Louise was a sour faced lady with boy cut hair and a kind heart she was too afraid to show. She was a short, frail, older white woman freckled and bronzed by the sailing and yachting she did regularly with her British Husband. She didn’t smile or laugh, a little awkward with eye contact, but her curiosity about me still poked through. She asked me questions, disinterestedly, and made few references about herself or her own life. She was uncomfortable when I sat beside her on the plane, which wouldn’t have struck me as unusual except that the plane had 50 other empty seats I could have chosen to spare her the act of friendliness. When we landed, she casually offered to drive me to my couchsurfers place, despite it being completely out of her way on the other side of the island.
She dropped me off at Springhill Riding Center, a stable I would couchsurf for the next 5 nights with a Polish woman named Julia. She was beautiful, with orange hair as wavy as birthday ribbons falling all the way to her belt. Her bright blue eyes matched the turquoise Caribbean water she often took her horses swimming in, and her big perfect smile lit up her whole face everytime she talked about something beautiful. She thought everything was beautiful – the horses, the flowers, the trees, the fruits, the beach, the sea, the harbor, the boats, the cliffs, the trails, the roads…
She seemed to be 25 at heart, but the few wrinkles in her face gave her away for older, and only
her weathered hands had aged to the 38 years she really was. Her hands were rough from a life-time of horse handling. Her English was good, her German, apparently better, and Danish and Spanish lingered somewhere too. She had decided to travel the world for horses, working in Poland, Germany, Denmark and now Antigua schooling horses and training riders.
We took the horses swimming one day, and the next 4 days I was given the duty of taking one lame horse for his daily swim. By the end
of the week, I took him on a trail ride and he had stopped limping all together. I took another horse riding named Joy, who was so much bigger than the Icelandic horses Ive grown accustomed to. I couldn’t even see over her back when I stood beside her, and her every step in any gait seemed like an exaggerated, slow-motion heave.
It was hard to leave the stable, but I wanted to explore more of the island. With Julia, we went out a few times to dance, meet other couchsurfers, and took the scenic drive along Old Fig tree road, where endless banana plantations and pinapple fields grow along the windy road along the coast. I went to one of her belly dance practices, where her and some other ex-pats jingled around in colourful, sequined bras and coin belts. Another dancer friend of hers invited us to their burlesque-show practice, where 5 middle-aged women sexily danced around in flirtatious Moulin Rouge attire.
We met another friend of hers named Pep, a retired astrophysicist who is also a UC Berkeley Alumni. He had plenty to talk about, full of incredible stories, and in his old age had become a
single guy with an eye for younger women. He also had the heart of a 25 year old, and, I believe, was in love with Julia. He lived in a house on the hill overlooking Falmouth Harbour, and rented out his rooms to young boaters to have some lively roommates and company to mingle with. He asked me questions about my life in Berkeley, when I would go back, and I mentioned my (failed) attempt at a serious relationship there that would have otherwise still kept me in Berkeley. Then he really started to psycho-analyze me, and wanted to know why that guy didn’t knock me over the head and drag me into the cave then and there since Pep started to worry that I may now become the kind of girl who never settles down.
I tried and failed to make it to either Barbuda or Montserrat, since the one and only Barbuda ferry had lost its engine just 3 days earlier, and the Montserrat boat only traveled on Mondays, even though Wednesday and Thursday were advertised on their website. Instead I got to walk around St. John’s, lost in the midst of 2000 cruise ship passengers window shopping for overpriced jewelry and underpriced liquor and tobacco.
I stopped at a bakery to buy lunch and all they had was bread or buns, with ham or cheese. Still it took the baker 5 minutes to handle each customer, so I waited for a while to get served. The guy behind me in line was in pilot uniform, badged Liat, on and off the phone constantly to try and get out of flight duty. By the time I got served, he snuck up behind me and pretended to be with me, ordered the same thing I did, and paid for both our lunches. Then he got a call to say he didn’t have to fly, and offered to show me around on his afternoon off.
Simbo was Dominican, half-black, half-white, with the accent and build of an islander, but the skin and blue eyes of a westerner. He took me to the helicopter pad offering tours of Montserrat where a pilot friend of his worked. The island is a huge volcano, that blew up something fierce in 2007. I was tempted to take the $240US tour but for 45 mins of flying around a volcano and not even landing on the island to explore it seemed like a waste… especially since Pilots in uniform get to fly free and I could have just stopped at a costume shop to match Simbo. Instead he showed me Dickinson beach, where you cant walk 5 metres without being sold something – coconuts, massages, beach chairs, earrings, jet-skis, braids, or dread locks.
I spent a day exploring English Harbour and Nelson Dock, where all the super yachts and privately owned sail boat mansions float around, looking shiny and unused. It also creates a huge sailor culture, of young crew from all over the world living and working on these boats for the owners who only use them a few times a year. I considered taking a stewardess job for 2000 euros for month (food and rent included), but the boat was going north and I was headed south.