Live de Life

By Peter McManus
July 31, 2005

Last Monday I returned from a great weekend visiting Pat in St. Kitts.

The previous week our family had been all abuzz over the question:  Should we be jealous of Pat, who is being paid real money to spend five weeks in the tropical beach resort of St. Kitts, and has been given a house and car to use for free while staying there?

Though the question would seem to answer itself, Pat hinted that perhaps we shouldnít be jealous of her, what with the shortened days, poisonous centipedes, potential volcanic eruptions, and slightly balmy weather.  These inconveniences apparently dissuaded Steve, and he essentially announced that, unlike Pat, you couldnít get him to go even if you paid him.  I have no doubt that Steve is good for his word on this matter, and so I will not question his honor by actually putting his word to the test.

Pat has already proven that she couldnít resist such an offer.  However, at this point I believe my money would be quite safe offering to pay Pat to visit St. Kitts a second time.  It is very likely that she would decline such an offer.  St. Kitts and Pat are not made for each other.  Having visited her in both the temperate Northwest and the hot and sticky Caribbean, I can say that Pat definitely belongs in the Northwest.

There is no getting around it:  The Caribbean is hot and muggy right now.  I donít care how hot and muggy it was in Philadelphia last week.  Itís worse on St. Kitts.  Last Monday, all of Philadelphia complained bitterly of our 90 degree temps and 40% humidity.  St. Kitts routinely experiences 90 degree temps and 80% humidity.  As soon as you leave the comfort of your air conditioned room, you immediately feel like you just ran a mile in a steam room.  Except that in Patís case, her air conditioning wasnít working.  (However, I will point out that there is always a breeze blowing.)

Despite all the intense heat, my visit was nice.  The air conditioning in my hotel room worked just fine.

On Friday evening, we ate dinner outdoors at the Sunset Cafť, the restaurant of the Timothy Beach Resort, where I stayed.  This is the view from the restaurant:

Saturday morning we hung out at Patís for a while, waiting for her electricity to get fixed.  The electrician was definitely on island time, as he was quite late (I suppose that means Philadelphia electricians are on island time too).  While waiting, we sat on the deck and enjoyed the beautiful panoramic view, which includes both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.  Hereís the view from her swimming pool:

The following photo illustrates one of Patís problems in the tropics.  Notice how she is taking advantage of the tiny sliver of available shade. That would be me, too.

Despite the St. Kitts heat, the temperature in the swimming pool was always comfortably cool.  Fortunately, the mongooses have long since devoured all snakes on St. Kitts.  However, even the poisonous 10Ē centipedes failed to make an appearance during the visit.  In fact, except for the pesky mosquitoes that appeared at dusk every night, the St. Kitts bug population was relatively unobtrusive.  Given the lack of air conditioning at Patís house, had I been staying there I would have been tempted to sleep out on the porch, where the persistent tropical breeze kept it cooler at night.  My main concern would have been the monkeys Ė a family of them live near Pat, and we witnessed them attempting to break into a nearby home.

We spent Saturday afternoon at Turtle Beach.  There is no such thing as a good road in St. Kitts.  Going to Turtle Beach involved driving on a bumpy, dusty road through a large swath of parkland where the only inhabitants are about a zillion little goats, almost every one of them cuter than your average dog.  Patís Hyundai has some trouble getting up hills, but it got us to Turtle Beach eventually, despite visiting the bottom of several very large potholes.  Keeping on the left side of the road is a stressful experience that takes all of Patís energy and concentration.  Avoiding potholes and other minor obstacles is an unneeded luxury.

The motto of Turtle Beach is ďLive de life,Ē and we did.  The Turtle Beach Bar & Restaurant set the tone perfectly by playing Reggae music all day long.  We lazed around in a shady part of the beach for several hours, each of us trying our hand at snorkeling in the turquoise water.  We didnít see anything spectacular, like sharks or barracuda, but we were all happy with what we saw Ė I saw a large school of bright neon-colored fish.  We had a little section of the beach completely to ourselves most of the afternoon, until finally our privacy was ended when the couple in the photo below arrived.

Pat told me that when teaching, she starts every class by telling a little story.  This gives the class a chance to settle down and get focused.  Patís opening stories in her first week were about Darcyís misadventures on St. Kitts.  How he was bored with nothing to do.  How he got locked out of the house all day long on Tuesday.  How on Wednesday he took a walk to a beach ďjust over the hillĒ, which turned out to be completely unreachable.  How he canít skateboard because of his knee.  Patís students now know Darcy almost as well as they know Pat, and this has turned out to be a good thing for Darcy.  Many of the students have spouses and children with them on the island.  As these spouses and children are not allowed to work, they have nothing better to do than goof off all day.  Accordingly, they all hang out together and regularly go on expeditions.  Lately they have taken Darcy under their wing, saving him from a five-week stint of TV watching.

After our Turtle Beach adventure, Darcy went to a party with some Ross University faculty, Pat went to do some shopping, and I went back to my hotel.  I carried my book about John Adams to Mr. Xís Shiggidy Shack Bar and Grill (see photo below)

and sat down with a beer and a bottle of water.  I tried my best to read the book about this 270 year old patriot, but it proved to be difficult.  A group of final-semester Ross University vet students was wildly partying in front of me.  They were dressed in bathing suits and bikinis, and alcohol flowed freely as they celebrated their last semester at St. Kitts.  Following Ross tradition, they were competing in a kind of treasure hunt, in which the opposing teams each had to accomplish all sorts of outlandish stunts.  One of my favorite stunts was when they slathered each other with thick layers of white Crisco vegetable shortening.  That alone would have been enough to keep me happy, but then they frantically wrestled each other, as one slippery team tried to run past the other to jump into the water.  Needless to say, this resulted in many greased-down bikini-clad girls getting thrown to the ground, only to rise up covered in sand.

The treasure hunt apparently called for someone to pose naked.  The girls tried their best to convince at least one of their boy-classmates to remove his swim trunks and pose for the picture.  After several minutes of failing in this attempt, three girls finally got fed up with the boysí sheepishness, and proved that there was nothing difficult about this task by doffing their bikini tops and posing for the photo.  Afterwards, they took a quick dip in the Caribbean Sea.  Emerging from the water, one girl apparently had second thoughts about her boldness, coming out modestly covering up with crossed arms.  Her bikini top was not readily found, so one gallant male classmate supplied her with a towel to wear until her clothes could be located.  (By the way, this whole incident, though attracting quite a bit of interest from passersby, is completely illegal in St. Kitts, where nudity is not permitted on the beaches. However, I didnít see anyone dialing 911.)

By and by, I noticed Darcy walking up the beach.  I called over to him.  It turns out his ride had had to leave the Ross party, and Darcy, realizing that Pat was shopping, had asked to be dropped at my hotel instead.  Not finding me in my room, he had walked to the beach looking for me.  I offered to get Darcy something to drink, and he asked for a Carib, the local beer.  Normally I would have laughed off this apparent joke, but it seems there is no minimum drinking age in St. Kitts, and Pat had given Darcy permission to drink in moderation while on the island.  So I got a bottle of Carib for Darcy and one for myself, and we sat down and started shooting the breeze.

Before long, one of the co-eds came over to our table and cajoled us to step forward and help with one of the tasks in their treasure hunt Ė the gameís instructions required tourist participation.  So we walked over and joined the crowd of students.  The students again slathered themselves in Crisco.  (Darcy and I werenít required to slather ourselves, and werenít asked to slather anyone else.)  Then, Darcy and I and two other tourists joined the students to form a human pyramid.  With all that grease, I was sure the whole thing would come tumbling down in a mass of broken bones and re-injured ACLs, but somehow the students managed to click their photo, and we disassembled our pyramid without incident.

While we were out there with the Ross students, it didnít take long to locate a student who had been in Patís classes all week.  She knew all about Darcy, including his skate- and snow-boarding, and immediately fawned over him.  She mentioned that she and a group of Ross students regularly go surfing, and she invited Darcy to come along some time.

This revelry would have continued, except that by now it was time to return to my hotel room, where we were to meet Pat.  Pat took us back to her house, where we had a delicious dinner.

On Sunday, Darcy again went off with his new Ross-spouses-and-children friends.  Pat and I took a minibus tour of the island.  The tour took us to Bloody Point, where, in 1626, the French and English cooperated to kill all 2000 native Carib Indian inhabitants.  (Most of St. Kitts 30,000 present-day residents are descendents of slaves brought in to work the sugar cane fields.)  We also toured Brimstone Hill Fortress, an impressive fort built 800 feet above sea level, a remnant of France and Englandís struggle for control of the New World.

On the other side of the island, we visited Black Rocks.  Like most Caribbean Islands, St. Kitts was formed by volcanic activity.  The last confirmed eruption was 1600 years ago, but this is a mere instant in geological time.  (Until the 1990ís, nearby Montserratís volcano hadnít erupted in 19,000 years; now two-thirds of that island is uninhabitable because of recent volcanic activity.)  Black Rocks was formed over many centuries as ocean water eroded a lava flow that extended out into the sea:

For me, our tour guide Trevor was the most interesting part of the St. Kitts tour.  He is the youngest of 15 kids (!), and he is the only one still residing in St. Kitts.  All the others have emigrated to the United States.  He has also sent his three children to live with aunts and uncles in the States.  He works a regular job to make his living.  On top of that, he operates his taxi to help support his kids, sending $900/month from St. Kitts to the United States.  One of his children is a 15-year old girl living in the Poconos.  He visited her recently when she was in a severe car accident in which she bit off her tongue; it is now doubtful that she will ever fully recover her speech.

Pat invited several Ross colleagues over for dinner Sunday evening.  Dinner was delicious.

There were no convenient flights out of St. Kitts.  One possibility was to fly out Monday afternoon and spend Monday night in an airport in the Carolinas, catching a 5:30am Tuesday flight to Philly.  Instead, I chose a different, also unpleasant alternative:  catching a 6:45am Monday flight out of St. Kitts and sitting in San Juan Airport for five hours between connections.  Again I had to wake up at 4:30am, and much to my surprise, I again managed to do it (mainly thanks to an alarm clock that Pat lent to me).  By the way, if you ever have a layover in San Juan, you should go across the road to the Wendyís; the prices are better and the lines are shorter than in any of the establishments in the airport.

On the flight to Philly I sat next to a San Juan native who now lives in Las Vegas.  I asked him which weather he prefers: the Caribbeanís 90-degree 90% humidity or the desertís 110-degree zero-humidity.  I was surprised that he said he prefers the Las Vegas oven to the San Juan steam bath of his home town.

Pat, thanks for your hospitality.  Youíre like a fish out of water now, but hopefully youíll find your niche in St. Kitts by the end of your stint there.

Unpublished work © 2005 Peter McManus