29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION Part 4, EXPLORING JAMESTOWN

Reconstructed Indian village

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION

Scenes from the Jamestown State Park:

Since we were all exploring Williamsburg on our own, buses took our tour group first to Colonial Jamestown. Unfortunately, Jamestown is divided into two enclaves (one has to decide which one you wish to see): the Virginia site or the federal site. Our bus took the main group to the Virginia site, where there is an exceedingly impressive museum, as well as the reconstructed 1607 fort, Indian village, and ships the settlers traveled in from England.

Seamen re-enactors

At the ship docks, re-enactors in period costume filled us in on the significance of what we were seeing. It boggled the mind to imagine so many passengers jammed into such cramped quarters for months at a time, with no sanitary facilities, mighty few beds, inadequate food with no kitchen or dining facilities. No bathing facilities, no air-conditioning or heating. The stench must have been awful!

Ships seen from entrance to the fort

Life in the Jamestown fort was re-enacted in the same way. Many of our group went back to Federal Jamestown later. Here is where the real action is taking place today. For centuries, it was believed that Old Jamestown was buried somewhere under the James River, thus Americans could only speculate on what life was like there in 1607 and during the terrible years that followed, when so many died in Indian attacks and from disease or malnutrition. But then came the groundswell of renewed interest in the history of Jamestown during the period leading up to the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown.

Scene inside the fort

According to William M. Kelso (the head archeologist for the Jamestown Rediscovery Project), in his recent book, Jamestown: The Buried Truth (Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2006), there was just enough doubt as to whether all vestiges of the original fort and site were gone forever to see for themselves if it was true. Kelso had been working on the site clear back in 1955, just before the 350th anniversary. A lot had been unearthed by archeologists since, but not the original fort. Finally, they struck pay-dirt, by digging out one 10-foot-square section at a time. Slowly, painstakingly, they are uncovering the history of the very beginnings of our nation. They found the fort! Connie visited the dig Thursday afternoon with Earps and Riffels and were there soon after an archeologist unearthed a piece of pottery! Over 700,000 artifacts have been unearthed so far!

Rifleman inside the fort

As to its significance, Kelso writes, “The excavations at Jamestown have turned up more evidence than anyone had expected – most important, the site of James Fort, so long thought unrecoverable. Nor are these physical remains the only treasure to be discovered. The soil has yielded a new understanding of the early years of Jamestown; a new picture of its settlers, of their abilities, their lives, and their accomplishments; and a new story of the interdependence between the English settlers and the Virginia Indians” (Kelso, 7).

Studying life below deck

It is no hyperbole to say that the most exciting place to visit in America today is the ongoing Jamestown dig. Next time you visit that part of the nation, by all means take the time to see what’s happening for yourself.

Reconstructed ships - Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery in Jamestown Harbor

It was fascinating to see that even in the Virginia re-creation of the James Fort, results from the Jamestown archeological dig is causing them to restructure the placement of buildings within the fort, for archeologists have even discovered the exact placement of postholes!

Scroll down for scenes from the Federal Jamestown Park Dig Site:

Lucy Earp and Pocahontas

Piece of pottery found while our group was there

Henry Nardi and Terri Bolinger

Captain John Smith, famous Jamestown governor and military leader.

Next Wednesday, we shall conclude our coverage of the convention.

HOOKS:

Jamestown 400th anniversary
Artifacts

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29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION, Part 3 EXPLORING YORKTOWN

29TH ZANE GREY CONVENTION

If there is a third-fiddle in the historic triangle of Virginia, it has to be heretofore little-noticed Yorktown. It is exceedingly unlikely that today, one in 10,000 Americans knows the significance of Yorktown. I know I personally had only a vague understanding of its historical significance prior to the Wednesday of the convention. Here, in brief, is a summation of its significance:

On July 4, 1776, American patriots signed the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. War was declared. For five long years, George Washington led his ragtag army in battle with the well-trained British forces. More often than not, Washington was defeated in these clashes, but each time managed to escape. It was a battle-weary people, with little in the way of good news to cheer them up, that faced the definite possibility—even probability—that they would lose to the world’s greatest superpower that September of 1781. But there was a wild card in the deck: France, Great Britain’s fiercest enemy. It was a global war the two nations fought, thus Britain was not at liberty to further weaken the global war by allocating more warships and troops to the American rebellion than it already had. France took advantage of this golden opportunity to embarrass its enemy by sending a fleet to the rescue of the American rebels.

Yorktown Ramparts

The French Admiral Comte de Grasse proceeded with his entire fleet of 24 ships from the West Indies to the Chesapeake Bay. Meanwhile, sailing from New York, Admiral Thomas Graves with 19 British ships left New York. On September 5, at Virginia Capes, the two forces collided. Because of being becalmed (no wind to propel them), their fighting was indecisive. Then, reinforced by additional vessels and siege guns from Newport, R.I., the French sailed back into the Chesapeake to take final control of the Yorktown Harbor.

Yorktown Ramparts

During late summer of 1781, the Marquis de Lafayette (serving under Washington) had so harassed Cornwallis’s troops that he’d been forced to retreat from Wilmington, N.C. to Richmond, VA, then Williamsburg, and finally, near the end of July, to Yorktown, which he proceeded to fortify. Lafayette’s forces, now totaling 8,000 troops blocked Cornwallis from escaping anywhere by land. Cornwallis’s army of 7,000 kept waiting in vain for the British reinforcements to arrive. Under the naval umbrella of the French fleet, Washington dramatically moved 7,000 additional Franco-American troops from New York to Virginia. But Cornwallis’s last hope, Thomas Graves, felt he had no alternative but to return to New York after the stand-off at Virginia Capes. As a result of this, after strategizing with British General Sir Henry Clinton, a British rescue fleet, two-thirds the size of the French, set sail from New York on October 17 with 7,000 British troops. But it was too late: Bombarded by the French fleet on one side and 16,000 allied troops on land, Cornwallis surrendered his entire army on October 19, thus assuring victory to the allied forces. In short, without the French, quite possibly we’d still be part of the British Commonwealth today, like Canada.

David Leeson at Yorktown Battlefield

As our bus pulled into the Yorktown Museum, I felt I’d finally learn the entire story. Instead, I was disappointed: nowhere in all the displays and dioramas was the full story told, nor was it told in the film. Indeed, it was only on returning home and researching for this blog that I turned to the Britannica Encyclopedia and got the full story. Now, if I were to return to the Yorktown Battlefield, which our folk visited that Wednesday, I’d know what the significance was of the fortifications we rather blankly gazed at.

Yorktown Village

Next Wednesday, we’ll explore Old Jamestown

29th Zane Grey Convention – Part 2

EXPLORING COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG

Old church in Williamsburg

Wednesdays have traditionally been field trip days for the Zane Grey’s West Society – a time to explore places we might not otherwise see and experience were it not for opportunities such as these. Almost everyone signed up. Unlike most travel organizations and cruise ship lines, we keep the costs associated with our conventions down as low as possible. Our Wednesday field trip, for instance, costs attendees almost exactly what the Society pays for it. Lodging prices are also kept low.

Practicing writing with quills in Williamsburg

This year, since the Woodlands Hotel where we stayed (and held our meetings) adjoined Colonial Williamsburg, we needed no guided tour because our members were able to walk into it and back, or take the free shuttle. Most any time we weren’t in meetings, attendees would be exploring that wonderful old capital of Virginia. A good share of the buildings feature people in colonial costume who guide you through the period rooms and show you how different life was back then. No vehicle traffic is permitted in the Old Town – only horse-drawn carriages.

Carriage ride in Williamsburg

Williamsburg (originally named Middle Plantation) was first settled in 1633, 26 years after Jamestown. The College of William and Mary, third oldest college in America, was founded here in 1693. In 1699, after the burning of Jamestown, Williamsburg became the capital of Virginia. It soon became the political, social, and cultural center of the colony. Williamsburg thrived until the capital was moved to Richmond in 1782. After the center of Virginia government left it, Williamsburg was all but forgotten for almost 150 years. Most likely it would have been lost forever had it not been for the vision of the Rev. William A. R. Goodwin who originated the idea of restoring it. In 1926 things really began to happen when Goodwin persuaded the philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to sponsor the project. Since then, more than 3000 acres of land have been acquired and nearly 150 major buildings restored or reconstructed. The Capitol and Governor’s Palace are furnished as they were in the 18th century, and the entire area is landscaped as it was in colonial times. Hostesses, craftsmen, militiamen, and attendants are costumed in the style of the period. Today several million people a year come here to relive colonial days.

Basket weavers in Williamsburg

Next Wednesday we’ll explore Old Yorktown.

29th Zane Grey Convention

 

WILLIAMSBURG, VA

Part 1

Every four or five conventions, we go east rather than west.  Williamsburg it was this year—with Jamestown and Yorktown making up the triangular cradle of the American nation.

Once upon a time, in the not very distant past, Zane Grey was a household name across America.  In fact, during the first half of the 20th century, Grey was the world’s most popular and highest-paid author.  He is generally considered to be the Creator of the Romantic West and the Father of the Western Novel.  But today, with reading in decline along with literacy in general, with young people literate in little other than popular culture and sports, with plunging national test scores in history, it should come as little surprise that few people under the age of 50 recognize either his name or his books.

We in the Zane Grey’s West Society seek to do our part to help reverse that sad state of affairs.  We don’t want the love of the West to die out when we step off the stage of life.

Four-hundred years ago, Virginia was the wild West; 250 years ago, the Ohio Valley wilderness was the frontier.  It was during this time period that one of Grey’s ancestors, Betty Zane, became a Revolutionary War heroine when she risked her life in order to race across a clearing, a sack of gun powder on her shoulder, as a desperate act to save Fort Henry (commanded by Col. Ebenezer Zane, her brother) and those settlers within who were being besieged by French and Indian forces.  Since those besieged were out of gunpowder, they were doomed unless by some miracle they could contrive to secure some gunpowder.  Not surprisingly, when Grey grew up and began to write, Betty Zane (a novel based partly on that heroic dash) would become his first published book.  Three more novels set in America’s second West followed: The Spirit of the Border, The Last Trail, and George Washington, Frontiersman.  George Washington was well acquainted with the Zane family.  In fact, after the Revolutionary War was over, George Washington and the Continental Congress authorized Ebenezer Zane and his brothers to blaze a trail into the wilderness, on the west side of the Mississippi.  That route was first known as “Zane’s Trace,” then the National Road, then Highway 40, and today Interstate 70.  All this family history was reason enough for us to meet in Williamsburg the third week of June this year.

I’m often asked the question, “What do you do in your conventions?” Let me walk you through to give you the answer: first of all, we drive to, take a train to, or fly to, wherever a given convention might take place.  Traditionally, the convention begins on a Monday evening, consequently you’d expect everyone to arrive sometime Monday.  NOT.  A number arrive by Friday, and fully half generally check in by Sunday.  Our Zanies so enjoy being together that they can’t wait to catch up on the intervening year.   Registration takes place Monday afternoon, as does the process of hauling books or memorabilia to the room chosen to house the auction items until Tuesday afternoon.  Most everyone brings items since without that annual transfusion of funds, we’d have to dramatically raise our dues (we’ve only raised them once in 29 years!).  The only way we’ve been able to pull that off is to all serve pro-bono.  There is no paid anyone in the entire Society.  For all of us, serving is a labor of love.

Terry Bolinger welcoming the convention

Monday evening is the barbecue or opening banquet.  Since there’d been a lot of rain, this time we held a banquet inside.  No one sits alone—our members make sure of that.  After being welcomed by our president, Terry Bolinger, dinner is served.  Afterwards, Terry had all the new attendees stand, introduce themselves, and tell where they’re from.  These introductions accelerate the getting-acquainted process.  Next came the introduction of James Perry, Public Affairs Officer for the three parks we were visiting this convention: Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown.  He welcomed us to the colonial triangle and filled us in on what we ought to look for.  Afterwards, Dr. Jim D’Arc, Director of Film archives for Brigham Young University, took us behind the scenes of the famous movie he’d brought along: Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by John Ford, and in the cast: Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, and Edna May Oliver.  Sometimes the films Dr. D’Arc brings are shown on evenings other than Monday.

Tuesdays are always the longest days, perhaps because the members Memorial Breakfast begins at 7 a.m.  As soon as breakfast is over, we give members the opportunity to reminisce about those who are no longer with us.  For to live in the hearts of others is not to die.  Before we separate, always—for 29 unbroken conventions now—, I remind the members that before the Society was founded, the other Co-Founder (the Rev. G. M. Farley) and I promised each other that, in order to make sure no one would ever be lonely at a convention, Poet Laureate of America Edwin Markham’s “Outwitted” would be recited, then everyone would repeat it aloud.  We now did just that:

“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout;
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.”

Joe Wheeler giving his 29th keynote address

After a short break, we reconvened.  After preliminaries, I was introduced, and I gave my 29th convention keynote address.  This one was titled, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and had to do with that traumatic six-year period (1982 – 1988) when it appeared that the Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania home of Zane and Dolly Grey would be lost to the wrecking ball.  Few of our attendees had ever heard before the story of  how the miracle of it ended up in the National Park System took place.

Lackawaxen, PA Museum in 1982

This was followed by Dorothy Moon, head curator of the Lackawaxen Museum, who filled us in on all the fascinating things that were happening there.  She in turn was followed by two representatives (Joanne Duncan and Kathryn Miller) from the National Road/Zane Grey Museum in New Concord, Ohio, who also brought us up to date on that facility.  It has been mighty tough for them because the recession has hit Ohio so hard.

In the afternoon, a good share of the attendees gathered to participate in the annual auction.  Since so much is riding on the income derived from it, I encouraged everyone to get into the act.  Besides the regular auction, there was also the opportunity to bid on a large number of silent auction items.

Back side of Zane Grey House in Lackawaxen, Pa in 1982

In the evening, many returned for Huckster’s Night (an opportunity to hawk items you’d rather sell than have to haul home).  Others took the evening off, a number eating in colonial restaurants in Williamsburg—complete with staff in colonial costumes.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll explore Old Town, Williamsburg.

Caribbean Sea Days – Part One, Birthday at Sea

  “Go stand at night upon an ocean craft
And watch the folds of its imperial train
Catching in fleecy foam a thousand glows—
A miracle of fire unquenched by sea.
There in bewildering turbulence of change
Whirls the whole firmament, till as you gaze,
All unseen, it is as if heaven itself
Had lost its poise, and each unanchored star
In phantom haste flees to the horizon line.”
– Robert Underwood Johnson, “Ilusions”

The sea — 71% of this earth God entrusts to us is sea, so how could we possibly remain unaffected by its might, its ever-changing moods, its broad palette of colors, its spectrum of aromas and sounds—its indefinable mystery?

Always I have loved it.

Many people fear entrusting their lives to the open sea (out of sight of land), but for me, being released from the importunate demands of land-based civilization frees me to soar.  If a storm should conclude my life there—well, what a way to go!

* * * * *

Over a third of our two weeks was spent at sea.  And let’s face it: only at sea do you really get to know a ship.  When you look up and up and up from a gangplank, all you can see is a species of skyscraper.  But once the ship sails out of port and land slips away, the ship becomes a living person with its own unique personality and idiosyncracies, just as is true with flesh and blood human beings.

Invariably, whenever one sails out of a harbor, we are exhausted by the trauma of completing all the thousand and one things that had to be done before we left home, packing (and hoping one didn’t forget anything), getting to the airport in time, making it through security and the check-in process, finding a seat, traveling in another airborn cattle car (with little elbow or knee room and nothing to eat but snacks), disembarking and getting to a lodge or hotel, making it to the dockyards, going through the endurance contest of security, checking in, finding your stateroom, and worrying that your luggage will fail to catch up with you; then unpacking your suitcase, and finding places for all that was in them, sailing out of the harbor, lifeboat drill, return to your stateroom—and crash!  You sleep—if you are not too exhausted to do.  Lucky are you if sea days separate you from your first port of call.  In our case, we were blessed with 60 hours at sea before we’d see land again.  During those hours, regeneration flowed in upon us, as soothing as the eternal sounds of the waves breaking against the ship.

 FIRST SEA DAY

Slept in until 8:00 a.m.  Connie, who’d not slept as well as I had, was reluctant to uncoccoon herself.  We had  a delicious breakfast in the San Marco Restaurant, all the while reveling in the sight of the sea outside the great windows.  Afterwards I found my way to the Excursion Desk and pumped a daytrip counselor about the pros and cons of the day-trips our group was considering taking.  It took some time before I’d decided which ones to take and booked them.  Later I shared my findings with the other five of our six-pack.

Later, I climbed up to the top deck so I could get my daily quota of exercise in.  For a number of years now, I have religiously maintained a daily exercise regime; never missing even one day (reason being I know myself too well to ever again miss so much as one day, for the pattern would then be broken, making it all too easy to miss the next, and the next).  This far north, it was still relatively cool, so making loop after loop on the jogging track was relatively easy.  But the further south we’d go, the higher heat and humidity would force all of us to exercise either in the early morning or late evening.  And if any of us failed to exercise, given the omnipresent food on the ship, we’d be blimps by the time we disembarked at Fort Lauderdale.

Then I napped. Afterwards, we gussied up for our first formal dinner.  A little over two hours later, we filed into the Celebrity Theater to take in a Hollywood variety show.  Fast-paced, well choreographed and performed, and relatively free of blue material.  Sadly, not true of some of the subsequent evening programs.

One thing I must compliment Celebrity on.  Now that cruise lines lure passengers on by heavily discounting the staterooms, management is forced to make it up in other ways—especially by pressuring passengers to purchase liquor.  We’ve been on some ships where you could hardly walk ten steps without being accosted by a liquor purveyor.  That was not true on the Constellation.

Back in the room, I caught up on my journaling, crawled in, then blissfully listened to the waves until those sounds segued with my dreams.

 SECOND SEA DAY

Ah bliss!  At 8:45 Tondi (our genial Philippine butler) brought in our pre-breakfast, on a silver tray, to the veranda, spread a crisp white tablecloth on the table, tucked us in with napkins, and artistically arranged the croissants, pastries, butter, jam, orange juice, and coffee pot on the table, poured our coffee, and slipped away.  As our son-in-law Duane would have said, Now this is living!”

We finished in time to make it downstairs for the real breakfast: a monstrous buffet!  With every kind of breakfast deliciosity imaginable.  Live easy-listening music was performed as we ate.  When we finally hoisted our bulk out of our chairs, we could hardly move.

Lucy's birthday cake

By 3 p.m., we were “hungry” enough to knock on the Earp’s stateroom door, there to join the Riffels for a surprise birthday party for Lucy. Actually, that’s what started the whole thing: Almost a year before, Bob had asked us if we’d like to join them for a special birthday celebration . . . on the Constellation.  Obviously, it turned out to be the most expensive birthday party we’ve ever attended!  Tondi knocked, and entered with a big cake and beverages on a silver tray, we sang Happy Birthday to Lucy, and we snarfed down enough cake to stave off starvation for a few more hours.  That was followed by a no-holds-barred game of Phase Ten, that lasted until dinner time.  After which it took me fifteen loops on the top deck to work off some of the day’s caloric intake!

Jo, Lucy and Connie ready for the birthday cake

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Lucy cutting her cake

* * *

Next Wednesday’s blog will continue the saga of our sea days.

BONAIRE

   NETHERLANDS ANTILLES

ITS HISTORY

Bonaire essentially has the same history as the other two islands.  It is small, with only 14,000 people living here.  It is not surrounded by a reef—it is a reef, perched on top of an undersea mountain.  Its capital city is Kralendjck.

I must confess, I was less than happy the ship was stopping at this sparsely inhabited and little-known island.  But when I saw how many passengers disembarked with their scuba gear or ready to go birding, I began to understand why. Bonaire is still unspoiled by civilization, and its waters are pristine; in fact, it is rapidly becoming one of the diving hubs of the Caribbean.  Over 15,000 pink flamingos call it home, as well as over 200 species of birds.  It too has lovely beaches and lonely scenic roads.

The blue, blue waters of Bonaire

One travel guru in the know declared that ten years from now, at the current rate of growth, Bonaire will be the next Aruba.

REACTIONS

We explored the capital city—between downpours!  We’d shop, walk around, flee for shelter when each downpour came, then repeat the cycle.

Waiting for the rain to stop . . . so we could shop some more

Finally, we returned to the ship, this time for good, as we were boarding early: a long way back to Fort Lauderdale.

The gangplanks were pulled back in, the ropes were cast off and cranked in, smoke began to pour out of the smokestack, the great engines thundered into life, and the ship began to leave the dock.  As usual, the top deck was thronged with hundreds watching another departure take place.  But this was different from all others!  Blocks away a young man was running at top speed, frantically waving his arms, and shouting.  Closer and closer he came—but it was too late.  We could see him rush up to the boarding area, gesticulate wildly, and cover his face in despair.  We discovered he was a crew member, probably in a romantic tryst, and forgot the time.  We asked what would happen to him.  We were told that he’d have to fly back to Florida at his own expense (they are paid oh so little!), and if this was his first offense, most likely he’d be forgiven—for this time.  But woe be unto him if he missed another!

It sobered all of us.  Perhaps because we applied being left behind to so many possible situations in our own lives.

Finally, the dim outline of Bonaire disappeared—we were at sea.

Next week – sea days . . . and home.

Curacao

NETHERLANDS ANTILLES

CURACAO

ITS HISTORY

This strategic island is the largest of the Netherlands Antilles, with 383 square miles of land mass, and a population of over 140,000. It was one of the first Caribbean islands to be inhabited: The Amerindian Arawaks came across from South America about 4,500 years ago.

Alonso de Ojeda came here in 1499 and claimed it for Spain. Interesting story about the island’s name: many of Ojeda’s men came ashore gravely ill of scurvy, that bane of sailors in those pre-refrigeration days. Once on the island, citrus fruit cured the scurvy; in gratitude, the Spaniards dubbed the island “Corazon” (heart), hence Curacao.

The Dutch invaded the island in 1634, and have held it almost continuously since then. Willemstad, with its natural deep harbor, made it a natural as a slave depot. During centuries of slavery, close to half of all slaves being ferried across the Atlantic from Africa, stopped here.

Great forts such as Fort Amsterdam, Fort Riffort, Fort Nassau, Fort Beekenburg, and Fort Wankzaamheid made the island close to impregnable. During World War II the Allies used the island as a military base.

Capitol City of Willemstad

Shell Oil came here in 1915 to begin the oil era.

Other than the slave period, which came to an end in 1863 when King William III abolished slavery in all Dutch possessions. Curacao has always been known for its tolerance of all, religions as well as races. In fact, the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue was constructed here in 1651. Over fifty different nationalities peacefully coexist here.

Today, the port is one of the largest and most active ports in the world.

REACTIONS

Colorful buildings on waterfront.

Here too, Connie and I had spent considerable time during our 25th anniversary trip, so we just savored Willemstad. It was a stunningly beautiful day, the temperature balmy. It is a great shopping city. But what impressed us both—and the Earps and Riffels as well—was the cleanliness of the city and the harbor. We can thank an early island governor for the visual tour de force tourists experience here. He complained loudly that the blindingly white buildings gave him excruciating headaches; as a result, the buildings were painted in lovely pastel shades.

Swinging bridge opening to let barge in

The main action appears to center on the famous Queen Emma Swinging Bridge. Whenever a ship or yacht comes through—which is often!—the people are stopped at both ends, and the long bridge slowly begins to swing open. While this is happening, passengers can cram into free ferries and cross that way. As Bob and I sat sipping Cokes at a wharfside café, we watched the people throng by—people from all over the world—the Queen Emma’s bridge with mimes bringing traffic to a halt in the middle of it (when its gates open again, of course).

Queen Emma Swinging Bridge - Connie talking to Mime

That evening, we watched Obama’s “State of the Union” message on our stateroom TV. How interconnected our world is today!

Rarely have I ever been more reluctant to leave a harbor city than I was when, toward sunset, the Constellation sailed out to sea.

Next week – Bonaire.

BARBADOS

ITS HISTORY

Barbados, the easternmost island of the Caribbean, was first discovered by the Portugese explorer, Pedro a Campos en route to Brazil in 1536. He named it Los Barbados because of the island fig trees with their long hanging aerial roots. The island, however, remained uninhabited until 1625, when Captain John Powell landed here and claimed it for England. As was true in most other Caribbean islands, slaves were brought here from Africa to tend the sugar plantations, hence the predominant African population today.

Dubbed “Little England,” it lives up to its name by being the most English of all the Caribbean islands. The islanders remained loyal subjects of the British crown for almost 350 years, then since declaring independence, have remained British because of their Commonwealth status. It is British in so many ways: (1) they drive on the left-hand side of the road; (2) their national sport (make that obsession) is cricket; (3) not far behind being polo and soccer; (4) they love, cultivate, and cherish traditional English gardens; (5) Saturday horse races are part of the culture; (6) most Barbadans are Anglicans; and (7) they still celebrate the monarchy.

The island’s land mass is 166 square miles (21 by 14), and has a population of 285,000. Unlike most Caribbean islands, it is largely of coral formation rather than volcanic. Much of it is relatively flat; its highest point is 1161′ Mt. Hillaby. It is blessed with many lovely beaches: calm turquoise seas on the Caribbean side, wild Atlantic breakers on the east side. Since most of the forests were cut down in order to plant sugar cane, not much is left; even so, Barbadans have created a wildlife reserve to safeguard the species they have left (including over 8000 green vervet monkeys.

As was true with St. Lucia, Barbadans have created over the last four centuries a vibrant and rich culture. In sports, their cricket heroes are known around the world: especially the Three W’s: Clyde Walcott, Frank Worrell, and Everton Weeks (all three knighted by the Queen), and Garfield “Gary” Sobers, generally considered to be the greatest cricket player of all time. One of the Eastern Caribbean’s leading poets is Edward “Kamau” Brathwaite, and their foremost novelist is George Lamming.

Through astute planning, and investing, Barbadans have made Grantley Adams Airport the main eastern Caribbean hub for flights from North America and Europe. Cruise ships disgorge over 500,000 tourists a year.

Here’s a trivia item for you: Did George Washington ever leave the North American continent? Yes, but only once. In 1751, then only 19, he accompanied his half brother Lawrence on a voyage to Barbados. Lawrence, suffering from tuberculosis, came here, and rented lodging, seeking a climate conducive to curing his ailment. George, on the other hand, during the six weeks the brothers spent here, contracted the dreaded disease smallpox, which left his face permanently scarred. As for Lawrence, he was dead within a year—as a result George inherited the Mt. Vernon estate.

Concorde

REACTIONS

It was pouring rain when we disembarked from our ship in Bridgetown. Ed and I were drenched in our mad dash to get to the safety of our bus. Jason, our guide, was most informative. We learned that Trafalgar Square, erected in honor of the greatest naval hero of the age, Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, had sailed out of Barbados in 1805, only months before dying in the great battle of Trafalgar, which ended Napoleon’s hopes of dominating the seas. We also learned that Barbados was one of only four permanent airport destinations for the near mythical supersonic passenger jets, the Concordes. Not only that, but one of the few intact Concordes ended up here in a large building constructed around it. Of course I had known of the Concorde’s flying at twice the speed of sound, but never could imagine coming up with the price of a ticket to fly in one. Only princes, potentates, and wealthy people had that kind of money.

Joe inside the Concorde

When we walked into the building, I was overwhelmed by the reality of its size and configuration. It looked otherworldly and forbidding. In a sound and light show we learned that it was supposed to usher in a new age of ever faster flight: getting to places before you left them (time-wise, that is). But few airports could handle them and their thirst for gasoline was the stuff of legend. And they could only accommodate 80 people a flight. After the show we were permitted to ascend the steep flight of stairs into the plane. Never in my life had I seen a plane standing so high off the ground. At rest, the long nose dropped like a mosquito’s proboscis; in flight, it straightened out. Inside, it felt like we were in a rocket instead of a plane—very little headroom, and dark. Thanks to the sound and light effects, we really felt like we were flying in it. The blue-lighted cockpit seemed the stuff of sci-fi or dreams. They even gave us a facsimile ticket just as though we’d paid full price. Tiny windows, because of the extra pressure exerted by mach 2 speed. Though the Concorde never became cost-effective, before the last flight took place, it had changed aviation forever.

Concorde's blue cockpitEd in the aisle of the Concorde

Anything after that was anticlimactic, but we did enjoy our tour through the rest of the island. Our guide also told us that Barbados is the place where rum (distilled from sugar cane and molasses) was first concocted in the 1600s. From here, rum spread around the world; but even today, the island is one of the world’s leading processors of it.

Then it was back to Bridgetown, shopping, and reboarding our ship.

* * * * *

Next week, it’s on to Grenada.

ST. LUCIA

ITS HISTORY

Well, that flippant Celebrity spokesman couldn’t have been more wrong: no two of these islands could possibly be confused with each other!  Each has its distinctive charm, beauty, and uniqueness.

Arawak Indians came here over 2500 years ago; the Caribs replaced them around 800 A.D.  Apparently, in none of Columbus’s four voyages to the New World did he even come close to St. Lucia.  Some say Juan de las Casas discovered it around 1502, but no one is sure.  The French settled the island first in 1660.  After 150 years of being victorious and being defeated, the British, in 1814 gained ultimate possession, but not until 1842 did English become the official language.  Consequently, with most towns French in origin, today’s language and culture is a synthesis of both.  The language is a French-based Patois.

 Another claim to fame St. Lucia has, is that France’s Empress Josephine (Napoleon’s first wife) was born here.

Castries Harbor

How special it was to wake up to the sight of the most mountainous island yet.  The tear-shaped—others say “Mango-shaped”—island is 238 square miles of land mass; in size, 27 miles by 14 miles.  160,000 people (85% of African ancestry) live here; 50,000 in Castries, the capital.

Since it changed hands language and culture-wise fourteen times by the British and French, the island has been dubbed “Helen of the West Indies.”  And indeed it is beautiful!  No small thanks to islanders’ determination to preserve what rain forest they still have (19,000 acres of mountains, valleys, and luxurious greenery), the island receives, depending on locale, 60 to 150 inches of rain a year.  Travel writers, when describing the island’s magnificent and dense scenery, exhaust superlatives.  No other island we’ve seen can lay claim to two side-by-side iconic half-mile-high volcanic peaks: 2620′ Gros Piton and 2460′ Petit Piton, soaring skyward straight out of the sea, that are known around the world.  Its lovely beaches are both of gold sand and black sand.  Not surprisingly, it has long been a favorite site for movie producers—such as Dr. Dolittle, starring Rex Harrison; Water, starring Michael Caine; Firepower, starring Sophia Loren, and Superman II.

No small thanks to the environmentally concerned islanders, the last remaining species of indigenous parrot in the Eastern Caribbean, the Jacquot, that had been reduced to fewer than a hundred by hunting, was saved just in time from extinction.  Today their numbers have swelled to over 400.

We have learned that some islands in the Caribbean are today populated by up to 80% who weren’t born there; that state of affairs can’t help but have a major impact on the culture, traditions, achievements, and way of life.  Not so on St. Lucia.  Case in point: St. Lucia is the only country of its size to have produced two Nobel price winners: Derek Walcott – Nobel Prize for Literature; and William Arthur Lewis – Nobel Prize for Economics.  It also fields one of the world’s most successful jazz festivals and one of the most famous carnivals in the West Indies.

The island is blessed by a number of ports; most cruise ships, however, moor at Castries.   Rodney Bay is the island’s leading leisure community.  Two international airports provide other tourist entry points.

View of Castries Harbor

 

OUR IMPRESSIONS

 Well, our first impressions, coming into the Castries Harbor, were extremely positive; but our second brought no discredit to the St. Lucians, but rather to a certain self-annointed tour “director” who persuaded Celebrity land trip coordinators to let her group of friends gather much later than the other tour groups did, yet hold back all the other cruisers patiently waiting to board their buses, and leapfrog ahead of them all.  Almost, there was a riot!  Even after we’d finally boarded our bus, and our affable guide had introduced herself to us, suddenly she was rudely interrupted.  Apparently, that same individual, not content with the havoc she’d already wreaked, now all but demanded that six of us trade places with some who were determined to ride in our bus.  When no one moved, the same “authority” returned again and again until finally some grudgingly agreed to move!  In all my years of traveling, I’ve never before experienced the like of it—perhaps best described by one of my father’s favorite expressions:

No one is ever completely useless:

You can always serve as a horrible example.

Flowery Overlook

It is to the credit of our guide that she finally managed to calm us down, and by her smiles, humor, and insights into what made St. Lucia into such a romantic paradise (reinforced by the obvious crush she had on our driver), she won over us all.  Thanks to her, we learned much about her people.  We reveled in the canopied rain forest; all too soon, however, our lecture was over and it was time to shop for curios and post cards in Castries, then board the ship.

One of the frustrations travelers face has to do with choices—especially those having to do with day-trips to area sites of interest.  The reason being that cruise ships company bean-counters have figured out that they, at best, break even with state room income; they make money in other ways—one of which is day trips.  So their itinerary descriptions appear to be directed to making each one look equally attractive.  Result: the average cruiser more often than not blindly chooses one, and hopes it will turn out to be the best option.  Only later on, after debriefing with cruisemates who chose other itineraries, and reading up on travel literature (especially travel magazines), does s/he find out if the choices were wise or not.  In my case, I did not.  Not that we failed to learn much from our highland tour—for we did—but later on I discovered that it was unthinkable to have visited St. Lucia yet failed to view the world-famous Pitons.  Every time I see them on another calendar, I sigh.  Just as I do when I see pictures of the Minoan Palace of Knossos on the island of Crete; instead we opted for the general island tour—and may, as a result, never get back to rectify my omission.  But that’s life.

Rainbow over the Constellation

Nevertheless, when our ship sailed out of the harbor into another Caribbean sunset, of one thing I was certain: It is not mere coincidence that St. Lucia is called the “Helen of the West Indies.”  As was true with Helen of Troy—said to be the most beautiful woman who ever lived”—there was a valid reason why the French and British fought a century and a half to win St. Lucia.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll move on to Barbados.

SEEN ONE, YOU’VE SEEN THEM ALL?

What a joy it is to wake up with no schedule for a change!  Indeed, there is something about waking up at sea that trumps any other awakening that I know.  So much of what each of us does, where each of us goes, is repetitive: the radius of our living consisting of intersecting ever-deeper grooves of habit.  This is one reason why travel can be so energizing, especially when it encompasses places where you’ve never been before.

The sea, unlike paved roads, is never repetitive.  Not without reason is it referred to as the “trackless sea.”  And 71% of our planet is water.

On cruises, however, most travelers—surprisingly—experience very little of the sea.  In most cases, the ship leaves a harbor near sunset and by the time the passengers awaken next morning, the ship is either docking or already moored in another locale.  Only during “sea days” are passengers able to revel in the sea itself.

The Caribbean is sometimes referred to as “The Mediterranean of the Americas” a quadrangle enclosed on three sides by land (South America, Central America, and North America).  I had already experienced Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Dominican Republic, but other than Aruba, I’d never explored the rest of the Caribbean.  Nor would we on this cruise: only part of it.  That is one of the most frustrating aspects of this thing called “life”: so many places to see—and so little time!

I wondered how much variety there would be in our various ports of call.  Especially did I wonder after listening to a day-trip coordinator lecture to us on board Celebrity’s Constellation about the places we would be “seeing”— I use “seeing” advisedly, almost tongue in cheek, because I have ruefully discovered that all too many cruisers don’t really “see” much of anything but the ship itself and port city curio shops.  Some never get off the ship at all—except at the end.  Well, this particular lecturer, in an effort to seem “with it,” after describing many of the islands we’d be visiting, sabotaged the entire cruise by quipping, with a laugh, “Really, though, they’re all the same—beaches and palm trees; once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.”  A summation about as profound as Ronald Reagan’s classic put-down of one of nature’s greatest wonders: “Once you’ve seen one redwood tree, you’ve seen them all.”  In retrospect, I wonder how many of those who listened to that particular lecture ended up not booking any day-trips at all!  I strongly suspect that there were many.  As for me, even though I’d spent several of my growing-up years in the Caribbean, I couldn’t help but wonder, Could it be that he’s really right?  Oh, I hope not!

Well, we’d soon find out.

* * * * *

Next Wednesday, we’ll stop at the island of St. Martin/San Maarten.