Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Dream Come True

Even though it may not be their fault they have the most spirit-crushing and most loathed jobs in the entire world, we still want to get them, because they infiltrate our homes at dinner and disturb us for ridiculous reasons all the time. That's right, telemarketers...

Here is one man's response to the problem:

http://howtoprankatelemarketer.ytmnd.com/

Anticipation

I have put so many things in my way to look forward to so that the actual date that I'm so excited for, Thursday Dec. 14th, the day of my return to the states, will sneak up on me. It HAS!

I just finished my christmas shopping this morning at mall that is tiny by our standards but GIGANTINORMOUS by Caribbean standards. It is, in fact, the largest shopping center in the Caribbean. It took me 30 minutes to find a parking spot. It's because it's Christmas. I think I would take the traditional french route and hand-make all my gifts if I had any particularly useful skill. They give homemade foie-gras, liquers, figurines of clay or wood, produce from their gardens, dresses or cloth creations design and realised in their own homes. It's incredible. The other thing that is really incredible at Christmastime in France or a part of France, is the ENTIRE AISLE devoted only to chocolate at all grocery stores. They clear off whatever insignificant item was there before and create the chocolate lover's heaven on earth. When in this aisle, it is wall to wall deliciousness and everywhere you turn, you are confronted with longing and desire. It's a good time.

One of the welcome obstacles I decided to put in my way before the trip home was a trip to St. Lucia. I had decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to get to the island before the high season starts and before the prices skyrocket for everything. So I sent out the word of my plan and found willing companions in two lovely English ladies, Francesca (Fran) and Rebecca (Becks). They live together and do a lot of things together so I hadn't ever heard one mentioned without the other, so they are sort of a unit, Fran and Becks.

Anyway, we all met at the port on Friday afternoon, me coming from straight from yet ANOTHER failed day at Batelière. All the teachers had an all day meeting and the students WEREN'T EVEN THERE. They were told not to come, but I was not. And I had Marie-Ange drop me off so I didn't have to park my car at the port all weekend. Thus, I was stuck at the school all prepared for fun christmas classes I wouldn't have because no one thought to pick up the phone and call the lowly language assistant. Three hours later, Marie-Ange came to pick me up and we went to the port, she dropped me off, and I checked in. The girls arrived a little later, and we all boarded and headed towards the sunny upper deck.

As soon as the boat left the bay of Fort de France, it was pitching from side to side and literal walls of water were splashing us like crazy. They had coaxed me out there because they said it was easier not to get sick there, are they are right, it is much better for seasickness, but not for general comfort. It in fact, was awful for that. It was amusing while we were still in the bay though. A large group of about 20 rastas and french gangsters gathered on the back of the boat and pulled out at least 5 bottles of rum and makeshift cups, as well as lots of joints. They commenced smoking up, drinking, and partying before the boat had even started moving.

Fran and Becks stayed outside the whole ride but I had popped some seasick pills so I went inside to get shelter from the gigantic waves that were crashing over the boat with each side to side pitch. They were absolutely soaked when we arrived in St. Lucia. Then we spent an hour trying to get off the boat, and two hours waiting in line to get through customs, where the customs officer asked if I would go to a concert with him that night. Apparently there was a huge antilles music fest in town for the weekend. He had the upper hand because you have to write where you are staying on the customs form so he knew, but I told him that I had three companions and that we were already going to the "jump up" in Gros Islet. He was nice and funny but I couldn't handle any more crap especially from customs after waiting for two hours. So out the door we went to be handed to the pack of hungry wolves that await any traveler exiting a transport station, taxi drivers.

I feel like we got a really good driver. His name was John and over the course of the next few days we four got to be good friends. So we loaded into the van with two German guys (they were not fun/ridiculous enough to merit being called Zie Juhmans) and a little girl. The girl was dropped off at home, and the Germans went on a wild goose chase to find an open car rental agency. We were finally dropped off about an hour later at our hotel where we relaxed, looked at the windows then decided we needed to eat IMMEDIATELY. We went to the hotel's restaurant and ordered some dinner, then chilled out.

Around 10pm, the time recommended to us by our front desk person at the hotel, we started walking into the town of Gros Islet from our hotel, about a 10 minute walk. When we arrived the streets were blocked off and it was very crowded. This is an event that happens every friday night in Gros Islet called "Jump Up". There were little stands on either side selling beer and mixed drinks, grilled chicken and fish, fish cakes, jewellery, hats and other touristy items, but the real party was at the end of the street where there was a crossroads with another large road. There was a HUGE stereo system, a DJ, and the streets were full of people, mostly natives, just dancin' their little hearts out. All the tourists, us included, were watching from a little outside the epicenter, shifting our weight nervously from foot to foot, drinking, hoping we wouldn't have to dance. We did dance a little bit, but Caribbean people are such great dancers and have such amazing rhythm and moves that i felt like an idiot even trying to keep up. I preferred to watch.

This activity, of watching and shifting, was puncutated about every five minutes by a St. Lucian guy coming up to us and trying to own us. I use the word own because they would come over to us drape their arms over all three of us without being invited, and usually there would be others hovering in the distance and if they approached while another was already draped, he would be quickly sent away with the words "hey man, these are my girls, they already have a man, it's me, leave them to chill." This happened several times. The first guy who talked to us all night would not leave us alone and we kept him around because he was useful for keeping away the others. I would use the analogy of mosquitos and insect repellent, but that seems uncharitable. It probably was uncharitable just to mention it because I could delete it... oh well.

So while the jump up was fun, lively, and interesting to see, it was a bit of a downer because of the constant barrage of men. Now, I don't mean that we were just swarmed all the time and people were falling all over themselves for us alone, I imagine it's kind of a game with the men there. They were doing it to most of the tourists there. Who can take home a white girl tonight? Oh man, three altogether! No men with them! Jackpot!! Perhaps that is uncharitable too, but they sort of made me have a not very good time there, and they made me not feel very safe. As we walked home, I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one was following us. On our way out, we met up with our taxi driver, John, and he bade us good evening. He also urged us to go to Love Fest (the big antilles music fest) the next night. We told him we would call him the next day because even though it wasn't really important to us to go, we thought that since we happened to be there, it'd probably be a good idea.

The next morning, we got up,
breakfasted, and then headed to Pigeon Island National Park. We parked on the beach for most of the morning and just lounged in the very hot sun. After about two hours I decided to explore the park a bit and see if I could scramble up to the fort I had seen in flip flops and my beach dress. I imagine I looked a little bizarre coming up the path in the midst of these serious hikers who had on their tennis shoes and hats and backpacks. You can see both peaks in the picture. It really wasn't a big deal to get up. It was about a 10 minute hike to the peak and the old redoubt. I had a spectacular view of all of Pigeon Island (it's not really an island, it's a very small peninsula) and the ritzy Sandals resort just to the right of us. It was a good walk and I took a stroll around the rest of the park too. I had fun just wandering and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

When I got back to our beach spot I found the girls awaiting the arrival of a boat that was filled with fruit. Written on the side of the boat were the words "Fruit Man" and steering the boat was, presumably, THE Fruit Man. He had about 3 teeth and he was very kind. He talked non-stop about the quality and deliciousness of his fruits. I bought a grapefruit and I ate it like a really big orange, and, for the first time in my life, without sugar. It was the best grapefruit I have ever had. We also bough papaya and a fresh coconut to drink the milk and eat the flesh. All of them were fabulous. Then I resumed lounging in the sun until thirst motivated me to walk a little way down the path to a waterfront restaurant called "Jambe de Bois" or Wooden Leg where I found to my absolute joy, they had hummus and pita on the menu. Fran was with me and so we got some drinks and an order of heaven... I mean hummus. It wasn't the best ever, but it was there. That was what mattered. We were met in the restaurant by a park ranger. He was extremely opinionated and assumed that we wanted to hear ALL of his opinions while we were waiting for our food. Not so, good sir. But he told us anyway. We tried to have a discussion but it really ended up being us just nodding and agreeing with him because if we disagreed, we would be instantly subjected to another diatribe on why we were wrong. Not worth it.

We left as soon as we could. Got back to the beach, and by that time, it was almost time to go. The taxi was coming at three. So we went, apparently had missed the taxi, and waited for it to come back after calling the hotel to tell the taxi that he forgot us. We were still trying to decide if we were going to Love Fest or not. We were so on the fence about it, I started to feel like not going. What I really wanted to do was go out to a good dinner and maybe to a bar after for a few drinks. So after a lot of waffleing and a lot of calls from John, we told him we weren't going to go. We got cleaned up, got dressed, and took the bus into Rodney Bay, and walked the rest of the way to the restaurant. Rodney Bay is the tourist capital of St. Lucia. It's where the greater part of the good restaurants, clubs, and hotels are. The second we sat down at Buzz, I knew it was going to be an amazing meal.

I looked at the menu and there were about 4 entrees and 3 appetizers I wanted. I ended up getting to try all the appetizers because the other girls ordered some too, and the entree I decided on was grilled swordfish in a spicy West Indies sauce. It was incredible. AND the best part is that they caught the swordfish not too far away the same day, AND my whole dinner cost less than 25 dollars, including lime daquiri and ice cream. In most restaurants that would actually serve swordfish, the fish alone would be 25 dollars. I was very pleased.

So after we finished eating, we went to the bar so Becks could get some Amaretto and we talked to the bartender and his friend for a very long time. He was a quick guy with a smart mouth. We yucked it up until around midnight then we headed out, to tired and too full to do anything else. We had a great evening and didn't regret at ALL our decision not to go to Love Fest.

The next morning, we had enlisted John to take us on a tour of the sights of the island. This he did excellently well. We started along the main road down to the southern part of the island. We drove through tiny little fishing villages and along many winding roads up the sides of mountains. The south part of St. Lucia is very mountainous, the opposite of Martinique. So we went up and down and around and stopped at a few nice viewpoints until we got to Soufriere, the island's volcano, advertised by St. Lucia as the world's only drive-in volcano... no joke, there was a sign that said exactly that.

So we got out, stretched our legs, and walked up to meet our park guide. The volcano was really amazing. It's very small and a pyroclastic volcano like the one in Martinique. There is lava but the most dangerous part is the hot gas that it spews constantly. When you drive up to the site you are almost overwhelmed with the smell of sulfur. But that fades once you see the volcano with it's boiling pits of black mud, holes spewing gas, and the desolate landsc
ape that surrounds it. The area is not very big, but it is impressive all the same. The water is black because of the iron particles that are forever in it. The rock has streaks of yellow from the sulfur and streaks of orange from the oxidized iron. I was pretty fascinated by the volcano, but the really fun part was yet to come.

We were told there were pools we could bathe in. So we walked down the trail a bit and then we found them. The water in the pools was pitch black and very hot. I stuck one foot in and had trouble keeping it there, but I slowly, slowly let myself down into the pool of iron water and soaked in the super hot water. It felt really nice. There was also some mud from the volcano they put beside the pool that you could put on yourself because it's like the mud they use in spas; supposed to be really good for the skin and all that. So we decided, why the heck not, and rubbed the volcano mud all over ourselves. The French tourists who stuck their feet in the little stream of black water that fed the pool were taking pictures of us, but decided they didn't want to join in the fun.

So we emerged from the pool smelling like sulfur but apparently having just given ourselves the cheapest spa treatment of our lives. It was fun, but we did not smell very good and neither did our towels. We left black streaks on everything because the iron particles and mud had gotten in our nails and hair and bathing suits. Oh well. Those can be washed. We had a lot of fun.

Next stop was Diamond Falls, Botanical Gardens and mineral baths. It was a short drive to there, and we got out, walked through the gorgeous tropical garden admiring the colors, the diversity and the exotic format, and then we reached the falls. The water comes down the falls hot and the background is bright orange because the water still has some iron particles in it that are oxidized. It is a cool sight, but not particularly impressive.

After that we took a dip in the mineral pools which were warm but not hot, and very refreshing because they didn't smell like rotting eggs. So we cleaned up a little more after that, felt great but very hungry, walked back through the garden looking at mahogany, cashew, cocoa and calabash trees, then piled back in the van with a request to find food. Food we did find, in the little town of Soufriere in the form of delicious pockets of bread filled with vegetables and chicken in an array of spices and juices called a Roti. It was great. I was very satisfied and the whole meal again, with drinks, was less than $3. Incredible. I love the EC dollar. Everytime the price is reasonable, I ask if it's in American or EC dollars, and if it's in EC dollars I get to cut the price in three. So awesome.

So we finished our lunch which was delicious but not very quiet because outside there was a gigantic street rally for the next day's national elections. What a huge weekend it was in St. Lucia! Elections and Love Fest... Anyway, so we had all these people in the streets and people who came into the restaurant yelling about the labor party or the other party and their candidate's virtues and other things. Very lively again, and not unlike Jump Up except it was in the middle of the day and the people were on a day long march to Castries. They had hired huge trucks and jeeps that were extended to hold at least 20 people seated so they crammed them full and paraded through the streets all 20 miles up to Castries, going very slowly. Fortunately, we were not behind them, we had eaten quickly to leave before they got out in front of the van and then we headed back to Castries to drop off Fran and Becks at the port. I had decided to stay an extra night.

John had to wait at the port for another fare before he could take me back up to my part of the island so we just hung out by the van, chatting. Finally we were on our way back up to my part of the island and John asked if I wanted to stop and get dinner somewhere. We passed huge truckloads of people screaming and cheering for their candidate and big street parties/rallies. I have never seen a country so involved in its election. The entire population was out in force. It may have been just to have an excuse to party, as John suggested. I said all I really wanted was some ice cream. So he took me to a place that was run by italians that served REAL gelato. Oh horray! I had Martinica (because I had to) and Tiramisu. The Martinica flavor was dark chocolate with chocolate chips that had a strong rum flavor in it. And the Tiramisu was just, well, great. After that I just went back to the hotel, took an evening dip in the pool and chilled out watching ENGLISH television. Perfect.




The next morning I went for a very long run. And the streets were absolutely out of control. The lines for the polling stations were down the street already at 6:30am. I was harassed an abnormal amount which made the last run particularly disagreeable, so I returned to the hotel, ate breakfast and waited for my ride to the port. John arrived and dropped me off at the port and I started back to my island.

Since then I have just been patiently biding my time until that long awaited day, tomorrow arrives. I think I'm gonna go to bed early, and cherish the feeling of excitement I will get when I wake up and it's actually the DAY I GET TO GO HOME!!

Signing off... one happy girl.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Disorganized.

Fridays I spend four hours at LP Bateliere, working in conjunction with the teachers who are there. Today, I showed up, after not being there last week because of the robbery and having to go do the report at the police station and it taking 3 hours...

I think the teachers were taking it out on me for not being there last week, even though I had called and told them that I was stuck at the police station and updated them on the situation until finally I just said I wouldn't make it. They did not extend this same courtesy to me when absolutely none of them showed up today. Yet, the classes were still there, ready and waiting. Well, kind of.

Every week they change the rooms on me and I have to go searching for the students who, of course, don't want to be found by the lowly assistant who's not really a teacher. And now this week it was worse because I had no teacher authority with me in the room as I usually do, so they were terribly behaved. National AIDS recognition day was today, a blessing and a curse. It made classes a little shorter because there were flyers being distributed and little skits and information sessions between classes. Condoms were distributed. One of my students decided it would be fun to blow up condoms like balloons while I was writing stuff on the board. There are those times when I feel like seriously taking that group of guys who was laughing hysterically when I saw it and beating them senseless, or running out of the classroom and never coming back, but this time I was blessed with a comeback. A good comeback. It happens so rarely and I thank God that it was today. I needed it. So I saw the inflated condom on the floor, made a face, and the class erupted in laughter. It was clear that it had come from the group of guys who refuse to shut up ever, and talk very loudly while other kids are trying to learn. So I said, after letting them enjoy it for a second, "So, no need for any condoms huh?" and it was simple enough and I said it right with the right tone of voice and the whole class laughed at HIM this time. They got my meaning. Thank you Lord for that, because if I hadn't recovered I would have lost them for the entire rest of the year.

I have one good class. I teach them the last hour from 11:30 to 12:30. They like me and I like them. They are a very small group and they always participate and are fun. But it's not enough to make me not dread Fridays.

It's been a pretty bad week weather wise here. Lots of rain and heavy winds almost all day, with short breaks only. I'm hoping that it will be better tomorrow because I'm hoping to get to the beach. It's been great having a car. I love being able to go home or go grocery shopping or go straight to work and not be at the mercy of the terrible bus. I haven't made too much use of it for making large excursions yet because I have to say, my spirit is still a little defeated and I'm just sticking the tips of my toes back in the water, testing it. There is a party tomorrow night that I'm really looking forward to, and this is the last full week of classes before I go home as well. I will only see my Tuesday classes twice before I go, the rest only once.

I still have Caribbean Christmas shopping to do. Send requests! Return date is Dec. 14th and my cell phone will be in operation. Can't wait to see/hear from you all.

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