220 CARIBBEAN: Cruising in a Pandemic to Saint Lucia, Aruba & Curaçao

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220 CARIBBEAN: Cruising in a Pandemic to Saint Lucia, Aruba & Curaçao

BONJOU FROM THE CARIBBEAN This week I'm going to take you to three different islands in the Caribbean. We will visit an independent UN nation Saint Lucia, then head over to two autonomous islands that are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. CRUISING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC In August 2021, I explored Saint Lucia through a 12-day cruise with Celebrity Cruiselines. [https://www.celebritycruises.com/] I was still traveling through the pandemic and knew that this would impact the cruise. There are stark differences between how we traveled back then and now. For example, we all had to be fully vaccinated and present a negative COVID test. Instead of having a buffet lunch option during lunch, we had someone serving us lunch. However, we didn't have to wear a mask on the ship. There were also some excursion restrictions for some destinations that we visited, and I noticed that the itinerary had changed quite a bit. The original plan was that we would travel to six UN nations, and since I am one of those travelers that travel intending to visit every country in the world, this was one of the main attractions for me. I knew that this trip would see me mark my "visit 100 countries" goal. However, that didn't happen, and I was a bit disappointed. Nevertheless, I made peace that things will not always go according to plan during a global pandemic. If you listen to the podcast, you will notice that I have touched on this in previous episodes. And sometimes, plans change during travel, and we have to accept, find solutions and move on. When you're on a cruise like this, the cruise line offers a few different tours or excursions on the port days. And because my trip happened in August 2021, we had to book a trip with the cruise line for some of the stops. That was the only way they would let us off the ship. This is obviously to curb the spread of the virus and make sure that we only traveled with other fully vaccinated and tested people. And that was the case with Saint Lucia. DAY TRIPPING IN SAINT LUCIA I made my way through the checkpoints on the pier in Saint Lucia, and I managed to book a tram trip around the port city, the capital of Castries. The little yellow trolly train is run by a local company here in Saint Lucia, called Hibiscus Train [https://www.hibiscustrain.com/]. But then nature intervened. A rain cloud quickly came in and covered the melting hot sun almost instantly and we were almost left soaking wet on the pier (when we were sweating from the heat only moments before). Island life, hey. I grabbed a poncho and took shelter in a nearby building and waited for the downpour to subside. This kind of flash rain is a regular occurrence on these islands, as a quick cooling intermission to break up the heat. We travelled on a tram, well train, well, we weren’t on tracks, so it was just a type of car dressed as a locomotive. It had a little roof thank goodness, so we had shelter from the rain. After a tour around the city with a few stops, like the cathedral The Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathedral_Basilica_of_the_Immaculate_Conception_in_Castries], we ended up at the exotic Vigie Beach, just on the other side of their tiny airport. Saint Lucia was so beautiful and the people are so friendly. Here are some interesting things that I learned. 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT SAINT LUCIA 1. It is a small capital built on reclaimed land. Castries is the capital and largest city of Saint Lucia, the island country in the Caribbean. It's a small city in a small country, and the urban area has a population of only around 20,000 inhabitants. It is built on reclaimed land and has undergone several restorations after fire destruction. 2. It is one of the smallest countries in the world. Saint Lucia is tiny, with 616 km2 (238 sq miles). It is number 178 on the list of 193 UN Nations. It is smaller than Micronesia and Singapore and only slightly bigger than Andorra. The population of the country is only 184,000. 3. It is the first country to be named after a woman. It's the first country in the world to be named after a woman – Saint Lucy of Syracuse. It's one of just two countries in the world to be named after a woman. The other one is Ireland. 4. Saint Lucia gained its independence in 1979 It gained its independence from Britain in 1979 after ownership of the island was swapped seven times between France & Britain in the 1800s. After 1979 it also became a member of the Commonwealth. You can still feel a bit of Britain here. For example, they love playing cricket, driving on the left-hand side of the road. And English is still the official language even though 85% of the population also speak Saint Lucian Creole. 5. It's hard to take a picture without their famous UNESCO landmark. Saint Lucia is home to the Pitons mountain range, a UNESCO World Heritage site. As the island is small, it's hard to take a picture anywhere in Saint Lucia without the two mountain peaks visible. 6. There are 21 different types of rum in just one region. Like many destinations in the Caribbean, rum is big business in Saint Lucia. And the Roseau region just south of the capital is home to 21 different types of rum. 7. Over 70% of the island is covered in rainforest Saint Lucia has it all, from stunning beaches to mountain peaks, and then most of the country is covered in rainforests. MEETING A FELLOW TRAVELLER ABOARD THE CRUISE Most cruise lines in the world often have a team of people planning these excursions. On the Celebrity Cruise, I met Austria-born Jennifer Weiner, the Destinations Manager for the cruise. During our time at sea, Jennifer presented and shared relevant information with us on the big theatre on the ship. I got chatting with her and when she told me that she's been to almost 100 countries (partly because of her job), I just had to sit down with her with my microphone for a chat about her travel stories and her life as a globetrotter. She told me that she caught the travel bug at a very young age: “When I was little, I was envious of kids who were sent far off to boarding school. I saw it as an adventure, so I begged my mother to send me off, but she wanted me close and said no. I think this was an early indication of my desire to explore. But then at age 17, I studied in Rome for a few months, which really kickstarted my wanderlust.” She went to study business after that, but her heart was always in travel. “After attending business school in Austria, I studied at a travel institute and became a travel agent. I started travelling a bit but soon realised the benefits of the job didn’t allow me to travel as much as I wanted. A friend told me about cruise ships and then I get on cruises with my grandparents. During one cruise, I thought to myself that the teams working on the ships looked like they had a lot of fun, so I applied, and the rest is history.” Through hard work and serendipitous moments, she found herself working as a Senior Destinations Manager in Celebrity Cruiselines. She also mentioned that taking a cruise is one of the best ways to get to know a destination. You also get to meet with many people and learn about different places in a relaxed setting. For me, going on a Caribbean cruise like this and visiting many exotic destinations is exciting. Then imagine having that as your job, as Jennifer has. She tells me that it’s a dream job but also hard work. “It’s a lot of work, especially now that I am a manager. I don’t get to get out as much as I used to, but I try to give my team as much opportunity to get out as possible.” She continues that about 40% of her travel time is dedicated to travelling to her favourite continent, Africa. OUT OF AFRICA It's funny that Jennifer mentions Africa and especially Kenya and Uganda. Because this episode was edited it in my Airbnb apartment in Nairobi, Kenya. And in just 2 days I'm going to make it to my 100th country when I travel to Uganda on Friday morning. I was telling Jennifer about my future (now current) plans to visit Kenya and Uganda soon in the future, and she recounts some funny stories of her time in these countries. “Kenya is one of my most favourite places to visit. There’s just something about it that holds a special place in my heart. Maybe because it was my first African country, but I just fell in love with it immediately. I love sleeping in a tent hearing the wildlife so close. In Uganda, I had a few close calls with gorillas in Uganda but overall, I love it.” She tells me more great stories about her visit to Uganda, particularly about the time she stroked a wild cheetah. Jennifer been cruising for 9 years now – and has visited 98 countries so far, and it was interesting to hear her stories. ARUBA, OH I WANT TO TAKE YA After exploring Saint Lucia by tram trolly, we got back on the ship and spent the night cruising to another island in the Caribbean. In the morning, we arrived at the Netherlands Antilles in the south westernmost part of the Caribbean Sea. More specifically, to the first of the ABC Islands – and this is the island you probably most know from the beginning of the Beach Boys song, Kokomo [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIieHL8LerI]. Yes, Aruba [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aruba], also known as ‘One Happy Island’. The other two ABC islands are Bonaire [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bonaire] and Curaçao [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cura%C3%A7ao]. Unfortunately, Bonaire wasn’t a stop on this cruise itinerary – so we only travelled from A to C. I meet Mario Arends at Aruba Tourism Authority. He’s their Cruise Manager and was kind enough chat with me about his home island. “Aruba is part of the Dutch Caribbean Islands, which originally included the 6 islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten) knows as the Dutch Antilles. In 1986, Aruba separated from the Antilles and became an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010, Curaçao and Sint Maarten did the same.” Mario also tells me about the democratic government of Aruba and how it remains autonomous within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. And how the pandemic has hit the tourism industry in Aruba which accounts for about 80% of the island’s GDP. Aruba is a relatively small island, and there is so much more to do than just visiting the beautiful beaches. You can do nature hikes, visit the nature park and do some cultural activities. Here are some TripAdvisor picks. [https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g147247-Activities-Aruba.html] SWINGING CURAÇAO The next day, we arrived at the 2nd of the three islands, Curaçao. It still uses the Dutch Guilder (the currency used in the Netherlands before the conversion to the Euro). I found my way to the oldest still operating pontoon bridge in the world, built in 1888. It spans 167 m (548 feet) from Punda to Otrabanda across the harbor of Willemstad on the island of Curaçao. This permanent bridge is hinged, floating on the water and swings open several times a day when boats need to go through. It is surrounded by beautifully coloured houses on each side. It’s called Queen Emma Bridge [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Emma_Bridge], but the locals call it the Swinging Old Lady. We walked across the old lady to the other side to a pink building called the Blue Experience where I was told they sell the famous Curaçao liquor. Unfortunately, it was closed (due to the pandemic) so instead, I walked around the area and found a group of guys on the pier laughing and telling jokes in a language I didn't understand. They were speaking Papiamento and one of the guys even taught me how to say thank you – macha dankie. MEET A TRAVELLING WELSHMAN IN THE NEXT EPISODE I do have a little bit more from the cruise in the next episode when I have an interesting conversation with another avid world traveller. He’s been to 96 countries and is also a part of the Celebrity Cruise team. I see him all the time, and almost always on stage holding a microphone. Here's how I introduce him in the next episode: He's a public speaker, stand-up comedian, quizmaster, magician, mind reader, DJ, genius dancer and arguably one of the most entertaining things to come out of Wales since Tom Jones. His name is Eddy Jenkins but on the cruise ship we all know him as "Cruise Director Eddy". You really don't wanna miss that conversation. Coming in a few days in your podcast feed. My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you. A TOUCHING LETTER FROM A LISTENER I always love getting reviews, comments and emails from listeners and followers. And this week, I would like to share a very touching letter from listener, Kenneth. Hi Palle Bo. It's a great podcast you're producing, and I just got this from Spotify. He then attached a picture from Spotify that said: “My favorite podcast of the year is The Radio Vagabond” and that he's streamed a whopping 5.482 minutes. That's more than 91 hours! But this is not what blew my mind. It's what comes next in his email. You have been a big part of my personal journey. Unfortunately, it's a journey I'm still on. In May I was hit by stress-related anxiety. The serious kind. To get through this hard time I started listening to your podcast. I've had it in my ears on my long daily walks and it has helped me control my thoughts and in this process, I'm still in – because listening to your exciting podcast, I've been able to focus on something else. In other words, your journey has been a big part of my inner journey and will continue to be that in 2022. It's been a tough battle for me and I hope I'm back to 100% soon. I want you to know that you are one of the people that has helped me to where I am today with your podcast. And for that, I thank you so much. Merry Christmas and happy new year. Keep up the good work. Kenneth I can't even begin to express your email's impact on me, Kenneth. When I started this podcast in 2016, my goal was to give you tips, tricks, and ideas for your next trip. It was to let you follow my journey and maybe inspire you with my somewhat different life choice. Also, I was hoping to entertain you along the way. But if someone had told me that this podcast would be playing even just a tiny part in the recovery of stress-related anxiety, I would have said, "yeah, right." And your email came at a point where I was thinking, "I'm spending 3-4 full days just editing one 30-minute episode. What's the point? Is it worth the many hours of work I put into this"? But after reading your email, I got the motivation back, and for that, I thank you. Also, thank you for sharing, Kenneth. Get better soon. Keep me posted. This episode is supported in part by Hotels25.com [http://Hotels25.com] and produced by RadioGuru.co.uk [https://RadioGuru.co.uk].

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