(reference is to “The Hunting of the Snark, An Agony in 8 Fits” by Lewis Carroll)
Fit One - Shit Happens Today was an interesting day. Everything started off well enough; I had some oatmeal and tea in my room and then went up to the Windjammer buffet to get a little more fortification before my panoramic tour of the Saint Croix in the US Virgin Islands.
I headed into the women’s bathroom right outside the starboard exit of the Windjammer, with my trusty walking stick, a little backpack, and my fanny pack.
Just a quick pit stop before I headed down to the Orpheum Theater from whence excursions are dispatched.
I took two steps into the bathroom, and then I slid as if on ice in a greasy spot that was several feet across. I banged up both my knees, did the splits, twisted and torqued, and landed sitting on my butt in the middle of this greasy spot. My hands were slipping around so that I couldn’t gain purchase to get up, so I just sat there.
I may have said “Jesus fuck” as I lurched through the region. It appears to be my favorite lizard brain cuss word, these days. Eventually, a woman came out of one of the stalls and said, “oh my goodness” and then went off to find someone to help stand me back up again.
A very small but strong woman, staff in a blue outfit, helped me to stand up. While I was washing the filth off my hands, she had disappeared. I used the toilet and decided that I was probably in good enough shape to walk around. I knew I might have injuries, and I also knew that they weren’t gonna show up for hours. And I really didn’t want to miss my excursion. I had only five shore days and I didn’t wanna miss anything.
Then I looked more carefully to see what I had been slipping in. There were brown piles of mud on the floor in several places. As I looked at these spots, I eventually realized that that was not mud. It was poop. Gawd only knows what the greasy spot was, but it was related to the poop on the floor. That was what I slid on. That was what I had been sitting in. That was what had been on my hands.
At this point there were several women in the bathroom and we were all talking about my slipping, my injury, the poop on the floor; they verified that I didn’t appear to have any stains on the seat of my pants.
So, I went over to the entrance to the Windjammer and told the two staff members stationed there that I had just fallen down in the bathroom and they needed to close it until the poop was cleaned up. They asked me if I was okay and I said I wasn’t sure if I was okay or not but we would have to wait and see.
Then I took the elevator downstairs to the Orpheum venue and I found one of the excursion managers. I told him about my fall and the problem with the bathroom and that since there wasn’t particularly much walking on the tour; I wanted to take it. I would have to wait and see if I developed any aches and pains, as time went on.
I sat in my designated area amongst a sea of women. Still shook up, I told them about how I had slipped and fallen and that it was caused by poop on the floor of the public bathroom. The woman seated to my left said, “Oh that is exactly what happened to my mother, yesterday!” Her mother had slipped and fallen in poop in a different bathroom on the ship. She had not been seriously injured but her clothes had been covered in filth. I asked if she had reported it or taken her mother to the ship’s doctor but she said no on both counts. She had just taken her mother back to their cabin and cleaned her up. So that was interesting but quickly it was time for us to journey to our first cruise bus. I left with a small group of other mobility impaired people and we were guided to the elevators; we were taken down join the others at a rendezvous point outside the ship. There were several large buses and I got on one and was able to sit in the front on the left, as the left side seats were just a column of single seats. Easy on and off; I could see the tour guide; and I didn’t have to sit next to anyone.
Fit Two - Colonial Effects on Saint Croix
The tour was amazing but not because there’s that much of interest about Saint Croix. It’s a small island that served as a slave driven sugarcane/molasses source. The Danish controlled the island and were cruel slave masters for hundreds of years. Then there was a revolution which is widely celebrated by the descendants of the former slaves. We drove all over the island and saw a lot of the towns and the countryside. The weather was ideal.
We drove past a large estuary that was home to a mangrove swamp. Our guide described the essential function of the mangrove trees, which perch just above the water on a large root system that creates a safe place for smaller creatures, particularly fish fry. He talked about how he had visited this ecological treasure all the time in his childhood without ever realizing that it was immediately adjacent to the sea or how valuable it was. He was obviously proud of this natural and ecologically beneficial beauty.
The other big feature on the island is an oil processing plant which is currently decommissioned because it processed Venezuelan oil which is now taboo because we hate Venezuela.
The most interesting about this tour was the tour guide. His orientation was to explain, in exquisite detail, the damage of the various colonial masters who have controlled the island. They killed or drove off the indigenous people and brought in slaves, who had a life span of seven years once they arrived here. He returned again and again to the effect of first Danish, and then American, control of the island. He talked about how, after the oil refinery had been out of commission for five years, a Chinese company came in and started refining oil again using the old rusting equipment without repairs or oversight; they were polluting the island. This is particularly pernicious because the main source of drinking water is people collecting rainwater from the roofs of their houses, I kid you not. The EPA didn’t do jack about the pollution for five years until some of it drifted over to something that mattered to the American government, perhaps one of the military installations on the island. I’m unclear of some of the details of this part of the story, but he said that once American interests were harmed, the oil refinery was shut down immediately.
On the flipside, for hundreds of years, up until just a couple years ago, Saint Croix had three dairies that provided wonderful milk and dairy products for the entire island, but our government came in and said that Saint Croix had to build a $2.5 million testing facility to prove that the milk was wholesome. Since the island’s government couldn’t pay for the testing facility, the US government closed down all the dairy farms. So now the people of Saint Croix mostly drink imported powdered milk. You can’t make this shit up.
He told another story about how they don’t pay taxes, but they pay a greater price in the military occupation of the island. One of his friends who recently passed had avoided service in the Vietnam war in rather an usual way. They didn’t have a draft; what happened was that one day, representatives of the US military came into the high school and took every single boy from the senior and the junior classes, took them to serve in the military right then and there. On that particular day, the young man in question had been home from school and missed being taken into the military on the spot. He went into hiding and avoided the military police for about three weeks, but then he gave up and turned himself in. He refused to go to Vietnam, so he served three years in prison. He is one of only a few of his generation who survived the Vietnam war. They were used as “tunnel rats” and put into the most dangerous situations. Most of them died, and the few who came home was so traumatized by their experience that they were relatively useless to their families and their communities.
Our tour guide pointed out many types of plants that were beneficial and used for treatment of various illnesses and for other uses. We slowed the bus down as we attended to these examples of the interplay between nature and the culture of Saint Croix.
One of the things we got to see on the tour was the Grove Place baobab tree, commonly known as the “tree of life.” This tree is native to Africa, were it lives for several millennia. The seed for this tree came over with African slaves, possibly in someone’s hair. It was planted by slaves over 250 years ago and it is revered as a cultural and natural icon. It is the oldest baobab tree in the Virgin Islands, known to the locals as “Guinea Almond.” The baobab tree helps keep soil conditions humid, promotes nutrient recycling, and prevents soil erosion. It is an important source of food, water, and shelter for various birds, reptiles, and insects.
In 1878, a dozen women involved in the Fireburn riot where burned alive at the Grove Place baobab. Our tour guide talked about the heroic sacrifice of many, in the struggle for freedom. He highlighted the role of women in revolutionary acts.
At one point, he pointed out a peculiar vault made of concrete that looked like a miniature quonset hut. It had a small door in the front. He asked us what we thought it was for. I thought it looked like some kind of water valve room but it turned out it was a place where children too young to work in the fields were kept all day while their parents slaved. It was a day care, except that instead of giving the children an enriching experience, they just locked them up all day in a little windowless concrete room. Until they were old enough to be useful as laborers, one would assume.
He pointed out the ruins of many windmills and we visited one. The Danish colonial plantation owners, having driven off the indigenous people to other islands, imported hundreds of thousands of slaves from Africa; the average lifespan was seven years from their arrival date. Slaves worked the fields growing and harvesting sugar cane and laboring at windmills where the cane was ground up. The liquified material flowed down a pipe into a giant pot that was at a lower level, usually a large hole dug adjacent to the mill. Here the liquid was boiled into molasses and into that giant bubbling pot uncooperative slaves were tossed in, alive, to be boiled to death, intended to be examples to the rest of the slave population.
And that molasses was used to make rum, don’t cha know.
He knew exactly how many windmills remained on Saint Croix; Wiki says around 140. He discussed the problematic nature of these historical remains. Yes they are historical, but it is a history of something most people on Saint Croix have no interest in celebrating. How many structures of slavery do you need? he asked. He said that people liked to turn them into tourist destinations but he wondered why in the world anyone would want to have their wedding at a place where people were tortured. As we drove around, he pointed out the locations of revolutionary insurrections. He particularly highlighted to the role of heroic women among those who eventually brought freedom to the island. This was not the tourist claptrap that I expected.
Fit Three - Let the Complaining Begin
When we got to the dock, dropped off at the end of the pier, I started walking out to a recommended restaurant. It was then that I realized that my left knee hurt so much that I wasn’t going to be able to walk back if I walked further away from the ship.
So, sadly, I turned around to hobble back to the entrance of the pier. Everyone was so helpful. I was directed to a shuttle, and the shuttle driver decided to break the rules and drive me and some other people back to the ship. I went immediately to the medical office and was given a knee brace, an ankle brace, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, directions, and plastic bags for ice.
The doctor said that there was a reasonable chance that if I stayed off my feet the rest of the day, iced the swollen areas, and took the pain medication every four hours, alternating between the two types, I might be able to go on my excursion in Saint Lucia the next day.
After that I went to the Loyalty Desk, for Key Pass members and other higher tier passengers. I met a lovely woman who listened to my tale of woe. She was very sympathetic and made notes in my record, or my “permanent record” as I imagine it. That is an elementary school teacher’s joke, in case you don’t recognize it.
She made no mention of the fact that the serial pooper is actually a well-known phenomenon on cruise ships, but later, when I was back on land, I was reading an article, probably on Buzzfeed, about things cruise ship workers know that passengers don’t, and I ran across this tidbit:
When I got back to my cabin, I called customer service to complain about my experience and told them they should, at the very least, clean my pants and pay for my room service. They agreed to this and someone came to take away my pants, which were returned later cleaned and pressed at no charge. I was also comped one (1) room service charge.
Then I ordered salmon from room service for dinner, took a shower, did some reading, ate a lovely supper, and I went to bed early. I missed dining with my delightful table mates in the Main Dining Room, but I didn’t have the steps and if I did have any, I needed to save them for Day 6, and the island of Saint Lucia. And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.