” in order to have good luck.  

Inside the Shibaozhai Pagoda
Exiting the 9th story, a walk led to the Temple where there were three shrines, two with male statues and one a female statue. These were all Taoist shrines and, while our guide explained what we were seeing, it was a bit confusing and we don’t remember everything said. There were other statues in each shrine that represented such things as good luck, wealth, etc.  Luckily there were lots of market stalls on the way to the Pagoda that Lynda enjoyed.

Taoist shrine in the Shibaozhai Temple
We disembark our boat tomorrow morning in Chongquing where we take a bus to the airport to fly to Lhasa, Tibet.  We will report from Lhasa in three days.

Sunset on the Three Gorges

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Wuhan, China


April 14-15, 2018

The drive Thursday night from the airport to Wuhan was very interesting.  Wuhan is the 5th largest city in China with a population of 13 million people, yet we had never heard of this city before. In 1927 three separate municipalities combined to create Wuhan which encompasses 3000 square miles. Wuhan’s main claim to fame is that one of the three municipalities had an uprising in 1911 that resulted in the overthrow of the last dynasty leading to the formation of the Republic of China. As the bus took us into Wuhan we passed mile after mile of 30/40 story high-rise apartments either completed, under construction or standing partially constructed with no work going on. Our guide told us that 10% of the apartment buildings under construction in China have been abandoned without completion.  Since being on the river we have observed this same phenomena in every city we have passed through.

High Rise Apartments

Friday morning Tim was going to go on a tour that included a bell chime concert performed on 64 bronze bells covering 5 octaves that were replicas of the original bells dating from 475-211 BC. Unfortunately Tim was confused on the meeting time for the tour and missed the bus. Fill in your own joke here.

After the tour buses returned, we began our cruise on the Yangtze River. The Yangtze River is the third longest river in the world and is a major thoroughfare for the transport of goods in China.  As we cruised on Friday and Saturday, there was a steady stream of commercial traffic going in both directions on the river.  Unfortunately, the scenery those two days on the river was pretty bleak. Saturday afternoon we docked in Jingzhou. 

Yangtze River traffic

The Viking Cruise Company is a Norwegian based company that appears to have a conscience. Since 1996 Viking as been providing funds to three schools in China that provide educational services for underprivileged children.  One of those schools is in Jingzhou.  A small group of children from this school came on board our boat and entertained us with song and dance for about 30 minutes. These kids were the reason that professional entertainers have said that you should never try to follow a children’s act on stage.  


Immediately after the children finished we boarded buses for a brief tour of Jingzhou that included a botanic garden of middling interest and the reconstructed wall that surrounded the city.  Each passenger on the cruise has been assigned to the same guide for the entire trip.  Our guide, Joshua, is a very nice person but leaves much to be desired as a guide.  He never stops talking and many times what he is talking about has nothing to do with what we are seeing. For example, today, for the entire 30 minutes it took us to get to the botanical garden, Joshua discussed Tibet included a 15 minute lecture on how Chairman Mao rescued Tibet from the Dali Lama who had turned Tibet into a slave state. We usually end up dining with people from our bus and there seems to be general agreement about Joshua among us all.

It is Sunday as we write this blog.  We just passed through the first lock of our cruise and have entered the first of the three gorges.  The Three Gorges Dam was opened in 2008 and is the largest artificial generator of electric power from a renewable source in the world.  It also controls flooding along this portion of the Yangtze River.  The scenery along the river in the short time we have been in the first gorge is spectacular.  Unfortunately, the construction of the dam displaced over a million people and destroyed significant architectural and archaeological sites.

Three Gorges


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Shanghai

April 10-12, 2018

Shanghai


After an arduous 14 hour non-stop flight that left Detroit at 3:50 on Monday, we arrived in Shanghai at 6:00 on Tuesday evening.  By the time we collected luggage and cleared customs, it was after 8:00 when we checked into our hotel.  The only upside of this situation was the beautiful light display as we came into Shanghai from the airport.  On our previous trip to the Orient two years ago we discovered that the major metropolitan cities had spectacular light displays on many of the skyscrapers in the city.  Shanghai was no different.  It was a nice welcoming sight.


Tuesday morning our first excursion of the day started at 8:00 in the morning.  One of us was not happy! Our first stop was the Yuyuan Jade Garden. Your first thought was probably “how can a gem stone be a garden” which you would be correct in thinking.  However, in China, Jade is also a word that refers to the emotion of happiness and/or tranquility.  Similar to a Japanese garden we visited in Seattle, this garden was a serene combination of flora, fauna, and stone.  We, unfortunately missed the magnolias in full bloom but were thrilled to find the azaleas in their “cacophony of color.”  Hopefully we will be able to post some pictures because we can’t begin to describe the beauty that we saw.

The Yuyuan Jade Garden was situated in Old Shanghai so once we left the garden we were given an hour of free time to wander around Old Shanghai. Old Shanghai consisted of a plethora of shops, mostly jewelry, women’s clothing and souvenir shops. We also happened on a Taoist Temple.  In the courtyard outside the Temple there were several kiosks that contained burning incense.  As people entered this courtyard they were offered sticks, approximately 12 inches long, which they lit at the incense kiosks, and then bowed in all four directions before extinguishing the sticks in a large container of sand.  As this was occurring, there was a women on a balcony overlooking the courtyard singing songs. Because she was singing in Chinese, we have no idea what the lyrics were. The combination of the incense and musical entertainment created quite a unique atmosphere.  From the courtyard we entered the Temple which consisted of an altar surrounded by many statues, some of which were very Buddha-like.  One had to be specifically looking for this temple because it blended very unobtrusively into all of the surrounding shops.

Our third stop was at a silk gallery.  We assumed that we would be seeing garments of varying styles as well as household items; place mats, napkins, runners, etc., made out of silk. This was not the case. There were amazing framed works created with very thin silk thread, some of which looked like photographs on display, and, of course, for sale.  Before walking through the gallery, we were given a short demonstration on how these “paintings” were created.  They really were quite impressive.  Some of the works took 6 to 8 months to complete.  As we walked through the gallery there were many sales people ready to give you the best price on any item in which you may have shown mild interest.  There was, in fact, one picture that piqued our interest but we ultimately decided that we “didn’t HAVE to have it.”

Our last stop was lunch at a restaurant that presented a typical Chinese buffet.  There was dim sum, spring rolls, pot stickers, several different meats, rice and fried noodles.  All of the food was placed on a large lazy Suzan from which we served ourselves.  Many of us thought this relatively “simple” buffet was much better then the dinner we had later in our hotel restaurant.
The last event of the day was an amazing performance in the evening by a troupe of acrobats. The show consisted of one jaw dropping acrobatic number after another.  Several of the individual performances reminded us of acts that we had seen on the old “Ed Sullivan Show.”  Those of you reading this that are our age may remember those acts.
Tuesday morning we spent two hours at the Shanghai Museum containing displays of old Chinese costumes, as well as historical artwork, ceramics, furniture and currency.  The building itself was as impressive architecturally as the items on display inside the building.  From the museum we were bused to the airport for an hour and half flight to Wuhan where we embarked our river boat, the Viking Emerald.  It was 5:30 by the time we boarded the boat which gave us just enough time to unpack our luggage before dinner.
It is Thursday night as we write this blog post.  Several observations.  As we told many of you before the trip, internet access has been difficult as China blocks many sites, all things Google being one of them. Interestingly, we have been able to receive and read gmails, but unable to answer them. Our ability to post pictures on Facebook has also been spotty at best. We thought we would be able to communicate through the application WhatsApp but that has not been the case.  However, we have been able to text via our cell phone.  Our next six days will be on the Yangtze River. Because we are going through some mountains, our ability to use smartphones in any way will be severely limited. That means we have no idea when we will be able to post our next blog.  Before leaving Michigan we encouraged you to leave comments on our blogsite.  Unfortunately, we discovered that we can not access our blog from here in China so we will not be able to read any comments or answer any questions you may have. Finally, we are 12 hours ahead of those of you in Michigan.  Lynda has adjusted quickly to the time change; Tim not so much.
Until next time, goodnight.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Last Days in the West Indies

Sunday, January 14, 2018

We docked today in Phlipsburg, St. Maarten, the Dutch section of the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Martin being the French section.  Even though they are two seperate countries there is no formal border crossing like you would normally  see between countries.  There is just a sign, similar to driving from Michigan into Indiana.  Instead of going on another tour of an island as we have been doing, today we opted to take a cooking class.  The class was held at La Terrasse Restaurant in St. Martin. As our bus took us to the restaurant we saw considerably more hurricane damage then anywhere else on our cruise.  Just outside our dock we saw piles of mangled box car like containers that you see on container ships.  We also passed many builds still in total ruins.  La Terrasse was closed this morning and a long table had been set up in the main dining room providing individual work stations for the 10 of us on this tour.  There was a work station at the head of the table for the chef.  The class was very hands on with all of us participating in the preparation of the two dishes on our menu: Shrimp and Mango tartar (salsa) with tomatoes and balsamic reduction, and Puff Pastry stuff with goat cheese and roasted mix nuts mixed with honey.  The two dishes were easy to prepare and the chef was very pleasant to work with.  After the prep work was done and the puff pastry baked we were able to sit with a glass of wine and enjoy our creations.  As we were enjoying our small meal we discovered that this was the first time our chef and this restaurant had hosted a cooking class.  Not everything went as smoothly as we are sure the chef and restaurant owner wanted, but they went out of their way to make this an enjoyable experience.  We brought home recipes for both dishes that we are anxious to try.  The class lasted about three hours after which we returned to the ship and read while enjoying the wonderful weather.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Our final port of call was Charlotte Amalie, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  We took a bus tour that passed through lovely scenery on the way to the top of a mountain 2100 feet above sea level to visit the Mountain Top gift shop.  Mountain Top's main claim to fame is being the place where the banana daiquiri was invented.  Who are we to argue the point?  Of course we both sampled said invention and thoroughly enjoyed them. While drinking our daiquiris out on the gift shop's deck, we enjoyed scenic vistas.  Our tour guide pointed out a beautiful white sand beach that was once lined with cabanas and bungalows but were now gone, casualties of the hurricane.  We were also shown the location of a large house further down the coastline where President and Michelle Obama had vacationed.  Fittingly, the house was white.  When we returned to the ship we spent the rest of the day packing for our return home tomorrow.

We chose this cruise because all of the ports of call were new to us.  Unfortunately,  there were very few "Wow" moments on the various excursions that we took.  This many have been the result of hurricane damage. In our minds it is more that these are wonderful islands to visit if you are beach fans and are at an all-inclusive resort.  Still, we enjoyed the cruise.  The temperature was in the mid 80's everyday and the food and service as well as the entertainment on board were excellent.  It was way better then freezing in snowy Michigan.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Lazy Days in the Caribbean

Friday, January 12, 2018 The last several days have been wonderfully relaxing days, luxuriating in the 80 degree weather, reading, and occasionally glancing at the lousy weather back home. Wednesday morning our ship ship docked in St. Lucia. In the morning we took a break from the busy work of relaxing to walk about the town of Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. The market was a short walk from our pier and was a typical market with a mix of souvenirs and food stalls. The food stalls were of interest as there were a wide variety of fruits with which we were not acquainted.

We did have an interesting encounter with a clerk at the post office. Tim asked for a stamp to mail a post card and was told it would be 80 cents. He handed the clerk 3 quarters and a nickel which the clerk handed back saying they only accepted West Caribbean dollars. Tim explained that he had no West Caribbean dollars at which point the clerk handed Tim the stamps and said it was okay. Rob - would a clerk at a U.S. Post Office be as generous with a visiting foreigner?
View from Stoney Hill
In the afternoon we took a two and a half hour tour of the island. The tour included a visit to a place called Stoney Hill. This was a private residence high on a hill that had a beautifully commanding view of the Caribbean as well as gardens around the house that were much more impressive then the botanical gardens we had visited in St. Kitts. There was also a small orchid house on the property that had a small but stunning collection of these lovely flowers. The owner of Stoney Hill, a proper Englishman, personally welcomed us to his home. We were offered punch and a kind of fish cake that is local delicacy. Bananas are a major crop in St. Lucia, so when we were offered Banana Catsup to put on our fish cake it would have been rude not to accept. It was actually quite delicious. While enjoying our snack, we were serenaded by a young man playing a steel drum. It was actually a steel pan according to our host but sure looked and sounded like a steel drum to us. If it walks like a duck.....etc., etc. The fact that it rained the whole time we were at Stoney Hill did nothing to diminish the beauty of the home and surrounding gardens. The rest of the tour was a scenic drive around the island with frequent stops to point out fruit trees. We know that sounds a bit boring but was, in fact, quite interesting.


Orchid House
Thursday we were in Bridgetown, Barbados. We had booked a morning tour of Bridgetown and surrounding area that Tim hoped would include a drive by of Sandy Lane, an exclusive golf resort where Tiger Woods wedding with Elin Nordegon took place. However, Tim was not feeling well Thursday morning (he may not have needed the extra glass of wine or the Tiramisu dessert the night before) so we skipped the tour. In the afternoon, with Tim feeling more up to speed, we took a taxi from the pier into Bridgetown. Bridgetown, at least the part we walked about, was not particularly attractive. There seemed to be few shops of interest although we did venture into an art gallery where a painting caught our eye, but not enough to buy it. Wrong color of blue! It did not help that the temperature was 86 and very humid. As we write today's blog we are in Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe. Guadeloupe is a Department of France, which means it comes under the direct rule of France, probably having a Governor General that oversees the government in Guadeloupe. It also means Guadeloupe is a member of the European Union and the Euro is the official currency. We took a tour this afternoon that took us through the city center of Pointe-a-Pitre, a truly ugly city center, out to the eastern end of the island. The first stop was St. Francois, an ocean-side resort town according to our guide. We would disagree. The purpose of our stop was a city market. This was a market for the tourists, unlike the city markets we like to visit where you see many locals. It had the usual touristy stuff: jewelry, clothing, crafty stuff. Evidently, we were the last bus of the day because, as we left, vendors were already taking down their booths.

City Market
Next stop was Pointe des Chateaux at the very eastern tip of the island. There was a castle nearby and a cross stood at the top of a hill overlooking the ocean. This is where Columbus landed in 1493. Apparently he stayed about a year and there were no other visitors for nearly 200 years. Again here the original settlers were Indians from South America who arrived by canoe before Christ. Beautiful scenery and a beautiful beach. Our last stop was Pointe a Cabrits, another beautiful beach, this one with a bar. Then it was back to the boat. The guide told us that there is a Club Med and a Scandals resort on the island. From our perspective, the beautiful beaches are the best thing to recommend about Guadeloupe.


Pointe des Chateaux, Guadeloupe

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

St. Kitts

January 9, 2018 The pier where our ship docked this morning may be one of the ugliest piers we have experienced in all of our travels. As we left the pier in our excursion transportation we were surrounded by containers either waiting to be loaded on a container ship or having already been off loaded. Our excursion vehicle was a small bus but without any windows, although it, fortunately, did have a roof. We were on our way with 10 other passengers to a Botanical Garden located on the Romney Estate, named after the British Earl of Romney. At one time this was one of the largest sugar cane plantations on St. Kitts. However, as the price of sugar went down over the years the sugar business in St. Kitts went into decline to the point that it is pretty much now nonexistent. The garden was not particular large but did feature many lovely bromileads, bougainvillea and even some poinsettia growing as a large shrub. The centerpiece of the garden was a huge 500 year old tree, fondly called "the tree" by the locals. The original house on the plantation now contains a studio and shop for the making of Batik. Batik is a process of dyeing cloth which is used for all manner of clothing as well as art work. The process starts with a whole piece of cloth on which an artist sketches the design for that particular piece. Then one of the workers puts wax over everything on the cloth that is not to be dyed. After drying the wax is removed and the whole process repeats in preparation for a different colored dye. This is done up to 5 times for different colored dyes. The resulting product is really quite beautiful. The next part of the tour was a walk through a tropical rain forest. When our guide started passing out walking sticks and suggested the walking stick was our new best friend on the walk, Lynda decided to stay on the bus. (Actually is was the sandals I was wearing - never thought about needing closed toe shoes but the locals near us told me I'd be crazy to try the walk with the shoes I had on. Lynda) It was a good decision on her part as the walk lasted an hour and a half and was quite rugged. The narrow path we followed was up and down fairly steep hills. It followed a stream most of the way. There were several brief rain showers during the walk but because of the canopy of the trees we did not get wet. We saw several very impressive ficus trees, one of which was at least 50 feet from the stream with a root that reached the stream. It was a gorgeous but exhausting walk. Our guides thoughtfully provided us with a fruit punch with a shot of rum at the end of the walk. (They included me in that! L.) The garden/rain forest was about a 25 minute drive from our ship, which took us by a university-level nurse training school and a veterinarian college. We also drove through several villages, most looking rather poor. We did have spectacular views of the ocean. Tomorrow it is on to St. Lucia.