Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

travel

What are the odds?

First of all our thoughts go out to all of those individuals and families most impacted by the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. During hurricane season Michael always takes comfort in pointing out that Anguilla is a teeny, tiny island in a very big ocean so that the odds of a hurricane hitting us are very slim. Over the last few weeks, however, I have been struck time and time and time again how connected we really are to so many other places in the world.

First, my good friend, Dianne Norris, sold her home here after 30+ years and moved back to California. This got me thinking about the friends that I have made on this island – people that I would never, ever have met if I had stayed in my suburban life in northern California. In all fairness, some of that would have been my own fault. Back then when Michael and I weren’t working, we were hanging out together – just the two of us. We didn’t hang with our neighbors. We didn’t hang with our coworkers. We didn’t socialize much at all.

Here in Anguilla, however, pretty much the only leisure pastimes that exist are quiet walks on the beach or dinner parties (either at restaurants or at home). The former you can do alone. For the latter it rather helps to be friends with some other people. (When Michael and I eat hotdogs and French fries at home alone it doesn’t really count as a dinner party even if we do pop open a nice merlot.) So now we have a diverse group of friends not only from all over the United States but from all over the world. In addition to enjoying time with them here in the islands, we have visited them in far off places and they have encouraged us to visits still other exotic locations (with and without them).

Which brings me to the second reason I was thinking of how truly amazing my current circle of friends really is….especially in light of the fact that I met them all on a 35 square mile island. Here we are leaving on a one month vacation through Eastern Europe followed by a few nights in northern Norway to hopefully, successfully chase after the Northern Lights, and without any particular effort whatsoever , I have connected with friends who are right now in Austria, other friends from Germany giving more tips on Austria, a brother of a friend living in Prague, and a friend of a friend from little Tromso, Norway.

In fact, Michael was picking up our car at the garage the other day and got to talking to an Indian fellow from Kerala (we have been there) who lived for years in, of all places, Tromso, Norway. What are the odds of that? Well, apparently, mercifully, far greater than for being hit by a hurricane. (Knock wood)

I Think I See a Trend

Just about a month ago I posted a blog about the travails some friends had trying to get from Anguilla to Antigua and beyond. (Easy come, easy go or not http://whaddyadoallday.com/?p=555 ) That story ended with an impromptu tailgate picnic in the parking lot of the Anguilla airport. I think now we may have a meme. Here’s the latest:

Our last group of winter guests arrived at the end of March. They’ve been to Anguilla many times so this time we thought we would take a few days at the end of their stay to visit St. Barths. We love St Barths. In fact, if we hadn’t thought we’d always be going to the beach (St. Barths doesn’t have many beaches but then again we hardly ever go anyway) and if we had had a whole lot more money, we might have moved there instead of Anguilla. Luckily, we have a friend, Mary Ann, who has a house there on the hill overlooking St. Jean (Eden Rock Hotel, Nikki Beach, and the airport). So we made arrangements to take our friends to meet Mary Ann.

To get from Anguilla to Barths, you can charter a plane. (We did not.) You can charter a boat. (We did not.) Or you can take the regular ferry from Anguilla to St Martin; and then, if you are lucky, the ferry to St. Barths leaves from the same terminal in Marigot on that day. (We were not.) Otherwise you take a cab to Oyster Pond and catch the ferry to St. Barths from there. (That’s what we did.) We bought our tickets online choosing a schedule that didn’t require getting up out of the house at 7am but would still get us to St. Barths around noon. There was a big Bucket Race yachting competition ending that day. And Mary Ann and her French friends were planning a lovely Sunday lunch for our arrival.

The best laid plans.

We arrived at Oyster Pond only to find the ferry’s check-in window closed with a note tacked on the wall informing us that our boat had been cancelled. The note claimed to have tried to reach us with this news, but we had never received notification. In a long and complicated story, the email they sent was later found in Michael’s spam folder while the captain of the ship which had just docked on its return trip from Barths told us that there is NEVER a boat that leaves at that time midday. So we were none too happy especially given that the next boat was not scheduled to depart for another 5 hours and there is NOTHING to do and just two little restaurants in the marina at Oyster Pond.

At least the captain was kind enough to let us sit on the boat in the air-conditioning while we waited. But still, 5 hours is a long, damn time to sit around doing nothing and reading (though in all fairness that’s pretty much what most of our houseguests tend to do on a normal day anyway). The bigger disappointment was missing seeing the racing yachts coming back into the harbor at the end of the Bucket Race and inconveniencing Mary Ann (who we did at least manage to contact with our revised arrival time).

However, when we arrived into Gustavia and disembarked the boat, Mary Ann and her friends were there waiting with…..a picnic….of quiche and fruit and, of course, wine! Fortunately, there’s a conveniently located gazebo located right there in the harbor so we didn’t even have to eat out of the back of the car this time. These arrival and departure picnics could become a tradition. After all, just look at all of our happy, happy faces (L-R John, Michael, Coco, Me, Judy, and Mary Ann).

Gustavia Picnic

 

GPS

I’m a city girl. Well, I’m not actually a ‘born and raised in Manhattan’ kind of city girl; but I was born and raised and attended college and university within the city limits of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I never lived in the suburbia of the Brady Bunch let alone the rural extreme of a Green Acres. So when I met Michael and went to UPS the first time to mail his sister’s Christmas present, I was a little bit taken aback at the address he told me to write on the shipping label. It read: “1/2 mile west of the golf ball, Sublette, Kansas.” No need to dwell on the true identity of the landmark golf ball it referenced. Suffice it to say that she lived way, way out in the country.

Of course, back in the day, a good part of Anguilla’s charm was in its small town feel. There was only one telephone exchange, 497, which meant that you only had to tell someone the last four digits of your phone number since the 497 was understood. Now there must be well over a dozen different exchanges. There was also only one street that had a name – well, at least only one that anyone knew of. Now lots of streets have names though, in all fairness, probably nobody knows most of those either. But whether we admit it or not, whether we embrace it or not, the world and this little island have come a long way in the last decade.

In those ancient times ten years ago, I would have been forced to give directions to my house based on the ‘golf ball’ like markers of a certain colored trash bin at one corner, the presence of a lively herd of goats perched on their favorite rock pile at the next turn, and the ultimate feeling of being in the middle of nowhere and totally lost as confirmation that a guest was still heading in the right direction. Those days are gone forever, though. The proof is in the fact that when a friend in St. Martin was planning a weekend getaway to Anguilla, I turned, solely out of habit, to Google Maps to give him directions to my house; and before I realized the futility of my ways, there they were.

Yes indeed. You can type in directions from: ‘Blowing Point Ferry Terminal, Anguilla’ to ‘Banana Wind, Anguilla’ and damn if it doesn’t take you straight to the end of my driveway. ( I’ve always wondered how far the drive was. Apparently, it’s 2.2 km even. ) Granted, even the mighty and powerful Google Maps doesn’t know the names of the streets here….not even the modern marvel of the Jeremiah Gumbs Highway (otherwise known as the ‘third right’ in the directions); but it delivers you directly to my door. What an amazing world we live in!

Of course, old habits die hard. When someone asks me my phone number, I still tend to respond with the last four digits and then go back and fill in the first three.  So maybe it’s not so surprising that a local café placed an ad in the newspaper here that perfectly illustrates the struggle between the old and the new when it comes to our modern world. On one hand, the phone number is listed not even with just the seven digits of the exchange and the subscriber number but rather with both the area code for Anguilla AND the ‘country code’ of 1. Such attention to detail would imply that the owners are reaching out to touch a truly international crowd. And yet, in a throwback to a bygone era, the café’s location is listed quite simply as “Somewhere in Sandy Ground.”

Mind you, not even ‘across from the cricket pitch’ or ‘on the back side of the salt pond’ or ‘on the road to the hydroponic farm.’ Just ‘somewhere’.  Well, good luck with that. At least if you can’t find them, you can always call.

The Good Ol’ Days

A lot has changed in Anguilla since I moved here and even more since I first came here on vacation. As is usually the case with growth and advancement, some things are good and some things are not. Or I guess I should say that some things seem to be good and some things seem not; and the perception of any individual change as being either positive or negative is certainly subject to personal interpretation.

Take the paving of roads, for instance. When we first came to the island paved roads were few and far between – literally. You had to drive really far on bumpy, rutted, dusty roads to reach the few paved thoroughfares. Plus, no matter the nature of the road, goats ruled. Those adorable yet flighty kids were everywhere. Over the years, however, the infrastructure of the island has been ‘improved’ resulting in the paving of the majority of roads. (though not our road, of course.) And grocery stores have come a long way in providing more selection and quality and the convenience of buying plenty of frozen or fresh, packaged meats. (No, all those goats were not pets.) As a result, you can now turn plenty of corners on this island’s paved roads without (nearly) hitting a goat. Those of us who live here and have to drive around every day appreciate the paved roads and the option to leave our front gate open occasionally without finding goats grazing on our lovely, landscape plants. Tourists, on the other hand, have been known to bemoan the fact that these changes resulted in the island losing some of its charm. Luckily, though, one can always retire to any one of the island’s 30+ gorgeous beaches, sip a rum punch or two, and put unhappy thoughts of mundane paved roads out of their minds.

I do think everyone would agree, however, that losing commercial air access to this island from the U.S. was a bad thing. OK, see there, probably that’s not even true since the ferry operators that shuttle folks back and forth from the airport in St. Maarten likely see this as a good thing; but going from three American Airlines flights each day to zero was a tough blow to the island. Finally, a regional airline has partnered with American on a flight to San Juan connecting on in the big jets. So after many years of almost NEVER visiting the airport in Anguilla, I found myself there twice in the last week as Michael flew out on Saturday and my friend, Dianne, flew out yesterday.

During the early morning drive in to see Dianne off, I passed a herd of goats that they’ve recently brought to the airport to ‘mow’ down the grass, and I had to smile at the thought that they now have to round up goats and transport them someplace for this purpose. Then when the restaurant at the airport wasn’t open yet and we had to go in search of a cup of coffee in the Valley in Anguilla at 7:30AM, the memories really started coming as we ended up at an old, established, local place right across from the post office called Nico’s. I see Nico’s every time I pass through the Valley, but I haven’t been in there in years – not since the days of first visiting an architect’s office next door and later visiting an attorney’s office upstairs in order to sue the architect. Nico’s is where we’d stop for a drink before or after appointments. It’s where we parked my stepdaughter one day while we went to a meeting and where she was subsequently hit on by a little bit of local color called Raggamuffin Jimmy. It’s also where all of the politicians hung out back then and apparently where they still come together today at a long stretch of tables pushed together  on the side drinking coffee and tea out of self-service urns and, from the looks of it, eating a hearty breakfast of bull foot soup.

As we drank our coffee, Dianne (who’s been on this rock for almost 30 years) and I found ourselves sharing stories. Stories of the old grocery store nearby where you could hardly get past the flies to nab a mostly rotten piece of fruit or some local salt fish and how exciting it was when fresh milk or diet Coke showed up on island. She remembered one time when she and her sister-in-law went unsuccessfully in search of more ice for their drinks (probably NOT diet cokes) until someone at some tiny grocery store suggested that they get some from the lady down the road. Off they went to the indicated building that was not another store but just somebody’s little house. They tentatively knocked on the little front door and told the little woman who answered that they were hoping to buy some ice. Sure enough, she ushered them out back, opened an old, rusted freezer, moved a pile of fish aside, and started hacking off a nice, big chunk. Now, years later, Dianne doesn’t remember if the ice imparted a particularly fishy flavor to their cocktails, but she still does fondly remember the experience. It’s like the days when the gas station often didn’t have any change, so they’d offer to pay you back in Chicklets.

Yup, Chicklets for change. Those were the days.

Feeling Loopy

Sometimes organizing your life from an island can be a mind-boggling, head-scratching, dizzying sort of ordeal. Trying to optimize travel to make the most efficient use of airfare and hotel and rental car costs is like planning your local errands so that you get everything done in one nice, neat and tidy loop – but a million times more complicated. You may be plotting the best order in which to hit the gym, the dry cleaners and the grocery store in order to save time and money on gas. Our errand loops are a bit more problematical than that. 

Recently we have been busy determining the best way to combine taking in a Lady Gaga concert in Florida and giving a lecture in southern California with a little hop up to northern California to meet with the tax accountant and my ob-gyn (who only works two days a week now). The folks organizing the lecture date were most accommodating. So we thought we had it all mapped out until Michael ruptured his cervical disc.

After several weeks of intractable, excruciating pain that was completely unresponsive to a vast array of anti-inflammatories, narcotics and even ‘alternative medicines’, he finally elected to seek medical attention in the US a couple of weeks ago (tacked on to the end of a trip he was taking for business, of course). Long story short, he needs surgery. That means he has to go back to the States to get it later this month. And so the plotting and planning has commenced anew only this time with the added loopiness brought on my some potent pain meds. 

First, we had to buy tickets for the one “simple”, loop of a round-trip to Miami and back for the surgery itself which has been scheduled for two weeks before the aforementioned Lady Gaga concert. Coincidence? I don’t think so. This way Michael can have the follow-up, suture removal appointment two days before the concert and then pretty much carry on with the remainder of the loop as previously planned. 

That means that in the middle of March we will:

Fly to Miami for his post-surgical doctor’s visit.

We’ll stay for a couple of days to take in the Lady Gaga concert.

Fly the next day (Saturday) to Los Angeles so that…

Michael can lecture on Sunday for 5 hours.

Then we’ll fly Sunday night to San Francisco.

Monday we’ll meet with our tax accountant.

Tuesday I’ll catch up with my gynecologist and ‘squeeze’ in a mammogram.

Wednesday maybe we’ll see an orthopod about future knee replacement surgery for Michael.

We’ll  fit in a visit or two with the kids and grandkids in our free time.

Then Thursday, we’ll fly to Miami to hang at an airport hotel.

And finally we’ll fly home on Friday.

I’ve still got to orchestrate hotels and car rentals and other little miscellaneous details; but for now I think I’m just going to enjoy some recreational pain killers of my own in the form of a nice, little chardonnay. Cheers!

Island Fever

People always worry about the psychological effects of living on a small island. I have always supposed, however, that a lot of people (at least those without lengthy work commutes) spend the vast majority of their days within a 35 square mile area no bigger than the island of Anguilla. It’s the knowledge that they CAN go somewhere else that makes them content to stay where they are. On an actual island it is just that the going away part is harder than getting in your car and driving over that imaginary barrier that is ‘Outer Limit Lane’ in your usual territory – harder and more expensive. Hence the amplified sense of angst and ennui involved in living on a desert island known as Island Fever. 

Island fever is not, however, a physical malady. In fact, I rarely get sick living here. I live in a wide open environment full of relatively clean, nearly constantly-moving, fresh air. I rarely find myself in closed, air-conditioned spaces like banks and grocery stores. And when I do I’m only there for minutes at a time with maybe a dozen other people briefly sharing the space with me. Even the longest drive I can take in my air-conditioned car takes less than 20 minutes. As a result, I stay pretty healthy…until I leave the island. 

That’s why I wasn’t in touch last week. I spent a few days traveling back and forth to St. Maarten to help out at a veterinary clinic there. That placed me inside a climate-controlled hospital for 10 hours a day and in contact with a lot of people. OK, I am not talking about a lot of people by subway commute standards, but it was a ton of people compared to how many I encounter in my living room on an average day. Nevertheless, when my throat first started feeling scratchy, I tried to explain it away as strain from atypical and excessive overuse, but then my eyes got dry and irritated. And then my sinuses swelled up. 

And there it was: Leaving Island Fever.  It’s tantamount to the Aztecs seeking out the Spaniards to encounter new diseases. Every time we go to the States, every time we travel on vacation, every time I leave this little rock I get sick. Not horrible bubonic plague sick just annoying, whining, I’m-not-fully-enjoying the experience sick.  It irritates the crap out of Michael which only makes me feel worse since I’m the one who’s sick and he’s mad at me for it – as if I do it on purpose. 

For now, I’m feeling better, though. Thank you. I’m quite nearly normal. Unfortunately, I’m leaving for Florida today. And there’s the rub. I haven’t left the islands since the end of May. Really, that’s not such a big deal. What was more upsetting was that I didn’t have any plans to leave again until next May which was painfully evident whenever I signed on to my American Airlines account and saw no ticketed itineraries listed under “My Reservations.”  (Remember, it’s the feeling that you can’t leave that gets you.) So on one hand Island Fever was setting in. I wanted to dress up in nice clothes, to go window shopping, and to have a Starbucks so I’m taking the opportunity to spend a week with a friend (and Michael, too) in Fort Lauderdale in order to do all of those things. On the other hand, the odds are that I’ll actually get sick as soon as I set foot in civilization. 

Consequently, I find myself in the peculiar position of looking forward to another bout of Leaving Island Fever. It will be worth it to get away, though. So bring it on!

On a wing and a prayer

Anguilla is one very small island with a whole lot of churches.  I can’t tell you exactly how many. There’s no easy way to count them. The phone book lists less than ten, but it also only lists three plumbing contractors so the phone book is not a reliable source.  You will just have to trust me. They are everywhere. On a per capita basis this island could hold the record. And that’s not counting the transient revival tents that spring up from time to time.

I grew up in a very religious household myself. I had a perfect attendance Sunday School pin where you could change out the tiny little number to keep track of your perfect years. I’d have to dig it out to check, but I’d bet mine has double digits. I was well into my 20’s by the time I drifted away from organized religion. Here in Anguilla, though, religion is everywhere. The majority of Anguillians appear to be church-going people who, despite the heat, dress up in all their finery and come out en masse to attend services – weddings, funerals, Sunday services alike. There’s also no appreciable separation of church and State. I have never been to a single function, from a Government Town Hall Meeting to a local play, that didn’t involve a minister saying a few words to start off the proceedings.

In fact, the only things that exist in larger quantities than churches are ordained ministers. The plumbing subcontractor who worked on my house is also a preacher. And towards the end of our construction, even our builder turned to the calling (no connection whatsoever, I am sure) and leads his own congregation now.  On top of that, laypeople are eager to tell me what god wants me to do with my life. One particularly awkward moment came up with one of the workers on the construction site when he found out that I didn’t have children – by choice. This was clearly not acceptable. God says to go forth and multiply, and I was ignoring the directive. So this concerned individual wanted to know: when I die and go to heaven and god asks me why I didn’t have kids, what am I going to say in my defense. I said, “I don’t think she’s going to care,” and promptly extricated myself from the discussion.

On the whole, of course, most days go by with religion just quietly orbiting about me without creating much impact. The other day, though, I was on the ferry heading over to Saint Martin when the topic was swirling right around my head. Two women were sitting behind me. We hadn’t even left the dock yet when the woman by the window started breathing in and out of a plastic baggy fretting over the prospect of becoming seasick on the ride over. The other woman and a crewmember perched in the aisle were attempting to help her avoid nausea by suggesting that she pray. They assured her that god would help her.

I, however, was not entirely convinced of the strength of this approach and was still fretting over the prospect of her becoming seasick down the back of my seat so in spite of my usual tendency to stay out of other people’s conversations, I had to chime in. I pardoned my interruption but admitted that I, too, used to get horribly seasick and offered my own (alternate) solution: breathe in and out deeply and focus on a point on the horizon until we got to the other side.  She took my advice to heart, and we all arrived without incident into the port at Marigot. I turned to ask her how she was doing, and she thanked me very much for the suggestion. She was ever so grateful that it had worked.

The way I see it, there’s no harm in prayer. It just only gets you so far. I mean, who knows? God might have had a hand in our making it safely across the channel, but he wouldn’t necessarily have kept her from throwing up along the way.

No Such Thing As Traveling Light

No, I didn’t get lost in Kansas City. I just lost my momentum.Out of sight. Out of mind. Off of island. Off of blog. I will endeavor to do better. 

Having last mentioned the difficulties of leaving island, though, I think I should go back and touch on the difficulties of coming back. This is not to belabor the transportation issues of returning. I imagine that you can reverse the order of things and get that picture. I don’t even mean the customs and immigration annoyances of returning. What I mean to discuss is the hauling.

There have certainly been great improvements in the availability of items on island since we arrived here. Oh, my. Back in the day, we nearly had to meet the boat at the dock to get diet cokes and acquiring skim milk at the store could turn into an ordeal akin to a dress sale at Filene’s Basement. I even had to research how to ‘make’ buttermilk (add vinegar to milk, let sit for 15 minutes) and brown sugar (refined white sugar with the molasses mixed back into it) just to get by. Of course these are not ‘matters of life or death’ kinds of things, but still they are nice to have unless you like buttermilk scones sans the buttermilk and can survive without peanut butter cookies.

Nowadays, I have to say that I am rarely at a loss for even fresh buttermilk (or eggnog year round) and most stores carry one if not, surprisingly, four different brands of Panko flakes. Life is good. But there are always things you wish you had or that you wish you had cheaper. That means that every trip we take to the States involves a shopping list and empty bags for the return. We have a cute little duffle bag (one of several we ended up buying at the last minute to transport our purchases before we wised up and just starting taking one with us). It zips into a flat little bundle that always goes into our luggage – just in case because you just never know if you are going to decide you need more Malibu landscape lights or a Panini press. If there is an actual shopping list, however, we put one piece of luggage packed with clothes inside another empty piece of luggage so we have ample, additional space for the return trip.

And, this is the absolutely essential piece de resistance: Michael’s son gave us one of the best Christmas presents we ever got (well, since I quit receiving fine jewelry because we can’t insure it here…but that’s another story). He gave us a hand-held luggage scale that you strap around the handle and use to lift the luggage so that you know that each piece is under the 50 pound airline weight limit (without having to find a bathroom scale in every hotel!). Luckily, we both have ‘status’ with American Airlines so that we don’t have to pay to check up to four bags between us or that would make us have to rethink the fiscal sensibility of buying another 15 pounds of Starbucks Breakfast Blend. And even though the 50 pound weight limit can be a bit restrictive when you are packing things like drill bits and pressure washer hoses in with your unmentionables, I have to say that as I am getting older I am grateful that the airlines dropped the international baggage limit from 70 pounds to 50 pounds because I honestly cannot imagine how we managed before hauling a briefcase, a purse, two carry-on bags, and 280 pounds of luggage!

But back to our latest trip to Kansas City. We returned with the duffle bag full of Thai cooking spices, dried shrimp, Pad Thai noodles, canned banana flowers and the like. We also brought back an array of seeds for growing everything from arugula to Chinese cabbage. (Michael would have purchased a strawberry pot to grow the herbs in except that he couldn’t find one in plastic instead of clay.) We bought batteries and, of course, coffee and more landscape lights. We would have purchased a dual-something, pool timer for our new high efficiency pool pump (that was NOT carried in our luggage) except that we couldn’t find one. Likewise the cable booster that Radio Shack didn’t carry. And we never found a box frame for the silver, Hmong necklace we brought back from Laos.

Not to worry, though. We head back to the States at the end of the month. The shopping list has been amended. The timer and the cable booster have been ordered and shipped ahead to a friend’s house. And the duffle bag is back in the luggage.