Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 1 (Saturday)

It’s 8:20 in the evening and I find myself relaxing on the veranda of a lovely villa, a slight cool breeze keeps me comfortable while I sit listening to the rhythms of the ocean waves on the beach and the soulful Reggae tunes coming from the beachside rum shop. Yes, I am back in Carriacou.

The day started early for my wife, Laura, daughter, Courtney and son, Anthony (our oldest daughter, Chelsie, was away on a tour of Europe with schoolmates and not part of this trip). The alarm clock shook us from our slumber at 2:30 a.m., well before our usual waking hour. After a quick bite to eat, everyone was eager to wash the sleep from their eyes and gather their last-minute belongings to pack with their other bags.

The drive from our home in Northern Virginia to Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC, takes just about an hour, even when the trek begins at a relatively traffic-less 3:30 a.m. The airport parking garage was sparsely filled, providing us with a very convenient space. Surprisingly, the airport ticket counters were quite busy for such an early hour, although our wait for an available ticketing kiosk was only about ten minutes. We were grateful for arriving a little early as we watched the queue of anxious travelers grow quickly behind us.

With tickets in-hand and baggage checked, we breezed through security. Our family has been traveling together for many years, and the children have become fairly seasoned air travelers. They know the routine and no longer need to be coached through the process; we are very proud of their independence and confidence. They were certainly more patient travelers than many of the adults that we observed at the airport. For people who were obviously leaving on holiday, they all seemed much too stressed and uptight.

We boarded our flight from Washington, DC to Miami around 5:45 a.m., just as the sun was rising. The flight was smooth, and being that all four of us were rather tired, we slept at least part of the way there. The flight landed in hot and humid south Florida at 8:30 a.m. As we made our way to the next flight’s departure gate, we found muffins and croissants to satisfy our morning hunger.

We really enjoyed the short walk between gates at the Miami International Airport. The newly remodeled terminal features creative brass inlays in the aggregate stone floor; each inlay shaped as the outline of some tropical plant or sea creature. The walls are decorated with sculptures of sea life. Each art piece features one species, with several specimens arranged in some geometric design. Some of these pieces had to be tens of feet in diameter. They were absolutely wonderful to view.

The flight from Miami to Barbados was nearly full with only a couple of empty seats. The plane departed the United States around 10:00 a.m. and landed at the international airport in Bridgetown about 1:30 p.m. The Barbados airport has been undergoing a remodeling project for several years, and it is really quite nice. We decided that we like it much, much better than another Caribbean hub that we have often used, the airport in St. Thomas, USVI.

The SVG Air staff greeted us at the Barbados arrivals building and quickly processed our paperwork for departure to the Grenadines. We were surprised when some of the staff recalled us from our previous visit to Barbados and they warmly welcomed us back to the Caribbean. They gathered our baggage and loaded our private air charter as the pilot led us from the departure gate to the waiting plane. The weather had been a little stormy in Barbados earlier in the day, but the skies only had a few clouds for the trip from Bridgetown to Carriacou. New regulations prohibit all airlines except for the Barbados-based West Indies Executive Air to fly directly to any part of Grenada, including Carriacou. The plan was for SVG to take us from Barbados to Union Island (part of St Vincent) and then to Carriacou. However, the pilot was kind enough to just simply pass over Union Island (we all waved ‘hello’) and then proceeded to land the plane directly at Carriacou. Upon landing, he greeting us by exclaiming “Welcome to Union Island!”. We all shared a laugh and were grateful for his abbreviated flight plan.

Soon after gathering our bags and starting the process of clearing Grenada customs on Carriacou, we were greeted at the airport by our good friend, Godfrey Calliste. Godfrey and his wife Leslie-Ann work for the Hatch family, owners of the Las Tortugas Villa. He was very excited to see us and we quickly caught up on all that was new with our respective families.

Once the customs process was complete, Godfrey helped to take our baggage to the island taxi operated by Philip (a silver-colored, Nissan mini van named ‘Patience’), part of the local brigade of mini vans that offers the local bus service. We had used Philip on our previous trip to Carriacou, so it was a delight to see him again. Philip took us from the airport adjacent to Hillsborough into town for a stop a the Police Station to obtain a driving permit (EC$30). Philip reminded us that the permit is good for six months, so it would be okay for us to extend our stay. Oh how we wished we could! The Police Station is housed in temporary quarters as the newly remodeled station is being finished. It looks to be complete soon.

On our way to the villa, Philip dropped Godfrey and me off at Barba’s Store in L’Esterre to arrange for the jeep that comes with the villa rental. The staff was prepared for our arrival and had most all of the paperwork already complete. The ‘jeep’ was actually a recent model, Geo Tracker; a compact sports utility vehicle like most of the other private automobiles on the island. These types of vehicles are perfect for island travel, as often times the nice, concrete-paved road you are driving on turns into a dirt-surfaced, rain eroded path. After completing the car rental details, Godfrey and I arrived at the villa to join Laura, Courtney and Anthony who had arrived with Philip a little bit earlier.

What a great surprise awaited us at Las Tortugas! There to greet us was Leslie-Ann and her three children, Adrian (18), Callista (15) and Godson (9). All three children had grown so much since we had seen them last, and each of them was very proper and polite, all dressed-up for the occasion. After a round of hugs and kisses, Leslie-Ann presented us with a delicious meal of chicken and rice, and a beautiful cake that she had prepared with Callista’s help. The treat was expertly decorated with the greeting “Welcome Back Home”. We were touched by the Calliste family’s sincere friendship and heartfelt welcome. We had made good friends with them during our last visit to Carriacou and had stayed in touch with sporadic correspondence. It was very nice to renew our friendship in-person.

After a long visit with the Calliste family, it was early evening. The views of Paradise Beach from the veranda of the villa were inviting, so Courtney and I decided to take a stroll along the sand. With the cooling breezes from the mid-day storms still slightly blowing, the water felt almost cool. However, that could not keep us from having an enjoyable stroll through the surf. We were joined by one of the local dogs who Courtney promptly named Shadette (to be explained later). A few local couples and several young men were lounging at points along the beach. Some of the boys were rather smitten with our 14 year-old daughter who has become quite a beautiful young woman. A few of them expressed their fondness for her, but all were respectful. One jokingly asked me for her hand in marriage, I told him that he would have to get in line behind all of the other young men who were interested in her.

Returning to the villa, Courtney joined Anthony for some fun time in the swimming pool. After an hour or so of playing in the refreshing water, the sun was almost completely gone for the day, We all retired to the house to enjoy the delicious meal Leslie-Ann had prepared for us. With our hunger satisfied and a long day of travel behind us, we all retired to our bedrooms to wrap-up the day. The children played games; Laura caught-up on her reading; and I finished-up this first day’s entry.