Skeptics in the Caribbean

A couple years ago I took a fun trip with friends and new acquaintances to the Caribbean,

Kitty and I get some pre-trip action

with a “‘Skeptics of the Caribbean” theme, playing up on the pirate aspect. The trip was coordinated by my friend Jeff Wagg, who now manages College of Curiosity Field Trips.  We first stopped at St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Myk took the pirate theme seriously.

This pastel-colored island features a castle of sorts that is labeled as a hang-out of the infamous pirate Blackbeard, although as we learned on a tour, there is no evidence that he was ever on the island. The tour of a working rum factory softened the disappointment. A few of us filled the rest of the afternoon climbing the 99 Steps to the tower, then wandering back down the hillside stopping at small museums, picturesque street corners, and partaking of local

My friends Tim Farley (aka “krelnik” at and Jessica in St Thomas

refreshments. At one stop related to the latter, I asked the bartender, a lifetime resident of the island, where he liked to go for lunch. He pointed us towards the Petite Pump Room, where we had a quiet lunch overlooking the water, eating conch fritter salad and rum drinks the size of our heads. ALWAYS ask the locals where they like to eat!

From the top of the island

The view from the upper deck of The Petite Pump restaurant in St Thomas

This, before navigating some really long staircases.

“Blackbeard” castle. (Not really)

Our second stop was San Juan, Puerto Rico. I can’t wait to go here again some day. It was rainy that day, so we trudged, soaked, to the National Park Service’s San Juan Historical Site. We were doing our typical self-guided tour, as we always have someone in our group who is an expert on something, when Myk, from Australia, stepped up. Myk is not only a pirate buff, one of his big interests is all the forts from this era. Indeed, he had come all the way from home mainly to visit San Juan and its forts, and gave a great tour of a place he had never been before! I always like to do a bit of wandering around by myself, so I took off down the street to see what the old city of San Juan looked like. I managed to locate an old bakery that I had seen on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods.

Fresh orange juice, Cuban coffee, Mallorca, $5

(note: this place did not feature gut or brain based cuisine. I have my standards.) I used my iPhone app and located it by a select search: La Bombonera. This bakery was opened in 1902, and serves a largely working-class crowd simple but delicious sandwiches, including ones made from mallorcabread, along with Cuban coffee. (While writing this story, I found several articles from a few months ago that La Bombonera has closed down due to economic conditions. What a pity.)

English: La Bombonera in San Juan, Puerto Rico...

English: La Bombonera in San Juan, Puerto Rico, founded over 100 years ago. Good cheap food! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After my meal, which included a nice conversation with the waiter, I went back to the ship, dodging the rain and taking pictures of the old tile work and sherbert-painted buildings. Even with the rain, it was lovely. If I return, I want to see the Arecibo Observatory, though. We just didn’t have a way to get there and back in the time we had.

Blue street tiles

At La Bombonera

San Juan street

We spent a couple days at sea, which we filled with conversation, some presentations we put on for each other, and spending time in the hot tub. Our last stop was at Grand Turk Island. This picture is not Photoshopped. It really is that blue. The water and sand is lovely, but the island itself exists only for the tourists that come there for the resorts or for the cruise ship stops. Outside of the immediate area of the shops and restaurants, there is nothing but sand. Actually, I think it would be better if there was just sand, but I’m not fond of doing nothing for seven days, so it would not be a destination for me. But the water is certainly gorgeous.

The bluest water I’ve ever seen.

Note: We traveled on a Costa cruise line ships. In order to allow more people to attend, the bottom-end cruise line was chosen. The food was awful, the decor had been done by someone who thought Vegas was an inspiration for class. And yes, this is the cruise line that also sunk a ship off the coast of Greece last year. Not recommended, but we had a great time because of the group of people we had.

Categories: History, Travel

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Great memories! The best part of the whole trip was hanging out with each other.

  2. I wouldn’t say I went “mainly” for the forts, but they were certainly a big highlight!

  3. Got some great video of Myk talking about the forts, they were great.

    Also Myk didn’t dress up for the occasion, he always looks like that (when not at work)

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