Saturday, October 8, 2011


Thanks to the miracle of Netflix streaming, this year I watched every single "X-Files" episode, from the pilot to the finale. My main conclusion — not a groundbreaking one — is that the show was incredible. My second is that, for me, it's also incredibly nostalgic.

This surprised me, as I didn't start watching the show until the first movie came out, and even after that I wasn't the most loyal viewer. But I did love the series, and my brain apparently hosts a thick tangle of memories related to it.

For me, it started on Martha's Vineyard island. Yes, just like Mulder! Well, not exactly, though I did have a charge named Samantha (my dog, not named for the ill-fated girl).

I had gone to the island in the fall of 1994 to report for one of the papers there. It was my first time living in New England, and I knew only one person within a thousand-mile radius. The island at that time of year is quiet, a bit lonely, and incredibly beautiful. Or it was in those years. I lived in a one-bedroom in Katama, near the south shore. The apartment rented for $2,000 a week in-season, but I had it for $350 a month through April. It was furnished, beautifully: there was a huge bed, a table that was the perfect size for my chess set, and a big-screen TV hidden in a tasteful wooden armoire. It was probably the nicest apartment I've ever lived in. I still remember my friend Kate, who's usually reluctant to show she's impressed, saying, "oh my god, it's glamorous!"

I didn't really watch TV then, but I used to come home, open the armoire, and turn on the set for background noise. I was just getting to know the island — still figuring out that Aquinnah is technically the town of Gay Head, and Vineyard Haven is really Tisbury, but it's not West Tisbury, and by the way West Tisbury is just a small town that people from off-island tend not to know and so on. So I was confused to occasionally glance at this show and see a label printed
across the screen, saying "West Tisbury." I remember thinking absently once, "This is a local show? ... Surely not." Someone at work cleared things up for me, but I didn't start watching the show then.

The next winter I was home for the holidays in the Midwest, and my dad said we should watch this sci-fi show that he liked. The X file in that case had to do with an invisible elephant, and I didn't really get it. I basically tuned it out but sat there for its duration, probably drawing or doing something crafty. I remember my dad saying that he really liked the show, though he complained that "she never believes him." Over the course of time, there have probably been countless evenings when I sat with my dad like that me drawing, he fixing a watch or fiddling with a car part, all while a movie or TV show played but this is the only specific night that lives in my memory.

Back on the island, the paper kept me busy, and though I was off the clock occasionally, I didn't go to the movies much back then. In fact, the island had only a few movie theaters at that time — in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. Both had painfully uncomfortable chairs, and the Vineyard Haven cinema was reputed for its elderly projector operator, who tended to get tired and make mistakes. He was known for once having played "The Usual Suspects" reels out of order, and for failing to keep movies focused if they went on longer than two hours. (The first time I saw "Titanic," poor Jack was pretty blurry by the time he finally slipped underwater.)

Sometime around 1997, a new cinema opened in Edgartown, which was pretty exciting for those of us who lived and worked on that end of the island. The Edgartown cinema had comfy chairs and was actually able to show more than one or two movies at a time! An actual cineplex. It was there that I saw the trailer for "Fight the Future." At first, it wasn't obvious the trailer was related to a TV show — for a minute or so, you saw no actors. I was into it until spotting the black-haired guy and the red-haired woman from that nichey TV show.

Luckily, I had a friend who saw the error in my thinking.

I had met Lila a few years earlier, when she was a clerk at my then-roommate's clothing store on Water Street. We connected when I walked through the store, not taken with anything until Lila said, "I know what you should try on." She directed me to a pair of pants that fit like they'd been tailored for me, and I bought two pairs.

Lila was not someone you would think of as the typical genre-TV fan. For one thing, I can't remember her watching any TV, outside of "The X-Files." In general, I think her tastes ran more to things like classical music and horseback riding. She had glorious long blonde hair, absolutely no ambition, and an obsession with Johnny Depp. She seemed committed to living a high-brow life, yet she lived on a shoestring, working for an inn in Oak Bluffs, in part for her lodging. Still, somehow she was always J. Crewed or Neiman-Marcused out and didn't understand why everyone else wasn't. She couldn't abide incorrect fashion choices, and she couldn't accept that I didn't want to see "Fight the Future." Her instincts were right — we went to see it at the new cinema, and I loved everything about it.

After that, it was our hobby to convene for "X-Files" reruns at the inn where Lila worked. On the way, we'd get takeout from Zapotec or Jimmy Seas. I remember once the Zapotec waitress brought us complimentary sangria while we waited for our food. The takeout arrived quicker than expected, and Lila said we had to leave immediately to catch the show. When I protested that I wasn't done with the drink, she didn't miss a beat, gathering her things and commanding "chug it!"

I don't recall what channel these reruns were on, but I do remember that they weren't in order, so Lila had to spend a lot of time during commercials explaining things like alien bounty hunters and black oil — every week a different topic, and not necessarily having much to do with whatever we'd been over last time. One of her most memorable explanations was of Krycek, whom she described as "Not as hot as Mulder, but hot. There's this one scene where Krycek gets up in Mulder's face and you just really want them to kiss — you've gotta see it."

Unfortunately, watching "The X-Files" out of order isn't really the right way to watch, so I was glad a brand-new season kicked off that fall, and I could finally start watching some episodes in the proper sequence. After the movie, Season Six was a bit of a letdown, but I stuck with it. By myself, this time. Lila was seasonal, usually not around in the fall and winter.

As it turned out, my time on the island was winding down, too. I decided to leave that next spring. I had about a month left on the job when one of my editors approached me and said, "You like 'The X-Files,' right?" When I answered in the affirmative, he explained that the next issue of our magazine was on track to have a few big empty pages in it — either a freelancer had flaked out, or an ad had gotten dropped or something like that. Anyway, long story short, he had an idea that we could fill the empty space with something about "The X-Files," a piece explaining why Mulder was an islander. My editor said it could be short and we could always fill it with art as needed. He figured I could just call up Chris Carter and get some insight into why the Vineyard figures so prominently in the show.

Well, surprise surprise, Chris Carter never called me back, and I couldn't get a word out of even the lowliest flack at Fox. My editor told me not to worry about it, but now I was interested in this question myself. I decided to query fans of the show about why they thought Mulder had been imagined as an Islander.

I started by looking for fans on the island, but I didn't get anything good that way — most local people just wanted to whine about all the inaccuracies in the show ("There is no Vine Street in Chilmark"). One exception was a guy up-Island who tried to show me a crazy mystical chamber on his farm where real ghosts or reincarnated spirits or walk-ins or some crap like that lived. I'm not sure he'd actually seen the show, despite his claims to the contrary.

Instead, I took to the Internet, visiting fan sites, e-mailing authors of fanfiction, and actually getting some interesting responses.

In those days, our paper had only one PC that was wired to the Internet (not mine), and I wasn't connected at home, so I came into the office at all hours to do my research. Since I was getting ready to move to Boston after four and a half years on the island, those were bittersweet evenings during which I'd do a little work, and a little packing up of my desk, sometimes wondering whether it was right to leave. I agonized over the story, too, driving my editors crazy with last-minute tweaks. I was reminded of this recently when going through a box of old stuff from that era. I actually came across a hard copy of one of my drafts that had been printed out for a proofreader, with my editor's scrawled comment: "The latest, and I hope last version of Sasha's masterpiece."

So the story was published, my things were packed, and I finally got off the rock. Season Seven of "The X-Files" saw me, at last, in the city, trying to get into the tech business, nickel-and-diming it, and renting a room from an elderly New Englander, Cora, who was fond of offering opinions on, well, everything. I still remember the night Cora joined me to watch the episode in which Scully wears a slinky black dress while dining out with Cancer Man. My septuagenarian roommate, speaking slowly and deliberately — as if making a very serious point she'd been meaning to articulate for some time — informed me, "If she was going to wear a dress like that, she really should have done something with her hair." Harsh words! Although, in reality, probably not as hypercritical as they sound. Cora felt obligated to offer guidance on such things: fashion, etiquette — how to have success in dining rooms and everywhere.

I was busy in those days, but I did still want to go back and watch the early episodes the way they were meant to be watched. Sadly our Blockbuster had only a "greatest hits" selection of about 16 episodes. I watched them all but didn't feel filled in on the mythology.

Eventually I dropped off. I caught one or two later-season episodes but didn't retain much about them, other than that I'd recognized Annabeth Gish bringing a wide-eyed optimism to the show.

A few years later, I tried to watch the whole series on Netflix DVDs, but about 20 million people must have had the same idea, because almost every "X-Files" disc looked like it had been pounded with a meat tenderizer. I got through most of the first season, but eventually became weary of sending scratched discs back only to get replacements were equally unplayable, and I gave up.

Then, several months ago I figured out that Netflix has the entire series available for streaming, and now — finally — I am all caught up. And after having watched the series finale yesterday, I find myself strangely preoccupied with all these past associations. What's really odd is that I wasn't nostalgic until after watching the finale. During the past several months of actually viewing all those old shows, I barely gave these memories a passing thought. I guess maybe now that I'm done with the series, I feel like I'm really done with all those things from the past as well, or a lot of them anyway.

Of course, the real tragedy is that I have no more of this brilliant series left to watch! I realize that this post has said absolutely nothing about why "The X-Files" is great, but if you don't already know, then I suggest that you navigate to and start watching. It'll be clear soon! Then you can join me in hoping that rumors of a third movie are true. I don't even care of it's good — I just want more.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Day Four: Castries

For background on this series of posts, see the intro to my St. Lucia travel journal.

July 11 — Today I headed to Castries. I mainly wanted to go to the central market, which I had read was a classic Caribbean experience not to be missed, but I also wanted to stop by the square and the cathedral, and just get a sense of the city's flavor.

Before leaving I made a dinner reservation at the Cliff at Cap. The "sample menu" on their web site doesn't show any vegetarian options, but I had e-mailed them a few weeks earlier, and the chef had written back, asked me what type of vegetarian I was, and expressed enthusiasm about cooking something non-meaty for me. All I had to do, he said, was call in the morning for a reservation. So that's what I did, mentioning when I called that I was a vegetarian who doesn't eat fish, and offering a brief recap of my e-mail correspondence with the chef. I wasn't sure if this was necessary but figured it might be safer this way.

I actually had gone back and forth on whether I really wanted to spend so much money on a meal (it would probably be over $100), but after re-reading the chef's e-mail, which said "I know you are going to enjoy my vegetarian creations," and "Looking forward to cooking for you," I decided to go ahead and splurge.

On my way out, I saw the dog, Pepsi, sleeping against the guesthouse near the open door to the office. Inside, Stephanie sat pecking at a laptop, and a cat leaned against the wall, sleeping in much the same posture as the dog. I asked Stephanie about getting a cab for that night. Previously she'd mentioned that they knew a driver, James, who did short trips for their guests at a cheaper rate than other drivers. She said she'd set it up for me. I thanked her, and she said, "enjoy Castries."

On my way to the bus stop, I asked someone where I could get cocoa tea and was directed to a lime green building near the bus stop. (Not the building pictured at the right, though it was a similar color.) The place where I got the tea did not have a sign, but if you are looking for it, it is next to the vegan restaurant, on the same block as the Galaxy Internet cafe. The woman who sold me the cocoa tea (for $2.50 EC) seemed pleased that I was so happy to have found it. I asked her what the name of her restaurant was and she said it was The Creole Kitchen.

I'd like to be able to say that this tea was better than the tea from Ti Bananne, but I can't! The Creole Kitchen tea was good, but a little sweet for my taste.

I wasn't sure if you're allowed to have beverages on the bus, but I did it. I sat behind the driver so he'd be less likely to notice the tea. As I recall, there weren't too many people on the bus that morning. I took it to the end of the 1A (Gros Islet-Castries) line, which is perhaps a 10- or 15-minute trip — a nice ride. As I disembarked, I asked the driver for directions to the market and he pointed out to me where to go; it was quite close.

While walking, I glanced at my watch. I'd read that you should get to the market early for the best selection. It was about 9:15, which I figured probably wasn't all that early, but oh well.

Upon arriving I saw that the market had an outdoor area and an indoor area. Outdoors was mostly produce, which I wasn't interested in. On entering the indoor area, I didn't see much at all. The space was cavernous, and there were tables, but most were empty. There was water on the concrete floor, as if the area had recently been hosed down. This reminded me of the cleanup work we did when I was a volunteer at the zoo in Boston. Not a great association. Was I actually too late?

I walked around and the few vendors who were there called to me and tried to interest me in their wares. I bought three bags of spices from one, and three from another — saffron, more saffron, curry, basil (spelled "bazil" on the label), nutmeg, and a small assortment of different spices. Some of this was for me, others for people back home. I love to cook, so I was happy with the purchases, but I was underwhelmed by the market. Disappointed, I decided to seek out the vendors' arcade, which I'd read was a good place to buy local crafts. The arcade was across the street, right on the water.

Upon entering the arcade, I noticed some necklaces and was almost immediately accosted by a woman who said her name was Charmagne. She kept saying of her necklaces, "I designed these myself." The coconut-shell necklaces weren't really my style, but I liked the black, volcanic-rock ones. I think that this was my first time seeing one of these necklaces, but I had read before coming that they were everywhere, that they all looked the same, and that the vendors all said "I made it myself." Still, I guess I was taken in by "I designed it myself," and I liked the light-blue and black colors in the necklace, so I caved to the intense sales pitch and bought it for $40 EC. I felt a bit stupid when I walked 10 feet and saw an identical necklace at another table, but oh well. I am basically happy with the purchase. The only downside is that it's long — I can really only wear it with a deep V neck or scoop neck. I also discovered, quite by chance, that it pairs well with my black, halter-style bathing suit, but outside of a J. Crew catalog, who does that?

As I walked around the arcade, I did not see any other shoppers, and many of the vendors said I was their first customer of the day. In general, I found these vendors unbearably pushy. It was impossible to look at any merchandise without the seller immediately coming and insisting that I buy whatever I was looking at. If I said that I was just looking, sometimes they kept pushing, other times they backed off looking utterly miserable and bitter. I might have stayed longer, but it just wasn't a pleasant place to be. I tried to say goodbye to Charmagne on my way out, but she seemed to studiously avoid my gaze. I wondered if she felt awkward about the fact that I probably now knew she did not design the necklace herself.

After leaving the vendors' arcade, I was feeling a bit disappointed with my morning so far, but I tried to stay confident that it was going to get better. I decided to go looking for postcards — I wanted to be sure to mail some today so they'd have a prayer of getting to their recipients in Boston before I got home.

I went into a stationery store. I noticed lots of school supplies and wondered, not for the first time, why so many people say that tourists should bring school supplies from their home countries to St. Lucia. It seems like the island has a decent supply of these things. Wouldn't giving money be a better idea than dragging stuff from Europe or North America? Perhaps there is something I don't know. In any event, I did not see any postcards, so I went to another store that comprised a few rooms stocked with housewares and various odds and ends. In one of the back rooms, where the attendant watched TV, I found a stand full of postcards. I bought about eight and figured I'd mail half today and half later.

During this period, I had wandered onto Bridge Street, which was somewhat close to the shipping docks, which I'd been told to avoid for safety reasons. However, apparently I had not ventured too close to the bad area. Everywhere I went, the streets were full of people and felt as safe as any busy downtown. Since leaving the market and the vendors' arcade, I also felt somewhat anonymous, which was nice — most people just ignored me, and for once men weren't trying to pick me up.

I went inside a mall called Blue Coral and found a Rituals coffeehouse, where I bought a latte (served in a real ceramic cup, not a paper one — nice!) and a "primavera" croissant. Unlike The Creole Kitchen, this business had U.S.-style pricing to match the Starbucks font and tall/grande sizing. I think I paid $25 EC for the drink and the snack. While I ate, I wrote in my travel journal and worked on my postcards.

After a bit, I decided to go walk through the square. It was easy to find. On the way, I noticed the public library building (the red and white building pictured above and to the right) — very pretty!

I noticed that most of the gates to the square were shut. There was also some activity going on inside the square, with people setting up speakers and tents. I wasn't in a huge hurry to get inside, so I decide to stroll around the square first and admire the surrounding buildings, which were blue and pink and green, some with dormers, balconies, and ornate lattice work.

As I walked, I wondered what was going on inside the square. I walked all around and finally saw an open gate. I asked if it was OK to come in and a guy said yes. He said that they were setting something up for later in the day, but then I thought he said it was for Carnival, which wasn't until next week, so I was confused. Anyway, the square was very pretty, with a teal-and-pink fountain, a large tree said to be 400 years old, a World War I monument, and busts of poet Derek Walcott and economist Arthur Lewis, the two Nobel prize winners from St. Lucia. The square was actually renamed Derek Walcott Square in 1993. Walcott has had some harsh things to say about tourism on St. Lucia, so it felt a little weird to be here as a tourist taking photos of stuff with his name on it, but oh well.

I wasn't in the square long when it started to rain. I ignored it until it started coming down hard, then I bolted for the cathedral, which was across the street.

The cathedral was larger than I expected, and it lived up to reviews — it was beautiful inside. The walls of the cathedral had a green and gold pattern, and the murals, all re-done in the '80s by St. Lucian artist Dunstan St. Omer, depicted characters from the Bible as dark-skinned people against boldly colored backgrounds. All were very striking, as were the stained glass windows.

I sat down in one of the pews so I could dry off a little. After a bit, I got my postcards out again and finished another of them. There were quite a few people inside the church. If I had to guess, I'd say that most were there to worship, not sightsee. After I'd been there perhaps 20 minutes or so, a local woman came up and started talking to me — but she had me confused with another tourist she'd met a few days ago. She mentioned that a mass would be starting at 12:30, and it was already noon. I figured I'd better walk around and get some photos before the mass. I took tons of pictures (unfortunately many came out fuzzy — I'm not sure why) and left about 10 minutes before the planned service.

I went outside — it was sunny and beautiful now — and walked a ways to another little square, which I did not see a name for. Its centerpiece seemed to be a branchless tree, and it was crowded. A guy started talking me, but I didn't understand what he was saying. He didn't seem like a vendor or a beggar, but I decided to leave anyway. As I was exiting the square, I noticed a dark-haired girl sitting on a bench; she smiled and waved. It was my neighbor from the Bay Guesthouse. I waved back before leaving.

At this point, I decided to return to the market because I felt I probably hadn't bought enough spices for myself. I kept thinking of how cheap the saffron was! Of course, it came ground up, which is not the best way to buy saffron (it's best to buy it in thread form). But saffron is so expensive at home, I wasn't about to be picky about these large pouches that were selling for $5 EC. I'm not sure exactly how big the pouches were, but certainly they were larger than what you would get with a standard bottle of ground spice, much less the 15 or so strands you get in a $12 bottle of saffron.

So I walked back in and was stunned. At first I thought I was in the wrong place. The market hall was jammed with vendors and stuff and people. I guess 9:15 had just been way too early!

I wandered through the market some more, looked at a lot of things, but I don't think I bought anything other than more spices — a bunch more saffron and a few others. After a bit, I found myself wishing I'd followed through with my original plan to bring the reusable Super Js shopping bag I'd bought on my first first visit to the grocery store. My spices were a bit cumbersome to carry — the vendors had all given me small plastic shopping bags, and there wasn't an easy way to consolidate them. I considered buying one of the many touristy cloth bags on sale at the market, but I didn't really want to spend money on one.

As I walked around, I kept an eye out for carvings. I had heard there would be a lot of these. My dad likes to carve, so I thought that I might find an interesting carving for him, but in general I was disappointed with the offerings.

Eventually I wandered into a long row of food stands, which was just outside the craft area of the market. There were two long rows of kitchens and food vendors, and in between were tables where you could sit to eat. It was like a courtyard, with the tables all being under awnings or the open sky.

I asked around and found a vendor who had cocoa tea. She asked me how hot I wanted it and I wondered what the choices were — scalding versus hot? I gave a vague answer. While I waited, a took a photo of the table across from me, where a boy was napping, and I finished up my last postcard that I wanted to mail that afternoon.

The tea came and it was very good, though I wondered if it was insanely fattening to drink two of these things in one day.

At this point I realized I needed to think about getting home. I wanted to have plenty of time to clean up before dinner. I'd asked for a 5:45 pickup, which is much earlier than I usually eat, but I thought it would be nice to have a cocktail while watching the sunset.

I walked back through the market looking at this and that, being careful to avoid a few vendors who every time they saw me thought I was coming back to buy the thing I'd been looking at previously in their stall. When I got to the market's exit, I saw that it was raining hard again. I waited a bit and then it let up significantly, and I set off in the direction of the post office. Again, I thought about carvings. Had I really checked the vendors' arcade well for these? I decided to stop back in and look, but again the vendors were as welcoming as hungry vampire bats, and I ducked back out almost immediately.

While walking to the post office, I noticed a woman with a reusable Super Js grocery bag like the one I had at home. I asked her where the Super Js was, and she pointed it out to me. I figured buying another of these bags would be better than buying a touristy bag at the market, because I would actually use it once I got home for grocery shopping, and it would be kind of a cool thing to have because the logo says "For a cleaner St. Lucia." I also have an "I love Cayman" grocery bag that I shop with all the time, and I think it's awesome.

Suddenly the rain started coming down quite hard again, and I ran for the store. Unfortunately, they were out of reusable bags, but I was at least able to get a plastic bag that all of the spices fit into, so it wasn't a complete waste.

From Super Js, I went to the post office, bought some stamps, and mailed the postcards. Then it was back to the bus. Passing through the market one last time, I was again tempted by the spices, and realized I should get a few selections for my dog walker and her partner, who are great cooks and often have me over for dinner. While I was at it, I picked up some star anise and cocoa sticks, so I could try making cocoa tea when I got home. Then I trundled into a bus. I'm not 100% sure that it was on this bus trip, but I think this may have been the bus ride where the radio played Kenny Rogers' "Through the Years" — a bit surreal, but I would hear a lot of more of Kenny before the trip's end.

Back at the guesthouse, I borrowed an iron from Will and pressed a blousey short-sleeved grey shirt with a wide rectangular neckline, one of my favorites, and my flared white linen trousers. The island seemed incredibly casual — even more so than Grand Cayman and Martha's Vineyard, two other mostly casual islands I've been to. Still, I figured I should take it up a notch.

I also took the opportunity to quiz Will about the best way to get to Vigie Marina by bus. The next day I was planning to go on a whale watch with Hackshaw's Boat Charters, and I figured if I could get there cheaply by bus, that would be the best way to do it. Will got out a street map of the area and showed me where I should ask to disembark from the bus and showed me which route to walk to get the rest of the way there. He also gave me estimates of how long he thought it would take, and told me to feel free to take the map with me, which I thought was nice.

Before long, it was time for dinner. My taxi arrived; I got in and we headed north toward the restaurant. The driver, James, told me a little about the Cap Estate area as we drove through it. The area is full of rolling hills and is very exclusive, or so I gather.

After a few minutes, we arrived at the gate to Cap Maison, which is the resort that houses the restaurant. I walked inside and thought, "Ah, this is how the other half lives." Everything looked luxurious!

You have to walk through the resort to get to the restaurant, which is on the water's edge. It is an open-air affair — under a roof, but without walls, like Ti Bananne. The floors of the restaurant, the railings, and most everything else were wooden, and there were lanterns placed strategically throughout. (As it got dark later, these looked very pretty.) It was also completely deserted, perhaps not surprising given the early hour. I was greeted by a bartender who wore a wedding ring but still checked me out unapologetically — ugh.

The bartender asked if I had a reservation and I said yes, giving my name. He checked a book and seemed quite certain that the reservation was for two, though I know I had said one. I mentioned that I was the vegetarian, and he immediately looked stressed and said "but you eat fish, right?" I said no, and he hurried off to go check with someone. Given the effort I'd put in to making sure this wouldn't be a problem, I was a little irritated, but he came back and said it would be fine.

I went to sit at the bar, taking the opportunity to look around a bit more. To the west was Pigeon Island, to the south were some other hills, and to the north, open water. All around below were rocks in the water, which, as advertised, were very beautiful and dramatic. The bartender asked if I would like him to surprise me with a special cocktail. I said sure. He grinned deliriously and was very showy about making the drink, then did a little trick where he flipped the glass over without spilling anything. Since the drink was red and I was wearing white, I can't say I enjoyed the display, but nothing bad happened. After all that, the cocktail was just OK. It tasted sort of like Kool-Aid, and I wished I'd picked out something on my own.

As I sipped the drink, the bartender chatted with me. It was OK, but there were a few too many questions about whether I had a boyfriend, why was I alone, and so forth. One of his first questions was, where are you staying? I found myself wondering, why is that always the first question these men ask — so they can come find you after you blow them off? A little icky, but what are you going to do, lie about it? Maybe that would have been the best strategy, but in general, I'm not good at concocting stories. Thus far in the trip, wearing the fake engagement ring was the extent of my lying and, perhaps unwisely, I hadn't been telling stories about a fiancé, because I didn't think an elaborate deception would hold up under questioning, and I also didn't really want to bother.

Eventually, the bartender went to join a staff meeting that was taking place a little ways away. They sky grew darker and it seemed that quite a while passed. I took some pictures. A couple came in and sat at a table in the bar area — he wore a suit, she wore a bright red dress with spaghetti straps. I read my book, but I was distracted by the fact that I was getting hungry. Finally someone who looked like a staff member came back to the bar, and I asked if I could be seated. He gestured toward the ongoing staff meeting and said that I could be seated when they were finished. Actually, I believe he said that I could be seated when they were done with their prayer, but I'm not positive.

Finally the flirtatious bartender came back over and began trying to pick up where he left off. I asked if I could be seated. For some reason, he seemed completely surprised by this. Still, he led me to a table, in the covered area of the restaurant. It wasn't a bad table, but I noticed there were other tables one level down that were closer to the water, though these were not under a canopy, so this would be risky if it rained.

As I was being seated, so were a few other parties, including the red-spaghetti-strap woman — she and her boyfriend were being led to a solitary platform way down below, right over the water, with a single table set up dramatically at its center. I'm not positive, but I think it was probably the platform you see pictured on the sample menu page of the restaurant's web site. I wondered if they were having a special dinner of some sort. I considered this and decided it would be a nice gesture if your boyfriend arranged something like that, but I would have felt on display sitting in such a prominent place, especially later in the evening when the platform glowed with artificial lighting, which seemed extremely bright and unappealing as night fell all around it, creating a spotlight effect.

For my own seating, I decided I did want to be closer to the water, so when the bartender came back over, I asked if he thought it looked like rain. He said no, so I asked if I could move to the next balcony down. He looked uncomfortable and said he had to check on something. Since the restaurant seemed to be at about 5 percent capacity, I wondered what he was checking on, but he came back and did let me move.

As I got settled at the new table, some other people were seated at the one I'd just vacated. I heard the man at that table ask a server about the chef, Craig, and be told that the chef was out sick. Since Craig was the person who'd e-mailed me about his "vegetarian creations," I realized that I hadn't picked the best night to come.

As I glanced at the menu, I did find some vegetarian options in the prix fixe menu, which allowed for two courses or three. The vegetarian appetizer (green pea risotto) sounded good, the entrée less so (an assiette — an assortment — of vegetables in a creole sauce). Still, when a waiter came to ask if the selections were OK, or if he should speak with the chef about making me something else, I wasn't sure what to say. I guess I could have asked for a different option, but I had no idea what would be a reasonable request, so I said I'd stick with the menu. The prix fixe menu listed fairly boring desserts, so I asked to see a dessert menu. It took a while for that to show up, but when it did, I decided that its desserts looked much better (it included a chocolate fondue and a tiramisu, which, if memory serves, had some sort of mango angle). I decided to just do the two-course dinner and order dessert separately. I also ordered a glass of prosecco, which was delivered by the flirty bartender with cringe-inducing flourish.

So, on to the meal: I was brought a complimentary gazpacho, which isn't my favorite, but it was pretty good. The risotto arrived shortly after. It was good — a generous portion and very filling. Then there was a long wait after the risotto during which I noticed other tables were getting a palate-cleaning sorbet. Mine never came, which wasn't a big deal, but as I watched the other tables receive their entrées, drink refills, and lots of attention, I wondered if I was being ignored because I was a solo party. As I waited, I overheard a conversation between two couples seated at two different tables. From their convo, it sounded like they were both staying at Cap Maison. The dining room seemed sparsely populated, and I wondered how many of the dinner guests were also resort guests, and what it would be like to stay here. The resort seemed so pretty, yet also very much removed from regular St. Lucia life.

After what seemed like a long time, my entrée showed up, and sadly it was pretty boring. I'm not 100% sure I remember what all the vegetables were, but I'm pretty sure that broccoli and carrots dominated the plate. These are among my least favorite vegetables. They just seem like they belong on a cold vegetable platter, the kind they sometimes set out in my office and which everyone ignores. The sauce had a decent flavor but it also had an odd aftertaste and was thin to the point of being runny, like a broth. On the upside, the meal was probably really healthy, but for these prices, I wouldn't have minded a little fat.

Still, the setting was very nice, with the beautiful view of Pigeon Island, the sounds of the water washing against the rocks, and what I was told was the singing of tree frogs.

Unfortunately, while I was eating, the annoying bartender began stopping by to pepper me with more inappropriate questions. Also, another suitor reared his head: one of my servers, a somewhat beefy guy. Between the two of them, it seemed someone was always at my table bugging me. After a bit, I realized I wanted to get away from these people. It would have been nice to sit and enjoy the atmosphere and dessert, but I was weary of the attention, and over the course of the evening, the service had been slow enough that if I stayed much longer I'd be getting home later than I wanted to. I asked the bartender if he could have the uneaten portion of my entree wrapped, and he looked utterly horrified. No dessert? No, I said. He then asked what we would be doing the next day -- not joking at all, so far as I could tell -- as if I'd already agree to see him and we just needed to firm things up. Oh god! This was going to be a $100 meal easily. It seemed the price should have implied a no-harassment provision, but maybe that's just me. I demurred politely and he looked unhappy but seemed to accept it.

The bill came and it was way too high — there was a mysterious $80 EC charge that just said "open food" and clearly didn't belong there, as everything I'd ordered was already clearly listed on the bill. I said something to one of my admirers and he went away for a long time, then came back with a smaller bill and said that the person who'd prepped the first one thought I'd had dessert. Since the desserts each cost $40 EC, that didn't sound like the real explanation, but whatever. As I was getting ready to leave, the beefy waiter was full of questions about what I would be doing the next day. Apparently this guy had not gotten the memo that the first question to ask is, "where are you staying," because he seemed shocked when I said I had to get a cab. He declared, "Oh! You're not a guest here!?", in a tone that suggested this was just the worst news he had heard in some time. I couldn't help but wonder whether this rather chubby, average-looking person was in the habit of shacking up with the wealthy women who stayed here, as his dismay suggested. Not likely, I thought, but later in the trip I would re-think this.

After leaving the restaurant, I sat on a lawn chair in a common area while I called James to tell him I was ready.

I strolled back through the resort grounds and had just reached the front gate when I heard my name being called frantically. I turned and saw the beefy waiter literally running toward me, waving the folder that contained my charge slip. He said that I had signed the wrong copy. I apologized and he led me into an office so I could sign the right one. "Don't feel bad about it," he said, and went to fetch a pen. He went searching for a ballpoint, and as the minutes passed, I started to get annoyed, because I didn't want James to pull up outside and wonder where I was. Though I felt bad about signing the wrong slip, I thought back about the many thousands of restaurants I've eaten at in my life. I'm sure that over the years I've occasionally signed the wrong copy of the charge slip, and no one has ever raised a dramatic red flag about it. Still, I thought, maybe this guy is just quite thorough.

As I signed the bill, he reminded me that I could add a tip, which I already had been planning to do. (I pretty much always tipped 20% everywhere I went, even though most restaurants on St. Lucia already add a 10% service fee. I figure I don't know how the tip is distributed, so I should make sure to tip the people who served me. Even so, I was annoyed at being asked to do it.)

Afterward I went back outside to wait for James. I was fully expecting the beefy server to go back to the restaurant, but no, he stayed, focused beady eyes on me and laid into a razor-sharp interrogation on topics such as how much longer I'd be on St. Lucia, what I was doing the rest of the week, and so forth. This is a fucking nightmare, I thought. "What is your phone number," he asked. "I don't have one," I lied. Pause. "How did you call for your cab?" he asked. Holy fuck, is this a guy a cop? He added, "Did you call from the front desk?" Why yes! I said.

I was getting the hang of lying, but unfortunately I had not overcome my inability to be blatantly rude to someone's face, which probably would have been a good tactic in this conversation. I blame my Midwestern upbringing. So while I was sticking with polite responses such as "I'm going to be busy, but thanks for the offer" — which would have instantly repelled a Boston guy — these had no effect on the beefy waiter except to spur him to say in a low gravelly voice, "You shouldn't be so shy," which made my stomach threaten to expel that boring, heart-healthy assiette all over him. Instead out came a lie ("You know, I have a boyfriend") which, amazingly, sent him scurrying back to the restaurant like a lizard, just as James pulled up. Yup, I need to start lying a lot more, I decided.

I got into the minivan, and James presented me with something I'd lost on the trip there — a little tin of Altoids, they must have fallen out of my pocket. As we headed back, I found that chatting with normal, laid-back James was a pleasure after the intense scrutiny of the libidinous Cliff at Cap staff. (At least, I think they were libidinous — or perhaps they think American women are rich and looking for a kept man? No idea, and perhaps best not to speculate.) James dropped me at the guesthouse and I headed straight to bed so I could be up early for the whale watch.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day Three: Reduit Beach

For background on this series of posts, see the intro to my St. Lucia travel journal.

July 10 My third day on the island was a Sunday, when a lot of things are closed, so I decided it would be a good day to walk around Rodney Bay and try the snorkeling at Reduit Beach. I had heard mostly negative things about the snorkeling there, but a few positive things also. I decided to believe the binder in the Bay Guesthouse, which said you can have a good experience if you snorkel near the southern border of the beach.

Before setting off, I tried making coffee one again, this time using a spatula to give the filter some support. Complete disaster. I thought longingly of my gold filter, unused for years, sitting back home at the back of one of my kitchen cabinets.

As I cleaned up the mess, I started thinking about cocoa tea, a delicacy that I'd heard about prior to arriving. I hadn't yet seen it offered anywhere, which surprised me in some of my readings, people made it sound like latte in Seattle, as if locals would be practically throwing it at me. I decided to get proactive to find it.

I packed up my things and headed for the bus. Walking to the bus stop, I saw chickens and roosters wandering about, as I often do. Today I spotted some chicks, too. I also passed the church, this time active with a service. I caught the bus and disembarked near the mall, as usual, which might not be the closest stop to the beach, but I wasn't sure. I walked past all the restaurants, including Rituals Coffeehouse, which I had read described as a "Starbucks clone." Whoever said that wasn't kidding. The font on the sign looks exactly like Starbucks'! I examined the menu for the cocoa tea but didn't see it.

As I walked down the restaurant-lined street, it again struck me as dead. I also wondered if I was truly in the heart of Rodney Bay. I had imagined the marina, the restaurants, and the hotels as being integrated — all part of one general area. So far they seemed completely discrete.

Before I got to the right turn that I figured leads to the beach, a guy flagged me down to ask me where I was going. When I told him, he said, "I'll show you the way." I said I knew how to get there, and he tried to show me a carving. I said I needed to be going, and his expression was a mix of fatigue and disgust.

I proceeded on. After a short time, I saw a woman at a stand selling things. She looked nice, so I decided to ask her about the cocoa tea. She had to think about it, then responded that cocoa tea is probably hard to find on Sunday. She said that on any other day, the market in Castries was a good place. I mentioned I was staying in Gros Islet, but that didn't seem to spark any ideas. She seemed like she thought it was impossible, so I said, "Well, what about around here?", and she said I could try Ti Bananne. From my experience there the night before, it didn't seem like the kind of place where you would just stop in for a quick beverage it's more of a sit-down restuarant but I decided to give it a try. I thanked her and doubled back to Ti Bananne.

Upon entering the restaurant, I saw a fair number of tourists, probably guests at the hotel that Ti Bananne is part of (Coco Palm). I went to the bar and asked about cocoa tea. The question was hollered back to someone else. Yes, came the answer back. I sat down to wait. After a few minutes, a steaming cup arrived. It was a while before the drink cooled enough for me to sip it, but when I did — oh my god! It was so good. It was a spicy, chocolatey wonder, and I didn't even care that it was way too warm for a hot drink. It was very rich but not too sweet. The price for this perfection was $8 EC; I left a $10 and, when I said "messy!", the Creole word for thanks, finally crowbarred a smile out of the staff.

Cocoa tea in hand, I continued back toward the beach. When I passed the lady who had suggested Ti Bananne, I held up the cup to show her and said, "I got it!" She smiled and seemed pleased.

I walked a bit further and noticed a crab under a fence and stopped to take its picture.

As I continued, the road struck me as a bit desolate and depressing. It was a wide road with a sidewalk but little else that was pedestrian-oriented. The sun seemed low and hot. A couple of tourists passed me, but they appeared stressed and didn't meet my gaze. Eventually, I came to the Ginger Lily hotel, where I had originally planned to stay. I thought the hotel looked nice, but this area was so different from what I had expected, I was glad to be staying at the Bay Guesthouse.

On my left, I saw a sign for a police station, with a wide public parking lot, and noticed the sea beyond it. I had lied to the person who offered to show me to the beach I really didn't know the way but after actually seeing the water, I knew I was on track. I took a left and soon was on the golden-brown sand, explaining to a persistent vendor that I did not need to rent a beach chair from him.

My reaction to the beach was that it was quite pretty, not really as long as I had expected, but nice nonetheless. So many people have described Reduit Beach as "touristy," I was half expecting to see high rises or at least very imposing resorts. But the four or five resorts along the beach seemed appropriate to the area, and not unattractive or unappealing. I guess the beach probably seems more touristy if it gets packed with people in the high season, but during my visit it seemed like a sleepy, easy beach, with the only downside, so far, being the vendors.

As I walked I noticed little golden crabs everywhere. They would scurry sideways and then jump into the sand, leaving only a dark hole behind them. These crabs were different from the one I'd seen out on the road, and they were also different from the ones I remember of Cayman (which were dark and larger). These ones were petite and very entertaining to watch.

Once I got near the southern border of the beach, I decided to stop and spread my towel out. I heard a voice calling to me from behind. I turned around and saw a man grinning as if a $100 bill had just blown up in front of him. Apparently, he was a security guard for the Rex resort, which I was sitting in front of, but his mind was on things other than security. After interrogating me about who I was, was I alone, where was I "living" (apparently, the local way of asking where you're staying), I seemed to finally communicate that I wasn't interested. I got my snorkeling things out, put on my rash guard and then looked up, hoping for a glance of the sea, and this time saw a dude in front of me. He was an older gent who stood with his fists on waist. He said something gruffly about renting a chair. When I said no, he stared at me a few moments and declared, unsmiling, "I want to keep you company." I felt my patience slipping and made clear he should leave, which he did. I walked to the water and dove in without hesitation.

The snorkeling was quite good Will and Stephanie's binder had been right. The water was clear and I saw lots of fish, coral, and other marine life. On seeing the first few fish pass, I felt a rush of excitement, like, 'Oh yes, this is why I love snorkeling.'

Among the creatures I saw: some very small sergeant majors, several beautiful ocean surgeonfish (my favorites), bluehead wrasse (very pretty) , and the same blocky striped fish I'd seen at Pigeon Island (probably three-stripe damsels).

As I got out further toward the outermost outcropping of land, I saw several large schools of fish that I couldn't really identify, and lots of blue tangs.

Unfortunately, the current was strong. I suggest turning back before you feel like you're too close to where the southern strip of land stops.

On my way back, I saw a large conch shell, which I wrote in my journal was the largest I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the photo to scale it, and I don't remember it well enough to compare its size to anything. I do recall seeing conch shells on Cayman that were bigger than a football, so this one must have been larger than that.

After leaving the water, I decided to go in search of a snack. I walked over to Spinnaker's, a beach restaurant/bar that I had seen mentioned several times on the St. Lucia TripAdvisor forum. As I walked there, I was again targeted by one of the chair vendors I'd seen earlier. After I explained that my position on chair rental was unchanged and left him, he called after me with a trace of bitterness, "I was waiting for you."

Spinnaker's was nice, close to the sea and with good views. It was more upscale than I'd imagined — I'd expected it to be more of a bar, also more casual and cheaper. But it was pleasant, and I liked the view from my table of Pigeon Island.

The lunch menu for the day was up on a chalkboard. As I read it, I felt my hopes dwindle, as everything listed was meaty. When I told the waitress I was a vegetarian, she said I could order the Greek salad off of the dinner menu. The salad was good
— a bit more food than I needed, but it was OK. I also had a mango smoothie, which was delicious.

While I was sitting there, a guy wandering about
— he might have been one of the chair vendors — began verbally assaulting someone who I think must have been a Spinnaker's manager. This went on for some time until the police showed up. It didn't bother me, but I felt badly for the manager.

After lunch I walked north, toward the other end of the beach. I wanted to see if there was any way to continue in the direction of the guesthouse (there wasn't). Then I went back toward the main area of the beach and lied down under a tree, with my hat over my face. Suddenly I was incredibly drowsy and a bit headachey. Maybe I am addicted to caffeine. For about 45 minutes I hovered somewhere between sleeping and waking.

After my rest, I walked more toward the center of the beach. I wanted to snorkel in the same area as before, but I didn't want to walk back to where the annoying security guard was.

I put my things down somewhere in the middle of the beach
and got in the water. I swam first south to the edge of the beach, then proceeded west along the shore, as I had before. This time the water seemed considerably murkier, but I am not sure why that would be the case. It hadn't rained, but I had noticed a fair bit of water-taxi traffic in the past two hours. Could that do it? I wasn't sure.

At this point, I should mention that in my snorkeling at both Pigeon Island and Reduit Beach, I used a dive flag that attaches to my snorkel. I think it made me more visible, which is nice in these waters that aren't not designated specifically for snorkelers, though using the flag is not a good substitute for being very diligent yourself about listening for boats. Unfortunately, the fastener that holds the flag to the snorkel had a tendency to catch my hair.

Despite the murkier water, my second swim was nice, too. On my way back, I saw a large starfish, and then something very unusual. I was in shallow water about to return to the beach when I saw this creature swimming very close to the sand. This will probably sound crazy, but it looked like it had four legs and a tail. I'm not totally sure of the color, but I think was a dappled brown with a little lavender. I was getting cold at this point, so I started to
continue on, then I realized I really should go back for a better look. The second time I was with it, it began swimming faster. Its rear legs seemed to flare out a bit. When this happened, they looked more purple. I followed a bit longer, then got concerned about the fact that the water was so shallow and I really didn't know what this thing was. Could the leg flare have been a warning? No idea. Eventually, I got out of the water, wondering how I'd find out what this creature was.

I cleaned up and headed back. On the way, I tried to get a glimpse of the marina, but I got only one or two shots taken from behind the gate pictured above.

I caught the bus back to Gros Islet. As I came into the guesthouse, the two girls next door were setting one of the patio tables for dinner and speaking to each other in another language (French?). The dark haired one smiled and said hi.

I cleaned up, and found myself with a bit of spare time while the sun was setting. I decided it would be fun to go sit out by the water's edge and read. Unfortunately the only book I had brought was "The Omnivore's Dilemma" — not exactly beach reading — so I decided to check out the communal bookcase on the Bay Guesthouse patio. The first few books I picked up were not in English. When I found the English row of books, I noticed a lot of Dan Brown and James Patterson not really my speed. Finally, an appealing name caught my eye: Patricia Highsmith. I have been meaning to read something of hers for a long time. This particular title was "A Dog's Ransom." I took it with me to a lawn chair right in front of the sea and read until it was dark, breaking occasionally to take pictures of the sunset.

At one point, I thought I could hear a man and a woman speaking behind me in another language. I wondered who it was. After a few minutes, the voices went away, but I would meet their owners later in the evening.

Eventually, it was almost completely dark, and I figured I should eat. I had decided to try another restaurant mentioned in Will and Stephanie's binder. This one was called Somewhere Special. I set off to find it.

This was my first time walking around Gros Islet at night. Well, I guess I did it the evening I arrived, but that was a little different because it was the night of the jump-up, and there were other tourists roaming the streets. Still, even on this night, a Sunday, there was a low buzz of activity and plenty of local people about. This is one of the things I like about Gros Islet. It seems to have life, with people out talking in the evening, and conversations cropping up between passersby and whoever happens to be sitting in the open-air bar along Dauphin Street, or in any of the restaurants that open up onto the various other roads. In my imagination, everyone here knows everyone, and there's a town-wide conversation that's always ongoing.

This night I wondered what the conversants might be saying about tourists, since I noticed a fair number of people staring at me as I walked past them where they sat on bar stools and porches. I said hi to a few people and, when I did, they usually said hi back, sometimes with reserved friendliness, other times with unreadable expressions.

I walked up and down the street where I thought Somewhere Special was supposed to be. I felt very conspicuous walking around in a way that I'm sure suggested I was lost in a town of about eight blocks. I passed a group of several women of various ages, all staring at me, and decided to ask for directions. The youngest regarded me warily; the oldest was eager to help. She pointed me back in the direction I'd just come from. Apparently I had just missed it. One of the other ladies said it was "by the tree," and I nodded, even though there were about 10 trees in my line of sight. I walked a few blocks in the direction that they'd indicated, then asked another person, who pointed me to a specific tree. When I got there, at last I saw the Somewhere Special sign. The restaurant was no more than a narrow house perhaps eight feet across, with a pink picnic table to one side of the door, and on the other, a guy sitting under a tree. He said something like, "I knew you'd come back." I said I'd been looking for him all along, and he said well, we forgot to turn the light on, pointing to a lamp now shining on the "Somewhere Special" sign.

I didn't take a photo of the restaurant that night, but I went back later and got one, so I will include it here now.

The guy under the tree was P.J., a native of St. Lucia, He and his wife, Claudia, who's from Germany, own the restaurant. I asked Claudia if she could make me something vegetarian, and she offered a soya roti. I said that sounded great. I asked for a Piton, but they said their Pitons were not cold, and would I like a Heineken? I took one, and though I like Heineken, I have to say I was sad, having developed a taste for the local brew.

This evening was the first that I can recall hearing an organic hum that sounded like crickets or locusts, but not exactly. Later I would be told that they were grasshoppers, then that they were tree frogs. I'm not sure what precisely I heard that night, but it was pretty and loud, more omnipresent than anything comparable I recall having heard before. I loved it!

I hadn't been sitting there long when a couple came and joined me at the picnic table. They were Clarisa and Alonso, from Barcelona, and they were also staying at the Bay Guesthouse, having just arrived that day. Clarisa said, "Oh, that was you sitting on the lawn chair taking pictures!" Ah, these were the non-English-speaking guests I had heard! I asked them about their travels and, under questioning, they finally said that they were traveling the world. I put my hand to my heart and said "ooooh" in a mix of ecstasy and mock envy. They laughed and Alonso said, "Well, we weren't going to tell you, but you did ask!"

While we were sitting there, the sounds of American country and western music became audible. We started noticing people walking by us and toward it. Clarisa, Alonso, and I all speculated on why, when P.J. explained that the music is actually popular on St. Lucia because a lot of St. Lucian people have worked in the American Southwest as migrant workers. As he said this, that explanation started to sound familiar — I had heard the thing about Cayman, though I don't recall ever actually hearing country music played there. In Gros Islet, this might have been a weekly even, though I'm not sure. However, I do recall that P.J. said that there was sometimes dancing going on at the other end of the street.

After I finished eating, I decided to head home. Before leaving them, I asked Clarisa and Alonso if there was any one place in particular that they were looking forward to seeing in their travel. They said not really, that they didn't have a hard plan, they are just "following summer," having brought only summer clothes. I thought that was a nice idea.

I took the long way home, so I could walk by the area where P.J. said there might be dancing. I didn't see anyone dancing, just people at an open-air bar enjoying the music. Then I headed home and went to bed fairly early, reading a bit more of "A Dog's Ransom" before crashing.

Next: Castries!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day Two: Pigeon Island

For background on this series of posts, see the intro to my St. Lucia travel journal.

Saturday, July 9 — On my first full day on St. Lucia, I got up around 7:30, after having slept like a rock. As I got moving, I heard calls from roosters and a few barks from town dogs. None of the sounds were too loud, The communal patio at the Bay Guesthousejust pleasant reminders of animals about.

I decided to attempt making coffee, even though there was no pot in my kitchen — just a tea kettle, a gas range, and three paper cone filters. The first cup actually came out pretty well, but I spilled it after taking only a sip or two! After cleaning up, I tried making a second cup, but this time the filter broke and the coffee was too full of grounds. Oh well. On the upside, the onion bagels I bought at Super Js were good. I sat out on the patio while I ate one.

While I was getting ready to leave, I noticed the two girls staying in the room next to me, who were out on the patio for a bit. One of them was short with dark hair, the other taller and fairer. They didn't say anything to me — as I recall, they disappeared into their room pretty soon after I left mine. It occurred to me that the only tables for eating are on the communal patio, which is a nice place to sit and chat with other people, but if you really want privacy, it might not be ideal.

It was about 10 a.m. when I finished packing up my snorkeling gear and headed out into the overcast morning for Pigeon Island. If you are familiar with the region, then you probably already know that tourists often visit Pigeon Island to see the ruins of the British military fort, remnants of the historic British-French struggle for control of the island — but personally I was more interested in the hiking and the snorkeling, which I had heard was supposed to be pretty good. Because some years ago a causeway was built connecting Pigeon Island to the main of St. Lucia, getting there is a pretty easy walk from the Bay Guesthouse.

As I left, I got a better look at the guesthouse grounds than I had yesterday and realized that it is really quite secure — there is a wall on the south side, the sea to the west, a fence to the north and east. The only gate is situated next to The view south from the Gros Islet public beacha little office, where either Will or Stephanie seems to usually be sitting. This morning it was Will, and he greeted me on my way out.

I decided to walk around town a bit before heading to Pigeon Island. I wanted to check out "Lorna's Store," which I'd seen described in the binder in my room. Unfortunately, when I got to the street that I thought was right, I didn't see a single thing that looked like a store and, when I asked a passerby if he knew where it was, he looked at me quizzically and shook his head. (Later I learned that the store was exactly where the map showed it to be, but it was closed up tight for Saturday.)

After abandoning that mission, I started walking north along the beach to Pigeon Point. It drizzled a bit on the way, which was fine, just a little stressful as I debated whether I should have my camera out. I did take several pictures, looking both south and north, and was just careful to put the camera away whenever the rain picked up, which was only a few times, and each time briefly. Still, I was glad I had my umbrella.

After crossing a public beach, I got to the Landings resort, where a security guard noticed me immediately. When I explained I was going to Pigeon Island, he was fine with this and even walked me across the property, explaining that the Landings has a small marina, and I would either have to ride a dinghy across it or walk around it.

In the course of conversation, I mentioned that I might walk to Smugglers Cove after Pigeon Island. The security guard said, "Oh, no, I wouldn't advise that." I said, "because it's too far?" And he said that it wasn't far but that it was too risky for a woman alone. I have to admit I had wondered that myself, after having read some generally cautionary advice about traveling alone on St. Lucia. But I hadn't been sure, and it gave me a bit of a chill to hear a local express such caution so definitively. I asked him what the difference was between walking to Smugglers Cove and walking to Pigeon Island, and he said that it's just different. He assured me Pigeon Island would be fine. I was disappointed about the Smugglers Cove walk but grateful for the guidance.

The security guard led me to another Landings staff member, who invited me to climb in a dinghy to cross the marina. I thanked the guard and then chatted with this other guy, who complimented my "Obama '08" T-shirt.

After the crossing, I thanked the dinghy driver and proceeded on through another public strip of beach before getting to the Sandals Grande resort, where I was met by another security guard. I explained what I was doing, and the guard said to make sure I walked close to the water and not on the Sandals resort itself. The resort itself didn't seem as large or imposing as I would have guessed, but the beach was, if not crowded, busier than the others that I passed.

After Sandals was a narrow strip of land with sea on both sides. There were horses grazing there, and Pigeon Island was right up ahead. I began walking toward the park when two local men came running toward me, waving their hands as frantically as if I were about to walk into a wall of fire. Apparently the entrance was just ever so slightly north of the trajectory on which I was walking. Of course, I had heard of local people who volunteer directions and then demand tips from tourists, so I tried to extricate myself from the conversation quickly, but one of them, the younger of the two, had grass sculptures he wanted to show me — very pretty figures of birds and fish made from thick leaves folded just so. I told him truthfully that I couldn't buy one because I had an active day planned, and I would inevitably lose it or ruin it. He seemed surprised at that answer, though I am not sure why. I chatted with him a bit more out of politeness and, when I left, he insisted that I take a fish sculpture, saying really, there's no charge. I thanked him, and the older of the two said, "Maybe you will tip us on your way out of the park."

I entered the park and paid the admission — about $13 EC. Then I decided to take a snapshot of my grass fish because, as much as I wanted to keep it safe, I had a feeling that was a lofty goal.

Looking around, I could see the ruins of barracks up ahead and the sea to the northeast. The area was shady with trees, and it struck me as pretty but not stunning, much as I had expected.

I followed the signs for Fort Rodney, which is on the lower of the two peaks on Pigeon Island, and Signal Peak, which is the higher. The walk began with an easy path lined with bushes, trees, and red flowers. The views to the south were quite nice. I could see what I assume was Rodney Bay across the way, but I'm not sure. The whole area to the south is very mountainous and dramatic. I wondered what the names of the mountains were. The day before, Elias had told me that only the mountains in the southern part of the island have names, but I'm not sure that's right.

As I made my way toward Signal Peak, I crossed a wide flat grassy area. When I got to the other side, I didn't immediately see an obvious way to continue, but then I spotted the trail — you just have to go down a bit before going up.

The climb was pretty rocky. I did it fast, which left me a little winded. As I was reaching the top, some people were coming down: a British couple and a girl. The woman showed me her broken thong sandal, and told me that at her resort they had said she wouldn't need trainers. She seemed good-natured about it, but I felt bad for her doing the walk in those shoes. I don't think it would have been comfortable even if they weren't broken. I noticed the man was wearing Birkenstocks, which might have been OK, but I was glad I had sneakers.

When I reached the summit, I was treated to gorgeous views in all directions. This is where the site is stunning! I drank a lot of my water, then took a bunch of photos. It was breezy up there and hard to hold my camera steady, but the air felt nice.

The areas north of Pigeon Island were very pretty, and the waves were crashing hard around those shores. I tried to guess which resort was Smugglers Cove, the place I shouldn't walk to. I also looked for the route I would have taken to walk there. While doing this I noticed some dark clouds over that part of the island and soon it was raining fairly hard. I sat under my umbrella until it passed.

Finally, I decided I should head back down. I took one last look around, wondering where Martinique would be visible on a clear day (it was too misty today). Then I went to gather my things. In doing so, I noticed that I had indeed already lost my grass fish.

I had worried that the rocks would be slippery on the way down, but it was fine, and next I headed toward Fort Rodney. In general I don't get a big thrill out of seeing old cannons and things like that, but I thought the area was pretty neat, and I read all the placards dutifully. The view of Signal Peak from Fort Rodney was also nice. There were several other people there viewing the site. Two British tourists staying at the Rendezvous said hi to me and inquired about my trip.

At this point, I was ready to eat. I headed toward Jambe de Bois, the restaurant on Pigeon Island, and hoped the service wasn't as bad as I'd read in some of the reviews, because I was really hungry. (Fortunately, it wasn't.) I had a curried vegetable roti that was huge and delicious. The lemonade I ordered tasted a lot like ginger ale but was still good.

While I was sitting there I noticed a cat and a kitten, who were wandering around and playing — very cute and entertaining.

I also noticed a lot of Sandals boat traffic in the area, including a jet ski coming from the direction of the resort. From the helm, a guy shouted a loud but unintelligible greeting toward the Jambe de Bois patio. Since I was about to be snorkeling in those waters, I was a little worried — the waters seemed busy — but I figured it would be fine.

My bill was only $16 EC — a great value!

From Jambe de Bois, I headed to the beach for my first snorkel of the trip. Based on that one swim, I'd have to say the area seems weak as a snorkeling site. Still, it was refreshing to get underwater, and I did see a few things.

When I first went in, the water was murky. I swam north a bit and it cleared up. Still, it was a while before I saw any fish. First I saw a silvery blue type of fish — large schools of them swimming very fast past me, as if they were fleeing something. Next I saw a very small Sergeant Major, much smaller than the ones I saw on Grand Cayman. I saw what I think was a blue tang, though it was more lavender than what I am used to. I also saw what I believe was a large black sea urchin — at least a foot across.

The most unusual thing I saw was a pale yellow and black fish that was shaped a bit differently than the other fish — more blocky, if that makes sense. I also saw some tiny silvery blue ovals that were always moving upward toward the surface, in groups. At first I thought these were bubbles, then I thought they were some sort of creatures, and then I wasn't sure. (I think now that that the striped fish might have been a three-stripe damsel, and that the bubbles were volcanic ventilation.)

After my swim I was tired, but I still had a few more parts of the park to see. I walked up to the outermost point of the peninsula — the point furthest west — which is quite rocky and pretty. Sadly there was a fair bit of trash washing up against the rocks. More exciting were the tiny hermit crabs I saw scurrying about.

Next I walked back toward the park entrance to see the old barracks and the interpretation center. Then I headed out. I wondered if I would see the two vendors from the morning and was torn between hoping that I wouldn't see them and wanting to replace my fish. However, the vendors weren't there anymore, just the horses, including a colt this time, and some children playing a running race.

I walked back through Sandals and the Landings (no dinghy this time, I had to go around the marina), then back past the public beach nearest the guesthouse. On Bay Street, I saw four little boys running around barefoot. I wondered how the hot pavement must be on their feet.

Then it was home, a bit of cleanup and back out again, heading for Rodney Bay. I walked into the center of the village and caught the bus. It was dusk at this point. As we made our way south, the nearly full bus stopped for a woman who was very pretty but seemed tired. I wondered who she was and where she was going. I looked out the window and was struck by the juxtaposition of being in a fairly urban trapping — a crowded bus full of unconnected people — while up ahead were the silhouettes of mountain peaks against a slate blue sky. The only sound came from the radio, set to the local station, and all around us was a heavy heat that was becoming familiar. I felt truly removed from my old life and knew I'd always remember the moment.

At Rodney Bay, I disembarked and walked to Ti Bananne. The guest binder at the Bay Guesthouse had said that the restaurant had live entertainment most nights, but that must not apply to the off season, because they were just playing recordings. This included Elton John and, later in the evening, a rather inspired George Michael playlist, which included some obscure favorites.

After looking at the menu and chatting with the waitress, I realized that the menu they have posted online is outdated. I still had a good meal though — pumpkin mash, plantains and, when they said they were out of spinach, the parmesan mashed potatoes. All three were very good. I also had two "Blue Sky's" (their spelling and punctuation), a cocktail made with curaçao and coconut something-rather. Very tasty.

I paid with a $100 EC bill, and the change they gave me was a few dollars short. I said something to the waitress and she gave me two more dollars. It was still short, but not by much, so I decided to write it off.

From about the time I arrived at the restaurant, my stomach had been feeling not quite right, and it worsened through the evening. I suspected the water I'd been drinking all day, a mix of bottled and tap. I decided to increase the bottled ratio, and on my way home stopped at the supermarket for two large bottles. (As I write this, I feel guilty, knowing that St. Lucia does not have plastic recycling, but at least I bought two large bottles and not many small ones!) At the store, I asked the cashier how to get to the bus stop from where I was. She was a bit impatient but explained it.

I caught the bus and, very unusual, I was the only one in it. The driver's name was Morgan and he seemed very intent on selling me a taxi tour for sometime during my stay. He also asked if I smoked (nope) and drove me past his house and his sister's house (both in Gros Islet) before dropping me off right in front of the Bay Guesthouse.

It was only about 10 o'clock, but I was exhausted from the day!

Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.