Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #7: Walking in Downtown Castries, St. Lucia

The third of our four ports of call on this cruise was in Castries, St. Lucia. Jill had been looking forward to this stop immensely, but was sick and confined to quarters so I was on my own. I started by taking a selfie photo in front of the ‘Welcome to St. Lucia’ sign that was surrounded by palm trees. Then I had another cruise ship guest snap a picture of me in front of a life size Piton beer bottle. It is the locally brewed beer and I knew there was a 99.9 per cent chance I would be imbibing in at least one of them. After declining many offers for a taxi cab ride I began the walk around a small cove to the Castries city center.

There were pretty, red bougainvillea flowering along the water and a cooling breeze was welcome. After a few minutes I found myself in a local farmers’ market area with many locals selling produce. There were shops and bars including one that made me laugh – on the City Gate Bar’s sign there was the tag line, ‘licenced to sell intoxicating liquor.’ Okay, I think we get the point!

A market area aimed at tourists had many vendors selling t-shirts, flowing dresses and various souvenirs of St. Lucia. I found clothing garments marked with St. Lucia on them for both of us – a pink cover up dress for Jill and a beige polo shirt for me. I also purchased a set of six St. Lucia coasters. Each had a different design and there was also a stand which held them. Finally I bought a Piton beer t-shirt. Okay, I had the selfie picture and the t-shirt. Now I just needed the beer!

My next stop was at the cathedral which was ordinary on the outside and ornate on the inside. There were beautiful statues in quiet alcoves set aside for prayer. The ceiling was painted with an intricate, but subdued, design. I read a panel tribute to Patrick St. Marthe Webster, the First Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Castries. A man praying in one of the pews asked if I had any spare change for food, but all I had was twenty dollar bill. Upon exiting the cathedral I enjoyed the peaceful setting of Derek Alcott Square. It was a green, grassy square with an ancient tree to one side which dominated and focused my attention.

But enough sight-seeing. It was time for Piton beer! On a street filled with shops a local asked, ‘What are you looking for, sir?’ When I told him, he had me follow him behind the shops to a hidden area where there were many adjacent ten foot wide booths where women were selling drinks from coolers along with food items. I order a Piton beer and gave the man a ten dollar bill. The ladies didn’t have change, so he disappeared and returned a minute later with two fives.

The women introduced themselves as Pauline and Mariage. They were two of six sisters. I had a second beer and we enjoyed conversation and laughter. Mariage’s husband stopped by and shared lunch with her, as he worked nearby. I had a second beer. I asked for change in the local currency. An older man appeared and chatted with us. He had graying hair, few teeth and a sunshiny demeanor. ‘Some people call me Lucky and others call me Shark.’ I combined the two nicknames and called him, ‘Lucky Shark.’

It was time to head back toward the Norwegian Pearl, so I retraced my route along the half-moon cove. There was a tugboat that was half submerged and surrounded by floating yellow retention booms. Another vessel, which was apparently there to help in cleanup operations, was adjacent. It was named, ‘Walrus,’ and I immediately started singing to myself the Beatles song, ‘I am the Walrus.’ Those who know me know that my mind works like that. Words, phrases and thoughts so often remind me of songs.

‘Hello again,’ I heard to my left. It was the man from the cathedral who had been praying in a pew. We exchanged conversation as we walked along the tree-lined walkway. He introduced himself as Felix. I stopped for another Piton beer so I could get some change. ‘Would you like a beer,’ I asked. ‘No, I need some food.’ I gave him the few dollars received in change and he was very grateful. It made me beam with joy as I made my way back to the ship. All in all, it was a lovely two hours spent ashore in Castries, St. Lucia.

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #6: In Search of Passport Stamps

My new passport arrived in the mail a few weeks before our Caribbean cruise. I needed to renew it as my old one was set to expire right in the middle of our cruise on the day we were in Curacao. I wouldn’t want to get stuck in Curacao now, would I? The new passport was all fresh and pristine. But so was my old passport. I used it several times over the past ten years, but it was never stamped by authorities. Not in Canada. Not in the Bahamas. Not in any Caribbean islands. We set a goal for this trip – to get our passport stamped in all four destinations that were foreign countries – Aruba, Curacao, St. Lucia and St. Kitts. The U.S. Virgin Islands was not in play.

After two days at sea we arrived in Aruba. We inquired at the Visitors’ Information Desk as to where passports were stamped and were directed toward a door which read, ‘Immigration.’ Before we knew it our passports were stamped by a friendly Aruban with an official ‘Aruba Migracion’ stamp and the date. That was easy. It was our first passport stamp of the trip – yea!

The next morning the Norwegian Pearl sailed into Curacao. We started again at the Visitors’ Information Desk. It worked once – why not again? The instructions were the same as in Aruba – to head to the ‘Immigration’ door. But it wasn’t so easy. Immigration directed us the security checkpoint. But that was only stop number three as security sent us to another room were we finally got our passports stamped. This one was much more ‘touristy’ as it read, ‘I was in Curacao – Real Different!!!’

Following a day at sea we were in beautiful St. Lucia and on a quest for our third passport stamp. This was the day that Jill was not allowed off of the ship due to her stomach bug, so I was on my own. Upon disembarking I found out that I needed to go downtown to accomplish my goal, so that is where I went. I walked about a half mile around a cove and was in the bustling downtown area. I asked a resident about passport stamping and was directed toward their immigration office. ‘Go to that big, blue building. Take a left and it is about two streets down on the left.’

I took a little detour to visit a cathedral and then got basically in the right direction. I stopped and must have looked perplexed as a local woman, who was walking with her elementary school age daughter asked if I needed help. ‘Yes, I do.’ After I explained my goal she started giving directions and then said, ‘Follow me.’ I asked her name and that of her daughter. ‘I am Naomi and this is Marcella.’ It was only a minute or two and we were at the correct building, though she wasn’t sure which floor. ‘Come up these steps,’ she directed as we quickly went up six stories. ‘Now go down on your left.’ ‘Thank you so much,’ I said gratefully and she was gone. The immigration official stamped a bold, ‘Saint Lucia, Port Castries,’ and I was three quarters of the way to completion.

Our final foreign stop in St. Kitts led as usual to the Visitors’ Information Desk. ‘Head through that door,’ a local man instructed me. ‘You mean the one that says, ‘No Trespassing?’’ I didn’t feel too good about that. ‘It’s okay. That is just an old sign. Go through the door and to the right.’ I had Jill with me, so at least we would both be in the slammer. But all was well. There was a quite surly lady who stamped the passport with ‘Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis Immigration Office.’ It was in red ink – a new color! Four foreign countries. Four passport stamps. We look forward to filling up our books in the upcoming years.

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #5: April Fool’s on the Casino

A day at sea between the ports of Curacao and St. Lucia turned out to be a day of misery for Jill. She had started feeling ill late the prior evening and it only worsened. After I returned from an early morning run of three miles on the gym’s treadmill and doing some various core and resistance exercises, I found Jill feeling terrible in our room. ‘Go get breakfast and try to find Mil to play some cribbage,’ she said. ‘I’m just going to rest and try to get better.’

So I did just that. At breakfast the waiters all asked where Jill was. Upon learning she was ill, Selvin, Fraizer, Annel, Nyoman and others all sent good wishes. Then I met Mil in the card room for some cribbage. Before he arrived I had a super game of Yahtzee – hitting the long straight, Yahtzee and bonus on the top. Then Mil showed up. Since he helped me to rekindle long-lost playing skills on the first sea day of our cruise, I was now an experienced cribbage player! We played two games. I narrowly won the first game and skunked Mil in the second. A skunk is when a player wins by over twenty-five pegs. ‘You have good luck today,’ Mil noted. ‘You should go to the casino.’

Next I was back in the room to check on Jill and she was worse. ‘Go to the casino while I get some sleep.’ After a trek down to Deck Six, I checked out the poker table which was empty. I do play blackjack sometimes, but I wasn’t in the mood. Then I saw a table game called ‘Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em.’ I stood and watched for over a half hour and got the hang of how to play. It is basically the same as when I usually play Texas Hold ‘em, except each player is ‘heads up’ against the dealer. There is an ante and blind bet, and an optional bet where you are paid for ‘trips’ or better. I pulled out a ‘Benjamin,’ got twenty red five dollar chips in change and was in the game.

I decided to just play the ante and blind, so I was in for ten bucks a hand before the betting started. I got the hang of the betting – we could place one bet, four times our original bet pre-flop, two times post-flop or an equal bet after the simultaneous turn and river. For about an hour and a half my chip stack moved up and down, but stayed positive. Then it happened – I hit a straight flush and won several hundred dollars. I couldn’t believe my good fortune as the odds are about three thousand to one to hit that for any particular hand.

But I was just getting started. It was maybe a half hour later when the same dealer, Kunal, who hailed from India, dealt me an ace and jack of hearts. ‘I’m on a Royal Flush draw,’ I stated as I bet the pre-flop maximum of four times my five dollar blind bet. The three card flop came with a king and ten of hearts. ‘I’m only a queen of hearts away from a Royal Flush,’ I thought. I had never seen one, much less got one.

Boom – Kunal turned over the next two cards and there was a queen of hearts. I had hit the mother lode – a one in thirty thousand shot! I was in shock and got up from the table to compose myself. The pit boss was called over as Kunal showed my hand and verified card by card that the deck was intact and above suspicion. I didn’t even know how much I had won. Then he counted out twenty-five black one hundred dollar chips. It was a 500 to one payout on the five dollar blind bet. Everyone playing at the table was giddy at what had happened, but no one more than me. I played a bit longer and then cashed out two grand, half fifties and half ‘C-notes,’ kept the rest in chips, and headed back to our cabin.

The lights were low and Jill was still sleeping, but she stirred upon my entry. ‘How did you do?’ Then she paused, ‘You didn’t win, did you? ‘I did come out ahead, in fact, one guy at our table won over two thousand dollars,’ I announced. A sleepy Jill with eyes barely open said, ‘How come we never have the luck?’ Then it was fun time. ‘It was me,’ I laughed as I dropped all of the bills on her – it was raining dead Presidents. ‘Oh my God,’ her voice trailed off and she got a bit teary-eyed.

Despite my good fortune, Jill wasn’t feeling well and a trip to the medical office resulted in a diagnosis of A.G.E., four pills to take at various intervals, and a twenty-four hour confinement to our room. ‘You should go eat dinner, catch a show and play some more poker,’ she said sadly. ‘I’m going to get some rest.’

The evening started routinely with a solo dinner in the Summer Palace Dining Room and a nice show in the Stardust Theater before a return trip to the casino. It was back to the ‘Ultimate Texas Hold ‘em’ table for me. I sat down in the same lucky seat, two from the right. ‘Bring us some luck,’ said Jerry, who sat to my left. He was there in the afternoon and the news of a Royal Flush had also gotten out to other players. Wouldn’t you know it – on the first hand three nines came out on the flop, and Jerry won hundreds of dollars as he held a nine in his hand for quads. Needless to say, he felt my good fortune had rubbed off on him.

The game ebbed and flowed for about four hours until it was almost 2:00 in the morning. As my chip stack dwindled toward my original one hundred dollar buy-in I said to the dealer, Tristan, and my few remaining table mates, ‘If I drop back to my original stack, I’m heading up to bed.’ I was above the buy-in when I hit a few good hands in a row, so I stuck around, despite being quite tired. There was no one else in the casino except those at our table as everything was getting ready to close down within a half hour.

I was dealt a moderately decent ace-seven off suit with an ace of clubs. The flop was an amazing king, queen and jack of clubs. ‘All I need is the ten for another Royal Flush,’ I said with surprise. The odds of that were only two in forty-seven. ‘I’ve got the ten,’ said Austin, a regular player from Los Angeles. So my hopes were dashed. Tristan turned over the last two cards and there was a ten of clubs. I yelled, ‘I hit another Royal Flush! Austin, I thought you had the ten!’ ‘I did, but it was another suit.’ This was not just unreal, but bizarre.

The same pit boss came over, Tristan verified the deck and started stacking chips. Because I had played the ‘trips’ spot, I won two fifty on top of the twenty-five hundred. I asked the pit boss if he had ever seen anything like this. ‘I’ve never seen it or heard of it, but it’s good.’ It was beyond belief. This was a once in a lifetime poker day. I was savoring the moment as we played until closing time. I cashed out and headed back to our cabin around three in the morning.

Jill stirred upon my entry. ‘You didn’t win this time did you? It’s okay, because you did so great this afternoon.’ ‘No, Jill. You won’t believe this, but I hit another Royal Flush and ended up three grand.’ It was just ridiculous – but in a good way.

The next morning when Jill and I spoke she confided to me, ‘I thought it was a dream, so I got up in the middle of the night and looked in the safe just to make sure it was true.’ Later that evening, when I was once again at the same table, another dealer, Edward, said, ‘We usually get about one Royal Flush a year.’ And I got two in one day – well, actually in one twenty-four hour period, the first on March 31st and the second early in the morning on April 1st. All I could say was, ‘April Fool’s on the casino!’

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #4: Fab Four Welcomes a New Member

The Stardust Theater is the place to be for evening entertainment on the Norwegian Pearl. On Day Five of our cruise that meant it was time for the ‘Fab Four,’ who were promoted as singing hits of the sixties and seventies. Four young men clad in black suits and ties hit the stage and proceeded to sing some nice four-part harmonies on songs such as ‘Build Me up Buttercup,’ ‘I’m a Believer’ and ‘God Only Knows.’ They got the audience involved, such as on one song when all four members proceeded to leave the stage and sing one-by-one to ‘Jennifer,’ whom they selected at random.

I guess I should note that Jennifer was not totally selected at random as she was smack dab in the center of row one. Jill and I were also in row one, but we were in a side section. We don’t usually sit so close, but it was better to stretch out our legs after a big dinner. I did think briefly of how Jill had said a couple of days ago that we shouldn’t sit up close during shows since that is where unsuspecting audience members were picked to go up on stage and risk making fools of themselves. Luckily, someone else had already been picked and, this all guy group would only pick women. Or so I thought…

After one particular song, one of the Fab Four ‘supposedly’ decided to leave the group and go solo. The guys were incredulous. ‘What can we do?’ one asked. ‘We are the Fab Four, but now we are only three,’ said another. ‘We’ll have to get an audience member,’ the third remaining member said. You guessed it; somehow one of them ran down and picked me. As I was shepherded up on stage they asked my name and got me ready to become the newest member of the Fab Four. ‘Gary is our new member and will be singing the line, ‘Up on the Roof,’ when we give him the cue.’

Well, they proceeded to go through a couple verses and choruses and every time I thought it was my line they stopped me short. In the meantime I was supposed to be moving with the beat and snapping my fingers in time, so I did my best. One time one of the guys said he hoped I wouldn’t let them down. ‘I will not let you down,’ I stated firmly as the music played in the background.

Finally my cue came and I sang, ‘Up on the roof.’ Back and forth it went between the other three guys and me as I sang that line four times. Then there was the same line to close the song and I held the lengthy note with my new-found, temporary bandmates. For a moment I was part of the Fab Four.

Despite a sore throat, I think I sounded okay – at least that’s what Jill and a few other people told me. It didn’t end there. When we got on the elevator,
several people had commented positively on my singing. So I asked if they knew where the elevator was going. Before they could answer, I sang four words, ‘Up on the roof.’

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #3: Tour Guides – Dudley, Mel and Harold

An informative tour guide or taxi driver can add much to one’s visit to new places. At both Aruba and Curacao this proved to be true. In Aruba Jill and I spent several hours at Palm Beach. Dudley was our taxi driver on the way there while Mel took us back on the return trip. After disembarking in Curacao and getting visitor information, we took a three hour tour of the island courtesy of Erroll.

We were barely off of the Norwegian Pearl at our first of five island stops, when we were asked by a muscular, black taxi driver where we were headed. ‘Palm Beach,’ was our response. Another couple was also going there. ‘I’ll take the four of you for seventeen American dollars.’ And so we were on our way. The amiable young man told us his name was Dudley. He laughed, ‘Dudley will do you right!’ This was play on the Dudley Do-Right cartoon character from the 1960s. We learned much about Aruba – how tourism is its only industry since the oil refinery reduced operations about ten years ago, it is 82% Catholic, and the island pretty much closes down on Sunday as people attend church and have family time. He was in great physical shape and expounded on eating natural foods and not polluting our bodies.

We enjoyed catching a few rays at Palm Beach. But we rented chairs and stayed mostly out of the sun under a palm thatched cabana. There were pretty yellow and black birds flying about and colorful lizards trekking from bush to bush through the sand. I bought Jill a non-alcoholic Pina Colada since she has been avoiding spirits since New Year’s Eve. Time flew and we decided to head back to our ship. A couple, Roger and Debbie, from Oregon, had been relaxing near us and we had struck up a conversation. They decided to leave when we did, so we shared a cab.

Mel was our taxi driver as we headed back to our home away from home. He told us about the languages of Aruba. The main language of Parmiantamal was derived from an African dialect spoken by many of the slaves back in the seventeenth century. Children learn Dutch starting in first grade since the island is part of the old Dutch holdings. English is taught beginning around the fifth grade. Many of the people also speak French, Spanish, Portuguese or Italian.

Harold spent three hours taking us all around the major and minor sights of Curacao. He told us of how the government pays for university education of its youth in Holland. Most of them stay in Holland afterward as it is easier to find good jobs than in Curacao. This extends to Harold’s own family as he has grown children who live and work in Holland. Erroll has visited Holland nine times and his wife is currently there. Maybe this has something to do with their grandchildren!

We also learned so much about the island’s economy, the ferry boats and walking bridge, social medicine, Dutch who were buying property in increasing numbers, and the big refinery that Shell Oil gave to the nation rather than clean it up. A popular stop for us was at Curacao Liqueurs. We enjoyed a tasting of several of the flavors Harold was driving, so, as they say in Jamaica, ‘No problem, Mon!’

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #2: Cribbage and Competition

Our family has played cards and board games for as long as I can remember.  I guess I should rephrase that a bit.   My family has always played games and cards, while Jill’s didn’t – but she has picked up the gaming fever over the past several years.   In this spirit we headed to the library and game room on the Norwegian Pearl with a double-deck of cards and plans to play ‘Golf.’  After a couple of rounds we were approached by a man who was probably twenty years older than me.  ‘What are you playing?’  After we told him there ensued a lengthy discussion as he and his wife played, but many of the rules were different.

I don’t know how the subject changed, but Mil got talking about wanting to find someone to play Cribbage.  Oh, we were on a first name basis now, and he was enthusiastic when I told him I used to play when I was a teenager.   Jill suggested we play Cribbage while she and Mil’s wife, Terri, went shopping.   Mil was more than happy to explain the rules.  We played one practice hand face up and Mil pronounced me ‘ready to play.’  It was a good thing we weren’t playing for money as he probably had himself a sucker!  But soon the competition got going.  My math skills came into play immediately, and my familiarity with using percentages when playing Texas Hold ‘em poker helped.

We moved our little plastic pegs around the race track shaped cribbage board.  It was almost like I was racing around a track, though not quite so physically taxing.  We were each dealt six cards and discarded two into the dealer’s ‘crib.’  I picked up the various strategies of playing the board and then scoring my hand.  We aimed for cards that totaled ’15,’ pairs, straights and, to a lesser degree, flushes.  Mil nosed ahead, and then I took the lead.  Back and forth it went until he won.

Of course we had a rematch.   Somewhere during this game Jill returned as did Terri.  We were in the heat of battle with our playing cards, plastic pegs and Cribbage board.  You would have thought it was the ‘Dream Mile’ with Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori or the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ boxing match between Ali and Frazier.   Mil told stories and I found out he played tournament Cribbage.  What had I stepped into?  He also was a competitive motorcycle racer in the 1950s and 1960s glory days.   Now we were engaged in a Cribbage showdown as I attempted to even the score.

It was nip and tuck all of the way.  I held a commanding lead and then Mil closed the gap.  It looked like he would close it out when a few turns of friendly cards cemented a victory for me and squared us at one game apiece.   Terri was very surprised I had won one game.  I think Mil is a very, very good player.  All I could say is, ‘He taught me too well!’

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Cruise Tales – 2015 South and East Caribbean #1: The Jogger’s Track

It was day one of our Caribbean cruise and Jill and I decided to start if off right by heading to the Fitness Center. We figured we would get there early around eight o’clock and imagined ourselves on side-by-side treadmills looking through big windows out to the sea as I ran and she walked. We figured wrong. There wasn’t an available treadmill to be found, much less two side-by-side. Our alternative was to head to the Jogger’s Track which is basically an odd-shaped loop around the upper deck. So off we went.

‘How many laps make a mile?’ I asked a man who was apparently walking laps. ‘Five and two-thirds laps to a mile,’ he responded. After the typical ‘thank yous,’ Jill and I were on our way. I started slowly, which has become the norm for me as I morphed from a fast, competitive runner to more of a fitness guy. After around two laps I caught Jill and so began my trek toward two or three miles while she aimed for a mile.

The wind was with me as I headed toward the back of the ship and blew rather briskly into my face on the return trip. I guess steaming along at 23 knots will do that. There was an oddly shaped area in the back as we navigated around beams and avoided a stairway. There was water on the surface as I approached the stairway, so lap after lap I was very cautious as I didn’t want to spend the rest of the cruise laid up with a bruised body or, worse yet, broken bones.

After six laps I made the decision to only run two miles. I have been feeling like a cold was coming on and why push it? ‘I’ve got four laps to go for two miles and you’ve got two laps for a mile,’ I said to Jill as I passed her again. I decided to err on the high side and call six laps a mile. In the old days I would have been timing myself and much more cognizant of time, pace and distance. But today I was just working up a sweat.

It was interesting noting others on the Jogger’s Track. One couple ran fast for a lap, took a break, was joined by their young daughter and did some type of repetition of that, though I couldn’t quite figure it out and didn’t really care to. A group of perhaps seven guests were oblivious to the fact that they were on the Jogger’s Track amidst a couple dozen runners, joggers and walkers as they aimed for some type of group photo. They could have gone to any of dozens of paces onboard, but were in their own little world.

Most of the walkers were very courteous and looked back as they approached turns or narrow stretches to let runners go by. Some didn’t, so I just enjoyed a short walk break several times. ‘Last lap for you, two for me,’ I shouted to Jill as I picked up the pace. I like to finish strong and today was no exception. Pretty soon I was on the last lap, saw my chair and water bottle and eased up after my two miles. I walked around a bit, letting my breathing slow as sweat poured out and cleansed me. Jill and I had accomplished our goal – we started the day off right with a healthful activity – and it was better outside than on treadmills anyway.

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