Just the other day my good friend, Captain John, asked me for shortcut directions to get to the ridge road when leaving Rincon. “Go to the building where the Polar Beer wall advertisement used to be and turn right,” I expertly instructed.
The captain stared back at me incredulously. “How do you expect me to find that land mark if it doesn’t exist anymore? You’ve been on the island too long!” He had a point. Not about my longevity on Bonaire, but certainly about how the island, in perhaps subtle, imperceptible ways, has changed me. I decided that it was time for some serious hammock contemplation to explore this in depth.
I have a near daily ritual of retreating to my hammock in the heat of the afternoon. It hangs in the shade of the porch where the breezes blow through my home and out to sea. The hammock is a great place to chill, contemplate the cosmos or simply snooze. I tend to do all three. But on this particular afternoon I began thinking about what Captain John had pointed out. How has this island changed me?
There are a number of small things. For instance, I used make a bee-line to the receptionist upon entering a dentist or doctor office to let them know I was present. No longer. I have learned to first say ‘Bon Dia’ or ‘Bon Tardi’ upon arrival, acknowledging everyone in the waiting room. Only after the greeting is complete do I make my way to the desk.
Another example happened last week. I pulled my station wagon over to say hello to Yellow Man who was walking along Kaya Playa Lechi. I didn’t do a very good job of that since the back end of the car was still on the road. Karen in the pickup truck behind gave me a short honk and yelled out, “Look at you, Patrick. You’re driving just like a local.” She was right. And the people in the three vehicles behind her appeared to nod in agreement as well.
Then there are the celebrations of new things on the island. When the Bonaire Mall on Kaya Grandi finally got their new escalator working, the first one ever here, I went over and rode the machine to the top—twice. It was great. Then someone critically pointed out that it is only one-way, that once on top you have to walk back down. I never thought about that. I guess I am from the ‘glass-half-full’ school of life philosophy. Or how about when the new rotonda opened up at the intersection of Kaya Industria and Kaya International a few years back. I remember that grand day clearly. Approaching the traffic circle everything screamed, “I AM NEW!” in the blazing afternoon sun. Bold, white lines commanded where to stop. The new asphalt was deep black from being poured just the day before. Letters painted on the yellow, circular centerpiece greeted those just released from the Flamingo Airport, ‘Bon Bini Na Bonaire’-welcome to Bonaire. It was overwhelming. I was euphoric. I sped about the circle once-twice-three times, laughing madly all the way. My equilibrium-challenged spouse was duly unimpressed and as I approached the fourth orbit, I was sternly urged to abort the mission and begin re-entry. “Oh, ok,” I mumbled and obediently steered my earth orbiter Subaru on to Kaya Industria.
You can imagine with these changes in attitudes what it is like for me to change latitudes when I leave the island. Each year, I dutifully return to the States to see family. But increasingly I feel out of place in the country where I was born. For one, I have to wear real shoes there. Plus the traffic is horrendous. People are in hyper-warp—talking, texting and driving all at the same time. There is little room for poco poco here. When I visit a supermarket I get lost among the four, 20-meter long aisles of frozen foods. All I want is a bag of frozen peas! At a cocktail party hosted by my lovely sister, an urban-elegant girlfriend of hers inquires, “What is it that you exactly do every day on your tiny island?” I begin to answer, but stop. How can I express my excitement about orbiting our new rotunda to this lady? I take a sip of chardonnay instead and safely reply, “Not much.”
Coming back on the United flight from Newark, I await touchdown. Exiting the plane, I get that first blast of warm, tropical air. Yes, back on the island. The next morning, I awake early. First light reveals the silhouette of a palm swaying in slow motion outside my window. First wind delivers the soft whirling noise from the wind generators mounted on the visiting yachts in the bay. First sounds come from a backyard rooster in the neighborhood as he crows his morning salute. A troupial responds with a multicolored melody. The question from the cocktail party lady comes to mind and I simply smile. What will I do today? Ahhh, let me count the ways…
Days after my return, Captain John confessed to me that my oblique directions to the ridge road out of Rincon were not the worst that he received down island. One time while anchored on the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua, he asked the best way to get from Falmouth Harbor to Shirley Heights, a lookout notorious for its Sunday parties of rum and reggae. A local told him to follow the road out of town and turn right where the cow was. The captain was skeptical, but made his way up the hill. After a while he saw a man ahead leading a cow by rope along the road. “I asked him if he could show me where he had his cow staked for the day and the farmer complied,” says John. Once there, the thirsty sailor then went right as earlier instructed from and made his way to the best party on Antigua.