I ferried from Pointe-a-Pitre with L’Express des Iles, the most organized public infrastructure for transportation I’ve seen in the Caribbean. The boats are brand new, always on time, and run often enough for it to be practical for both tourists and locals. It connects Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique and St. Lucia a few times a week in each direction, and a one way costs little less than a return ticket, and a one way costs the same if you’re going to the next island or the last island. It seems logical that you could scam this into cheaper travel if you plan things right, but paying 70 euros each ride always added up to too expensive – even more than flying with LIAT.
LIAT is another convenient but expensive means of travel. “Leeward Islands Air Transportation” connects all the islands from Anguilla to Barbados, and further down to Trinidad and Guyana, but isn’t exactly the most organized company. The LIAT acronym is also interpreted as “Leave Island Any Time,” or “Lost in Airport Terminal” and “Left in Any Terminal” for their notorious mishandling of luggage. The planes leave 40 minutes or early or 1 hour late, with no accurate updates given by any of the misinformed staff. Sometimes the pilot doesn’t show up, or no one is working to check you in, and I even tried to check in for one flight that a LIAT employee insisted didn’t exist (she eventually found the right flight number to print my boarding pass).
There was a strange secrecy or exclusiveness with ferry travel that I didn’t quite figure out. The two French Islands Guadaloupe and Martinique are separated by Dominica, an independent, poorer Island, just like St. Lucia further south. The French nationals traveling with EU passports were normally searched and questioned about smuggling in cigarettes but little else, while the Dominican and Lucian passengers were barely allowed to buy tickets to France without showing hotel confirmations, contact numbers of the people they were visiting, a reason why they were going, more than 25 euros per day they would be there, and an emergency contact number if anything should happen to them. It was like crossing the Mediterranean from an uncivilized Africa to the pristine palaces of Gibraltar, when in reality the islands are right beside eachother sharing similar culture, history and people.
Yet, you still felt different in Guadaloupe, as though you were in mini-France, with its paved highways and overpasses, traffic lights and round abouts, shiny little Citroen cars and scooters; the people – fair, their clothes – branded, their French – Parisian. In Dominica, the roads are unpainted and undivided, the intersections simply yield to oncoming traffic from the main road, the beat up cars magically keep on running, and the rastahs outnumber the expats, speaking creole and Patois I rarely understand.
Still, life goes on the same way, hot and slowly, day by day, but I had left the air-conditioned apartment of Francois for the coackroach/ant/mosquito friendly apartment of Ordovich. He lived in Picard, a mini-America south of Portsmouth. Hundreds of medical students attend Ross University there, and do little more than see the small confines of that village. Ordovich was different, not cursed by the solidary life of perpetual study, traveling around Dominica more than most. He took me horse back riding in some wicked cowboy boots, and told me about Secret Beach, a spit of sand reached only by boat. He hadn’t been to the neighbouring islands
yet, but was planning a trip to Ireland. He was often like this, a surprising left-fielder. He liked to blare Rachmaninoff symphonies, and played the Accordion and piano in a mixed style of blues, western, classical and almost klezmer that could perfectly narrate a black and white film. He was an amazing artist, with a similar, cartoony drawing style that blended 18th century romanticism, Moulin Rouge and Pirates of the Caribbean scenes that looked like they were drawn on dirty, antique paper. He drank coffee from wine glasses and only wrote in cursive.
People that I tried to describe him to said he reminded
them of John Lennon in the 1970s’, or an American lad from New Orleans that dreamed to be French in the early 1800’s. He went by the aliases Black River Bandit and White Devil, was superstitious, read cards, and had a dirty mouth that always smiled when he spoke. He wore a hat over his curly hair, held his skinny jeans up with suspenders, smoked a pipe, and went nowhere without his leather, scholarly bag. That was his only academic fashion, being a med student, and the rest of him an explosion of old and fringe societies.