Thursday, February 18, 2016

Southern Caribbean - Day 6 - Basseterre, St. Kitts

Well I am just over a week late in posting this but between trying to enjoy the vacation and the severely weak internet on the cruise ship I was unable to keep up with the live posts.  Will try to plan better for the next adventure (spoiler alert - Denver and Breckenridge Ski Weekend coming soon).

On Thursday we docked in the capital of St. Kitts, Basseterre.  We opted for a ship excursion in the morning, with a local company called Kantours, to try SNUBA and left the afternoon free to either chill on the beach or explore the town, depending on weather and how we felt.  For anyone who has not yet tried SNUBA, I highly recommend it.  It is essentially snorkeling, but instead of wearing a snorkel and being limited to only going down about 6 inches in the water, you have a mouthpiece connected to a 15 ft hose, connected to air tanks on a raft floating on the water.  Therefore, you are sort of SCUBA diving, but you don't have to wear the tanks or worry about your oxygen.  Its a great way for someone who loves to snorkel but is afraid to try SCUBA or has issues equalizing your ears in the depths, because you can choose to stay near the surface or ask for more weight in your belt which will help sink you towards the bottom.

We were a total of 6 for SNUBA that morning, so Tom and I went first with the other couple.  We have done SNUBA a few times before so we immediately asked for weight and stayed on the bottom for the whole 45 minutes of the underwater adventure.  The instructor was great and although the site we were at was murky and therefore not ideal for viewing fish and coral, our highlight was seeing 2 huge sea turtles from about 5 feet away!  Not sure exactly how deep we were, but I would say about 10-15'.  Our companions were new to SNUBA and they both took some time to getting OK with the concept of breathing underwater.  He opted to stay near the surface the whole time and she eventually made her way to the sea bed by the end.  Breathing underwater has never been off putting for me, but I can understand how it would throw people off, especially because you only breathe through your mouth.

While Pete and Ellen took their turn, the four of us lounged in the chaise chairs along Carambola Beach and the guys gallantly went on an adventure to the nearby clubhouse to procure glasses of rum punch.  I mean it was 10 am so we were already behind on the vacation day drinking...

We returned to the ship via transfer from the Kantours tour company, and then spoke to some of the taxi drivers along the pier to get quotes on an afternoon trip to the nearby Brimstone Hill Fortress, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  After a quick change on the ship, we met with Joseph, known locally as 'the historian', on the pier who led us to his thankfully air conditioned van, and we drove about 30 minutes along the coast to reach the fort.  Built between 1690-1790, it sits on a shelf created by the volcano under the island and is constructed out of brimstone blocks, hence the name.  It has an incredible vantage of the waterways connecting St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat.  Although it was not a formidable offensive capability, it was considering a stronghold and a lookout to help secure the first large, deep water port that was established after Columbus arrived in the region.  Much of the fort has been restored with displays on military life in the tropics, accommodations, rations, and health care.  There are some places that were not yet restored so you also could see what things looked like without regular upkeep, i.e. dungeon so full of mold that I could only stick my head in before the nauseous smell sent me running.   Our guide Joseph gave us great narration along the drive to prepare for the visit, helped us spot the local and prolific monkey population, and then left us free for about an hour to explore at our own pace, read the ample signs, and watch a mediocre video that explained the history and prominence of the fort.  I highly recommend a visit if you are free for a couple of hours.  I think we paid $20pp for the taxi, plus $10pp entry to the fort.  Note that the sun is strong and it is breezy, so dress in light colors but not short skirts, and bring water with you.

Burn some calories on the uphill climb from the parking lot to the fort entrance

Entrance to the inner keep and parade grounds, complete with bridge and moat

Note the incredible view in the background of the volcano on the island of Montserrat

By the time we returned to the pier it was past 2 pm and we were past ready for lunch.  Taking recommendations from our driver in the morning, we tried Lemongrass, a Caribbean/Asian fusion restaurant across from the pier.  We sat on the second floor balcony and enjoyed people watching in the town square while relaxing in the shade with a nice sea breeze.  We split curried shrimp and the steamed whole snapper which we had been told was the local catch and quite delicious.  Tom was in charge of deboning the fish, having closely watched the waiter on the ship perform this with surgical precision at the dinner table the previous night.  Food was excellent and the service was good if you are looking for someplace to eat that is just steps from the ship.

We made it back on board in time for late afternoon trivia then relaxed poolside or on the balcony until dinner time.  After dinner we caught the magic show which was interesting and yet we are all so disenchanted with these shows nowadays because we know its not really magic but they never explain how the tricks are done.  The performer was really great with slight of hand and cards in particular.  We then turned in to get ready for Friday which is the last port of call in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands.

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