The ugly traveler learns about the people of St. Lucia who end up at a quiet resort.
At our sleepy resort the people mostly keep to themselves. We have short conversations with this person and that at the bar, but we don’t run into people who invite us to sit with them. Groups come and go, attached to each other and a wedding they are attending. I watch little ceremonies from my patio in the afternoons. The cast of characters changes frequently, and the only common denominator is age. Most everyone is many years past retirement.
We have minor conversations about where someone is from or what they do for a living. People ask us if the seat next to us is taken. The smallest of small talk. Overheard conversations.
On the shuttle bus an ancient Southern couple enters slowly and with lots of commotion. Farm noises, shouted complaints, and prayers to god are required to move a leg one step. Getting up the stairs requires arms, legs, the knee of a stranger, a head bent forward. They have just escaped Sherman’s burning of Atlanta. The woman is sitting in a chair with a wheel well beneath it. She is four foot tall at best, but must move to get more room. With quite an effort–both in muscle quivering and vocal grunting–she gets up. If I were to close my eyes, I would have guessed I was sitting directly in front of an Olympic deadlift competition. She makes her way to the seat behind me. To wedge herself into the seat, she must move back and forth several times. Directly sitting down would drive her spine straight through the top of her skull.
“Lord have mercy,” she says with some more grunting. Then “upon us.”
I mumble “amen.”
She looks out the window at the ocean. “That boat is as old as Methuselah.” She makes her husband change seats as well for reasons unknown even to him. At that point she commissions herself tour guide of the obvious. “That’s an interesting building.” “That’s a nice harbor.” “Oh, a pizza shop.” “I wonder if that Home Depot is the same as ours.” “OOOh. Coconuts. OOOH.”
She distracts me, though, from my burned skin, upset stomach, swollen feet, and minor exhaustion, so I’m happy overall. And as the shuttle stops, they disappear, never to be seen by us again. I wonder if there is an underground resort below ours where these people are kept.
Perhaps the most conversations we have are with three old men who always drink beer. Always. They bask in the sun. Their wives visit them every so often and exchange stories of what “the girls” and “the boys” have been doing. Dinners are planned. The ringleader of the group tells us he is from Germany and lives in England. The six of them spend a month at this resort every year.
“Why here?” I ask.
“It’s so peaceful,” he says. I cannot argue with that. He explains his day. At 5:30 he exercises on the beach. “It’s the perfect time of day. Ever do Tai Chi?”
I wish I could wake up at 5:30 to watch him do Tai Chi.
“We all exercise in the morning, except Sammy,” he says and pats his friend on his red belly. They both laugh, and Sammy goes back to drinking his beer. All of them have hard round bellies. No flab whatsoever. I am in awe of these perfectly hard guts.
After exercise, they eat and relax. Bedtime is 8ish, depending on where they eat dinner, but his wife reads in bed. She doesn’t need sleep. All of the wives resemble George’s mother on Seinfeld. We like them and exchange greetings with them. My line that I greet them with is something I should be ashamed of: “Hey, where’s your beer?” Every time I say it, the person holds up a beer and smiles.
On perhaps a related note, L decides that 50 percent of all people
at the resort walk with their palms facing backward.
That should go on the brochure.
We have more substantial conversation with people working there–those not selling something or pretending to serve food or drinks. I ask one housekeeper Agnes she would travel if she could. “If I had the money. . .” she says twice and in the tone of “If I ever get younger. . . “ There was no hope behind her desire. “Maybe the United States. I would like to see that.” I say something stupid like, “well, feel free to drop by the house if you do” to distance myself from her sadness.
She comes each day to provide a service that we don’t desire–pulling our bed covers down. SInce we discover that she also checks the stock of the refrigerator and bar, though, we don’t complain too much. When she is prompted to talk, she stops what she is doing and talks. She carries herself very well and has no qualms about telling the truth–stories of the lazy workers or the thieves, the messy guests or her unfulfilled dreams.
“I have three cousins who live in Canada now.”
“Don’t they miss the weather here?”
“They went to school and have good jobs,” she says.
We also talk to a couple, Imam and Colette, who sell various wares from a stand on the beach. They are patient with us during the week when we tell them repeatedly “not today–before we leave.” They tell us about their family and about their crafts.
Their genuine friendliness attracts us with the same force we are repelled by all of the other salesmen. Perhaps the only other friendly and patient vendor we met was the persistent drug dealer who always greeted us with “Hey friend. Ready now?” He walked the beach during the day. In the evenings, he would appear from the shadows or behind the DJ. His hard work and perpetual optimism were commendable. No way, though, I was buying something from him, even if I did like drugs. The additional costs associated with all-inclusive were already piling up. I didn’t need to know what it cost to get out of jail.
We made good on our promise to Imam and Colette, though, and before we leave we overpay willingly for some bracelets. As seems to be the custom, they say thank you for “supporting our family” when we pay A level of pity is involved with every sales pitch.
Then we go to the wood carving guy, their friend who has a neighboring stand. He works his art with shoe polish. Beautiful, really. He tells us about the “creepers” who work at the resort and spy on couples. He says the undercover police are always walking around checking licenses to sell. “We can’t go off the beach,” he explains. “We can only go to the edge there. The people walking around with a few items only don’t have licences.” He says that with a high degree of disgust. As we talk to him, the high waves lap at his paintings. One is almost washed away. He is not fazed.
We ask him about the St. Lucian Independence and the upcoming celebration. He won’t be taking the day off to celebrate. “I’m not really into the independence,” he says. We have heard this from others.
He explains to us how it is unfair that he was born before Independence but can’t get his British passport back. Now he needs a Visa to go to the U.S, Canada, or England, and they are almost impossible to get. “They gave us Independence because they couldn’t afford to keep us. We got nothing. We got a new citizenship that isn’t worth the old citizenship. The British seem like they are generous giving us our own country back–ha–but they really just left us with the bills. It is like kicking an eight-year-old out of the house and into the street and saying you gave him independence.”
I suppose it is one thing to fight for independence and get it and quite another to have it thrust upon you by someone who no longer has the resolve or money to rule. England gave up St. Lucia in the manner that Best Buy might close some of its weaker producing stores.
I picture unemployed Best Buy employees roaming the streets with machetes.
In the end, we have each other, L and I, and we enjoy each other’s company. We’ll be content to people watch here, a live TV sort of situation, and chat with fellow humans when we return home.