Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Old Year’s Night in Bequia

Well the day of New Years Eve (or old year’s night) was spent pretty virtuously. I took my land lord and lady’s 7 year old son to the beach, shell collecting. He has always had his eye on my shell collection, which is scattered across my porch, he even told me that he comes to look at it sometimes when I am not here. So, after a bit of gentle encouragement from him, I promised to take him to gather his own,

A you can imagine, the sight of me wandering around Bequia with a 7 year old child (who is clearly not white at all) was enough to set the flexible tongues of Bequia wagging. I have only been away for 3 months and I come back with a, rather large, child. Everyone was intrigued; ‘who tha boy?’ they kept asking with surprise. Someone even said ‘it’s about time you adopted!’. You have to bear in mind that the girls start young here, 14 is a pretty standard age to start child bearing in the Caribbean. I don’t think they can quite get their head around these old childless white women who keep appearing on the island!

The shell collecting, however, was a great success. We lugged a heavy bag of clinking shells back up the hill at the end of the day. We took a water taxi to the beach which seemed to be quite a novelty for Shami. He was intrigued by my application of sunscreen and copied just about everything I did. We swam and dived and fought with sticks until the most almighty downpoor obscured the whole harbour and sent us shivering for shelter to the nearest beach bar. We ordered a bitter lemon each which came in a bottle, accompanied by a glass. I could sense Shami hesitating, waiting to see if I was going to drink from the bottle or poor it in a glass. When I emptied the bottle into the ice filed glass he quickly did the same. I felt quite the local as we both sat shuddering, wrapped in towels, and the tourists wandered around half naked, looking at us as if we were mad. Having lived through the summer months, winter really does feel like winter now. The air is cool and fresh, the water is freezing, and the evenings can hold a little nip in the twilight air.

My baby sitting duties complete I met a friend and we went and supped a sneaky sundowner on the beach, a quiet little moment before the festivities of the evening ahead. Then it was time to go home and get ready. We were going out for a ‘posh’ 5 course dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town and had decided to make a bit of an effort – well the girls had anyway. It felt peculiar putting on a dress and dusting off my hair dryer, dress standards in Bequia are pleasantly relaxed, but it was a treat to get a little glammed up for once. The only downfall was the shoe situation. I have hundreds at home, but opted to leave them behind when I left. My shoe collection now is an almost full colour palette of Havaiana flip flops. At least I had a coordinating black pair to go with my dress!

The much awaited dinner was a Caribbean travesty in itself – even though the restaurant is run by Swedes. If I had been back at home I would have kicked up a fuss but although we griped we had to laugh, there is no point getting stressed in a place like this. We had sat at our table for over half an hour before we were served. The menu was fixed so there were no choices to make. The hors d’oevres arrived, yet still no wine, and we hungrily munched our way through half of them. Before we could finish the tiny plates the heavens had opened and the little delicacies were quickly floating around in a slushy sort of soup. We ran for cover and loitered at the bar whilst polishing off the wine which appeared with the rain. The rain finally cleared as the stars started to reappear. We changed the sodden table cloth, emptied the glasses of water, wiped the seats down with napkins and started again. We ate our way through two exquisite courses before it was finally time for the main when suddenly the unfortunate result of the little interruption became clear. Our table was situated at the edge of the dance floor. we had planned to be finished before the band started up (a band we have listened to twice a week throughout the summer months) but our meal was interrupted by the squeal of feedback and Jackie addressing the crowd!. Our table was plunged into silence as we struggled to hear over the noise; and our sea view was quickly replaced by wiggling bums and bouncing bodies.

The meal finally finished and with midnight fast approaching we jumped into the moke and raced around the harbour to the Frangi where the throngs were gathered awaiting the New Years fireworks. We scrabbled to find ourselves a bottle of champagne in time, fought our way through the bodies to the beach and sat back and watched the show. We were sorry not to have a countdown or a clock but gradually cries of ‘Happy New Year!’ floated through the crowed and we guessed it must be the midnight hour. The fireworks were added to by some of the many yachts in the harbour letting off flares. We joked that New Year’s Eve was not a good night to be in trouble at sea. You would let off your flares to signal distress whilst anyone watching would remark at the pretty display (I shuddered to myself at the horror of the reality of this joke). The fireworks complete, the bar soon was filled by the arrival of the ‘bang gang’. The team who, so valiantly, had let off the display. They were dusty and shell shocked and some were even bleeding, but there was a buzz, a high, a rush of adrenalin as they all grabbed their first drinks.

The night lead on from there; a street party at Penthouse, then a beach party at De Reef. Everyone was out, everyone was dancing and everyone, of course, was drinking. But as far as I know the only trouble was a dinghy missing from the dock in the morning. The atmosphere was happy and calm and there was none of trouble-brewing-in-the-air feeling which can sometimes fill the harbour late on a Friday night. I staggered home by sunrise, legs weary from dancing and glad of my shortfall in the feet dressing up department as I climbed the hill in my Havaianas.

I awoke on New Yea’s Day feeling weary but surprisingly well. I caught a ride to the beach where we struggled to find food in either of the only 2 places open. Everyone, it seemed, had had the same idea. No-one wanted to cook on this day of recovery, we all just wanted to be served and fed. I managed to beg some fishcakes which filled a gap, but I could have eaten more. A swim and a nap on the beach and the previous night could never have happened. We sat and watched in awe as the Maltese Falcon, the largest, expensivest, fastest sailboat in the world, pulled into the harbour and narrowly missed a collision with a ferry. Then a call from a friend who was flying to England that day; I had left her in a bar as the sun was rising and I have no idea how she made that journey to Barbados a few hours later. She had arrived at Bequia’s little airport to find it closed. If it had been me I would, at that point, have turned around and gone back to bed. She, however, got in touch with a friend who has a water taxi, but then they needed fuel. The gas station was closed but she managed to find someone who had a tank. Enough to get them to Mustique, to where her plane had been diverted, but not enough to get her friend back. He had had to beg steal and borrow more gas once he got there to get himself home. She had arrived in Mustique drenched and battered (those boats throw you around some in the seas out there), it was not only her who was wet, her luggage was soaking too, but she had made the flight and was waiting in Barbados to catch a soggy red eye back to London.

So, as the sun was setting, it was back to the Frangi for evening New Year’s Day cocktails. We all sat at the bar and recounted tales from the night before. Some energetic souls showed up who had not yet been to bed. They were kind of wobbly but impressively still standing. Then Stan appeared out of the night astounded to find ‘Fix-man’ at the bar.

‘I been trying to call you all day’ he said ‘the fire truck’s broken at the airport, people have been having to get boats all day, they need you to come and fix it’

Fix-man looked at him in thoughtfully, stared deep into his rum, and said ‘Perhaps tomorrow’.

Happy New Year from this island in the sun!

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