Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

January, 2012:

Have you heard the one about…

For the last few days we have been working busily getting ready for another round of friends to arrive for a visit. That means some heavy pruning, sewing a few new cushion covers for the picnic table benches, and some meal planning. Having more guests arriving makes me think back to our last friends who were here for the holidays. Nobody in the next group has ever been here before. The other friends have been here four or five times already. You would think that with hearing all of our stories about what we do all day here on island coupled with multiple personal experiences they have had here with us, the seasoned visitors would have a pretty clear picture of what it’s like here. Not necessarily so.

Of course, our guests are here on vacation, and we, in turn, interrupt our normal routine to play ‘vacationers’ with our guests. We stock up the fridge and the wine cooler. We go out for dinner and drinks, and we hang at the beach. Having visitors is a good thing that way. We do relaxing and restful and touristy things when they are here. And we did that with these friends – except for one day.

We had decided to stay in on New Year’s Eve. So we needed to go to the grocery store for maybe 7 items to make a nice celebratory dinner. No big deal. In Denver, they would bop over to Whole Foods, check off their list and be back home before the ice thawed off of the edges of the windshield. We went to the first store. We found 4 items. We piled back into the car. We went to the next store. We found 2 more items. We piled back into the car but with a smidge less enthusiasm. At the third store, the frustration was clearly building. Still no shallots. Then the moment of truth. How important are shallots, really? Important enough to warrant driving to a fourth store? A fifth?

Michael is pretty picky about his culinary arts. For him, there is no substitute for a shallot. It may well be that a shallot is sort of a cross between an onion and a garlic, however, a shallot is neither an onion nor a garlic. Under other circumstances, Michael most likely would have stood firm and driven to every store on the island to find a shallot. Or he would have rethought his entire dinner menu to work around the unforgivable lack of shallots. We had to consider our guests, however, so I drew the proverbial line in the sand and insisted that we give up (gasp) and return home.
Nobody passed out from shopping exhaustion, we managed to enjoy the meal in spite of the hardship, and we still had days to go beach to quell our disappointment. One of those days I dropped the three of them at the beach, did some chores alone, and then returned to join them. The guys were off walking the shore solving the problems of the world. So I joined my friend under her umbrella. The group had rented two umbrellas and four chairs, but to start with I just sat on the sand next to her to chat. The waves were rough and were coming nearly up to the chairs. The umbrella guy, though, had assured them that the tide was receding and that they’d be fine where they were.

When I arrived, he followed me in the hopes that I needed to rent my own beach furniture. While we were all chatting, we mentioned again that we were concerned that the waves were coming very close. He laughed and assured us that there was absolutely no risk of the water advancing any further. Then to emphasize his confidence in his prediction, he drew the literal line in the sand beyond which he swore the water would not come. And there it was: that moment of truth. And you could almost hear the sea laughing in the sound of the next wave breaking as the water came not only over that line but over his ankles and under my ass and all the way up past the chairs.

And the comedy and the irony and the symbolism were just too funny. Do you know that the word humor derives from the latin word umor which mean fluid? It makes for a good metaphor for island life because here, surrounded by water with so many little things beyond your control (from the availability of shallots to the whims of the sea) you have to be fluid. You have to go with the flow. You just have to laugh.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night….

Sorry for my lack of posts lately. The holidays here in Anguilla are crazy, just in a different way than back in the States. In this tourism based environment, the couple of weeks around Christmas and New Years are the highest of high seasons. It’s the absolutely busiest time of year. In contrast to my family members in the States who always seem to have a week off at the holidays to lounge about and enjoy the festivities, here everyone is working really, really hard this time of year.  And if they take time out for anything, it’s to do their traditional Christmas house painting or to buy their new Christmas curtains and linens. (Apparently, replacing curtains, bath mats and duvets is THE thing to do.) All of that cuts into decorating time and partying time.

There also isn’t any wondering or hoping for a white Christmas. This Christmas Day the high temperature was 82 and the low was 73. Sure we got the blankets out to ward off the chill at night, but there’s still no risk of snow. The island Christmas songs reflect that. Try ‘How Will Santa Get Here’ as an example: “the yard has no snow, the house has no chimney so how will Santa really get to me? Ho, Ho, Ho. Ho, Ho, Ho. How will Santa get here?”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJ43527fscY&feature=related

OK, so there’s no snow, not a lot of decorating, minimal baking and some unique musical offerings; but come on. That’s not what Christmas is really about, right? We know the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is about presents! And thanks to the internet, we can easily do Christmas shopping even from a little desert island in the middle of the ocean. Yes, we can send gifts to our friends and families without any trouble at all. Thank you, Visa, American Express, Amazon, Fedex and UPS.

Luckily, however, it is supposed to be better to give than to receive because sending gifts may be easy; but receiving gifts is another thing altogether. It’s January 21st now and I still haven’t received a Christmas card that friends in England swear they sent. Imagine if it were a package. UPS and Fedex-ing items directly to us on island would more likely get them here, but that is ridiculously expensive for the sender. On top of that we, the recipients, have to pay duty on the gifts we receive. AND we also have to pay duty on the shipping costs incurred getting them here. That means that if you send me a package worth $50 that costs $50 to ship and the duty rate on the gift is 30%, I, the giftee, have to pay the Government of Anguilla $30 to claim your $50 gift to me.

The cheaper way to send something to me is to mail it to a freight forwarding company in Florida that sends things by boat to the post office here. That way, I have to pay the shipping to Anguilla plus the duty on the shipping plus the duty on the item. That way the $50 gift costs you only shipping to Florida, but it may cost me $20 in shipping plus $21 in duty. It takes a lot longer for me to get the gift – boats being slower than planes – but it costs me less to receive your gift.

Finally, no matter how you send something (package or letter) NOBODY, and I mean nobody (not the post office, not UPS, not Fedex) is going to bring it to my house. Fedex and UPS call me and tell me to come get it myself. The post office waits for me to check my post office box at the post office itself to find the notification slip.

That is why I went to the post office on January 16th to pick up a Christmas present.  It was mailed in the States well ahead of time, but it only arrived on island last week and didn’t clear the bureaucracy until Friday. Then I had to stand forever in lines – first to pay for the shipping, then to pay for duty. Then after all of that, if you didn’t include an invoice in your gift to me (which obviously is unheard of in the States), I can’t have it. I have to go home, ask you to send me an invoice, and then go back to stand in line again.

Ho Ho Ho. Merry Christmas.