I left some Caribbean beach between my toes for the flight, the sea in my hair for two days and the Virgin holidays luggage label is still on the rucksack.
I have shells on the dressing table and pieces of washed up coral and I’m wearing the weird shell, local rock and local wood bracelet that Helenora the lady who sat on the beach stringing beads, made for me.
What makes you think I prefer to stick my head in the Caribbean sand and pretend I’m still on holiday?
It’s not that bad but it’s close. I’m trying to resist the way your brain files holidays away in the memory, compressed and tightly zipped as though you’ve only been away for a couple of days in real time whereas the two weeks when you were in new and curious and fascinating territories lolled and sprawled in a relaxed fashion over what seemed sometimes like a forever kind of paradise.
I liked St Lucia, our Caribbean getaway. It blew me away, to be honest, finding myself in the tropics. Even though Branson thoughtfully provides those handy little maps so you can chart your way across the Atlantic minute by minute, hour by hour; the tropics are a bit like China and childbirth; nothing can really prepare you.
The warmth made me smile. The smiling faces of airport staff standing around – plenty of them – made me smile more. There were palm trees doing the traditional waving thing over sandy, wild surf beaches. Grass was the only plant I didn’t recognise from the Indoor Plants sections of the garden centres back home. But in St Lucia the plants go crazy. Swiss cheese plants don’t remain looking sullen in a pot with six leaves, they twine and wind enthusiastically, scaling the 40 foot trees like tropical ivy.
The air tasted thicker than usual. Capt Sensible said that was humidity and broke out in a sweat.
As we were driven away from the airport, glimpses of the wilder Atlantic coast made me glad we were heading for the calmer Caribbean side to the west. Houses were mostly single storey, wooden, with balconies and turned wood verandahs. People were sitting out, chillin’ man. Our driver waved, called, indicated “after you” to other drivers. They reciprocated. It all seemed very amiable and relaxed. No-one was rushing to overtake, to squeeze in to get ahead. No-one waited to turn out into a more major road. Other drivers just let them out.
The road turned off the coast inland to wind up through tropical rainforest of the interior.
“Boa constrictors are our biggest snake, although the fer de lance is the deadly one,” remarked the taxi driver. “If a boa is crossing the road, drivers always stop for it.”
The hurricane of October 2010 had left its mark. Vast mudslides down hillsides which must have taken weeks to clear from the only road which intersects the island. For the entire week after the hurricane struck the only way to get from place to place on the island was by boat. People were philosophical. It had been 30 years since the last bad hurricane – they usually somehow miss St Lucia – and anyone who had built a house next to a river in a valley – well, they only had themselves to blame when their place was swamped by water and mud.
The Caribbean coast looked superb. Calm and clear with colourful, coral reefs inhabited by communities of fish,urchins and other fascinating creatures. The water was wonderfully warm: warm enough to just stay in it for as long as you liked, which suited me.
The world-famous marine reserve at Anse Chasteney was like being immersed in an Attenborough documentary without the voiceover. The clearest water, shoals of tropical fish including groups of barracuda, lean mean shining metallic blue/silver machines, that darted by just below the surface clumps and mounds of vivid coral, bright yellow tubes of sponges stretching up. The brilliant turquoise blue of the parrot fish had to be seen to be believed.
The new Canon D10 (a new dust-proof waterproof snappy job) proved itself, although it was a learning curve, hanging in the water using both hands to steady the camera, get your subject in view and press the shutter button before it had time to flick its tail and vanish beneath a rock.
Fun, though. Hit and miss and some patience required waiting for that incredible bright pink fish – probably a glasseye – to come out from under the ledge (it didn’t).
So I suppose snorkelling was the main thing. And when we got hit by tropical rain and grey skies for about four days, it was fine. It’s warmer under the water and you get this fabulously surreal effect hearing the splatterings of rain on the surface and seeing the underside of the surface, that infinite sheet of rippling pale grey silk, battered by thousands of raindrops.
I’ve been snorkelling before, often but never before spent enough time to observe the underwater world as a series of communities. There are the loner fish who defend their territories, seeing off unwelcome intruders, the lurkers, the community fish who do everything together and the special creatures like squid and cuttlefish.
Swimming in the cove next to our resort, I found a kind of natural dish in the rock where the waves were crashing against the cliff, swirling around the dish and getting sucked back into the sea. A kind of maelstrom at eye level for me. I watched fish playing in the oxygenated sea water. They’d swim up into the pool and get washed about furiously, then they would pour down the “slide” back into the sea, swim round to the pool and do it all again.
I’d just finished watching them when turned in a different direction to find five cuttlefish floating in the water, spaced out equally about 18 inches apart all on the same level, all looking at me!
First time I’d ever felt like the alien being observed. A magical moment, facing what looked like a cuttlefish display team. They hung in the water, rippling delicately, tentacles held in dart formation, watching with their big eyes and changing colour in subtle ways.
I put my hand out to one and he darted back very quickly but the others remained in formation. As I moved more, so did they. I just wished I had the camera but it’s always those moments when you generally don’t.
Then I became aware of a noise which sounded like a cross between an avant garde violin solo and a lonesome mooing. A turtle? Do turtles call? A dolphin? Nah, they mostly click.
I didn’t find out until much, much later.