CRUISIN’ THE CARIBBEAN

Michael Kurth Thursday, August 7, 2014 0

I don’t know what happened in the world in the past two weeks; Cathy and I have been cruising the Caribbean.  To paraphrase Kenny Chesney: No news, no politics, no problems … almost.

The islands were great, but getting there and back was a different story.

Our journey began in New Orleans, where we went to find an apartment for our son, Billy, who is transferring to UNO this fall to enter the film school program. We met up with Bart Blatt, Cathy’s sister Caran and Larry and Cynthia Eagle, who were in the Big Easy to celebrate Bart’s birthday. Bart is, among other things, a magician, and the Eagles own The Lost Hollows, a haunted trail that operates every October to scare the bejeezas out of kids for Halloween.

So they set out in double-triple weather (100 degree heat, 100 percent humidity) to visit graveyards and haunted sites in search of new spooky things to add to Lost Hollows while I waited patiently in an air-conditioned museum.

On  Saturday, Cathy and I drove over to Biloxi to spend the Fourth of July with my childhood buddy, Billy Kelly, and his wife Diane. Bill took over my Detroit Free Press paper route when we were in the 8th grade. After graduating from high school, we worked together in a GM assembly plant until we both got our draft notices. It was 1964, and the Viet Nam war was just ramping up. I went into the Army while Bill joined the Air Force, and eventually made a career of it, retiring as a major about 25 years ago. We share lots of memories. (We can both still name all the players on the 1960 Detroit Tigers baseball team.) Next month we’re returning to Michigan for our 50th high school reunion. That should make a good Lagniappe story.

On Sunday, we headed to Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans for our flight to Miami, where we were to board the Carnival Breeze for an eight-day cruise of the eastern Caribbean.   Fortunately, we arrived early because when we got there the airport parking lot was out of service. No notice, no signs; just closed.

We drove around until we found an airport employee who directed us to a rental car parking lot. But it had no carts or porters to help with the luggage and no handicapped accommodations.

Travelers, many of them rushing to catch flights, had to haul their luggage about a mile in the heat to the airport terminal. That morning the “Big Easy” was more like the “Big Sweaty.”

Before I left Lake Charles, I’d mentioned to my friend Randy Robb, director of the Chennault International Airport, that Cathy and I would be cruising in the eastern Caribbean. It turned out Robb had supervised construction of the port facility of Grand Turk, the first stop on our cruise. He gave me the cell number of the port director there, Theo Forbes, a very friendly Bahamian who met us at the dock and took us on a personal tour of the tiny island.

It’s only 1 mile wide and 7 miles long; has about 4,000 residents, including Bruce Willis and a few other celebrities; and a couple of hundred wild donkeys that wonder everywhere foraging for food.

The beaches are beautiful, as is the port facility Robb built, which includes a Margaritaville, pool complex and several duty-free shops.

Our next stop was the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Dominica with Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  The major industry in the D.R. is sugar cane. The country produces some of the best baseball players in the world.

We were only there for a day, so I don’t know about the entire island. But I at least became familiar with the area around La Romana where we were. It was beautiful with many flowering trees.

We took an excursion to Altos de Chavon, a medieval village that overlooks the Chavon River. The view was spectacular. While the village looks old, it was built in 1976, and is primarily a tourist attraction.

To get there and back, we traveled past manicured golf courses and through an exclusive estate where the likes of Shakira and Julio Iglesias have homes. But I’m sure the whole island isn’t like that.

Our next stop was Curacao, a Dutch island. We arrived there the day Holland was playing Argentina in the semifinals of the World Cup. Everywhere the natives were decked out in orange t-shirts and other strange attire for the event (orange being the national color of the Dutch). All the shops closed during the game, and the bars were packed.

We went to a beach where the match was shown on a large projection screen to 2,000 screaming soccer fans. Unfortunately, Holland lost in overtime, so the island was in mourning when we left.

As we sailed towards Aruba, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to Natalie Holloway, the Alabama teen who disappeared while on a high school graduation trip to the Island 10 years ago.

We spent the day at a beautiful beach. But the wind was blowing at 35 miles an hour, creating a mini sandstorm that stung the skin like hundreds of little needle pricks as we tried to enjoy the sun and surf.

We loved the cruise, but readers who remember my articles about our family trips with kids when they we growing know that no Kurth trip ever ends without some sort of predicament. This trip was to be no different. When the ship returned to Miami, we arranged an early debarkation so we could catch our flight home. My suitcase came off the conveyor belt right away, but we stood there for an hour and a half waiting for Cathy’s suitcase, which never showed up.

For a guy, a lost suitcase is an inconvenience; for a woman, it’s a disaster of monumental proportions.  “What did you have in there?” I asked Cathy. “My whole life” was her reply.

We had to leave to catch our flight, so we have now launched a search for the missing suitcase reminiscent of the search for Natalie Holloway. Where did it go? Who could have taken it? Did somebody steal it to sell the contents? Did somebody take it by mistake and discover they had the wrong suitcase when they got home? Is it still on the ship, heading out for another cruise of the Caribbean? Maybe we could post pictures of the missing suitcase all around Miami.