All posts by richardpieper


Aruba is officially known as the Country of Aruba but is captured within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It sits in the south Caribbean about 29 km north of Venezuela and 80 km northwest of Curaçao.

The first people to settle on Aruba were the Arawak Caquetío, who arrived around 850 to 1000 AD. The Spanish arrived in the 16th century enslaving the Caquetío for use in their other colonies. But the Dutch seized Aruba during the Thirty Years War.

Unlike the Spanish the Dutch had a relatively hands-off approach to colonialism and used the island to raise livestock, a job they delegated to the Caquetío already living there. This allowed the native Arawak culture to survive through the colonial era and leading to a hybrid culture with Spanish, Dutch, and Arawak characteristics.

The first thing that really needs to be known is that there is no ‘bad’ time to visit Aruba as it sits outside of the hurricane belt and is protected from the major storms. The island itself is relatively flat with the highest point on the island being Jamanota Hill with a massive elevation of 189 meters. The Southside of the island is typically for swimming and the North side of the island is for scenic views.

Our entry was into the capital city of Oranjestad named after ‘Huis van Oranje’ (Orange House), the name of the Dutch Royal Family in 1824 during the Dutch colonisation.

The town features some Dutch Colonial architecture but has mostly been Americanised with the usual suspect chain junk food stores ubiquitous. Oranjestad is most famous for its historical landmarks, which have been carefully restored to give visitors a sense of what the city looked like during its colonial-era past. 

Our usual plan is to check out the town and get all of our tourist photos out of the way before hitting the other things (the problem of being a slave to this blog). But this time we did it a bit differently. Hooking up with Patrick and Anna (from dinner and Cartagena fame) we hopped in a cab and headed straight to the beach.

Now as Australians we usually are greatly disappointed by overseas beaches as they seldom even come close to what we are used to. But Aruba is an exception. These beaches have the fine white sand, long stretches and even have some of the beach umbrella amenities that we generally don’t have. Yes they are for hire or are part of a resort, but there is so much beach that it really doesn’t matter as there is plenty of room for everyone.

Along the beaches are a steady stream of resorts and hotels that (typically) offer all-inclusive drink packages. This meant for us blow-ins buying a beer in the heat was not as easy as you would have thought. But being the dedicated and persistent souls that we are, we were able to find a venue that could sate our needs.

Cold local beers and cocktails, in a nice venue, right on the sand were not entirely terrible. As the timing would have it, after our first round the 5pm bell rang for happy hour making every subsequent drink two-for-one. So our cocktails and beers continued as we watched a relatively impressive sunset over the Aruban sand and sea.

Fort Zoutman is the oldest building on the island, originally built in 1798 by African slaves. It is regarded by UNESCO as a ‘Place of Memory of the Slave Trade Route in the Latin Caribbean’. The Willem III Tower was added in 1868 and the whole place was restored and re-opened in 1983 as the Historical Museum of Aruba.

Having taxied to the beach we had wandered our way back to town and the ship (admittedly pausing briefly). At this point, we did the tourist shopping run and looked around the area. As we knew we would be coming back (in about 2 weeks) we didn’t exactly bust a boiler to see everything, leaving some things for our next visit.

A year in the life of the Jill and Richard

So when we started this leg of the journey, we set off from Brisbane on the 6th of December 2022. We have now ticked over a full year away and it seems like a good time to reflect on what we have done in this time away.

To start with, lets look at where we slept during those 365 days:

We were lucky enough to be able to stay with family and friends for a bit over a month of the time away, while two months were spent on cruise ships of various types. There were 83 hotels or hostels that housed us for 253 days. The remainder was spent in typically uncomfortable trains or on overnight flights.

In moving about to see stuff we travelled around on planes, trains and automobiles. Ignoring the little commute stuff around town we travelled enough by plane to almost circle the earth 3 times, we sat on trains enough to cross America ( or Australia and a bit eat to west), and we rode buses for almost the entire length of the east coast of Australia.

Having done this we then move on to what we saw along the way. We were able to visit 56 different countries or territories and visited or slept in 127 different cities. To do this we needed to access and use 33 different currencies.

The first thing that we did was to leave Brisbane and head to Sydney where we joined up with the cruising crew and took an Australian cruise that saw us in Sydney, Hobart and Adelaide with a side trip up the hills to Hahndorf. From here we headed to Perth (via Melbourne) and up to our block of land at Jurien Bay (I had bought it and Jill never even saw it so we went for a looky loo).

Leaving Australia we transited through Kuala Lumpur on our way to a leisurely month spent kicking Back in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Here we climbed up and down temples and just generally relaxed while Jill got destressed after her year of working.

After my time in Emu Park, I was already pretty chill.

Keeping up the relaxed pace we headed to Thailand for a general poke around. Having done southern Thailand and the beaches before we decided to head up north into the mountains.

From here we went to the Philippines for another month. It was our first port of call when we took off last time but we really only saw Manila and the Taal Volcano. So this time we thought we would do it properly, bouncing around several of the islands and taking in many of the sights. What our month in the Philippines told us was that we need to come back and we need more time.

From the Philippines we headed to Vietnam for a yet another month where we took in the cities of Ho Chi Minh, Danang, Cham Island, Hanoi, Cat Ba Island and of course Ha Long Bay. We caught up with old friends, met new ones and revisited some old favourites and got to share our love for the place to some who had never been before.

The next thing was a quick 4 day cruise around Asia, leaving from Singapore and touching upon Penang in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand before returning back to Singapore. Doing an Asian cruise was a very new experience for us. Usually the bars and pool decks are packed but not on an Asian cruise. The Casino on the other hand is standing room only.

Our next stop along the way was the Maldives. Oh my lord, what an amazing place to be. The colours of the ocean were truly awesome and the swimming and snorkelling was something to behold. Our trip saw us here during Ramadan so we had an alcohol free fortnight. Importantly, this was the place that saw my stupid ass jump in the water with about 25-30 sharks with the biggest one being around 3.5 meters.

Malaysia was next. This is a regular transit point for us and Penang is one of my favourite cities on the planet. But this time around we got off the beaten path and explored a little more widely than usual. This broader exploration saw us taking in Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Tioman Island, Kuantan, Jerteh, Pulua Perhentian, and Kuala Besut.

We swam, we snorkelled, we ate amazing Malaysian food and had a very leisurely month kicking back. It is a good thing that we did as this marked the end of our relaxation. We popped home briefly (to satisfy a travel insurance requirement) and we entered into the whirlwind that was to be our European leg.

A monster flight took us from Australia to the Greek capital of Athens where we took in the sights for about a week before hitting the Greek islands of Syros, Mykonos, Paros, Naxos, Santorini, and Crete. Our month in Greece was amazing taking in the history, scenery and food. Sadly, the usual tourist spots (Mykonos and Santorini) were our least favourite. Granted they are beautiful, but the volume of ignorant tourists (yes I see the irony) are ruining them.

Next was the Czech Republic, a place I had been to before and thought Jill would love. And I was not wrong. We spent a fantastic week wandering around the city of Prague taking in the castles, churches and the huge abundance of statues. Not to mention being able to sample some of the best beers on the planet.

From Prague we did one of what would be many stops into the Netherlands (more specifically Amsterdam) as this became our European transit hub. The reason for the first visit was to board a cruise ship to Iceland that would also take in Northern Ireland, England, Ireland and deliver us back in the Netherlands.

Coming from Australia, Iceland is possibly the most different place that you can visit, which was the attraction. Waterfalls, glaciers, volcanos, the Northern lights…why would you not want to come here. And we loved it. Apart from being brutally expensive, the place was fantastic and we are both so glad that we made it.

The other stops on the cruise took us to Northern Ireland, England (Liverpool) and Ireland (Cork/Cobh). They were not our main goals but we still got to see some iconic tourist attractions that included popping in to the Giants Causeway.

After the cruise it was back to Amsterdam to transit to journey on to Hamburg Germany to catch up with family. This was an amazing time catching up with my cousins and spending quality time together.

Sadly, my cousin Uwe was taken by cancer a few weeks later, but our memories are of a great fortnight hanging, laughing, eating and seeing the sights of northern Germany. Our arrival saw the whole family getting together and spending quality time with Uwe in his last month. If nothing else, our memory of him was great times, fun and laughter. And we are both glad we got to spend this time with him.

And just as importantly, the rest of the family could not have been more welcoming, friendly or generous. A great time was had. We even got to do a day trip up to Denmark taking in two more cities and adding a tick box to my countries visited list.

At this point, we did the inconceivable and flew almost 7,700 kilometres from Europe to Vancouver in Canada.

The reason for this was to meet up for Claudia’s 50th birthday celebration. This celebration would involve great friends taking a cruise from Alaska down to Vancouver in Canada.

But if we were here, we were going to see as much as we could. So Vancouver was first. This is one of the world’s best harbour cities. Even taking in the Sydney example, Vancouver offers at least as much and possibly even more. We met new friends and were treated to some views of the city from the water thanks to Paul and Francesca.

From Vancouver it was up to Anchorage Alaska where we would spend a few days before training on to Seward to catch the cruise ship back to Vancouver. Once on the ship we headed to and stopped at the Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Haines, Icy Straight Point, Ketchikan, and the Inside Passage before being delivered back in Vancouver.

On this cruise, in Alaska and the various ports we for to see moose, bears, and eagles at almost every turn. Add to this the stunning scenery, rivers, lakes, glaciers, mountains and harbours. You are virtually guaranteed to have good time, and having done on of these trips, we would both happily do another.

After the cruise was a few more days in Vancouver seeing the bits that we missed and then another 7,700km flight back to Amsterdam to begin what was to be the biggest whirlwind trip that we have ever done. Starting in the EU we raced through eastern Europe at a pace that left us and our poor readers heads spinning.

In the 44 days from 19 July to 31 August we were to go to 20 different countries, visiting 29 different cities. It started on trains until they ran out and we then found ourselves on buses and just generally making a mess of the map and my poor little mind while I tried to work out where I was and where I had been.

In this period we went to:

The Netherlands – Amsterdam

Belgium – Ghent and Bruges

Luxembourg – Luxembourg

Switzerland – Zurich and Sargens

Lichtenstein – Vaduz and Balzers

Austria – Vienna

Slovakia – Bratislava

Hungary – Budapest

Slovenia – Ljubljana

Croatia – Zagreb, Knin, Split and Dubrovnik

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Jablanica and Sarajevo

Serbia – Belgrade

Romania – Bucharest

Moldova – Chisinau

Bulgaria – Sofia

North Macedonia – Skopje

Kosovo  – Pristina

Montenegro – Podgorica, Kotor and Budva

Albania – Tirana

Greece – Athens

While we saw all of the tourist sights, we saw them at a pace that made it almost impossible to keep track of what it was that we saw and often even where we were.

We saw thousands of years of European history and evolution. We wandered in and out of various Old Towns around the continent and observed the remnants of the flow of conquering civilisations and the effects that they had on the landscapes, cultures and food across the region.

Thanks to the Romans and the Turks it is virtually impossible to find a nation that does not sell pizza, pasta and kebabs as one of their staple foods.

And statues, so many statues.

The sheer number of statues of all shapes and sizes, honouring every national hero or contributor to national identity.

They were everywhere and had us researching and reading about a bunch of people that we had never heard of before.

We saw so many castles, churches, forts, cathedrals, galleries, edifices and amazing architecture that our heads just swam. We walked through slums and palaces, inner city squares, parks and gardens.

After the whirlwind that was Europe we did a quick few stops in the Middle East stopping originally in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Here we sweated more than we had in months and got to experience the pure arrogance of Saudi Arabians. This is where we found that Saudi’s treat all other nationalities with absolute disdain, particularly if you have any form of south Asian heritage.

From here we popped into Qatar (Doha) and the UAE (Abu Dhabi and Dubai). Here we took in the sheer opulence of the Middle East where millions of dollars have been poured into the desert. It truly is an amazing example of what can be achieved when you have the will to achieve something and the funds to make it happen.

And despite all of the incredible things to be seen, it really did not appeal to us that greatly. The exception to this was the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which was truly incredible. We officially hit our highest ever temperature that we had been in (52 degrees centigrade) and found ourselves hiding from the heat most of the day. On the up side, we managed to get upgraded to a suite in almost every city.

Oman for us was the exception and standout for the middle east. It was actually genuine. Our foray into Muscat saw us eating local foods (not the US chain stuff that many of the others had on offer), visiting old fortresses, and palaces. It was more than a huge bucket of money that had been dumped in the desert.

Heading home (for our obligatory insurance check-in) we pulled into Sri Lanka and Malaysia on the way in. Sri Lanka was once again incredible and we were fantastically looked after by Ruwan and Dilani. Ruwan had been tracking our progress in the earlier adventures and had planned something completely different for us. So we found ourselves glamping in the middle of a national park and photographing wildlife like elephants and leopards.

This was our second foray into Sri Lanka which has left us looking forward to and trying to plan our third. Apart from the sheer ineptitude and corruption of the previous government, the rest of the place and the people are fantastic. It is a shame that the poor residents need to pay the price for governmental misuse.

A very short transit in Australia gave us the opportunity to catch up with friends and family and even meet the newest addition to the Pieper clan.

Family feasts, chats and fun before dashing off to Samoa, and Fiji the next places on the list.

To say that the Pacific Islands are beautiful is an understatement and in reality, is probably pretty redundant. But a couple of weeks each in Samoa and Fiji was a fantastic way to recharge the batteries, especially after the flurry that was Europe. The hospitality that we received from Fiame, Pam and all the others we met was incredible.

A quick pop back to central Queensland and we were off again. This time it was a flight from Brisbane to Rome for a few days before we commenced what would become the cruising leg of our journey. This started with a 13 night Trans-Atlantic crossing (stopping in the Canary Islands) before a back to back Caribbean adventure that would see us going from Miami to 10 of the island nations and back and even included a pop into Colombia in South America.

We went to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, St Kitts & Nevis , Barbados, Aruba, Martinique, St Maarten, Grand Cayman, Jamaica and Curacao.

But unlike Europe, we had the time between stops so that we could actually soak up the feel of each of the places. Our 12 month anniversary ticked up on the last day of the cruise as we rolled into Miami.

We met up with old friends and we made new friends, we shared good times and laughter, and all the time we kept seeing a little bit more of the world.

The year at a glance – by the numbers:

  • 56 countries
  • 127 cities
  • 33 different currencies used

How did we get around?

Flying – we took 44 flights with 19 different airlines travelling over 106,000 kilometers. Frighteningly we spent over 160 hours in the air getting between one place and the next.

Trains – we took 17 trains travelling 4710 kilometers including two overnight sleepers

Buses – 18 buses travelling 3181 kilometers

Oh and by the way, this may surprise some of you but…I managed to sample the odd beer or two from around the world as we travelled around.


Colombia has been on my bucket list for a very long time now.

The country is more than double the size of France with almost 50 million people living here.

And the government has gone a long way to throw off the mantle of its narco-terrorism roots.

The nation has about 1,600 km of coastline to the north onto the Caribbean Sea, and a further 1,300 km of coast to the west onto the Pacific Ocean. The northern border is Panama, which divides the two bodies of water using the infamous Panama Canal. Venezuela and Brazil sit to the east and Peru and Ecuador to the south.


Our entry was a couple of days into the port city of Cartagena, on the Caribbean coast. Oh my god I love this place.

Before I even get into the rant about how great this place is, let’s take a moment to explain the introduction that you get to the town when you get off a cruise ship. As you walk through the port the first thing that you are met with is a FREE aviary and tourist park. This is just there. There are trinket shops, cafes and restaurants right here at the entry point. Within this, the first thing that you see is a grassed area with about 20-50 flamingos in it. Around them are about 10 parrots, some macaws, various waterfowl and the odd tree rat.

Quite literally, if you went no further than this then you would have had a great day out in Cartagena. But there is more. Keep walking around the corner and you come across the ubiquitous “I Love” sign coupled with about another 50 macaws of varying colours. A bit further I got to see my first ever live toucan. From here there were some tortoises and I even ran across a giant anteater.

And all of this for free before you even leave the port, how good is this?

Getting out of the port, we were told it would cost us $20 each in a cab to get to the tourist area. As we walked out we found a dude with a minibus who offered us a 4 hour tour of the sights (including return) for the same price as a one way cab. So off we went.

Cartagena is a major city of about a million people, with a fantastic mix of modern city and down by the ocean is the historic walled Old Town.

The first stop was the seaside suburb of Manga. This is a leafy residential neighbourhood with a park, seafront promenade and nice views of the new city skyline across the bay.

The next stop was the old city walls and some of the fortifications of Old Town.

This olden section of town was founded in the 16th century and now has the historic squares, cobblestoned streets, colourful colonial buildings, and of course all of the tourist hustle and bustle that you would expect. Fair warning…the touts here can be pretty full on so be prepared for a total assault on the senses.

The main entrance to the old town is through the Puerta del Reloj. This is the original and historic main gate to the centre of the fortified city, Cartagena de Indias.

As usual for us, it was covered in scaffolding.

OK…before I step you through the gates into old town, lets talk about the coolest thing in this entire city. Right in the heart of Cartagena city is a small unassuming park surrounded by yellow walls. It is officially called Parque del Centenario and on first glimpses you would probably just walk straight past. But you would have seriously missed out as within the park there were 7 sloths (as of November 2023) living in the trees in and around the park.

In addition to the Sloths, there are also tamarin monkeys, red squirrels and several iguanas in the park. The monkeys are tree rats that annoy you and carry diseases (but the tourists still try and hand feed them) while the Iguanas are usually found lounging on the grass soaking up the sunlight.

The park is located between the squares Plaza de Independencia and Plaza de los Coches. Both of these were in full Christmas decoration phase when we were there. The place just feels right, from happy vendors, beautiful streets great little restaurants the place is welcoming. Admittedly the touts can get a bit much after a while but for the most part they are friendly and just trying to earn a living.

Once you step through the gates you are in full tourist mode (in case you had not already noticed by all of the touts etc).

The Cathedral of Cartagena de Indias was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. It is in the heart of Old Town and is dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria. The original structure of the cathedral has been preserved today almost unchanged.

Cartagena is just a lovely city. The care and pride shown in the homes, the parks and the neighbourhoods give the place a really great feel. As our ship stayed here overnight we learned a trick that we should have done. Some people got off the boat and paid for a night’s accommodation (under $100) in the heart of the action. This will be us for sure, next time we come.

Within the walls of the old city is the suburb or area of Getsemani this is the bohemian-style neighbourhood where everyone is welcome. Poor or wealthy, tourist or local? Back in the day, it was the neighbourhood for prostitution, drug, and violence. But today it is the home to awesome street art, food, bars and music.

The street art in this part of town is truly something to behold. What was once probably a pretty sketchy to walk through is now an absolute delight. At no point did we feel nervous or concerned for our safety, even amid the mad tourist throngs.

As part of our tour on day one we hit the usual haunts but also had a couple of entries into some museums around town. The first was an art gallery that focussed on the faces of the pandemic and the losses that were felt in Colombia. The next was the local cultural museum.

The last was the Emerald Museum. Colombia is one of the world’s largest producers of emeralds (supplying about 90% of the world’s supply), and as such they are on sale everywhere. And we went through the museum (and shop) that told us all about this.

We were paired at dinner with a Swedish couple (Patrick and Anna) who were fantastic. So on our second day in Cartagena, we decided to head out together to explore the various areas. They took us to the flash cocktail bars and we took them to the dodgy neighbourhoods. They were such good company that we also spent the next day in Aruba with them kicking back by the beaches.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas is the castle/fortress that was built on the Hill of San Lázaro in 1536. It was placed in a strategic location where it could dominate approaches by both land and sea. It was built by the Spanish using African slave labour and was involved in several battles between the late 17th to early 19th centuries between the European powers.

We did not get there this time around but we are due to return to Cartagena in about 6 weeks time for a second stint. We will update these photos and give a much better viewing soon.

Once you get a bit further afield there are other little gems that look they should also be added to the things to see list. Some of these include the islands.

Isla de Barú, with white-sand beaches and palm trees.

Isla del Rosario, known for their coral reefs.

Tayrona National Park has long stretches of beaches lined with coconut palms and a dense rainforest with lots of day hikes.

The Lost City (La Ciudad Perdida) was built around 800 CE and contains 169 terraces carved into the mountains, as well as a network of tiled roads and small plazas. The site is older than Machu Picchu!

The last thing that I have to mention about Cartagena is the absolute idiocy of the American tourists. They (almost without exception) all hated it. Clearly Colombia’s troubled past (cartels, paramilitaries, poverty, and petty crime) has cast a long shadow that for many will not go away and danger lurks around every corner.

They felt unsafe and one comment was that they were walking around in groups of 10 or more so that they didn’t get kidnapped. For us, this was truly one of the safest places we have ever been to. I am not sure exactly what they thought they would be ransomed for (maybe their vintage chewed gum collection from high school).

We loved the place and cannot wait to come back (which thankfully we will be fairly soon).

Sint Maarten – Saint Martin

Saint Martin is an island in the Northeast Caribbean that is split approximately 60/40 between the French and the Dutch. The French side calls it Saint-Martin while the Dutch side is called Sint Maarten. The whole island is about 87 square kilometres. While the French side is bigger in size, the Dutch side is more populated. That said, the whole place only has about 75,000 people on it.

The oldest treaty in effect in the Caribbean is the Treaty of Concordia which was signed between the Dutch and French for the partition of St. Martin in 1648. The partition was based on the economic needs of each state and the proximity to nearby colonies. With this treaty, both parties agreed to share resources, and protect one another. It was violated over a dozen times before truly being enforced and respected. Nevertheless, today both sides enjoy the cultural and economic ties, strengthened over centuries. 

The Dutch side has the capital, Philipsburg, on it and is the main entry port for those arriving on cruise ships. The area is highly tourist friendly with shops, bars, cafes aplenty. On the day we arrived there was 5 very large cruise ships (around 15,000 people) that were all in town on the same day. The area has a cobblestone promenade with colorful, colonial-style buildings lining the main street and shopping area.

The French side has one of the most famous airports in the world for the Instagrammer crowds. With international and regional flights landing every 15 minutes, Maho Beach is the only place in the world where the planes quite literally land directly over the top of your head.

While having planes landing directly overhead is impressive enough, it has also prompted a phenomenon that has become known as “fence-surfing.” This is where visitors to the beach line up along the runway end’s fence, hold on and ride out the jet wash from the engines of departing aircraft. The pilots know this so ham it up, overly revving up the engines before taking off.

The surfers white-knuckle through a high-powered pelting of tiny rocks and sand for about one minute. But as you would expect, not all are able to hold on through experience and people have been killed as they are blown backwards. The most recent was a New Zealand woman who was blown backwards striking her head on the concrete blocks dividing the fence and the beach.

We came here the first time when we had the joint 50th birthday celebrations with Jeremy and Claudia. We hopped on a tour to the airport, had a few beers and lunch while we watched the planes landing before having a dip in the cool waters.

Not being idiots, we did not try fence surfing but did get a minor version of being sandblasted as the planes arrived and left. Our meal and drinks were at the Sunset Bar and Grill.Later examination determined that there was a sign that read that “topless women drink for free”. Research tells me that this is true and if the ladies are willing to whip them out, then the bar tab for each round is halved.

I’m not sure if Claudia or Jill saw the sign or not, but I can say that Jimmy and I paid full price for our rounds of drinks.

We enjoyed St Martin, both sides of the island. It had a really nice feel to it, the people were friendly, the streets were clean and safe. The shops, cafes, restaurants and bars were relaxed and there was no angst anywhere you went. And importantly, nothing was particularly overpriced, a fair price was being asked for goods and services without the usual (stupid) tourist markup.

It does have the pay for beach seating (that offends me as an Australian) thing but the prices are not ridiculous. $20 will get you two sun loungers, an umbrella and a few drinks each. This is basically the cost of the beers, so I can wear that cost.

I have found now that I have way more pictures than I do superlatives for how nice St Martin is. So here’s some random pics.

And of course, you are in the Caribbean, so there is the obligatory and ubiquitous rum distillery.

Here they will try and convince you why their particular brew is better than the ones you tried on any of the preceding islands.

St Maarten is pretty nice, on both sides of the island. We enjoyed our time here the first time and did again the second time around. It is well-priced, the people are friendly and for the most part, there is a good time to be had here.


Jamaica is a Caribbean island country and is the third largest (after Cuba and Hispaniola) of the Greater Antilles and the Caribbean. It was originally inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people.

The island came under Spanish rule after the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1494 with many of the original inhabitants either killed or died of diseases. After this the Spanish brought large numbers of African slaves to Jamaica as labourers. In 1655 England conquered it and named it Jamaica where it became a leading sugar exporter.

In 1838 the British emancipated all slaves, many of whom chose to have subsistence farms rather than to work on plantations. The island achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1962.

Kingston is the capital of the island of Jamaica, lying on its southeast coast and is the home to many of the attractions that include the Bob Marley Museum which is housed in the reggae singer’s former home.

Devon House is a colonial-era mansion, the Hope Botanical Gardens & Zoo showcases native flora and fauna. Surrounding the town are the Blue Mountains, some of the most renowned coffee-growing areas that are full of trails and waterfalls.

But we didn’t go here…

Montego Bay is one of the worlds best protected marine parks with snorkelling and diving at coral reefs, numerous beach resorts and golf courses, an amusement park.

But we didn’t go here…

Our cruise ship dropped us at a place called Falmouth. The main thing to do for tourists in Falmouth, is to leave. Literally, there is nothing to do here. The main tourist things to do in Falmouth involve going to Montego Bay. I have absolutely no idea why we were dropped off here.

You come off the ship into a manufactured shopping mall that has massively overpriced trinkets and little else. As you walk out there is an interesting tourist walk that depicts a bunch of posters outlining the history of the country.

When you pop out from there you hit a pretty dingy slum, full of people so stoned that they can barely stay upright. The filth and stench reminded us of some of the worst places in India (still hands down the filthiest place we have ever been). The trinket shops had a ton of wooden gear (that you could never get into Australia).

Our market runs saw us being offered a singlet shirt for $44.90 USD, weed, and any other form of ridiculous things that you can imagine. The Rasta spirit is strong here, but if it was not for the odd ship that arrives, there really is very little reason for this town to exist.

The thing that amused Jill the most was this sign which was trying to urge people to stop dumping their trash everywhere.

The signs were an attempt, but they were failing dismally.

The smell emanating from the waterways was truly putrid.

I would love to come back to Jamaica, but head to one of the other centres to try and really get a sense of the place as this little foray was not it.

Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands are an independently governed British overseas territory in the Caribbean. It is made up of three Islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman), that are renowned for their beaches, reefs and trekking.

Grand Cayman is the largest of the Islands and is home to the capital, George Town. The city is a major cruise ship port and the site of the ruins of colonial-era Fort George.

The reality is that there are not really any fort remains and it is little more than a roped-off cannon. More like a children’s playground than a historical sight.

The Cayman Islands are a tax haven. This has spawned a thriving financial services industry, which is a major part of the local economy.  In fact, George Town is the world’s fifth-largest financial centre. There are about 250 banks registered in the Cayman Islands.

Grand Cayman’s main claim to fame is the undersea world that surrounds it.  The coral formations are almost everywhere and they are home to large populations of sea creatures.  There are also the numerous shipwrecks making both diving and snorkelling amazing. Add to this very clear water, with underwater visibility reaching up to 30 meters in the right conditions.

The USS Kittiwake was formerly a Navy Submarine Rescue Vessel. It was sunk on January 5th, 2011 in Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands to create an artificial reef and shipwreck attraction for scuba divers and snorkelers.

The Crystal Caves offer guided walking tours of around 90 minutes through the tropical forest to see 3 caves and the associated stalagmites and stalactites.

Sting Ray City is an attraction where guests can snorkel and swim in shallow water in close contact with numerous sting rays. The blurb shows isolated images but the reality is more like this.

Grand Cayman to us was a very long strip of resorts. We came on a Sunday, which meant that most of the shops were shut. We did the long hike to 7-mile beach, expecting a long stretch of sand.

However, what we got was small 50-200 meter stretches as you hit private beach sections where the resort of the day had locked you out of their little section. This meant you had to wade through the water to the other side or go back to the road and walk around.