A Day on Barbados – January 2019

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Barbados was our 4th port stop on our Caribbean Cruise. All we really wanted to experience on Barbados was to snorkel near shipwrecks. We decided that booking an excursion with our cruise line would be the easiest way to achieve this activity.

We believe that possibly our lack of experience with cruising almost led us to miss our excursion bus on Barbados. On St. Lucia, our excursion starting point was a three-minute walk off of the ship. However, on Barbados, it took us 20 minutes from the time we got off the ship to get to our connecting bus, which alone was not easy to find. It was a pretty long walk that we did not necessarily allocate time for. We did catch the bus, which took us to Pirate’s Cove on Carlisle Bay in Bridgetown. We got to spend some time lounging on the beautiful beach (see picture above and at the bottom of this post).

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After a good amount of time on the beach, many individuals in our excursion group were getting antsy to get on the snorkel boat, which turned out to be delayed by more than a half hour. On top of this delay, we had to walk a half mile into town (see picture above) to catch the boat that was suppose to have docked right by the beach we were on. This was not happy news for a few individuals who had mobility concerns (they were on this excursion for the glass bottom boat option). Both were poor planning issues by the tour company. While we did not personally mind the walk, it was another delay that took away time from our snorkeling adventure, that we had been most looking forward to. The boat was equipped with the necessary snorkel gear, drinks and a slide to get into the water. After a few minutes, we got to the first destination – the shipwrecks.

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The view of the shipwrecks was crazy stunning! Our boat was literally parked on top of them, so we didn’t have to snorkel far at all. The pictures above are a bit grainy, because I pulled it from an underwater video that we took. However, while we enjoyed snorkeling around the shipwrecks, it was nearly impossible to view this amazing sight and simultaneously avoid swimming into another snorkeler. It turns out that there were many many excursions to this sight at that time (see picture below). Even with the craziness of all the people, I would have still liked a bit more time to explore the shipwrecks, but when you have all those boats in one place, you become a bit nervous that yours will take off without you, so we remained close by.

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Our next stop, was to see sea turtles or in our case sea turtle. I don’t believe I ever snorkeled with a sea turtle before and this one was much larger than I expected.20190102_125939 However, there was one of them and like twenty of us snorkelers following/chasing it. It was an odd experience, and we don’t feel like it was a positive one. Again, our snorkel time was too short, and we were back on the boat, heading toward the beach. If we were feeling a bit disappointed by this excursion at this time, that disappointment increase a lot by how we disembarked from the boat. The boat landed on the beach, which was fine. However, the waves were rocking the boat so much that it became very dangerous to disembark and people exiting the boat were falling. Some fell pretty badly. I feel like we definitely earned ourselves a cold beverage on the beach after that. (See picture on the right.)

Note: While the cruise line did reimburse us some of our excursion money for this not so positive experience, we will definitely think twice before booking another excursion through a cruise line.

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20 Years of Travel #19: Chernobyl

_DSC5065The 20 Years of Travel series continues with our day trip to Chernobyl in Ukraine. If there was any trip my husband and I have taken where people ask the question “Why?”, it would be our trip to Chernobyl in 2016. The nuclear disaster in Chernobyl happened on April 25-26, 1986, when I was a little kid. When my husband and I heard that they were opening the13770367_267208830320350_1063754274685798828_n areas around the reactor for visitors almost 25 years later, we immediately put it on our list of places to visit. We were definitely interested in learning more about the accident and the reactor first hand. However, there is something unique and a bit post-apocalyptic about seeing towns that have been completely deserted and as a result have remained completely the same for the last 25 years. The only differences are that grass and weeds are overgrown everywhere and the buildings are rundown. When the people evacuated these towns after the accident, they were all under the impression that they would get to return to their homes in a week or so. However, as most of us know, that did not happen. Even the carnival rides from the fair that was being held in Prypyat during the time of the accident continue to hauntingly remain standing and abandoned.

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Journey to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone:
The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone is safe! It would not be open to public tours if it wasn’t. Actually, you are also allowed to stay overnight in the Exclusion Zone, however, due to time constraints, we decided just to take the one-day Chernobyl Tour that leaves from Kiev early in the morning. The drive to the Dytyatky checkpoint into the Exclusion Zone takes a couple of hours, so you have a chance to nap in the car or watch the Chernobyl documentary that they put on the television for us. This documentary was amazing, and I really wish I had written down the title of it. It gave an overview of what led up to the explosion, including power failures during testing. I think the most shocking part of this documentary for me, as I was very young when this disaster occurred so knew little about it, was the cover-up that occurred after the explosion. As this was a Soviet nuclear power plant, they tried to keep this incident a secret from the international community and even from their own people. Many individuals in the nearby town of Pripyat felt the explosion in the middle of the night. As firefighters were risking their lives, trying to contain the explosion, people in Pripyat were told to continue with their daily activities and enjoy the carnival that was in town, while fumes and smoke spread through the city. More than 24 hours later, they finally decided to start evacuating nearby towns. The international community became aware of the situation, when Sweden started detecting high radiation levels. If Sweden was detecting high radiation levels, just imagine the radiation levels in the towns near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.

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Geiger counter & Homes:
Once in the Exclusion Zone, we started visiting some of the towns that were abandoned. _DSC5173To get a clear idea of the vast impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the picture above is a memorial to all the towns that were affected by radiation and had to be evacuated. When we exited our vehicle, our guides gave us individual Geiger counters (see picture on the right) to be able to track radiation levels. The Geiger counters were sound an alarm if radiation levels were above 2.0 mSv’s. I think I saw our Geiger counter hit 4.0 at one point. However, even when the alarm sounds, the radiation levels are not harmful. Basically we were just given our yearly dose of radiation in one day. We first started visiting some of the abandoned homes (see pictures below).

Abandoned Community Facilities
We also visited some community buildings including a local school, gymnasium and public pool (see pictures below).

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Duga-1:
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union built this missile defense system, which was designed to detect the launching of intercontinental ballistic missiles. This structure, located only a few kilometers from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, was irradiated during the Chernobyl disaster but remains standing, as all the valuable metal has been contaminated and the surrounding sand too. Since it can’t be knocked over without releasing dangerous amounts of radiation, it’s one of the few remaining Soviet missile radars still standing in the former Soviet Union.

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Pripyat Carnival:
The nearest town to the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was Pripyat. The town of approximately 50,000 people were enjoying a carnival that was in town when the explosion happened. The carnival rides are still standing (see pictures below).

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The Reactor:
Less than a month after the explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, a cover was designed, called the Sarcophagus, to go over the reactor to contain the radiation. The Sarcophagus was only designed to be a useful cover for 20-30 years, so work was done to build the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement (aka the Arch). This Arch would cost billions of dollars and be constructed next to the reactor. We got to view the reactor with the Sarcophagus and the Arch next to it from a safe distance (see picture below). In 2017, a year after our visit, the Arch was moved over the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant as a more permanent containment system.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone was one of the most interesting places we have ever explored. We have never seen so many abandoned towns. The expansive reach of such a tragedy was astounding. It was quite a haunting and somewhat unnerving site to behold. We would definitely recommend visiting this area if you are ever in Ukraine.

HAPPY TRAVELS!!!