In January of 2012 I faithfully kept my vow of going somewhere for holiday every January during my retirement. Since January 2012 was my second month of January of retirement, as I retired at the end of 2010, I was on a roll. Ron, my brother-in-law who is much more like my brother accompanied us. Ron had some minor trepidation prior to disembarking due to his having never cruised before. This soon yielded to happiness and the sheer joy of the beautiful accommodations and delicious cuisine along with the uniquely singular experience that cruising offers.
We first flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico and stayed at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino on Condado Beach. The next day we embarked on a walking tour of old San Juan until we happened upon a tobacco store. I subsequently rushed in as Mary Jane and Ron followed and announced with some savvy traveler glee…” I would like your best cuban cigar”…to which the proprietor replied…sir you are still in the United States. Somewhat chagrined, but not defeated, I replied that I would like a quality cigar. The astute storekeeper instructed his assistant to give me a Churchill…on the house. Being more than surprised I began to professionally puff what was indeed an excellent cigar while Ron proceeded to purchase one as well. As I mused among the cloud of delicious smoke…that perhaps Ron was going to join me in my vice…the friendly cigar aficionado began to show me moderately priced box sets for shipping home. By this time Mary Jane and Ron had exited the building and I was left alone with my generous new friend and under the influence of cigar delight. Mary Jane said that it was at this point another tourist exited the store and told her that I was just about to be talked into a large purchase of cigars…with no one to protect me. She quickly entered and announced that we must go and pulled me from my revelry. As we proceeded through an extremely busy open market I told my party to go ahead and that I would catch up after Churchill and I had completed our visit. Later I discovered that Churchill had a brother that had been purchased for me.
As we prepared to leave our short pleasant stay in San Juan a fellow guest told us of the sinking of the Costa Concordia on January 13, 2012. A terrible tragedy…and a sobering occurrence happening just prior to our boarding the Caribbean Princess for our vast ocean journey.
The Caribbean offers such a variety of cultures and peoples that it is astounding to me that although many of the islands are close in proximity to each other…the people speak often a different language than their neighbor and have a totally different culture. For instance the island of Saint Martin in the Northeast Caribbean and 190 miles east of Puerto Rico is divided between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. France has twenty square miles and the Netherlands has thirteen square miles. St Martin is the smallest island divided between two nations. The northern French part is referred to as the Collectivite de Saint-Martin. We shopped in the French portion of St. Martin and had a lovely experience doing so. The very friendly store owner encouraged us to make a toll free telephone call from the store’s phone to our sons. We did so and got voicemail. Following our purchases he invited us to partake in some small Heinken beers for the returning bus ride to the cruise ship. When we asked if this would be all right with law enforcement he replied that we were not in the United States anymore.
A preponderance of the pleasure of cruising the Caribbean in January is the sure knowledge that it is winter at home. An assistant in this joyful period is the daily inquiry as to the temperature back home and finally the discussion of that abysmal temperature with friends old and new. Cruising is somewhat like Disney World was to me and my family many years ago. It is the transference into a world of luxury and seemingly worry free atmosphere for a few days. Or as Ron commented the first morning at breakfast…”they heated my milk for my oatmeal…they do not heat my milk at the Corner Cafe!”