About a hundred dog-years ago I visited Sint Maarten, the Dutch half of Saint Martin of the now-dissolved Nederland Antilles. Another couple had attached themselves to me. Unfortunately they were condescending, complaining, and often rude. Fed up, I ventured off on my own. Deeply provoked I dared leave their august company, they shouted after me, “You’ll get yourself killed!”
St. Martin hadn’t yet experienced the gargantuan resorts, the huge hotels, the star-rated restaurants. Its infrastructure consisted of single lane dirt roads meandering among pastures and groves. I loved it.
I came upon a goatling caught in a fence. As I knelt to untangle it, a young girl on a bicycle and then a man and woman stopped to watch. I lifted the goat free and set it over the fence.
“Come,” they said. “Come to our house. Would you like juice, tea?”
Their walls were constructed of foot-thick adobe. They explained its hard-packed ‘mud’, so to speak, kept the interior cool. The front door was a curtain. Except for tourists, the island experienced virtually no crime, so no need for locks. Their kindness dissuaded me from murdering that horribly unlikable couple.
After reading David’s and Eve’s recent articles about traveling, I told my friend Darlene I always knew I wanted to travel although I didn’t know how I’d pull it off. Fortunately consulting provided the ways and means.
David’s love song to Paris reminded me of my much later visit to the city, one that RT Lawton also knows well. It’s a city of light and delight, but some people…
In Paris you can send out for cous-cous just like you order pizza. Cous-cous, made from bulgar wheat– the same ingredient in pasta– has a vaguely rice-like texture. Like rice, you top it by selecting a variety of vegetables, meats, and sauces.
“Don’t order in,” I said. “Let’s go out. Let’s visit the restaurant.”
My French friend Micheline agreed, but my colleague James reacted in horror. “You can’t!” he said. "Not at night! Algerians roam the streets and, and Moroccans, and, and Iranians! I read about these foreign hooligans in a magazine.” (The tabloid News of the World, published by Rupert Murdoch.) He finished with, “You’ll get yourself killed!”
He didn’t like cous-cous either, so Micheline and I left him to his own devices as we enjoyed dinner.
Darlene laughed. “I get the feeling those aren’t isolated incidents.”
So in Barbados– I love Barbados– my shoe ruptured like a flattened tire. Barbados is 2800 kilometers from Orlando, 1500 nautical miles, maybe 1750 land miles. I needed options. Bridgetown houses a basket market and gimmicks and gadgets for tourists, but not a repair shop, not for tourists. A few questionings later, I learned of a local cobbler.
“I’ll send a bellboy,” said the hotel concierge. “Don’t try it yourself,”
“Well, it’s off the beaten path.”
A hanger-on, Miss Transparent Swimsuit, interrupted. Days earlier, Miss TS discovered her white swimsuit turned invisible when wet. The beach bars and about half the island became aware of this fact when she waded from the water like Venus on her seashell. No one looked until she shrieked, flapped her hands, jumped voluptuously up and down, a fascinating study in the physics of motion dynamics. Subsequently, she decided none of the hotel shop’s bathing costumes quite fit. She continued to bathe in the bay. As other women rolled their eyes, she’d emerge and suddenly rediscover the optics of her wet swimsuit hadn’t changed, thus the name, Miss Transparent Swimsuit. Anyway, she interrupted the concierge.
“Is it dangerous? Finding the shoe guy?”
“Don’t go,” she said firmly, leaning very close. “You’ll get yourself killed.”
If my girlfriend caught another woman’s hand resting on my upper thigh, I could certainly get myself killed. There’s danger and then there’s DANGER.
From the basket market, I left the pavement and strolled up a shady street. Women in their tiny gardens gave me a curious glance. A dog on a doorstep kept an eye on me.
I found the repairman without difficulty. The front of his house extended to shelter his workspace. No need for a signboard when your activity advertised your business.
He looked over my ripped shoe. “Did you bring the other?” he asked.
I had. He studied it.
“Come back in two hours,” he said.
I cut over to another street to see more of the village. After lunch, to the clucks and head-shaking of Miss Transparent Swimsuit and the hotel staff, I revisited the shoe man with my girlfriend.
Not only had the repairman resoled my broken shoe, he’d resoled the other as well.
“Only a matter of time,” he said, “no extra charge. Is two dollars too much?”
I squatted down eye level where he sat.
I said, “I’m not rich, but at home, I would pay much more. I don’t want to offend you, but would you allow me to pay at least a portion I would pay at home?”
He nodded and we shook hands. My girlfriend, a teacher, asked about schools and he directed us to one where we visited a classroom. We felt welcomed.
Miss Transparent Swimsuit represented the only peril. I knew how not to get myself killed.
We North Americans fear the unfamiliar. That’s the main reason I despise the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island.
Darlene said, “Why is that? Don’t they provide hundreds of jobs?”
“Thousands, they claim.”
In the days before the Atlantis, tourists walked the streets of Bridgetown, dining on vegetables or meats wrapped in banana leaves. From little shops you could buy seafood, seashells, deep sea gear, and sea inspired art. Now, instead of the Welcome to Nassau signage, they might as well erect “Dare to visit” signs.
Now, the moment a plane lands or a cruise ship anchors off Nassau, water taxis rush in. Before precious DKNYs touch native soil, the shuttles snatch up travelers with money falling from their pockets and rush them to Paradise Island for surgical removal.
Money and investment have made it possible to visit the Bahamas without actually visiting the Bahamas. Head into town on your own, and cruise directors shout, “You’ll get yourself killed.”
Once upon a time in the Caribbean, locals rode colorful jitneys. I learned about them from my grandmother, these decorated minibus coaches done up with rhinestones and mirrors, carvings and colors, perhaps a boombox and more tassels than a Baha Mar topless floor show.
On a trip, one of my traveling companions demanded steak for dinner. Imagine, we’re surrounded by the ocean’s bountiful, beautiful seafood, and one landlubber insists on dead cow flown in from far-away freakin’ Florida.
“Fine,” I said. “We’re taking the jitney.”
Jaws dropped. “You… You can’t do that. Only the dark…” our waitress rolled her eyes, “er, locals after dark, I mean, by natives, see. Tourists can’t ride them.”
“Go ahead, say it,” I said. “You’ll get yourself killed.”
Our waitress, with more aplomb than a table full of half inebriated tourists, explained anyone can pay 50¢ and can go anywhere without getting killed.
The steak turned out… not so good.
Speaking of steak… (I’ll get there eventually), I found myself in La Guaira, Venezuela, the seaport serving Caracas. Tourists boarded buses into the city, but I heard about the teleférico, a cable car that soared over the mountain into the capital. Tourists frowned at me.
“How do I find it?” I asked.
“Motor coach or taxi,” said the man hawking a tour bus.
A Hispanic woman quietly said, “Take the autobus. It better.”
The gringos rolled their eyes, fully expecting to see my body in the news.
On board, bus passengers smiled. I took an empty seat near the woman who first advised me. After a few minutes driving, someone double-clapped their hands. The bus stopped and let the passenger off.
We drove again. Another passenger double-clapped and more people disembarked.
The woman who suggested the bus pointed to the pull cable, normally used to signal the driver.
“Vandals thought it clever to cut the cables. Now we clap. It works.”
At the teleférico station, we climbed aboard.
The car lifted off. We rose into the sky.
The jungle below unfolded in beauty. We sailed over tropical forest and waterfalls.
Eventually the car pulled to a platform and stopped. Confused, I looked around, seeing only mists and jungle. The woman nudged me.
“Only first third of trip,” she said. “Here comes another car to take you to the peak. At the summit, take another car down into the city.”
Part two of the aerial adventure proved more beautiful than the first. The jungle below has since been designated El Ávila National Park.
From a natural beauty standpoint, the descent into Caracas proved anticlimactic. I ambled through the city. At a lunch counter, I ate damn good beefsteak that would make a gaucho proud.
A woman in a post card stall complained. “Stupid city. Yesterday I rode that tram car all the way to the top. Such a waste, all fog and stupid clouds. Why can’t they do something about that?”
“You’re lucky,” I said knowingly. “You could have got yourself killed.”
“Really?” Her face lit up. “I didn’t know that, and here I am, all safe and sound. Wait until I tell Myra.”
I live to please.
When I announced plans to visit Iceland, friends advised the usual. “It’s frickin’ Iceland. What part of ‘ice’ don’t you understand? You’ll get yourself killed. Hey, it could happen.”
Joined by a French journalist, we landed in Keflavik (now Reykjanesbær) hours ahead of the worst blizzard in recorded history. Far-away friends surely believed I’d done it this time.
If Icelanders know anything, it’s ice, cold, and snow. Coming from Minnesota, I’d worn my insulated boots and goose-down parka, so the century’s worst blizzard wasn’t particularly distressing for me. The worst deprivation was having to live on German wines and caviar, considerably cheaper than hamburger. Seafood… Did I mention I love fish? Worst hazard: I risked overeating.
Folks, we’re not talking about wandering through Iraq, Sudan, or Yemen in search of ISIS Daesh. As far as I can tell, Americans believe the rest of the world lurks in dark alleys, waiting for tourists where tourists never go… or something like that.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was once held at knifepoint and another time at gunpoint. That threat happened in… the United States of America. The latter incident occurred here in Orlando. That's a story already told.
Perhaps the saddest incident began after delivering my car to a dealership for servicing. The shop provided a minibus to pick up customers and deliver them to and from. I received the call to pick up my car right at 5pm. Orlando’s Lee Road is no joy during rush hour, but that day an accident on Interstate-4 choked the six-lane thoroughfare.
As the expected ten-minute drive stretched toward infinity, the shuttle driver announced he’d have to pull over and park for the next two hours. He might not be able to deliver us before the shop closed.
“Nonsense,” I said. “Take Kennedy Boulevard.”
A man on the bus said, “Doesn’t that run through Eatonville?”
The sole woman on the bus blanched.
The town of Eatonville, home of famed author Zora Neale Hurston, bills itself as America’s oldest black community. It’s a pretty little town if you’re not fearful of getting yourself killed.
The driver said, “You know the way?”
The woman started to say, “You’ll get us all k-k-k-…”
“If you know the roads,” said the driver. “Let’s do it.”
The lady flew into action, mobilizing other passengers. “The windows, raise all the windows. Driver, lock the door. And you, don’t you dare roll your eyes.”
With the help of the other three guys, the lady battened down the hatches. They seemed as much excited as fearful, daring to adventure into deepest African-America.
The driver followed Edgewater Drive to Kennedy and swung right. We passed barbecue and crab restaurants, a clinic, stores, and a repair shop. Above us at the I-4 overpass, sirens whooped as ambulances, police, tow-trucks, and fire engines struggled through traffic.
As we entered Eatonville’s town center, our passengers stared in awe, apparently surprised we weren’t assailed by by crack-pushin’ gang-bangers waving Glock 9 knockoffs. Traffic came to a standstill from commuters who’d thought of the same escape route.
“Turn right,” I said.
“No!” said the woman. “Where are you taking us?”
“This side street and a left will bring us out right at the dealership.”
After double-checking the windows, the lady– I swear this is true– pressed her face against the glass to see what might be seen. Possibly she expected rap artists gunning down one another on the back alleys. To the surprise of many, we made it without a single Mad Max style takedown.
That evening at the dinner table, I’m convinced fellow travellers told trembling tales of the idiot risk-taker who directed them through darkest Eatonville.
“That fool! That crazy fool. He almost got ourselves killed!”
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