I could hardly believe that it was already the seventh day of my twelve-day cruise. Time was speeding up. I loved sleeping in my luxurious bed but I co-mingled this feeling with regret that while I was sleeping, I was missing something. There was so much to do. Relaxing and whiling away the day takes time!
This was the day I went on a tour of Barbados.
The most disappointing result of the injuries I sustained in a fall I took in a disgustingly gross and slippery bathroom on Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seaswas that I was forced to trade in my reservation for the Welchman Hall Gully and Batts Rock Beach excursion. The tour promised a nature walk in a tropical valley that was home to a troop of green monkeys and a visit to a tropical beach. It was the most challenging event of my plans and today it was a no-go. I had an odd blue bruise the size of a dime on my left knee and my knees hurt, My ankles hurt, my wrists hurt, my back hurt, and other places hurt as well. I was using my walking stick for a cane.
So instead, I went on the "Coast to Coast Island Tour." The cruise excursion director told me that one of the stops was St. John's Parish Church, which has a very old cemetery. I love cemeteries. Another stop was a garden (arboretum?). She had one of the other staff show me pictures of the cemetery on his phone. Really, they had me at "cemetery."
At the time, I was intent on maximizing my opportunity as best as I could, but as I write this, I am deeply saddened that I took a once in a lifetime cruise to the southern Caribbean and failed to stick one toe in the water . . . never walked on a sandy beach . . . never hiked in the jungle. Didn't see a troop of green monkeys. I rode around in a bus or van or "trolly" and had short stops at a few destinations.
Well, enough whining about that. I was in paradise.
The port in Bridgetown was large and the distance from the ship to the shore was too far to walk, even for the mobility unimpaired, so we rode in buses to the shore. We passed other cruise ships, including a sailing vessel.
Barbados is a much bigger place Saint Croix or Saint Lucia. The tour terminal was organized chaos. We were directed to line up for a bus but then redirected to line up for a different bus, threading through the front where all the passengers for all the buses were crowded together.
Two women who were more nimble than me managed to push past me to get to the front of the line. It is typical of Americans to think that they should not wait behind a person with a disability. Fortunately, there was a funky seat in the front of the bus that they didn’t like – it was two seats but one of the seats didn’t have much space to put your legs – suitable for a child perhaps. I like to be in the front of the bus to avoid getting car sick, among other reasons, so this was a score for me.
On my first excursion, the tour guide was nuanced and political; on the second, the tour guide was sparse. This day, the tour guide spent about half the time telling us the story of herself. In addition to learning a lot of interesting stuff about a very lovely education system in Barbados and a lot about the many festivals that they celebrate (the way she told it there’s a celebration of some kind going on every month of the year), I also got to learn about her brother who died; the house that her other brother inherited from their father, which we drove by and his wife (whom she dislikes); the fact that one of her daughters has borderline personality disorder and doesn’t get to keep her child in her home; the fact that she has three different children by three different fathers and that she has no intention of getting married; the time she almost died from seafood allergy (from the smoke of barbecuing shrimp); and the fact that she doesn’t drink anymore. We learned that she can’t afford the epi pen she should have with her at all times because while most health care is publicly funded; the epi pen is $600 out of pocket.
The lack of information about Barbados and the in-depth dive into the story of her life seemed odd. She often waved and called to people we passed – and they waved and called back. She was popular, as though being a tour bus guide made her a local celebrity. Perhaps she WAS a local celebrity, perhaps for reasons unrelated to her job on the bus. Nevertheless, I found her tremendously amusing, and I had a very good time.
All this while driving through town, suburb, and countryside. We saw a variety of businesses and the homes of rich and poor. We saw a huge Chinese development. From many places we saw the sea.
We saw a lovely old church that was damaged so severely in a hurricane that it is dangerous to walk inside. It stands gloomy and abandoned at the side of the road. Some of the shabbiest homes and abandoned properties had spectacular views of the sea. These properties would be worth many millions of dollars in California. We saw an incredibly expensive beachfront resort and a monument to soldiers lost at war. We saw banana groves and sugarcane fields. The clouds were low against a soft blue sky; the air temperature was moderate and the breezes were soothing. In my photos, I tried to capture the juxtaposition of poverty and wealth, the brightly colored middle class homes, and unique single family homes and small businesses.
I captured a short movie of a lovely scene on our way to St. John's Parish Church.
The drive was smooth and interesting. I took more photos and soon enough, we arrived at the old church.
My favorite part of this excursion was a visit to this very old church and its very old cemetery. It is at the very high top of a hill, or perhaps a small mountain, and the views were lovely. Wonderful tropical breezes soothed my soul.
Here is some video of a view from the cemetery. Imagine the air temperature is soothing, the air is fresh, and there is a lovely breeze, because that is what it was like. I enjoyed the climate in Barbados in February.
The rest of my photos from that day are presented in a slide show (below). Driving on the left side of the road (!), we passed city and countryside, harbor views, monuments to liberation, ramshackle homes, and were permitted entry to a gated golf course resort for rich people. The colors of many of the buildings were vibrant.
We stopped at a garden where the tour guide cautioned us not to go past the gift shop into the gardens, because the tour company's insurance would not cover us . . . BUT they offered a free rum punch. She urged us strongly to try the rum punch and I decided to go ahead. It was amazingly DE-li-cious. And she was very amusing when she was "selling" the free cup of punch. She said that it would improve the quality of the tour tremendously. It makes me smile to remember her many jokes. She was fun.
I very much enjoyed Barbados and would love to come back. I felt very safe there – like I could get out of the bus and walk anywhere – go try to buy something at a local store – and it would be fine, people would help me figure stuff out. And the weather on that day was very inviting – to spend time out of doors. Views of the sea around every other corner.
After the excursion, I rested, reading more of the second book in the Melendy series - The Four-Story Mistake. I came across a passage on page 92 that blew my mind. I discovered that the play I wrote in fourth grade was not an original idea. The title of my play, The Princess and the Parsnip, was stolen from this book. I had not recalled that I read the book in fourth grade - I thought I was a couple years older when I encountered The Saturdays, the first book in the series.
I was in Miss Feaster's class in fourth grade. I didn't like her and she didn't like me. I was intent on writing a play, with a subject matter that was ripped off, apparently. I was writing with my work hidden in my lap during math. I found math boring and a waste of my time, so I did other things . . . but Feaster caught me and publicly humiliated me. So I worked on my script during recess. it was successfully performed that weekend by the Pineo Family Players, or rather, by my brothers and sister. There was no Emily at that point in the family history. What I learned was that three pages of script takes just a few minutes to perform and that I wasn't going to have the patience to write out a whole play. But our performance did have nice props and costumes . . .
Miss Feaster (yes I digress) gave me bad grades. I had never had bad grades before, and I was disappointed, but my honest evaluation was that she was wrong about me, that the grades were her opinion, which I did not share. What I did not find out until years later, was that my father set up a meeting with her and went down in his important college teacher clothes, and brought the full compliment of his charm and diplomacy. He told her that I was very smart and probably bored and convinced her somehow to just give me good grades. I didn't change a thing . . . but my grades changed. Thanks Dad!
I should write a story about Miss Feaster. That whole school year was a trip and a half . . . she had an ancient record player and on rainy day lunch, where you have to have the lunch recess in your classroom, She played Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy singing "Indian Love Call." Always just that one song, like it was her only record, and never the B side of the 45. It was kind of excruciating, but now I think of it as a window to the past. But really, I do digress, don't I?
I had a nice supper with my charming table mates and then I sang karaoke. Then I went out into the night to do something special – something I could only do in this, the southernmost point of my journey (and my life).
This was the night I achieved a goal that I’ve had most of my life, since I was five years old. I saw the Southern Cross.
I went up to deck nine, where the big outdoor pool is, and then up to the walking track. It was spooky walking around a giant space that is usually very crowded. It was completely deserted, many places were poorly lit, and the deck was slick. I held onto the railing with one hand, and used my walking stick with the other, as I moved slowly along the walkway. The air temperature was divine and the ocean breeze was soothing. I could see the lights of distant islands as we churned through the water, making waves that expanded away from and behind us. It was scary. I was alone, which gives one a cautious feeling, and yet I didn’t want to meet anyone, for what if they were trouble? What if I somehow fell off the ship (not very likely, obviously, but the thought did recur . . . I was a speck of sand to that giant sea . . .). No one would notice. No one would know.
It was a lot of steps to find a place where the view of the southern sky was unobstructed. Finally, I went back to deck nine at the rear of the ship by the climbing wall. The white smoke coming from the exhaust pipe kept blocking the places where I thought the constellation might be so I repositioned and finally got a clear view of the region of the sky that seemed most likely.
It took a long time for my eyes to adjust enough to be able to see the stars. I used a free astronomy app to look for the correct location of the constellation, but I was having a lot of trouble finding it. Eventually, I realized that I could see Orion and so I found that in the app and then traced back down to the left and then searching more, I found the Southern Cross, or more precisely, I saw the Southern Cross for the first time.
I took some pictures with my phone, (in what world is that a correct phrase?) but you can’t really use the telephone camera for taking a picture of that kind of thing, so I am sharing a screenshot from the app I was using.
Then I queued up that song on Napster, “The Southern Cross“ by Crosby, Stills and Nash, and I sang along, in the dark, by myself, at the far back end of a giant ship. Good times.
As I made my way to a doorway back into the interior, a watchman came by. He stopped and chatted with me – I told him about the Southern Cross. Then a little farther along my path, I came upon a young couple playing shuffleboard on the semi-lit deck. They were friendly, said hello. Shuffleboard is a long game board so when I spoke with the man, the woman could not really hear. I told him I about the Southern Cross. He seemed interested so I told him how to find the constellation, where to stand on deck. I told him about sighting it off of Orion and he said “Funny you should say that. I have a tattoo of Orion” and he lifted up his shirt sleeve to reveal his tattoo. I stopped to tell the girl (a woman, but so young) about the opportunity to see the Southern Cross and she said they would definitely want to see that, that her companion was into astronomy. It was a very pleasant interaction, as were almost every conversation I had with anyone on the cruise.
As I think back on it, I love the sense of danger, the feeling of agency, the frustration of not finding the constellation, of having to work the problem of location of my body on the ship and location of my desired object in the night sky, my bravery, both in walking around alone on a slick deck at 11:00 PM and in using my phone app and common sense to find the Southern Cross. I like my boldness in playing the song and singing out loud – belting it out with no audience but myself. I was etching the memory onto my brain, the darkness, the cool breeze, the wet air, the Southern Cross, a kite tipped on its side, hovering above the southern horizon.
I felt very alone. It was refreshing to my spirit. It was a personal accomplishment for my 72-year-old body and my ageless soul.