“The alarm didn’t go off! We’re going to miss our flight!” After a few profanities, these were the first words I heard on Saturday morning. After four nights in beautiful Tortola and a night in the more consumer-oriented island of St. Thomas (see above...), we were headed to H’s home in Grand Cayman.
“Stuff everything in a bag! No time! No time! We’ll never make the flight!”
“You go ahead,” I responded as I scanned the room for items we might have missed. Running to the elevator, one shoe strap flapping with every step, I followed H into the dark morning to find the cab we had reserved for an hour earlier!
H disappeared into the rain as I continued to squeeze things into my suitcase. The cabbie soon arrived and, with his soft, calm, laid-back island style, casually put our bags into the back of his van. He seemed to take little notice of our frenetic energy. Whipping past cars we raced toward the airport. I could feel H mentally subtracting the red lights from our countdown time. The cabbie chatted on his phone, his tranquil manner at once calming and anxiety provoking. Even half asleep, I could easily see the contrast between the everyday angst of my own ‘regular life’ and the unruffled manner associated with island living. I wondered, could I ever live that way? Could I adopt such a relaxed, in the moment, one step at a time, ‘don’t worry, be happy’ attitude? Perhaps it was food for thought – but later.
At the airport, we dragged our suitcases to the counter where we were told it was too late to check them. Apparently the machines are timed to shut down when the deadline is reached. And we had not met that deadline. Maybe it was the look of desperation in our eyes, the kind that comes with having had to reschedule every leg of our trip thus far, that inspired an impromptu conference among the few employees still left in that part of the terminal.
Whatever the cause, it was suggested that they might be able, perhaps, maybe (but-don’t-get-your-hopes-up), to issue our luggage tags manually. A protracted discussion on the pros and cons and probability of success of such an action ensued as we watched the clock on the wall tick away minutes that felt like hours. Finally, consensus was reached and a green light was given for the manual process to be implemented. However, since this was an unusual (archaic even) request, it would be necessary to find someone who could actually do such a thing! More conversation among more employees produced the name of a possible candidate and someone was dispatched to find him.
Soon, a man with a broad smile sauntered to the counter, commenting on the lateness of our arrival. A silent “Yes, we know we are late, that’s why we need you to hurry…” passed between H and I as we watched him coax our luggage documents from the machine. Thanking him profusely, we ran our freshly tagged bags to the next obstacle in our board-your-plane relay. We relinquished control of our bags to two friendly women who hoisted them onto a conveyor belt, laughing when they saw the manually produced tags.
“You’re running late,” one commented.
“Yes,” we smiled.
“You might make it,” the other added, as if to lift our spirits.
We then sprinted towards security, and, looking back, H remarked in a matter-of-fact tone, “You know we’ll never see them again" (our bags). I agreed, looking back to see my royal blue suitcase with its proud Canada strap disappear though a rubber-curtained wall.
Fortunately, our first class tickets facilitated a quick security check and landed us at the head of a line already in the process of boarding the plane. Once on board, seatbelts fastened snugly around our waists, we clicked glasses of freshly-squeezed orange juice, congratulating ourselves! H reminded me, a hint of pride in his voice, that only one hour ago we were sound asleep at our hotel!
Our flight took less than three hours. The skies were clear and the Caribbean Sea was at its most sparkling emerald in the morning light. The patterns produced by currents and would-be islands were dazzling from this angle and I quickly used up the memory on my iphone camera (note to self: next phone needs more memory!).
Tortola was amazing, but not for the faint of heart or the sure-footed impaired! The roads, narrow, steep and uneven, snake their way up hills that peak in a rainforest atmosphere. It is hard to keep a sense of perspective as you travel from one part of the island to another. While your ears tell you that you are going up or down, the extreme and unusual visual cues work to scramble your brain! If you are susceptible to vertigo – or suffer from acrophobia, as do I – the result of your tour of the main island in BVI might be a curious mixture of motion sickness, terror and euphoria! But no matter how you feel – you know you are alive!
Brother H and I spent four nights at Brewer’s Bay, a beautiful secluded beach that is usually calm, I’m told. However, on Tuesday, when I set out to paint on location by the water’s edge I was treated to white caps and surfer-style waves! My senses on overdrive, it took awhile to get settled down to paint. It was then that I realized I left my brushes back in my suite at the villa. Fortunately (or not) my travel watercolour kit had one small, but good quality, brush.
As it turned out, a lack of brushes was the least of my problems. Not only had I not painted plein air for quite some time, I was completely overwhelmed by the unfamiliar, beautiful, and slightly wild landscape before me. I found the odd shapes of Caribbean flora and fauna, coupled with the aqua and azure colours of the sea, totally mesmerizing. Added to this was the sound of the constant pounding of the surf, mist whipping against my face, and the taste of salt on my lips! And if that were not enough, pelicans, with their pterodactyl silhouette, provided even more visual stimuli as they paraded in front of me taking turns diving straight into the ocean. I felt as though my head were on a swivel! Bottom line? I couldn’t settle down enough to focus. I did a few colour studies and then, when the rain started (from out of nowhere), I took it as a sign to call it a day!
On my walk back to the villa, I took pictures of banana plants, palm trees, and the ever present chickens and roosters with their bright colours and iridescent feathers. I realized then that the best use of my time here would be to study and photograph whatever caught my eye, thus taking off any pressure to ‘produce.’ I rationalized this change in plans as following ‘doctor’s orders’ to ‘be kind to myself.’ I decided to wait until I got to Cayman to do any more painting. By that time, I reasoned, I would be more familiar with the landscape and perhaps more confident in taking it on.
So my days were filled with light sketching, reading, and thinking – on the beach, and as I wandered through the meandering streets of Road Town, when brother H was working at his office there. During our four days, he showed me different parts of the island, including the home where where he and his family had lived for several years, and some of the local hangouts. Each night we found a different place to watch the sunset; the sky was amazing as the land masses! Clouds morphed and colours blended one into another within minutes, like a time-lapse animation.
On Friday we needed to catch the ferry for the next leg of our trip. As H got our tickets at the dock, I went to get us some coffee for the ride. H cautioned me that it might be cutting it close timewise and I should keep an eye on my watch. But since it was more than a half hour till boarding, and the coffee shop was not far, I decided to chance it. When I got there a line reaching out the door onto the street had already formed. With little time to spare – and really wanting a latte – I managed to wangle my way to the front of the line, appealing to local generosity and tourist empathy.
Finally, with two cups in hand, and the clock ticking into the last 10 minutes before our ferry was to leave, I ran (literally) back to the ferry terminal. There are no sidewalks in most of Road Town, so I took my chances in the center of the street, maneuvering between potholes and around cobblestones, looking up only once – to see a police car stopped directly in front of me! With a kind and laid-back smile, the officer said, “Slow down, take it easy…no need to hurry.” I agreed with him, but didn’t take his advice. I did, however, make it to the ferry just as boarding had begun! H and I had a pleasant ride sipping our Tortola coffees enoute back to St. Thomas.