As we wait on the curb for our ride, nothing stirs.
Even the sun struggles to peel itself off the horizon. Our cab is a half hour late and when it finally arrives, the windows are frosted over.
“Sorry mon, no heet,” the cabbie explains.
He steers with one hand and scrapes furiously with the other. Reggae music rattles from frozen speakers.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“Island jus nort de Trini-dad” he says.
My wife gets excited, “Our cruise might stop there!”
“Good,” he says, “you tell me family dat I be freez’n me arse off in dis place.”
We pause for a short awkward silence.
“Jus mess’n wit you,” he laughs.
My wife smiles. For her a vacation is a time to get to know new people and places, and she is already in vacation mode. She points to a large medallion swinging from the rear view mirror. “I should know,” she says, “but who is that saint?”
“Dat be Saint Jude.”
“Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes, right?”
“Remind me of home,” he says sadly.
At the airport, we tip him generously.
Day One: Afternoon at Dockside
An exhausted SS Euphoria leans against the cruise terminal. Her last complement of passengers cannot disembark fast enough. They push and shove each other while shouting warnings to us about a winter storm and heavy seas. The cruise company tells us not to worry.
We see no evidence of a storm. The air is calm and the ocean is skillet gray. The only sign that might be alarming are the thousands of frantic sea gulls fleeing inland.
We embark and explore.
The couple walking ahead of us remarks how “classy” the décor is. One supposes that for them “class” has something to do with the count of cherubs in the wallpaper.
We cut through the slumbering casino to the first of many dining rooms. A cordon of retirees has claimed the buffet. They fend off all intruders with a form of martial arts consisting solely of elbow jabs.
My wife discovers the shops as the boat exits the channel for the open seas. I leave her there and return to the room to read. On the way, I pass the Purser’s Desk where a slightly green-tinged woman complains bitterly about the rocking of the ship.
The purser winks and says, “Hon, we can’t help it, it’s the newlyweds.”
Day Two: At Sea
“Can sea gulls fly backwards?” my wife asks.
“Not possible,” I say, knowing nothing of gulls.
We cling to our balcony rail as the ship staggers up a steep hill of green water. At the crest, a fierce gust rips the top off the wave and flings Tidy Bowl Blue spray at the frantic gulls who have dogged our journey. They swirl and dodge to stay airborne.
The boat lurches hard to port then slides gleefully into the trough below where it lurches hard to starboard before staggering up the next wave.
I pop a Dramamine for each wave.
“Isn’t this fun?” my wife asks. She loves amusement rides that make me sick.
A gull shoots by doing at least sixty miles an hour — backward.
A very large woman sporting a blond mullet peers around the privacy divider between the balconies.
“I’m SOOOO drunk,” she confides.
My wife holds up a margarita in solidarity.
“YEAAAAH!!!” the woman yells as a wave launches her back into her cabin.
We meet the neighbors on the other side, a family of nine, or more accurately a family of seven since the parents elected not to accompany their children on the cruise.
Day Three: Any Port In A Storm
I wake to a soft light, the color of egg yoke, filtering through our open balcony door. The curtains rustle as a fragrant breeze fills the room. I nod back to sleep.
Bump, clang, thud. The crew is securing lines to the wharf.
I rise to the expectation of lush volcanic hills and palms bending toward an aquamarine sea. Instead I am greeted by a rusty corrugated iron wall bearing big blue letters that spell: SAINT JUDE ISLAND.
Bump, clang, thud.
I step out onto the balcony. Below, workers are wheeling large containers bearing the cruise company logo down the gang plank toward a convoy of olive drab Soviet-era half-tracks.
With an audible click, the intercom comes to life. A deeply lyrical voice announces that due to “Winter Storm Wanda”, we have taken refuge in the exotic and infrequently visited People’s Republic of Saint Jude.
I consult my Lonely Planet Guide. There is but one reference to the island, a troubling paragraph pleading for information as to the whereabouts of Ted Tucker, the only Lonely Planet reviewer foolish enough to have ventured here.
“Let’s take a tour!” My wife exclaims.
“Where?” I ask gazing at the rusted wall.
She pages through a hastily printed brochure, “To a place called Potemkin Village.”
“Does it really say that?” I ask.
“Sure, sounds fun”
I agree to go, so we queue up on the wharf behind several hundred other passengers. After an hour, the column of half-tracks returns to the quay.
The tail gates clang open. Thankfully, no troops leap out.
We clamor aboard. The convoy belches black smoke as it pulls out.
It is a beautiful island. A mist shrouded mountain ringed by white beaches, slender palms and a blue-green sea. It is everything the cruise promised to be, but for one buzz kill; the roads are lined by concrete posts strung together with electrified barbed wire.
“Honey,” my wife whispers, “Is this where they filmed Jurassic Park?”
The tour is lovely. All the colorful natives come out to greet us. They unfurl banners as we pass. One reads, “THE PEOPLE HAVE UNIVERSAL HEALTHCARE AND YOU DON’T”. Another reads, “YOU HAVE JUSTIN BIEBER AND WE DON’T!!”
I resolve to avoid any discussion of politics or celebrities while on Saint Jude Island.
We make it to Potemkin Village in quick time, a hastily constructed hamlet consisting solely of Quonset huts surrounded by large containers bearing the logo of our cruise line.
“Look!” my wife says, clapping in glee, “Shopping.”
Day Four, Five: On The Beach
The sand is white as sugar and a fearsome security detail defends us from the annoyance of native peddlers. Even the sharks keep their distance from these guys.
I planned to read on the beach but a very rude young man wearing wrap around sunglasses and armed with an AK-47 seized my books. He promised to donate them to the island’s library.
Day Six and Seven: Steaming in circles At Sea
I pop more Dramamine; one for each wave.
Day Eight: Midnight at the Twin Cities Airport, -25F.
The only available cab has no heat.
“How de vacashun?” the cabbie asks.
“Well, it beats the cold,” I say with a shiver, “By the way, what made you leave the sunshine?”
He steers as he scrapes, “I prefer de cold”.
Note: My wife and I will be returning to the joys of cruising over the next ten days. Remember us in your prayers and if we don’t return, assume that we have become stranded castaways on some uncharted desert isle – which sure beats a Minnesota winter!