Friday, 10 February 2017

LIVIN’ THE DREAM!

Sometimes I have to pinch myself to summon reality.  While some spend their entire working lives dreaming of spending winters in warmer climes, I never did.  I was too focused on family and career and, without role models to guide me, never imagined I’d be one of those ‘rich folks who winter in Florida’.  The reality is beyond what I imagined.

My mother taught me how to save and she taught me how to spend.  She loved to travel and was forever saving for the next trip.  Experiences meant more to her than material things.  She drilled into me that the two biggest financial mistakes people make are wasting money on interest and cars.  I’ve spent as little as possible on both.  I soon learned that a defined-benefit pension plan is the surest way to financial security.  I never enjoyed managing money and didn’t inherit my maternal grandfather’s business acumen or his appetite for risk.  I preferred predictable results.

And here I am, having thoroughly enjoyed six weeks in sunny, warm Fort Myers, FL, ready to begin another adventure in the Far East before returning to my beloved Island in April.  Yes, we do miss family and friends, but technology makes it easier to keep in touch.  And this blog is our way of sharing our experiences.

The Florida we expected to find is everywhere in evidence.  The endless shopping malls, retirement communities, and golf courses.  The traffic, the crowded beaches, the hustle and bustle, all turnoffs for small-town folk like us from north of the border.  So many people carry guns.  The crime…  And what of America under Trump?  Would he ruin it for all of us and poison the minds of the nice people we’d met?

The Florida we’ve discovered in two stints here is far from what we’d imagined.  It’s rather what we’ve made of it - how we’ve adapted to a new reality.  If there’s one thing we’ve learned through travel, it’s that you can be at home wherever you are if you just work at it.  Stepping out of your comfort zone is a great way to learn.  And yes, I’m fortunate to have a life partner who seldom says “No”, who never complains, and who wakes up every morning with a smile on her face.  That makes everything a lot easier.

We chose southwest Florida for three reasons: location, climate, and a cycling club.  We’ve been fortunate to be able to rent a beautiful condo near downtown Fort Myers for the past two seasons.  It has everything we need and more.
As for Fort Myers, the city, it’s one of the very few we’ve visited in Florida that has a real downtown.  Its well-kept buildings and busy, pedestrian-friendly streets remind us of warm summer days in our beloved Charlottetown.  Every weekend features an interesting event, whether it be an antique car gathering or an art show, and Starbucks is a great place to just sit and people watch.

The weather in southwest Florida is definitely a draw.  The influence of the Gulf of Mexico means January-February temperatures are warmer on this side than the Atlantic Coast.  It’s been mid-20s for 90% of the time we’ve been here; and only one day of steady rain.

But the cycling has been the biggest surprise.  By far.  In researching Fort Myers, I came across the Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club website.  On our first full day here in 2016, I hooked up with an energetic group of seventy-somethings, and I haven’t looked back.  Elva eventually joined the paceline too.  She rides three mornings a week with a slower group, and I go five, weather permitting.  Riding fills our days and keeps us active.
Being around riders twenty years older is inspiring.  Roger celebrated his 83rd birthday by riding 83 miles - in one day!  Pete, shown next to me in the photo below, was born in Italy and moved to Canada as a young bicycle racer in the 1950s, around the time I was born.  He’s 81.  Mike is 79 and still rides strong.  They have the best of equipment and show no signs of quitting.  All speak admiringly of Ray Putnam, a member of the club who just turned 90, and who challenged the world record for fastest 20 km in his his age group, 90+.
On her 65th birthday, Elva felt inspired to write of her Florida experience in these words:

Et me voici!

Here I am
With my team, the Caloosa Riders
Maintaining their 18-mile speed
It’s stimulating and rewarding

I’m in a paceline
I’m focusing
It’s challenging
On the road
The group signals are helping

“Slowing; Stopping
Clear; Rolling
Walker up; Bikers up
Car back; Passing
Car right; Stopping
Car left; Slowing
Take the lane; Going”

Now I’m second in line
Right behind Keith’s back wheel
Keeping the pace, I’m watching
For the signal will be coming

Here I am
To the front I go
It’s my turn to take a pull
My turn to yell out the signals
Will I be turning?

I gave my very best
To my right, five riders pass
“Good work!  Great job!  Good pull!
Thank you!  Look at you go!”
At the end of the paceline now, I smile
Satisfied

2017 is off to a great start
On the designated bike lanes
Near Fort Myers
I’m more confident and I’m stronger

Here I am
Enjoying every ride

Et me voici
De nouveau sur mon vélo
Ce matin, Jean-Paul reste en avant
Moi à l’abris du vent

J’ai beaucoup appris ici
Et c’est plaisant
En ce 4 février étant avantagée
Je réussis 73 km à la vitesse désirée
Mais quelle belle façon de souligner
Qu’aujourd’hui je suis officiellement une aînée
Que je suis choyée!
I was ready for retirement.  I didn’t know it in 2013 but I know it now.  Like anything else in life that’s important, a successful retirement doesn’t just happen.  You have to prepare for it: financially, physically, and spiritually.  You have to learn to let go of things that gave you status - that made you feel important when you were career-focused.  I’ve discovered that I can now tell people what I really think instead of what I know they want to hear.  I no longer have a career to protect.  Honesty is liberating.
Florida is not a place you go to get old, it’s a place you go to stay young.  We’re making plans already to return to Fort Myers in 2018 and for many years thereafter.  We’ve made friends here and will make more.  Our cycling buddies have encouraged us to come back and resume our place in the paceline.  What could be better than that?
As for American politics, in the six weeks we’ve spent here, I can honestly say that the topic has not come up.  Americans are very different from us when it comes to their world view.  That’s certainly true, and now more evident than ever.  But, fundamentally, we’re guests in their country.  We’re not here to pass judgment or to argue that ours or any other system is better.  The society they’ve built here is the sum total of the choices they’ve made.  It’s up to us to decide whether we can adapt.  And adapt we have!
We hope to reconnect next year with good friends, Fleurette and Gilles, and Lana and Bob.  I was great to see them again!

Saturday, 10 December 2016

CARIBBEAN ADVENTURE – PART 4

St. Kitts and Nevis is the smallest and least populated country in the Americas, only 261 square kilometres and 55,000 people.  Yet our first impression on landing at the airport was that here was a country on the move.  The taxi driver pointed out several significant real estate developments on the drive to our hotel on the southeast peninsula of the main island of St. Kitts.  Like Canada, St. Kitts and Nevis is a parliamentary democracy and member of the Commonwealth; it achieved independence in 1983.

On our first full day in the country, we looked out our window at a full-day rain, the first in six weeks.  Although it’s rained nearly every day since we arrived in the Caribbean, it usually only lasts for twenty minutes or so.  This day was different.  We figured out how to get into the capital, Basseterre, by local bus and wandered through Port Zante, watching thousands of passengers pour out of two cruise ships in port for the day.  There are at least 100 stores at the cruise port, certainly half of them selling jewelry.

We got our bearings at the local tourism office and headed out on foot to visit attractions in Basseterre, stopping at Independence Square, the Catholic Co-cathedral, and St. George Anglican Church.
As we walked through the streets, we noticed the contrast between this tiny capital city (population 13,000) and the others we’d visited.  It’s clean, orderly and inviting by comparison.  Then it started to pour!  By mid-afternoon, merchants were closing up shop and the few remaining cruise ship passengers were running from shelter to shelter, many of them without rain gear.  While we were slightly better equipped, we got wet good and wet too.  But, as we cyclists say: “When you’re wet, you can’t get any wetter!”
The map showed two tourist attractions on the south side of St. Kitts, so we boarded the local bus and headed along the coast from Basseterre.  The driver let us off in the tiny village of Old Town and we hiked up a side road to Romney Manor, arriving there just as the gates opened.  While the place has quite a history as a sugar plantation, the real reason for going there was for Elva to buy some batik!  I sat dutifully while she and the saleslady worked their magic and, eventually, we left with a few very nice items.  The Manor grounds are the nicest we’ve seen on our Caribbean trip.

Back down on the main road, we hailed a local bus for the short drive to another side road, this one to Brimstone Hill, nicknamed ‘The Gibraltar of the Caribbean’.  Brimstone Hill and the imposing fortress that commands its summit was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.  The hike to the 243 metre high citadel was a bit of a test.  Cruise ship passengers drove by us in buses and taxis and must have thought we were crazy, but we didn’t care.  We’ll drive when we’re older.

The view from the citadel was amazing.  On a crystal-clear day, we could see the islands of St. Eustatius and Saba to the west, and Nevis to the east.  And the breeze was a welcome relief.
Back in town, we walked to El Fredo’s, reputed to be the best place to sample the national dish: saltfish with dumplings and provision.  While Elva went the safer route with barbecued ribs, I was in foodie heaven.  By this time, I’d eaten a lot of salt fish in the Caribbean, but none this good.  The dumplings had a healthy dose of coconut in them and the provision included plantain, banana, breadfruit and another root vegetable I couldn’t identify.  All delicious!

You can’t go to St. Kitts and miss out on its sister island, Nevis.  The one-hour ferry ride from Basseterre to Charlestown took us along the southwest coast of the main island and across the four-kilometre wide strait to Nevis.  Charlestown is a prosperous-looking place, a step up from the other small islands we’ve visited on this trip.  We started our visit with a local bus ride around most of the island.  Our driver, a former accountant at the luxurious Four Seasons Resort, pointed out a number of interesting places and entertained us with talk of everything from politics to sports.

Back in Charlestown, we did the walking tour, stopping at the historic Anglican Church where we saw gravestones dating back as far as 1733.  Like all the other islands we’ve visited, Nevis was all about the sugar cane in the earliest days of European settlement.  And it was more than just a sleepy backwater.

Alexander Hamilton, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, was born in Charlestown.  His image appears on the ten-dollar bill and his life is the subject of the most popular play on Broadway.  One tag line for the play reads: “How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence, impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”  Admiral Horatio Nelson, British hero of the Napoleonic Wars, while stationed at nearby Antigua, married Nevisian widow Frances Nisbet on Nevis in 1787.  So much history for such a small place.

We’d been told to not miss the hot springs in Charlestown.  We finally found them after getting directions and were met by a woman attendant who wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.  We explained that we didn’t have out swimsuits.  “Not to worry,” she replied.  “I’ve seen it all!”  So we stripped to our underwear (no pictures!) and stepped gingerly into the 42-degree C water.  Then she splashed a bucketful on our backs and ordered us to get in.  As I squatted in the simmering bath, I thought of the boiling frog anecdote.  You know, the one about a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out.  But if it’s put in cold water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death.  An appropriate metaphor, I thought, especially given our ethnicity.

We explored the quieter northwest coast of the main island by local bus.  The driver took us to the end o f his route in Sandlers, then doubled back to the small town of Cayon, where we got off and walked up to Ottley Plantation Inn, a high-end hostelry and former sugar estate.  We walked the grounds and the trails, had a beverage in the open-sided restaurant, and enjoyed a beautiful view of the ocean, with St. Bart’s and St. Maarten off in the distance.  Ça prend pas grand chose pour nous amuser.  What a place to get away from it all!

Before heading back to Basseterre, we stopped at a roadside eatery and sampled the local fare, chicken and Johnny cake, washed down with homemade passion fruit juice.  Watching and listening to the locals bantering and playing a serious game of dominoes added to the experience.  And the food was very good to boot!  I pinched myself, thinking: “There’s no place in the world I’d rather be right now.  My best friend at my side, a genuine experience, and a view to die for.”


Our modest hotel on St. Kitts, the Sugar Bay Club, a place that may have seen better days, couldn’t be in a better location.  The narrow, low-lying strip of land between Frigate Bay North and Frigate Bay South is home to a golf course, hotels, beaches, and a string of funky bars and restaurants.  We spent most of our last three days strolling, swimming and sunbathing in the area and liked it so much that we checked on condo rental prices for possible future reference.
A highlight of our time in St. Kitts was meeting Jennifer and Brian Nelson, two forty-somethings who spend six months of the year working in Panama City, FL, and the other six months sailing around the Caribbean on their 37-foot trimaran, Moon.  We boarded the local bus together on our first day in St. Kitts, said hello, and it was like we’d known one another for years.  They arrived on October 24 and have been working hard on their boat ever since.  Very interesting people.


The trip to St. Lucia turned out to be another adventure, courtesy of LIAT.  Four hours late leaving St. Kitts, we missed our connection in Antigua.  The airline offered to put us up in a local hotel, the Halcyon Resort, but it took forever to get the dozen or so stranded passengers through Customs and herded onto a bus.  Up at 3:30 for the ride to the airport, we faced confusion at the counter as LIAT had not transferred us onto the morning flight.  We finally got to our hotel in St. Lucia, exhausted but thankful to be finally rid of the local airline.

The Bay Gardens Inn, an older but well-kept property, is located in the heart of Rodney Bay, ‘tourist central’ in St. Lucia.  The town has everything: malls, restaurants, supermarkets, resorts, a beach, and a huge marina.  After exploring the area on foot, we hopped a local bus and rode to the capital, Castries.  Two cruise ships were in town and the place was abuzz.  It didn’t take us long to discover, however, that St. Lucia’s capital is a bit rough around the edges.  We’d been spoiled by the relative cleanliness and order of St. Kitts’ capital, Basseterre, and the friendliness of the people there.

We visited Pigeon Island National Park on our second day after taking the bus to the village of Gros Islet and walking the rest of the way.  We needed to stretch our legs in preparation for the next day’s hike.  The view of Martinique and Dominica from the top of the old fort made the short climb worthwhile.

Next, it was back on the bus for the long drive south to the town of Soufrière, a town of 8,000 people and the center of St. Lucia’s activity-based tourism offer.  Although the distance from Rodney Bay to Soufrière is only 50 kilometres, it took us two and a half hours to get there because of the narrow, congested roads, and the mountainous terrain.  We stretched our legs and walked  from the town to the former du Boulay Estate, site of the Botanical Gardens and Diamond Waterfall.  We’d seen other botanical gardens on our travels, but this one was by far the best.  We even discovered what came before Viagra, “Bois Bandé”!  What else would you call a tree with aphrodisiac powers?
Through the night, the rain pounded relentlessly on the roof of our hotel.  The worst of the downpour had passed by the time we got up, but we were pretty well resigned to cancelling our planned ascent of Gros Piton.  But, as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds and our 8:00 am pickup approached, we started to feel like it might come off.  Our driver, Richard, assured us that conditions would be better in Soufrière, so off we went.  Two and a half hours later, we arrived at the tiny village of Fond Gens Libre, home to 120 souls, descendants of former slaves who rebelled against their masters founded the settlement in the nineteenth century.
Our guide for the hike introduced herself and explained what lay ahead.  The mountain loomed over us, threatening, reminding us she was not to be conquered by the weak.  We signed the mandatory release forms, picked up walking sticks and started the 2,000-foot ascent.  Getting to the half-way point was relatively easy, although we had to clamber over a couple of difficult rock staircases, boulders the size of beer coolers.

Our guide warned us that the second half of the climb transitioned from moderate to difficult and asked us for the umpteenth time whether we thought we were up to it.  Poor girl, she’d never encountered a Jos à Denis or The Diesel!  Damn right we were tired.  But quit, I guess not!  Then, it started to rain!  And not just a light shower; a steady downpour that made the trail that much more treacherous.  But it also cooled us off!  After almost two hours of climbing, we reached the top of Gros Piton, not much the worse for wear and took in the impressive views of the island, looking south.
When you’re at your physical limit, when your mind tells you to turn around, that you’re too old for this, you search for inspiration.  Elva found hers in memories of Martha Lebel, her good friend who loved to hike and who left us too early, and of her cycling friend, Liz, who calls every hill “A piece of cake!”  For me, the sight of these plants growing wild on the mountain summoned memories of my dear mother who grew them in our house in Wellington all through the years we lived together.
The long descent was quite hairy and I was thankful for the walking stick.  Several times, I braced on all fours for stability on the slippery path.  My legs held up surprisingly well though and I made it down in ninety minutes or so.  Elva followed thirty minutes later and we congratulated one another on a job well done.  We don’t know what getting old feels like yet.  Someday we will, but not on this day…  Gros Piton is a ‘must-do’ for the adventurous sort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site spectacular in beauty and worthy of the designation.  Looking at this aerial shot of the monster in the foreground, I still find it hard to believe we made it!
We spent the last couple of days of our Caribbean adventure in Rodney Bay and Castries, soaking up the last of the sun and the sand before heading back north.  St. Lucia has a lot to offer the vacationer but it also has its drawbacks.  Most of the 150,000 or so people who call the island nation home are packed into a small strip of coastal land in the northwest corner.  Add in tourists and a woefully inadequate road system, and you have the makings of one gnarly traffic jam.  And garbage is strewn everywhere.  In a word, it’s gross.  People here are friendly, but it’s not the genuine friendliness you find in Grenada, Dominica, and St. Kitts.  There’s work to be done on several fronts, including better staff training.  Otherwise, the country will not achieve its goal of becoming a premium tourist destination.

As we end this adventure, I offer a few parting thoughts:
  1. No two couples, having visited the same eight countries, would rank them in the same order, I’m sure.  But for our style of travel, from best to worst, here they are: St. Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
  2. Independent travel isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it can be very rewarding.  We learned so much more on this trip than we expected, especially about ourselves and our capacity to adapt.  Three keys to successful independent travel: talk to the locals; eat what and where the locals eat; and travel with the locals where possible.  These are guarantees of a more enriching experience.  And it helps to be in shape!
  3. Never travel without the advice and help of an agent.  Ours happens to be Elva’s sister, Lucille Thompson of Carlson Wagonlit Travel.  She knows our habits, our expectations, and our quirks.  We work in tandem with her to come up with an itinerary and find suitable hotels, all booked in advance.  The savings she finds for us more than cover her fees.  Most importantly, when something goes wrong, as it always does, she’s there to help.
  4. The time and schedule conscious either adapt to the Caribbean pace or they go crazy!  People here march to a different drummer.  Maybe it’s the heat and maybe it’s just their nature.  LIAT (an acronym for “Late If At All”?), the publicly-owned regional airline, is a study in inefficiency and rarely on time.  We learned to go with the flow.  After all, what’s the rush?
  5. The eight Caribbean countries have much the same history: the indigenous Kalinago (Caribs) conquered the Arawak, only to be exterminated by the Europeans; Columbus was the first European to set foot on the islands, claiming them on Spain’s behalf; France and Great Britain fought over them, with the British prevailing in the end; the strong black majority eventually gained control in each country; and all sought and achieved independence within the last sixty years.  But there are important differences in terms of quality and form of government, standard of living, population density, and potential for economic growth.
  6. With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, the middle class is weak or non-existent in the eight countries we visited, and that is a huge barrier to social and economic progress.  Wages are very low by our standards, even for those in public service jobs.  Were it not for expats - people who moved away and returned to spend their retirement years in their native countries - things would be far worse.
  7. The ‘gift of jurisdiction’ in these eight sovereign countries comes at a high cost.  With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, none has oil reserves.  They all depend heavily on tourism, agriculture and fishing.  A few supplement these with an offshore banking sector.  There is great potential in tourism, provided each country can successfully brand and differentiate itself.  Foreign investment is hard to come by and many public infrastructure projects would not be possible without grants from richer countries.  Each one has a citizenship-by-investment program.  But bad government can and does stifle growth.  The best example of this is Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
  8. Children here are very independent.  We saw them walk off the ferry from Bequia at 8:00 am, all dressed in their sharp-looking uniforms, on their way to class at a secondary school in Kingstown, St. Vincent.  Imagine having to catch a ferry at 7:00, enduring a rough one-hour crossing, spending six hours in class, and having to take the ferry home again, five days a week?  We drive our children to the stop and complain about them having to take a bus to school.
  9. The Chinese have arrived; not as tourists but as patrons.  We saw signs of this in Grenada, where they contributed to the cost of the national stadium, and in Dominica, where they’re doing the same.  Watch out President Trump!  The Chinese may yet take you from behind…
  10. And finally, after seven weeks of black immersion, I am now officially colour blind.  And proud of it!  It’s been a life-changing experience.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

CARIBBEAN ADVENTURE – PART 3

Geologically speaking, Dominica is one hell of a hot spot.  An island country with a land only 13% the size of of Prince Edward Island, it has the highest concentration of active volcanoes (9) on earth.

Looking at where Dominica ranks in terms of economic and social indicators, we’d expected to see a much poorer country.  It may be poor by our standards but seems headed in the right direction, certainly if tourism and environmental quality are indicators.  The island bills itself as the “Nature Island”, a title well chosen based on our five-day stay.  Dominica boasts three national parks and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Trois Pitons National Park, and the park infrastructure is world-class.  Despite having few beaches and high-end resorts, the country may yet carve a niche for itself in the competitive world tourism market.

We landed at the airport on the northeast coast of the island and took a taxi through the central highlands to the capital, Roseau, on the southwest corner.  Our hotel, the Fort Young, right on the waterfront beside the cruise ship terminal, proved to be the nicest one we’ve stayed in on this trip.  Downtown is a bit on the hardscrabble side, but better than some of the other capital cities we’ve visited in the Caribbean.  On our first day, we walked through the narrow streets to get our bearings and find out where to pick up local buses for our planned outings.
On our first full day, we took a local bus to Soufrière, a pretty seaside village on the southwest corner of the island.  We strolled the seawall on Soufrière Bay until we came to Scott’s Head Bay.  There, we chatted with fishermen mending their nets, walked to the top of Scott’s Head and got a glimpse of Martinique, the French island that lies across Martinique Channel.  We learned that the local Creole language contains many French words.

After a delicious lunch at a tiny snackette on the water’s edge, we walked back to Soufrière and headed up into the hills to the sulphur spring.  The volcano that feeds the sulphur spring is called Morne Plat Pays.  There are several pools you can soak in, if you’re so inclined.  The water is very warm - not the best remedy for a very hot day - and is said to have therapeutic qualities.  So I ‘took the waters’.  We then walked up a forest trail to the first sulphur deposit.  The rotten egg smell hit us first; then the soles of our shoes got very warm, reminding us we were on the slopes of an active volcano.
Next day, we rode the local bus all along the west coast to the second-largest town in Dominica, Portsmouth.  On first sight, it’s a hard-luck place, waiting for its turn to benefit from a stronger tourism business.  There are signs that its time will come: one planned and one half-finished resort; a cruise dock designed to service small vessels; and Cabrits National Park.  Interestingly, there's a medical school nearby, Ross University, which hosts 3,000 or so students from around the world.

We walked through the town, strolled along the abandoned beach, and made our way up to Fort Shirley.  The former military garrison was completely reconstructed and opened to the public in 2007.  The project, like many on the island, was funded in part by the European Economic Community.  I asked a local what Dominicans make of investment in public infrastructure projects by foreign governments, most recently China.  “We have a vote in the United Nations, you know.  Sometimes they need it,” he answered wryly.

At the top of the hill above Fort Shirley, I took this picture of La princesse du Cannontown.  In fairness to La princesse, she was really suffering from the heat that day. It seems we each have our 'hot' days.
On day three, we again boarded a local bus to cross the island to Kalinago Territory.  The Kalinago are the indigenous people of Dominica and theirs is the only reserve in the Caribbean.  Autonomous since 1903, they live on a 3,700-acre territory and number approximately 3,600, spread out over eight main villages.  We arrived at the Kalinago Barana Auté, a reconstructed village, and took an excellent guided tour with a Kalinago woman who explained the history of her people and how they live in the modern world. 
There are many parallels with our First Nations in Canada, but also some important differences.  They elect a chief and council who have the last word on everything that happens on Kalinago Territory.  They are full-fledged citizens of Dominica, paying taxes and receiving the same services as all Dominicans.  They have a guaranteed seat in the country’s 21-seat Parliament and a dedicated Minister.  They struggle with many of the same issues as our First Nations: unemployment, addiction, lack of economic opportunity, and the unequal rights of men and women.

Our visit complete, we trudged up a very steep hill in the pouring rain to get back to the main road.  We’d been told that a local bakery made cassava bread.  We relished the fresh, hot, tasty treat, more like a macaroon than bread, with a heavy dose of coconut and a bit of sugar.  My brother-in-law, David Thompson, serious coconut aficionado, would have been jealous!
On our way back to Roseau, we took a short hike into Emerald Pool in Trois Pitons National Park.  We haven’t seen better trails to a natural attraction in any of our travels.
Roseau is about the size of Summerside.  We walked to Windsor Park, the impressive 12,000-seat national cricket stadium and watched two teams play.  The game is a mystery to me and about as exciting as watching paint dry.  How did a small, poor country like Dominica come up with over $20 million CDN for a cricket Stadium you might ask?  The answer was right in front of me: a Chinese flag flapping right beside the Dominican.  They paid the whole shot!

On our last full day, we hired a taxi to take us to Middleham Falls, the highest in Dominica at over 200 feet.  It took us almost two hours to get there and back along a wet and treacherous mountain trail in the heart of the rain forest, but it was worth it.  
You have to take the good with the bad.  After getting soaked $80 CDN for the taxi ride to our hotel from the airport in Dominica, we inquired about other options.  “Local bus to Marigot.  From there, it’s a short walk to the airport,” one man told us.  “They won’t take you with your luggage,” another said.  Since we weren’t in a rush to get to the airport on our last day, we walked to the local bus station.  Just as we got there, a guy drove by and asked us if we wanted a lift to the airport.  He lived near Marigot, was a local bus and taxi driver, and had come to Roseau to pick up some parts for his van.  We hopped in and had a pleasant drive to our destination, all for $10 CDN!  Lesson learned: you have to ask.

Since an incoming Liat flight was late arriving, we were re-booked on an earlier one to Antigua, arriving there mid-afternoon.  The smell of money hits you as soon as you set foot in the airport.  Gleaming marble floors; everything just so.  Quite a contrast from our last few stops. The early arrival gave us time enough to get some grub for our six-day stay at Dickenson Bay Cottages.  So we walked thirty minutes to the supermarket, did our shopping, had a bite at the deli, and headed back before it got too dark.  A few minutes later, along came a local bus.  It was our lucky day!
St. John’s, the capital of Antigua and Barbuda, is home to about one quarter of the country’s 92,000 inhabitants.  It has a very impressive cruise port and high-end stores carrying all the brand names, from Prada to Breitling and everything in between.  Unlike some of the more modest capitals we’ve visited on this trip, St. John’s has some nice downtown restaurants and a lively street buzz.
Dominica may have the highest concentration of active volcanoes in the world; St. John’s surely has the highest concentration of hair and nail salons.  Women here are very style-conscious.  Elva got her hair cut and her nails done and I got my sandal fixed before we called it a day.

English Harbour was our destination on day 2.  We took local buses to get there and arrived at the Nelson Dockyard UNESCO World Heritage Site mid-morning.  The harbour was of key strategic importance to the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries during the days of sail.  Admiral Nelson was stationed there from 1784 to 1787.  Many of the original structures have been re-purposed, now home to high-end restaurants and lodgings.

We took a water taxi across the narrow harbour and followed a cliffside trail through a cactus forest that took us to Carpenter Rock.  The views were amazing.  From there, we hiked to the Blockhouse, a high point from where we saw the Atlantic on one side and the Caribbean on the other.  Nearby Shirley Heights overlooks English and Falmouth Harbours.  The view literally took our breath away; the best we’ve seen on our Caribbean adventure.

While the boats moored in English Harbour were impressive, they were mere dories next to the ones tied up in Falmouth Harbour.  I took note of a couple of names and looked them up on the internet.  The Odessa is a charter yacht and she rents for $235,000 US per week.  That base charter fee doesn’t include food, crew, fuel and a few other odds and ends.  The Illusion V, a bit nicer I thought, will set you back a cool $350,000 for a seven-day junket.

And these two were in turn dwarfed by the monstrous grey affair in the photo below.  We asked a couple of locals who owned it.  “Some Microsoft guy,” they answered.  Again, I looked it up.  According to www.superyachtfan.com, the 232-foot Skat belongs to Charles Simonyi, developer of the Microsoft Office Suite, who’s worth a reported $1.6 billion US.  She set him back $75 million US!  And to think we can travel for $350 CDN per day.  A couple of regular hillbillies!
Antigua is a nice place to visit and we’re glad we came.  The weather's cooler and there's always a nice breeze.  There’s also money here, lots of it, but it’s not clear that it’s being spent wisely by government.  Again, there’s no sign of a middle class.  Roads are a mess, streets in St. John’s are terrible, the whiff of raw sewage downtown curls the nostrils, and several major building projects seem to be at a standstill.  The one project that seems to be coming along is the restoration of the Anglican Cathedral.  The roof has been replaced, all structural timbers had to go because of termites, they put in a new cement floor, and all the pews are new.  The oldest grave we found was from 1760, so the place has been around for a while.
Antigua bills itself as the island of 365 beaches, one for every day of the year.  Since our hotel was a fifteen-minute walk from Dickenson Bay Beach, one of the nicer ones, we spent time there on our last three days.  The azure water was crystal clear and just the right temperature, and the beautiful sand the perfect place for an afternoon nap.  Not Basin Head, but not bad.

One good thing about Antigua: all beaches are public.  So, like La Sagouine who observed the goings-on from the back of the church because she couldn’t afford a pew, most watch the rich play at Sandals from their vantage point on Pogey Beach, also known as La plage des Acadiens.  The photo below shows Pogey Beach, complete with wrecked sailboat in the distance.  People rent a beach chair for $2.
But we took our towels over to Sandals, squatted on the beach there, and watched the high class folk come and go.  Back at our hotel, I checked on the price of a one-week stay at the all-inclusive resort: a jaw-dropping $6,000 CDN!  They can have it...