COMBING THE CARIBBEAN #1
COMBING THE CARIBBEAN (1) by Tuck
St Thomas Escape "Finito." "Fini." We quit, Bobbie and I. The kids were grown, flown and we were bored. It was time to see the world. We played traveling fantasy. We play other games. Though, none of those will be reveled in this series.
We were ready to travel. See the world. Go where we’d never been. Do things for the first time. We poured some wine. From the top of our bookcase I retrieved a globe I used in my class to teach geography.
Barb and I ‘clinked’ our wine glasses. “Shouldn’t we be blind-folded?” Barb asked. I dodged that question. Blind folds are near the top of my fantasy list. Tonight life decisions would be decided.
We closed our eyes and spun. My finger landed twenty miles south of the North Pole, in Russia. Barb's finger rested near the island of St. Thomas, in the Caribbean Sea.
I argued on behalf my finger for a short time. Pointing out the North Pole would not be over-run by tourists. Sunscreen wouldn’t be a necessity. And we’d never been there.
Bobbie pointed out that unless the climate changed even quicker than predicted, we wouldn’t be needing bathing suits and frolicking late at night in the Arctic Ocean. We wouldn’t be sucking down cocktails with rum and crushed ice and little multi-colored umbrellas. And besides, we’d never been to the Caribbean.
After almost twenty-seven seconds of heated debate Barb chose St. Thomas. "Less baggage. Though money will be a problem," Barbara said wisely.
"We could work on boats ---"
"Your only yachting experience was a round trip Ferry ride across San Francisco Bay," my mate taunted.
"Not true. I was a Sea Scout."
"La di da, Popeye."
"We'll travel, snorkel and scuba. Adventure, suspense and
romance," I promised.
"Adventure and romance," Barbara brightened. "If we can pull it off...” We clinked glasses. “I'm with you Sinbad."
We consulted with friends who sailed the Caribbean. They were discouraging. "You couldn't pick a worse time to go. It's the off season. Hurricanes," they warned. “Tourists; fellow boaters;
everyone’s headed back state-side or to Europe.”
We poured a second glass of wine and held a second discussion arriving at the following POSITIVES:
a) There wouldn’t be many tourist.
b) The islands and the Caribbean Sea would be ours to sail.
c) We wouldn’t have to make reservations. The tourists were gone. We wouldn’t need them. Hell, hotels, B & B’S, would have to compete for our limited funds.
d) With everyone gone, boat captains would vie to have us as crew even if our skills were limited. Okay nonexistent.
a) There might be a hurricane(s).
This (a) was not a fake news.
We rented our home. After all our monthly bills were paid we'd be living on a steady income of $450.00 a month. No problem. We’d be working on a boat. Free room and board. Maybe we’d return with some jingle in our jeans. Error #2.
We packed lightly, $300.00 in cash, one bag each and my guitar.
Our connecting flight from Miami to the Virgin Islands
guaranteed that we'd arrive at 11:06 A.M. We'd have all day to
scout the island and find a reasonable hotel to set up our base
of operations. Error #3.
We arrived on Cyril E. King airport on St. Thomas at 10:36 P.M. Wednesday night April 26. We we’re exhausted.
Taxi cabs of every vintage and model waited outside the airport. Barb and I hopped into cherry red, hybrid 1958 Chevy Impala with the hood of a 1960 Buick, white wall tires, rolled and pleated seats and plastic Jesus and Mary dangling from the rearview mirror.
All the windows were open. Vestiges of happy smoke lingered in the vehicle. Had our flight from San Francisco to Miami not been delayed for nine hours, had the deluxe meal of pretzels and peanuts been able to fill our hunger void, the wide open windows and the small, whirling fan, may have aroused our suspicions about the state of mind of our cab driver.
“People, I welcome you to Saint Thomas. I am Sebastian. I be drivin’ you to where ever you want to be.” Barb and I exchanged looks. We’d made no reservations. Various friends and fellow travelers assured us, ‘The hotels would be empty. The tourists were gone!’ Our plane would arrive at 11:06 a.m. We’d have all day to explore. All day to compare prices. We didn’t know where to go. We didn’t know where we wanted to be.
“So my friends, where do we be going now?” Sebastian continued. It dawned on me that although most of the cabs were now occupied, none had moved. Not one.
Barb asked first “Sebastian, is there something wrong with your cab?”
“Oh, no, no. It’s carnival. Bad traffic. Way too many people. I won’t even be touchin’ de meter ma’am. Gonna’ be slow. It’s ‘Carnival.’ Sebastian explained further as he inched our cab behind other cabs trying to exit Cyril E. King airport.
We’d arrived on St. Thomas on the fourth day of week-long celebration called ‘Carnival.’ For the record, the entire population of the Caribbean is estimated at two and a half million people. Everyone is invited to the event. You didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that everyone accepted the invitation.
Thirty minutes later we’d traveled almost a mile. We snailed along Veteran’s Drive, then to the harbor of Charlotte Amalie.
Outside the window the streets throbbed. Reggae bands from every island in the Caribbean competed for fans attention. People passed on stilts, dressed as skeletons, aliens, animals, and in garbs so skimpy, I earned the dreaded “elbow jab” from Barb as I pressed my nose to the glass.
I don’t know what ‘Carnival’s’ like in Rio de Janeiro, but it would be hard pressed to outdo what we’d stumbled into. The party was on! Revelers danced, jumped and gyrated to the soca/reggae music blasting from speakers on moving trucks, telephone poles, and palm trees.
Embarrassed we explained our plight to Sebastian. "Mon, ye don’t ‘ave any reservations?" Our driver looked at us in disbelief.
I waited for Barb to make a comment. “Dear Sebastian, my stupid husband…” but she didn’t. Instead we smiled sheepishly and shook our heads. “Ya know dis party don’t end ‘till Saturday.” We didn’t know. “Da hotels be full up people.”
A little poem popped into my head.
When the cruise ships leave the bay,
And all the tourist have gone away,
The natives come out to play.
"But, no worry, Mon. I know eh nice place. But, et il take time to git there. De traffic be slow movin’.”
We hadn’t moved five feet in five minutes.
“You want to get out? Dance? Join de festival? We be jest crawlin’. Not goin’ nowhere fast.”
Barb and I hesitated. We watched. The harbor was on our right. Motor yachts and sailboat were at anchor. On the sailboats strings of multicolored lights circled the masts and booms. Other lights were strung along the halyards, and spreaders. We could see strobe lights, balloons and occasional bursts of fireworks from the rear decks of the motor yachts.
On our left, thousands of people moved like a pulsating organism. As many people watched the parade as participated. Many times they were one and the same. Jumping off the curb, joining a faction of the marchers, then leaping back into the throng and disappearing. We were in the middle of a moving, visual feast of song, music and the magical color that is humanity.
Sebastian interrupted our reverie. “You’re young. Go dance. Enjoy da Carnival.”
Barb and I were spent. Starving. We’d been up for nearly 24 hours. We opened the doors of our taxi and stepped into ‘Carnival.’ We danced. Sang songs we’d never heard. We rocked, rolled, grooved to various reggae beats. All the time keeping pace with our taxi. It was our first night. A balmy evening on St. Thomas and we were addicted.
At the same moment, a barrage of fireworks exploded off the deck of a yacht in the harbor, Sebastian beeped. We climb back into his cab. Barbara and I introduced ourselves. Sebastian took a left and drove into the hills above Charlotte Amalie.
Sebastian was right. The Hotel at Bolongo Bay was nice. In fact, beautiful. Though slightly above our budget.
We spent our first night in St. Thomas in a suite overlooking the Caribbean Sea. And more than one third of our initial funds were gone.
Tomorrow: Learning the Ropes
Later: The Laundry mat
Still later: Don’t open the door.