Unlike the Caribbean cruise of 11 years ago, I am by myself this time.
It was in 1996 when I last visited San Juan, Puerto Rico. My best friend, Nelson, and I arrived for Carnival's week long southern Caribbean cruise. For $800.00 per person, it was the cheapest we could find (no easyCruise back then). We were still poor graduate students in our mid-20's. For us it was great to go on such a luxury trip – food and entertainment almost 24 hours. It was even better that we could visit different countries in a week, without moving our luggage! On that trip, we saw the U.S. Virgin Island (St. Thomas and St. John), St. Martin (both Dutch and French sides), Dominica (nothing to see there), Barbados and Martinique. That journey helped me add several "new countries" to my "resume" in the shortest time possible.
Fast forward 11 years
Nelson is an established investment banker who was just recruited to a new office in Hong Kong; I am an under-employed college professor. After being rejected almost all the faculty positions I applied for in 2007, I had to take time off from these job search dramas. Why not continue traveling? I still had some savings from my last job. I was only 10 countries away from realizing my "100 countries by 40" dream. I remembered that a Caribbean Cruise would be the most efficient way to add to my "country count". Checking through website offers, I found Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) still had a vacancy for an inside cabin. The "Serenade of the Sea" ship would travel to three island countries I had never seen. So, off I went on another trip, escaping the cold, and adding more countries to my resume. Nelson was not available this time; neither were my other friends,
All by myself on St. Martin
The first port of call was St. Martin, an island I had previously visited in that 1996 cruise trip. Though it is the smallest island in the world to be divided between two sovereign countries (the southern part is Dutch, while the northern part is French), it is really not an island with too much character. The capital on the Dutch side, Philipsburg, is full of indistinguishable duty-free shops. There are some nice sandy beaches on the French side. Aside from a few overpriced restaurants and water activities, it is not memorable. Wandering aimlessly along the beach by myself, I felt lonely. I could not wait to return to the ship.
According to my guidebook, Saint Kitts isn't famous for its beach (I am not a beach bum anyway). It is more noteworthy for its mountains, especially the volcanic ones. Its main volcano, Mount Liamuiga, is almost 1,000 meters high; it has a beautiful crater. RCCL offers a volcanic trekking on Mt. Liamuiga. Because it takes seven hours, it will practically use up most of our time ashore. No need to worry about feeling bored if I join this excursion! Though it cost a whopping $98.00, I guess it's my best choice. Who knows, I may meet some people from my ship. Unfortunately, the excursion was sold out. I wasn't interested in the others, so I was alone once again
Country Number 91
I did not need to wake up early the following day to join any excursion, so I ended up sleeping until almost noon! Walking onto the deck, I had my first glimpse of Saint Kitts. Though it is not a very populous island (40,000 people), it looks lush and pristine. Not faraway, I saw Mount Liamuiga, the volcano I might have climbed, shrouded in the mist. Though I won't go to any beach or mountain on this island, I will at least walk around Basseterre, the capital.
Saint Kitts, originally known as St. Christopher, is actually a part of a two-island country – Saint Kitts and Nevis. It is not only an independent country, but also one of a few countries that has diplomatic relations with my country, Taiwan. (Most countries cannot have an official relationship with Taiwan, if they want to have a diplomatic relationship with China). Maybe due to its tiny size, China does not bother to steal them from us (as they have with Senegal and Macedonia). On my last visit to Paraguay (another country that recognizes Taiwan), it was very unpleasant (see this link). It made me realize that some of my country's "official friends" are unwholesome. I hoped Saint Kitts is a more welcoming place.
No other cruise lines were around making me realize Saint Kitts is not a popular port of call in the Caribbean circuit. I'm glad our ship takes a road less traveled!
Basseterre is not very big; doesn't appear as prosperous as Philipsburg. Because the World Cup Cricket Game was held in the Caribbean this year, I saw many cricket related souvenirs. Flags of those countries participating in the Game were also flown everywhere – among them, Taiwan's.
Wait, how could Taiwan be in this World Cup? Very few Taiwanese know what cricket is (they play baseball). Look closer. Taiwanese flags are hanging everywhere on the main street. Maybe President Chen visited here not long ago. When I spoke with the friendly locals, I discovered that Taiwan sponsored the building of the cricket stadium for the World Cup.
Since it was warm and a welcoming place, I bought souvenirs and ordered local beer at the main bus station. Most of the "buses" were mini-vans; didn't look too comfortable. Though I was thinking about taking a bus to the other side of the island, eventually I gave up the idea. I may not be able to make it back to the ship on time before it leaves.
Basseterre, though friendly, is quite small and actually has not much to see. After walking around for about two hours, I headed back to the ship for a late lunch.
Later in the afternoon, there was a "Dog Tag Dance Party" right next to the main swimming pool. The theme was military, of course. It is ironic that the government bans civilians and tourists wearing anything in camouflage (Is this island of 40,000 really afraid of a military coup? ). So the party goers, many of them in camouflage, were warned not to wander out of the ship. Now that is amusing to me.
Saricie Kuo is a college professor and public health researcher from Taiwan. He is also a part time novelist and film critic. He made a wish when he was 18 – to visit more than 100 countries before he turned 40. By the end of 2006, he had traveled to 90 countries. He plans to reach his 100th country in 2007.