There’s something different about us expats who end up living on rocks – many of whom often wind up here by accident rather than by design. After all, if we didn’t like unpredictability or a challenge, we’d be living in the suburbs with 2.5 children, a dog, and a station wagon or maybe spending our days in a suit being corporate. And it’s a long way from there to here, whichever island you decide to make your home; you must be ready to abandon yourself to a little or, in some cases, a lot of chaos and third world thinking. In my experience, we love it or hate it in more or less equal measure at times and if the latter feeling predominates for some, then they tend to scuttle back to “normal”.
My introduction to island living wasn’t particularly auspicious. February of 1990 was my 50th birthday and having just ended a bad second marriage and a huge business loss, I was determined not to spend it at home in Canada. I cashed in an insurance policy and took off for a holiday in St. Lucia. I arrived at midnight and shared what was laughingly masquerading as a taxi with some fellow holiday-makers. It turned out to be a spine-shattering ride due to zero padding on the seats. I literally ended up with a large bruise on my spine from where my bra fastener kept hitting the back of the seat, as it seemed the driver was on a mission to drop us into every pothole we came upon, of which there were many!
This 40-mile bone-bashing ride was also terrifying because it was pitch black and there weren’t any guard rails to prevent us from toppling over the edge of the mountain. Thankfully, my taxi companions turned out to be a lovely family of 13 in total, who took me under their wing and included me in all their outings throughout the rest of my trip.
One night, the son (his mother called him the “black sheep of the family”) wanted to go to Ladies Night at some club or another and asked if I would join him. I agreed and we had a few dances and a drink in what seemed like a safe environment. Foolishly, we had not noticed any of the warnings posted at the hotel about taking cabs from outside the hotel grounds, so when it was time to go home, we simply hopped into a waiting mini-van. Equally foolishly, I was wearing a white dress and some expensive jewelry – a diamond tennis bracelet, my diamond wedding band, and a large topaz ring.
The night was very dark, illuminated only slightly by intermittent moonlight. About five minutes into the ride on a road running through a banana or sugar plantation, I spotted another mini-van rushing up behind us. It pulled alongside just as our driver came to a stop and turned off the ignition, saying he was out of gas and we should get into that “taxi”. At the same time, four large men got out of the other van. My companion and I looked at one another, realizing with dread that we were no doubt being set-up for robbery and/or rape. Luckily, I don’t panic and my young friend had his wits about him too. He whispered to me to take my shoes off and instructed that when he said, RUN, I was to run like hell down the road and try to get away.
We stepped out of the van and my companion, who was quite muscular and tough-looking, said to the men, “Get out of the way, we’re not going with you.” Then he shouted, “Run!”
I think the men were so surprised that they just stood there for a few seconds in shock while my friend bolted after me. Then, after our brief head start, they began shouting and chasing after us. Luckily, there was a bend in the road where we were out of their sight for a few moments, and my friend told me to get in the ditch. It’s amazing to me what random thoughts race through one’s head when in danger. My immediately thought was, What if there are snakes or tarantulas in there?!
Huddled in the ditch, I could hear my heart thumping so loudly that I was sure the men would be able to hear it. But the gods must have been looking out for us, as it was very dark (the moon having completely disappeared behind a cloud) and although the men came quite close to where we were hiding and we could hear them talking and shuffling on the gravel, fortunately they seemed disinclined to investigate either side of the road. After what seemed an eternity, but was probably only a few minutes, we heard them retreat, the two cars start-up, and they all left back the way they had come. We waited a good while stuck in the ditch (despite my snake phobia) to make sure they had left and then got out and made our way onto the road and started walking with no idea how far the next hotel was.
Eventually, we reached one with a sleepy doorman outside and begged him to find us a safe ride back to our hotel, which he did. Not surprisingly, he didn’t seem the least bit perturbed when we told him of our ordeal, as if it happened all the time – and it probably did – hence the warning signage we finally noticed when we arrived safely back to our hotel gate.
And so it was, unknown to my companion at the time, that I spent my 50th birthday in a ditch and then walking for a couple of miles barefoot on a hot, pitch-black tropical night with a young man who, as I told his mother the next morning at the family breakfast, turned out to be more Knight in Shining Armour than Black Sheep.