The Sweet Escape Part II: Island-Hopping

After saying our goodbyes, Don and Kevin climbed into the taxi and drove off down the road. Turning back into my apartment, I had things to do. The very next morning I had a flight to catch to go to St. Vincent. So after a thorough cleaning of my apartment, I began to pack a bag to prepare for the long weekend ahead of me. There was an excitement building up within me at the prospect of getting to see another island in the Caribbean. When I first learned I would be serving in the EC, I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to do as much island-hopping as possible. So when an opportunity arose when there was talk among some fellow volunteers about a reunion in St. Vincent, I decided to join in. This point in my break marked my transition from being the host on one island, to a tourist on another.

Before the crack of dawn the following morning, fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Katie Riley and I were at the airport waiting to board our flight. After a short time, our boarding number was called and we stepped through the automatic sliding doors and out into the warm, early morning air. Up ahead was our plane, a small aircraft with propellers on the wings. To our left, behind the aircraft, a hint of orange began to seep across the lavender-colored horizon. All around the airfield was the Caribbean Sea, as still and serene as ever, mimicking the lavender of the sky. We climbed the mobile staircase and ducked our heads as we stepped into the plane.

Taking my seat next to the window and looking out, I was soon lost in thought. This was my first time leaving Grenada since I arrived in July. My excitement at seeing a new island soon melted into an uneasy feeling as the flight attendant went through the safety procedures. The plane eased forward and turned toward the runway. The engines kicked into a roar and the plane surged ahead. The uneasy feeling within me jumped to an immediate regret.

“What are you doing? Why would you leave?” I thought to myself, feeling as a child being reluctantly dragged away from a fun afternoon at a friend’s house.

The wheels came off the runway and the plane lifted smoothly into the sky. I closed my eyes and with a deep sigh, came to the realization that I had become emotionally attached to the Spice Isle. Regret was not something I was planning on feeling, especially given that I was on my way to see yet another Caribbean island. But I was comforted by the fact that I felt regret, because regret meant that I was happy. Regret meant that I have a good life in Grenada, where everything makes sense and there’s plenty to do and explore. The feeling of regret, in this particular instance, meant that Grenada has not only been my host country, but has become my home.

As I came to this realization, I opened my eyes and looked out the window. The lavender sky was nearly gone, overrun by a burning orange, early morning light with a fade of pink among the clouds. The landmass of Grenada seemed to crawl out like fingers poking into the sea. A ridge-line of mountains rose from the landmass and sprawled out across the island, like that of the LIFE board game’s playing surface. Colored rooftops speckled the mountainsides, as houses were tucked in sporadically along the ridges and out along the coast. I looked out intently, trying to spot different landmarks and the places I had been. In the distance, I came to recognize Bathway Beach on the northeastern coast. Beyond that was Sugar Loaf, Green, and Sandy Islands, the keys that sit just off the northern coast. Then with a snap of the fingers we drifted into the cotton-strand clouds, blocking my view of the island I have come to call home. It was time to look ahead to the island of St. Vincent.

After a quick layover in Barbados, we arrived in St. Vincent by the early afternoon. At the airport, Katie and I met fellow PCV Madeleine Humm, who had just arrived on her flight from St. Lucia. Equipped with nothing but our backpacks, we stepped out into the hot, Caribbean air. Walking up the road to the top of a hill, we flagged down a bus. Our plan was to take the bus to Stubbs Government School, where PCV Alexa Cline is placed and is just a short distance from the airport. The busses on St. Vincent operate much the same way as the other islands, packed full and speeding around bends and turns. But there were a few differences. In Vincy, the busses are notorious for packing the busses so full that it is not uncommon for not only the conductor, but also passengers to be standing for the ride. Whereas in Grenada you knock on the window to signal a stop, Vincy is much like St. Lucia in that you need to call out to the driver when you’re ready to drop. Additionally, many of the Vincy busses are spray-painted in vibrant, glittery colors of green, purple, blue, and the like. The drivers there take great pride in the appearance of their busses, oftentimes even donning their nicknames spray-painted across the hood.

The bus rumbled to a stop in front of a three-story building, complete with outdoor corridors connecting the classrooms. We walked onto the ground-level, second-story corridor and were greeted by Alexa and an influx of her young students, already excited by the class parties going on during their last day of school. Her school environment was much like mine: loud, chaotic, exciting. We gathered on the corridor as the principal brought us some snacks from the lunch room. I leaned against the railing as the girls sat on the bench while kids darted past us. Feeling a tug on my pant leg, I turned around and looked down the staircase behind me to find three boys trying to hide from my view. What quickly ensued was essentially a loose game of whack-a-mole; as the boys would pop up and reaching through the beams of the rail, tag my leg before crouching low to keep out of my reach in retaliation. This game entertained them, and me, for the next twenty minutes. It’s the simple things, really.

Later that afternoon we met up with PCVs Hannah Schroeder, Diamond Elam, Crystal Sherriff, and Ford Boozer for dinner at a quiet, waterfront restaurant. Within swimming distance across the way was Young Island, teasing to the eye as ideal for a quick island get-away. The dinner was spent conversing and catching up on all that has happened in our lives since we all parted ways after our new home countries were revealed to us that late July afternoon. The sun faded and night fell as we moved next door to a nearby bar. There the reunion continued until it was time to head north. A few of us caught a ride up the coast to Point, a community where a Christmas-lighting festival was taking place as part of the Nine Nights tradition. When we dropped in Point, we were engulfed in a mass of people. Lights of various colors strung up on houses and street posts, illuminating the community all around us. At a fork in the road a stage was set-up, as live music was being played by various bands and performers serving as the focal point of entertainment for the night. The holiday spirit filled the air as families and friends from far and near seemed to gather just for this night under the festive lights. Off the coast in the darkness, a silhouette of a large landmass speckled with a few lights loomed in the distance. I later learned that the silhouette was in fact St. Lucia, just a few miles off the coast.

The next morning we awoke to the steep mountains and hillsides surrounded us, jutting out into the ocean. We had no idea we were surrounded by such beautiful mountains, due to the cloak of darkness that concealed them when we arrived the night before in Owia, where PCV Olivia Chavez is located. Nonetheless, we walked down a steep road to the salt ponds. Sharp rocks protruded out from the collected pools of salt water, constantly filling from the waves that frequently crashed over the wall of rocks at the edge. Being in among the rocks of the salt ponds and surrounded by the green mountainsides, it truly felt as if I were in an entirely different world. We made our way across the rocks to the salt ponds, careful with each step on the sharp rocks and wary of the sea urchins known to dwell in the ponds. Eventually, we reached where the water was deep enough to jump in. The morning was spent floating in the salt ponds as local children soon came to join us. Barefoot, they effortlessly dashed across the rocks, flipping and jumping into the water. From someone who easily spent ten minutes covering the distance it took them to cover in thirty seconds, I was amazed. Then as we were treading in the water, an ominous sound of an incoming wave grew louder and louder. Looking off to my left, a large wave crashed through the crevices and over the top of the rocks. The local children dove wildly into the water as the wave overcame them and pushed all of us across the pond in its current.

After returning from the salt ponds, we spent the rest of the day going out to the Falls of Baleine. An isolated and hard to reach spot, it took quite some time for us to reach it. Lead by a local, we followed a river, dancing across rocks large and small as the towering green trees of the forest seemed to engulf us. A heavy sound of rushing water thundered in the distance, building up the anticipation within me of what was around the bend. I jumped from rock to rock, careful so as not to disturb the clear and transparent water of the river. Then coming around the bend, I look up to see a raging waterfall tucked into the mountains at the end of a tunnel of trees. The view was absolutely astounding. When we reached a point where we could no longer walk across the rocks, we stepped into the river, wading through icy-cold, waist-high water until we reached a path of higher ground that took us directly to the waterfall. Upon reaching the spring at the base of the waterfall, we jumped into its chilling, fresh waters. One of the locals that served as our guide climbed up the jagged rock-face. A few of us followed suit, taking turns leaping off the edge and into the spring below. This place was so isolated, so untouched, and so pure that it has easily become one of my favorite places in the world. I’m saddened to say that my GoPro malfunctioned while I was at the falls, so I lost all photos and footage of our trip there and from the salt ponds, as well. But that’s okay. Although disappointed, some things are best left as a memory.

The next day we embarked for Bequia, the largest and closest Grenadine island to St. Vincent. Our trip there was surprisingly eventful, as we made the trip through ‘The Bullet’ (the rough stretch of water between St. Vincent and Bequia) while a storm passed through. I must admit, I revisited my old affair with seasickness on this trip. As the mainland of St. Vincent faded into the clouds in the distance, the forested coast of Bequia emerged from the clouds ahead. When I saw a forested coast, my heart dropped a little. An uninhabited coast meant the dock was on the other side and we still had a-ways to go. The whole trip there made me question whether Bequia was even going to be worth the trouble. Looking back now, it certainly was. As we made our turn around the edge of the coast into the U-shaped bay of the island, the storm clouds immediately scattered, as if frightened by the omnipotent sun. Spilling into my view was your prototypical Caribbean scene. White sailboats, vessels, and yachts rocked gently in the turquoise blue waters. Simple homes of various colors spotted the luscious green coast and hillsides.

After we docked, I spent some time sitting on the pier and taking in the view in front of me. A few small, humble fishing boats were tethered to the posts of the pier. Two young boys were playing tag, jumping in and out of the boats and leaping into the water as they chased one another. I began speaking to a guy named Glen, a Vincentian fluent in Japanese, who does business in Japan and owns a small business in Manhattan. He was a lean man, donning shades and wearing a white, long-sleeve shirt and cornrow hair. A fast-talking and long-winded individual, I had an enjoyable time learning his story. In between his business travels, he often buys a one-way ticket to St. Lucia and travels to St. Vincent and Bequia by his personal boat. It was clear that he had spent significant time in the States, however, as just by his mannerisms and way of speaking was very American. This was not something I had expected to encounter while I was down here; but nevertheless, I have come to be able to tell who from the locals has spent time in America or England and who has remained in the Caribbean their entire lives. There’s a certain way they speak, dress, and carry themselves that gives it away.

For two picturesque Caribbean days basking in the hot sun and two nights looking up in awe at the vast, starry night sky; life seemed to have been put on hold. We spent the days bathing in the refreshing waters of the Sea and took in the nightlife of the bars and restaurants in the bustling little town on the main strip. Our Air BnB seemed suited for a honeymooning couple, complete with two floors with three bedrooms, a sitting room, fully-equipped kitchen, an outdoor patio ,and dinner table underneath a canopy. Mosquito nets were strung up over the beds, allowing us to sleep with the doors open to catch the warm sea breeze as it passed through. Due to the house being up the hillside, our patio-view was prime viewing for the sun to set down over the peninsula to our left. If you haven’t picked up on it yet: if you intend on vacationing in the Caribbean, Air BnB’s are the way to go.

Plainly said, my time in Bequia was way too short. It had all the characteristics and beauty of the Caribbean, but a humble, bustling character to it that served for a unique experience. Our final night on the island, we walked along the two small stretches of beach, up through a wooded path, and around a boardwalk over the water that bends around a mountain. All the while, the sunset was spilling a majestic array of pink and purple colors across the sky. Being able to spend that night and those few days in such a beautiful place, reuniting with friends undergoing this once in a lifetime experience with me, was truly remarkable. After all, how many people get the chance to experience such a beautiful place with friendships formed abroad?

It was exciting seeing St. Vincent, particularly as it compares to Grenada and St. Lucia. Each island seems to have its own personality that makes it so unique. There are some underlying characteristics that are found on each of the island, especially when it comes to the people. Even the little Grenadine islands like Bequai and Carriacou (the latter I hope to visit soon), have a character about them that makes them unique. But just like the natives of St. Lucia and Grenada, Vincentians have a generosity about them in hopes that you are enjoying visiting their home country as much as they enjoy living there.

Ironically enough, through all of this my favorite part about the trip to St. Vincent and Bequia wasn’t the turquoise water or sandy beaches. It wasn’t the Christmas-lighting in the community of Point. It wasn’t the salt ponds of Owia or Falls of Baleine. It wasn’t experiencing the nightlife of Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent. It wasn’t the ferry rides, sunsets, or nights spent stargazing. My favorite part happened after all that.

On our way back to Grenada, Katie and I had a couple-hour layover in Barbados. During the layover, the air conditioning inside the airport terminal was so chilling, we sat outside in the warmth of the Caribbean air while we waited for our flight. A short man wearing a blue polo shirt was standing off to the side, headphones in and looking at his phone. I sat down on the curb and leaned back on the tree behind me while we waited. The door to the right opened and a gust of cold air rushed out, as another man in a green button-down shirt and well-trimmed mustache walked out briskly, folding his arms and rubbing his shoulders proclaiming, “Ooohh! It’s cold in there!”

The few of us that were outside laughed heartily, for without ever collectively acknowledging it, the air conditioning was exactly why each one of us was outside. I stood up and introduced myself to the man in the green shirt, whose name was Clifton. He was a small-business owner living in Canada, just outside of Toronto and on his way to visit family in his native home country of St. Vincent. I explained to him that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching in Grenada, and had just came from St. Vincent and Bequia. When I told him I am originally from cold-weather Cleveland, Ohio, we laughed and talked about life in the cold as compared to life here. He was nearly in stitches laughing after hearing me confess to him that 78 degrees was now ‘cold’ for me.

The man in the blue polo pulled out his headphones and stepped into the conversation, introducing himself as Leon. Originally from Grenada, he had family on St. Kitts and Nevis and spent the latter part of his life living and raising a family in the Washington D.C. area. An avid Carnival-goer, he attends each Caribbean island’s Carnival every year. I told him about my experience at last year’s Spicemas Carnival on Grenada, to which we swapped stories and photos, as naturally he was there as well.  Having been to Carnivals across the Eastern Caribbean, I asked him where Grenada’s stands among the rest, to which he responded slyly, “Grenada has a good Carnival, but they have the best J’ouvert (joo-vay).” For those who don’t remember or don’t know, the J’ouvert is the Carnival event on Grenada in which everyone parades the streets covered in motor oil. Although I may be a bit biased, I must agree.

It was at this time another burst of cold air came bursting through the doors. An elderly man, probably about 70-something years old came shuffling out of the terminal, digging his hands deep in his jacket pockets. I rushed over to close the door behind him, as we had come to take turns opening and closing the door for people passing through. The purpose of this was actually two-fold: the first for the sake of good, old-fashioned chivalry, the second so that we can close the door shut and trap the cold air in that much faster.

“Coming out to escape the cold?” Clifton asked, as the elderly man stepped into our circle.

“Mhmm,” he nodded.

To be perfectly honest, I wish I could remember this man’s name. For what he said next, I may never forget. He began to tell his story, which was humbling, to say the least. A native Vincentian, he and his wife moved to Maryland to provide a better life and education for their daughters. He was successful in this endeavor, as both of his daughters went on to prestigious schools and have found successful positions in the professional world. I couldn’t help but notice a nervousness about him, however, and it was soon revealed why. He was returning to St. Vincent to lay his wife of fifty years to rest. Tears welled up in his eyes as he painfully explained her valiant fight against cancer, a battle in which he was by her side every step of the way. Clifton and Leon both reached out and placed a hand on of his shoulders in consolation. I just stood there, silent, speechless.

“Wow, she must have been a tremendous woman,” Clifton tells him.

The man then proceeds to tell the story of how he met his wife. Working at a beach-side restaurant, he looked up from a table to see a sailboat out on the water with two girls on it. The man motions as he explains how he had picked up a pair of binoculars to get a better look. You could see the man envisioning it all fondly, as if it happened just yesterday. As it turns out, the first girl was a cousin of a friend of his. But it was the second girl that had truly captivated his attention. As soon as his shift had ended, he jumped in the water and swam out fifty yards to the boat and the rest you could say, was history. He was nineteen at the time; she was seventeen. They were married for over fifty years until her recent passing. The love was evident in his expressions; the pain of his loss still fresh in his eyes. We expressed our condolences.

This was a highlight of my trip because of the people I met and how humbling hearing their stories was for me. It all started simply because I seemed to have lost my ‘Northern blood,’ and had to sit outside in the heat because the air conditioning was too cold. However, the fact that I couldn’t handle the air conditioning isn’t the only thing I had in common with these Caribbean-born men. Here we were, four men from different countries, different backgrounds, and different stages of life. Yet, each of our lives seemed to be intertwined. Each of us lived on an island in the Caribbean at some point in time. Each of us had lived in the United States or Canada at some point in time as well. We all had distinctly unique Caribbean experiences from tasting national dishes like Grenada’s oil down, to travelling on the local buses and visiting the beaches, to jumping in Carnival. We had all been to the various islands of St. Lucia, Grenada, St. Vincent, and Bequia. Each of us had experienced the luxury that life in the West can seem to be compared to the simple lifestyles of those in the Caribbean.

Before this Peace Corps experience I never would have had any common ground to share with these men, nor them to me.  Yet they accepted me like one of their own as we shared our life stories, opinions on politics, recommendations on places to visit, and spoke like old friends reunited after time spent apart. It would likely surprise an unsuspecting passerby to discover that an hour ago we had never even seen each other before. Then one by one, we returned into the air conditioned-terminal to board our respective flights. It’s probably safe to say I will never see any of them again. However, that two-hour layover in Barbados and the time I spent conversing with those three men was one the most incredible experiences I have ever had. Hearing each man’s life story was altogether inspiring and humbling. It truly goes to show that despite all the differences we seem to have, we really are all in this life together.

And just like that I was back on Grenada, but only for one short day as then the moment I waited six long months for finally arrived–it was time to go home. Not home as in Grenada, but home as in the States. Home as in Ohio. Home as in Cleveland.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. How could I? You know what they say…

There’s no place like home.

Cheers!

 

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2 thoughts on “The Sweet Escape Part II: Island-Hopping

  1. Loved your reflection on “regret”: at beginning of this post! I could also easily visualize the beautiful settings you decribed with the clasisc King powerful writing! I hope you enjoyed your time back home–the King clan is a blessing!

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    1. Mrs. Connors,
      Regret often has a negative connotation assigned to it. Consequently, it can certainly be a thought-provoking concept, particularly when it serves to be a positive thing in relation to my experience. But yes, I enjoyed my time at home very much despite it going by too quickly as well! Hope you had a great holiday!

      Scott

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