A little more than twenty years ago I set sail on a "bicycle cruise" across the Caribbean Sea. I traveled with a group of thirty or so adventurous individuals on a regular cruise ship, but our small segment of passengers brought along bicycles - which we picked up especially for the trip from a bike shop in Puerto Rico. The shop owner also came along to act as our emergency mechanic. The ship sailed at night, and each morning when the big boat docked, our group went ashore and began the day's planned ride.
We did, I believe, eight islands in ten days. Usually we rode as a group, but on long rides we tended to get spread out. Our tour guides, a couple who owned a travel agency in Washington state, arranged for a sag (support and gear) wagon to follow along and pick up anyone having difficulty with the ride.
I usually tried to stay within the main body of the group, but a couple of times I wandered. I remember taking off by myself on the island of Martinique when, for a reason that now escapes me, I decided to return to the ship early. Traveling through the busiest part of the port city on a bicycle was a challenge - but it was also a chance to see the island in a way that few tourists traveling by ship ever get to experience.
The other time that I had a solo bicycle adventure was on the beautiful volcanic island of St. Lucia. St Lucia is a paradise of lush greenery and charming inhabitants. Our trip began at the port in the morning and we bicycled across town and up into the hills. Our first stop was at a little school where a native of St. Lucia was busy whacking the tops off of coconuts with a machete and offering thirsty tourists a taste of the milk. He worked for tips.
A few miles later we came upon a drink stand and a telephone booth across the road from a set of outdoor bleachers. Those were pre-cell phone days, and one young man in our group wanted to stop and try to contact his girlfriend back in the States. I busied myself visiting with an older man who was lounging near the drink stand. "What are the bleachers for?" I asked. The old man smiled and replied that the person who owned them had one of the only television sets in the area. "So, you sit on the bleachers to watch television." I surmised. "No," he replied. "The women watch the television when they do aerobics - and the men sit in the bleachers to watch the women."
As we biked along, we began to get spread out, and I found myself biking alone out of view of the rest of the group. It was then that I had a flat tire. While waiting patiently along the side of the road for the sag wagon to arrive, a couple of young men in a large furniture delivery truck pulled up and asked if I wanted a ride. It was still several miles to our destination, so I said "Why not?" As I was riding in the open back of their large truck, we passed several members of my group, and I was quick to wave and shout greetings to one and all. The good Samaritans in the truck dropped me at a rural intersection close to the beach that was the destination of the morning's ride.
While I was waiting on the bicycle group to catch up with me, I struck up a conversation with an old man who happened by. By this time I was becoming very fond of beautiful St. Lucia and its friendly people. I asked the fellow about the price of houses on the island. We were standing near a nice, yet fairly modest home. "What would this house sell for?" I inquired. He responded that it would probably go for about $40,000. A home in paradise for just $40,000. I was intrigued. "And what about taxes?" "Oh," he responded, "We have no taxes."
It would have all been so simple, yet here I sit, twenty years later, retired in West Plains, Missouri, mowing most of the year - and paying taxes to do it!
Today's poem, "Blues" by St. Lucia native and Nobel laureaute Derek Walcott, describees a street scene and some rough activity that the poet encountered while living in the artsy section of New York City known as Greenwich Village. Walcott also lived for several years in England where he was a university professor. He passed away last month on St. Lucia, and with his passing that island paradise lost one of its many treasures.
Please enjoy "Blues" by Derek Walcott while Pa Rock reflects on the green serenity of St. Lucia and ponders what could have been.
by Derek Walcott
Those five or six young guys
lunched on the stoop
that oven-hot summer night
whistled me over. Nice
and friendly. So, I stop.
MacDougal or Christopher
Street in chains of light.
A summer festival. Or some
saint's. I wasn't too far from
home, but not too bright
for a nigger, and not too dark.
I figured we were all
one, wop, nigger, jew,
besides, this wasn't Central Park.
I'm coming on too strong? You figure
right! They beat this yellow nigger
black and blue.
Yeah. During all this, scared
on case one used a knife,
I hung my olive-green, just-bought
sports coat on a fire plug.
I did nothing. They fought
each other, really. Life
gives them a few kicks,
that's all. The spades, the spicks.
My face smashed in, my bloddy mug
pouring, my olive-branch jacket saved
from cuts and tears,
I crawled four flights upstairs.
Sprawled in the gutter, I
remember a few watchers waved
loudly, and one kid's mother shouting
like 'Jackie' or 'Terry,'
'now that's enough!'
It's nothing really.
They don't get enough love.
You know they wouldn't kill
you. Just playing rough,
like young Americans will.
Still it taught me something
about love. If it's so tough,