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Great (Caribbean) Expectations

by Douglas Terhune

Caribbean IslandPink stucco buildings. Majestic palm trees. Shimmering turquoise waters. Unlimited sunshine. If you have ever seen a picture of a Caribbean Island and those thoughts did not get processed, than you'll never see that picture in a brochure promoting tourism for the Caribbean.

I do not believe that (untouched) pictures lie. What you see is what you will experience when you see the location or subject of a photo - providing of course you look through a photo lens and crop out 80% of what surrounds the photo.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the Caribbean Islands. However, in my decades of travels there, I tend to add the other 80% that is missing from the inviting pictures we see in these colorful brochures that the airlines and cruise lines produce.

A Caribbean Island is very picturesque as seen from the railing of a cruise ship. The waters leading up to the shore, the white sandy beaches and the colorful back drop of the island and blue skies behind it all add up to a great picture. In fact, pictures can not add the warm tropical breezes nor take into consideration the possible special person you are sharing this moment with - so many pictures of Caribbean Islands do them injustice:

Ship Tip: Pictures cannot tell the whole story of an island.

Years ago when disposable wide angle lens cameras were introduced, I was excited to be able to capture more of what I was seeing. More beach, more palm trees, more water, more everything; but these lenses still only captured a small percentage of the real story.

I have shared my countless photographs and photo albums with my friends for years and have been responsible for promoting the sheer beauty of the Caribbean on numerous occasions. On a recent cruise with three of my best buddies (two of whom had never been to the Caribbean), it occurred to me that I never showed them pictures of goats walking the streets, old rusty cars permanently parked in the front yards, dry and arid soil, tin roof houses, etc. Was it because I didn't take pictures of these behind-the-scenes scenarios?

Ship Tip: Caribbean Islands are poverty stricken compared to our standards.

From a hundred yards away, I'm a pretty good-looking guy. But up close, that is not necessarily the case. When my friends and I landed in Philipsburg on St. Maarten, I think they were impressed. The downtown is colorful and alive and the waters are some of the best in the world. What really surprised them was the amount of garbage and poor living conditions we passed enroute to the French side of the island. Being up close and personal with the island gave everything a different tone.

Ship tip: Living conditions for many inhabitants of the Caribbean are not what you would expect.

Nature is as much as anyone to blame for the wear and tear on an island. Between a constant pounding sun, extreme dry air or 110% humidity, gale force winds and hurricanes, maintaining attractive landscapes and buildings becomes a challenge. That is why any Caribbean resort employs an army of hourly maintenance personnel.

Ship Tip: Maintaining beauty on an island is a full time job.

Add to that the fact that landfills are a no-no on an island because of the water table and you'll soon realize that getting rid of an old car becomes a major problem. Converting them to playgrounds on your front yard for your kids is a much more reasonable option.


Ship Tip: Old rusty cars provide entertainment for the kids!

I remember a trip to Aruba back in the early 80s. We stayed at a nice resort and I recall my shock when we saw goats roaming the streets. I could not figure out how they got away from their farm and that their owner was not out looking for them. But this is a way of life on an island. I have also witnessed chickens, dogs and donkeys walking the streets - it's just a different world!

Ship Tip: Don't be surprised at all the 'wildlife' on the streets!

Another thing that can detract from a Caribbean island's beauty is the number of pushy street vendors. I cannot begin to tell you how many people visiting Jamaica say that they are sooooooooooo alarmed by the wet blanket of locals clamoring at you for the all-mighty American dollar.

Poverty and being pushy is a way of life on these islands. We are the guests and must accept this - either that or stay on the ship. I believe the reason why the first time Caribbean cruisers are offended by this is because no one forewarned them. So prepare for it mentally, put on a blank face, and if you land upon an island with non-pushy locals, be happy!

Ship Tip: Be prepared for pushy vendors on all islands.

The intent of this column is to merely prepare the first time traveler to the Caribbean for what they may see when they look beyond the pictures. Weather conditions, economic status and standards of living may not be what you are expecting, and, while you will find those picturesque places, you may also be given a healthy dose of the unpleasant side.


Doug TerhuneDoug Terhune is quite the experienced solo cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for the SeaLetter. His monthly Ship Tips columns are very popular with our readers.

Doug's special interest is interviewing various officers on his cruises, including interviews with the Tropicale's head chef, the Inspiration's Chief Engineer, and the Sensation's Captain. To find all of Doug's SeaLetter columns and cruise reviews, use the SeaLetter Search Engine entering "Douglas Terhune" as your search phrase.

Doug can be reached at: Doug@sealetter.com.

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