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Puerto Rico, is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Its difficult to understand – its not a ‘State’ and there have been many attempts to tidy up the relationship. These efforts have made the news enough times for most Americans to be aware Puerto Rico is somehow associated; they use US currency and no visa (or even passport) is required to visit – a drivers license or photo ID is sufficient. What obviously isn’t so well known is how to get there. Evidently, an astonishing number try to drive down for a vacation. Imagine their surprise when they reach the tip of Florida to discover it’s a bunch of islands 1228 miles south. Unlike Puerto Rican citizens, these lost travelers are allowed to vote for their president.
Puerto Rico used to be a very nice place … until a few months ago when hurricane Maria incurred US$95 billion damage. 3 months later there are still huge infrastructural problems. For example, while electricity is back on to most of the capital, San Juan, we had no hot showers and were unable to travel into rural areas, most of which have had little assistance at all. A couple of weeks after the hurricane, Donald Trump heard about it and visited. He magnanimously offered to loan PR about $5 billion, leaving their own territory not only bankrupt but with no chance of ever being able to recover. As a result, he became the most unpopular person ever to visit and would be wise not to show up there again. Damage is obvious, trees missing or heavily pruned, traffic lights all askew and debris piled up waiting to be removed. However, nature is amazing. Trees and shrubs are already back in full leaf and the rural scars are almost healed. I imagine future visitors will see a statue of Trump and be invited to throw stuff at it for a small donation. I also imagine this fund raising would hugely accelerate the recovery.
Puerto Rico covers 9,104 km2 (3,515 sq mi) with a population of 3.5m. New Zealand is about 95 times larger with a population of 4.5m. PR has the most densely crowded roads per Km/m in the world, but there are seldom traffic jams. Everyone is polite and patient. It’s the nature of the people and something that may preclude them ever becoming a US state.
The most convenient way to see most of the Caribbean islands is by boat. I hate cruising. It makes me fat. Cruise ships are full of mostly thin old people, but there are some who defy that category and will be having trouble picking up the soap in the shower. Unlike me these days, all have huge appetites and surely must be taking some medication to pass it on through into the ships digesters. They also have a lot of personal problems they readily share with crew, fellow passengers and those within earshot. Many of these problems are not solvable. The cruise director, who thrice daily introduces himself by name (Gene – obviously his parents were hoping for a girl) and retells all passengers what his role is. Perhaps he understands his guests have no short-term memory. At the welcoming ceremony, Gene made the comment that this cruise had the distinction of having the youngest average age to date. I figure its flypaper and I who are reducing the average significantly and should receive recognition. (I’m frightened to ask in case they offer us more food.) He also made the joke, “Let’s hear it for Arnold Pondwater who is 111 today”. Everyone cheered and was secretly thinking, “Good old Arnie. There’s hope for me”. Then the director said, “Opps I made a mistake. That should read, Arnold Pondwater is ill today”. Nobody thought that was funny - except me. My loud laughs drew many glares and Flypaper was very embarrassed. I had to point out to those around me that there is nobody called Arnold Pondwater. Then they laughed.
Gene also made another blunder. At each island there are shore excursions. Some included in the fare and others optional. Many are walking expeditions around the historic old cities that once hosted pirates and slave traders. What was he thinking? This age group is the largest collection of walking sticks holding up optimists you could imagine. Many totter off the gangway and immediately choose to return for a nap. In Barbados we were unfortunate to have a coach tour of a considerable part of this small country. It included free rum punch, so everyone turned out. The guide on our coach was Minnie Mouse. I kid you not – check out the photo. PC190015.jpg
Minnie has a gripping ‘spiel’ delivery. She says half a sentence and pauses for some time before completing the snippet of information judged to be a life-changing gem. Unfortunately, I found myself finishing her sentences before she did. eg. “On the left is ‘guvmint’ house where …. (me – Where Prince Harry slipped over for a naughty weekend a couple of months ago.) She – where the governor general lives”. How riveting. Or, “On your right is Rihanna’s ultra-luxurious $22m apartment where … (Me … where she and Harry posed during their HIV tests.) She - “which is near the beach where she grew up”. Come on … which tour would you rather be on? Flypaper and many of the infirm went to sleep – although that was soon after the litre of rum punch.
Minnie solemnly informed us we would experience fabulous 365 degree views from the lookout. Hmmmm, I thought, 365* That means I’ll have to spin around just a little further than usual. I actually turned 730 degrees (twice around + 2 x 5*) searching for the view. There was a ‘vista’ reveling the ocean during about 25 degrees while the remainder was filled with a bar dispensing the inevitable rum, some trees, a souvenir shop and a cage with a native ‘green monkey’ making rude gestures at his admirers. Back in the bus I asked Minnie Mouse, “How many days in a year here in Barbados? Seemed like a reasonable question given their degrees in a circle differ from the proposal put forward by Archimedes and his mates around 230 BC. Minnie thought for a moment, then reached for her phone while brightly telling me someone called ‘Mr Google’ would help me out. This is when I decided not to complain about the other misinformation – the ‘green’ monkey turned out to be grey, with, as a disgusted, matronly fellow traveler pointed out, a bluish scrotum.
Near the misnamed ‘lookout’ is a fabulous house belonging to the wealthiest man on the island, Sir Charles Williams. Knighted by Liz for his outstanding contribution to Barbados Civil Engineering and Road Construction from which he amassed a fortune. As we drove along an atrocious bumpy potholed road, Minnie pointed out the beautifully constructed sealed road running off to Sir Charles Polo Club. In contrast, the terrible road we bumped down the hill on, led to the house of his ex-wife. (Our Queen is obviously an understanding lady.)
In an effort to battle the ‘bulge’, I rise at dawn each day and stride around the deck the ship has thoughtfully allocated as the ‘1/4 mile circuit’, It’s calculated in miles in deference to their principal customer nationalities – which is silly given only people who walk kilometers actually use it. I’ve managed to convert it to metric and correctly renamed it the ‘402 meter’ circuit. Given I want to walk 3km, I walk 7.5 laps – then walk back to the starting point. It seems longer than when I walk at home. It’s a lonely time. Some days I must dodge the Filipino crew washing the decks. I can tell they consider I’m crazy and are probably thinking I should just get a job. One day, on my last lap, I met a fellow passenger circulating anticlockwise. This is illegal!!! The signage clearly says in the interest of safety and to avoid collision on the corners, all track users should circulate clockwise. I didn’t care that he was a technically a criminal and we greeted each other as long-lost buddy’s. We compared distance and lap times, then agreed to talk again the next day. I’ve never seen him since. As I’m sure I hadn’t yet offended him, I can only think of 2 reasons why he isn’t attending our planned rendezvous. (1) He felt the need to improve his lap times to match mine and the doctor didn’t get to him with the defibrillator in time. If this is the case, then I’m terribly sorry as I had lied – as you do. (2) He was caught circulating the wrong way and, as is normal punishment in the Caribbean, was made to walk the plank.
The first substantial voyage taken by Flypaper and I was way back in the late 1970’s. We had just driven from London to Capetown, sold our Landrover and were wondering how to make our way back to Europe. Somehow, we discovered a Greek Cargo ship called the Hellenic Hero took a few passengers at an attractive price - but was leaving from a port 800km away in 11 hours time. We almost missed the boat. While thrashing a rental car along the ‘Garden Route’ to Port Elizabeth, I was a little slow stopping for a policeman who stepped out from his hiding place behind a big sign reminding drivers of the speed limits. Thinking I had actually ignored his gesture, he discharged both barrels of his shotgun into the back of our Datsun 120Y. Given shotgun pellets travel at about 300 meters per second they soon caught up with us … and I discovered our brakes were better than I had previously imagined. After explaining Flypaper required urgent medical treatment he let us continue. (This explanation for our haste had previously worked when escaping from Idi Amin in Uganda and discovering Flypaper didn’t have a visa to enter Kenya. I told the boarder guard she remained in the Landrover because she had rabies which could only be treated at Nairobi Hospital He couldn’t stamp our passports fast enough.) At the Avis rental car depot we parked way in the back of their yard, slunk out the gate and ran for the gangway. We figured we would be on the high seas before the groomer discovered the dozens of spots on the back of the car wouldn’t polish out. The voyage, Port Elizabeth to Mombasa was supposed to take 12 days; collecting cargo at 5 ports in Mozambique and Tanzania enroute. It actually took 32 days because the cargo hadn’t arrived, the port workers along the way failed to show up for work or continued sleeping among the cargos waiting on the docks. To get around international maritime laws I was signed on to the ship as an officer. I guess they thought Flypaper was a ‘ship girl’. My crew papers enabled us to go ashore everywhere and many adventures ensued. However, and the relevance of this story, was that Captain Spiro finally gave up shouting or waving his arms in the well-known Greek way and decided to also enjoy the unplanned delays. Some days he and a couple of his crew launched a lifeboat and we went fishing. This was entered in the ships log as ‘lifeboat drill’. The fishing was superb and our plentiful catch kept the ships cook hard at work delivering an astonishing variety of seafood. There was also unlimited Greek wine, beer and Brandy to ensure the crew and 5 passengers didn’t dehydrate in the hot climate. The delays were tolerable. That brings me to the point. Our current ships crew also enjoyed unexpected fresh fish. One morning while out for my morning workout, I was astonished to discover the deck was littered with flying fish. Many were still flapping about. I’ll bet they were surprised after takeoff to discover their landing spot had been replaced by a large steel monster. The Filipino crew were scurrying around stuffing the fresh catch into bins and scuttling back into the bowels of the ship where I imagine they enjoyed Sarciadong Isda or similar.
An early event on a cruise is the mandatory ‘Safety Drill’ where, following 7 short and 1 long toot on the hooter, all on board scamper along to their assigned assembly station where they are reminded on these occasions there is no specific dress code except orange life jackets which are distributed just before abandoning ship. (Personally, I consider the lifejackets should be given to many before they enter the pool as I’ve witnessed a number being hoisted out again when they discover their motor neurons are no longer triggering the swim muscles.) Fast forward about 80 hours when we were just settling down to another evening meal. We’ve introduced ourselves around the table, observed the disappointed reactions of our new acquaintances, accepted a glass of wine and are comptemplating the menu options. Suddenly an alarm sounded and a looped recorded voice started ordering us to evacuate the room as a smoke detector has activated. The detector was the only thing activated. The diners all sat and looked a bit peeved that the announcement interrupted their conversation and meal. I stood and said to our table, “This is for real – lets stroll out even if it is going to ruin the evening”. Gradually and reluctantly diners started to rise. Astonishingly, those who had been served earlier were finishing their deserts as they hobbled along. Most had the foresight to take their wine glasses and some even asked a harried steward to top them up along the way. I do commend however, it was an orderly evacuation with no panic – but loads of indignation and comments that this may be another drill or worse, an emergency at an inconvenient time. Eventually we were told a toaster timer malfunctioned and burned the croutons. For some, this was a major event in their lives and some of those have been motivated to check their insurance policies. Death by toaster malfunction? Perhaps they should check if there’s an exclusion for ‘walking the plank’.

Posted by Wheelspin 09:53 Archived in Puerto Rico Tagged fish flying monkey the ship walk cruise blue san caribbean puerto rico pirates hurricane juan harry minnie cruising barbados trump safety drill prince plank mouse donald rihanna lifejacket Comments (0)

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