The weather isn’t always gloriously balmy here in the Caribbean. In fact, from May through October we’re often on ‘hurricane watch’. I’ve seen hurricanes come and go in the past, but the feeling of danger… More
When my husband used to spend hours in the hardware store in New Zealand, I would get frustrated. I’d try to meander casually over to the gardening section, as this was the least ‘hardware-like’ area of the store. And if this didn’t work I would tell him to meet me in a clothes store at a certain time. This one always brought him out of his daze, but unfortunately he’d be clever enough to wait outside the clothing store at said time… knowing that if he came in then he would be subjected to my thoughts on which dress might look better ‘if one needed a dress’. (Which I never actually did… but like every woman… I definitely wanted it!).
So, the hardware store was not something I was unfamiliar with. Even before my training with my husband, my father had left me stranded in many a power tool, or nuts and bolts aisle. Ugh.
But now… living on an island… I miss those days. How was I to know that it could become even more frustrating? How could it be possible? But, oh, it is!
There are five such stores on our small island, spread across a relatively close geographical area… but each requiring a certain skill-set to park. And each about one thousandth of the size of a chain store found in NZ. And here, you always need something that you’ll think you’ll never need in your whole life. It could be very simple… let’s say a 2 inch pvc pipe for the pool you’re trying to fix in your villa.
Let me set the scene… You’ve hired a skilled and creative man… a jack of all trades. And all he needs to complete the job (that’s obviously taken much longer than originally intended… especially since you want to get into said pool as it’s the middle of a Caribbean summer (and yes, I know how spoiled I sound and how lucky we are… but wait you’ll be laughing at me soon enough)) is a pipe. He asks, in a very casual and friendly manner if you can go pick one up for him. He’s busy, of course you can go. Easy.
So, you start at the top of the hill, the first store on the list. You go in… yes, we have it… and you buy it! And then you go downstairs to get it… but they didn’t have it. The inventory said they did, sorry! Now you need to go back upstairs and get a refund. Okay…that was forty minutes. No big deal. You go to the next store… this is promising. There are a lot of plumbing-like things here. Surely, they have a pipe. No, they don’t… but they are sure that the next store does. (if this is beginning to sound like the billy-goats gruff… then you’re getting the idea). The next store does not have the pipe. But, they do have a nice pendant light that’s meant for outdoors, but would definitely work inside the closet? Score! Yay! You pay for it, check the box…. It’s the wrong colour? No problem, they say, let us find the black colour for you. There are none in stock… can you come back later… we’ll have to get the floor model down for you. Okay….
This merry dance continues, us looking for pvc pipe. My becoming more familiar with it than I ever intended… when I finally find some I now need to know it’s width, length… and then there’s a certain strength capacity? What has happened to my life? I just want to swim in a pool!
There’s nothing. Nothing on the whole island! How can it be? Our talented worker back at the house will disappear without this pipe! And if he does, he may never come back. And then who will fix the pool, and how can it be painted, and filled? Images of my floating along on a leilo, pineapple drink in hand… fade like a mirage.
The next morning I’m having coffee and start discussing my plight with a group of friends, and someone… miracle of miracles… has the right sized pipe! He not only gifts it to us, but brings it over to the house. I lug it across the floor and proudly present it to our skilled worker, who is covered in concrete dust at the bottom of the pool.
‘Here!’ I say triumphantly, holding the fifteen-foot pipe aloft like a thing possessed.
‘What’s that?’ He asks, wiping his brow in curiosity.
‘The pipe!’ I pronounce with glee, ‘The one you needed! We found it!’
‘I already have one.’ He says and returns industriously to his work. Moving on, forgetting all that we’ve been through. The odyssey of the last week!
I stand there close to tears… and then another emotion starts surging within me…something akin to frustration…
My husband by my side, speaks in a low and calming tone, ‘Drop the pipe’, he cautions… and of course I do.
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.
I have worked on various cruise ships over the past fifteen years, and I’ve also had the opportunity to be a guest onboard. I have seen some companies drift away from the ‘old-fashioned’ idea of cruising, with mixed results. In our world, there’s obviously something for everyone, and I completely understand that some people don’t want to get all dolled up to be able to enjoy their steak tartar BUT, I am not one of those people. (Just for the record I haven’t actually eaten beef in about twenty years… I probably should have said caviar?).
Here’s what I LOVE about cruising. I’m all about the pampering, even if I don’t want it. After all, where else… other than a cruise… would you be offered a cool towel to soothe your brow? This alone makes me want to cruise. And this can happen any time… maybe while lounging by the pool on some ships, or particularly when returning from a potentially harrowing inclusive tour of some exotic location…. where the temperature in the leafy jungle didn’t quite match your expectations. A moist towel, will solve this pronto.
My next point, can be done in combination with the above… champagne! Oh, how I love it! And on the ship (those luxury liners do it best, as it’s included all the time), it’s not just reserved for a special evening occasion or a speech (although these happen all the time too!), it’s a mimosa in the morning, some bubbly in the afternoon, pre-dinner drink, after dinner tipple! It is always flowing. And even if you don’t like the taste of champagne, it’s the sound of the popping cork that excites you, the effervescence that tickles your tongue, the flute it rests in… oh what a glorious thing onboard. But I will stop… because I think I’m sounding like a drinker, and I’m honestly not. I just think the ceremony of it, is a wonderful thing.
Canapes. Food in general is why a lot of people cruise. I like the Old School idea, that you nibble on something while continuing conversation. Fantastic. Wouldn’t it be great if this happened everywhere? Not just onboard? You could be waiting for your kids to finish sports, and a waiter would pop up with crudites? Or your school meeting ran late, and a tray of puff-pastried delicacies arrives? On a ship, this is what it’s like. The moment you think of food, it’s there. And if you don’t like it… no worries. Other options will shortly follow, and they won’t involve a trip to the Four Square (this is a NZ supermarket chain… I can’t think of one that would be universal? But you get the idea I hope).
Entertainment is a part of the daily schedule! I know!? This is an actual fact. In your every day life, how often is something other than tv or some internet thingy planned for? An actual social entertainment event. Cruise Directors plan and plot to make the cruise a memorable experience. But it’s not just the entertainment department, the WHOLE ship works together to bring it alive. And that’s just the thing, you feel alive onboard. Even if you’re not dancing, you hear the music and you tap those toes (whether you like it or not).
Plush, padded, curved in all the right places… I’m not talking about bras… I’m talking about seating! There are nice places to sit everywhere. The moment you feel a little wobbly on those stilettos? Fret not, a space for your caboose will be close-by. And these seats, are grouped and clustered. So, no matter where you sit… there will be space to meet new friends. Which leads me to my next point…
People. Onboard there are some special types of people that is most certain. You will be guaranteed to meet someone with whom you meet minds. And the art of conversation is prospering on ships! Each guest walks up the gangway, with their own excitement for what will come next. Filled with their own story. The crew, as well, share in this. Some of us have never been to the ports and places we will go. And each cruise (no matter how repetitive the itinerary) is new for all of us. NEVER again will this mix of people be in the exact time and space in this way. And we, we cruisers know this, and enjoy every second. Nowhere else can you have this feeling of being a part of some great adventure like this, rough seas or calm.
As Social Hostess, I learned a little saying that I would use to ‘cheers’ everyone during dinners. It goes like this: ‘There are big ships, and there are small ships, but there’s nothing better than friendships. Here’s to friendships!’.
Ship people, WE make friends for life.
When my hubby and I can’t work together it’s tricky. Right now he’s sailing around Asia for another month without me, and all I can do is think about when we visited some of the same ports together. Although he’s far away, we are so lucky that we can message one another and email. The company he works for provides free wifi for the crew! Major bonus! The other day the ship was cruising through Ha Long Bay, which I haven’t visited yet. And more than anything I wish I was there, but I must keep busy, and there’s a lot to do. What do I do when I’m not working… It got me thinking… what do you do when your husband’s in Asia?
Top Ten things to do when your husband’s in Asia (or anywhere that’s millions of miles away):
- Write a blog– this is invariably time consuming, and makes it appear that I’m busy… which I am, because I’m writing a blog.
- Clean– I wish this was further down on the list. And in reality it might be. But for the sake of my husband who might read this while working his *** off … Cleaning is on my list 😉
- Plan a trip– What better way to start counting down the days, than to plan a trip of my own. Well, a trip with my wage-earning husband. A trip that will blow his socks off! A trip that will place us in the same time zone together at the very least. Perfect.
- Write a novel– During the last seven months, I’ve written two novels… no, you can’t find them any where… but that won’t put me off writing another. After all, have I told any one lately that I have an agent! (still so excited I can’t type fast enough to convey it!)!
- Do Social Media!– I have been told by my agent- the amazing Ann Leslie Tuttle at Dystel Goderich & Bourret- that I need to step up my social media presence. So now I’m tweeting, and gramming, and blogging and facebooking my little heart out. (I do get severely side-tracked with this one- much like the Pixar dog in the movie ‘Up’- “squirrel!”.)
- Make things pretty– I can buy a lot of scatter pillows/cushions and then I can move those cushions. (Don’t ask how many times… )
- Job hunt– Maybe not ‘hunting’, I’m more of a ‘job watcher’? Like a bird-watcher. I admire the ideas of different jobs, and try to think about what I could do if I lived somewhere else or committed myself to even MORE schooling. I have been an actress, a waitress, a kennel-worker, an early-childhood teacher, a drama teacher, a small business owner, a primary school teacher, a social hostess, and assistant cruise director, and entertainment staff member, a shop assistant, an events manager, a receptionist, and a box-office staff…. to name a few…. but clearly I’m still looking?
- House hunt– Along the lines of the above ‘hunting’. I like finding houses and researching them, deciding they’re a great buy… and then waiting until someone else buys them. Then I say to myself ‘I told you so, that was a great buy’. It’s a bit of an obsession to hit the same agencies day after day. One day I dream of going to these places that I’ve researched, so if you see a blonde with a notebook peering around your road… it could be me.
- Research– This is ‘real’ research for the books that I’m writing, but I do get easily side-tracked and end up thinking about my character’s house and occupation much more than probably necessary due to points 7 & 8.
- Pine– I mainly miss my husband very much. And when my day isn’t full, I think a lot about his return and what he’s doing far far away from me.
- Clean– (I added this again, because my husband reads this blog… and it needs reiterating.).
We did it… I think. We started work on creating a boutique space in Montserrat that could be marketed on airbnb.
All the things you see on the house flipping shows didn’t quite work here in our lovely corner of the world. They say that the two things you need to be successful are a budget and a timeline… we had neither. Well, we tried to have them. As you know, if you’ve ever watched any of those shows… things always run over on the budget and the time. Here on the island if you’re missing something though, you can’t just run down to the store and pick it up. It needs to be ordered and then the wait begins. Also, we had things like hurricanes and holidays
to slow us down.
BUT we did have wonderful craftsmen on island and tenacity. Also the property manager is basically a saint. So all these details combined to make it work.
Choosing items online, up-cycling (furniture stays on this island longer than anywhere else I’ve ever been), and utilizing the skills of the talented carpenters and tilers has helped us to create a calming, coastal space.
We can’t wait to share our piece of paradise with the other dreamers out there! Take a peek, and come visit us!