The ship docked overnight, so this morning I enjoyed my final Caribbean beach sunbathe for 2011. Later, I lectured to Janice’s Barbadian spiritual/healing/intuitive groups at her clinic, The Natural Energy Centre.
(Do go there for Acupuncture, Massage, Reiki, and Quantum Touch. Janice’s husband Jimmy, says he gets great results for muscular-skeletal disorders. See www.naturalenergycentre.com
It was great fun. I love questions on any energy healing, spiritual path, or mystical intuitive subject. It’s one of my passions. Questions are so varied, and although good answers empower the questioner, or help their understanding, others learn too. Varied questions included how to make positive use of different types of dreams; how to create spiritual jewellery that helps the wearer; how to find a soul path; and how to achieve holistic versus reductionist healings. Participants were (as usual) happily surprised at what they described as my rare width and depth of knowledge, and invited me to return and lecture here Barbados for a month. Fancy coming for fun lessons in the sun?
As a child, I sang in Canterbury Cathedral choir, not regularly, but when 'regular' choirboys were ill or away. If you imagine the song, 'The Snowman' (Walking in the air), that was my voice. It was a fabulous time, with echoes in from the Cathedral heights lasting a number of seconds. Descant echoes move your heart and your hair. But then my voice broke...
It felt good to be part of a choir again. After 3 days of practice, we sang Christmas carols at Midnight Mass. We're due to sing again twice on Christmas Day on stage in the theatre, and on deck around the main pool. Nice feeling for us all, to get applause from our 3,000 audience. Singing your heart out is one of the blessings of being human, especially in a choir where better singers drown out your voice.
Barbados holds fond business and personal memories for me, and gorgeous students and friends, especially Janice Worme. A few years ago when I lectured and held workshops here, my daughter and her boyfriend came too. I treated them to a delightful dinner at The Cliff, the top restaurant where A-listers like Michael Douglas and Simon Cowell eat and relax. Tonight was delightful too – Janice treated me at The Cliff. Stunning place with stunning waitresses set into a fire-lit cliff overlooking underwater-lit crystal seas. Minimum cover charge per person, $245, and worth every $.
Janice grimaced as she sipped her $35 drink – she suffered from painful rheumatoid arthritis. This year, severe pain meant she couldn’t walk properly – doctors said she’d need a wheelchair. Discreetly, in front of A-listers, I healed her. After, she walked pain free for the first time in a year. It’s such pleasure to relieve suffering and see yet another face light with a mixture of amazement and joy. Would have been good to cure a few more A-listers like Oprah and Julie Roberts too. But then again, I wouldn’t ethically be able to write about their healings in my blog.
‘Which is the next boat out?’ I asked. ‘Nobody seems to know.’
‘Nobody ever knows,’ the man in uniform said. ‘St Vincent boats go where they want, when they want. But if you want me to guess, I’ll say that leaves next.’ He pointed confidently to a rusty cargo ship, being loaded with goods. Looks perfect. ‘Where do you want to go?’
‘I don’t mind. As long as it returns before my cruise ship leaves at 5.30.’
‘Perfect. Climb up that ladder on the port side.’
It was perfect. Other tourists paid P&O-Carnival £74 for a ‘posh’ trip to Begoia. This cargo ship cost £5 return.
I watched, as usual the only ‘white’, as business men and women in colourful clothes carried onto the ship sacks and boxes full of green bananas and newspapers, and barrels of local rum. It was chaos, because nobody bought a ticket until after the ship sailed, and no signs or advice said which ship went where. Some people pushed their goods on and off different ships, trying to find the right one. Others arrived to sell tomatoes or fruit to those onboard. Small trucks, wheelbarrows, and supermarket trolleys careered onto the deck below, and often quickly off again.
The ship was due to leave at 10.30am. Eventually, at 11.30am black smoke poured from the funnel. As the metal gangway pulled up, a jeep screeched around the corner and dashed aboard, as a shopping basket was shoved ashore.
Men and women rested before selling their wares. In the rough, choppy swell, the ship rolled from side to side, and up and down, throwing spray on the passengers, and two off their seats.
It was worth it. Friendship Bay in Beguia lived its name. Everyone smiled, as did I when I tasted Marianne’s famous homemade ginger and pumpkin ice-cream. Ginger is a Caribbean spice, and her gingerbread is famous too. A sign read, ‘If I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread.’ I bought some for $5. The sign could have been written by pirates of the Caribbean.
Not far away, along Pirate Bay’s sandy beach, people played backgammon and chess (two of my favourite games) very peacefully, the opposite of other islands’ wild drug-fuelled draughts. Genteel restaurants overlooked water taxis, speed or rowing boats, and small flotillas of yachts and ‘cats’. Divers and snorkelers splashed gently, seeking underwater delights.
Tiny fishing boats moved from jetty to jetty, where a few locals waited to buy 15” long silver barracuda at $3 a pound. One fisherman carried a 5 foot ‘dolphin’ (the dolphin-dorado fish, not the dolphin mammal).
Shaverne Olliverre, a beautiful black lady about 30, bought a small barracuda for dinner, then chatted over bottles of St Vincent’s prizewinning lager, the 4.8% Hairoun. She’s a Bequian schoolteacher of Spanish and sociology. ‘If you come again, I’ll show you my beautiful island,’ she said. ‘There’s no trouble here, just love.’
I love this island, the peaceful fun, the laid-back friendship. I returned to the cargo ship leaving part of my heart behind. Who doesn’t want peace, fun, friendship, and love?
After my near-mugging in St Lucia, I felt I needed something safe. Visits to waterfalls and hot springs via P&O-Carnival cost £82. I found a local guide for £15. Better to give money to locals than P&O-Carnival shareholders. Luckily, the guide spoke English – the local language, Patwa, is only learned through friends.
The journey was vibrant and varied. On Mount Bruce I just had to buy chocolate tea from a stall run by lovely Samantha. In surrounding mountains, rich wildlife includes 177 species of birds, possum, mountain crabs, and endangered parrots. In botanical gardens, hanging from cannonball trees, were ‘elephant sausages’, named for their long, brown, very smelly ‘fruits’.
We passed vine-clad valleys, overgrown undergrowth, fields for coffee beans, palm and coconut oil, limes, 40 types of mangoes, trees with melon-sized yellow or brown cocoa pods, and bananas. Green banana pie is a local delicacy. As is ‘mountain chicken’, a large frog. Its main vein must be removed before cooking otherwise it jumps from the pot.
The tour highlight was clambering up a 4,700 feet volcanic rain-forested mountain to see Dominica’s natural wonders. In the hot humid air I breathed and sweated hard long before the end of 500 irregular earth, tree-root, and boulder steps.
Two sparkling waterfalls, Father (long and slim) and Mother (short and fat) jetted from the centre of lush green, tangled vines. The island is made of 99% volcanic rock, and 1% sulphur. Water cascading down the mountain, is trapped in a series of descending Jacuzzis and calm rock pools that release volcano-sulphur steam. Half-hidden by rainforest trees, bikini-clad girls laze in hot pools. Come, and enjoy sulphur baths, boiling steam cave, natural hot water tubs, steam grotto sauna, sulphur crystal cave, and a natural wonder, Boiling Lake, that bubbles at 200 degrees centigrade.
Many people swear pure sulphur paste relieves pain. I rarely have pain, but could not resist the label, ‘Scent from Heaven’. Because the island of Dominica seems ‘scent and sent from heaven’.
‘It’s dangerous here.’ Wisdom criss-crossed the old man’s face. He sat outside his wooden home, his black face crinkling as he looked up to the sun. ‘There’s a gun murder every week, knife crime and poverty. Some ask for food at a restaurant. If you go, you’ll get mugged. Staff share the spoils. Diners look the other way. Take care.’
An hour later, as I joked with two black guys by the busy main road, just away from a maze of back alleys, a tall man came up. ‘Hey man,’ he said. ‘Have you ever been mugged at Christmas?’ This is serious. His tone is threatening.
‘No,’ I said, hoping he wasn’t serious.
‘Well, you’re about to be!’ I need to distract him.
‘Wow, you’re a big guy. How tall are you?’
‘6 feet 7.’
‘Wow again. That’s big!’
‘Yes, and I’ve got a ******* big knife to match.’ He opened a jacket flap. The blade flashed in the sun. ‘Give me your money, or this is for you.’
My brain changed to overdrive chess-playing mode, seeking a win. I’ll talk with the guys I joked with until he leaves.
Butthey blanked me, staring straight ahead as if I wasn’t there. They know this man – they’re afraid. Maybe I should be afraid too, if I can’t escape.
‘There’s no escape,’ the big man said. ‘And I’m poor and hungry. I need food. Come across the road to that restaurant.’ Oh... That wise old man warned about this.
‘I can’t. The ship’s due to sail.’
‘Without you if you don’t buy me dinner.’
I started to walk off. He followed, brushing hard against me. ‘You’ll not get away till you buy me dinner. The restaurant’s only over there. Come.’
Just then, two black guys waved to me and smiled. It wasn’t common to see a white man. Talking to them will buy time to find a way out.
The big man didn’t know them. He just stood by my side, waiting for me to leave.
A plan hatched. I’ll talk of Caribbean girls. That subject animates Caribbean men.
I waited for the big man to join in. When the three men were truly animated, I slowly sidled a few meters away. Suddenly I ran down a side street, and pelted through deserted back alleys, hell for leather.
I returned to the main road two or three blocks away, and peered back. The big man was dashing angrily in and out of shops, trying to find me.
Safety on the ship felt like heaven.
Especially when I heard stories from other passengers. A man approached one lady with a large pair of scissors. 'Stand still, or these are for you!' Naturally, she stood still. He then cut the strap off her shoulder bag, and walked away with it, swaggering. Another lady took a taxi to the other side of the island. He drove to an isolated spot, and said, 'It'll cost you $500 to get back to the ship or you don't get back!' She only had $200, which he took. He returned her to the ship just before it sailed so she had no time to complain to the police.
Hell can’t always be helped. Sometimes, if you're lucky like I was, it must be escaped from.
Antigua has Chinese restaurants, Chinese supermarkets, Chinese everything. Maybe the Chinese even supplied the corregated iron, barbed wire, and the bars for windows, doors, and roofs that adorn many premises. Chinese bought much of Antigua. Hidden away in bars, stories abound of Antiguan business people who refused to sell, until their shops ‘burned down’.
‘Come inside,’ a Chinese looking man said. ‘And I’ll give you $10 for free.’
Nothing is free. Where’s the con? I looked at his weathered features, and his paint-peeled hut. Could be interesting. ‘OK,’ I said. ‘If it’s free.’
‘Roll the dice,’ he said, standing behind a green cloth topped table by slot machines where people sat. Strange, there’s no sound of coins or ‘music’ from the machines. ‘Words are printed in red, by black boxes with symbols inside. To the right are printed “The Rules.”’
As a teenager, I worked for a school holiday job in an amusement park. I was taught something terrible on a darts stall – how to fleece every penny from a ‘face’, a gullible looking single person. Maybe I am the ‘face’ for this man. I wonder how he will try to trick money from me?
‘Well done!’ he said. ‘Perfect roll! Look at the symbol on that square. You have just doubled your money! Roll again.’
‘Wow,’ he exclaimed. ‘Some people never win. You’ve just doubled your money again.’
‘Great,’ I said. ‘May I have my winnings please? I make that $40.’
His fingers pointed to a symbol in a square, then another and another, fast. ‘You see,’ he said, ‘if you win $40 it means you have to bet it all on one throw on that square.’
‘I can’t see it says that.’
‘It does. That’s the game, that’s what it says. Look, look and look.’ Looks like this is the hustle. His fingers flashed over squares again. ‘Look, I’ll show you.’ He took the $40 of chips from my hand and placed them on a square. ‘Now roll the dice.’ I don’t have much choice. ‘Oh no, what a shame,’ he said. ‘Your roll is one number out. You’ve lost all your money. So close!’
I waited quietly for his punch line. ‘There’s no punch line,’ he said. ‘Except I’ll help you win next time.’
‘Maybe I’ll leave now.’
‘You can’t leave. All you need is $10 of your own money. You were so close last time, you’ll win this time. Give me $10. You can’t leave yet,’ he repeated.
His tone is aggressive. I mustn’t touch my money pocket. It’s time to find an escape. Oh dear, ‘slot machine players’ in the room have come closer. ‘This is getting exciting,’ I said. I’ll switch on the camera without him noticing. ‘I’ll just take a quick photo of you and the gambling table to show friends.’ He tried to turn away and get out of the way, but I was too fast, and snapped him. I turned to take a photo of the slot machine players who were now quite close.
He looked at the slot machine players and nodded. They peeled away. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘You’ve won.’
I waited for a punch line.
‘The punch line you’ve won is, you can leave for free. Now. Collect your winnings of freedom.’
In nearby Baker’s Bar, I shared a beer and the story with a toothless man, Melvin. ‘Love your story man. Not many get their money away from that guy. You’re easy, man.’ He tried to shine a toothless grin from a blackened mouth. ‘You’re easy, man,’ he repeated. ‘Easy rider, like the film.’
I suppose that’s it. I try to ride easy through a tough life in a tough world. Sometimes it’s easy to ride through tough darkness and win to bring in bright light. Sometimes, there’s no easy ride, and unspeakable loss is possible. And sometimes, like on this occasion, it’s best to agree a draw.
Some people don’t fit into their Christmas trousers now! Brilliant buffet breakfast, mid-morning meal, large lunch, afternoon tea and cakes, dastardly dinner (see below) and super supper!
To explain, here's just the Dinner delights...
Starters: Duck, Brandy and Pistachio Pate with Beetroot and Onion Chutney on Crisp Melba
Soup: Consomme Monte Carol with Truffle, Pancake, and Diced Vegetables
Fish: Fillet of Sole with Salmon and Spinach Mousse filling and a Chive Cream Sauce
Pre-Main: Guinea Fowl, Partridge, Venison and Pancetta Casserole with Caramelised Parsnips and Sweet Sultana Sauce
Main: Traditional Turkey Roast with usual Trimmings
Desert: Plum Pudding Flambe, with Brandy Cream Sauce and Spiced Mulled Wine
Cheeseboard: including Stilton Marinated in Port Wine with Sticky Walnut and Date Bread
Rich Christmas CakeFruits: including marinated Figs and Dates
Coffee: with Belgian Truffle Dark, Milk and White Chocolates
Despite fun frivolity, as goes the proverb, love is all we need – and at Christmas it’s love that’s wished for you now and always. And as goes the Christmas carol, ‘Fear not...’, for love is available to all, not just the lonely, sad, sick or depressed, but also to those in failed families. Or to those who need love instead of self-centredness, ego, greed or envy.
The beauty of life is that love is possible. Even when those in need find it especially hard to feel loved, hope of love is always present. Even when love does not seem to exist, love finds a way to share itself with those in need.
The problem is that there’re so many versions of love, how can we find the type of love we need? Do you need the love of your family, your parents, siblings or children? That’s very different to the type of love you might need from a partner, husband or wife. And those loves could be different to the type of love you may need from a lover. And how about love for your neighbours, community, or nation. Or the love that’s needed by charities and non-profits who in turn try to share their version of love with their focus of need.
I hope at Christmas you won’t mind me suggesting there’s time to consider, as I do, what type of love you need in your life – and what type of love you can share with others in what way...
Off the tourist track, near a lazy market where stallholders slept by their vegetables, Rastafarian men and women swigged from bottles and danced to music blaring from beer huts. Cultural tourism offers ways to heal culture and tourist, I thought. I was just about to join in when shouts rose above the music. Local black men screamed at four white tourists, who quickly left. Race relations don’t seem ideal, but I can’t feel anything too bad. I’ll try to help.
I walked toward the tallest man, who still looked angry. ‘How can I help YOU?’ he said menacingly.
‘You can help me,’ I replied calmly, ‘Find love in people’s hearts.’
He paused, surprised. ‘And why should I do THAT?’
I can feel less menace in his voice. ‘Because I’m a priest,’ I said. This island is 90% religious. ‘Great to meet you!’ I felt his aggressive energy recede. I’ve got through.
He stared, then laughed. ‘You’re one of us man. I’m Soloman. Have a beer.’
I swigged from a bottle and shuffled Caribbean dance-style. A young lady in a Rasta hat danced over, and thrust her good-sized butt into me. ‘It’s good,’ Soloman laughed. ‘Ladies love doing that here.’
Fun and photos later, we hugged goodbye. ‘I’ll see you when the ship returns in three weeks,’ I said as I left inter-racial love and harmony temporarily behind.
Passengers were excited at exploring Catalina, a tiny deserted Island, and enjoying free champagne and a ship’s chefs’ BBQ. But most were deeply disappointed. P&O / Carnival owned the island, and cordoned the teeny beach to prevent anyone leaving. NO WAY TO ENJOY THE P&O-CARNIVAL CRUISE PARENT-OWNED ISLAND. NO PROMISED P&O CHAMPAGNE. NO PROMISED P&O BEACH BBQ.
‘Wish you were here’ is not the best saying today...