Tuesday, April 19, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 21

One thing my mom really wanted to do when she was here was the glass-bottom-boat-and-snorkelling extravaganza in Bouillante (all for the exciting low price of 14 euros!), but we weren’t able to do it that week, choosing instead to go to the beach in Deshaies, get our stuff stolen and then spend the afternoon at the police station. Life is, after all, about choices. She made me promise I’d do it with Bronwyn, since it is a Magical Experience (Mom did it in Cuba, and I believe there were dolphins involved.)

So last Friday, Bron met me after class and we took a badly-driven and sick-making bus to Bouillante, where we bought our tickets and ate sandwiches while waiting for our boat’s departure. We were among a group of French high school students, a good thirty of them, and found ourselves at once praying they wouldn’t be on our little boat and unable to stop staring at them and the fascinating dynamics between them. Which made us the weird and creepy girls staring at school kids, which is unfortunate. What can you do.

We went out to the dock and were the first ones on our boat. Intending to make my way downstairs to look through the glass, I was deeply saddened to discover that our boat did have windows along the bottom, but we had to stand six feet above them, behind a railing, and squint. I looked across the dock at the competition, a fancy-pants boat with slides into the sea and a bench gallery with actual, up-close underwater windows, and felt very jealous. "Antilles Vision," I thought bitterly. "More like Antilles CRAP."

Once we got rolling, though, and our little captain was funny and corny and swam under the boat to attract fish, and the water looked gorgeous and there were nice families around us and I realized the other boat had a bajillion people on it (including the high school group) and I don’t, all things considered, like people very much, well, Antilles Vision turned out to be right up my alley.

Or at least, as much as any snorkel-bound boat can be, for it turns out that I don’t like fish. At all, really. When our guy took bread under the boat for fish to eat out of his hands and they swarmed around him like sharks, or like these hideous barn mice I was on Crocodile Hunter that went down his wife’s shirt and made me want to throw up all over the shag carpet, well, I remembered that my least favourite thing is having fish brush against me. (To be fair, I’ll take fish over mice. But barely.)

Bronwyn feels the same way and we realized, snapping masks and snorkels onto our heads like we were heading to our doom, that we were living my mother’s dream, not ours. Please don’t make me go in the water, I prayed to no one in particular, knowing full well that it had to be done. To Honey!

Yeah, it wasn’t so bad. I’m not a fan of flippers, and I lost a lot of time on equipment reorganization, as the mask was too loose and kept letting in water, but I had some peaceful ten-to-twelve-second stretches of watching the hustle and bustle of underwater life, before becoming claustrophobic and breathing through my mouth, choking on sea water and having to surface. Seriously, who knew I was so wussy? Bronwyn handled the situation much better and even took some underwater photos, so I’ll ask for doubles and, looking back, try to pretend that it was as dreamy as it looks. I guess I won’t go for the scuba lessons; I’m a natural-air-breathing kind of girl.

Bronwyn came to class with me and it went well, as the kids were very excited to see us speaking English to each other as if it comes naturally. Not just to say, "where is the pencil? It is BESIDE the notebook," but to actually communicate, quickly and with laughter. Good lesson for them: English is for real.

We rented a car again to have one last week-end of tourism and almost spent a rainy Saturday watching movies. Franck said "you’re lazy, get off your butts and go somewhere" just as the sun started to peek out, so we went to the famous and lovely waterfall I had attempted with my dad. The bridge was still blocked (earthquakes) but we climbed down, rebels that we are, and it was, indeed, quite lovely.

We left on Sunday with every intention of going up the volcano, but it was cloudy and rainy by the time we got there, which is both a miserable and unsafe way to climb. Instead we packed back into the car and drove out to the infamous Deshaies beach, where Java got a sea bath because she stinks and is in heat and needed it badly, Bronwyn got a sunburn from which she’s still smarting and Franck and I both fell asleep and then woke up with achy necks. (Not very interesting, I guess, but I wanted to be part of the story too.)

We also went to a beautiful waterfall/basin thing in the mountains, but there were dozens of tourists and it was no fun. Where were they all coming from? I don’t know. (One of them looked like Hyde from That ‘70s Show, so at least that’s something.) We went downriver to give Java a shampoo (seriously, she was one stinky dog), I got bitten in the bum by a small crab – prompting Bronwyn to shout “you have crabs!”, a good time for all – and then we stopped in to see Franck’s dad on the way home.

There we met Clément, a four-year-old boy who is someone’s cousin and whom everybody found adorable. Including me, at first, but then he just didn’t seem to like me, was even highly suspicious of me and everything I represented – obviously not feeling my vibe. And Franck’s dad was talking about how kids always like Franck because they can feel that he’s a good person – so who am I? Is it my fault Clément’s a little jerk? I’m a great person! Great! Clément, indeed. Punk.

The most exciting part of the week-end was definitely the Tour de Guadeloupe, as endless groups of cyclists took to the roads in the sweltering sun and rode up and down along the mountainous coasts. There being only one road in Basse-Terre, cars and cyclists had to share their space, swerving around each other in typical Gwada-style chaos. Generally, a motorcyle would drive by, yelling at us to pull over or slow down, followed by a sea of spandex-clad cyclists, the spare-parts cars driving with them and the locals zig-zagging between the bikes to pour water on tired heads.

These water guys were actually more exciting than the bikers themselves, as they darted in and out of traffic, risking life and limb (their own and those of people around them, cyclists included) to be in the action.

It was also exciting to shout the Creole words of encouragement Franck taught us as we passed the bikes – especially uphill – though just honking and yelling “woooo!” proved ultimately more effective. I don’t know who won, but I have a feeling it’s someone who was inspired by our encouragement. It’s just a feeling.

As well as this recent frenzied activity, my craving for Dirty Dancing was satiated during a movie night last week – one of only three movies I’ve seen this year – and practising the steps to the ever-fantastic Time of My Life dance sequence with Bronwyn made me feel at peace with my life as it stands; it’s amazing what a little dose of Baby and Johnny can do.

The ants are gone, which is great.

Bronwyn pointed out that the bats outside at night seem bigger than before. I laughed at first, smug in my fearless self, but I think she’s right. They’re HUGE. And the fear is creeping in.

Did you know Bronwyn took synchronized swimming for two years? Me neither!

And, finally, walking off an ill-advised imitation-Nutella binge (purchased for crêpes, all very legitimate, but then the bread truck came by and I went a little wild and dragged Bron down with me; I accept full blame), we came across the rehearsal of a Carnaval group that’s going to Caribana in Toronto in July. What are the chances! We are considering becoming groupies so that we can be their super cool Toronto friends; I’ll keep you posted.

Oh no! Java ate rat poison last night and went to hospital! After we cleaned her and everything! But apparently she’s gone home and is tired but fine, so think nice good thoughts in her direction (big and white and looks like a wolf, if you’re the visual type) and she’ll heal faster.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

In the Loupe, Chapter 20

Well, did we ever have an exciting week-end! But first I'm going to get you up-to-date. HA! The suspense must be killing you!

(And p.s. to Bronwyn’s family, you’re in on this because the French keyboard is driving her crazy and this way you can know what she’s up to without her sweating in p/q/m frustration. I welcome you to the Loupe.)

Bronwyn arrived on a Saturday evening flight, so Oscar - the first of her many Gwada suitors, lucky girl – said I could share his ride to the airport (he was leaving for France) and the guy would wait and drive us home too. Are you sure ? I asked. He’ll have to wait over three hours, plus potential plane delay. No problem, said Oscar. Don’t rent a car, this guy is solid, I got you covered.

Take-off went according to plan, standard island-time late pick-up and all, but I started to feel uncomfortable when buddy’s driving became Nascar-ish. In a Toyota, mind you, on one-lane, winding mountain roads. I knew any descriptions would sound like exaggeration and so looked at the speedometer: would you like to guess? He got up – often – to 150 KM AN HOUR!! Single lanes! Winding roades! I’ve never been so scared in my life. Until, that is, he asked me Bron’s flight time and started freaking out (while doing 150) because Oscar hadn’t told him he’d be waiting three hours, what did he take him for…

Speaking through my fear, timing it for the moments when I wasn’t holding down my windy-road-induced vomit, I managed to tell him to CHILL OUT, we’d find a way home. Which upset Oscar tremendously (awww, poor Oscar) and got him calling around for an airport pick-up.

After a surreal and drawn-out goodbye scene in the airport (I don’t want to talk about it), Bronwyn’s flight got in early and Oscar’s brother Michael actually showed up – on his birthday, no less! – and was polite and charming and smelled fantastic. Smooth sailing until he realized he had a flat tire and pulled over on the highway, pitch-black with no streetlights. He turns out to be quite something with a wrench and must have done a good job, as we got all the way home without stopping. Except once, but I think it was to buy some drugs and that’s just none of my business.

Since then, good times touring and hanging around with Miss Bronwyn, who does exciting domestic things like boiling mangoes into a yummy stew-type concoction and taking care of the occasional ant infestation. Occasional, I swear. Don’t judge me.

We’ve seen many beautiful sights around the island (it gets cheesy in description, so you’ll see the pictures some day and say yes, that’s quite beautiful) and had a generally relaxed time so far, except for the men who have taken to hanging around my door, having smelled fresh Canadian meat. As it were. They’re relentless and haven’t the slightest idea about women’s opinions and decisions standing on their own, which makes for a tiring series of encounters. She’s much better than I am at saying "go away, I don’t like you," which they still don’t get but at least her saying it is a start.

And THEN, Bronwyn, Franck, Java (F's beautiful Akita) and I went for a visit to Les Saintes. Remember last time I was there, with the blue-eyed and barefoot people, hundreds of scooters and iguanas and the crêpe of my life? Same place.

We met at the port for the 2:00 boat, as the tourism office had told us to do. Funnily, and I do mean funnily, there is no such boat and we sat – eating ice cream so I’m not complaining – and waited for the 4:15. While Franck and I were playing pool (read: while I was kicking Franck’s sorry ASS at pool) (because I am a phenomenal pool player; also, he’s not very good), Bronwyn saw a couple get out of a car, said good-bye to their friend and start rigging up their boat back to Les Saintes. The man, a tanned and weathered combination of Kurt Russell and Nick Nolte – twinkling eyes and all – had long dreds, prompting Bronwyn to joke that Franck probably knew him, as all the rastas here seem to know each other, and should hook us up a ride.

Do you want to guess? He hooked us up a ride! (Didn’t know the guy but seemed to know the right thing to say.)

The fun part was how the boat was just an aluminum fishing boat, the length of a pick-up truck, and we had forgotten that we were going out on the sea, rather than the lake at the cottage. Initially a WOO-HOO! kind of ride, it turned very quickly into an oh-my-god-we’re-going-to-die-oh-my-god experience, with our little tin can of a boat flying over huge waves and crashing us down on the bench. I jammed my thumb (fancied it broken but that was blatant exaggeration, as Bronwyn and Franck were quick to point out; it’s bruised, though – bruised real bad) and our bums are still sore. It was terrifying. Also really exciting, but I’m dwelling on the fear because I think you should all appreciate how hard-core my life is here in ol’ Guadeloupe.

Kurt Russell/Nick Nolte – let’s call him Nurt Kolte, yes? – and his lady just stood like pirates at the back of the boat, soaked and squinting into the wind, very impressive. He’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met.

We got to the island and wandered around looking for a place to stay, helped along by a delightful mattress-transport guy who was very concerned for our well-being and drove us around to various room-renting places he knew about. None of them panned out but we did find somewhere that accepted both us and the dog (sleeping on the porch, of course), so we were able to dump our stuff and go see the eclipse.

Not much to say: gorgeous, magical, what a sight. Eclipse: check.

Chatted with students of mine who were family-ing for the week-end and had a nice sea-side dinner and the worst sleep of our collective lives, between extreme heat and useless mosquito nets and all sorts of bad things. Woke up exhausted and cranky (speaking for myself; my travel partners are of the stoic variety, the bastards) and hiked up the hill to the fort, which Bronwyn explored. The price has been hiked up and there was no point in seeing the same thing again, so Franck and I sat on a bench while tourists walked by and felt sorry for Java, who must be very hot.

Walking around town, we realized that all the locals, as well as being barefoot, blue-eyed (descended from Britons) and extremely tanned, are drunk. Drunk and drunk and drunk, possibly from coming home after fishing and having nothing to do on a population-under-2000 little island in the Caribbean. Lots of men staggering around yelling at fish and singing on docks and telling you about Prince Charles – depressing more than funny.

Went to the beach, hung out some more with my students, ate a feast of tropical fruit, and then missed the boat home because we thought it was later than it was. Long story short, decided the best thing was to sleep near the boat to save money and be ready for the 6:45 departure, so after spending close to three hours in a pizza parlour and attempting to enjoy the atmosphere of a sleazy bar, we cosied up on the beach and Bron and I fell asleep, guarded by our watchdog, while Franck chatted up the locals and wandered up and down the beach, for some reason having decided not to sleep. (Then he changed his mind at 4:30 and ended up with under two hours: good choice, champ.)

I’m out of time and you’re falling asleep: we were giggly and delirious on the beach, with bizarre characters trying to make conversation and sometimes trying to pick us up, slept better than we had in the hell hotel, and made it – salty and crusty-eyed – onto the ferry in the morning. Bron and I found a hitchhike straight home, a nice guy from Les Saintes, and slept all day until we felt glamorously wretched.

Maybe it doesn’t sound so exciting to you, but let me tell you. Let me TELL you.