Trinidad  to  Tahiti  to  Trinidad

An  e-mail  Journal  by  Harriet  Williamson

WITH VISITS TO:    Lima - Cusco - Machu Picchu - Guayaquil - Galapagos Islands
Panama Canal - San Blas Islands - Aruba - Bonaire - Grenada - Trinidad  &  Home

From LIMA, PERU, January 6, 2003

We arrived in Lima, Peru yesterday morning. Bob and I shared a cab into downtown Lima but it was $30 so that's not a real good way to do things. There are no free shuttles, so that's a real bummer.

Early this morning, and I do mean early, 43 of us flew from Lima to Cusco in preparation for visiting Machu Picchu tomorrow. Those are the ancient Inca ruins that are also mysterious.

We had to leave the ship at 4 AM There was a glitch at the airport when tickets for 3 passengers weren't there. The purser and activities mate handled the problem and those three flew here on a later flight.

We were told to rest a bit because of the altitude. It's 11,500 ft. here. After resting I began exploring and found an Indian market where I bought a few things. Having grandchildren is wonderful. Buying for them is irresistible.

After lunch we'll be touring and going to even higher elevations. Then tomorrow we'll go down, and yes, I mean down to Machu Picchu via train and bus. Then we'll climb and climb and climb. We're all looking forward to the visit.

We'll be here 3 days and will then fly back to Lima to join the ship. We'll reportedly have a folkloric show aboard before sailing at 6 PM-ish. This was an optional shore excursion.

We toured Cusco that first afternoon there and enjoyed it despite suffering from varying degrees of altitude sickness. I had a headache and felt dizzy and lightheaded. Others got very sick. One man needed oxygen. Anyhow, the tour was most interesting - Inca structures and the history of how they were built, ancient ruins, a cathedral and a vendor stop complete with attendant llamas and alpacas. That night we were bused to a restaurant for an excellent buffet and colorful show with dancers and bandsmen playing Peruvian music.

In Cusco we had a wakeup call at 4:30 AM, had a quick breakfast at the hotel and were transferred by bus to the train station where we caught a 6 AM. train to Machu Picchu, a three-and-one-half hour ride. After the first 45 minutes of fascinating switchbacks through Inca villages we then wound through the Andes alongside a roaring river. The scenery was spectacular all the way and the train ride was most enjoyable. The train cars had shoulder-to-ceiling windows plus skylights on both sides of the cars.

At one station where we paused for about 4 minutes there were Indians selling hand-woven throw rugs, blankets, sweaters, dolls and more. We dickered from the windows and then agreed on prices. They threw the goods up into the windows and we threw the money out the windows to them.

We passed the Inca Trail, a 4-day hike to Machu Picchu. And we saw llamas, alpacas, goats, buffalo, cows and horses. Little Indian children waved to us all along the way.

Upon reaching the base of Machu Picchu we traipsed through vendor markets to board buses for the 30-minute up the steep mountainside via a series of 13 or 14 switchbacks. It was a narrow, dirt road with no guard rails. Talk about hairy.

We disembarked and entered Machu Picchu National Park. Because of my personal dislike of guided tours, I quickly left the tour and continued on my own. I determined to buy one of the guidebooks and climb at my own pace, stopping to take pictures at my pleasure.

The area was awe-inspiring. That the Incas could have constructed such a city out of stone so many hundreds of years ago is part of its mystique. How did they manage to haul such huge rocks up 9,500 feet? And why did they want to build a city so far removed from everywhere else. No one really knows.

After we schlepped up and down the steep stone steps of the city for about one-and-one-half hours we adjourned to the adjacent mountain restaurant for an excellent buffet lunch. Then we dodged persistent vendors, or bought postcards and souvenirs from them, and boarded the buses for the descent down that same scary, switchback road. A young boy about 13 or so ran down the Inca Trail and met us at every switchback to holler "Bye bye" to us. He ran down over 2000 feet and met us at the bottom, where he boarded the bus for photos and tips.

We trekked through the vendors and bought wonderful things - hand-woven duffle bags, backpacks, shirts, hats, scarves, sweaters and beads before boarding the train for the trip back to Cusco. The scenery was just as alluring on the return trip because by then the lighting was different. We were also treated to a fashion show by the extremely beautiful stewards and stewardesses aboard. They modeled shawls, capes and sweaters to much applause and approval. They made some sales too.

Back in Cusco we transferred from train to bus and traveled the 15 minutes or so back to our hotel. That night we had dinner and Peruvian band music at the hotel.

The next morning 8 of us went on a private tour to the farmers' market. It was a sensory riot of sight, sound, smells and color. The meat section left us gaping. They sell animal heads complete with whiskers. Yikes. We also saw all sorts of herbs including some that are illegal in this country.

Then we flew back to Lima and boarded a bus back to the Amazing Grace in Callao. Those who hadn't gone to Machu Picchu had spent their three days on assorted tours in Lima. They had also availed themselves of a sensational port terminal building chockablock with vendors selling all the woolen goods, leather and beads that are indigenous to Peru.

My memories of Machu Picchu will be with me forever.

We'll be at sea for at least three days, I think, before reaching Guayaquil, where I'll again go on a 3-day optional excursion. That one will be to the Galapagos Islands.

Sent from THE GALAPAGOS ISLANDS, January 14, 2003

I'm here in The Galapagos Islands. We are a group of 33 from the ship who flew here yesterday after arriving in Guayaquil, Ecuador the day before. As we sailed up the river to Guayaquil the harbor pilot was joined by five armed guards whom we had to pay. We all felt later that their presence was overkill and a way to exploit the company that owns our ship.

Anyhow, our flight here to the Galapagos took 1½ hours. We were met by a bus that took us to a canal where we boarded two separate boats for our tour of one of the uninhabited islands. We saw both land and marine iguanas in gray, black, yellow, red and brown that varied in size from a few inches to several feet.

We also saw hundreds of seals and sea lions, and all manner of birds - gulls with red feet, blue-footed boobies, frigate birds and others. It was all fascinating. That afternoon we swam and snorkeled with sea lions and what a hoot that was. They are playful babies that imitate you when you dive or twist or wave your hands. It was hilarious.

Last night we had dinner together at one of the hotels. Our group is split between two hotels.

Today we visited another island and saw sea lions and different birds. Again, it was fascinating. The Galapagos consist of 15 islands, only two of which are inhabited. There are 15,000 residents altogether and that surprised me. I wouldn't have expected that many. There are airports on two of the islands. One airstrip used to be one of our military ones and was used during World War II.

Also, The Galapagos are located 600 miles offshore Ecuador - about due west into the Pacific Ocean. So, they're not near anything but are very much a part of Ecuador and are a national park that is now protected after having been exploited for years. Only guided tours may visit and the numbers of people are limited. There is virtually no litter. The waters are pure and clean.

We'll all have dinner together tonight and then we'll tour the Darwin Station tomorrow morning before flying back to Guayaquil to meet the ship. We'll sail tomorrow night and will have several days at sea before calling at Panama City and then transiting the Panama Canal.

We're still having a wonderful time. I've been especially lucky to have been able to avail myself of the optional shore excursions that were offered to both Machu Picchu and The Galapagos.

Our days at sea are filled with everything from nothing to something. Some passengers opt to recline on a chaise lounge and read and/or sleep. Others participate in some or all of the activities and games. I do almost everything. Here are some of the choices:

Tai Chi. One of the passengers conducts beginner and advanced classes almost daily on sea days. She also has yoga classes. I go to almost all of those. It's good to stretch. I don't pretend to understand all the mental things associated with Tai Chi but it's still fun.

Darts. On the voyage from Tahiti to Valparaiso, Chile one of the passengers organized a Darts Tournament that attracted the interest of about 45 passengers. It was really a hit. The shrieks and moans could be heard throughout the ship when games were being played. In the end, one passenger group of three beat out an outstanding crew team.

Since Valparaiso we have begun a second tournament. We now have about 11 or 12 teams of four. I'm playing this time. My team is currently tied for First Place. Whoopee. I'll confess to being the weak link on the team but we're having a great time at it.

The Popper Contest. This utilizes the film canisters from Advantix film. When the film is removed but the lid is put back on, it becomes a toy. If you press the cannister, the lid pops off. So, the contest has consisted of passengers trying to pop the lids off and direct them to a marked playing field to gain points. I guess it's kind of like tiddly winks. But it has been fun and is still in progress. There are prizes of tank tops and other crappy stuff.

Line dancing. One passenger conducts line dancing from time to time. That's always fun. The polished female instructor gets a good turn-out but dancers were seen scurrying back to their cabins for sandals. Beneath that thin carpeting is a metal deck and that gets mighty hot in the tropics.

Trivia. The activities mate always conducts trivia after we leave a port - to see how much we remember about its history.

Currently, the plan afoot onboard ship is to prepare for a big Pollywog/Shellback Ceremony when we cross the Equator. Pollywogs are those who haven't yet crossed while Shellbacks have. I'm a Shellback. We'll initiate the Pollywogs. We'll have a king, queen, court officials, a court jester, prosecutor, mermaids, policemen and more positions. We'll accuse each pollywog of a specific crime based on our knowledge of them. For instance, one of the guys who loves to fish will be accused of having depleted the fishing grounds of the Pacific Ocean. Another guy who cuts the sleeves out of his T-shirts will be charged with filling the world's landfills with shirtsleeves. The whole thing will be a lot of fun, I'm sure.

from PANAMA CITY, PANAMA, January 19, 2003

We arrived in Balboa/Panama City, Panama around 1 AM today, Sunday. We will be passing through the Panama Canal later this afternoon and will pass through the Miraflores locks between 4:30 and 5:30 PM. EST.

When I last wrote, I was in the Galapagos Islands. That last day, we took a walking tour of the Charles Darwin preserve and saw turtles ranging in size to about the size of a human hand to about 3 or 4 feet in diameter. The smaller ones were a month or two old. The larger ones were over 100 years old. Fascinating place.

We walked back to our hotel where I met a bunch of college kids on a January term wherein they were exploring Ecuador for three weeks. It turned out that they attend Eckerd College in Florida, which is about 10 minutes from where I live.

We then took a bus back to the canal and then a ferryboat over to the airport. On the ferry, I connected with the professor of the abovementioned group of students. We swapped stories and he asked me if I'd come to his marine biology class and speak to them about this voyage aboard the Amazing Grace. I agreed, so will have a chance to spread the good word about Windjammer to a bunch of eager listeners.

We flew back to Guayaquil and boarded the Amazing Grace. Our sailing was delayed because 8 passengers had arranged a private tour and returned late from it. They were lucky the captain agreed to wait for them. Anyhow, we sailed about 6 PM. and had three sea days in store for us. Seas ran 10 to 12 feet with a decided pitch, which is easier to take than rolling. We took water over the bow lots of times. Fun stuff for those of us who don't get seasick.

The Darts Tournament proceeded - seas be damned. My team is now is second place. I don't know how many more sea days we'll have but the four of us plan to really try hard to beat those dirty rotten people who currently hold First Place.

Today about half the passengers - 40 or so - went on a city tour of Panama City. Bob and I have done that twice, so I just came into town with two other passengers who wanted to do some last minute shopping and then send e-mail messages.

Last gangway is 3:30 this afternoon. We'll likely set sail around 4. If we aren't held up in Lake Gatun, we'll exit the canal somewhere around midnight and will continue sailing to Isla Grande, where we'll have a beach day tomorrow. On Tuesday we'll spend the day at the San Blas Islands. Then it's on to Aruba and then Bonaire. We won't be calling at Venezuela because of the current troubles there. We are substituting Grenada and Bequia. All those island stops are subject to change.

I continue to treasure every moment of this trip. We are having a super time. An offer was made to us to stay aboard from Trinidad to Freeport, Bahamas for a reduced price but Bob doesn't feel he's he's up to doing that.

When we crossed the equator, we had a HUGE ceremony. Those of us who were already Shellbacks (about 30) planned a big deal for the Pollywogs. The crew helped. The entire top deck was festooned with palm fronds, and we flew all the flags found on the ship - about 50 of them in the form of banners.

Capt. Pete was chosen to be King Neptune. Our buddy Al was his "wife." A chubby passenger was the baby with the fat belly. A persistent kidder was the court jester. Positions were chosen for prosecutor, mermaids, mermen, policemen, useless defender, harlot, nanny, slime spreader and some others. Everyone was in costume.

The Pollywogs processed when called. Their crimes had already been written down and their punishments included kissing the baby's belly, kissing King Neptune's ring (on his toe) and other silliness. The whole thing took just short of 2 hours. It was a whole lot of fun. Afterwards there was a big costume party where all passengers came bedecked as whatever they wanted. There were some outrageous costumes. Wonderful fun.

So, that sums up things from this end. We're wrapping up our trip and I guess we have about 10 days to go. I'll hate leaving the ship. I've really had fun. Windjammer Barefoot Cruises is the greatest (even the ice cold showers on occasion).

Transmitted from ARUBA, January 24, 2003

We docked in Aruba early this morning after two days at sea. When I last wrote, I told you we'd be transiting the Panama Canal that day between 4:30 and 5:30 PM. I failed to crank into that equation the Panamanian mindset. Heck, the pilot didn't even come aboard our ship until 6 PM. So, it was more like 7 or 7:30 PM. until we reached the Miraflores locks where the webcam is located. Then also, we shared lock space with an orange-hulled freighter that I'm told took up most of the camera space - the big bully.

Anyhow, the transit was most enjoyable. When we came through it in early November, it rained the whole way through. This time, the night was balmy and lovely. Many passengers opted to sleep on the top deck that night in order to experience the entire transit.

That next day we sailed to Isla Grande, a small island off the mainland that was about 50 miles from the Canal. We gained permission from a small resort there to use their beach and pavilion. Although there was no snorkeling to speak of, the swimming was grand and it was so nice to get in the water again. Of course, I had been one of the lucky ones who had swum with the sea lions in the Galapagos but the majority of passengers hadn't shared that experience, so they were grateful to have a day at the beach.

During Rum Swizzles we were treated to tribal dances by a troupe of Panamanian decendents of African slaves. The cutest was a little 2-year-old boy who danced along with the others.

We left Isla Grande early evening and sailed for the San Blas Islands, 50 miles away, arriving there - but at the wrong ones - early the next morning. There are 365 San Blas Islands. We were aiming for Porvenir, one of the main ones - at least, one with an air strip because the woman from the home office who had joined us in Panama City was scheduled to fly back from San Blas.

Instead, we anchored alongside other islands of the San Blas that were some 18 miles over the open sea from Porvenir. We had a beach day at one of the uninhabited islands. A few of us found a small reef that produced decent snorkeling - tang, amberjacks, angelfish, parrot fish and assorted others. Later that afternoon one of the passengers spotted a small shark and a lobster.

That noon, some of the Kuna Indians from an adjacent island came aboard to sell their molas. Molas are handmade swatches of cloth on which the Kuna women sew things pertaining to nature - birds, fish, animals, the sky, the sea, the sun, flowers, etc. Sales went well and the Indians did just fine.

Before we sailed from the San Blas Islands, the woman from the office opted to climb into a dugout canoe with a small outboard motor and helmsman and go over those 18 miles of open sea to reach Porvenir and her flight back to the mainland and connection back to Miami. We later learned she made it safely but I wouldn't have wanted to shared her journey.

We sailed from San Blas about 6 PM and almost immediately encountered lumpy seas and a noticeable pitch. Seas were running 10 to 12 feet but there were frequent larger waves. It didn't bother Bob or me but some people minded it. It did make for lively competition in the Darts Semi-finals though.

My team had made it to semi-finals. We got lucky and won that day, waves and all. That meant we went to finals the next day. That's when we got tromped. The other team beat us soundly. They were really good, and deserved to win. The Darts Tournament proved to be a lot of fun, and uneven seas "evened" the playing field. Good players suffered the pitching and rolling just as much as we.

Our two days at sea were uneventful other than that. There were some games, lots of resting and reading, and not much else.

Today, Bob and I took a private tour of Aruba in a van with four passengers from the Carnival Destiny, which was also calling at Aruba. This isn't my favorite island, so the tour was just so-so but it was something to do. Some are going swimming and/or snorkeling this afternoon. We saw the snorkeling beach and decided to skip it. We'll be snorkeling in Bonaire tomorrow.

Our cruise is coming to a close. We'll finish in six days. It has been wonderful all the way and I'll never forget it.

I'll attempt to send one more e-mail - probably from Grenada, to wrap things up. We fly home Jan. 30. It will seem strange to have to cook, clean and do laundry again (sob, sob).

With fond regards,

e-mailed from ST. GEORGES, GRENADA, January 27, 2003

We arrived at Grenada about 10 AM. this morning and the ship was cleared about an hour later. We had to skip Bequia because the ship wasn't making good time. Headwinds were strong and we were only cranking out 9 knots, so the captain opted to come directly here, where we'll spend today and tomorrow before sailing to Trinidad.

When I last wrote we were in Aruba. We sailed from there around 9 PM. and cruised to Bonaire, arriving about 8:30 AM. the next morning. Bonaire is one of my favorite islands. It's laid back and a taste of what the Caribbean might have been 80 years ago or so.

I joined about a dozen or so others on a water taxi to nearby Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited island boasting wonderful snorkeling. Bob and I had been to Bonaire and Klein a few years back. It has changed. When Hurricane Lenny came through about 3 years ago, its attendant surge raked the reef and destroyed much of the coral. Consequently, the snorkeling was good but not great. One part of the reef remains. That section was good. Most of the rest was flattened. I was saddened by the destruction.

Also, when the water taxi cruised along Bonaire's waterfront, the damage caused by Lenny was still evident. One neat restaurant is gone. It washed away in that surge. Much sea wall has been replaced. Some hotels lay in wrack and ruin. How sad.

But the little town is intact. Boutiques opened when they knew we were visiting. That is, some did. Siesta is a big deal in Bonaire. Nothing supersedes rest time. There's something to be said for that.

There were island tours, private exploring, a snorkel boat tour and others. Everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy Bonaire. We sailed from there at 5 PM.

We spent the next day at sea in calm waters. Very pleasant. That night we had a talent show aboard. Some singers really shouldn't apply to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir - but what they lacked in harmony they made up for in comedy. There were good acts and mediocre ones but it was all fun.

Today it rained as we approached Grenada, but it has cleared now.   It's still cloudy though, so rain may join us again.

We saw one of the Windjammer fleet's tall ships in the harbor - the Yankee Clipper.  Bob and I have sailed on that ship 3 times. I walked over to see her sail and to wave to Capt. Julian and some of the crew whom I remembered. I confess to having wiped a tear or two from my eyes. I'd join one of the sailing vessels in a minute. The Amazing Grace is wonderful but the sailing ships are exceptional.

I'm packing all the excess souvenirs I've bought over this long period and wondering how much it is going to cost to fly it home. FedEx is too pricey from here. We'll see.

Bob and I are on Day #92. He's more than ready to go home but then, his hip is giving him fits. As for me, well, I'd stay on another 92 days if I could. I've gotten very comfortable with this kind of life.

It's been a ball. To the Burkes, the owners of Windjammer Cruises, thanks again for making this voyage possible. We sincerely hope you'll consider basing the Amazing Grace in Tahiti during North America's hurricane season. Judging by reactions aboard, you could sell such cruises easily. For one 30-day cruise you could sail from Tahiti and include Moorea and Bora Bora and then sail to the Tuamotus and Gambiers and back to Tahiti. If you'd need a foreign port that wasn't French Polynesian, you could include Pitcairn. The next 30-day voyage could sail to the Marquesas and Australs with a different foreign port to meet French Polynesian requirements. I know that plenty who are aboard now would book one or both such 30-day segments. It's an area as yet untapped by Windjammer and could be hugely popular. End of plug.

From PORT-OF-SPAIN, TRINIDAD, January 29, 2003

We arrived Trinidad early this morning after having spent 1½ days in Grenada. To back up to the former port, I sent you an e-mail that first day. The second day my buddy Al and I hiked around the Carenage in St. Georges and up one mountain and down another to reach the open-air farmers' market. We didn't really want to buy anything - just to absorb the color and hubbub.

On the way back to the ship I waited with him while he bought T-shirts and he waited with me while I shlepped through art shops. That afternoon while many passengers took a water taxi over to lovely Grand Anse beach to swim, I just flopped on a deck chair and read a book.

At rum swizzles that night, which is the nightly cocktail party with high- and low-test drinks and hors d'oeuvres, the crew posed for crew photos. Capt. Pete offered something new, also. After the initial photo, he had the crew pose according to departments, so we were able to get close-ups of the stewards, officers, engineers and engine crew. Then the passengers moved into the photo position and handed their cameras to the crew, who took group photos of the passengers on their own cameras. Nice way to record everybody.

Capt.'s dinner was last night and it was most enjoyable. Many of us spent the time saying our goodbyes to people with whom we have spent more than 60 days. In the case of Bob and me, we had been with a few passengers for 93 days. Capt. Pete did all the usual tributes and added the off-the-cuff humor that is the standard of Windjammer captains. For instance, he told of the hundreds of pounds of cheese we had consumed. Then he told that we consumed an equal amount of prunes "just to balance things out".

We learned that the ship had sailed just under 14,500 miles since leaving Trinidad last Oct. 30. Isn't that amazing?

We sailed from Grenada at about 7:30 PM. and had one final night of pleasant rolls en route to Trinidad. Today, most of the passengers went on tours. Since we had already done all that during previous visits, we utilized the time to finish up all our packing. There's a lot to transport home.

Tonight after dinner we'll have dancers and a steel pan band aboard for a show on the top deck. It will be a fitting way to close out the voyage.

Some 13 passengers are staying aboard for the 2-week sail up to Freeport, Bahamas. We'll be flying home tomorrow noon-ish and will arrive that evening.

This has been a spectacular opportunity for me and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the voyage and its ports of calls. We lucked out with seas that were seldom lumpy. Were there bumps and warts? Of course there were. But they were small, and any intrepid traveler could adjust.

The crew bent over backwards to make this a memorable journey for us and I feel they succeeded. I sincerely hope Windjammer will continue offering alternative cruises like this in the future. If so, we'll likely be aboard.

Here's hoping you have enjoyed my lengthy journal. I've gotten a kick out of sharing with you.

Over and out.

Return to Part I   

Harriet Williamson About the Author
Harriet Williamson is a retired free lance writer and cruise line marketing director. She was formerly a columnist and Jazz/Theater critic for the Harrisburg, Pa. Patriot-News. Later, she relocated to Florida where she wrote a jazz critic column for West Central Florida Music magazine and wrote cover stories and did photography for a senior newspaper publication. She retired in 1995 from the position of marketing director for a casino day cruise operation in St. Petersburg. She and her husband, Bob, are avid cruse fans and big boosters for Windjammer Barefoot Cruises.

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