December 4-11, 1994
Finding myself late in the year, with a weeks vacation that had to be used up, and a desire to bike in a warm environment, I booked a weeklong Caribbean Cruise. I knew that several bicycle touring groups offered tours using cruiseships for interisland transportation, so I figured I could bring my bike along too. My travel agent called Carnival Lines who confirmed that it would be OK to bring a bike on board.
I borrowed a shipping case from my cycling club and loaded it with the bike and supporting gear. Delta Airlines charged $50 one way to transport the bike. I had no problem rolling the case through the airports in Detroit and San Juan and Carnival delivered the case from the airport to my "stateroom". The bike case ended up under my bunk and after the first night my bike (Pegasus) spent its nights in an adjoining empty cabin. (There are lots of places to keep a bike on board).
The first Port-of-Call was St. Thomas. I turned some heads as I carried Pegasus through the ships lobby and down the gangplank. I rode out of the dock area and stopped at the first car rental agency to get a good island map. On the road I quickly adapted to the left side traffic and started to explore the island. St. Thomas is very hilly and I walked up a lot of grades to save my legs for the next 5 days of cycling. The top of those hills often gave a vista view of the island's many bays and inlets as well as the other nearby islands. Imagine leaving cold damp Michigan and 2 days later finding yourself biking through a lush warm tropical island paradise. As I passed Red Hook, I reflected on the idea of taking the 20 minute ferry ride to St. Johns to explore this more remote island. Magens Bay, renowned as one of the 10 most beautiful beaches in the world, was a must stop as well as Drakes Seat overlooking the Bay. The road back to Charlotte Amale presented a great harbor view. I was careful as I biked through the busy shopping area on the way back to the ship.
Cycling on the islands was very stimulating. The water views, sunshine, native culture and a smorgasbord of new sights just awakened the senses. The natives on the hillier islands did not bike at all and this emphasized my unique endeavor. Everywhere, this brightly clad, helmeted, 50 year old white man on wheels, turned heads. The road surfaces were adequate and I can only remember one time when a car passed too close. In general I felt safer than when facing some of the pickup trucks on my home roads.
The cruiseship Festivale was a terrific base for days of cycling. I savored sit down gourmet suppers with a tableful of fellow island explorers as we shared our adventures. There were the typical cruise amenities of gambling, floor shows, dancing, lounging by the pool, bingo, movies, the exercise room and all the other activities the Cruise Director had planned. I was one of the few who went down for a gourmet breakfast each morning so I could overfuel for a day of cycling. I packed a lunch (that extra bagel and lox), though I could have purchased food along the way, or on some days returned to the ship for a served meal. St. Maarten was the second stop. I virtually cycled around the whole Island, with stops at 2 nude beaches as well as the towns of Phillipsburg, Grand Case and Marigot. It is a beautiful Island which is shared by both the Dutch and the French.
Dominica is an Island that is infrequently visited. The Festivale is the only cruiseship that stops there and the airports cannot handle large jets. It was a delight to cycle in this unspoiled environment. The English speaking natives were very friendly and I enjoyed being invited into a meager home in the town of St. Joseph, by a dreglocked native who was as interested in me as I was in him. This encounter shows the potential of being on a bike, close to the people, as I cycled bye. I wished I had the three days I would have needed to circumnavigate this lush island.
Barbados is a frequent stop on the cruise circuit, but most sailing tourists only get to sample the populated area near the capital of Bridgetown. I biked a 70 mile route that took me to the far reaches of the island from the busy South and West coasts to Animal Flower Cave at the Northern tip and then to the village of Bathsheba, on a barren 3 mile long beachfront road, on the East Coast. I pushed my bike up some steep hills to look out over the rugged coastline from St. Johns Parish, but then it was a long gradual 10 mile downhill back to the ship.
Martinique was the last island the Festivale visited. After being stopped by a limited access highway, I backtracked to town and caught a ferry to the Southern wing of the Island. After visiting the popular Pnte du Bout beach area, I cycled along the coast but found myself on some of the most challenging hills of the trip. I walked my bike up some steep hills and then rocketed down the other sides for visits to the small beach communities of Anse a l'Ane, Grande Anse, Petite Anse and then stopped biking in the village of Le Diamant. I found this French speaking island was delightful for these quaint topless beachfront communities. It would be impossible to bike back to the ship from this remote spot, so I resorted to hitchhiking back to the city of Fort de France. The third truck responded to my hand painted sign and outstretched thumb and gave me a 35 minute ride back to the ship, with Pegasus nestled safely in the back. This was another island that deserved more exploration.
The last day was spent at sea. Mentally I would have preferred stopping at another island but physically I had been challenged. Though I had "granny gears" on my bike my Midwest training had not adequately prepared me to bike all of the 200 hilly miles I traversed. I know that I would have been able to bike the kinks out, on another island, and I definitely could have cycled on some of the really flat ones like Aruba or Bonaire. An earlier arrival or later departure in San Juan would have given me a chance to cycle on Puerto Rico.
I dreamed of having the time to go to the Caribbean for a winter long bike trip. It is possible to take local ferry boats from island to island and then stay in inexpensive boarding houses or camp along the way. After all, I didn't have the time to completely explore the islands I had visited and had to bypass St. Barts, St. Kitts, Antigua, St. Lucia, Grenada, Tabago _ _ _ _.
Regards, David L. Herdegen