When I was younger I used to love skipping from country to country, continent to continent. A friend once accused me of being like a bird, flitting from milk bottle to milk bottle on the steps outside houses and only staying long enough to snatch the cream from the very top. Sometimes this trip has felt a bit like that, just scratching the surface of all of these new places we’ve visited, although I’d like to think I’ve matured enough to pay a bit more attention these days.
But then the weather changes, maybe too strong winds or heavy sea swells appear, or we need a repair, and then we have to hole up for a while. While this can be frustrating, it can also be a bonus. We sit in rain swept cafes and talk to other sailors, sharing experiences and advice; we visit other boats to knock back ‘sundowners’ and enjoy the company of strangers; we rent a car and go exploring the island’s hills and coves and harbours far from our own; we try out the local street food, go for a ‘lime’ (street party/dance) and walk the dogs up to ancient forts or along deserted beaches. By the time we move on, our European restlessness and impatience has given way to ‘island time’, where there’s no need to check your watch every five minutes and another few hours gazing at the impossibly turquoise waters or reading a book or messing about on the Internet in a cafe won’t make any difference to the greater scheme of things.
Here in Gustavia on St Barth’s, sometimes known as the Caribbean riviera, I’ve discovered that 600 Norman French peasants who fought to take control of their own destiny are responsible for the makeup of this unusually white – skinned island. The Swedes took control for a while and made it a free port before selling it back to the French, but slaves were never brought here, hence the unusual ethnic makeup. So, we have wonderful Swedish churches and forts, traditional French houses, French and Swedish place names, Caribbean colours and a host of well heeled and well groomed locals and visitors, many of whom look like models, and according to my guidebooks, probably are!
If the winds and seas ever settle we’re hoping to make it to Monserrat in time for St Patrick’s day (March 17th), the only country other than Ireland to hold a public holiday. We hear they also have a great parade and a week of partying too! I hope to be be drinking
a toast to my mother, Tina, recently deceased, my wild and wonderful father, Christy, also departed, and my lovely uncle Michael who passed away in Killarney a week ago. I’ll be making my own pilgrimage in their memory when I visit Ireland in the not to distant future…
Monserrat was considered to be the ultimate paradise island, where George Martin once had a recording studio, but was decimated by a volcanic eruption in 1995 so over half of the island is out of bounds and visitors to the surviving north part of the island are very welcome. I feel called to make a contribution to their economy on behalf of my forbears. In addition to African slaves, the Carribean also received a lot of ‘indentured labourers’ – slaves in all but name- from Ireland. During a period of Catholic persecution throughout the islands, Monserrat offered sanctuary to the fleeing Irish and they intermarried and settled, so that even today, half of the population can trace their roots back to Ireland and many of the surnames and place names reflect this. I remember how excited I was many moons ago when I met an Australian Aborigine with the surname ‘Kelly’. I can’t wait to see if I have some kin in Monserrat too!