Sunday, January 25, 2015

Oh, Irony! The Hassle of Getting Home

With that calm, blue Caribbean vibe still coursing through my veins, landing in the US was like an electro-jolt from a Taser.
I knew something was up when people getting off the plane ran like hell. We hadn't arrived late. So what was their problem?

They knew the score. Miami airport was like the National Mall: on 4th of July: people lined up for a half mile, 10,000 or more, snaking down a long, long, long hall -- hoping to get into Passport Control before the concert was over.

Obviously the line was not a one-time anomaly; after all, they built this amazingly long hall just for that.

Can you see the front of the hall, way up there, upper left? 

Just as many people behind us
After the first hour, airport personnel took steps to reduce the potential for riot: directing great hordes of people to other rooms, other lines. Utter chaos. Yet we eventually moved forward. Another  30 minutes; got our passports stamped.

After racing to clear baggage, customs, and rechecking luggage, we came to another abrupt halt: dense mass of people blocking our way. Took a while to figure out this was TSA security. According to the clock, our flight was boarding, somewhere in another wing of the airport.

Amber took a bold chance and raced (actually, hobbled) to the front of the hall--weaving in and out and raising the ire of the 2,000 or so people in front of us--yelling "Our flight is boarding!!" 

IT WORKED!!!!!! Well, sort of. People got miffed, officials said "return to the back of the line, do not pass Go, do not collect $200," when suddenly a tiny voice whispered in my ear, "Over here!"

An American Airlines employee off to the side. Looked at my boarding pass. WALKED us to the front of the hall, to the TSA line. I took great care not to smirk, or even smile. Other officials protested, the crowd booed.

We made the final boarding call for our flight. Just goes to show: it can't hurt to ask!

Now for the irony: the plane didn't leave.

Flight time came and went. Captain made an announcement. Something about Washington National noise restrictions after 10 pm; the plane had to shed several thousand pounds of fuel before we could leave Miami. Waiting for the fuel truck to come pump us out. Sitting next to a tiny crying baby and big-ass mama. Plane otherwise half empty; people stuck in those endless halls.

Because of the hour or so delay, people who would otherwise have missed the flight loaded up the plane. I got worried; what if some of these people were behind us in the TSA line and recognized us?

I donned my blue sweatshirt to cover my bright green shirt, and pulled Pope's cap off his head. Hunkered down, nose in book, as the evening wore on out there on the tarmac. No thugs stopped at our seats to settle the score.

Onward to Washington. But the story didn't end there. Oh, no. Plane lands at DCA, taxis to terminal. Terminal lights go out suddenly. Power outage. Another long wait on the plane while the elves are stirred out of hibernation to crank up the emergency generators. Plane deboards. Luggage is hand-carried to the baggage room; carousels are silent.

It is now 1:18 a.m. No taxis in sight at National; we head for Metro. "Due to scheduled maintenance, trains are running every 24 minutes." It is 30 degrees on the station platform. We shiver in our Caribbean windbreakers and baseball caps.

We transfer at L'Enfant Plaza and wait again. At least it is indoors. Last train. Home at 3 am. Crawl into bed around 4.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Last Day Ashore: Reverie and Ritual

One more delectable dinner of grilled fish and papaya in a small village in Ile des Saintes. A very small village. Had to wake up the locals to catch and cook our dinner.
Then back to the dock at Pointe a Pitre, safe and sound! Home port.
Captain Pope's ritual: Ritual: thanking Mother Earth for returning us safely to the dock.
Boat inspection and return of security deposit, with that handsome French fellow at the charter company. (Remember him from the beginning of the charter?)
Then back to E Gwada Hostel and friendly host and manager Jean (who massaged my foot when he heard about my injury, and scrounged Pope and I a private room when our reservation disappeared, even though they were full; at left in photo).
After a pleasant night under the mosquito net, off to the rum distillery. We had to do at least one tourist trap! Free samples and some nice gardens.
Beautiful brown beaches on the north shore of Basse Terre. Last swim in the ocean.

Grilled fish at a beach shack with a tin roof.
Barb and Amber make a splash at the tourist information center at Pointe-Noire Basse Terre--first visitors all week, perhaps? (Photo courtesy of the tourist bureau)
One more stop recommended by the tourist bureau: popular black sand beach near the Soufriere volcano. Crowded with French tourists--naturally.
Making coconut sorbet while we wait.
Lush rainforest and waterfalls in Guadeloupe National Park.
Last beer on the island. Can you get any more laid back?

How Pampers Almost Ruined My Vacation

In the Bahamas, a conch tangled up in our anchor threatened to hijack our boat. In Guadeloupe, it was Pampers.

At 2 pm, we were at anchor in a quiet cove with a few other boats. Barb sat on the deck, painting lovely pastels of the boats in the harbor.
Pope and Greg were below, enjoying an after-lunch snooze. I donned my snorkel mask and paddled off to swim with the fish.

A half hour later, circling the boat to reach the swim ladder, it took me a few moments to realize something was amiss. A heated discussion was underway, our crew in the cockpit, and a gendarme (police) boat alongside. People were screaming at me to retrieve a "plastic" object that was floating out to sea.

I went, despite misgivings about returning against the current with an injured foot and no fins. So far on this trip, I had stuck to gentle exercise.

I swam flat out, worried that we had lost something vital. It was not plastic but a gooey, soft white substance, which to this day remains mysteriously unidentified. Litter!! A rolled-up Pampers, perhaps? Earlier, I had noticed a flotilla of garbage floating by, and now Barb was telling the gendarmes that she saw the parents of two toddlers on a catamaran next door empty a bucket of garbage into the sea.
German catamaran Indiana...the guilty party?

But the gendarmes did not listen to Barb, nor to my protest that the mysterious substance was of unknown origin--certainly not from our boat. Not to mention that half of our crew had been asleep. The police officers ignored the catamaran and refused to examine the object or interview neighboring boaters. WE were guilty of defiling the country with trash! Someone had called the police and claimed that someone on our boat--Clarabella--threw the object, along with other garbage, over the side. Someone "saw" us do it.

Who are those nasty liars and cheats? I protested. "Someone in a boat," they replied.

Not guilty! I cried, gasping after the long swim, fury setting in at the false accusation. "Ha, ha," the police officers said. "No one who is accused ever admits their guilt." There were "witnesses."

Go ahead, I screamed at the nearby boaters, ruin my vacation!

The police officers recorded Pope's name, address, and vitals, as the ship's captain. They would "file their report," and, presumably, we will be arrested at the dock, thrown into a French dungeon until we agree to turn over our souvenirs, leftover rum, and bank account, and forbidden from returning to any French principality to enjoy du vin rouge and foie gras.

Just as well. We were putting on a few pounds anyway.

Fortunately, I bought our plane tickets for this coming spring to arrive in Barcelona instead of Paris. With this revelation of French lies and injustice, I'm developing a distinct preference for paella.

Fresh From the Bakery

Somehow, Pope has gotten the impression I don't like living on a boat.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Give me an air-conditioned berth with screened windows and a view, serve gourmet meals on a silver platter (i.e., as on a cruise ship), and I'm content.

Given his inability to deliver such basic necessities of life on his primitive little sailboats, he had to scrounge around the hemisphere to find the next best thing in order to get me to come on this sailing trip.

Every morning, just after dawn, fresh croissants and baguettes are delivered directly to our boat. They are the tastiest--and cheapest--croissants in this hemisphere. Melt in your mouth.

The other crew members, Greg and Barb, enjoy them just as much as I do, especially with coffee and peach or passion fruit jam.
For other would-be boaters, this slice of paradise is available at Le Bourg, Terre de Haut island, Ile des Saintes island chain, Guadeloupe. (A French outpost, naturally--thank heavens for Napoleon's creative idea of mixing butter, flour, and white sugar as a means of bribing his fleet.)

Yesterday, Pope tried to persuade us to re-provision the boat (i.e., stock up on beer and wine) and move to another island. 

He wheedled and cajoled, pointing out the benefits of getting a new perspective. Or, at least, seeing more of the country.

Undoubtedly, the other islands are also lush and lovely, with equally dramatic scenery, seafood restaurants, pastel houses, and turquoise bays. But still...!
We held firm, and stayed. And today, we doubled our croissant order--just in case he sneaks out to the cockpit, starts the engine, and whisks us out of here before tomorrow.

P.S. We did move to another island, and another very fine grilled fish dinner in a down-home, island-style outdoor cafe with about four tables, a hostess/waitress, and a chef/grillmaster.


Thank Goodness for Small Favors: Sightseeing by Motor Scooter

Pope took a shower and washed his shirt! Thank goodness!  The other crew members are ecstatic.
But why is he still wearing his shower cap?
To protect his scalp from the cruddy old dilapidated helmets that came with our scooter rentals, he claims.

Off we went, to challenge Pope and Greg's ability to negotiate the steep hills with passengers on the back, and to see more of the island.

Fort Napoleon, dating from the late 1700s (I think; it was all in sophisticated French).
The local livestock kept getting in the road, causing traffic tie-ups.
The scenery from the top of the "mountains" was superb; blue skies, blue water, red roofs, green hills.
Naturally, we found a French restaurant on a beach, serving brochette de poisson (fish) and ... yes, goat curry. And service so slow we pretended we were working in France, enjoying a leisurely two-and-a-half-hour lunch.
Finally, a quick dip in the sea, in a quiet cove at Plage Pompierre (cold showers on the beach). The clear weather held til halfway through our swim, then a light rain. We headed back to the boat (on damp behinds) for afternoon siesta before whipping up a batch of Italian spaghetti in our own galley.


Monday, January 19, 2015

A Day Ashore on Terre de Haut--A French Playground

Les Saintes are lovely, lush volcanic islands in Guadeloupe. Only a few miles in distance but worlds apart economically from Guadeloupe's other out-island, Marie Galante, where we stopped earlier. THIS is what we spoiled Americans want in a Caribbean vacation.
We raced across the ocean passage from Grand Bourg (on Marie Galante) to Le Bourg (on the island of Terre de Haut) because the charter company agreed to deliver a new outboard engine to us there! (We still have to pump and bail though....)

We secured Clarabella on a fixed mooring in the harbor.
Pope and Greg paddled a mile to the far side of the harbor to pick up the new outboard.
Meanwhile Barb, our resident artist, rendered the colorful boats in the harbor in pastels.
Having restored the dinghy to notorized usefulness, off we charged to shore, to see what the island of Terre de Haut (High Ground) offers. Tied up at the dinghy dock, next to shoreside pubs and cafes.
Ah, sweet bliss. This island represents what most of us imagine the Caribbean will be like: Lush green hills. Upscale food, drink, and shops. We hiked well-kept, hilly roads past beaches, flowers, beautifully painted houses, golf carts, and fishing boats. (No yachts here, though.)

Our first French feast here was ... ooh la la! Superlative! Grilled fish and exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth mango souffle. Much wine was consumed, a dry riesling imported all the way from Alsace. If you ever get to Guadeloupe, we highly recommend the restaurant Ti Kaz'la
End of a long, pleasurable day. Back to the boat by motorized dinghy, headlamps burning.