Sunday, September 4, 2011

Island Tour

The Island Tour
One thing I still have trouble getting used to in this crazy gypsy life is that, at least in the Caribbean, because we have white skin, we are immediately targeted by every shyster, bum and con-artist.  They assume that we are rich, on vacation, and if they find out we are on a boat, they suddenly think we are mega-wealthy.
I have developed some unorthodox tactics to deal with the actual bums... my favorite one is to head them off and before they ask me for money I ask them for money.  I always do it just like they do.  I put an arm around them and say,
“Hey buddy, I know times are tough but I have five kids I need to feed tonight... do you have a couple bucks to help me buy a pizza?”
They always look at me like I am crazy and start to back pedal about how they don’t have money but they can’t very well ask me for any now that I have already asked them.  Believe it or not, this has worked so well in St Thomas, the bums between the marina and the grocery store will actually cross the street to avoid me when they see me coming.
It didn’t work so well the other day in Grenada though.  I saw the bum crossing the street toward us as we came out of the grocery store with our arms loaded with food and quickly asked,  
“Hey buddy you got a couple of bucks to loan me?  I ran out of money and still need to buy some milk.”  I looked at him expectantly.
This bum was a master though and, believe it or not, must have run across my tactic before.  He just looked at me, didn’t miss a beat and said,
“Can you give me a dollar?  Just one dollar mon?”
Now I was the one confused.... I stammered,
“But I just asked you for a dollar... I have five kids to feed... you got a dollar for me?”
Now he was getting ticked off.
“Hey Mon!  It’s not my fault you have five kids!  You did that!  Give me a dollar!  I built my own yacht, I’m no beggar!”
He had made a good point about the children.  My hackles now risen, I replied,
“You ask for a buck but you’re not a beggar?  Give me a buck man!  I asked first! Just one buck!”
My much wiser wife has started the dingy and she reaches up and yanks me down into the boat and we motor home... I looked at the guy mumbling and yelling to himself shaking his fist like a mad man and then realized that I was sitting there in the dingy doing the same thing.
My second favorite tactic with bums is one I started doing back in the Bahamas.  I noticed that the bums and shysters who follow you down the beach getting more obnoxious with every “No” you say, ignore the white folks who don’t speak English.  I don’t speak any other language but that doesn’t stop me.  I just answer them with a bunch of crazy nonsense words and big hand gestures.  For example, they may ask,
“Hey Mon! You Wan corn rows?  I make your hair like mine with corn rows! Jus fifty dollars Mon!” and I reply,
“Han sac pulla?  Toocha mosta phallas?  Ma phallas mosta!  Joo tina phallas.”
They just shrug and walk away.   The problem in Grenada is that you have multi-lingual bums and the C.I.M.L.B or Confederation of International Multi-Lingual Bums which has a members agreement whereby if one bum with in the confederation doesn’t understand the language a mark speaks he is first obligated to try his own three languages... maybe English, German, and French... if that doesn’t work he gets his fellow confederate who speaks, English, Russian and Mandarin... this continues until they are pretty sure that you are full of shit then they all mug you.
So the title of this blog is, “The Island Tour.”  You have probably figured that I have wandered so far off from the title that I can’t get back but that is not the case.  I needed to set the whole story up with-in the proper “bum” context.  See the bums mentioned above are the easiest ones to deal with.  The really difficult ones are the ones driving taxis.  They get you captive in their fast moving vans, zipping around hair pin curves at speeds still not attained by Indi-cars, then once you are pretty sure your life is about to end, they start to negotiate prices for an island tour.  If you start to disagree with a price or call into question the safety of their van they swerve into the oncoming lane until you agree.
Here’s what happened to us:

Our friend Eric was down here visiting us from ST Thomas.  We decided it would be fun to find a cool place on the island to take him for his birthday lunch.  Beck asked around and was told by the folks at the Marina that a place called CocoNuts on the beach was a fun spot.  They told her to just get on a number one bus, (hmmmm ok the number one bus requires explanation for all of you non-islanders- see note #1 below for explanation) and all we had to do was ask the driver to tell you where to get out to go to CocoNuts.
We all jumped on a number one bus which had seventeen people on board already (see note #1 below to get a little perspective) and Beck told the driver we were going to CocoNuts and to please let us off at the right place.  He nodded and smiled at her with, what I thought at the time was a very nice smile, but in retrospect I realize it was actually an evil grin.  We drove all around the number one bus route... people kept getting out and he had stopped picking up any new ones, pretty soon we were the only ones in the van and he had driven up a small road which was quite obviously not on the bus route.  He stopped the van in a parking lot, a very deserted parking lot of some industrial complex, turned and smiled at us.  He looked a lot like a big, fat, black TV mob boss or at least a body guard of one, huge jowls and rolls of fat around his neck, and beads of sweat rolling off his brown, bald pate.  He gave us his best “trust me” smile and said with his deepest sing song island lilt, 
“CocoNuts is no where near where we are.”  He smiled and let us look around while this fact sank in before continuing,
“Who told you to go to CocoNuts?”  He asked with a frown.
“The people at he marina told me it was a very fun place to eat on the beach.”  My pretty wife said in a voice that next to his sounded very much like a little girls.
“Ya see they pass on the problems to the drivers... CocoNuts is no where near here but I can take you to a very nice place on the beach to eat.  I will give you the cut rate deal too since you are visitors here to Grenada.  The normal price for three people would be $50.00 one way from here but I will take you there and back to the marina for $60.00” (Refer again to Note #1 for the actual price we would have paid to go to CocoNuts on the #1 bus... which we are still on actually.)
“Ok that sounds great!”  Beck looks at me and smiles like we just made a great deal.  On a side note; Several times in this process I had tried to voice my opinions but was quickly shut down by both Eric and Rebecca due to the confrontational sound of my voice so I just shrugged and smiled at the Mob Boss.
Once he had made his deal he began driving to the very far end of the island to a little restaurant on the beach which was truly fantastic... it might even have been as beautiful as CocoNuts but we will never know for sure because we drove past CocoNuts both coming and going.  


Once we sat down in the little restaurant we were accosted by a basket weaver with 12 kids and 800 grand kids who had to support the whole bunch by selling baskets he had made out of palm fronds, and a young fella whose grandmother needed surgery for goiters so he sold necklaces made of fishing line run through a few shell beads and a bunch of spices like nutmeg, ginger, and stuff in order to pay for her hospital bills.  The necklaces smelled great and Beck asked if they kept away Vampires.  The guy said, “yes!” so we bought a bunch of them.  I really was hoping to find one that would keep away bums and shysters but he said they didn’t have any like that.  We bought a cool basket to hold all our necklaces and sat back and enjoyed the view.

Our taxi driver showed up to take us back to the marina and, no sooner had we got in the van than he began to make his bid for an island tour.  He gave us his evil grin and said,
“So I can take you on an island tour where you will see (here he listed off five or six well known island attractions including monkeys)  I will give you the cut rate deal and you can have the whole bus to yourselves.”
We had already been told that the only time to do these tours was on weekdays because everything was closed on the weekend and the traffic was so bad on weekends that you couldn’t get anywhere fast enough to see anything.  I began to object to his idea of doing it on a Saturday... but he interrupted me and said,
“Noooo Mon!  Saturday is the best day to go.  All of the venders are out selling food along the road if you get hungray... joo go on a weekday and no ones there to sell food...”
I am pretty sure Saturday was his day off as a bus driver... but I could be wrong.  I began to point out what we had heard .... but both Eric and Beck gave me the stink eye for daring to question the authority of our venerable taxi driver so I quickly shut my trap.
Soon it was agreed that he would meet us the next morning at 9:30am for an all day tour of the island for only 200 US dollars, the “cut rate” deal.
The next morning we all made our way to the tree in the parking lot where we were supposed to meet the Mob Boss.  9:30 came and went and at around 10:00am another taxi driver called him for us and told him to get his butt over here or he would take us on the tour.
When he finally showed up and we picked up Eric from his hotel the taxi boss found a pull out and as soon as the van stopped he turned around and, with our whole family now held captive, he started in on his next angle and with a frown he said,
“So I could give you the tour I mentioned yesterday...” (in which he had listed basically every possible attraction Grenada had to offer including all of the waterfalls and even monkeys) “orrrrrrrr....” now he smiled,  “I could offer you the special whole island tour... where you get to see the whole island including everything I listed yesterday... but of course this would cost more.”  He gave us his evil grin.
Once again I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut and began to point out that he had already set a price for a full day tour with quite an impressive list of attractions and that was exactly what we expected for the same price we had already agreed upon.  He frowned deeply...
Beck and Eric gave me the stink eye again so I folded my hands in my lap like a good boy, closed my mouth and started to read my book on my kindle (which I had brought because I was pretty sure this day was going to end up being a bust with a lot of sitting around.)
Pretty soon Eric and Rebecca decided that Eric would make the call for what we would do and he opted for the new full island, not so cut rate priced, tour.  I kept reading my kindle, gritted my teeth and when I looked up the taxi driver was looking at me in his rear view mirror with an evil twinkle in his mob boss eyes.  
We began to drive around the island, the traffic was crazy so we were forced to drive slowly around the hair pin curves so that was good.  We mentioned that we were all pretty hungry so, if we could please stop at one of the many road side stops he had mentioned to pick up some meat pies, that would be great.  He said he would but every shack on the side of the road was closed for the weekend so he kept driving.  We just looked at each other and shrugged.
Our first stop was a beautiful waterfall called “Concord Falls.”  We paid our buck each to hike down to the waterfall and we had a blast jumping into the pool.  The water was cold and clear and felt great on such a hot day.  
At the top again, as we got ready to leave, we were once again beckoned into little booths to see all of the must have items, made right there in the little booths by the guys... it seemed strange to me though that all of these little hand carved necklaces were identical no matter which booth you went into...  We did buy a little bottle of fresh vanilla and some cocoa balls which looked a lot like a bag of little brown testicles.
Back in the van, we had now seen one of the many waterfalls and... well nothing else really and it was well past lunch time.  We told him we needed to stop for some food and we drove, and drove, and drove.  And then.... with a bump and hiss the back tire went flat.... Eric and I pushed on the side of the van to get it high enough for the jack to go under and the mob boss got out the spare... which was flat.  He hitched a ride into town for a tire while we all sat by the road.  Beck took some pictures of the local dogs and was told that if she wanted to she could go down to the bathing hole to take pictures of the local men who were taking baths.  She declined.  When our driver arrived with the tire it was at least as bald as he was.  We shrugged and got back in the van.   

Around 2:30 we stopped for lunch at a quaint little spot over looking the sea.  We had a great local meal... well great for the adults, but it was good for the kids to eat something different than peanut butter sandwiches for lunch.  We had stewed chicken or fish, salad, plantains, avocado, calaloo (spinach mush), and rice. 
When we all got back in the van we were a little sleepy but our next stop was just up the hill.  We saw “Leapers Hill”  where the last Carib indians jumped and committed suicide rather than submit to the French.  After hiking down the hill to the cliff Eric said,
“They jumped because they didn’t want to hike back up the hill!”
When we made it back to the van it was past 3:00 and we realized that we wouldn’t be seeing all of the waterfalls, much less any of the other sights or monkeys... Eric told the mob boss that we would at least like to see the chocolate factory.  He smiledand began to drive... he looked a little confused and pretty soon he was pulling over every few miles to ask someone walking along where the chocolate factory was.  They would point and he would drive.  I said to Rebecca,
“They should call this ‘Captain Ron’s Island Tours’  and have the selling line, ‘If we don’t know where it is, we can just pull over somewheres and ask directions!’ ”

When we finally made it to the chocolate factory.... yep it was closed for the weekend....
Well, in the end we just asked him to please take us home and we would cut our losses.  
The little brown testicles make a hell of a cup of cocoa though!
NOTE ON THE #1 Bus:  The number 1 bus  is any tiny small mini van which was originally designed to carry a family of seven but has been retrofitted with bench seating to carry 15 passengers... the cost to ride this bus is $1.00 US or $2.50EC dollars.  The island of Grenada has about a thousand of these little busses running around.