A week in Barbados followed by a cruise to the Dutch Antilles
We arrived in Barbados early evening after a smooth Dreamliner flight across the Atlantic from London Gatwick. Just time to unpack at our base for the week, Turtle Beach, and get out to explore the beautiful beach and wonderful sunset.
A leisurely start to the day, chilled breakfast, a further exploration of the tropical surroundings and a sketch by the pool between a few refreshing swims. True unwinding with a walk along the beach being the peak of activity for the day.
The Caribbean has an effect on you - it's such an easy place to switch off from normal life. Lots of eating and drinking and some sketching on Maxwell Beach sitting on the soft white sands.
Before dinner we walked into St Lawrence Gap passing by the charismatic street bars, stopping at a little bay where I quickly sketched couple of scenes as the sun set.
The sea at the south of the island is warm but lively - too rough to explore paddle boarding but great to mess around in the waves as they crash along the sandy beach.
More beach sketching today experimenting with watercolour (only a light pencil base this time) and before dinner a pen drawing of the of pretty courtyard adjacent to the hotel reception.
We sat on the beach today - a wonderful place to read with the sound of the waves as a soothing backdrop supplemented by several refreshing rum punches.
In the afternoon, I took my sketchbook and sat in a shaded courtyard facing the covered two storey dining area that forms a dramatic part of the entrance experience into the hotel.
It had been recommended to visit Oistins fishing village a few miles to the south, so we decided to walk there in the early evening as the heat of the day was cooling.
It was great to see the fish market and a place that felt much more authentic than the beautiful manicured tourist areas. I was fascinated by the colours of the beach huts and quickly put a watercolour impression into my sketch diary.
We booked a catamaran trip on the 'Stiletto' along the stunning west coast starting from the capital Bridgetown. We first stopped to snorkel at Carlisle Bay - there were a few turtles (that I unfortunately missed) and sting rays. The sea life around a sunken wreck was spectacular and was made so visible due to the clear waters.
We then continued north as far as Sandy Lane where we anchored and had a delicious lunch on board and could swim to the nearby beach - I used the opportunity to sketch in the sun with a glass of wine before we returned to Bridgetown later in the afternoon. A wonderful experience on a great boat with friendly people.
A leisurely final full day in Barbados of chilling, sketching the surroundings and another walk into The Gap to experience early Saturday night in this lively part of the island.
All packed and ready for the second week - a cruise to the Dutch Caribbean stopping at St Lucia and Grenada. One final beach watercolour was just possible before a taxi picked us up and took us to the Bridgetown cruise port. After checking in and boarding our home for the week, the Marella Discovery, we walked back for around Barbados’s capital. Being a Sunday the streets were pretty deserted but I stopped and sketched one of the more interesting historic buildings along St Alfred Street.
Then back on board for a quick exploration of the ship before the evening departure and looking forward to adventures ahead.
Monday - St Lucia
We woke up early watching St Lucia gradually emerging on the horizon. At this point I realised we were a little unprepared for the destination. No excursions booked and with no internet available, we decided to walk into the capital Castries and managed to get internet coverage by standing outside a closed KFC! We did manage to quickly figure out how the island public transport system worked and where we could get a minibus to Pigeon Island nature reserve - a beautiful area I had visited many years ago.
We boarded a crowded minibus with the locals and half an hour later were dropped off at Gros Islet followed by a walk to the peninsula. The islet is formed of two peaks and contains numerous forts which were used by the British to spy on French shipping from neighbouring Martinique.
After walking around the island, we had a delicious lunch in one of my favourite-ever cafes (Jambe de bois) sat close by to a couple of perfect small beaches.
We walked back along the charming coastline to Gros Islet to catch our bus back to the capital and the ship.
Tuesday - Grenada
We arrived early the next morning in Georgetown and had a quick breakfast in preparation for our first cycle tour of the vacation - we had really enjoyed these excursion on our previous cruise, being a really great way to see the island and meet new people.
We started passing along the picturesque harbourside of the capital continuing into the gentle hillside passing small villages and then turning towards the coast and our beach stop - the stunning Grand Anse beach - coincidentally right next door to the hotel I had stayed at on a family holiday many years before.
After a rum punch, a swim and a sketch, we returned on a shorter (and more importantly flatter!) route along the coast to the ship for an early departure to Bonaire situated close to Venezuela.
Wednesday - Bonaire
After a long sailing, we arrived at Kralendijk early in the morning - the first of the ABC islands on our itinerary. After a coffee on shore, we returned to the ship to join our second cycle excursion.
We cycled along long straight roads surrounding the airport before reaching our very cool beach stop at Sorobon, located on the eastern side of the island near Lac Bay. An offshore reef protects the bay on which this beautiful beach sits and it keeps the shallow waters calm for swimming and a provides a perfect location for wind surfing.
After a couple of hours chilling in one of the beachside bars, part of which I spent sketching, we continued the cycle ride back to the port. The character of island (and indeed all of the ABC islands) is very different to Windward Islands both in terms of the people and landscape - in some ways much more European.
Due to a late sailing, we returned to the waterfront at the capital, exploring the cute (and very Dutch) streets lined with charming buildings - a perfect opportunity to sit down and chill as I sketched in the warm evening sun.
Thursday - Aruba
A short hop away overnight took us to Aruba, the furtherest west we would travel on this trip. We docked at the capital Oranjestad and even from the ship it was clear this was a more developed island - traditional brightly coloured dutch facades sat alongside recent contemporary architecture.
We had managed to arrange a third and final cycle excursion for Aruba, starting one again from the ship before traveling north along residential roads until we reached the landmark of this part of the island - the California Lighthouse sat on a small hillside.
After a brief stop (and an even briefer sketch) we continued down the west coast through the resorts built along the coastline - feeling more Miami than Caribbean in character.
We stopped at renowned Eagle Beach for an hour - the beach itself is stunning and we enjoyed some delicious snacks and drinks at a beach bar before a quick dip in the sea. Sketching wasn't the priority here - I'd find something when we got back to the capital.
After the sad farewell to our great Marella cycle crew, we took a break back in the cabin - giving me the chance to draw the wonderful view of the capital from the balcony before a final wander around Oranjestad's bars, cafes and shops.
Friday - Curacao
If Aruba was a little too commercialised and generic, Curacao.our final port of call, couldn't be more different.
No excursion booked this time, we left the ship and strolled into Willemstad across the amazing historic Queen Emma pontoon bridge. it is hinged on one side of the wide river and has engines and a control room on the other that folds the structure back to the western shoreside to allow ships to pass.
The eastern shore is lined with a picturesque series of colourful dutch gable terraces that are a distinct landmark of the island. We wandered around the colourful streets (everthing here is painted in delicious vibrant colours!) stopping for a coffee and a quick sketch. The people here were so friendly and I had a few pictures taken of my simple sketch by the bar staff.
We then ventured east along the coast passed cute historic buildings - there were so many things that could be sketched here...if you had a month!
We returned to the town centre and chose a restaurant for lunch with a view of the wonderful waterfront architecture - a final scribble over a spot of lunch and a beer.
Finally before returning to the ship, we stopped at a bar for a Curacao liqueur - it had to be done!
A fascinating place!
Saturday - at sea
Saturday was spent at sea on our return to Barbados. Birds followed the ship as we sped eastwards giving us the opportunity to try out some of the facilities on board.
The final evening aboard had a party spirit and gave us time to thank so many of the staff that had been so friendly and helpful.
The ship docked at the busy Barbados port the next morning before our long flight home to London.