Archive for the ‘Caribbean’ Category

St. Croix gets under your skin

January 18, 2013

Sitting here in North Carolina on this dreary, wet, chilly evening makes me yearn for St. Croix, where we were a few weeks ago. We chose the lesser-known US Virgin Island because it has so much variety, which means we were going nonstop to see everything, but that’s us. Below is the story I wrote for the Boston Globe, along with photographer Lina’s favorite photos. I couldn’t believe the paper didn’t use one of the iconic sugar mill. We spent more than an hour there shooting. And so it goes. I received several notes of appreciation from Crucians, who are so proud of their island.

By Diane  Daniel

Ruins of a sugar mill near Cane Bay

Ruins of a sugar mill near Cane Bay

CHRISTIANSTED, St. Croix — Even before I was able to see daylight’s gift a sea shimmering in a crayon box of blues from turquoise to midnight my hands told me I’d made it to the Caribbean the night before, their rough, wrinkled winter skin showing just a hint of the smoothness to come.

My partner, Lina, and I decided to visit the largest of the US Virgin Islands (84 square miles) because it offered a little bit of everything: plentiful beaches, green hills, lively town centers, and historic sites. St. Croix has the reputation of being the poor relation to glitzier St. Thomas and lusher St. John, but we found a rich culture here, born of the island’s Danish past, its once-mighty sugar trade, and its cordial Crucians, as the native islanders are called. Add to that pristine islands to visit, water sports, and even a rain forest to explore and you can see why we were hard-pressed to squeeze everything into a week’s stay last month.

A rooster wanders the grounds of Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted, built in 1738

A rooster wanders the grounds of Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted

We based ourselves in a centrally located, budget-friendly waterfront apartment along “condo row” in Christiansted, the larger and more tourist-driven of the island’s two towns. With hens and roosters wandering all over, the countryside never felt out of reach. Our street, lined with palm trees and a rainbow of bougainvilleas, also led to working-class neighborhoods and public-housing developments, daily reminders of the poverty here. We never felt unwelcome or unsafe, but for those who prefer more upscale and tropical settings, mid-level to pricey beachfront resorts and villas cover the island.

Strike up a conversation with a local or a fellow tourist and you’ll immediately be asked, “Have you been to Buck Island yet?” Put St. Croix’s jewel on top of your list. Surrounding the uninhabited island, a 30-minute boat ride from Christiansted, lies the underwater Buck Island Reef National Monument, a protected reef system that includes a short marked trail. While some of the coral is in tough shape, the clear water nonetheless offers the area’s best snorkeling. Unless you have access to a private boat, you’ll need to use one of the National Park Service’s six concessionaires. Unfortunately, no outfitter allows enough opportunity to also experience the island’s hiking trails.

A sailboat departs Turtle Beach at Buck Island

A sailboat departs Buck Island

After an hour in the water, we climbed back aboard and compared notes. I sought out Oliver Martin, 15, from Marion, Pa., who, with his dad, were the only people near me when I witnessed a heart-stopping sight.

“I knew it was a shark right away,” Oliver said proudly. “It had that fin on top. I was a little nervous, but not too much.”

I agreed. With the help of a deckhand, we concluded it was a lemon shark, probably about 5 feet long. We also were treated to sightings of a large school of shiny blue tang, iridescent parrotfish, long-bodied trumpetfish, and camouflaged Nassau grouper. Apparently I was the only one to see a barracuda flash its teeth.

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Caribbean cruising with Mickey Mouse

November 4, 2008

Disney cruises are pricey, but the company does know how to pack in the fun. Lucky Gilson kids (and adults, too)!

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Oct. 12, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

The Gilson Family

The Gilson Family

WHO: Diana, 39, and William “Gilly” Gilson, 46, and their children Will, 6, and Carli, 5, of Sharon, Mass.

WHERE: Caribbean.

WHEN: A week in April.

WHY: “People told me, if you’re really not looking forward to having your kids stand in long lines at Disney World, try a Disney cruise,” Diana Gilson said. “Our accountant had done the Western Caribbean cruise about four times and loves it, so we did that one.”

EASY PREP: “Disney does a great job with sending you a DVD that has pictures of the ship, what to pack, what the scene is like,” Gilson said. “It really takes very little thought. The only challenging part is you must absolutely have a passport for every person traveling, so I got the kids’ passports very early.”

FUN FOR ALL: “This was our first cruise, and everyone said the staterooms were bigger than usual,” she said. “We had a double bed, two bunks that folded up, and two bathrooms.” They also sprung for a balcony, where they would watch the sunset and other boats pass at sea. “Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and Goofy are walking all over the ship, and the kids just love that. For adults there’s a spa, workout room, and track, and they could have alone time when they dropped the children off at clubs organized by ages. Gilson, a pediatrician who said she’s “crazier than most parents about safety,” gave the ship and activities her “absolute seal of approval” in that department.

Bill Gilson dances with Athenea the Dolphin

William Gilson dances with Athenea the Dolphin in Cozumel, Mexico

PORTS OF CALL: The ship departed from Port Canaveral, Fla., with a first stop in Key West. “They have an aquarium and a really cute butterfly garden,” Gilson said. On Grand Cayman island, all family members were thrilled by an optional submarine ride. “We took a 20-minute catamaran ride out to the middle of nowhere and then this huge white sub comes up. We went 103 feet down and we saw everything from barracuda to angel fish to a shipwreck in the clear, clear Caribbean water.” An opportunity in Cozumel, Mexico, to interact with dolphins at Chankanaab National Park was equally exciting. “You can kiss them, dance with them, and give a dolphin a belly rub.”

Will, Carli and mother Diana Gilson have a grand time at Castaway Cay

Will (left), mother Diana and Karli Gilson have a grand time at Castaway Cay

PRIVATE ISLAND: The final stop was Castaway Cay, Disney’s own Caribbean island. “They’ve got everything there. Places to eat and buy souvenirs. We got my daughter’s hair braided. There’s this little fort built 20 feet from the coast that children can swim out to and play in. Our kids spent most of the day in the water.” Everyone liked it so much that the Gilsons are considering the Disney Eastern Caribbean Cruise next year, she said. “It’s for people who totally want to spoil their kids.”

Christmas gifts from St. Lucia

June 2, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published  May 11, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: After 30 years together, this was one of Gene and Carla’s most romantic trips. That is too sweet!

WHO: Gene Hunt, 52, and Carla Ramos, 51, of North Andover, Mass.

WHERE: St. Lucia.

WHEN: 10 days in December and January.

WHY: “We’d never gone away as a couple for the holidays and this year we thought we’d be a little selfish, as our children are grown,” Ramos said. “Being away New Year’s was a highlight because you could be outside and enjoy it.”

NAME GAME: “We’ve traveled extensively but this was our first trip to the Caribbean,” Hunt said. “I just got out a map, and we starting naming the islands. St. Lucia just kind of resonated. We liked that it was formerly British and that Creole was spoken there, as we like languages. A lot of my information came from TripAdvisor.” As it turned out, most of their fellow tourists were British.

Gene Hunt and Carla Ramos, in Rodney Bay, St. LuciaMILESTONE INCLUDED: The couple, also celebrating the 30th anniversary of their meeting, stayed at the Rendezvous Resort in Castries, the capital. “We’d never done an all-inclusive trip, but we both really wanted to relax and not have to deal with anything. This was all-adult and geared toward couples,” Ramos said. “It was one of the most romantic trips we’ve had,” Hunt added.

Carla Ramos with Petit Piton peak in the backgroundACID AND AZURE: “The water was so beautiful – clean and clear and that color you see on a commercial,” Ramos said. They snorkeled at a marine park and Hunt took photos galore using a waterproof case for his point-and-shoot digital camera. An excursion through the resort took them to the island’s twin peaks, called the Pitons, and nearby Sulphur Springs, site of the world’s only drive-in volcano. “There are bubbles and all this gas escapes,” Ramos said. “It’s got a really horrible smell.” They stopped at Fond Doux Estate, a working cocoa, banana, and citrus plantation.

OUT AND ABOUT: The couple enjoyed the large marketplace at Castries, which was crowded with tourists. “It’s the big port of call for cruise lines,” Hunt said. They mingled with locals later in the week at the regular Friday night Jump Up street party in Gros Islet.

Carla Ramos, with Santa (who just waterskiied into shore), Rendezvous Resort, St. LuciaSPECIAL DELIVERY: As for Christmas in the Caribbean, “I can tell you it’s the only time Santa has visited me on water skis,” Ramos said. “In the afternoon they told everyone to go to the beach and sure enough he skied in and right onto the beach on his skis with gifts for everyone.” In the background were Christmas carols performed by a steel-drum band. “Around 10 we all went out and sat on the beach and watched fire eaters and performers doing the limbo under bars on fire,” Hunt said. “At midnight it seemed like every resort was shooting off fireworks. They kept trying to outdo each other.”

Nursing students’ “holiday” in Haiti

March 25, 2008

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published March 23, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

From Di’s eyes: I was so impressed by these young women, especially Keziah, who organized this trip and has given much of her time to helping others. I hope they all continue along this path of generosity.

WHO: Keziah Furth, 22, of Jamaica Plain, Mass., and 10 other nursing students from Northeastern University.

WHERE: Haiti.

WHEN: A week in December.

WHY: To volunteer at Hope for the Children of Haiti orphanage and Grace Health Center medical clinic.

Keziah Furth (center) with Milouse (left) and Edeline of Port-au-PrinceFARAWAY CO-OP: Furth learned about the orphanage from a fellow churchgoer who was on the board there. “I took two short trips and loved it, so from January to May 2007 I did my co-op there,” she said of the Northeastern work-study program. “The people are just so warm and so welcoming. They have absolutely nothing, but the tiny things they do have they want to share with you.”

MANY HANDS: Although the trip, which Furth led, wasn’t connected with the school, all the volunteers were nursing students, and all women. “We went through friends, family, churches, and hospitals to raise money and supplies,” Furth said. “We ended up with $4,000 more than we needed for ourselves, so we gave that to the clinic and orphanage.”

Julie Aleksa (left) with Monsanto Georges of Port-au-PrinceEYE OPENING: The women spent their first and last days at the orphanage, in an impoverished area of the capital, Port-au-Prince, and the rest of the week at the clinic, in rural Cazale. Most of the students had never been to a developing country; Haiti is the least developed in the hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world. “A lot of the girls were overwhelmed by the poverty and the trash and how different it is, but they handled it quite well,” said Furth, the only one in the group who could speak French, one of country’s official languages. “I was really impressed.”

NURSES IN CHARGE: At the clinic, headed up by an American nurse, the students rotated basic roles. “We checked blood pressure, did weigh-ins, well-baby and prenatal checkups, consults, and emergency rooms,” Furth said. “The girls had to learn some of the French Creole vocabulary, which they picked up insanely fast. They loved every minute of it. It was cool in particular because this clinic is nurse-run, without a doctor, so it was fun to see a nurse in charge and making all the decisions.” Malnutrition is a big problem in the area, as is lack of care. “People would leave their homes in the mountains and walk all night to get to the clinic in the morning.”

Amy Stachowski (right) teaching JeanineCAREER DAY: Back at the orphanage, they showed the older children what it was like to be a nurse. “We did basic CPR and nurse training. Some of the kids are going to finish high school soon, and we wanted to take the opportunity to introduce them to what nursing was like,” Furth said. “They loved it. You should have seen them with that blood pressure cuff. They went crazy. My girls really bonded with them over that.”

Keziah Furth (left) with Nehemie of Port-au-PrinceTO ALL A GOOD NIGHT: Later that day they hosted a Christmas party for the children. “They always get one group gift, so we brought gifts donated from our nursing class so every kid could have an individual gift. We had brought over 22 suitcases that all weighed over 50 pounds,” Furth said. “The kids put on a little pageant and decorated our team like we were Christmas trees. We’d filled stockings for each of the kids earlier, and an intern put one on each bed so they’d be there when they went to bed.”