Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

June, 2012:

Name that tune

One of the most striking things about living on island is what isn’t here: noise. We live on a dead end road with only a half a dozen houses all on the ocean side of the street. Only one other house is a primary home and that’s at the other end of the road. Typically the houses around us are vacant; there is nothing but bush behind us; and the Caribbean Sea fills the 5 miles of open space in front of us until the waves lap at the shore on St. Martin. 

The sound of that sea is mostly all we hear. We casually notice when the sea becomes calm or when it’s particularly rough, but mostly it just fills the void with background, white noise.  On the rare occasion when the direction of the wind shifts to come in from the west, it takes us a while to realize that we can hear the low hum of the ferry boats crossing the channel. And when the dragsters elude the police and manage a quick race on the highway north of us, we are unfortunately aware of the activity. Typically, though, the television isn’t left on, and we don’t play the radio. There’s rarely even music playing since all of our cd’s were tucked away when Michael discovered iTunes.   

Our cats are pretty quiet – as cats tend by nature to be. They might make a fuss when they are frustrated by a gecko keeping a safe distance on the ceiling or if they lose track of where I am and call out for me to find them. However, they rarely talk amongst themselves and never converse with me. It’s been years since we’ve been bothered by marauding bands of goats or cows, and the distant neighbor’s dogs aren’t as annoying as they could be (that’s tactful coming from a veterinarian).  Pelicans and hummingbirds are characteristically mute, but the occasional laughing gull chuckles by. Thrasher birds chirp at each other, and the bananaquits tweet. It all makes for pretty, pleasant background music. 

However, as I’ve mentioned before (see the previous post, “Wildlife in Anguilla”) the chickens and roosters can be quite vocal and rather annoying (especially at 3AM!). That’s why, sadly, I am back to trapping chickens again and am still trying to catch one now lonely and now clearly frustrated rooster. After I caught two chickens, though, I noticed a cheeping noise outside the office window. Time after time I snuck out into the yard trying to find what I feared were orphaned chicks looking for their mother. Time after time, I failed. With as much stealth as I could muster, I would creep, step by step, inch by inch, trying to hear them rustling in the leaves. I’d peep my head through the buttonwoods to check the yard next door. I would check behind walls. No luck. I couldn’t see them anywhere. 

Of course, I wasn’t looking up. Baby chickens don’t fly. So it was days of searching before I finally realized that the cheeping wasn’t coming from little chickens. It turns out that there were three baby kestrel hawks calling from the corner of the roof next door. Their parents must have left them to fend for themselves. So, the noise was chicks screaming for their mother but not because I made them orphans. That was a relief. Now the young ones fly back and forth from the roof to the phone lines cheep, cheep, cheeping all the time. So, between the kestrels and that rooster, I’ve got quite a cacophony of noisy, frustrated birds outside.

A Miracle

I realize that I’ve written before about the difficulty in getting things shipped to the island from the States. But the point of this blog is to provide a window into island life and purchasing and acquisitions are a big part of what we are doing all day. I don’t buy shoes on zappos.com and then have them miraculously appear on my door step. After the easy part of online shopping (provided the internet is up and running), there’s still the arduous process of shipping the shoes somewhere in Florida, having them forwarded by boat across the ocean, and then getting them cleared through customs and to my house. Weeks go by not days. My shoes could already be out of fashion by the time they arrive. 

That’s why I just received the couch I purchased in March. We were traveling through Miami with a long layover so we rented a car ($75), drove to the nearest Macy’s, and bought a couch. We didn’t leisurely shop for a couch by going from store to store to store carefully weighing our options. We went to Macy’s and we bought a couch. It wasn’t so important what the couch looked like. It just had to be covered in a washable fabric that matched our color scheme; and since Michael is 6’3” tall with bad knees, it had to be the deepest couch with the highest seat we could find. Oh, and it had to be cheap (for reasons that will become apparent). So I walked around the furniture department, checking the seat height by backing my calf up to the couch, looked at prices, verified washability and then bought a couch that looks, coincidentally, an awful lot like our old couch (two cushions, square lines, about the same size and $799.) We ordered the right color, arranged the shipping to the freight forwarder and returned to the airport in time to make our connection. Not particularly fun but we got the job done. 

Some of the delivery delay was in having the made couch with our chosen fabric. Some of the delay was in transporting it in Miami. Then more delay was waiting for the boat to sail. Then a little more time to cross the ocean.  Finally, it arrived on island over the weekend before a week with two holidays (Whit Monday and Anguilla Day on Wednesday) with us having to leave island on Tuesday afternoon.  In anticipation of a mad rush on Tuesday morning, we got one friend to haul our old couch away, paid the agent $410 for the ocean freight, and spoke to a custom’s broker the week before in order to have all our ducks waiting in a row. We enlisted another friend with a different truck to get the new couch from the dock to the house, and I prepared multiple contingency plans in case we couldn’t get everything done before we had to leave. Then I crossed my fingers. 

In the States I’d have been lounging about sipping coffee grousing about having to wait for the delivery guy to show up, but here on Tuesday morning I downloaded the email from the shipper with the bill of lading so I could forward it and the receipt for the couch on to the broker. I called to see if he had everything and asked when I could pick up the final documents. He said in 15 minutes. So I called the friend with the truck to schedule a time to meet at the warehouse and showed up at the brokers 20 minutes later. Three phone calls and 40 minutes after that the broker joined me. (While waiting I called the friend and told him to hang tight with the truck until further notice.) We finished the papers, paid the broker $25, and headed over to Customs. There we paid another $340 in duty, called the truck back, and spent another 30 minutes waiting for the proper stamps on our documents (no long line just no efficiency). Finally, we met the truck at the warehouse where the woman wanted me to sign that I had received the sofa. I said I would as soon as I had actually received the sofa and asked if she could have someone get it out towards the truck so we could see it. She never said another word so it was 15 minutes later when I realized that she wanted me to sign that I had received a couch before I had received a couch in order to actually receive a couch. That done, we received the couch and drove it home. 

And that’s the story of how I got a new couch in the islands. It only took a total of 11 weeks and untold hours of my time and cost $850 above and beyond the $799 price of the cheap couch to accomplish it. That’s why I was so unbelievably excited the other day. The phone rang and the caller identified himself as UPS, said he had something for me, and asked where I live. He asked where I live. Let me say that again. He asked where I live. Do you realize what that means? He was going to bring my delivery to ME! AT MY HOUSE! After I gave him directions and hung up the phone, I couldn’t stand still. I was so excited. It was like Christmas morning. What could it be? Who was it from? And more importantly, what was this miracle called ‘home delivery?’ 

It turns out it was only documents, but the impersonal nature of the item could not dim my enthusiasm. After all, I was just sitting around sipping coffee when the delivery guy brought it to me. That, my friends, was gift enough.