Planned and Past

On Friday, March 13th, Tom and I packed our new truck and headed to Tucson, Arizona where we were visiting son Steev, his partner Greta, and the family ‘cutie’ Josie. After traveling close to 1700 miles, we arrived in Tucson early Sunday afternoon. Steev and Greta have moved into a different house since the last time we had visited so we were given a tour of their digs.    Just around the corner from their home is the Best Western Royal Sun Inn & Suites where we had reserved a room. That evening we went to eat at Barrio Brewery.

After we had breakfast Tuesday, we took a leisurely walk down to the 4th Avenue Shopping District; unfortunately for me and fortunately for Tom, it was too early for the shops to be opened .  Around noon, we walked over to Steev, Greta, and Josie’s place for lunch.  Greta had work to do in the afternoon so Steev took us on a walk of the El Presidio Historic District whose development started in the latter 1700’s . We ended up at the Old Town Artisans, a 150 year old abode building with shops and galleries.  While I shopped, Tom and Steev enjoyed some liquid refreshments in the shaded courtyard and Josie took a nap at home.  We ate a very delicious evening meal prepared by Greta.  Tomorrow we will be leaving for an overnight visit to Bisbee; an old mining town about 90 miles southeast of Tucson.

We were spending two days in St. Barths so we had time on the second day to go on a Catamaran snorkel expedition.  We left the ship at 8:30 am and headed for the dock where the catamaran was waiting.  The boat had to zigzag through all the anchored yachts in the harbor and eventually we got close to the Wind Spirit.   Here I am on the bow of the boat with the big ship in the background.

We had a bit of a sail before getting to the bay where we were to snorkel.   Along the way we saw more of the huge, fancy yachts.  We also had a brief rain shower which was not a problem except worry about cameras getting wet.  Finally we anchored and people got ready to get into the water.  Here I am in the water with the snorkel gear.

There were refreshments on the catamaran, from rum punch to water with several types of beer available too.  Here’s Jan enjoying a Heineken.

At the same time we were on the catamaran, other cruise passengers were taking an excursion on “The Yellow Submarine”  It’s sort of a glass bottomed boat except it has a very deep draft and the underwater parts are all glass.  Those who went really had a good time and,  unlike a true submarine, it was no problem for those who were claustrophobic.

We were due to stay in St Barths harbor until 10:30 pm that evening before sailing back to St. Martin.

Since we were supposed to be off the ship early Saturday morning we didn’t take part in much of the ‘last day at sea’ action that evening.  Also for the same reason we had decided to take bus a tour of St Martin once ashore.    The tour made a couple stops in shopping areas on the island.  In one place I found this teddy bear who sums up our feelings pretty well.

At another stop we had time to enjoy the beach one last time.  This was the place where many of the larger cruise ships come in and had lots of interesting shopping.  Though we didn’t go in I found this shop rather intriguing.   Here are a couple of pictures of the beach and area around the bay.  One is a para-saill up a long way off the water.

Finally, here is a shot of the beach area itself which seems to stretch along the shore for a mile or more with bars, shops and restaurants all along the way.

Finally we returned to our hotel, the same one we had stayed at before our cruise.  Fellow passenger Ginni was also staying at the hotel and flying out on the same flight that we were.  We decided to go out for a nice dinner down by the harbor and picked a place called La Tropicana.  We had a very pleasant dinner and retired early as we had to leave for the airport at 6:00 am.

The trip home went smoothly and it appeared that much of the deep snow from before we left was gone.   It was nice to be home again.

We arrived at St. Barths around 8:00 am and anchored out in the harbor.  St. Barths is a wealthy island and some of the most spectacular and expensive ships come here. Here is our sister ship, the Wind Surf which was also in the harbor.  Anchored a short distance from the Wind Spirit was, what is called the most expensive yacht in the world. It’s simply named Yacht A.

The island is also well known among aircraft pilots for it’s tricky and demanding airport.  Here are some Google Images of the airport – note that the end of the runway goes right into the sea!

That morning Jan, I and two new friends Romaine and Warren caught one of the first tenders to the dock so we could take a taxi tour of the island.  One striking thing was everything seemed clean and in good repair, a contrast to other islands.  The taxi ride was spectacular.  Here is a map showing where we went that day.

Here is one of the many beach resorts on the island.  All of them looked like they were a minimum of four stars.   Probably quite expensive too.

And here is one of the smaller villages with a great view of the surf and a neighboring island.

Off one of these beaches there was a windsurfer doing his thing.  It looks like fun but I doubt my old body could take it. After the tour Jan, Romaine and Warren all wanted to go shopping but I decided to return to the ship, get a beer by the pool and read.

This was the night when Jan and I had reservations  at ‘Candles’, for a meal on deck with just the two of us.  We were hoping for a romantic evening but the ambient light on the ship spoiled the effect somewhat.

The next day was to be our Catamaran/Snorkel excursion.

We left Jost van Dyke at 4:00 pm on Feb. 8th and sailed for St. Kitts.  This was going to be a rather long leg of the voyage.  After we got underway the seas became rather rough and, for the first time in my adult life, I started feeling the onset of motion sickness.  By dinner time I was feeling poor enough to elect to skip dinner and just hole up in our stateroom.

I spent a rather unpleasant night but by morning I was feeling good again and ready for breakfast and our day on St. Kitts.  We had visited this island a number of years ago and at that time we climbed the dormant volcano (Mt. Liamuiga, formerly Mt. Misery)  shown in this picture.  On this visit we had a more leisurely activity planned.

At 8:00 am we departed the ship and were bussed to the starting point for the St. Kitts Scenic Railway.  This narrow gauge railway originally was used to transport sugar cane from the plantations around the island.

The railroad runs around the Atlantic side of the island and passes through some beautiful scenery.  Here is one of the black sand beaches visible along the way.  The tracks go through some rugged areas with ravines crossed by trestles.  If you click on this picture you can see one of the track maintenance cars crossing the trestle.

The train featured complementary refreshments, both alcoholic and non- and even had an a-cappella  choir singing both modern and traditional songs.  The second half of the tour was via bus through some of the towns on the Caribbean side of the island.

That evening there was a huge barbecue served poolside with music and dancing by the crew.  Later the passengers joined in the dancing too and everyone had a wonderful time.  We spent a long time that evening under the stars talking with our fellow passengers.  It was a very memorable night, unfortunately I had chosen not to carry my camera so I have no photos to show.

Our next destination was the French island of St. Barths where we were to spend two days.   We had a island taxi tour planned for the first day and a catamaran/snorkel excursion for the next.

More to come.

Jost van Dyle is a small island with about 140 residents and only got electricity in 1991 .  The locals say “The Main Street is the Beach.” We had visited there around 20 years ago and we were anxious to see how it had changed.  Here’s the Wind Spirit anchored in Great Bay.

We had no excursions scheduled for that day so Jan and I decided to hike up to one of the high points that overlooks a spectacular white sandy beach called White Bay.   As we started out we passed this interesting place.  Click on the thumbnail so you can read the sign.

We had started out fairly early but it became quite warm and the climb was strenuous.     When we got to the top we really could not see the Bay because of trees lining the road.  So we kept going…

Eventually we got to the bay and, more importantly, a beach bar called The Soggy Dollar. The name came about because the shallow water prevents direct landing of boats there and so the sailors would swim ashore to get a beer, getting their money wet in the process.  We had some much needed beer and then found a taxi to take us back to Great Bay where the ship was anchored.

We had the cab drop us off at Foxy’s Bar, which was one of the few places that was on Jost van Dyke when we had been there earlier.  There were a number of other people from the ship there already and we joined up with a group of them.  From left to right; standing Judy, Ginni and Jan; sitting Romaine, Warren and me.  This picture was taken with Romaine’s camera and used with her permission.

More to come.

The ship was scheduled to depart for Tortola at 6:00 pm but was delayed due to some late arriving passengers.  We used the time to unpack and relax by the pool.

We arrived at Road Town, Tortola around 8:00 am and, after breakfast Jan and I decided to go ashore and explore a little.  Since it was Sunday, few of the shops were open and there was not a lot happening other than the local church services.

We wandered around and saw a number of shops that might have been interesting, had they been open.  One place that caught our eye was this restaurant.

This was “SuperBowl Sunday” and the television reception onboard ship was poor at best. The captain had decided that he needed to change the cruise itinerary in order to get to a place where passengers could watch the game.    The ship would sail for Virgin Gorda and the Crawl Pub at Bitter End Yacht Club.  Due to the distance to cover, the ship would sail at 2:45 pm.

Here is the view of the harbor at Virgin Gorda as we came in around 5:00 pm.

Jan and I decided to not go ashore that evening and instead had dinner on board with some other passengers who were not football fans.

Our planned “Land-Sea Excursion” for the next day (Monday, 02/07/11) had been canceled because of rough seas so Jan and I decided to take advantage of some hiking trails near the Bitter End Yacht Club.  It was a fun hike but we had to turn around when the trail got too steep and rocky for Jan’s sandals.  Here is one view from the trail.

Following our hike we took the tender over to Prickly Pear Island for the beach barbecue being put on by the ship.  We staked out a shady spot and checked out the beach.  It was beautiful but I think we don’t enjoy sitting on the beach as much as we did when we were younger.

That evening we sailed for the island of Jost van Dyke at 4:00 pm.  After watching the sails go up  we had dinner with four fellow passengers and, as usual, we had a great meal and great conversation.

More to come.

Last year we had to cancel out ‘Big Trip‘ to Australia for medical reasons.  So we decided that this winter we would go on a simpler vacation to someplace warm as a sort of a test run to see how well I can manage traveling now.

We chose another WindStar cruise as we had enjoyed them in the past and knew they would do things right.  We chose the cruise on the Wind Spirit from St. Martin which visited  Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost van Dyke, St. Kitts, and St. Barths.

Of course it was winter in the mid-west and the weather did its best to spoil our plans.  We were scheduled to fly out on February 4 and a huge storm hit on Wednesday, the 2nd!  Our route was through Chicago O’Hare which was shut down by 2 feet of snow and high winds.  We looked for alternatives and kept hoping that things would be back to normal by Friday.  The short version–our plane left Cedar Rapids two hours late on Friday and we just made our connection in Chicago.  In Miami we had another tight connection but managed to get on the plane to St. Martin with some time to spare.  After we were in the air we both sighed with relief and had a couple glasses of wine.

It was late when we arrived on St. Martin so we did not see much of the island that night.  We were not scheduled to board the ship until after noon on the next day so we had time that morning to explore the area around our hotel – The Hotel Beach Plaza.  It was a beautiful area and the hotel appeared very nice.  Unfortunately it was, in our opinion, rather poorly run with poor service and no information about the services available.

Around 1:00 pm we were picked up from the hotel and taken to the ship.  Check in on board went smoothly and we soon settled in by the pool for the buffet while waiting for other passengers to arrive.

More to follow.

Agadir (part 2)

The drive to Taroudant was less hectic than that from Agadir.  We went through rural areas with farms and fields.  We also went through large areas of  Argan  trees (argania spinosa) which grow well in the  harsh environment, surviving heat, drought and poor soil.  These trees are often seen in pictures of the famous “Tree climbing goats” who climb up to eat the higher leaves.  We didn’t see any goats in the trees, at least not close enough to the road to get a photo from the moving bus.

TaroudantTaroudant is a walled city with ramparts about 6 km long.  It was first settled in 1056 and the walls were built in the 16th century.  Today it is known as a market town and our main purpose for going there was to visit its souk.

SpiceSoukBecause of the approaching Muslim holiday the town was busy, especially the souk.  Every kind of goods were available there.  Clothing, leather goods, food, Click to Enlargespices and shoes to name a few.  We visited a shop where cosmetics and medicinal substances were made from the fruits of the Argan tree.  Women there grind the seeds on stone mills and extract the oil which is ArganOilused for all sorts of products. (Excuse the not very good picture on the right.  I didn’t want to use a flash).

We decided to buy a souvenir at one of the shops in the souk and we had been cautioned that the merchants expect to bargain over the price.  That was quite an adventure.  Eventually we managed to get what we wanted for only 1/3 of originally quoted price.  I’m still not sure if this was a good deal but it was an interesting process.

We left the souk around 4 pm and it was starting to get very busy.  In fact the guide had to enlist the help of several others to make sure our group kept together so no one got lost in the narrow, twisting side streets.  We learned later that many people believe they can get the best bargains toward the end of the day when the merchants are tired and ready to go home.

PalaisSalamBefore returning to Agadir we visited the Hotel Palais Salam for refreshments.  Jan and I tried the national drink, Mint Tea.  Very good but quite sweet.  The Hotel was beautiful though it appeared to not have many guests at that time.

Our return to Agadir was rather thrilling.  Incredible traffic with cars, trucks, motorbikes and bicycles everywhere.  The school children sometimes attend school 15 km or more from their homes and ride bikes back and forth.  The bikes have no reflectors or lights and there are no bike lanes on the narrow roads.  Then back in Agadir we encountered a terrific traffic jam.  Some of the most aggressive driving I have ever seen.  We were almost 1 hour late returning to the ship but they waited for us. 😉

That evening they had a fabulous barbecue on the ship with lobster, a whole roast pig, lamb, beef, chicken and more other food than I can describe.   After dinner we went to the lounge where the performer was doing a “TV Theme Song Trivia” contest.  Our team won the first round and a bottle of champagne.  Of course, with eight team members the bottle didn’t go too far.

Agadir (part 1)

(I’m splitting this post into two parts because if was becoming much too lengthy.)

It took nearly 24 hours for the Wind Spirit to get to Agadir, Morroco from Lanzarote.  During that segment of the trip the sea got rather rough with swells to 15 ft.  The ship does have stabilizers but they didn’t eliminate the motion entirely.  Luckily neither Jan nor I suffer from sea sickness though this was enough to make walking on deck a little difficult.

At around noon the next day we approached Agadir, a city of around 700,000 including the surrounding areas.  The first thing we saw was the old kasbah on the hill.AgadirKasbah The arabic words on the hillside say (roughly) “One land, one god, one king”  The city of Agadir, including the kasbah, was destroyed in a massive earthquake in 1960.  The new city was rebuilt about 3 km from the site of the old one.

One of the first things we noticed when we approached the dock at Agadir – Trash!  The water was filled with paper, plastic bags, bottles and other unidentifiable junk.  Very different from what we saw in the Canary Islands.  I don’t know why this was but I did notice an absence of things like dumpsters, garbage cans throughout the city.

After lunch on-board we left for a tour of an orange farm and the nearby town of Taroudant.  It took us over an hour by bus to reach the farm and we got to see good examples of the Moroccan countryside.  Traffic was heavy and drivers seemed to all be Gran Prix wanabees.  This was a day or two prior to a Muslim holiday which required the sacrifice of a sheep or goat.  As a consequence along our drive we saw several markets or souks where animals were for sale.  It appeared everyone was buying and we saw people with sheep in their cars and even one fellow with a live sheep strapped to the back of his motorbike!FarmFlowers

The orange farm was a beautiful place out in what was nearly desert.  They grow several types of oranges along with bananas and many ornamental Click to enlargeplants.  Everything was grown using a drip irrigation system which conserved water.  This system was encouraged by the government through subsidies.  The bananas were grown inside ‘greenhouses’ which were used to provide a higherBananas humidity environment rather than for temperature control.

One thing that Jan was disappointed with in our trip to Morocco was not being able to ride a camel.  There was one tour offered which consisted of a 3 Camelhour camel ride but we thought that might be a little too much for softies like us.  At least, at the orange farm she did get to see a camel up close, along with many other animals including some beautiful Arabian horses.

The orange farm is adding a hotel for tourists which will be called Oranges Farm Hotel and will include all the amenities such as swimming pool and elegant dining.

After refreshments at the farm we left for the town of Taroudant also called The Grandmother of Marrakech because of its similarity to that city.


Even though they did not raise the sails when we left for Lanzarote, weClick to enlarge did have another beautiful sight that evening.  The moon and Jupiter were well placed in the sky and made quite a show.

Lanzarote is a volcanic island with a long history.  It was first settled by the Phoenicians in 1100BC and the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians were all familiar with it.

We only had a short stopover in Arrecife, the capital, and the only tour offered Click to enlargewas billed as Very Strenuous.  We opted instead to tour the city and explorer the area around the port.  The shopping area was nothing particularly exciting but we did see some interesting sites.    This sight intrigued us but were unable (with our limited command of Spanish) to find out exactly what it was.  As best we could determine it was some sort of park or resort out on a small island connected to the main island via a causeway.

Click to enlargeAnother feature of the port was Castillo de San Gabriel which was built in 1573 as a defense against pirates.  This was, to me, a very different from other castles we have visited, being quite low and rather small.  I was also a bit disappointed with the cannonsCastleSanGabriel2 on display as they were clearly more modern (breach-loaders) than the castle itself.   The small island where the castle was located was connected to the main island by a drawbridge built sometime later.

DolphinOur next destination was Agadir Morocco and we sailed from Lanzarote shortly after noon on 11/23.  Along the way that afternoon we were joined by a group of dolphins who played in the wake of the ship.  I found them rather hard to photograph but did manage one good image.