Caribbean cruise—a winter’s respite

In a pre-holiday conversation with friend Bill Beard, we discussed the possibility of a winter getaway. Soon after the holidays, he found a wonderful bargain on Carnival’s Spirit departing Jan. 26 for eight days in the Caribbean. Arrangements were made, and we set sail.

One of the newer vessels in the Carnival fleet, spirit is luxury on the seas. Our stateroom, complete with balcony, was roomy and convenient. For those so inclined, there are constant activities, a casino, bingo, contests, swimming pools, jacuzzis, and never-ending food. It is as if Las Vegas had been recreated on a ship. A formal dining room is the setting for evening meals, and a large theater stages glitzy shows every night. Several lounges offer drinks and a variety of music. Our favorite was the Deco Lounge with a jazz group from Indiana.

Shore excursions were planned for Belize, Costa Rica, and Panama. They ranged from bus and train tours to whitewater rafting—something for everyone. The tours showed the contrast between the ship and the countries we visited. The poverty is astounding. Devastated by occupation by foreign powers and corporations, their economy sags. Many of the people live in minimal housing, often constructed with found lumber and corrugated metal. Toddlers line the roads waving at the tourists, many of whom were heard saying, “They’re happy—they don’t know any better.”

Struggling to survive, their hope is tourism, and Carnival should be commended for including these countries on their itinerary. In Costa Rica, the coffee growers suffer from a declining market, and many of them are starting to cultivate macadamia nuts that offer a better market. The literacy rate is 97 percent, and a population of educated young people is attracting companies in need of technical expertise. Hewlett-Packard is establishing a plant there, and wages are only a small percentage of those paid to engineers in the United States. Dole remains the company employing many workers harvesting bananas and pineapples. Their living conditions are much like those of sharecroppers in the post-Civil War era.

So much for my harangue. We did enjoy the company, the warm days and nights, and a new learning experience.

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