The Cruise – Day Six

This was an early alarm day since I had to meet my parents off the boat by 8:30 to go on our excursion. I showered groggily, put on sunscreen, rushed through breakfast, got bad directions off the boat, got the correct directions off the boat, and found my parents right at 8:30. We were in St. Lucia.

My parents had told me that this was a “Land and Sea” tour. We were getting on a boat and cruising around, and then getting in jeeps and cruising around. My parents liked the tours where you drive yourself in a jeep or a dune buggy around the city. My dad enjoys being in control of his own vehicle (certainly a metaphor I would use if I were writing his biography) and they both enjoy driving around and looking at scenery. That was their honeymoon – just driving around Montana. (“We didn’t have money for anything else.”) We camped a lot growing up, and part of camping was getting in the truck and driving around old logging roads for the afternoon.

The first part of any good tour, though, is “line.” And it was hot. Like hella hot. Luckily, the tour guides could see the white melting off of us, and they found shade for us to wait in. These tour guides were great, actually. They were my favorite locals of the entire trip. I didn’t feel like we were being drug around by reluctant prisoners or greasy con men. I felt like I was interacting with people that not only liked their jobs, but actively cared about their jobs. Over the course of the tour it became clear to me that they cared about us, the tourists, because they cared about their island. They wanted to teach us about St. Lucia and show us what it had to offer. They made me care about what they care about, which makes for a great tour.

The next part of the tour was “sea”, so we boarded a catamaran. (“A yacht or other boat with twin hulls in parallel.”) We cruised around the island shore for a while. I enjoyed being out on the water. I found a chair and took a small nap to the sound of the boat and the feeling of the wind and the waves. I woke up and suddenly realized that I should be taking pictures of things. If you look through my photos, you’ll see a lot of shoreline pictures from the rest of this catamaran journey. We even saw the shoreline where some movie or something was filmed probably before I was born. The coolest sightwas the two big triangular peaks, the Pitons.

Eventually we stopped at a beach. The boat anchored offshore, and people could swim from the boat to the beach and hang out. I didn’t get off the boat. I wasn’t really dressed for it, though that’s probably because I’m not really that into water anyway. Sometimes I wonder if I picked this up from my mom, who is actively phobic. This is one of those moments where I chose “don’t do it.”

This did prove to be an interesting social experiment, though. I’d guess there were 50 of us on that boat. The tourists were told that they had 45 minutes on the beach, and a horn would blow when it was time to get back on the boat. About 10 of us stayed on the boat. Another 20 hung out around the beach, sitting in the sun or swimming in the water. The other 20 decided to wander down the beach. I couldn’t tell whether or not this was allowed, but they didn’t seem to care.

I’m watching the time tick down, and some of these people are still walking. They’re just dots way down the beach at this point. The tour guides looked worried. One of them shouted “there are snakes over there!” More to herself than anyone else.

Around the 40 minute mark, they blew the horn. The nearby people started making their way back. They swam from the shore to the boat and climbed the drop-down stairs onto the boat. There was a mom on the boat that asked her son “where’s Christina?” He didn’t know.

It was clear that the people really far down the beach didn’t hear the horn. They tried again. The Mom started shouting “CHRISTINA! CHRISTINA GET BACK HERE! Oh that girl what is she doing. CHRISTINA! CHRISTINA! Where is that girl.” I tried to dissect the relationship between the mother and the daughter, but all I could decide for sure was that I’d stick with my family.

Eventually the rest of the group, including Christina, came into view. The mom continued to yell until Christina was back on the boat. This is about an hour after we anchored at the beach. The guides did their count…and we were still two short. Oh, look down the beach – two dots are slowly making their way back. I guess we just have to wait for them.

The two dots turn into two blond old white people, I’d guess in their late 40’s. They never hurried, and never looked the least bit concerned. They meandered onto the boat a full 30 minutes late. I think when they first got off the boat they just started walking down the beach, and didn’t turn around until “oh I guess it’s been 45 minutes I suppose we should head back.” They sat down on the boat and continued to smile and talk among themselves. It was almost creepy how much they didn’t acknowledge the group.

The boat made its way to port and we switched to the “land” part of the “sea and land” tour. This is when my parents realized that we weren’t quite on the tour they expected. Where we were expecting jeeps, they had vans. They loaded about nine of us into each van, plus the driver and a tour guide.

Earlier in the day, while we were waiting in line to get on the boat, we could see a line of jeeps. The tour guides said that half of the tour started on land, then went to sea – switching with the other half. While that was true, the jeeps were part of a different excursion entirely. My mom thought maybe she signed up for the wrong one by mistake, but it’s also possible we got shifted to the wrong tour in the chaos of the multiple itinerary changes due to boat problems.

Regardless, the van tour wasn’t so bad. I enjoyed watching the island roll by as we drove up and down windy roads, passing through towns and past scattered buildings. Every fence was a hodge-podge of wood and metal roofing sheets. Later in the day the kids got out of school, and they all wore uniforms. The guide explained that there was no public transportation for school kids, so they needed to find their own ride, or walk home. There were a lot of kids walking on the edge of these cliff-lined roads that could already barely fit two passing cars.

Our first stop was the “natural mud spring.” They kept marketing it as a can’t-miss opportunity. “They’ll charge you $100 back home, but here you can cake yourself in mud for free!” I didn’t go in, and neither did my parents, but it was fun to watch. I wondered how this natural mud spring worked. With the amount of mud the tourists were taking with them caked to their bodies, I assumed that somebody was refilling the mud supply each day.

I shit you not, the last two people back onto the vans were the same two people that held us up on the beach. Their attitude remained the same. At first I thought they were avoiding embarrassment by pretending not to notice, but I eventually decided they genuinely didn’t care. We made four or five land stops, and they were the last people back in the vehicle, every time.

The next stop was lunch. (By the pink flower-lined dirt road pictures.) A simple buffet, a moment to sit and relax, water, juice. After lunch we switched from the vans to two buses. This is when our tour guide started giving us the history of the island.

St. Lucia features two Nobel prize winners, which is is pretty remarkable given the island’s population. There’s a lot of fighting in the island’s history. European settlers fought the natives a lot. A lot of settlers died from disease. Various European powers fought for control of the island for a long time due to its strategic military location. English is taught in the schools, but children learn a unique brand of creole that’s only taught in homes. Kids take a test after middle school to see if they get into high school, and which kind of high school. Their government includes some kind of appointed representative from England, but they also elect a prime minister – though I guess the same guy has held office for a long time. They used to have a sort of monopoly on a certain crop I can’t remember, but competition emerged and hurt the island economically. There’s a massive oil storage facility on the island that we circled during the entire tour. We passed a massive high-scale resort that I hoped I could afford to go back to one day.

What I appreciated about the guide’s description of the island was how honest it felt. They were clearly proud of the good things, yet honest about areas where they wished the island would improve. Being born on an island like this suddenly struck me as a tough life. It would be hard not to feel trapped. I started to wonder what percentage of the natives never leave the island from birth to death. So much of their economic strength is based on outside influences. I started seeing Caribbean culture and economy in a new light.

The other stops during the tour were typical tourist stops. We stopped at some kind of tapioca processing house – apparently tapioca is an important island commodity – then we stopped at a shoreline market. This was in Anse La Raye, which featured a badass looking church that was too far away for me to get good pictures of. The beach was beautiful in a weird way. There were boats pulled up on shore, torn up tarps, garbage. And it was quiet and had a lot of personality. It was a great place to take pictures, though local beggars would try to pose in your shots. At that point you pretty much have to give them money, so I ended up feeling uncomfortable and didn’t take as many pictures as I would have otherwise.

The market had the typical tourist offerings, but I’ve already ranted about those. What I haven’t ranted about yet, though, are the necklaces.

Every single stop on this island featured a crew of locals with necklaces all over their arms. They would come up to you and offer 1 for $10, or 3 for $20, or 2 for $5, or 5 for $10…basically whatever offer they pegged you as. You would be looking off at some scenery, then turn around and run into one of these guys.

They said a lot of different things about the necklaces. One of the common ones was “I made these.” This got weirder the 10th time you heard it. As you would walk into a place, they would ask you your names, then use it against you. “Cathy, Cathy, you want one? You said you would buy.” When we got back into the vans after the mud spring, one of the passengers said “they make these out of the volcanic ash!” Riiiight. They were comparing the prices they got on their necklaces throughout the trip, and the range was pretty wide. I started doing the math, wondering how many necklaces I could make for $5 worth of bulk beads.

As I’m doing math and wondering why I would ever need a necklace from some random tourist trap, a guy walks up to me and my parents, offering necklaces. We did our standard polite-yet-firm and non-engaging “no thank you.”

“But this is how we make a living. We live here.” Oh. Right, I guess that makes sense. I started to wonder if I should be buying necklaces and knick-knacks I didn’t want as part of a kind of tourist tip to the island. Maybe the only reason I can be here is because tourists bring money and buy random crap. My parents, grizzled veterans, continued their polite refusal. My heart remained cold, yet thoughtful. I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

Driving into the town where the cruise ship was docked was surreal. We abruptly shifted from wilderness and scattered shacks to chain stores, malls, businessmen. I felt like I was downtown in a major city. The giant oil storage facility marked the edge of the wilds.

Technically we were late getting back to the ship, but we joined a long line of other technically late people. (I blame the always-last duo.) Back on the ship I showered and got ready for dinner. I ran into Rob and Corina on my way to dinner, and they had gotten engaged that day. (Awwww!) Dinner was nice and uneventful.

After dinner, I got a massage. My mom convinced me to sign up for one earlier in the trip, and I decided to treat myself. I’ve never had a massage before. It was a “hot rock” massage, which they recommended for a first timer. I filled out some paperwork, answered a few questions about where/why I’m stressed or sore, then stripped down to my boxers and laid on the table.

The massage therapist would set these smooth rocks into some sort of heating container. She’d then rub these rocks against my muscles, using warming massage oil. It felt…weird. It was simultaneously relaxing and incredibly stressful. Sometimes it hurt, but you’re trying to relax and not tense up, while also letting them know that it hurts. I found myself in another unfamiliar social situation when all I wanted to do was relax.

In the end, I was glad I did it. Would massage again. Now that I think about it, she mentioned I had a lot of knots in my shoulders. Friends have pointed this out to me. Maybe I should work on that.

Afterwards my entire body felt relaxed and warm. My shoulders and neck were coated in some kind of icy-hot stuff, which felt good on my red neck. I carried this calm energy into the casino, and sat down at the poker table.

A couple guys were sitting around waiting for a game to start, and I seemed to be the momentum they needed. I told them that I needed to leave before midnight, but I’d play until then. Some of our old favorites were there: Grizzled McMustache, ReBuy Jones, random old dude #2, The Metro Foreigner. I didn’t see a ton of action, but had one big hand go my way. Here’s another paragraph for my poker friends, once again with less detail than I’m sure they would like.

The blinds were $1-$3, same as last time. There were probably seven of us. I was the dealer, and McMustache straddled. Three people folded, and I raised it to $12. I had pocket Aces. (Maybe I should raise more? The straddle threw me off.) Small blind folded, big blind called, and straddle McMustache called. The flop was 10-5-3 rainbow. (That’s when there’s no matching suits, right?) Big blind checks, McMustache checks, so I bet $20. Big blind folds, then McMustache raises me to $40. So I started to think about what he could have. He won the tournament I was in and seemed to know what he was doing. I was also playing fairly nitty, so I thought he would assume I had a good hand and wouldn’t be battling me without a hand of his own. I assumed he had something like kings or queens. I re-raised him to $80. He went all in, and I was pretty in at this point, so I called. He showed 10-5 suited. That was not what I expected. I guess he’s willing to battle with that, but again the straddle threw me off. (I’ll have to bug Marshall about what I can learn from this.) Whelp, lucky me, the turn was an Ace, so I got the money anyway. Go Loucks!

Would you look at that, it’s almost midnight, time to go! I walked away up $50 in cash games on the cruise, but down $100 in poker overall when you count the tournament. I mostly treat poker like I’m paying for lessons, so this result was fine with me.

I left poker so that I could make it to a late night comedy show in the lounge where they had Karaoke. It was pretty packed, and I found myself standing next to Devon’s mom. We chatted a bit before the show started. The comedian was totally fine. His routine was fairly standard relationship comedy. The differences between men and women, stuff like that. His delivery and expressions were great, though – it was clear that has honed his craft.

Afterwards I swung through Jesters, but wasn’t feeling it. I looked down on the dance floor from the top floor, saw Jessica and the usual crew, and just didn’t feel like dealing with that interaction. I was not up all night to get Loucksy. It was late and I had gotten up early that day, so I was content to read a few chapters and fall asleep. In the end, I appreciated this nice and less-socially-stressful-than-usual day.

UP NEXT: St. Croix! The last day on the ship! One final Jessica moment!

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