JOURNAL : May 2005
8 May 2005 :
After less than two hours from leaving New York, the plane descended across the bright blue-green sea for a smooth landing onto the island of Bermuda.
It had been a delayed take-off out of JFK, as the passenger warning lights (for seat belts and no smoking) werent working, and the pilot had to get agreement that the flight could go ahead without them. This was a new one on me on this trip, most of the delays Ive encountered with the flights have been due to doors not shutting properly.
The warm temperature hit me as I walked down the steps off the plane. I was definitely overdressed following my early start from the much colder NYC.
As we entered the Arrivals Lounge, a Calypso singer/guitarist greeted us with various welcoming songs, though his rendition of Stand by Me didnt attract any takers as the queuing had to be done at the other end of the room.
Passengers were split into two queues for processing through Immigration one for residents and one for visitors. Up on the wall, a large portrait of Her Majesty the Queen looked down on the activities. My passport was stamped, allowing me to stay in Bermuda for up to 21 days, so long as I didnt engage in gainful occupation. What a shame
Ill just have to spend the time relaxing.
Hamilton is the capital city of Bermuda, and is situated in the centre of the island. But the accommodation I booked by e-mail is at the north-east corner of the island, in the historic town of St.George. The town, with its quaint houses and historic fortifications, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. As I arrived by taxi, I also noticed that the town was twinned with Lyme Regis in Dorset. (I imagine that the members of the town twinning association dont find it too hard to come up with good reasons to make regular trips here).
The taxi negotiated the narrow alleys, and dropped me off at Aunt Neas Inn, where I would be staying for the next 6 nights.
Perfect. Its a lovely old house well kept, and very welcoming. And I managed to end up with a less than half-price deal, as one of the co-owners had made a round the world trip several years ago, and appreciated that my budget would be a bit tight at this stage of the journey. I was checked in (by a lady named Olympia), and after meeting the cats and the resident corgi (called Skye), I decided to go for a stroll.
St.George (which also appears to be called St.Georges or St.Georges it seemed that no-one stuck to one spelling) isnt a large town. It has one main street, Duke of York Street, and a Square down by the harbour, but otherwise its a maze of small lanes and alleys.
At one corner of the Kings Square is the White Horse Tavern where I stopped for a bite to eat. It has a deck with seats and tables at the edge of the water, ideally situated for feeding the hundreds of fish visible in the water with my leftovers. There was a great atmosphere. Well there was until I heard Westlife starting to be played through the speakers. (At least it wasn't Barry Manilow crooning his 'Bermuda Triangle').
I continued my walk along Barrack Hill, Cut Road, and Floral Lane, right up to the end of the coast, to the old stone and concrete remains of the Alexandra Battery. Theres not much to see of the Battery itself, as its all blocked up and deserted, but you do get an excellent view out to the ocean.
I love it here. And Ive only been in Bermuda for a few hours. Tomorrow, I will venture into Hamilton. In the meantime, having bought a few provisions at the local supermarket, Ive decided to settle in for the rest of the day.
9 May 2005 :
First task of the day was to buy a travel ticket, so I went down to the Visitor Service Bureau by the harbour. The local transport is operated by the Bermudian Government, and the 1-day, 3-day, 4-day or 7-day transportation tickets cover both buses and ferries. A very simple arrangement giving unlimited travel, meaning I can really explore the island and not have to worry about whether Im carrying the exact change. So, with a 4-day pass in hand, I climbed aboard the next bus heading for Hamilton, which for most of the day run every 15 minutes.
Although bikes and mopeds are available to hire, its not possible to rent a car. Only residents are allowed to drive cars on the island, which is why you wont find any AVIS, Hertz or Dollar offices anywhere. The speed limit throughout the island is 20mph (35kph), and driving is on the left. The road signs are the same as those found in the UK, so a pleasant change from the yellow ones Ive got used to in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada.
In fact, its all starting to feel a bit like home. After so long away from the UK, there are probably few places better to help me re-adjust.
One thing that is different is the currency. No pounds and pence here. The local currency is the Bermudian Dollar. Fortunately, it is worth exactly the same as an American Dollar, so the notes and coins are fully interchangeable between the two currencies. Good job too, as I still had quite a few quarters and dimes left over.
On the way into Hamilton, I couldnt help but notice the colour of the houses, most of which had white-painted slate or brick roofs. The walls are a different matter altogether. Im sure you can find any colour under the sun here, whether pastel or something much brighter. In fact, I wouldnt be at all surprised if Bermuda was the Research and Development site for Dulux.
The bus stops are colourful too, marked by painted poles at the side of the road. Theyre pink for inbound to Hamilton, and blue for outbound from Hamilton. So I dont imagine I will get lost at all while Im here.
Once into Hamilton, I walked along Church Street, past the City Hall, and spent a bit of time looking round the Cathedral. Built between 1885 and 1894, it replaced an earlier church that had been destroyed by fire. The architect was from Edinburgh, and designed it using the local Bermuda sandstone.
I then made my way down to Front Street, which runs parallel to the waters edge. I expect that there is a beautiful harbour, but I couldnt see much of it yet as the view across the water was totally blocked by two Celebrity Cruises ships that were in port.
I managed to find my way along to the Ferry Terminal, which was just beyond the famous Bird Cage where police officers take turns to help maintain the traffic flow.
The 1pm ferry took me as far as the Royal Naval Dockyard. After a break of about half an hour, I then caught the 2pm fast ferry which took me all the way back round to St.George. By this time, the sky had darkened and there was a bit of rain, and the journey back was quite choppy. But it was great to be out on the water, and in the fresh air. The name of the fast ferry was Tempest which seemed very apt.
In the evening, many people were down in St.Georges harbour to welcome Amistad into port.
It is a replica of the 1839 Spanish slave ship made famous by Joseph Cinqué who led a revolt in the Caribbean
and which eventually resulted with the only instance in history where African blacks, seized by slave dealers, won their freedom and returned home. (Quote from local TV report).
10 May 2005 :
I went on a different bus route into Hamilton today, which took me round the Harrington Sound, and along some of the southern roads of the island. Once into the city, I had a good look round the shops, then visited the Library for a bit of peace while I wrote out a few postcards.
It was then back to the Ferry terminal, to catch the 1pm across to Royal Naval Dockyard, before again catching the 2pm to St.George. The first ferry was very crowded today the reason was that another Celebrity Cruises cruise ship had arrived in Bermuda, but there was no room for it in Hamilton so it had to be berthed at the Dockyard. Lots of people, but I didnt spot any celebrities.
When I arrived back at St.George (after another very bumpy ride on the fast ferry), I was surprised to see two further cruise ships. These were from NCL the Norwegian Crown and the Norwegian Majesty. Both ships dwarfed the harbour, the buildings and the other boats.
Clearly, Bermuda is a popular venue for the cruising crowd.
11 May 2005 :
The warm and sunny weather had returned. Great.
Today, I took the ferry from St.George directly to the Dockyard. As the journey wasnt rough, I was able to sit out on top again in the fresh air. The boat was full of American cruise passengers, many of whom were extremely loud (their outfits, as well as their voices). Unlike Iraq or Grenada though, this was a friendly invasion.
Theres a lot to see at the Dockyard. Closed as a military facility in 1951, its now home to museums, restaurants, a theatre, and craft markets. A far cry from the original purpose of making Bermuda the Gibraltar of the West. It was built with slave and convict labour in the early 1800s, and covers about seventy-five acres, of which a fair portion has now been renovated after falling into disrepair.
I popped into Beethovens for some lunch. The pub/restaurant was themed after the celluloid dog, rather than the composer! At least the rock fish was good.
After spending a bit of time watching the skilful glassblowers, and after having a look at some of the crafts for sale, I walked across to the Maritime Museum. This is the largest part of the Dockyard experience, and I had good intentions of spending a couple of hours looking right round the place.
However, within 10 minutes, I had been distracted by the signs (and the distant noises) of Dolphin Quest.
Simply amazing. I sat and watched the dolphins for ages, and I couldve sat there all day. There are 10 bottlenose dolphins at the facility, all of which were born in captivity. The centre itself is dedicated to the public education and conservation of marine mammals, rather than being a traditional dolphin show. The large pools are linked to the ocean, and the public has the chance to interact directly with the dolphins (on payment of a fee).
I did eventually manage to tear myself away, but only after booking myself onto an Encounter for tomorrow morning.
I continued my tour round the Maritime Museum, and was surprised to see sheep grazing on top of the battlements.
The sheep, and now I, had great views of the island and of the ocean.
I had a look at a lot of the exhibits, spread out in numerous buildings, but as I was now due to make a return visit, I decided that I would finish the rest of the tour tomorrow.
12 May 2005 :
My Dolphin Encounter was booked for 10.15, so I had to get on an early bus to Hamilton, and then a second bus for the remaining journey up to the Dockyard. The whole bus journey took about an hour and a half. I arrived at 8.45, but nothing opened until 9.30 I couldnt even get a coffee. I didnt mind though as I was too excited about what was to follow.
Despite the fact that thousands of tourists were in the island, I was the only person booked onto the 10.15 session, meaning I would get a truly one-on-one experience. After getting kitted up in a wetsuit, and after a brief chat from the supervisor Carlene to confirm what I should and shouldnt do when I was with the dolphins, we headed for the pools.
Initially, we sat at the waters edge, just so that the dolphins could get used to me. Fortunately, the sun had been up for some time, so the water wasnt too cold. There were three dolphins in my pool a mother and two children. I watched in awe as each of the dolphins came over to meet me. Under instruction, I was able to touch the skin, on both the dorsal (top) and ventral (belly) sides
Within a few minutes, one of the dolphins was half-way out of the water to shake hands/flippers. Very pleased to meet you.
After a while, I was allowed to get into the water. Being careful not to make sudden movements, I swam close to Carlene. Easier said than done at times, as I wasnt used to swimming with a life jacket on. The mask was very useful, especially when I could watch the dolphins dart about beneath me.
The dolphins do have a few commands to follow, and can perform tricks, but this encounter was more about the close contact and appreciation of how wonderful these creatures are. Halfway through the session, we got out of the water in order to give the dolphins some free time. After about 10 minutes, we returned to the water, and again I spent time swimming around.
This has been one of the highlights of my trip. It certainly more than lived up to my expectations, and I left the pool on a real high. And I sensed that the dolphins enjoyed themselves too. So long, and thanks for all the fish.
CLICK HERE for more info on Dolphin Quest (www.dolphinquest.org)
Once I dried off and changed, and once I could force myself to leave the Dolphin Quest area, I continued on the tour round the Maritime Museum. One of the most impressive parts is the Commissioners House, which sits on the highest part of the grounds.
Inside, various displays provide an interesting background into the history of Bermuda, including one on the slave trade. Other exhibits help to explain the military importance of Bermuda, not only for Britain, but also for the USA and Canada.
My next stop required another bus journey, back along the west end of the island. Through Somerset Village, across the Somerset Bridge (the smallest drawbridge in the world, only wide enough to let through the mast of a sailboat), through the parishes of Sandys and Southampton, and on until I reached Gibbs Hill.
The lighthouse was built in 1846, is made of cast iron, and has 185 steps to reach the top.
I climbed the steps, as I was told the lighthouse offered the best views of the island. So I was very disappointed once I had reached the light to find that the observation platform wasnt fully accessible due to current renovations. I could see partially to the south, but it just wasnt possible to see all around.
One bus ride later and I was back in Hamilton. Decided I would take a look in at the City Hall not because I wanted to find out more about the local government, but because the building also houses the Bermuda National Gallery. There are a lot of European paintings throughout the gallery, some sculptures, and some African artefacts, but I found the most interesting part to be the Ordinary Lives exhibition by local artist Sharon Wilson.
CLICK HERE for more info on the Bermuda National Gallery (www.bng.bm)
I also took the opportunity to look at the Photographic Exhibition housed on the 2nd floor. I particularly liked the travel photos, and I took away a few ideas for future snapshots Im going to try and take myself.
What I needed now was a drink so where better to finish my day out than the Swizzle Inn on the way back to St.George. It was busy on the bus, as it was now school closing time I assume the pupils were the Hamilton Academicals?
Famous for its Rum Swizzle cocktail, as well as its Swagger Out shop, it was a great place to reflect on a great day.
13 May 2005 (Friday the 13th) :
As my 4-day transportation pass had run out yesterday, today was an ideal opportunity for me to explore the local area around St.George. First stop was the Post Office to send off the very last postcards from this trip.
I headed past the Unfinished Church, north towards Tobacco Bay. As I then approached Gates Bay and Fort St.Catherine, I encountered a cockerel and some chickens on the golf course. No birdie puns here.
Fort St.Catherine holds a commanding position at the north-east corner of Bermuda. The self-guided tour is routed through various tunnels and down into dimly-lit cellar rooms all a bit eerie, especially when you dont know if anyone else is down there. This was another place Ive visited that outlines the early history of Bermuda, as well as the history specific to the Fort itself.
And its possible to get out onto the boundary walls, perched high above the waves rolling across the rocks below.
I made my way back to the town at midday, just as the Norwegian Majesty cruise ship was sailing out of the harbour. To emphasise the scale of everything, here is a before and after shot.
I made a return visit to the White Horse Tavern for a spot of lunch and, hot on the heels of my Rum Swizzle tasting yesterday, my first taste of another local cocktail a Dark & Stormy, which is a mix of rum and ginger beer. Not bad at all. And at least the weather wasnt dark and stormy today.
In the afternoon, I visited St.Peters Church in the centre of St.George.
Pristine white and grey paintwork on the outside provided a strong contrast to the dark wooden pews and pillars inside. Very peaceful.
I spent the rest of the day relaxing, and (as Ive done increasingly over the past week or so) reflecting on all the places Ive been fortunate to visit. I cant believe Ive got just one day left.
14 May 2005
My last day had finally arrived. Mixed feelings as I'm sad that the adventure is coming to an end, but glad that I'll soon be reunited with my family and friends back in the UK.
Checked out of Aunt Nea's Inn but fortunately I was able to leave my luggage there - giving me the freedom to make one last trip into Hamilton without having to drag my bag around.
Had a final mooch around, before settling down at the 'Beach' pub on Front Street to watch Rangers beat Motherwell 4:1.
Later that afternoon I was back at St.George to pick up my bag, and then took a final taxi across to the airport. From that point onwards, everything was straightforward - checked in and relaxed in the airport lounge to wait for my final take-off.
Looking forward to a comfortable flight and a good night's sleep on the flatbed, ready for my arrival at Gatwick in the morning...
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014