When we first moved to our little island I never imagined the things my future self would say. How could I? How could I possibly picture a world where we would wrangle a trap (don’t… More
When we were living our lives in New Zealand last time we had a plan. It was a great plan, and most of it happened accordingly. But, as anyone knows, not everything goes as planned. And when we left our little spot on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and traded it for another little (slightly warmer) spot on the edge of the Caribbean Sea we began to let go a little in the best of ways. Both islands taught us that planning was generally futile, that in the end it’s best to try your best and hope for the best and enjoy the ride… ‘que sera, sera?’ as Doris Day would sing.
The island, the slightly warmer one, taught us that planning was generally pointless because things ran on their own time and marched to their own beat under the swaying palms. The island, the slightly colder one, tried to tell us the same thing but we weren’t ready to listen… or I wasn’t.
When we returned to New Zealand Hubby reminded me that we had a loose script but nothing concrete, “Remember,” he said, “we’re not fighting it this time.”.
I foggily agreed, after all I was a bit shell-shocked from leaving the rock I’d called home for five years, saying goodbye to pets and friends and family. And the idea of starting again was a little intimidating to be honest. I’m generally a person of big ideas and big plans but I didn’t know if I had the energy.
But no sooner were we in our rental accommodation than my brain started ticking over.
Before returning to New Zealand I had planned (of course I had). I’d planned on us buying a tiny house and finding a plot of land where wildflowers grew. But the market was insane when we returned and there were no idyllic parcels of land as I’d imagined. At first I held fast to my plan, scouring all sources for the perfect plot. I was an intrepid treasure hunter once more… looking for gold…. I was a pirate! I found the land, I forced us on road trips to find the tiny house, and I was just in the process of landscaping on a piece of spare paper when Hubby asked me what I was doing.
“Nothing,” was my guilty response, caught in the act of pirating.
“Have you seen this house?” he’d asked, ignoring my greedy machinations of paddocks, ponies, and peonies. He moved the screen towards me showing me a simple suburban house.
I told him that of course I’d seen it, I’d looked at everything available on the market but that it wasn’t our thing. He quietly went back to scrolling on his phone and I went back to my planning… or I tried. Because there was something about the easiness of the house he’d shown me, and I reminded myself that this is the year where I try to be different where I let things go and say ‘que sera’.
We went to go see the house. It was as though it had already been our home.
We put in an offer that weekend and here we are now… have been for a few months… and hope to be until… well, I won’t plan for the future like I used to.
As it turns out, letting go a little meant that the universe, and probably Hubby, could do what it had always planned on doing with us without MY interference. Because in the past by chasing everything maybe I had lost the plot?
And it turns out that I got my flowers after all. Beautiful bulbs are displaying themselves in an early Spring fanfare, and I’m so grateful that the person who cared for the land before me did some very good planning!
That’s how life has been thus far in New Zealand. Most things have lined up. Not without some efforts and stresses, but when things didn’t go the way I thought they should I didn’t fight it. I let go, ‘que sera, sera.’. Because who am I to face-off against the universe? (although I do have some plans for some landscaping, and soft furnishings, and maybe even the pitter patter of paws are in the future?)
But for now this pirate has become a land lubber who mutters, ‘Que Sera’… and if I’m honest things are pretty great without me in charge. It gives me time to plot murder mystery novels instead… but I’ll save that for another entry!
It was January when New Zealand was told the borders would reopen in a five phase plan… starting in late February with stranded Kiwis in Australia, and ending in October in welcoming the World. MIQ (managed isolation quarantine) is set to become a relic but to us it was all too real.
Hubby and I arrived by bus to our MIQ hotel at the edge of Hagley Park at the end of last year. After a three day, and five flight, journey we were incredibly grateful to be checked in with expediency and the greatest of care. We were given our room number and a tower of information and told to wait for instructions. We entered our room, with a view to the blossoming rose garden. The door clicked behind us. We took off our masks. We showered. We rejoiced. We’d made it!
A knock on the door… food had arrived. We followed the instructions (mask on, wash hands, open door, retrieve bag with food, close door, take off mask, wash hands etc.). Our first meal was delicious. A spoil of stir-fry vegetables and spicy chicken. After time on the island we were so grateful for fresh food.
Our time in MIQ moved quickly. There were several PCR tests (it’s all about the tester… the nurses at our facility were very skilled). There were the meal deliveries. The scheduled exercise times (once we achieved ‘blue band’ status… which (thanks to the rose garden) my allergies put in jeopardy but all was well that ended well.
Leaving MIQ we spent three further days in self isolation and then went to get our last PCR test to confirm our ‘covid-freeness’.
We wandered the central streets of Christchurch. Historic buildings juxtaposed against the modern architectural imaginings which have sprouted up since we last visited. Ducks appeared to sail along the Avon, grasses whispering as they passed. The sun bright but colder than the one we’d left behind. We were the only ones along the way to be wearing sweaters, after all it was Summer in New Zealand. The Riverside Market bustling with aromatic coffees, pastries and fruits, we imbibed all we could and purchased more for later. Hubby and I were together. There was such a sense of abundance, of freedom, and even though we’d left a whole life behind I allowed myself to be distracted in the present of it all.
It was only a few weeks later, more settled in our rental spot further from such marvelous distractions, that I had a day to myself. I left the house feeling cold and missing everything about the island but, as though the universe knew I still needed reminding, an elderly lady was out in her garden and waved as I went past.
“Beautiful morning, isn’t it?” She nodded enthusiastically.
I smiled in response.
A few minutes later I heard a lamb. A young boy asked it to stay on the deck while he went inside.
A man drove past me on a ride-on lawn mower with a hello.
Maybe, it’s okay here, I thought. I can do this.
But it was cold. I missed my family, our animals, our place in a nest on the opposite side of the globe. Covid didn’t appear to be easing. The world we’d left behind seemed no more than a dream.
I took joy in the small things, which were big things. The fresh food, the friendly people, the sense of safety, and the verdant (although tamer) flora.
It was on a walk with Hubby. The end of both of our work days, forcing ourselves to get out of the house and stretch our legs. We kept our conversations positive… focusing on all we’d accomplished… but the undercurrent of what we’d left behind eddied around us… and then I saw it… a sign… literally.
A handwritten sign telling passer-bys to help themselves to the plums which were on the tree overhanging the sidewalk. ‘Take as many as you please’, it prompted.
I plucked a deep-purple plum from the over-arching branches and kept walking.
“Just one?” Hubby asked.
“We’ll get a few more on the way back,” I smiled, the juice of the fruit tickling my senses as I bit into it. The taste of Summer enveloping me.
That was many months ago now, but the truth at the heart of that story is that there’s a humble abundance here. A generosity. It’s not something I’d ever take for granted. The giving nature of the people in our little hamlet is what makes this country a patchwork quilt of stories just like this one. And I don’t know what the future holds, but if I’m lucky enough to have a fruit tree one day then I’ll prop a little sign against my fence and ask people to help themselves.
There’s a saying in New Zealand to express something easy and comfortable- Sweet As. And it really is… There’s no sense worrying about a future we can’t imagine, and things here… for now… are Sweet As.
Leaving was harder than we thought, but not because of the emotional strain (although that was a Greek tragedy of its own, huddled together sobbing under the stars the night before our departure). No. The hardest part about leaving… was, well, leaving.
Before our departure we visited the covid testing facility on the island five times to state our case and encourage cooperation for us to be able to get our results in time. The island wasn’t accustomed to this urgency so we did our best to find the key players and explain why it was so important for us as we had a space booked in New Zealand’s MIQ (Managed Isolation Quarantine). Over the past year these spaces have become more and more difficult to obtain with something akin to a lottery to be able to return to the country. News articles citing thirty thousand people online with only two thousand spots available… hubby and I were very grateful for having our vouchers in hand.
There was talk amongst the expats on island of a broken testing machine, erroneous names on the results, planes leaving early or late or not at all. The whole process was exhausting, and we hadn’t even left!
A few nights before our departure date we forced ourselves to wander down to the beach. The sunset filtered in tangerine slices through the palms, casting a net of cozy memories across our speech.
“We could just stay.” I heard myself say, the words laced with magic. Thoughts of us picking mangoes and diving under salt-crested waves was in that moment all that I could want for.
Hubby remained quiet, his golden brows hopeful as the sun kissed the sea.
The sky mauve and enchanting. The tree frogs beguiling as we trod our why uphill towards our home.
“We’ll go visit the airport and the clinic again tomorrow,” I said, as we returned home.
“They have to make it work,” Hubby agreed.
We began talking of the future.
Something had switched. In the fervor to get off the island, we were beginning to realize the inaccessibility of the place. We were trapped in the best of dreams, but it couldn’t be maintained.
We made it off the island by some miracle. Our tests waited for us to collect them. The plane (although changed to a later time, and delayed by twenty minutes so each passenger could help security search their luggage as the airport’s x-ray machine was down) left. Seven of us bumped along the tarmac in the tiny plane, and then were scooped up by the wind to where we needed to be.
I felt transported to a different universe. I had been on the island for sixteen months. Every person I saw I expected to know, or at least to know to whom they were related, or where they were staying. Everything was strange and loud. I wanted nothing more than to run back to the beginning, but I held fast to hubby instead. My anchor in the uncertainty of it all. We weren’t in Montserrat anymore.
Three days and four flights later we touched down in New Zealand. The land of the long white cloud welcomed us. Shuffled through the process of arrival, temperature checks, questions, scans etc., we were transferred along partitioned-off areas to wait for our final flight to Christchurch where the authorities told us we would be spending our time in MIQ.
Snacks were provided. We smiled at one another feeling quite smug with our haul of New Zealand favorites after a thirteen hour flight. The creamy luxury of Whitakers chocolate melted in my mouth, for those seconds I forgot everything else.
Finally at Christchurch airport a soldier from the New Zealand Defense Force came onboard. He outlined the process of how we would get our luggage and then be transferred to the hotel where we would complete our quarantine stay.
Through the fog of exhaustion I heard him say: “It’s a cracker of a day so you should be sweet in shorts and a t-shirt.” He looked at us over his mask. We, the rows of disheveled travelers. “What you’re wearing will be fine,” He gave a thumbs-up.
Everyone smiled, some of us laughed. We all shared in the sense of belonging.
This was the moment I knew we’d made the right choice.
We were home again.
I’m going to be a tad morose, and I apologize. This blog is filled with the humor found in daily life…. and I promise we’ll get there again. I’ll tell you a story about two workmen, a door, and a sandwich.
But first this reflection.
It’s time to move again and, so, the jig is up. We had a good run of living life on the island, almost six years. What I’ll remember most is the way that each day is filled to overflowing with life. Roosters, tree frogs, banana birds, agouti, iguana, lizards and pelicans everywhere. Colors are abundant. Everything is alive.
Me and hubby have made the decision to return to New Zealand, leaving, once again, the life we’ve created, on our tropical island.
We know it’s coming, this final date. We aren’t ready. We don’t want to leave our pets, our home, our garden and our family. But the pandemic has altered our plans. And now, as an old man from Northern England once said to me, ‘it’s ours to do’.
Every one of us comes to a point in their life… a crossroads. If you’re lucky, and we feel we have been, then you can choose the necessary path.
We can’t stay here. We can’t wait for cruise ships to return to what they once were. Hubby can, and has left me behind to work, but our relationship would wither if he had to keep doing this without another option. New Zealand can give us this, we hope. We have to choose us. Our own little raft built for two.
Lately, a song from Fiddler on the Roof keeps playing in my head. I sing it as I pack my bags. One for here, one for there, and one for when ships return. I don’t know if I’ll see two of the three, but I pack them just in case. And the song repeats: Far from the home I love.
The minor notes ache in my throat: “I must go, I must go. Who could imagine I’d be wandring so, far from the home I love?”
But I’m not quite wandering. I know where I’m going this time. There will be welcoming faces and what I’m leaving behind here will be just fine without me.
Our pets will have our family, and surely wouldn’t want to return via Dubai to quarantine and then be left at home while we earn a living day to day. Our home will be sold, or rented, or will be here when we return. It’s only bricks and mortar after all. The memories we’ve made won’t disappear. And my family? We will video call and email and message and when we DO reunite it will be so much sweeter for having spent time apart. This is what I need to believe anyway.
Because everything is ready. It’s time to leave. The dye has been cast, as dramatic as it sounds. Less dramatically… the next adventure awaits?
There will be friends and coffees and theatre and the simple joys of a walk holding hubby’s hand. I’m so incredibly blessed to have ALL this. The love I’m leaving behind, and the promise of something wondrous waiting for me.
And… if I’d really listened to what the island was trying to tell me a few years ago when we were working on our home, then I would have known this was coming.
It was a sunny day, as is often the case here, and our new front door had just arrived. This was a more momentous occasion than it would be elsewhere in the world because the door had taken us three attempts to get ordered, to the island and through customs… finally there it lay in all it’s aluminum glory.
Two workmen had just settled down under the shade of the mango tree for lunch with a sandwich a piece.
Workman A (so named for the sake of this story) left his uneaten sandwich and wandered over to the old wooden door which was now surplus to our requirements.
“What’s going to happen to this?” He scratched his head, leaning closer to the door.
“It’s yours if you want it,” I’d said.
Workman B watched on, finishing his own lunch. “I can put it in my truck for you… take it to your place.” He said, and then he unwrapped Workman A’s sandwich.
“Hey, that’s my lunch!” Workman A left the door and raced over to the mango tree. “What are you doing?”
Workman B smiled. “You can’t have the door and the sandwich!”
Don’t worry, Workman A did get both that day. But sometimes you can’t.
It stuck with me. The idea that no matter how well you plan, and no matter what you want you can’t get the door and the sandwich…. (in this case wanting New Zealand and Montserrat both in my life is a bit of a bigger ask)… but don’t think I won’t try!
Island life is certainly paradise. Fruit hangs from the trees, the sea jumps with fish, and fresh water streams through the mountains.
However, for those considering a life more remote there is a caveat… one must become accustomed to hearing the word ‘NO’. This isn’t something I was accustomed to living elsewhere. I knew that if I saved up the money, and wanted something then it would be mine. Isn’t that how things work in a consumer-driven society? Not so on the island.
At any given time the power goes out and there’s ‘no electricity’. There doesn’t appear to be much reasoning behind these outages, in general. Sometimes it’s because the generator which fuels the island ran out of gas, sometimes it’s because people are working on the lines, other times weather…. who knows. The rumor mill surely gives us a lot to think about but when it comes to it there’s nothing we can do except… wait. And while we wait we are forced to read, write, swim, partake in conversations and water the garden. All pesky deadlines are forced to the bottom of the list.
Often there’s no gas on island. Like the lack of electricity, one has to be prepared to make do until there is gas again. This means that you need to stay close to home and plan accordingly. Use your legs, chat a bit with neighbors and slow down.
The ATM doesn’t always have money. Sometimes there’s a sign informing customers about this, often there isn’t. And really if you waited until the weekend to get your money then you don’t know how the island works. You’ll have to wait until Monday (unless it’s a holiday) to get your cash. In the meantime everyone understands this and will help you along until then… businesses create tabs, and friends or acquaintances lend money. We’ve all been there. I learned awhile ago to carry around a check book… you never know. Sometimes you just end up saving money which is a pretty good outcome. Also there are a lot of things you realize you don’t need when you can’t get them instantly.
Writing about instant gratification brings me to another point…. ‘no overnight delivery’. Things ordered online can take months rather than hours to arrive. No spontaneous purchases online means spending less.(Hello, Amazon Prime, I’m looking at you 😉
Food and beverages come and go. There’s no way to be sure that what you got last week will ever be around again. If you see something grab it while you can. Cider, as an example, can be here one week and gone the next. I can’t allow myself to get attached to one brand or even a style of drink. The upside is that I’m forced to try new things (whether I like it or not). There were months without cabbage on the island. The powers that be decided the agricultural sector on island could grow enough to suffice… so no cabbages (amongst other perishables) were allowed to be imported. Everyone grumbled as a shortage ensued. BUT when those cabbages arrived…. watch out! I’ve never appreciated coleslaw before with such vigor!
Is all of this a result of the current global situation? No.
Once, when I was a new rock resident, I attempted using the post office and discovered that a Christmas card I sent arrived TWO YEARS late to its destination. I learned to use email instead.
The beauty of island life is how it forces me to slow down. I’m such a busy bee when I go anywhere else. I rush around trying to get everything done and often end up exhausted in the process with not much to show for my efforts. Nothing real.
And while we don’t have anything guaranteed in life, even in paradise, on the island we enjoy the benefits of ‘no’. No traffic jams, no crowds, no consumerism… The pleasure of ‘no’ has never been sweeter. Maybe you need to come here to see it for yourself… or maybe you could use it in your life wherever you are now. Try it out… say ‘no’. See what happens once in awhile. While everyone else scurries around… sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!
I promise the little things will become the big things you didn’t even know you needed.
My hubby and I get around a lot, or used to, when it comes to working on cruise lines. He started in 2001. I did too, but back then our paths had yet to cross. We separately joined ships on the search for adventure. It was an amazing way to see the world. The people I met from across the globe are still friends today. For hubby his stories are similar. Places visited in pockets of beauty with people filled with a seafaring spirit.
We met on a luxurious liner where I was a Social Hostess (an ironic title now… in the future will anyone know what that means? Maybe I’ll become an ‘anti-social hostess’ or ‘social distancing hostess’?). Gleaming marble, glittering chandeliers, bespoke furniture pieces… well, bespoke everything! Each crew member and guest a character all their own. Once at sea our worries on land were never as poignant and real as the world we created onboard. Teatime was a battleground of wits. Cocktail parties and five course dinners were social monopoly. And yet, despite our seemingly frivolous endeavors, we all knew reality. We’d all felt the sharp bite of a life well-lived in varying degrees. It’s precisely why we luxuriated in the cocoon of those times.
I digress… we left ships to settle together on land… but it wasn’t long before we missed the seven seas and returned to our jobs on ships. We sailed with several various cruise lines. Almost two decades after he first set foot on deck, hubby is still working onboard cruise ships. Sometimes the timing of contracts kept us apart, but nothing is perfect, and we were grateful to have had the opportunities working onboard provided.
Rewind to March 2020. Hubby’s next contract was on the horizon. The virus had entered North America and things weren’t looking good. I was glued to all the news feeds. Hubby joined his ship mid-March. I was so stressed. My illogical brain wanted him back as soon as I sent him off. But he kept reporting that all was well.
The ship monitored his arrival. Once he was ensconced there were temperature checks, quarantines, and fogging of any new items loaded onboard. Social distancing and masks… all the things which were slowly unveiled as being necessary in the outside world, were also adopted on his ship. There were conference calls and televised question periods for the crew.
I know all this because he told me. We were blessed to be able to speak each night, or at least type our words into the ether… watching the dots of communication bob along.
As announcements were made throughout the world, cruise ships realized that they needed to get crew home. But ports shut one-by-one and with so many rules and restrictions concerning nationalities etc. it was a fruitless task for longer than most would have imagined.
Hubby remained onboard. Everyone, worldwide, was doing their utmost to pivot to meet each challenge as it came. And each ship was hoping… like all of us… for a positive outcome.
Crew onboard a ship have always had to make difficult choices. They leave their families to work hard and send money home. Each cruise line was doing what it could to fulfil their part of the obligation but the current world climate changed hourly. What next? I didn’t know. The future, hardly predictable at the best of times, was murkier than ever. So many people around the world were asking the same questions.
But each night when I had the privilege of hearing hubby’s voice… I was grateful. Thankful he was on a healthy ship with friendly crew, working for a company that appeared determined to put its people first. I knew it could change, but each day after he left, I took the win. And each night I breathed a sigh of relief that we both made it one more day. Each hour bringing us closer to one another- no matter how elusive that date may have seemed.
Those at sea were bobbing along in uncertainty, like so many of us in our own homes. Unlike most, the world they once traversed with enthusiasm was oftentimes casting them asunder, refusing them to find shelter and a spot to drop anchor. Some countries were unable or unwilling to repatriate their own.
I held fast to one thought, as all others sought to cloud my mind… his ship, like all vessels tossed about by life, was more than it appeared to be. Its manifest numbering the crew onboard, was more than a tally for how many people are under the Captain’s care. In maritime tradition people onboard are referred to as ‘souls’. This is what I reminded myself when doubt cast its’ net over my thoughts. My husband waited with all those souls for what life had in store next. Each casting their prayers, wishes, hopes, far out into the ocean of humanity. I could only hope they would be heard.
Hubby remained onboard for his full contract- over four months. His job was to help take care of the remaining crew, and to assist in repatriating them. The ship adhered to all CDC protocols. Numerous quarantines, increased social distancing, masks. No gym, no large gatherings, no activities. Their feet didn’t touch land. For some this was too much… a seemingly never-ending cycle of obligations to adhere to. And then of course the emotional stress. For the world it was too much. For many of the crew it was understandably impossible with family at home and no clear idea of a future.
Amidst the grayness there were beacons of light. Certain countries opened their borders and began allowing charter flights to leave and enter. This was the lifeline that allowed so many crew safe passage home. It was an effort which took many months…
Our island had closed its borders, but they reopened to citizens and residents. Hubby returned! Two more weeks apart while he was in quarantine, but my heart sang. To know he’d made it safely on to land after almost five months was a miracle.
He is home now. He is safely by my side. And now that he’s here I wanted to share our story. To share the angst of the crew. I know that cruise lines are nothing more than large corporations to most of society. But for us they have been so much more. And during this crisis they did more than would have been expected of any corporation.
The cruise industry has provided me, and so many others with security for so long. More importantly it gave me a family of my own. A sailor who always follows his sense of adventure but like all seafarers sets his heart to home.
I don’t know what the future holds. No one does. But today is pretty good.
As Gershwin famously composed: I’ve got starlight, I’ve got sweet dreams, I’ve got my man- Who could ask for anything more?
Before this all started… before the whole world was altered… hubby and I took a trip. It was a seemingly random choice of location in Canada. A village sprouting between Cape Breton and the rest of Nova Scotia. A beautiful valley setting, perched at the mouth of an Atlantic inlet, but it wasn’t a place most travellers would be visiting in late February. We chose it very specifically.
I’d taken hubby to Nova Scotia before and he’d been talking about it ever since. We began imagining a reality where in our retirement, maybe sooner, we could possibly become snowbirds, living in the far north then heading south with the first frost. As someone who’s from Canada I was suspicious of this idyllic plan for a number of reasons. Mostly because in my home and native land we are only guaranteed two to three months of summer. It seemed a lot of effort to rebuild our lives in a place where it feels as though the land is literally set on killing you with snow.
But hubby would not be deterred.
When I took him to Nova Scotia the first time, we spent a week roaming from one picturesque locale to another. It was during the leadup to Christmas, and so the bleak landscape was made merry with twinkle lights. The bone chilling temperatures alleviated with Tim Hortons coffees in giddily decorated mugs. Buying of toques and mittens felt adventurous for my optimistic sidekick…. Unaware that these weren’t fashion choices but life-saving apparel. But it was beautiful. And I love Nova Scotia…. And Canada of course.
So our latest trip was designed to be a reality check. We’d examined all of the previous locations we’d visited and chose the village of Antigonish. It didn’t have the sunny clapboard structures of Lunenburg, or the mounded fortresses of Annapolis Royal. But we were looking for a place that would be functional and be able to help our new plans flourish. We couldn’t be side-tracked with adornments and baubles as we had during our first visit north.
We set off.
The customs agent in Toronto stared straight at hubby and said, “You’re from New Zealand? What are you doing here?”
Hubby happily explained that he might want to be a Canadian.
The young border control officer responded, “I hate my life. I drive for two hours in the dark to get here, and at night I leave when it’s dark. Winter lasts forever. Don’t move here.”
But hubby would not be deterred.
We stayed overnight in Toronto. The restaurant at the hotel was closed. The next morning we woke up bright and early to check in to our flight. They had overbooked it… which somehow became our fault. It didn’t look like we’d be leaving anytime soon. We fretted and snipped at one another and miraculously were chosen at the last minute to board the plane. Our seats weren’t together but we didn’t care. We arrived… our luggage did not.
Hubby would not be deterred.
A snowstorm had just come through. We took the gap in the weather and drove the almost two hours to Antigonish. Our amazing friends had invited us to stay in their beautiful new home with their family. It was such a relief to arrive. To be warm. And welcomed.
Another snowstorm came through. Our luggage didn’t arrive for three days… or was it four. We moved to an Airbnb. A small house in the centre of the village. We started imagining our lives there in that house. Walking to the local pub for craft beer and cider. Shopping at the supermarket and buying fresh salmon, asparagus, and strawberries (none of these are ever fresh on our island). Chatting with shop owners and making jokes with people beside you in the queue. This was the Canada I missed.
But as the days wore on the ‘other’ side began to show. The slushy sidewalks, the taxes added to everything, and the impersonal nature of the big box stores.
Hubby would not be deterred.
But I was unsettled.
Enough doubt had been cast on our trip that we decided to wait and see. Continue enjoying our lives at sea, and worry about tomorrow… well, tomorrow.
We returned in early March. Hubby went back on a cruise ship. He’s still there now, dreaming of setting his feet on solid ground.
I’m on the island. Missing the freedom of the world that allowed me to travel.
We have been lucky. We are healthy and safe.
And with everything tipped askew, I realize that wherever I am… it may not be perfect but it’s home.
My heart yearns for an anchor, more now with the shifting tides of current affairs than before. For a girl who’s spent most of her life taking flight, this enforced grounding has resonated with me. The usual distractions of planning my next trip or contract have vanished. (Along with a lot of more important things for a lot of people).
But with the disappearance of so much, we as a world (or at least me on my little dot of an island) who survive this day by day are able to savour the essence of life. And I realize it’s not a place that I’ve been looking for…. It’s a sense of place. Each of us our own nomadic little spirits.
For me I miss the plumage of the kiwi fantail as much as the skittering squirrel in Canada. But here I am blessed. This island has adopted me as its own, and I am a grateful being. Here where it’s hotter than hell but mangoes are in season. Who could ask for anything more?
It’s that time of year again, but I hadn’t noticed. I blame the fact that most days on the island feel like a vacation (once you obscure the realities of trying to source food and workmen from your mind… both limited resources at various times throughout the year). Anyway, back to my point that life on an island in the Caribbean steals your concept of time and place.
Where the island takes away a sense of preconceived ‘time’, dates stamped in arbitrary calendars and diaries, it gives in return an undeniable spirit of cheer all year long. Every day here is an occasion. If you manage to put on something other than a bikini in the morning you feel you deserve a reward. Anytime is drinking time for the newer expats among us, which can be a slippery slope indeed… so I’ve been told. I think my resolve will be tested this year though, as our local beach bar has just got cider in! Merry Christmas to me!
But it’s not just the expats who embrace the cheer of island life, it’s the island itself. Montserrat blooms all year long. Her gorgeous lushly serrated mountains green as emeralds against the bright blue backdrop of the sea. It would be easy to forget the volcano sleeping in our midst, but not one of us here does. It’s the remembering that keeps us grateful for what we have. It’s what makes each moment precious. Each day a celebration of sorts. Montserrat’s curse is also her blessing. And I am grateful.
So now that the holiday season is bursting with wreaths and bells and choirs aplenty in cooler climes I scroll through instagram lusting after the log fires and hot chocolates of Christmas yore. Such a magical time of year. But here we have it too, and you don’t need to go online to see it. You need to feel it. The embrace of warm air and friendly smiles. Music timbering it’s way through the valleys from various events. Fishermen dotted along the otherwise empty beach, following the lead of the pelicans who know best. BBQs scenting the air, and a cool cider at the ready.
I don’t believe Christmas comes once a year. Not if you look for it. If you’ve found the spirit, share it. Don’t wait for a date to tell you when. Give flowers, bake cookies, decorate and sing your heart out anytime you want. And if you can’t find the spirit, come here to Montserrat where the vibrancy of the place and the people will surely convert you… like it or not!
I’ve put off the inevitable for some time, believing myself to be unflappable in the face of island life. But the time has come for me to write a post about ‘creepy crawlies’.
I won’t list them all, most having had their impact on my island life over the decades since I first inhabited the Caribbean as a youngster. No. This rant is dedicated solely to the creatures who have stolen hours of my life in cleaning, who have frustrated me no end, who have terrorized our guests.
Picture a still moonlit evening. The waves crash in a murmur afar, the tree frogs barely chirping, the stars waltz soundlessly. You sip your wine. Ah, the life. Hours before the roosters awake, the world is yours. Something hits your eye, something small and black and alive. Then something crawls along your neck, you swat at it. The other diners take note. The night pauses for a few querulous seconds…. you look to the light. There they are, hundred of them swarming. You call out, the two words that make anyone in the Caribbean move: Flying Ants!
The lights are cut. Your breathing heavy. No one moves. Those who were thinking of staying for another drink disappear. Those who wait for dinner, swat themselves mercilessly. We are transported to the days of the bombings over London, the Blitzkrieg. We head off in our cars, to the safety of home, where we will swelter in darkness. The light a beacon to the flying menaces.
As we approach our house, I gasp. Our guests have ALL their lights on. The house is a crawling, living, thing. Each window covered in tiny black bodies squeezing through any gap to get to the light. I race out of the car, my face on the other side of the sliding door. “Turn off the lights!” I yell, but it’s too late.
The next day I spend hours scooping up bodies. So many winged ants, birthed into the night only to die. Why? For love. Well, for mating purposes anyway. Certain land ants develop wings and take to the night sky like clockwork in certain conditions. When you have days of sunlight, low wind, high humidity following several days of rain this often encourages the flying ants to take to the skies. The ‘reproductive ants’ set out on a ‘nuptial flight’ to find their mate. Believing that they are in danger of being eaten by predators, they move in a swarm. They gather on large objects, this is called ‘hilltopping’. In some areas this mating ritual occurs only once a year. Here… it feels more frequent. Once the ‘reproductives’ have done their job, the male dies… thus the carcasses scattered to the wind. But the successful ladies head home in hopes of becoming the next queen of their colony.
Knowing all this now, can I pretend that they’re fine? After all, it’s nature. Picturing them at a romantic social event trying to meet a beloved may help. But I’m not fooling myself… ‘Flying Ants’ are still the two scariest words. When they come there’s no stopping them, all you can do is turn off the lights…. I mean it is best to give them some privacy at least!
When I’ve told people in the past that I live in the Caribbean, I know exactly the picture that materializes in their minds. I know, because it’s what I imagined too… azure seas, balmy breezes, tropical fruit and calypso music. The reality is… yes…. I think I do live in paradise and I’m very blessed. BUT there are some things about living on ‘the mainland’ that I do miss. Sometimes I scroll through social media (as we all do) and fall in love with an image that’s captured in time. Perhaps a friend’s child caught in laughter, or a celebration of someone’s birthday with what appears to be the most delicious cake, or a friend in a gorgeous costume on stage. All of these things make me a teensy bit envious… I can’t help it. I want to be there too! Usually, at this point my hubby rolls his eyes and reminds me of my idyllic existence and I snap out of my stupor. Aren’t we all like this? Lured to the images of perfection?
I’m not writing this post as a complaint about island life, it’s more an attempt to dispel the idea that anywhere is perfect… (although this place can come pretty close).
So, here’s a list of things that bring me back to reality on the rock of Montserrat:
- Creepy crawlies! Our island’s not too bad. We’re limited to Tarantulas as being the most poisonous. But when it comes to things paragliding from the ceiling towards you at night, you don’t worry about their names. So, each evening I scan the bedroom and pull the mosquito netting around the bed… hoping mr. spider will stay out rather than in.
- Transportation. When you’re here, you actually don’t want to leave. BUT if you do have to get here, or go there… you have a trek ahead of you. THE (read ONLY) travel agent on island is a wonderful man who every one trusts. He will help you to arrange anything your heart desires… but even he won’t book your ticket off the island. Yes, you read that correctly. The travel agent will only book you from the neighbouring island of Antigua. Why? Well… since I would like to live out the rest of my days on my current rock… it’s probably best not to say too much on this subject. I think it’s easiest to say that arranging that part of the trip is not an easy thing to accomplish.
- Nourishment. Lately I’ve been hearing about the ‘slow food’ movement… well, it’s mastered on our rock! What’s in season, is what we are eating… and a LOT of it. Because everything is shipped in, anything that’s a little different costs a fortune and may not be within the confines of the sell by/use by date on its packaging. I read recently that this is just a suggestion? So, each time I open a tin or package I take my chances. But, come mango season all the worries of food evaporate. Mangoes are everywhere and super tasty. Likewise, papaya and pineapple and soursop and jack fruit etc. There is always a supply of Carib which makes hubby happy… Cider is a long-forgotten pleasure for me.
- Shopping. Instant gratification when it comes to buying ‘stuff’ does not exist. This is a blessing in disguise. We have the same access to most online shopping, but a click of the button only means that you may see your purchase several months from that time. Each thing brought on island also carries a hefty importation tax… and has to go through several couriers with their individual fees. The joy of this, is that when that cushion I ordered three months ago does arrive… it’s like Christmas! Also, buying things becomes more about ‘need’ rather than ‘want. (I do take advantage of my trips abroad to squirrel away any shopping bargains still…. oh, the dresses out there are intoxicating when you haven’t been exposed to them for months at a time… but I take it all in my stride;).
- Urgency. Working on a cruise ship (and anywhere in the world), it’s all about getting things done. Now. Right away. Not so on island. When I first arrived it irked me. But now, I embrace it. Slowing down has forced me to see things more clearly (cliche I know). I read an article from a fellow island girl recently, she wrote that instead of asking ‘why’ (why can’t there always be power? why do we pay for a postal service that doesn’t deliver mail? why can’t that one pothole be fixed? etc.) she says instead ‘ok’. That’s where I’m at. Ok.
So, if you’re reading this and thinking what a beautiful life you could have on an island, and if you don’t mind saying ‘ok’ instead of ‘why’, then it could be for you. Pack those suitcases and embrace paradise! My suggestions? Invest in a mosquito net, back-up power bars, and when you are back on the ‘mainland’ eat for the lean times!
We left New Zealand just over three years ago. Since that day, my heart has felt a magnetic pull from two very distinct geographical locations. My love of the island life, and most importantly family, drew me towards the tiny rock of Montserrat. But the land of the ‘long white cloud’, hanging onto the tip of the Pacific Ocean, called me. Memories lured me back to flat whites, cabbage trees, pukekos, kune kunes, and flaxes. Words that hold little meaning to those in the rest of the world, part of my everyday vocabulary once, flowed freely again as we touched down in Auckland last month. A frantic jog from the international airport, we followed the familiar green path to the domestic terminal. Along the way, we breathed in the crisp air. Statues of the extinct Moa watched as we scurried past, so too the bronzed Kiwi- larger than life. Native trees reached towards us, but it was time to rush on to the next flight.
We lifted briefly and then the Canterbury plains lay flatly below us. A canvas of farmland, the ocean to the side, and the majestic Southern Alps, their backs dusted with snow, beckoned. We were home.
All was as I remembered. And yet, something felt different. Like a dream, each place and person appeared the same but had all changed over the past three years. The foods I’d missed were still delicious, the views breathtaking, the friends welcoming… and yet…
Our trip to New Zealand was like going back to an old boyfriend. A relationship that had fizzled only because of the geographical restrictions, but now… had we both changed? I pushed these thoughts aside and met each day trying to fit in as much as possible.
Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass, Akaroa, Tekapo, and Wanaka were all filled with so much beauty…. and memories. Christchurch with her broken Cathedral, still standing tall and becoming stronger with each passing day. We visited the bustling city with friends on a winter’s day filled with sunshine and autumnal colors. The new library is magnificent, the centre of town bubbles with energy, and you can almost forget the sadness of the earthquakes… but it’s still there. We won’t forget those that were lost, they will always be with us. There’s a memorial. Cool marble insulates the silence. Words given strength against their hard surface. For a moment, as you read… you are lost in that capsule of time.
Visiting the village we lived in for seven years was the most challenging part of our trip. Daisy, the young bull mastiff we’d left with an amazing friend, was now an old lady. Our house, where we had toiled for many an arid day to plant and cultivate native flora, was densely shrouded from our view with the flourishing plant life. The local school I’d worked in had been renovated, many teachers I worked with still there and so inviting. The children I’d taught, my gorgeous gap-toothed and leggy new entrants were now maturing into teenagers ready for high-school. A cup of coffee at our local cafe made me realize that it too had grown, and with it the tiny community. New faces floated past as I sipped my latte.
Hubby and I were visitors now. We were no longer a part of the daily life. I wanted desperately to grab the snow-kissed mountains in my view… but they were no longer mine to hold. And as each day passed I missed another life. The one we had crafted from nothing again. A place with sea salt sprinkled in the air, a toss of palm fronds in my sights, the land that was now home.
I wanted to have both. I wanted to be a part of both exceptional worlds. But I can’t. It’s too greedy. To embrace one life fully should be enough for any one person… it’s all I can hold onto at any one time. But New Zealand will always be a part of me. When I close my eyes, she will always be there. Her wooded trails, exotic vocabulary, a sky bigger than an ocean… and those mountains. I will never forget.
Today I woke up in Malaga. I know this because the Cruise Director told me. This is what cruising around feels like, as any cruiser will tell you, you have no idea what day of the week it is but you know where you are in the world. If you’re cruising for a few days or a few months the feeling is the same. Stepping up the gangway and onto the ship, you leave all day-to-day concerns behind… quite literally. Out in the ‘real world’ there are worries that drift away the moment you step onboard. Here are some of my favorite things to ‘let go’ of when I’m cruising.
1) Let go of Time. As mentioned above, days of the week and all adherence to time can be left in your wake. Who cares? If you’ve signed up for a tour, the tour escort will figure out the details of overcoming museum entries or when you need to be where. All I care about, if I’m leaving the ship on a solo foray, is what time I need to be back onboard. That’s it. And when the ship is sailing around and I’m safely on deck, the world is my oyster. Feeding times happen when they do, my body generally reminds me when it’s the next time to imbibe something. Otherwise, I’m quite content letting the hours pass me by, along with the scenery.
2) Let get of Impatience for things to happen. There’s no commute. I know I’ve been onboard for awhile, because the other day I started becoming impatient waiting for an elevator for all of two minutes. Then I calmed myself by remembering it was ‘rush hour’. That time of the day when tours are gathering, breakfasts are finished and the crew have finished their morning meetings and there’s a shift change. Imagine! I honestly don’t know if I’ll be able to handle driving to work and waiting at a traffic light ever again.
3) Let go of what to wear. That’s a strange way to start a sentence… I’m not advising you to ‘let go’ of clothing completely, it’s not that kind of a ship! But what I am writing is that you’ve packed what you’ve packed and you’ll just need to make it work. There’s an amazing feeling of calm that comes over you when you realize that your wardrobe is in a comfortable rotation, and today… yes it’s time to put on the navy blouse again. Also, to all the new guests onboard… this shirt is new… glorious! (Btw… remind me to write the next blog about fashion onboard and what to pack… this is critical so you can cruise worry free and fashionably).
4) Let go of what people think. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just share the best bits of yourself without ever having to share ‘everything’. That’s the beauty of cruising conversation. Everyone is on this amazing experience together, so there’s never a lack of chit chat if you’re interested… but also you don’t have to say a word either. Anything you offer will be warmly received… and if not you won’t be running into that cold fish at your local post office or the bakery every week. No sir. At the end of the cruise you’ll go your own way. BUT there’s every possibility that you’ll engage in titillating (a bit worrying that the word titillating took me four tries to conquer… I may have ‘let go’ of my basic writing skills!) conversation.
5) Let go of Responsibility. Responsibility for yourself is quite limited onboard. Probably the most important thing to remember is your emergency route… but even during an emergency crew will help to guide you. There’s nowhere else in the world where you can abscond from as much adult responsibility as on a cruise ship. The Captain drives you around, the crew feed you, the staff entertain you… really you basically turn up in one of your pre-packed outfits and you’re all set. Imagine any other vacation where this happens… or any other point in your life… no, you can’t. (Unless you’ve checked yourself into a psychiatric ward perhaps… but even then surely there are programs one must attend and stricter dietary requirements.)
Cruising is the way to go. On a ‘normal’ vacation you have to keep track of things like keys to your room or directions around the city. You’ll spend most of your day juggling a takeaway coffee cup, your google maps, and the steering wheel. Disastrous. What I’m proposing with cruising… it’s magical! Imagine a world where you misplace your key and someone helps you. You’re thirsty and there are an assortment of included beverages instantly available. You won’t spend your days comparing restaurant reviews on yelp, or figuring out where to go based on distance in miles. No. Just book your trip, pack your suitcase, walk up that gangway and leave your worries behind. Before you know it, you’ll be hooked!
The newest Viking Cruise ship, Jupiter, is where I’ve been living for the past few months…. a place to call home. I’m so familiar with this environment now that I can well and truly write that there’s a lot to love about Viking. Of course, I am biased! A hundred percent… and keep in mind that I’ve lived on other ships in other capacities and maybe loved them just as much at the time. But romance is a fickle beast… and at the moment, my heart is with this particular Norwegian family of guests and crew. How could it not be?!
Because most luxury liners are enviable… I thought it might be helpful for me to highlight what little things make Viking special.
The bathroom floor is heated… yes, that’s right… each morning the warmth radiates through my little toes and wakes me gracefully. Perfect. Also, the shower pressure is amazing!
While I’m on the subject… the public restrooms here have birdsong. Yes. All day… I imagine all night? Birds happily chirp along while you visit the facilities, as though you’re taking respite in an alpine forest. This is a wonderful idea. It makes me happy, calms me… but also there are certain positive technical aspects to creating a melodic background in the loo. Just writing…
On to other things…
Berries are always available for breakfast. No need to ask, they are right there. You can order turkey bacon as well… I don’t eat pork so this is a once in a week treat that I look forward to. Also, there’s a special Scandinavian coffee bean that is brewed and served in one of the lounges each morning with a fabulous view.
There’s sushi every night, and pizza, and stir fry, and ice cream… on top of the ever-changing array of delicacies. Sometimes it’s nice knowing there are the simple things available too.
Books are not restricted to a library. They are everywhere. Different areas offer assorted genres, so you might be on your way to breakfast when you spot your next reading adventure!
Water is flowing… drinking water. You can help yourself at various areas to a refreshing drink… still or sparkling.
A retractable dome covers the pool area. This means that no outdoor events are weather dependent! Dancing, dining, or late night movies feel daring under the stars.
There’s a special voice box headset that you wear on tour, so that even if you get stuck in the back you know what the guide is saying! Simple. Clever.
Like most beautiful ships there’s a lot of artwork, but here you can take your own art tour and hear about each piece using your voice box headset.
There are throw blankets everywhere. Ships are cold. Blankets make it feel like home… I’ve never seen so many people happily dozing off.
HGTV! This is new… as part of the live tv stream they have my favorite channel! I can not say no to a Fixer-Upper episode… or all of them… and while I’m floating around I can plan some new additions to make to our island abode… even better. (There must be space for one more pillow… hmmm). Perfect.
Maybe this list seems a bit bizarre, most certainly I’ll have forgotten things. But off the top of my head, these are the little things that make a big difference when cruising with Viking.
The crew are amazing of course (I warned you completely biased)… but most crew are amazing, right? Definitely.
All I know is that I feel so blessed each morning I wake up to experience life onboard, and can’t wait for each upcoming adventure!
Airbnb has taken over our little island of Montserrat, and I’m completely in on it. I was skeptical at first… still am a bit… but so far so good? Our island is unique, as each place is. But we don’t have any major chain hotels. And most people come to the island and rent a villa. Now, guests to the Emerald Isle can also rent a room or an apartment.
When we renovated our home, we really didn’t plan on renting out any part of it. But once our apartment was completed we realized that it just made sense to say yes to the idea. We decorated it for our friends and family, but at the end of the day I figured it was worth a try putting it online.
For those of you who haven’t gone through the steps of signing up through airbnb, it’s very easy. Each part feels manageable… and before you know it you’ve spent several hours putting together your profile etc. Once it was all set up I started getting nervous. What if no one liked it? What if I’d just put our beautiful baby (yes, still writing about an apartment) out there and no one wanted to visit? I waited and waited and just when I’d almost forgotten I’d signed us up… ‘ping’! An alert came through, Sea Dreams Boutique Apartment had its first guest!
Now when you have friends or family come to stay, you put out nice things and make sure it’s comfortable but if they need anything they just holler and it’s fixed. But hosting a guest that you’ve never met before is much more intimidating. And on an island where you can’t be guaranteed you’ll find any basics anywhere at anytime… I was in a fluster. I wanted everything to be perfect for my baby’s first date (yes, still writing about an apartment). It took all hands on deck to ensure that everything was just so, and I almost didn’t want to hand over the keys when the time came. It was perfect.
Our first guest was perfect too! Friendly, and clean and even wrote a good review and loved the place! And that review led to more bookings… and fingers crossed long may it continue. With each booking new issues arose. Things that only arise on an island…. like the power outs and providing flashlights… or trying to arrange dinner bookings when all the restaurants are closed… or flying ants that swarm the lights. You know, island life. All the things we take for granted. But when you have guests you just want it all to go smoothly. But all of our guests took it as part of the charm of island life.
My favorite part about hosting is the money. No one ever says that, but it’s obvious isn’t it? I mean you’re not going to let strangers into your life for free? Well, unless you’re writing a blog that potential strangers could read I suppose…. hmmm… you know what I’m trying to convey. So the money. It’s not much but it’s enough to keep things running and cover costs (and have some change to buy new cushions or finish projects in the garden… I’m hoping).
My next favorite part is seeing the island through the eyes of people coming here for the first time. And being able to share with them the things I find special about this place, and hearing about their experiences. It really has made me fall in love with some aspects all over again. The friendliness of the islanders is always mentioned, and how quirky a place Montserrat is, and the hiking trails that lead you all the way up through jungle to mountains that offer views of the sea on all sides. A reminder to always appreciate what is right in front of you.
When we say we live in Montserrat, we encounter a variety of responses. The most common of these is confusion. Even the most worldly traveler can easily miss our little piece of paradise here. Some people say, ‘It’s French isn’t it?’, or ‘Isn’t that near Barcelona?’, or ‘Oh, yes… it’s Irish? The local people there have red hair don’t they?’. And all of these suppositions, are kinda sorta right. But even if I were to say, ‘Yes, at one point the island was owned briefly by the French but it’s British… and it was named Montserrat by Colombus because it means ‘serrated mountain’ in Spanish which is the same as the monastery near Barcelona, and Irish were left on the island… but no one I’ve met who’s from Montserrat looks Irish in the least.’ All of this still doesn’t answer the question of ‘Where the h*ll is Montserrat?’.
It’s in the Caribbean. It’s small (10 miles by 7 miles… and half of that is in the exclusion zone- I’ll get to that later). It’s part of the West Indies… the Lesser Antilles… Leeward islands and is a British Overseas Territory. You need to go through the island of Antigua to get to Montserrat… either via ferry or eight-seater plane. There are no traffic lights, no chain stores or chain restaurants, no large hotels. People wave at you as you drive along. The grocery store gets its vegetables in on a Wednesday… if the container gets in… this is entirely weather dependent. There are five thousand people… give or take.
Although we moved here (hubby, dogs and cat) only a few years ago, I’ve known the island for much longer. I first came here as a child in the 80s and even went to school here. So Montserrat is part of my story. A vibrant, lively place. I remember it before. Here, on Montserrat, there’s a before and after.
In 1995 the Soufriere Volcano became active. Some people lost their lives, and half of the island was slowly covered in ash… including the historical town of Plymouth. For the next ten years it felt as though Montserrat may be lost forever. I was here, but only as a visitor for a few months at a time. The hearts of Montserratians are strong and proud, and even though they may have been forced from their homes and blanketed with grey ash… they persevered. Some people refused to leave. Some had to. Some have returned.
During the volcanic activity, I was on the edge of it only. And even that was enough… enough to feel the frustration. When the ash fell, the world turned dark. The Caribbean air still hot, the powdery substance crept through any opening to make all surfaces dusty… it cloyed at each breath.
In 2016 I came back here. Each day, each week, month, year that the volcano is quiet… we are all grateful. And we feel so blessed to be a part of this community. This little island that refused to give up. Each person a survivor.
And now the possibilities seem endless. The island, always a wonderfully welcoming place, is entirely its own. A step back in time. Eco-tourism is slowly happening. The reef here is unique as a result of the volcano, so too the trails, and day trips into the ‘buried city’. But the thing that really sets Montserrat apart from the rest of the Caribbean is the people who reside here. The people here have the time.
Getting to and from the island can feel a bit daring. Bad weather can set a flight back hours or days. Due to the nature of working on a ship, my hubby and I often travel quite frequently, so the trip to Montserrat is not always easy. I was idly complaining about this one day to a local man. His response was perfect, “It’s not easy to get to heaven… but when you make it… why leave!”.
That’s Montserrat. Come and stay, we have the time.