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Christmas & New Year in the Caribbean

18th December 2018 to 5th January 2019

Barbados to Catagena aboard the MS Serenissima

 

18th December 2018 - London Gatwick to Bridgetown, Barbados


For this tour some of our voyagers came from as far away as Australia, and began their journey several days earlier however, the majority of our guests set off from their homes in the early morning. After a rendezvous at London Gatwick and a ‘hop’ across the pond our travellers arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados. The warm Caribbean greeting on offer (29°C in fact), set the tone for what was to come - time for some winter sun! Having navigated through immigration it was onto the coaches to do battle with Bridgetown’s traffic. Then, after all the journeying, there she was, Serenissima. Lying in her berth, starboard to, fresh from the dry-dock, there was a warm welcome waiting aboard (and helped along with some cold bubbles). Then; into the cabins, back for safety briefings, life-jacket allocation, back for Zodiac briefings and finally dinner! With the day nearly over, the voyage was finally ready to begin. As we sat down to eat, our crew slipped the berth and we set course for…. France!

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19th December 2018 - Martinique

 

As the sun crept over the horizon, we passed HMS Diamond to Starboard at 0600, before dropping anchor in Petite Anse D’arlet by 0700. Okay, so we were a long way from Paris and I wouldn’t trust the local steak tartare, but still, France none-the-less. The tropical forest, sandy beach, crystal clear water and brightly coloured buildings confirmed it, this was definitely not Gatwick - Bienvenue en Martinique! For the first excursion of this voyage we ventured back in time to the late 18th Century. At 1000 we arrived at La Pagerie, tropical childhood home of the Empress Josephine. Hidden treasures awaited in the museum gardens, for those who sought them out, and we encountered the sleeping hibiscus and orchids the size of a bush! Yet despite the beauty, the sugar factory represented a troubled past and paid homage to the slavery brought to Martinique by Napoleon in 1804. By this time everyone had worked up a good thirst, so it was time to visit a beautiful sugar cane plantation where, after a tour of the property and gardens, we could get onto the real business – sampling the true flavour of the Caribbean – Rhum! Distilled on site at the Clement rum factory, there were around 25 different flavours available for tasting. A late lunch followed by a lazy afternoon gave us the chance to relax on the beach, break out the snorkel gear or take some time-out on Serenissima. As the evening came on it was time to dust off the gladrags as Captain Etien hosted us for a welcome drinks and dinner. With Kevin Morgan masquerading as James Bond (or Johnny English?)… champagne eased everyone through a thorough account of Serenissima’s remarkable history and unique engines before we got stuck into another fantastic evening meal.

 

 

20th December 2018 - Cabritz, Dominica


Waking up anchored off yet another verdant Caribbean Island – tough! This morning we had a choice of two activities. An early breakfast prepared an intrepid group of explorers set of via Zodiac transfer to hike the Syndicate National Park Nature Trail with Kevin, Alice amd myself. After a drive through the town of Portsmouth, once intended to be the islands capital, we started twisting and turning out way up into the mountainside. En-route we passed banana plantations, coffee plants and citrus fruits including local orange and grapefruit while our guides filled us in on the local history and customs. We were even lucky enough to spot a number of the endemic Jaco Parrots resting on a large bare tree in the distance. On arrival at Syndicate Centre, the rainforest stayed true to its name and greeted us with intermittent drizzle. It was starting to become apparent why Dominica is so green! As we walked through the forest, listening to the call of parrots and here and there catching a fleeting glimpse of the purple throated humming bird or the bananaquit as they whizzed by, the effects of Hurricane Maria were starkly evident. Where there was once a think vegetated canopy, now the sky was clearly visible wherever we went. Huge tree trunks supported by elaborate buttress roots protruded from the forest; in September 2017, they were stripped of branch and leaf by winds of up to 200mph and now the foliage is only starting to grow back. As we returned to the ship for lunch, a drinks stop gave us the chance to sample the local sorrel drink (deep blood red, slightly sour and with a hint of ginger, delicious!). For those whose interests lie more in history than ecology, we had a great opportunity to explore Dominica’s Shirley Fort! After a Zodiac transfer to shore we were met by world renowned archaeologist, Dr Lennox Honeychurch. As a previous member of the Dominican parliament and one of the delegates who helped negotiate their independence, he proved to be a font of knowledge not only on the fort, but also the wider history of the island. We walked through tropical forest, now recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, before reaching the beautifully restored fort on the hillside overlooking Serenissima. The restoration was part funded by an EU grant and interestingly these buildings, despite their age, withstood the hurricane better than many modern buildings on this island. After lunch the Indian River was a restful, gentle experience. Power driven vessels are banned on the river, promoting serene calm. The chuckle of water around the bow and the creak of the oars accompanied us as we were rowed up river, learning about the mangrove forests and local wildlife as we went. Green-backed herons, moorhens and iguanas held our attention, while a large kingfisher flashed past. At the refreshment stop we were greeted by a potent but very tasty rum punch and as we enjoyed our drinks, tantalising glimpses of hummingbirds and kingbirds could be caught as the birds flitted in and out of view. As we returned down river, a little rain squall cooled us down, but did not dampen our spirits. After dinner Serenissima slipped her moorings and headed off for our next destination, while we all made off for our bunks.

21st December 2018 - Deshaies, Guadeloupe


We’re three for three - another morning, another island; this time back to France! A leisurely start to the day was gently interrupted by Zodiac transfers to shore, but things settled down again once we began a gentle walking tour around the picturesque town of Deshaies, home of ‘Death in Paradise’. Our guides took us to visit the fisherman’s pier, the Catholic Church and the Police Station, before we all enjoyed some welcome refreshments with a glorious seafront location.
Next, we boarded our buses and made our way to the island’s Botanical Gardens, which contained exotic flora from across the globe. En-route back to the ship for lunch, we also had time for a stop at the picturesque La Perle Beach, another spot from the TV series, but no time for swimming! In the afternoon Pierre accompanied a group to the scenic nearby beach. Whilst the water looked inviting, some care was needed here as there were some strong breakers and conditions weren’t excellent for snorkelling. For the rest, Zodiac shuttles allowed people to explore the town some more, or to simply put your feet up in a café or on the ship. Our afternoon lecture from Tony Coutts-Britton addressed Spain’s American Empire and then there was opportunity for a bit of downtime before joining the expedition team for recap and briefing.

 

22nd December 2018 - Nevis and St Kitts

 

We have previously ticked off an island a day, but now we were stepping things up with two between sunrise and sunset! Overnight we had sailed a little over 70 miles and our first stop today was the smaller of the two in this dual island state - Nevis. This small island is connected to some big characters and our first stop was a very informative visit to the Hamilton House Museum – birthplace of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. We dipped our toes into the islands natural hot springs before visiting the Nesbit estate and passing by the Silk-Cotton tree under which Horatio Nelson and Fanny Nesbit were married before arriving at the botanical gardens for a very enjoyable tour of the ‘Queen of the Caribbean’. We passed through the entrance lined with Royal Palms, watched dragon flies chasing each other over the ponds and stared in amazement at the colours of the purple throated carib humming bird guarding the entrance to the Amazonia greenhouse. We enjoyed a refreshing and very purple home-made flowery drink before we dashed back to the ship before lunch to make sure she didn’t sail off without us – I think everyone made it… After lunch on the move, we arrived in Basseterre, St Kitts – the oldest town in the Eastern Caribbean. Our tour took us through sight of this historic town, including independence square and courthouse, before we moved on to the iconic Brimstone Fort. At the time of construction (1690s) coaches hadn’t yet reached St Kitts, so the entrances to the fort were rather small – no problem, we had some minibuses that were JUST narrow enough to get us in! The UNESCO world heritage site is also a National Park and provides commanding views over the lush vegetated mountainside and blue waters of the Caribbean. Information inside gave us chance to learn about the lives of soldiers, who were in some cases, confined entirely to a life in the fort. A scenic minibus tour of the island took in vibrant colours of St Kitts and views down over Fregate Bay, as seen from Timothy Hill, before returning us to the SERENISSIMA. After recap and dinner, Rene was to be found in his regular spot entertaining everyone in the Andrea lounge.

 

 

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23rd December 2018 - St Eustatius


We were tied up alongside in St Eustatius and the morning of the fabled Quill hike had arrived. Interest in this trip had been high but after some gentle scaremongering many had turned their attention elsewhere. In single file, we began our hike up the side of this volcano, guided in our quest by the Caribbean’s answer to Mick Dundee. The trailed started gently with butterflies fluttering around us and a red bellied racer resting next to the trail however, the final section to the rim of the crater was quite a scramble. The volcano is believed to have last erupted 2500-3000 years ago, so the sheltered crater is full of lush forest which escapes the worst of any hurricanes allowing the trees to great height! The group split and 6 adventurers joined me to descend into the crater scrambling down loose rocks and assisted by ropes for a closer look at the trees, while the more sensible stayed put to enjoy the views, after which we all returned for a leisurely afternoon lounging on the boat or exploring the town. A walking tour of the town was also available; Athea and Walter proudly showed us around their small town. There was a calm nature to the town. Singing could be heard as we walked past the church and the old synagogue was very interesting. The local museum contained a number of interesting artefacts from the time of the first settlers and the plantations which reminded us, as with all the islands, of a less harmonious time. Tony delivered another interesting talk about Nelson’s exploits in the West Indies and then the worshippers amongst us were in for a treat! Brenda kindly organised minibuses to take some of us to the local church, to sit in on their Christmas service and we were welcomed with open arms. What can I say, a Caribbean nativity service is a unique thing! It was a real family affair and children were involved in the storytelling and youth choir. There was some phenomenal singing supported by some bass heavy backing music which culminated in the chance to light a candle and give thanks. An experience I am sure none will forget.


24th December 2018 - St Johns, Antigua


Dwarfed by some of cruising’s monsters, we had arrived in St Johns. The home of Nelson famous dockyard awaited us! We crawled out of the bustling port in our minibuses, passing small towns and a tumbledown stone tower, which was once a working sugar mill. At the Dow’s Hill interpretation centre, we received a colourful presentation chronicling the history of the island and its sugar plantations before we had chance to stop for a moment and soak up the views. Below, Falmouth and English Harbour snaked inland and yachts could be seen bending their sails on the vivid blue waters. Shirley Heights Fort was visible in the distance and its commanding position was clear from this angle. A short stop here gave us another perspective on the island before we continued down into English Harbour to visit the Historic Nelson’s dockyard. Superyachts lined the dockside, with stainless and brass glinting in the sunlight. We took a quick tour around the dockyard before a few minutes of free time for some RnR – Rum and Relaxation – time for more Rum Punches, and these ones certainly packed a punch! We had a leisurely afternoon which gave people the chance to explore St John’s, before recaps and dinner. The intrepid then headed back out to sample Christmas eve in the Caribbean – the town was alive with families out for the evening. Food and drinks stalls lined the streets, and music was pumping out of trucks and bars. As we were in harbour overnight, there was also the opportunity for a number of people to accompany Brenda to Midnight Mass in St John’s Cathedral.

 

25th December 2018 - Christmas Day at Sea


Christmas day at sea was a pleasant, relaxed affair and very welcome after an enjoyable but busy first week on board. With absolutely no announcements ;-) everyone was free to spend the day on their own schedule as we sailed for St Lucia. Captain Etien kindly agreed on a detour in our route so we had an unexpected drive-by of Montserrat. The island’s active volcano famously erupted in 1993 and as we approached from the north a cloud could be seen hanging over the peak. The exclusion zone kept us a couple of miles offshore, but even from this distance the old lava flows were clearly visible and steam could be seen venting from the top of the volcano. Despite Pierre’s best efforts to ensure Christmas cheer was kept under wraps, festive t-shirts and jumpers kept appearing across the ship. At 1000 Tony laid forth an interesting and less well-known account of the famous Christmas truce of 1914 in his presentation before midday Carol Service really set the mood! A sit-down Christmas lunch was just what the doctor ordered before a very relaxed afternoon, but don’t worry – we weren’t going to let you get away that lightly and still had a mandatory snorkel briefing and fitting session for you before dinner!


26th December 2018 - Soufriere, St Lucia


This morning the presence of St Lucia was felt by all, as the wild rainforest and towering Pitons could be seen from the deck. We were again swinging on the anchor and it was time for the zodiacs to get their bottoms wet yet again. We landed at Soufriere and boarded our minibuses for the Diamond River and Falls Botanical Garden. A favourite with many, this botanical garden felt a little natural and wild, whilst still being full of many exotic specimens. We saw the cloudy, mineral rich waters of the Diamond river tumble over the waterfalls at the top of the gardens, and flow amongst the plants as it gurgled its way through the gardens. Our excellent guides were full of local knowledge and showed many topical uses for different leaves, fruits and flowers. At the Morne Coubaril Estate we explored an old coconut plantation. A replica Carib village provided some insight into what life was like for the original peoples of this region. We walked through groves of towering coconut palms, past the restored colonial style plantation house and received a demonstration of how to de-husk a coconut in mere moments. This skill was essential for plantation workers who prepared to the coconuts for dehydration in the copra oven. We also learnt about the production of cocoa and sugar cane before we finally got the chance for a much-needed break. Deliciously refreshing sour orange juice, sugary candied coconut and warm breadfruit chips were just what the doctor ordered. After another top lunch on board we tackled our first wet landing! A free afternoon gave us time to relax and for those that wanted, a ride to the beach and chance for a snorkel.

27th December2018 - St Vincent


This morning Serenissima returned to her home port! At 0700 We tied up in Kingstown, St Vincent. Tucked alongside, with cliffs towering above us to starboard, we have fantastic views of Kingstown and the Bay. The morning tour of St Vincent took us first to visit Fort Charlotte, where we were met with commanding views on all sides. From here, a stop at Kingstown Botanical Gardens gave the eager botanists amongst us chance to walk through the oldest Botanical Gardens in the western hemisphere. Home to treasures such as Captain Bligh’s original Breadfruit Tree, they also support the captive breeding programme for the beautiful St Vincent Parrot, which could be seen at home in their aviaries. From the Belmont lookout we were met with lush views over of the fertile crater of St Vincent’s now extinct volcano before proceeding to the Paradise Beach resort for a bit of down time and by this time a much needed Rum Punch. Krystyna will testify, the ones in St Vincent are strong (and good for treating a cold!) Today was a big snorkelling day, with both morning and afternoon trips! Our transport wasn’t short of horses, with triple 250hp outboard engines ready to whisk us away to the best spots in St Vincent. Kevin T and Conrad set off with the rest of you and within moments of setting off, the cool box was open and the drinks were flowing – nor did they stop! The first stop was impressive, not just for the black sand beaches, but also the underwater life. As we snorkelled in the clear water, eels and lobsters were spotted hiding under the dense coral. After this warm-up there was another a rather unique encounter. Our guides led us to another spot – to snorkel through a cave! As we made our way through the increasingly narrow channel, endemic fruit bats were roosting above! We grabbed lunch ‘on the hoof’ as we steamed from St Vincent to Port Elizabeth, Bequia, which was the point of departure for our afternoon snorkel and activities. We had the same boat again this afternoon and after collection from the pontoon we cruised past derelict looking buildings on the coastline to reach the snorkel spot. Bequia is the only island in the Caribbean with whaling rights and this sheltered beach was where the this used to happen. Thankfully all the life we saw was very much still alive. By the time we got in the water, there was a strong current, so our guides offered a drift snorkel that was full of life – Conch shells, lobster and moray eels joined the usual profusion of colourful fish to be found around the reef. Meanwhile, the rest of us set out to explore Bequia, with the open-backed taxi tour of the island. Our first stop, Fort Hamilton, provided stunning views of vibrant azure waters Admiralty Bay which was scattered with anchored yachts. Driving up the steep and sometimes winding roads of this charming island, we crossed from the sheltered waters of the Caribbean, to the rugged, windswept Atlantic coastline on the east. Here we found the Old Hegg turtle sanctuary positioned near to quiet homes and deserted beaches, and received a detailed history of the project from Orton King, the founder of the centre. On the way back to the ship, we all enjoyed a nice rum punch with good views of the Serenissima before returning to the ship by Zodiac. This was followed by more rum punch as we sipped cocktails while Bequia disappeared into the distance.

 

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28th December 2018 - Charlottesville, Tobago


Through the night we steamed south, all the time exposed to the rolling Atlantic swell. After a rather undulating night’s sleep, we made landfall at approximately 0645 and dropped Anchor off Charlottesville. After a typically fantastic breakfast it was time to jump (AKA step slowly using the seaman’s grip of course!) into the Zodiacs and head for shore. First off the ship were a small band of 11 who set off for the top of the island! As we drove along well-maintained roads with high hillsides carpeted in lush forest on either side, it soon became clear how unspoilt Tobago really is. We crossed the island to the Speyside on the Atlantic coast before reaching Roxborough, where we climbed back up towards the centre of the island and which hides the ridgetop forest reserve. Founded in 1776 it is the oldest reserve in the western hemisphere. We met our guide and donned welly boots before setting off into the forest. As we wound along our trail, a small stream gurgled a short way below; trees, palms, bamboo and ferns surrounded us and the white-tailed sabre-winged hummingbird flitted across the path ahead of us. We soon learnt that our trail was previously used as a route to market by people transporting their goods across the island by mule or donkey, in the days before vehicles arrived on the island. And there was us thinking this was hard work with just a camera! After a very educational hour and a half, we returned to our taxis and headed for the Argyll waterfalls in Roxborough. Here we took a short walk along a wide, open, bamboo lined avenue where we could easily spot Chakalaka and Trinidad (blue crowned) motmots. This finished with a short scramble over some rocks which brought us to the base of the impressive 3-tiered Argyll falls. As we wound our way back to Charlotteville in the minibuses, we saw stunning views of Little Tobago and Goat Island. The second tour on offer this morning was a fantastic coastal cruise. From a remote hotel, we boarded glass bottom boats and headed off along the coastline in the company of some stunning scenery. As we rounded the corner Little Tobago could be seen accompanied by a scatter of smaller islands, including a favourite of Ian Fleming, Goat Island. We hiked to the top of little Tobago where birds and bats were a plenty! The regal red-billed tropicbirds could be found nesting on the ground just meters away from us with brown boobies littering the area. Whilst inspecting an abandoned building we saw a host of the nectar feeding long-tongued fruit bats whiling away the day in their roost. Unfortunately, the rough seas didn’t allow us chance to swim or snorkel however our glass bottom boat provided a glimpse into the world underneath the choppy waves. We could see fish going about their business and on the return we learnt about the complex coral reefs.



29th December 2018 - Port of Spain, Trinidad

 

We were alongside in Port of Spain and from the foredeck we could see skyscrapers and office-blocks. Had we left the Caribbean behind? No, no - we had a wondrous day of wildlife watching in store. After breakfast, we danced our way down the gangway to the calypso inspired beats of carnival music and boarded our minibuses. We sped inland on the 6 lane highway which runs east-west from Port of Spain, before we turned off and progress slowed as we started to wind our way up into the rainforest covered highlands where the Asa Wright Conservatory is located. From the veranda of the old plantation house we could see numerous species of hummingbirds, quits and honeycreepers visiting the sugar feeders. We explored the gardens with our guides while hermits and hummingbirds flitted amongst the lush vegetation. As we entered the rainforest a Fer-de-lance was found coiled by the side of the path. Deeper into the jungle, we could hear the distinct call of the bearded bell-bird - a lucky few managed to catch a fleeting glimpse before we all returned to the ship. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a relaxing cruise through the Caroni swamp. Drifting our way through the mangrove channels, herons could be spotted poised amongst the tree roots, a boa-constrictor coiled in the canopy and a spectacled caiman in the shallows. As we entered the open swamp, feeding flamingos were seen glowing in the late evening light before we tied up to watch the show – thousands of the iconic Scarlet Ibis were arriving in their roosting trees for the night. No recaps tonight because we were a bit later back, so it was straight in for dinner and then Kevin Morgan had a treat for us – dancing lessons – they do say hips don’t lie!

 

 

30th December 2018 - Day at Sea


Today was one for the bird watchers! As we headed towards the Eastern Caribbean, with the wind behind us, we were accompanied by flocks of seabirds. Audubon’s Shearwaters, with their distinctive black and white plumage, were seen skimming over the waves while Masked and Brown boobies accompanied the ship on the lookout for any flying fish we disturbed Throughout the morning there was chance to visit Serenissima’s Engine room before Tony spoke to us about The Caribbean in World War II.


31st December 2018 - Kraalendijk, Bonaire 


Today in our European tour, wait, sorry…. Caribbean tour, we were back in Holland. We arrived in the Dutch Antilles refreshed, after a very welcome break. There were activities galore this day and first off was the Tuk-Tuk town tour. From the open air-transport we explored the colourful buildings of Bonnaires main town. The coach trip went further afield and took in the sights and sounds of this charming island. As we drove along the west coast we spotted cacti, iguanas and brown parrots before we then arrived at the salt flats with beautiful views over the lakes dotted with flamingos. Next, a stop at the Chichutan museum gave us chance to taste the local cactus liquor which was an interesting change from the usual rum! We headed south to see beautiful and intricate coral fossils and saw the small huts of the ‘white slaves’ (salt slaves). Our return to the ship gave us chance for a gentle walk through the colourful and characterful streets of Kraalendijk. The ‘mountains’ of salt, Bonaire’s primary export even today, were especially impressive. Our location was slap bang in the middle of the small town, and it was clear people were getting in the new year’s spirit. Firecrackers and bangers could be heard popping throughout the day and it was a good sign of what was to come. Klein Bonaire, is a low lying sandy quay and protected area which provides valuable nesting beaches for local hawksbill turtles; this afternoon we went to visit. After lunch, we set sail for the island and drifted along at a gentle pace under headsail while our crew of ‘pirates’ served us fruit punch. The weather was slightly turbulent with gusts and overcast skies but this didn’t dampen our enthusiasm and when we arrived at Klein Bonaire we experienced a fantastic, relaxing drift snorkel with vibrant corals, colourful parrot fish and even a glimpse of a hawksbill turtle for a lucky few. As we returned to the ship, pyrotechnics were still on the go and fireworks could be seen as soon as it fell dark. The new year party was on the foredeck and it wasn’t long before the hot-tub saw some action – I think we can thank Brenda for starting that. We danced our way toward the new year, led as ever by Kevin Morgan and helped along by some fizzy cocktails and then there were the fireworks. A magical display lighting up the skies all across the island took us into 2019!



1st January 2019 - Willemstad, Curacao


A leisurely morning at sea brought us approximately 40 miles to the colourful city of Willemstad, Curacao. From our berth next to RFA Mounts Bay, it was just a short walk into town. This was explored on foot, either before lunch, or on the organised walking tour in afternoon. Hetty guided us through the city centre where the Dutch heritage in Willemstad cannot be escaped – everywhere the architecture is accentuated by the brightly coloured yellows, oranges, pinks and blues. We visited the court house, the synagogue and the floating market before some free time to check out the shops, relax with a beer or perhaps pick up some famous blue curacao liquor. The rest of us embarked on an all-encompassing coach tour of the western side of the island. Our very knowledgeable guide provided a running commentary full of interesting information which ranged from the geological origins of the islands to routes of their local creole language, Papiamentu, and establishment of oil refineries. We visited a labour museum to learn about the lifestyle led by ex-slaves after the emancipation, passed flamingos feeding in the salt marsh nature reserves and stopped to see prehistoric coral. As we moved between stops we passed endless thickets of acacia and stands of cacti but we were safe in our coach, driven by the ‘best driver on the island’. It turned out he was actually pretty good and that proved rather useful when we did battle with the crowds on Knip Beach! Back at the Serenissima there was just enough time to don our brightest clothing and celebrate being in the Caribbean with some truly vibrant shirts and skirts!

 

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2nd January 2019  - At Sea


Another day at sea gave us a great opportunity to recoup from the excitement of the new year period. In the morning brown and masked boobies were once again seen circling the boat in pursuit of especially small flying fish. A fruit carving tutorial kicked off the day’s relaxed schedule, before another very informative presentation by Tony cast light on the Spanish American war of 1898 – who ever knew there was one! In the early evening, the expedition team welcomed everyone to the Andrea lounge to guess ‘who said it?’ and get to know them a little better. I’m still not sure Conrad’s explanation about the time he bought a horse but didn’t remember doing it was sufficient… we will forever be left to wonder! The usual recaps and dinner followed before we took the chance to get an extra early night because yes, the clocks were going back and tomorrow we arrive in Colombia!


3rd January 2019 - Santa Marta, Colombia


An early breakfast was laid on for those heading off on the Tayrona National Park hike at 0730. After some excitement about cushions, a team of 20 set off with Kevin M and I, in the search for some proper South American Rainforest. The journey of only 24 miles felt much further as we crawled through the more rundown outskirts of Santa Marta and did battle with never ending series of traffic lights. Our entrance to the park had to be assisted by the local Police as queues of tourists were spilling out onto the road and our bus couldn’t get in. After we were cleared for entry we travelled through to a quiet corner of the park where our guide took us on a circular walk through coastal forest. We learnt of the Tayrona peoples’ tradition of first burying the dead and later exhuming the remains to move just the bones to their final resting place. We passed areas of shrubby vegetation attended by colourful butterflies, and climbed to our first view point. Below the rugged granite coastline could be seen stretching before us with coconut lined yellow sandy beaches that were being pummelled by large breakers. Swallows circled overhead and a black vulture rested on the headland. We then made our way downhill, past a second rocky outcrop to a small mangrove area. There was were unfortunately no Caiman to be seen from the boardwalk, but we had the good fortune to spot one of the park’s 70 species of bats. Our coach then took us a short distance to relax in the luxurious setting of the Ecohab hotel where we were served sandwiches, fruits and a choice of drinks – the fresh juice was especially good – before heading back to our floating home. The other option this morning was the cultural tour of Santa Marta – WOW! Full of culture and fascinating history it was, with a sprinkling of wildlife to boot. Giovani led the way through Santa Marta, firstly to the Gold Museum, which is housed in the oldest brick built building in Colombia. This fantastic little museum offered so much more than just gold, outlining the history and influence of the Tayrona people and the geography of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region – I had no idea there was snow in the Caribbean! Amerindians were working gold in this region since 100AD for 14 centuries before the arrival of the Spanish and they were seriously good at it. Stunning breastplates and jewellery adorned the walls of the museum and our guide explained in detail the techniques such as the ‘lost wax’ method of gold smiting. Suitably impressed, we headed off on foot to the grandiose white Cathedral which previously housed the remains of Simon Bolivar. As we went it was clear this was a genuine city and any of the tourist orientated shops we found at previous stops on this cruise were replaced with the hustle and bustle of street food, juice carts and people going about their business. Finally, at La Quinta, we watched birds flit between bushes and kept a safe distance from the extremely tame iguanas. Here the monuments and buildings told the story of Simon Bolivar and Colombia’s independence for which he fought – this was actually where he died. Some free time in the afternoon gave everyone the chance to explore the town in some more detail or relax on the ship in preparation for the Captain’s cocktail party. We gathered in the Andrea lounge, dressed in our best, to hear a few words from the Captain, before a spectacular steak and lobster dinner and a farewell singsong!


4th January 2019 - Cartagena, Colombia


After cruising through the night from Santa Marta, we were now tied up in Cartagena, our final stop of the tour – but thankfully it wasn’t yet the last day! For our eager birders this morning provided one of the highlights of the Cruise – the Colombian National Aviary. Located approximately an hour south of Cartagena, the aviary which opened in 2016 houses more than 135 species of South American birds. We explored the different biomes covering wetland, forest and dry savannah, each containing its own unique ecosystem and bird species. Some let us get up close and personal while others kept their distance - Particular highlights were the macaws, curassows and the harpy eagle enclosure. With some free time in the afternoon, there was opportunity to take the ten-minute taxi ride to explore Cartagena. Some took the chance to check out the wildlife at the cruise terminal, where ant-eaters, flamingos, blue and scarlet macaws and free roaming deer can be watched whilst sipping a Colombian coffee. It was our final night, alas the cruise was drawing to a close. After a fantastic dinner Kevin M put on a farewell slideshow covering all the tours we had been on during this nearly 3-week long cruise! Everyone agreed it was fantastic, and there was a great deal of appreciation for the hard work he had put in.


5th January 2019 - Cartagena, Colombia 

The final day of the cruise was upon us, but there was no time to be glum, for there was still one more tour left before leaving. This morning everyone joined Kevin M, Kevin T and myself for a tour of beautiful city of Cartagena des Indias. We visited San Felipe de Barajas, the old city including the dungeons and rampart walls and had chance for some souvenir shopping. Before returning to the ship we visited the monastery and museum of San Pedro Claver. Then there was just time for lunch and to finalise the packing before you all set off for Heathrow, accompanied by Alice! It has been a great pleasure looking after you. Pierre, Brenda, Wendy and the expedition team hope you recover from the relentless euphoria which we inflicted on you.  We look forward to seeing you again aboard Serenissima or any of Noble Caledonia’s ships.

 

  End of Voyage

For further inspiration, view slideshow of images taken during the voyage

 

 

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