Reference: Caribbean

Title: Caribbean Island Tours.

Length: 1100 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel Companies: Thomas Cook and P&O Lines.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

(Please click on thumbnails of photographs on this page to see enlargement, there is sometimes distortion when they are reduced.)

Two Extracts.

One of the questions facing the cruise passenger is whether, and how often, to tour the islands. There will generally be tours organised by the cruise line and these are often good value and informative, taking you to places you would not otherwise visit. Choose one that includes places with local colour, especially when the native people are making it an occasion. A cruise line will usually organise half day and whole day tours. A particular advantage of these is that you expect the ship to wait for you if you are late back. It is worth bearing in mind that it is your responsibility to return to the ship in time. The captain does not have to wait for you. Your cruise ship will typically have berthed by 8 am and is ready to leave by 6pm. For this reason I favour the morning for self- organised tours, just in case the taxi breaks down in a remote part of the island.

The larger the island the more scope for visiting places of interest. Nevertheless the smaller islands may offer special themes such as scuba diving or fishing - or simply lazing on a sunny sandy beach.

A typical example organised by P&O Cruise lines is a half-day tour of Granada - the Spice Island. Since it is famed for its spices then aim for a tour which will encompass the spice growing areas with a visit to a nutmeg processing plant. A guide will take you through all the stages. The nutmeg is extracted from a soft yellowy fruit resembling an apricot which splits open when ripe. Surrounding the nut is red waxy netting, which is stripped off and sold as mace for cosmetics and flavouring of food. The nut is put through a crusher to strip off the shell to yield the kernel, which we know as nutmeg. The quality is assessed by the water test. The best nutmegs sink to the bottom and are used for flavouring food; those that float are employed in the pharmaceutical industry.

The nutmeg trees, which grow to about 60 feet, will be seen on the way. The plantations of bananas produce one bunch per tree but the bunch is perhaps ten times the size seen in our local supermarket. The crop takes 9 months to ripen and then the tree is cut down ready for new shoots to grow the next crop. On the plantations the bananas are protected from the birds by blue plastic bags. A scarred banana is not exported but used for home consumption. Try a fresh banana, it is more sticky and sweeter to the taste.

It is the climate for citrus fruits and lemons, oranges and grapefruit. Breadfruit - cooked like a potato - and coconut palms will be seen from the roadside. The liquid inside a green coconut, we are told, is used to cure gallstones.

Local people will offer you hollowed out coconut shells filled with sachets of spices - nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger and cinnamon. Expect to bargain; $2 for a set seems about right.

East coast, St. Lucia.

A whole day example of a tour of St.Lucia is split into two halves. The morning by coach and an afternoon on a catamaran with a stop for swimming and snorkelling; rum punches available for the asking. The coach tour through the rain forest gives you an idea of the lush growth. Masses of bamboo with branches inches thick competing for space with climbing plants interspersed with spice trees. An interesting aspect of this tour was the stop at a former planters' house on the Balembouche estate.

Whereas as many as 500 workers had once worked the plantation, now there are few; in part due to the change in social climate and the trend to a more democratic society. The cooling drink of guava juice could be sipped while wandering around the house or slipping through the shade of the grounds. Perhaps trying the bamboo ladder for collecting coconuts, or inspecting the still once used for distilling rum from the sugar cane. The huge brilliant red flowers of the flamingo tree compete with the bougainvillaea in five different colours; and a Banyan tree displays its multiple roots above the ground. Botanical gardens are a feature of many of the islands. On this occasion we saw a humming bird of light and dark turquoise.

For a complete contrast the guide takes you to the Sanfriere volcano with bubbling mud pools and smoke from the sulphur springs. A Half day bus tour is long enough in a tropical climate. The breaks in the journey were welcome but none so much as the cooling journey back to the ship on a catamaran.

Visits to sites of historic interest can probably be more cheaply organised by hiring a taxi with friends and negotiating the terms for a morning tour for perhaps $10 (US) each. You may be lucky and find a good driver who is also a guide.

The indigenous wildlife on the island includes the boa constrictor - which we were assured was more afraid of us then we of him - also iguanas and lizards. A poisonous snake - the ferdinance - said to kill a man in 7 hours, was brought from S Africa in order to help control the slaves and prevent them escaping. In fact the snake turned on the slave owners themselves and the mongoose was brought in to eradicate them. Two mongeese are required to kill a snake; one at the tail and one at the head. Sometimes the snake would kill both. The mongeese have learned from the ordeals and now chickens have become their favourite food.

Taxis in the Caribbean are often minibuses, that will hold up to 10 people. Unless you have studied your guidebook and know what you want to see, a tour organised in this way may be limited to an itinerary known to the driver, but some are knowledgeable. Expect to be taken to places selling souvenirs by people known to the driver, this can also happens on an official tour when it is more annoying.

Out of the more than 20 tours organised by a cruise line such as P&O there are many noteworthy ones ranging from the Rhum Runner of Granada (with a continuous supply of rum punches) and submarine tour of Barbados, to the historic tour of San Juan. A tour to suit every taste.

Other topics in this article.

Balembouche estate; Bargaining; Catamaran trip; Climate; Local crops; Minibus or Taxi. Volcano tour; Wild life.

View some photographs supporting this article here.

Scenes from Puerto Rico; Antigua; St. Lucia, other islands; Balembouche estate; Banana plants; Flora....

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