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St. Kitts Report Sign of Times?

Sometimes, an idea begins to grow and take root in the unlikeliest of places. Like the isle of St. Kitts, a tiny tourist stop in the Caribbean Sea, just east of the Virgin Islands and due north of Venezuela.

It was there that the St. Kitts government this week released travel statistics concerning both the cruise and the airline industries.

Cruising to St. Kitts is up 10 per cent. Flying to St. Kitts is down 4 per cent.

Could this be the first real indicator — or even another one — that travelers would rather take a cruise ship than a plane? Is the worm starting to turn…that flying has become such an unpleasant experience that it is to be utilized only when necessary?

What do you think?

On a Rainy Day in the Bahamas

FREEPORT, Bahamas — As we disembarked the Norwegian Sky at this first stop on a four-day cruise, we had a plan for our first visit to Freeport. The plan was there would be no plan. It was ad-lib all the way.

This can sometimes be great, and sometimes not. Since this is an island of less than 200 square miles, we considered a tour, courtesy (?) of one of the locals. That was going to be $60, plus tip. A car rental was anywhere between $70 and $100. A scooter was $50, with no guarantee that one of us wouldn’t fall off.

Then we met Ricardo Richardson, or Ricky for short. He runs a shuttle service from Freeport Harbor, which is industrial, to Freeport City…also known as Lucaya. He charges $5 a person each way but you pay your round-trip fare up front and hope you can find Ricky when you need him. One of business cards is your ticket.

The ride is about 20 minutes, on a road that could mean a visit to the chiropractor. If you’re lucky, like us, you may get to ride in one that reeks so strongly of gasoline that you hope none of the other eight passengers lights a match or there will be no van. Like we said, sometimes not.

Ricky’s highly entertaining and engaging, informing us that we’re going to see a lot of churches and not much rain because it never rains for more than 10 minutes, 15 tops. There are churches of many faiths — “We’re religious people” — and they all seem to be on the same street, Queen’s Highway. One of us makes a crack about this being Preacher’s Row, but that’s the name of the old baseball pitcher who played for the Dodgers.

Ricky drops us off and promises to meet us later right by Domino’s Pizza, which isn’t far from  Burger King, McDonald’s and KFC. It’s raining, so we duck into a very modern casino and when we emerge, more than 15 minutes later, it’s still raining. So we duck into a local eatery called Cafe Breeze and enjoy conch fritters that were more fritters than conch but, hey, if you’re a sea snail how big can you get?

An hour later, it’s not raining as hard. It’s raining harder. It seems wise to head back to the port, a little early. Ricky isn’t around but one of his people and one of his vans are, and all was well. She’s almost as entertaining as Ricky, telling us that nobody is ever left behind because: “We can feed everybody but we can’t shelter everybody!” She’s laughing, and Bahamians seem to laugh a lot.

At the port, where the Sky had company from Carnival and a cruise line we’d never heard of, it wasn’t raining. There are vendors in tents and assorted coverings selling their wares. Here’s how friendly they are: Nobody is harassing you or pleading with you to buy something. They wait to be asked, they serve you if you’re buying, and they smile. Mexico, please note.

One such vendor at the port is Marlon Carey, a nice young carver of 22 who has been turning tree branches into beautiful walking sticks since he was 15.

“I make a decent living,” he says. “It keeps me occupied. It keeps me out of trouble.”

Trouble comes to Freeport mostly in meteorological form. They’re in “hurricane alley” and through millions of dollars of damage the people just pick up the pieces and keep smiling…although the storms named Frances (2004), Jeanne (2004) and Wilma (2005) still give them the chills. In a place as warm as this, with people as warms as this, chills are hard to come by.

Even if it’s raining, for 10 minutes…15 tops.

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