Category Archives: Research trips

In Quest of an Island

As my book took shape, I knew a transatlantic voyage in the 1700’s would definitely be included. The question was, where would it go? My projected outlines had America playing a prominent roll in the 3rd book so, for the first in the novel series,  I wanted an island in the Caribbean. By this time, we had been on several Carnival cruises and explored islands of Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, St Thomas, St Martin, Costa Maya and Belize.  Coming from Europe,  I wanted a more Eastern  Island, one on the edge that was likely to have been an island to stumble on in the Caribbean. I wanted one fairly new to the 1700’s when many European Countries were colonizing, and fighting over the Caribbean Islands.

Puerto Rico looked intriguing, it was already colonized and fought over by the 1720’s.  Our cruise on the Carnival Triumph had stopped here at 6pm and stayed until 10pm. Being November 0f 2006, it was already dark and we did not get off the ship. We planned to return to the Eastern Caribbean and booked a cruise on the Carnival Destiny for late October 2007. It was called a 7 day Southern Caribbean and left from San Juan and visited an island a day for 5 days and the 6th day was a sea day. Normally we love sea days, as I use them to write my novels.  This time it was different,  I was in quest of an island for my characters to visit.  The other islands we had gone to were beautiful, but as I walked around, it just wasn’t the right place, it didn’t “feel” right.

We spent 1 day pre-cruise in Puerto Rico.  Old San Juan, full of history and for our one day – buckets of rain.  El Morro was wonderful to explore and I found myself lost in the history. I decided that Old San Juan would have some potential for historical fiction, but right now, it was not what I was looking for.  St. Thomas, Barbados, Domenica, St Lucia & Antigua were next. St Thomas and Barbados were beautiful and had all the components I wanted, but somehow, it wasn’t quite right. Domenica and St Lucia, were not even close to what I wanted for my characters.

Antigua was next, and some good Karma followed us right into port in the way of a pair of dolphins jumping through the Carnival Destiny’s wake as we entered the harbor. We hadn’t quite decided what we would do on this island,  so we got off and explored. They had the usual pirate cruises, beach jaunts, snorkeling & shopping tours that are usually provided. Then they had one that stood out; it was a Carnival excursion Sea Antigua by Sea on the Excellence Catamaran. Some inquiries brought out the fact that we would circumvent Antigua completely on a boat and stop on a deserted island for some snorkeling & lunch on the boat.  We booked it, and I was soon wondering, why is a beautiful island in the Caribbean still deserted?  Doesn’t every inch of prime real estate get bought by someone in the 21st century?

Antigua's Green Island

Deserted Green Island

We started cruising & I began taking notes and movie film for my documentation. One rather talkative member of the crew, shared his family story going back generations to the original slaves brought to Antigua to work the sugar cane. He was happy to answer my questions and I gave him an outline of my story and the plot that would be unfolding on this trip in my book. I asked about the island we would visit, and why is it still deserted. I learned that Antigua is very dry, and water was a problem in the 1700’s. The island we would be visiting was frequented by bands of Carib natives hundreds of years ago, and it was long rumored to be a place of curses and voodoo to the people on the main island of Antigua. While Barbuda was populated as time went by, Green Island remained a tiny island with a dark past.

Green Island

I only had to see it and place my feet in the sand to know that I was walking in the footsteps of my characters.  Every part of those chapters came vividly to mind. As I wandered the beach and into the deep foliage, I just knew that everything about this tiny island was perfect. While everyone snorkeled and laid in the sun, I was perched on a rock watching chapters of my book come to life.  I took notes, although it wasn’t necessary, my stories live in my head in immense detail.  It was absolutely perfect for my story, and the inspiration and real life stories the crew told me, added to the plot in many ways.  I couldn’t wait to get back on the ship and I spent the next sea day typing out several chapters of the book’s voyage to Antigua.

We would plan another voyage on the Carnival Victory in 2009, doing the same itinerary but substituting St Kitts for the final sea day. That trip would put me in contact with a member of Antigua’s historical society and include trips around Antigua itself, the sugar plantations, the old English Nelson’s dockyard, forts and churches from the 1700’s.

I am often asked how I decided Antigua was my island, and I guess I really don’t know.  I guess it was so easy to place my characters there in the 1720’s, and no matter where I went on tiny deserted Green Island, I could see my character’s faint footsteps remaining in the sand.

copyright 2008   Rita Alexandrea

Leave a comment

Filed under Antigua, Carnival cruise lines, Carnival Destiny, Carnival Ships, Carnival Triumph, Carnival Victory, cruises, Research trips, Writing my books

In search of places

The stories were always there;   I knew my characters and how their stories would eventually unfold.  What I didn’t know was where they would exist, where they would build the visions of their lives.  I needed to see these places, to experience their world, to walk in their footsteps…. and so we began to travel.

Our vacations consisted of long flights, many hotels, and endless rides in search of history.  After these trips,  I always felt tired and unable to connect the characters to the places we had been. They didn’t belong there, the footsteps were not familiar.

I had always been drawn to the sea, in childhood, we lived with the water as our backyard and spent hours out to sea, fishing long after the season was over for others. The deep, dark ocean intrigued me, and the journeys of people crossing the ocean would always be in the fiction I created. The question was, how to see the places I needed to research and how to best introduce my landlubber husband to the sea.  Before 2004, it didn’t matter, we were busy raising children, spaced enough apart to keep at least one college on the payroll for 20 years, some years it was two colleges.  Trips to Arizona & Florida to visit family,  were our vacation trips, and usually only once a year.  The history trips took a back seat, I just wasn’t ready to put my characters here in the relatively young America.

Finally in 2004, a trip with our youngest to Florida, provided our “trial cruise”.  My parents had cruised before on the big cruise lines, but a 7 day commitment from my landlubber husband,  was going to be difficult.  I searched the net, and there I found it; a short 3 day jaunt to Nassau on a ship that was older than me.  It had been known by several names and purposes, but it was spending its dying years as the Regal Princess, the cruise line, Imperial Majesty.  It left from Ft Lauderdale, Florida at 4pm, arrived in Nassau the next morning, and then returned overnight to Ft Lauderdale.  The decision was late in time, and our $125 per person gave us the last cabins available. It didn’t matter, it was a cruise to the Bahamas, and cheap.  Inside cabins, in the deep bowels of the ship were fine and would provide us with laughter at family dinners for years to come.

Mom and Dad, it turned out, had upper and lower bunks, a bathroom the size of a tiny closet and one chair that in the small cabin, blocked either the cabin door or the bathroom.  Mom, ever the trooper, climbed the ladder to the top bunk as fast as her 71 year old body could go.  There was no room for the roll-away for our daughter, so switching cabins would not be possible.  Our inside cabin down the hall,  featured a double bed for midgets and according to the cruise line, there was no problem getting a roll-away for our 16 year old daughter.  The air was rather foul and the mold in the crevices and the bathroom corners, gave a sort of  “camping out” feel to the cabin.  The cabin was tiny, a double bed in the corner and a small dresser.  The tiny passageway from the cabin door to the bathroom was single file and for my husband, it was a sideways shuffle to fit.  The three of us, standing side by side, took up all the available floor space in the cabin.   Then came the roll-away……..

The first challenge was to wrestle it in the room and close the door, a problem made harder by the fact that we were the last corner cabin in a narrow hallway.  My husband had to step in the tiny bathroom and my daughter and I climbed on our bed to unfold her bed, the cruise line was right, it fit.  The problem was, there was no floor space left to walk.  Trips to the bathroom at night were a family affair…..everyone up, wake the daughter who slipped into the bathroom to help with the fold up of her bed. Spin the folded bed out of the way, and a small space appeared for us to get out of our bed.  An intimate snuggle to pass each other by the bathroom door and you were in. Just squeeze against the wall so the bathroom door could close and privacy was yours. After the first night, our daughter put us on strict fluid restriction after 6pm, just to assure a bit of restful sleep.

The crew was wonderful, this was their ship and they were proud.  My husband found his sea legs and even the cold February air off the coast of Florida was better than the snow we left behind up North.  Our day in Nassau was sunny and warm, with gale force winds.  We chose to walk around, the beachcombers on the ship returned, not sunburned, but sandblasted from gale force wind driven sand.  We stood in awe, as parked next to our tiny 50’s era ship was a Carnival cruise beauty.  New & big with streams of people was the ship that cast a long dark shadow over our mold infested transportation.  Their passengers skipped down the strong, iron walkway breaching the pier, while 3 crew members rescued my father stuck halfway up the steep, flimsy bridge, swaying in the gale force wind.   Back on board, we passed the barrel size swimming pool and climbed up high to get a glimpse of the Carnival pool, hidden from view by the massive water slide.  Cruise ship envy set in as we stood there and quietly thought to ourselves….”What does a cruise on one of those beautiful ships cost?”

 

Imperial Majesty's Regal Empress docked next to the beautiful Carnival ship.

We followed the Carnival ship out of the jetty in Nassau, it looked much safer in the wind whipped waves in the ocean, than our little ship.  We pitched and rolled and I knew there was no way my husband would ever go out to sea again. He didn’t get sick, but the soup sloshing out of the soup bowl at dinner was discouraging.  It was formal night aboard the ship, and as we posed for family pictures, you only had to turn around to see the Titanic staircase backdrop to wonder if the lifeboats were seaworthy.

As we traveled the ocean back to Ft Lauderdale, the squeaking of the roll-away ritual was drowned out by the storm raging outside.  Like steerage passengers on transatlantic voyages of long ago, we stayed awake and talked.

“Let’s go on one of those big Carnival ships next time” my husband eagerly offered.

“We can explore and find the footsteps of my characters, a place for them to exist”  I added.

Finally in 2005, we found ourselves on one of those beautiful Carnival ships.  We were finally traveling, my husband relaxing, and I in search of historical places for my characters to live.

copyright 2005  Rita Alexandrea

Leave a comment

Filed under Carnival cruise lines, cruises, Me, Research trips