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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Why Leave the Pier?

After all, it can be so enticing to stay. Stores galore. Cheap and fun places to eat and drink. Maybe even a swimming pool.

So, it begs the question: why bother to venture beyond those figurative—and sometimes literal—guarded walls?

Because this is what you’d miss:

That’s entertainment. A few blocks from the pier in a gazebo in Falmouth, Jamaica, women swirl and twirl their colorful skirts and kick up their feet to a drum’s beat.

Downtown Falmouth brings dancing and music to venturesome visitors
Hang a right outside the terminal in Cozumel to visit a new shopping plaza and watch costumed men swinging upside down from a high pole, to the melancholy sounds of a pipe. Keep an eye out for the man wandering around with a huge snake wrapped around him like a poncho. 

What awaits wanderers from the Cozumel pier
The street scene. At ports like Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and Roseau, Dominica, the lunch hours fill the streets with giddy groups of kids in their school uniforms. In Coxen Hole, Roatan, local workers grab grub from steaming grills fashioned out of barrels. All manner of wares is sold along the sidewalk from pickup trucks in Castries, St. Lucia—including women’s lingerie. And in any of these ports, you might see mothers straddling their babes in one arm while shielding them with an umbrella against the blazing Caribbean sun with the other.

Bougainvillea and breadfruit. The Caribbean isles are awash in flowers and fruit, and it can be fun to get to know them. Bougainvillea in pink and fuchsia is everywhere. You might spy the bright Golden Trumpet, the showy hibiscus, a red bottlebrush or two and oh, so many kinds of palms! 

There's no mistaking the Golden Trumpet all over the Caribbean
Check out the mangos hanging like Christmas ornaments off the sidewalk on the trek from Crown Bay to St. Amalie. Or the breadfruit towering above the hair salon in downtown Falmouth. Bananas clumped and climbing from a tree in Amber Cove, Dominican Republic.

Breadfruit towers above the street in  Falmouth
Then there are the fruit and veggie markets—in downtown Roseau, and the floating market in Willemstad, Cura├žao, across the pontoon bridge in the old part of town. And the markets where the fruits of the sea are cleaned in the open air—destined for a plate near you. There’s a big one on the walk from the pier to Bridgetown, Barbados, where hair-netted women and hatchet-wielding men silently set about their work.

There’s a much smaller market right on the beach in George Town, Grand Cayman, a few blocks from your ship, where the array of the day’s catch is spread out on a table like souvenirs.
Can't get any fresher than this in George Town, Grand Cayman
What matters cast in bronze. History and culture come together in the statues that commemorate key events for the islands, like the conch blower of Freedom in Frederiksted, St. Croix and The Three Queens outside Blackbeard’s Castle in Charlotte Amalie. Then there’s Anne Frank on her pedestal in Oranjestad’s Wilhelmina Park, reminding us of Aruba’s Dutch heritage and of values that resonate around the world.

Shop like a local. Hit a busy side street and browse the shops the locals do—the supermarkets, clothing and hardware stores, for a feel for the real island life.

Culture, cuisine and wi-fi at the library. In Roseau, the library is just a few blocks from the pier and a window to the world of Dominica—with the added treat of free wi-fi. On a recent visit, there were posters displaying local birds and recipes of traditional Christmas foods.

Then, when you’ve drunk all this in, top off your Caribbean cultural immersion with one, two—or a bucketful—of made-right-here brewski.  

End your day by drinking like a local