When the Best Brother Ever gave me the Best Vacation Ever, he said he and my SIL weren’t so sure it would be fun, so I was on my own. My dad and stepmom were equally doubtful. In all fairness, a week on a sailboat involves a lot of wind, water, motion, salt, sweat, and sun, so it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But it was more than my tea, it was my champagne. I spent the whole week pretty much giddy with joy.
Sometime around the last day, I was sitting in one of the bow seats in the front of the catamaran. They’re not the most comfortable of seats — small, wooden, with a metal brace for a back and wires on either side. Plus you’re in the very front of the boat, which means you’re getting the spray and the motion and the wind as strongly as possible. And they’re totally exposed, so the sun beats down on them. Matthew, the captain, came up to get the lines ready for mooring, and said to me, “Not tired of the sun and the wind yet?” I laughed as I shook my head no. Later, Suzanne (the friend who came with me) said that she and Nikki (the chef) had been up on the bridge questioning how I could stand it in front. As S said, when the one Jamaican on the boat thinks the sun is too strong, it probably is. But I was filled with happy. Also coated in sunscreen, reapplied liberally at every possible opportunity. 🙂
On the first evening, when I asked if I could climb down through the hatch into the bedroom, Matthew said, “Consider this your personal jungle gym for the next week.” Maybe that set the tone, but on the way home, it occurred to me that the whole week had been remarkably like being a kid again. At least for me. Other people — namely, Matthew and Nikki — were in charge of everything, from where we were going to what we would eat and drink. All we had to do was play with the toys they set out: snorkeling equipment, a kayak, a paddle board. Also explore the places they took us to: caves and rocks, beaches and hills, coves for snorkeling and deserted islands.
Suzanne and I did ALL the things. At one point, we were strolling up a dirt trail together (hiking would be far too generous a name for our pace and the slope) and I told her that if we were characters in a children’s book series, her catchphrase would be “Heck, yeah,” because that was her response to every suggested adventure.
I would be hard-pressed to pick my favorite of our adventures. I was up for every sunrise, appreciating the stillness and the solitude, the feel of the air, the smell of the ocean, the sounds of birds starting to wake up. One morning, when I was up particularly early, having given up on ever going back to sleep at the somewhat egregious hour of 4:45 AM, I watched a garbage truck rolling down a hill, its lights the only movement in the darkness. I could hear roosters crowing, each an isolated sound — one after another, but each one alone, like a horn blowing. But then doves started cooing and they were clearly a flock or flocks, a chorus of murmuring. And then birds started chirping, on top of the harmony of the doves, like a piano weaving threads of sound into a choir. I realized that all of those sounds probably started playing in exactly that order every day and had for hundreds of years. Well, except for the garbage truck. But I had never heard them that way before, and it was beautiful.
Back to favorite adventures, as listening to the birds is not exactly adventurous… we went to the baths at Virgin Gorda early, early, getting there by 7:30 or so. People who come by boat can swim in and beat the crowds. On our first sedate walk along the path, we admired lizards and birds and flowers and the views from the top of the hill, but after we’d seen the whole thing, we went back and played.
We crawled through the low tunnels and into dark corners, splashed through the pools of water, clambered onto the big rocks. At one point, we were on the boulders and we’d jumped down into one of those corners that seemed maybe tough to get out of. We were wearing bathing suits, of course, and I was carrying my sandals. Going back the way we came was a climb, going forward along the rocks involved a challenging jump. I looked at Suzanne and said, “I think I’m too old for this shit.” She laughed at me. Then we both jumped into the water and swam through our stuck point. I made her go first, though, because she was wearing shoes. We came to a fantastic beach, a stereotype of white sand and shallow blue-green water, and even though we knew the others were probably waiting for us back at the boat, we still spent twenty minutes or so playing in the water. By the time we were on our way back to the boat, the crowds had arrived and we followed a trail of people making their way along the precarious stair steps of the path through the rocks. It felt just like Tom Sawyer’s caves at Disneyworld, but even that was fun.
On another day, we rented a motor scooter and drove around Anegada. It was ridiculously hot, so much so that even I sat in the shade and drank pineapple juice instead of walking along the beach.
But we went to the Faulkner House Museum — not the author, but Anegada’s political hero. In 1949, Theodolph Faulkner was a fisherman, so mad at the government that he went and stood in the square in Tortola, telling stories every night about things the government had done. People would come and tell him their stories during the day and he’d share them with others at night. Eventually, 1,500 islanders marched on the Commissioner’s office and petitioned for self-rule. For perspective, I googled, of course, and it’s estimated that the population was 7,000 in 1949. So that’s the equivalent of getting 68 million people to march on DC. Go, Theodolph! We also stopped by the flamingo ponds, and did not see any flamingos, and the iguana rescue center, ditto no iguanas. Wrong time of year for the iguanas, but the flamingos might have just been hiding. Mostly, though, we had fun scootering. We hit one spot where Suzanne thought we could keep going and I said I wouldn’t take Serenity up that trail, so we got off and reconnoitered and decided against; another spot where I said, yeah, I’d take Serenity, but oof, it was bumpy. That night for dinner, we ate the world’s biggest lobsters.
It’s funny the bits and pieces that are coming back to me as I write. I want to write about everything I remember, but it would take me forever. Well, or maybe seven days, that being how long I was there.
The morning we were leaving Anegada, Matthew asked if I wanted the kayak. As Suzanne would say, “Heck, yeah.” Suzanne and I had kayaked a couple of times together, but that morning I went out alone. It was around 6AM, I think, well before breakfast, and I paddled with the wind going out, against the wind coming back. I passed some fellow kayakers who let me know that there were sea turtles in the water, so I was looking for them, but didn’t see any. But I felt so alive, so awake, so present. There’s a moment I get when kayaking, not always and never for very long, that is perfectly, I think, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s flow state — a time when all of me is engaged in the process of moving in rhythm, through nature. I love it enormously. That morning the moment lasted for longer than usual.
Another day, we were at the caves, a really nice snorkeling spot. One of our fellow sailors wasn’t much of a snorkeling fan, so I convinced her to come out kayaking with me. I didn’t let her paddle, because really, I like kayaking much better when I’m in control and not trying to work with someone else. But we paddled out to the caves and admired the rocks and she got to be the first person among us to go into the caves. We did a lot of snorkeling, so the trip overall was maybe not the best adventure for someone who didn’t like snorkeling. I’m going to guess that it was not her champagne.
Wow, and I haven’t even written about snorkeling yet. Yes, lots of snorkeling. Sometimes snorkeling makes me sad, because I first did a lot of snorkeling in 1990. Back then, being underwater was like being in a jungle. I felt absolutely surrounded by life, to an extent that it was almost nerve-wracking. Schools of fish were everywhere. In the past decade, my snorkeling experiences have been a lot like being in a desert. Oh, look, a cactus (coral). Wow, a lizard (a cool fish). Snorkeling in the BVI was a little of both. But at one spot, we were swimming through enormous schools of minnows. When the sun shone down on them, they were flickers of light, flowing around me like blades of grass in the wind. They were magical. In another spot, I followed a manta ray for a while, and in a third, I saw the biggest parrotfish I had ever seen.
At one spot — I’m going to say that it might have been called the Indians — I knew it was time for lunch, because I kept appraising the fish based on whether I would eat them or not. Blue tang, no. Tiny little yellow and purple damselfish, no. Grey something, definitely yes. Yellowtail, yes, and I was licking my lips. When the parrotfish crossed over into, “Well, I wouldn’t kill it, but if someone else caught it…,” I knew it was time to quit snorkeling and go have some lunch.
And now it is time to quit writing — not because I need lunch, but because I’ve been writing this post for three days and my life is moving on faster than I can keep up. I’m already in PA, parked for the first time at my brother’s garden house and taking pictures of berries, not quite ready for eating.
But it’s the last day of May, which means that it’s also time for a best-of-the-month post and while I would be impossibly hard-pressed to pick an exact spot or moment — did I even mention how much fun we had exploring a deserted island? Nope. And I didn’t write about paddle boarding, either! (Pro tip: trying to do yoga on a paddle board is fun if you like splashing into the water.) Or playing with the noodles, or all of the fruity slushy drinks, or even the food, so delicious and beautiful! But the best of May was definitely the Best Vacation Ever.