I have been procrastinating, my camera has gone missing and with it all the photos we have taken since we returned to the Caribbean, lesson learned, always back up. So I find myself writing without the help of pictures. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I am short on words to replace all those lost pictures. But I continue to write to keep the memories, afraid that they may fade over time if I don't write them down, also aware that they are morphing in my mind, excluding what I'd rather forget, making a new reality filled only with happy thoughts. And as I watch tourists embark from the ferries donning cameras I think maybe being camera-less is not such a bad thing, maybe we will blend in more, experiencing the days instead of attempting to document them. So before I forget or distort the memories too much, let me write it down.
So many memories, sailing the turquoise waters of the Grenadines, snorkeling with sea turtles and over huge star fish at Tobago Cay, locals performing kite boarding tricks off Happy Island, which consists of one bar and lots of happy people, hiking through rain forests to the many waterfalls on Grenada, exploring remote beaches on deserted islands, touring chocolate, rum and nutmeg factories producing products with manual labor, little machinery, and lots of chatty workers, strapping on a harness and attaching a kite to drag us through the water, changing coarse to divert hitting a whale in our path, being escorted by a city of dolphins (so many more than a school) … But the most vivid memories are always of the people, family and friends that we are so happy have joined us from home, locals we've encountered along the way, other sailors we've befriended. Those are the memories that really make us think, put a smile on our face and always give us a better understanding of a place, and sometimes of ourselves.
There was the grilled lobster dinner on the beach in Chatham Bay, with Vanessa and Cletis, who were nice enough to show us just how they cooked our lobster. First taking it out of a cage at the edge of the water, then whacking off it's antennae before cutting the lobster in half with a huge cleaver, all the while it continues to move, no humane knife to the back of the neck. Cleaning the guts out in the sea water and tossing it on the grill, still moving as it cooks, one half independent of the other, and we work to convince ourselves that it has no feelings, and try hard to block the memory of it cooking so we can enjoy eating the best lobster we've ever had, with their special sauce and our toes in the sand. And Summer, the dinghy driver that picked us up for dinner and dropped us back on our boat, after what we thought was one marijuana joint he had made last all night but were informed it was actually his fourth and he sees and drives much better after four, sometimes it seems everyone is Rastafarian in the Caribbean. The experience was so memorable that we made a return visit to share it with family from home, but this time we drove our own dinghy to dinner and we did not repeat the cooking class.
The industrious bartenders at the small floating bar in the middle of Bequia harbor that can only be reached by dinghy, who serve the best rum punches in the islands (fresh passion fruit and mint the secret), and hiking the surrounding hills with our old friends on Numada that have been living on their sailboat in the Caribbean since we sailed down with them two years ago.
Meeting Carlos on Tobago Cay, who helped us tie up to our mooring and provided any services requested, including a grilled fish dinner on the small beach near by, and a commentary on life on the island. How expensive food is that he travels by boat to buy on neighboring Union Island, his project planting trees to replace those lost in the hurricane, and his dreams to make improvements to the island, sometimes without much cooperation. We no longer complain about the expensive food in the Caribbean, after hearing what he goes through to provide dinner it seem like a real bargain.
Twiggy, the bus driver on Grenada, that didn't seem to mind that we were his only passengers but took advantage of his captive audience to take us on a tour of his life, the bar where he plays music at night and the beach front that he has plans to develop to provide services to the cruisers that anchor there. His enthusiasm was contagious and maybe a little scary, and after many unplanned stops we finally did get dropped at our destination.
Helping to rescue a runaway dingy on a windy night in Clifton Bay and making new friends after running into them all over the island, at the Full moon party on the beach, kite boarding lessons at the lagoon, sipping sun-downers, and sharing meals and stories, of their lives on the boat and back in Amsterdam.
Luca, the Montenegrin kite boarding instructor, who was not only super patient in trying to explain something that looks so simple but is so difficult in reality, while sharing his views of US politics and the upcoming election, believing that our election is being watched closely by the world and will have influence far beyond our borders, scary thought. The good news, you never really are too old to learn new tricks, and with four lessons in and lots of determination you can feel the excitement of riding along the water, kite overhead and board underneath, Tony's progress measured in miles, mine in meters.
Gary the tour guide that showed us the sights on Grenada and hiked with us to Concord falls, along with the machete wielding guide because he had lived on the island his whole life and had never been to the falls. He was so proud of the fact that we were the first tour of his career, and we found we had become friends after we continued to run into him on the streets in town.
Sharing beers with locals and having them answer a few of our many questions. How do you get the heavy wooden boats they all drive pulled so far up on the beach (teamwork and fenders) How do they catch all the lobsters for the beach barbecues? (not the traps of New England but long nets, sometimes catching one, sometimes twenty at a time) And also sharing their stories and dreams, working hard to travel to far away places.
Sometimes opportunities come knocking on your boat in the form of Winfield with his offer to refinish our wood, detaining us in Bequia longer than planned, but doing a much more professional job than we had and leaving no brush strokes while filling the hours working on board sharing stories of boats he'd worked on, places he'd been, where to get the best roti on the island, hear live music and the local politics.
Sometimes the outcome of the interactions we have with the people we meet is not what we expect, and we realize we can't always control the experience but only how we decide it will affect us. We started out at 6:30 one morning, an hour ride to the Pitons on St. Lucia all set to climb Gros Piton, it was described as a demanding 4 hour round trip climb, but we felt ready for the challenge. Having a guide for the hike is mandatory, we were impressed that ours was in her 50's and had been hiking to the summit for decades, we figured we were in good hands. Pretty early on she started feeling ill though, we were worried about her but honestly more focused on getting to the top. We told her we could go on without her and she could head back, but learned quickly that wasn't an option, she would be in trouble of losing her job if she didn't return with us, and wouldn't get paid. She had lived in the village at the base her whole life, we couldn't help but wonder what other job opportunities there would be for her there. Tony and I really wanted to do this climb so we pushed on, giving her our snacks for energy, but we finally had to admit we were being really selfish, she wasn't getting any better and we'd have a hard time getting her down if something went wrong. So with a heavy heart we turned around, trying to convince her we wouldn't mention to anyone she was sick or complain about our experience, she had a hard time believing us, didn't understand why we would do that for her. She didn't realize the hardest part for us was having to tell hikers we met on the way down that we didn't get to the top, and not being able to say why. When we reached the bottom we asked our driver to drop her off at the health clinic on our way by, hoping she would be ok. The day had started with us thinking it may be physically grueling, but it ended up being more of a mental struggle, telling ourselves we did the right thing, so disappointed in the outcome and not sure if and when we'd ever make it back to try it again. Interesting that on the ride back our driver shared with us how he and all the older employees that had worked at an island resort nearly 20 years had recently been laid off and replaced with younger, less expensive workers. It opened our eyes to a part of Caribbean life we had not seen, the struggle to keep a job as you age or are sick. We try to convince ourselves that the time and money we spent not hiking to the top in some way helped the locals we encountered, even in a small way.
And we never say no to invitations, so when someone comes by our boat saying there's a band playing at a local spot, we go, or a barbecue and open mike, we go, full moon party on the beach, we go, never sure what we'll find but it always makes for an interesting night. Sometimes in saying yes we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations, the only whites in a sea of locals, we realize how easy it is that we usually blend in but also that it's good at times to be uncomfortable and to stand out.
Returning to the Caribbean we find we'd like to experience these islands in a different way than we did two years ago, visit new islands for the first time and familiar places in a new way, continuing to go where we're invited and putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations. And everyday life goes on, we dodge raindrops taking the dinghy to shore to shop the produce markets, grocery stores and chandleries, because even though it's the dry season it seems to rain every day, we rent electric scooters while we wait to repair the freezer, again, over reaching the capacity of the battery and having to push the scooter uphill and jump on to ride the downhills back to port. After all, the Caribbean isn't just rum drinks and sandy beaches, sometimes it's boat chores and repairs. All the while the basket of boat cards continues to grow, each one has an encounter and memory attached, the people we meet continue to leave their mark on our travels in so many unexpected and wonderful ways.
And there are just a few pictures to jog our memory thanks to our trusty cell phones.