When I graduated and most of my friends took off for a year backpacking around Europe I wanted to work in advertising so badly all I wanted was a job. I loved it so much it overpowered any interest I might have had in travelling. In fact, I probably cancelled or worked through more holidays than most people ever take. It wasn't ambition -- it was passion for what I was doing. Somewhere in the back of my mind I always said "I'll do it later."
Don't get me wrong -- I have travelled. I've seen most of the U.S. and Canada, I've been to Europe several times, and to the Caribbean and Mexico. But I didn't have "the extended adventure" -- which I certainly could have had if I'd been so inclined.
When my mom passed away a little over a year and a half ago I woke up one morning with a start. To my absolute horror I realized it was later! Not long after that "awakening" a friend of mine, Geoffrey, showed up at my office one day when he was in Toronto for a meeting. Among the many things we talked about that day, he also told me that he and his girlfriend, Allyson, were going to winter in Bequia -- a tiny island in the Grenadines.
And then he asked: "Why don't you come visit us for a couple of weeks?" Without missing a beat, without thinking about it for even an instant, I said yes. Geoffrey and I had worked together for several years at an ad agency here in Toronto and we'd become good buddies, but we hadn't seen each other in a while. His girlfriend and I had met once.
None of that bothered me.
We sat down at my computer and he immediately googled Bequia and showed me these beautiful photos of this totally unspoiled island in what looked like the middle of nowhere. And then he showed me the area the house they'd rented was in -- in fact, he even showed me pix of their little cottage.
I'm writing a book and he clinched the deal when he told me it would be the perfect place to work on it -- long, lazy sun-filled days with not much to do other than swim and sail, walk the beach and sit on the terrace and write -- and no club-filled nights to distract and exhaust me. Like I said, there's not much to do there but chill.
I reserved December 19 to 31 at the Hotel Geoffrey.
Before I could change my mind I booked my flight. Because Bequia is kind of remote and still -- although I don't know for how long -- unspoiled, the route to get there is circuitous: I had to fly from Toronto to Barbados. I then had to fly from Barbados to St. Vincent and then I had to take a ferry to Bequia. Geoffrey made it sound very simple. He also said that if, for some reason, my flights were delayed and I missed the last ferry there was a "charming little B&B just down the road a short distance" where I could spend the night and try again in the morning.
It started well.
I arrived, as is my custom, at the airport early enough to not care how long the lines were to check my bag or go through security. The flight was mostly filled with Bajans going home for Christmas so the atmosphere in our departure lounge was joyous, to say the least. We boarded on time, we took off on time, we landed on time.
And it went quickly downhill from there.
It was chaos at Grantley Adams airport -- not surprising when you factor in the tourists from all over the world who go there on holiday -- and folks who go to school and work on other islands coming home for the holidays and vice versa.
My bag was the last one to appear on the carousel -- as in close to three quarters of an hour! I was the very last person in the arrivals area and I was starting to get anxious because I had very little time to make my Liat flight. Could I find a porter when I finally did get my bag? No -- the hundreds of them that were there when we landed had all disappeared because every other passenger had gotten their luggage and they were happily on their way to their hotels -- no doubt dreaming of the rum punch that was waiting for them.
I, on the other hand, was in a sweat.
Grabbing my bag, my purse and my computer bag I schleped through security and then walked -- make that ran -- to the opposite end of the airport to the Liat counter. What awaited me sent chills down my spine!
Never have I seen so many people -- no lines -- no order whatsoever -- just people -- everywhere. And luggage everywhere. People were yelling ... screaming ... crying ... shouting ... waving fists ... pacing ... making cell phone calls ... elbowing other passengers out of the way trying to get to the counter.
I tried to be polite. I tried to say excuse me. I tried not to shove ahead of anyone. I tried to figure out if there was a line and I was just not seeing it. And then I just said to hell with it and did what everybody else was doing: I elbowed my way to the front of the line.
As I got there two reservations employees walked out of a back room holding a huge sign:
Liat had called a wildcat strike. Some flights to some places were still going. Some flights to some places were cancelled. Mine was one of the ones that was cancelled.
Sidling up to the counter I said, in the firmest voice I could muster, "I am going to Bequia. I have to get to St. Vincent in time to catch the last ferry. You have to find an alternate way to get me there. Today." By now I had realized that I could have avoided St. Vincent and the ferry altogether -- there is a small, regional airline that flies to and from most of the islands -- including Bequia. Bad Geoffrey for not knowing that! Bad, bad, bad!!
But he didn't and I didn't (Lesson #1 -- don't depend on anyone to tell you anything -- figure it out for yourself) and now I had to get myself out of this mess.
The agent did his best to avoid me. Silly of him really -- one look at the determined look in my eye should have told him it was an exercise in futility. I was having none of it. He tried to give me a voucher for a hotel and a phone number I could call in the morning to see if I could get on a flight.
Right. And if I fell for that one I would fully expect him to try to sell me some swamp land in Missouri next.
I'll bet you that phone number is still busy today -- almost a year later.
"No", I said firmly. "That won't work for me. I am not going to spend my vacation listening to a busy signal." And then I noticed that his nameplate said he worked in the Marketing Department. So I smiled sweetly and told him I was in advertising too. And I could only imagine what hell he was going through. But surely he could understand how I was feeling. I'd come all this way, I had friends waiting for me at the ferry dock in Bequia and I had no way to contact them. So couldn't he please get me a seat on one of those small planes to Bequia? Please.
He told me he'd see what he could do and disappeared. Did I expect I'd ever see him again? No. So I called Geoffrey and told him not to expect me any time soon.
"This could only happen to you", he said. "Hang in there", he said. "We'll have a rum and coke waiting for you," he said. "And in the meantime," he went on, "Allyson and I will just have to go to the all-you-can-eat-just-caught-lobster-fest without you."
He's a brave man, Geoffrey is, because that was like waving a red hanky in front of a bull.
It took about another three quarters of an hour but believe it or not that agent (marketing guy) came back with good news -- not exactly what I wanted to hear, but ...
No flight for me today. But he promised -- guaranteed actually -- that I was on a Liat flight the next morning which was definitely not going to be cancelled. Don't ask me how he knew that, but when you are desperate and tired and thirsty (which I was) you are prepared to believe anything that sounds remotely like good news. I did however mention that I'd haunt him and the children he didn't yet have for the rest of their lives if he was not telling me the truth.
He gave me a ticket and another piece of paper that was full of code. And then he gave me a voucher for a hotel -- The Bougainvillea Beach Resort -- and a taxi.
I was spending the night in Barbados.
The hotel reminded me of an aging film star. You could see that it had been beautiful in its day, but it was now tired and in need of a facelift.
My room wasn't ready so I was given a voucher for a complimentary cocktail and dinner. The bar, right beside the pool, was very close by so I headed there first. Be honest -- you would have done exactly the same thing.
There I met a really nice couple from the U.K. and I had the free drink and then some. My shoulders were no longer up around my ears. I forgot I was drinking overproof rum, though, and I am lucky I didn't end up in the pool when I tried to make my way back to the lobby.
When I got there, my room was ready -- a bellboy took me, which is just as well, because you needed a map to get there. It was down this path and around that corner and up those few steps and down those few steps and around that corner and down that path and through that arch ...
I cursed myself for not leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. By now it was pitch black outside and I considered forgetting dinner because I was afraid I'd never find the restaurant and they'd discover my remains a thousand years from now beside a palm tree or a hibiscus plant. But my stomach was rumbling and there was no room service. Never mind.
A shower and a change of clothes made me feel much better. Believe it or not I had now been travelling for more than twelve hours and I wasn't even half way to my real destination yet. And if you looked at it on a map you'd realize that I wasn't really going that far. Never mind.
How I found the restaurant I don't know, but I did. It was lovely. No walls, open to the beach. I could hear the sound of the surf slapping up on shore. Reggae music was playing softly in the background. I recognized several people from the airport -- other Liat passengers who'd been stranded. We shrugged our shoulders and smiled at each other. What can you do?
Fortified with more rum and some great Caribbean food -- flying fish and rice and peas -- I headed back to my room, had another shower, turned on the TV and fell asleep watching CNN.
Being somewhat paranoid about that flight actually leaving the next day I decided I wanted to be at the airport very early so I could get a head start on the throngs of people I knew would be there. The taxi picked me up, as requested, at 4:45 in the morning. Yes, I know I'm crazy.
I was surprised to find that the airport was relatively empty -- I was sure there'd be a lot of other folks who wanted to beat the rush but no, I was the only lunatic there.
When I handed over the ticket and that slip of paper with the code on it the Liat ticket agent whistled, shook his head and simply said to me: "You are one very, very lucky lady." I tried to get him to tell me why -- to decipher that code for me, but he wouldn't.
Who cares? It seems I was truly on a flight that was destined to leave that very day for St. Vincent. Good, good, good.
It had been too early to get breakfast at the hotel and I now had 3 hours to kill, so I had coffee and some kind of a bun, poked around the duty free shop and then headed over to security.
I guess the group of officers on duty that morning hadn't read the travel articles that raved about how friendly Bajans are. Holy cow they were surly!
Got through without being arrested and tried to find the gate I was sent to. Wandered around for at least a half hour asking various airport employees. I was here, there and everywhere but there was no gate with my number on it. So then I started to ask the few passengers who were beginning to mill about.
A group of us -- all headed for the same place on the same flight decided to sit together. Safety in numbers, I guess. It was now about 40 minutes to our departure time. I went digging in my carry-on bag for something and froze in mid-search. I dumped everything out on the empty seat beside me. I rumaged through my pockets, my purse, everything I had with me. I went through it all again and again.
"Oh no..." I wailed!! I had left 2 vials of pills at the blooming hotel!!
I NEVER do things like this. I am actually really well organized. I am not scatterbrained. Prone to exaggeration, yes. Dramatic, yes. Eccentric, yes. Bizarre, yes. But scatterbrained, no.
I had to act fast.
First I called Geoffrey to find out if Bequia had a pharmacy that could refill a prescription for me -- assuming I'd be able to get to my doctor, of course .. also assuming the pharmacy had a fax machine.
Then I called my friend Sharon and asked her to call my doctor as soon as her office opened (several hours ahead), to get a prescription and then fax it to the number she would get from Geoffrey because I'd be sitting on a plane shortly.
Then when I had calmed down slightly I thought I'd try and see if the hotel could find the pills. Amazingly they had them and could send them in a taxi right away. I high-tailed it back to the departure area of the airport and waited for the taxi driver. I had given them my description and they gave me his cab number and license plate.
Sure enough he showed up in 10 minutes and I still had 10 minutes to make my flight. I gave him a HUGE tip and ran all the way back to security. Luckily there was a guy there who recognized me and he let me through right away.
Sadly the bar was not yet open.
What would you say if I now told you -- after all that rushing around and thinking I was going to miss what was probably going to be the only flight leaving that day -- that my flipping flight was delayed more than 2 hours?
We got bounced from gate to gate to gate to gate.
Everyone was getting agitated and short tempered -- the travellers and the employees. I spoke to several of my fellow passengers and we decided that if the plane didn't leave shortly we would charter a plane ourselves -- which is what we probably should have done in the first place.
By now Geoffrey and I had exchanged at least 30 phone calls which varied in their degree of hysteria and one minute I was swearing and the next convulsed with hysterical laughter. Poor Allyson wanted to know if I was always like this.
Finally. We got crammed onto this tiny plane with absolutely no leg room and took off. By the time the flight crew got the air to work we had landed in St. Vincent -- somewhat soggy, but at least the end was in sight. Or so I thought until I arrived at the "terminal" and I do use the term loosely.
Imagine a room the size of a single car garage. Imagine a line of people that is the length of the room, and then wraps around the perimeter of the building several times. Imagine each and every one of those people having a nice chat with the one and only customs official working that morning. "How ya doin'? ... how's the family? ... back for Christmas? ... how's your mom? ..." etc., etc. No worry, no hurry.
Except I had a ferry to catch. What else is new?
I commandeered a cab, explained my challenge and, with a lurch, off we went. I have never seen anyone drive that fast in my life. I honestly did not think we would get there alive -- and neither did the drivers of any other cars on the road -- not to mention pedestrians and dogs.
But he got me there in mere minutes, and helped me load my bags in the cargo area -- and with a wave and a smile he was off.
I checked in with Geoffrey and Allyson, bought a roti and a soft drink and headed up the stairs to the passenger area. Despite the fact that the ferry should have left minutes after I got there it was at least another 2 hours before we went anywhere.
I no longer cared. I was operating on island time.
For the longest time nothing happened -- other than the fact that the seats were rapidly being filled up and the bar was doing a booming business. This time when I called Geoffrey I told him I'd be there when I'd be there. It was beyond me to try to commit to a time -- or even a day.
The sun was shining ... the snow and the cold weather in Toronto seemed a million miles away ... and I was in holiday mode. And with that -- and a sudden lurch -- we were off. The last leg of this journey had officially begun. And all was going well until I decided I wanted to move to the opposite side of the ferry to take a photo.
As I got to my feet the ferry rocked and rolled and I was thrown to the opposite end -- and was literally inches away from landing on top of the crate of eggs a woman sitting there minding her own business had resting on her lap. All she could do was stare at me in horror. All I could do was pray.
it took about an hour, but all of a sudden I caught a glimpse of pastel cottages -- some yellow, some mint green, some pink, some pale blue, some white -- dotted here and there on the hilly landscape. Bequia was in sight. Very quickly thereafter we were slowly moving toward the dock -- and then I saw Geoffrey -- waving madly, sprinting down the dock towards the ferry.
The next thing I knew we were docked and I was getting a huge hug from Geoffrey and Allyson. We collected my luggage and made our way to the cab -- a pick up truck that had a canopy over the open rear cargo area and a bench that ran around its edge. In I climbed, with the help of a footstool and a boost from Noel, the driver -- and Geoffrey's neighbour.
We were off to the Mosquito -- their local hangout for a late lunch. Little did I know just how significant the mosquito would turn out to be ...