Monday, March 30, 2009

From a Fantasy Island to a Bureaucratic One

I was able to spend two days and nights in one of the most stunning of places I have yet found myself! After a brief questioning and confirmation at the Beef Island customs, I was transported by taxi over the island of Tortola to Road Town and the private yacht awaiting me. In the harbor office the security woman greeted me, asked if I wanted any beverages and told me that the yacht would take off shortly. In no time at all we were laughing about food and Guyana and she was telling me of how she loved to eat chicken, bones and all, but that was not something that people did here! She told me that I would love where I was going and that they would treat me very, very well!

The big yacht plied through the Caribbean waters of latest afternoon and within 15 minutes we were approaching our landing. I went to the top deck with camera and captured our approach.

As I left the vessel I was greeted by a hostess with a packet and information that my island contact would like to have dinner with me at 7pm. The dress code was a shirt with a collar and slacks. OK. I could manage that much.

I checked into my room right off of the marina and unpacked my things. It had been a day of Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten and Beef Island Airports, but I was very relaxed at where I was. My sigh was interrupted by a call and subsequent visit by my contact. A native of the Caribbean, he was young, professional and with a cleanly shaved head. He had been to Univeristy in the States, and what get to learning such things later, but at this point I just gave him an overview of how the shoots usually worked.

At dinner we quickly dismissed the pleasantries and soon joined in philosophical discussions and our general takes on life and success. His was a very driven and optimistic one. Long ago he had adopted the Disney motto, “If you can dream it, you can do it!” It certainly seemed as though he had achieved and would continue to achieve what he set his mind to. Instead of laughing off such statements I couldn’t agree more with him. Having lived and continuing to live a fruition of one’s dreams, I know the possibilities are endless! This island would encourage me even further!

To bring me back to earth, there was an adjacent table yelling about the sins of the democrats. Money. Yeah, I was surrounded by that. The cheapest room was $900 a night and the high profile guests stayed in the villas for $20-30,000 a night. Those people who were so loud, conservative and obnoxious I spoke with the day later. They were quite friendly but where, no surprise, from Lake Calhoun. I’m sure Garrision Keillor would make fodder of that!

The next day my contact and I drove the private island. It was mountainous and had good elevation. At the crest of the island’s different points there were villas. This is where the big movie stars and musicians would stay. I was told the names of some but I wasn’t privy of knowing the others. The views were those that actually made me shiver with goosebumps they were so remarkable. I shot and shot and shot, well-knowing I could do this forever.

You would look down into the emerald green waters that touched the beaches, while off of shore, three moored sailboats sat in the deepest blue. The water touched the white sands and palm beaches and gave you the sight of enormous waves crashing spray off of rocks and up into the sky. In the surrounding distance there were islands of all sizes and they dropped out of our line of site like the Appalachian mountains. Puffy white clouds gave texture to the sky and the sun and warm wind relaxed every bit of you.

There was no end of wonderful havens. The spa had its own windward cove and the doors opened up into the seascape. At the villa nests there were pools that meshed seamlessly into the expanding Caribbean blue hundreds of feet below and away. There an outside showers at the top of these nests, where only the eyes of the albatross may fall upon you.

The food had the same possibilities. In fact I think I tasted some of the equivalent of these sights with the freshest fruit collage for breakfast. Blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit, melons, plums, pineapple, sausage, scone, yogurt, guava juice and coffee.

On my last day I was invited to stay longer to shoot another special villa but also partake in some free diving off of Tortola out of their own private tour shop. Unfortunately, my contact misinterpreted the schedule so I missed the dive, but fear not, I still made the most of it!

The divers by the way, were characters themselves. One of them was an underwater film-maker and could not be more enthusiastic to work with me. Another was a salty Brit that had dived the world over and another was a friendly, back slapping chap that had gone to school in Bemidji.

Just near the dive shop was a beautiful sail ship that had caught my eye, with the name Simaril. The captain was another chatty fellow from Bloomington. We talked quite a bit about Tolkien and I had to shake my head at the chances of this ship, being docked right by my room.

What did I do with the two hours of play time I did have? I went to a chair, beneath a palm. Grabbing my snorkel, I entered the picturesque waters I had only filmed up to this point. It was a wee chilly at first but soon I was snorkeling outwards. The water was so clear and the bottom sandy. I dove for pieces of coral and played with a conch. I tipped him over to see if he would right himself, but no. Oh, well. I tipped him back. (Some time afterwards my contact would scold me for not bringing it in. His favorite Caribbean dish was fresh conch salad!)

Afterwards I went and laid in the chair, in the sun, underneath the palm, looking out at Deadman’s Island. Not one much able to stay in a bath nor lazing in the sun for more than 5 minutes without some action, I found it quite different here. I had a complete awareness and appreciation for the now. The picture was far too perfect and magic far too palpable to go unrealized.

My stay on that island was not only magical in the things that I saw but also in the occurrences that met me. I believe that when we see ‘signs’ they are manifestations of our own minds, or how we choose to interpret things. But after having experience after experience on that one island, I will forever hold it as re-affirming and a gift. It was a magical place. As for what ‘life-changing’ and wonderful things occurred, they will give direction to what happens in the next chapter. More on that in months to come!!!

Next it was a stay in some overly-expensive resort in Lambert Bay, Tortola. It had mean waves hitting the beach and feral cats all over the place! Then it was an early drive to Beef Island Airport, a flight to Puerto Rico and then Miami, which allowed me to use my phone and catch up with those catching up with me. Then, it was to Jamaica.

Getting there in the evening, I got my passport stamped and head to customs. When they found out that I was shooting video of resorts they asked for my paperwork. “What paperwork, I asked?” I then discovered that in Jamaica, one needed permission from the Tourist Board to shoot advertising video. While this was not what I had experienced in other countries, I soon learned that ‘Dis is not udder kuntrees!’ I then go to put all my bags up on the tables for inspection.

The woman agent was stone faced and un-yielding. I would occasionally have to ask her to repeat herself and I sometimes would misinterpret what she said, only to hear a ‘I did not teel u to pak up ur tings, put dem bak up der!!!”

As the very last travelers filtered their way out, it was but me and the agents. I ping-ponged between a few of them also keeping in mind that I needed to get to my lodging which was in Runaway Bay some 1:45 minutes away and had no idea what taxis or busses would still be running there.

To sum this up quicker for you than it was for me, I learned that my articles would be detained and that I would have to try and resolve this in the morning when the offices were open. After making an itemized list of my equipment for them I found a cab to Runaway Bay and drove through the Jamaican night which smelled of woodsmoke.

Luckily for me the villa was found by the taxi driver and my accommodations were awaiting me. In my room was some jerk chicken, guava juice, a salad and peas and rice and I ended that long day by retiring somewhere around midnight.

Early this day I awoke and spoke with the owner of the villa. She was so wonderfully helpful! She took it all in stride, happened to speak with an old school-chum at the tourist bureau and then drove me all the way back to the airport to hopefully help me claim my things. Along the way she pointed many things out – Discovery Bay where Columbus supposedly discovered Jamaica, the bauxite plant that once fueled aluminum production around the world and other things.

At the airport I checked in at one point. Then I was taken to a room to wait for a pass to re-enter the airport. There were two guys behind the glass. I had number 23. When I entered they were on number 16. This was at 10:30am. At 11am they were on number 18. My bladder, that can stand 5 ½ hour drives without emptying was ready to explode. But I couldn’t miss my chance. My eyes were also driving me crazy! I think I developed some horrible allergy that attacks my inner eyelids. They rub my contacts off and proceed to scratch at my eyes. In the morning I wake up with eyes all caked over from dried tears. Going to have to get that looked into when I get back!

Anyhoo. I got the pass! That gave me time to be escorted all the way back down, through where I was before and outside and then walked by a slow walking escorter, all the way through the security and customs, again. I had to wait and then wait some more and then wait some more with bursting bladder and scratching eyes.

But in the end, I got my stuff and that’s what’s important. I squeezed two shoots into the second half of the day and had a good dinner back at the villa. I’ve also had a chance to spend lots of time with Jamaican’s of every sort this past day and a half.

All through out I was thinking of my porch, my hammock, smoking some Ol’ Toby, while breathing in East Side air and listening to the trickle of the pond.

Being in situations like these really makes you appreciate the times you’re not! The bad times will pass. At least at some point!

Always onwards…

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mi Stima Aruba

Hello again, or, as they say in Aruba bon dia!

This little island, right above Venezuela is a part of the Netherlands Antilles and has a palm-lined, white sand beach to its southwest and a desert interior. It’s quite a mix of peoples and you see a culture that while very European and American has a strong South American and African flavor. There are also large East Indian and Chinese populations as well.

The property I was videoing happened to be on the nicest stretch of the nicest beach in Aruba. This mean that there was a good deal of white sand, tall palms and many umbrellas made of palm fronds for guests to sit under. The sea is a rich blue-green and there is this persistent breeze that not only cools the heat but also lulls you into a relaxed state of being. (Even when you can’t ready your bloody monitor screen in the blinding sun!)

I happened to catch the island in flukey weather. Instead of the constant sun and 81 that the island always gets, the clouds happened to make a visit. That meant that the day involved me dodging clouds and recording when that sun would illuminate everything and then waiting when the clouds rolled over the sun once again.

The manager offered one of the cars to me so that I could explore the island. I really hadn’t anticipated this opportunity and accepted most graciously! I had a good deal of apprehension for many reasons but one must weigh these things in how rich it makes your life in the end. Indeed. Exploring the island.

So, I shot up to the northern coast to visit the California lighthouse. Yes, another lighthouse but the setting on the rocky landscape was quite something. There were lots of tourists and colorful tourbuses and people with 4-wheelers and Jeeps exploring the rocks and sand. What caught my eye mostly was the unique honey comb-like rock all around. It look absolutely unforgiving to the barefoot but helped to add unique contour to the area.

I had intended to head to park Arikok but seeing the sun coming out, shot back to the resort to shoot it in the sun. Who knows when it would come again? I made may way back. In a round-about fashion, I eventually arrived. You see, the streets don’t really seem to have names, at least none that I could see. After a few roundabouts, I found the map not so helpful. Other than understanding that 4A and 4B were the main drags I had to roam my way around with my compass, my map and ask directions. One wrong turn brought me to Madiki. Imagine that!

Shoot, shoot resort and then back to the road. This time to Park Arikok. I followed the signs here and there up into the cactus hills. I made it up to a the entrance and a sign that said the road was closed and arrows pointing in another direction. I took that route and found nothing and then repeated the whole windy process again, passing poorer looking housing and wild doggies. At the entrance again I saw a man in a hut so I asked him and he said it was closed but that I could park. He was a ranger and showed me where I could hike. With my cross, er, tripod and camera on my shoulder, I ventured into the desert. It was nice that there was absolutely no one in these late afternoon hills. I saw birds chirping, white donkeys on the hill and little lizards running through the brush. There were lots of these pointy phallic cactic shooting up into the sky. The trail also ran
around these divi-divi trees which are flagged, or, whipped by the constant Tradewinds so they all point West like a woman’s hair blowin in da wint. Then it was back again to the place.

As for this day, I found myself 120 feet underneath the ocean in one of the few tourist submarines in the world! It was cooler than I thought it would be. They shuttle you out and after about 15 minutes you watch the submarine emerge from the ocean below. Awaiting the unboarding of the previous
passengers, you await on the deck of the sub and shuffle down the stairs, facing the stairs, of course!

Below there is ample seating for over 40 people and round windows for you to gaze through. You drop down around the 50 foot mark and then eventually to 130, at one point even touching the sandy floor. But you get to see a lot of coral. I saw some of the largest coral I ever have! There were lots of fish too and I recognized grouper, 4-eyed butterfly fish and seargeant majors, but forgot many of the rest. You also get to see two ships, one being an old wooden schooner!

Back in town, Orangestad (Oranya-schtad) is a colorful area. Much of architecture is Dutch and colorful in that said fashion and there is a long market, that used to be the fish market, now converted to the selling of knick-knacks and souvenirs. This dock-side area also has open cafes as well, where I got myself some seafood soup. Across the street the mall area is full of jewelers, European cafes and the like. It’s very colorful and there are flags of many nations everywhere.

For lunch I went to one of the local favorites, the Old Fisherman. Here I had some seafood rice and a Balashi, their local beer, tangy and cold. I also asked for the hot sauce. Holy cow! This in league with the hottest hot sauces in the world! It’s called Madame Janette and made with scotch bonnet peppers which are related to habeneros. Just one dip of my rice into the sauce and I was like, ‘wow, okay, I’m done with that.’ But the meal was very good.

I finally made my way back and told myself I must at least dive into the surf to be able I said I did it. The waves were big, rolling, crashing and green blue. I grabbed my scuba mask and head out into the surf. I spent my time wading out in the swells sometimes riding with them, sometimes riding over, sometimes not paying attention and catching a breaker right on the top of the head. I watched some boarders skimming on the waves right next to the beach, played underneath them and finally rode one back to shore. After 15 minutes, that was that. My play for today.

Tomorrow I will cycle through 4 different airports on my way to Peter Island and the only resort on the island. I hope flights go well and I can make a connection to a boat taking me to the island. It’s one of those days that begin at 3:45am and end around 6pm if lucky. All part of the grand adventure I guess. Ku tur mi amor. Te aworo!