Monday, January 21, 2013

Third Term: Grazing Before the Slaughter

            We’ve been back on the island for over a week now.  Third term classes started for Ivan on Monday; so he’s been at it for a week and, as everyone advised, third term has thus far been relaxing, albeit in a I’m-taking-easy-classes-but-I’m-still-in-med-school relaxing way.  Semantics aside, the free time allowed by an easier workload has given Ivan the chance to get out… quite a bit, in fact.
            But let me take a step or two back.
            In my previous post, I said that I wasn’t able to visit my brother and his family in Pittsburgh before departing, due to that nasty circulating flu.  Apart from being a total downer that I couldn’t spend a little extra time with the kids, this hitch also meant that we needed to drive to Pittsburgh from Erie (two and a half hours) the morning of our 6:20am departure.  I was not, despite my best efforts, able to fall asleep until about 10pm the night before.  Up at midnight and on the road by 1:00am, I had only two hours of sleep.  Needless to say, I had a jumbo coffee copilot for the extent of the drive (yes, I was behind the wheel: one last taste before returning to Grenada, where we don’t drive).  So, what am I getting at?  I had very little sleep and was wired for the two flights ahead.
            We arrived in Miami without a hiccup, spent our seven-hour layover traversing the airport’s web-like layout, consuming the last of our well-loved greasy American food and Starbucks, before the final leg—our flight to Grenada.
            Immigration at the Maurice Bishop International Airport was, per usual, no problem.  Then we reached customs; more accurately, we reached the end of the line for customs.  The end of a very long, unmoving line.  After a half hour of standing in that static queue with our luggage piled next to us, word finally arrived that the customs officers (of which there were approximately two actively working) were searching every passenger’s bags.  Individually and thoroughly.  Just to give you some perspective: the Boeing 737-800 seats about one-hundred and forty-two people.  And that’s about how long the line was—the line in which we were last.  It hardly needs stated, but there was a fair amount of grumbling and riotous murmurs (of actual riots, there were, disappointingly, none).

            Our flight landed at 8:30pm.  At 11:30pm, I was sleep-deprived and crashing from my caffeine jolt.  There is no bathroom or drinking fountain in the customs section of the airport, so I was also uncomfortable and thirsty.  Peculiar and irrational urges to scream, break something, or just start belting out Gangnam Style began feeling less and less like an unprovoked reaction to what I had begun to equate to unusual torture.
            Finally we approached the customs officer and, as it turns out, they were searching bags for undeclared iPads.  (The duty charged on an iPad is atrocious, so it’s not surprising that hordes of students would choose not to declare them and save the money.)  Speaking of money, Ivan and I are far too poor to own a fancy gadget like an iPad.  (And money is the only reason.  It has nothing at all to do with my ineptitude for all things technologically gadget-like.)  Our bags were dutifully searched.  The officer hesitated on our luggage scale, which bears no resemblance to an iPad.  Then he came across our White Elephant Christmas Present—a gaudy plaque with an oriental decorative mask—and seemed horribly offended.  Now, I don’t know that the plaque is inherently offensive, but I suppose it could be considered faintly tacky or even a little tasteless (Cristal, rest assured, we LOVE it!).  But the officer looked like I was smuggling in some sort of provocative, racist tribal trophy.  Imagine going to your grandma’s house with a head on a pike.  That’s essentially the response we got.  Lesson: we are, it seems, barbarians.

            The plaque made it through customs.  The officer spent less time on my camera than the mask, but still, he questioned if the camera was new (which, of course, I denied) and what the two additional lenses do (what an odd question) and how many megapixels the camera has (to which I don’t recall my response).  Before midnight, we escaped the airport.
            As a great—and most appreciated—relief, our friends were there to pick us up and save us the hassle and cost of a taxi.  Even more, they had granola bars and cold beer for us.  As it is not illegal in Grenada, I enjoyed both during our ride home.
            Good news: our apartment was in shining condition.  The few items we left in our refrigerator were still in there and our cleaning lady, Nikita, even moved the bread we had left to the freezer.  Our wardrobe was untouched and still very full of everything we’d packed inside.  Holly and David, our downstairs neighbors, had not only collected the keys for our apartment, but had also stocked our fridge with the eggs they knew we would undoubtedly need.
            Sweet relief: we finally slept.
            Saturday, the day after our plane landed, I ran.  The hardest part about being in Erie during the winter was my inability to run.  During most of our stay, the weather was snowy (not that I am complaining about the snow at all), which meant that I couldn’t just wake up and go running—something I’ve taken for granted living in the Caribbean.  Since landing, I’ve only abstained from running on Sundays.  Since his classes are not too difficult now, Ivan’s even been joining me every other day.  I don’t know that I could qualify myself as a particularly good runner, but I think addicted is an adequate description of my interest.
            If I could summarize Grenada in two happy words, they would be mangoes and running.
            Unfortunately, then, I would be leaving out the very happy word, friends.
            Sunday morning we met a couple friends, Gwynne and Martin, and their children for a trip to Seven Sisters waterfalls.  The goal of the trip, as I understood it, was to jump the falls.  There are seven waterfalls in total (hence the name), though only five are accessible for jumping.  When we arrived, we paid our modest entry fee and grabbed a walking stick each from the cantankerous old cashier who hollered at me for wearing flip-flops and outright forbade any jumping of the falls, spouting some tirade about broken backs and necks and… well, no one was really listening.
The puppies we saw along the hike

            We hiked a very muddy and steep path to the falls where we found the swimming hole teaming with German tourists.  A few of them mutely presented the best argument against Speedos I’ve ever witnessed, but I suppose shameless public comfort can be found in even the snuggest of garments.  We didn’t have very long to wait before they cleared out and headed back to their tour buses, presumably adhering to a strict schedule.  Then Martin found the jumping guide known as Super Butterfly and it was time to hike up the hill and jump the falls.  I am an absolutely helpless coward; so when I was told I couldn’t bring my camera with me unless it could get wet, I was actually pretty relieved.  Since the camera in question was my SLR, there was no way I was going to leave it unattended.  So I bid the rest of the group farewell, promising to photograph them when they reached this last, enormous waterfall.

            Twenty to thirty minutes was all it took before the group emerged at the top of the falls.  I waded waist-deep into the water and looked up and up and up.  According to Super Butterfly, this was the largest of the waterfalls; it was a thirty-five foot drop into a pool that was eighteen feet deep.  The guide gave some jumping lessons, then stood back.  One after another, they leapt off the ledge and my stomach dropped each time.

            By this time, another wave of German tourists had arrived.  As a final hurrah, the jumping group did one last leap off of a smaller waterfall just downstream of the tall one.  After they’d finished, Ivan convinced me to give it a try.  Sure, I thought.  Really, it didn’t look hard at all, watching the others hop right off the ledge.  So I clambered up the rocks and got to the edge and my stomach dropped again.  The jump was maybe ten feet, nothing horrific.  But the face of cliff (can I call it a cliff?) was at a grade.  In other words, to jump safely, I needed to propel myself forward, away from the rock.  Since I was standing on wet shale and moss and mud, I was feeling a wee bit uncertain about my footing.  If that wasn’t enough to fray my nerves, the tourists were grouping around to watch the show.  One of them pulled out a bag of bread and threw fistfuls into the pool below me, demonstrating the ridiculous schools of fish I was about to plunge into.  Danke, friend.
            The series of photos Ivan shot show my hesitation—marked by my deceptively cheerful glances—and even my false jump which left the German tourists laughing mid-cheer.  But then the rest of our friends caught on to my intent and, across the stream, began cheering and waving with so much enthusiasm, what could I do but jump?  I survived, despite an unexpected jet of cold water that rushed up my nose upon impact.

            What else have we been up to?  Well, game night last week was a great reunion with a handful of friends.  Even though it began with red wine on my shirt, I’m willing to bet we’ll show up again this week.  We got to the beach last week also, though the water was unusually choppy.  I suppose we’ll have to try again very soon.  We went into town with a friend and got eight pounds of fish at the fish market (sailfish, yellow fin and barracuda), which I anticipate lasting us a while.  We’ve eaten some of the most amazing mangoes we’ve had on the island (excellent way to start the term).  We celebrated our friend’s thirtieth two weeks in a row.  Most recently we celebrated at the Cave House Restaurant, a pretty fancy place that, in my opinion, has way too much silverware—I think we start with about sixteen pieces.  I’m pretty certain we didn’t act the part of fancy patrons since our conversations bordered on the verge of inappropriate bar-talk at least half of the time and the birthday boy forsook all silverware in favor of a face-plant when his chocolate birthday mousse arrived, but there were good times to be had.

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