I’ve spent a lot of time living on islands these past few years, and there are a few constants that one finds on just about any island.
“Tomorrow” means “not today,” and nothing more. It does not signify a specific day in the future, and almost certainly does not signify the day that comes immediately after today.
If you have a package being delivered, you should wait until you have finally given up on it. Then wait a little longer, with bonus points earned for actually forgetting what is inside. Only THEN, it may arrive. My mother sent a package to the Bahamas in January of 2017. We left, sailed north to New England, returned south to the Caribbean, and finally returned north again to the Bahamas, 14 months later, to find my package waiting for me. What was inside, you may wonder? My mom had to ask me because she could not remember what she sent. It was, in fact, a pair of hot pink galoshes with cows on them. I was as confused by this as you probably are, but that’s another story.
The final certainty of island life – cash is what everyone wants, even when the entire island does not boast a single ATM. Living and traveling largely on our boat, we have had a lot of boat work done, both large and small. No matter what, the workers usually want cash. We do anticipate this and usually travel with cash, and anyone who flies home for a week will return with a replenished cash wallet. But as any boat owner knows, something is always breaking, and someone is always asking for more.
I’ve jumped through more than my share of hoops to get my hands on paper money. On more than one island, I’ve learned to ask at various stores if they will charge my card extra and give me the cash – something I would never have asked in the US – but more often than not, they say yes and I get enough cash to at least buy my kids an ice cream. (Serious question – why are all island ice cream parlors cash only?!) I’ve even swallowed my pride and, if I see someone with a wad of cash, I’ll ask (ok, fine – desperately beg) if I can pay their tab in return for some cash. Nothing like this to get you feeling like a broke college student again.
Friends were visiting us on our Bahamian rock recently and were on the receiving end of this particular scam. My friend was trying to buy tampons, which were behind the counter, so she got in line behind a teenage boy who spotted the cash in her hand and kept insisting on buying whatever she needed in exchange for her cash. After much persistence on his part, she finally gave in, saying, “Ok buddy, you can have my cash but you need to ask for the box of super tampons!”
This winter we spent four months living on Antigua and when it was time to leave, I was making the rounds getting everyone paid. The very last day, the only person I still owed was the taxi driver who was bringing my three boys and me to the airport. We had an account with him that we paid every month and this final balance was $1,450 ECD, or about $550 USD. I went to the ATM that morning, and learned that my daily ATM limit was $500. I called my bank, who had to “allow” me to do a cash advance with a teller inside. I went inside the bank and got in line while my three year old did leaping pirouettes around the room, knocking into as many things as possible, and my five year old shimmied around the floor on his belly.
When I finally got to the front of the line, the lady ran my card three times, all to no avail. I had the bank on the phone telling me my account was just fine with plenty of money in it, and yet the woman running my card was telling me I had “insufficient funds.” After the third try she said, “Oh shoot, sorry, I can only try three times. There is another bank ‘in town,’” which meant about 40 minutes away. I had a flight in three hours. The baby was screaming and I was sweating. My five year old had cleaned their entire floor and probably even shined a few customers’ shoes in the process, and I couldn’t even get enough cash for my taxi. I schlepped back to the marina, dumped my bags at the taxi stand, and went into the nearby restaurant for one last snack before catching our flight. I confessed my dilemma to the owner, Angie, who immediately said, “Oh I’ll give you cash, I have a ton of it!” After several more back and forths with my bank, I got my cash, gave Angie the biggest, sweatiest hug that she probably never wanted, and made it to the airport without having to tuck and roll from my taxi with three small children.
We are now in the Bahamas again and in our very first week, we had some boat repairs that came to $1,300 – cash, but of course. The only bank’s hours were easy to remember: every Tuesday. So on Tuesday morning, I cruised over and was met with an empty building taken over by vines. There is apparently no bank there any more and the nearest one is on another island that is a 20 minute ferry ride plus 20 minute taxi ride away. I learned this from the office at our marina. As I dejectedly turned to go (thank you, strapped-on baby for helping me look extra pathetic), they added, “But we’ll give you cash! How much do you need?!” Oh, island life. In moments like these, I really love you.
This story is not complete, however, without one quick tale from the now-decrepit Tuesday-only bank. I remember fondly many hours spent waiting there on Tuesdays last year. I only had two boys then – two and four years old, plus a six-month pregnant belly, and I would usually try to squeeze into the only chair and oscillate between embarrassment and hope. Embarrassment over my loud unruly children, and hope that someone in front of us in line would take mercy and let us go ahead of them. (I dreamily envisioned myself weakly protesting several times before finally giving in and waddling to the front of the line.)
One fine Tuesday morning, my two year old turned to me with big eyes and announced to the room: “I gotta go POOOOO!” This was the one and only time my dreams of line-cutting came true, as the woman headed up to the counter looked over and insisted I go ahead. Damn, I wanted to, I really did. But anyone with a two-year-old knows that once they announce an impending bowel movement, it’s pretty much on its way out. I swung him out the door, and got his swim trunks down just in time for him to drop a big one in the giant potted plant on their front walk, right next to a really nice, if unlucky, bank security guard. I promised him I’d be right back to clean it up and ran back inside and up to the counter.
I got my cash, begged a plastic bag off another customer, and took my boys, my cash, and the poo and ran away to lay low for the rest of the day. Not that anyone on an island would ever forget a sight like that…