Windswept idealism’s of the perfect holiday handcuff you to the dream like fantasy of discovering your very own paradise. Finding long lost secret coves, brown shoulders and whiter teeth build a water coloured image of who you could be in just a few short weeks; the promise of warmer days, sparking conversation and memories that will last forever take you off on a magic carpet of day dreaming.
Rolling shorelines, crashing waves and palm tree shadows gently sooth the soul, fluffing the edges of reality, fine tuning your frequency to a serene Buddha like level; the warm crunch of untouched beach, sand between your toes and the cool touch on your palm of a freshly made cocktail countered with the thick, zesty punch of a pineapple slice born yards away from where you’re slumped.
The Caribbean holiday was once a distant bucket list dream, reserved only for the rich, famous, bank robbers or in witness protection. Years of British ownership Over the islands enforced a snub nosed snobbery and a hefty price tag. Order a little too much in the wrong restaurant without realising and you could be slamming half your monthly rent down on just one meal. But now, things have changed.
The internet and the price comparison market has changed the way we holiday. We thank the gods for Skyscanner which has pretty much single handily changed the way we travel long distance, scouring the web for the cheapest way to get your ass onto a plane and into your swimmers for a little as possible. We now can get to any hot shot holiday spot in the world, for pretty much nothing, (Goa, India for £114 return anyone?) especially if you’re prepared to change your plane a couple of times and wait an hour or seven.(god forbid you’d be that cheap by the way - think of the children)
And the same goes for the hotels. It is now easier than ever to sell your empty rooms and spaces. With algorithms built to ensure your place is being advertised to the right people, at the right time, to tempt them in to spending their money on their next holiday with you. All for the benefit of the customer, it’s good for us they say. The hotels sell more rooms, the customer gets a cheaper price for a great room at an off peak price - all thanks to the algorithm. Everyone wins. Or do they?
The islands are now accessible to all. But it’s all a bit of a culture shock.
The Caribbean was never meant to be full. Or nearly full. The only ‘full’ that should be in vocabulary when you're abroad is when talking about your bulging belly, not about a queue to get a towel, a seat or excessive noise.
The whole allure of these island retreats is that is is empty, uncut pure quiet time.
Photo of The Naked Fisherman, Saint Lucia. Photo from Jaunt Magazine
There are still a select few islands that get it right, still reserved for those who deserve it; To get into Mustique (which is undeniable to most perfect island in the Caribbean in every. Single. Way.) you still need to pass their strict levels to set foot on their shores; albeit I am still unsure as to who or what they are looking for apart from the centurion card; take a look at what happened to Toff last year.
The only pirates on these islands nowadays are the resort owners.
The British. Then Sandals. Now the Chinese?
No rum, no rainbow. Barrels and barrels of Chairman's Reserve rum.
A nightjar swishing liquor. Golden lackery rum sparkling in the burnt yellow sunset, sticking to your sides like the barrel she came from, purses the lips with every sip. It’s sharp, unraveling like a sail at night rocking in the distance, heavy on the head but lightens the salted air.
The dreaded family holiday. Once again into the vortex I leap, back into the family Christmas special I always wanted; at the end of our tropical sentencing we all note that we swear we will never return again, only to be confirming flight details and seat numbers by March - all for the love of family. Because why not, two weeks in Paradise isn’t gonna kill you...
Silence. You’re finally in the zone. It lingers but you let it sit. It is hot, frustratingly hot, the stress of the heat is just too much. And that’s just the journey to the airport.
Fast forwarding the pleasantries of modern day flight, the initial burn of humidity that boils your insides, melting your shirt to the small of your back and up your spine. The warm rays heal the sores of the years toil with a pepper and honey sky blue thinking.
Seven days in curtains of rain become a blessing, running to umbrellas becomes your only exercise and movie night becomes a ritual more solemn than Sunday’s.
Not even the Greeks at their peak could handle this gastric abuse on a daily basis. Island life on the coast of St Lucia is not quite what you’d imagine; I starved on a island for five months living off coconuts, tuna from a can and anything we could catch. Which was nothing. Zero. Not even a little fish. In one hundred and thirty four days. But in this crazy new reality of ‘island living’, food is everywhere you look.
Mountains of multi colourised fruit ripening before your eyes. Turning toast and bitter black coffee, birds swoop low, testing you. Squeaking their hunger as they think you are circling their food.
Crab claws from the Naked Fisherman. Image from ibbean.com
There is so much calamari bucketed over, you end up becoming part squid, or part fried ring. At least that’s what my belly roll has become. One big brown ring of shame.
Gluttony is good. Needed, nourishment, a side of fries with everything. Even with your morning coffee. Fuck it, you’re on holiday is all well and good but when your walking past the mirror and you don’t recognise yourself the puff tart in front of you. You’re in trouble. Big trouble. The seats were expensive here and if you’re not careful you could end up paying to extra baggage or worst still, a second seat for your big bottom.
Or you could gym it. And discover and whole new class of human being. A new species, the active wear crew, who desperately need to find some vehicle or pit hole to express their competitiveness.
But don’t drink the water or too much ice based cocktails; you’ll be shitting water for the next week. And if you dare to venture out of the compound and into main town; you’ll be in for a treat. If you don’t smoke the reefa or can't handle white spirit based rum(ish) cocktails then you’ll be missing out. Don’t worry about getting leered at and taken down a dark path of buying needless trinkets.
You can always make friends.
And sit with the lonely, sad, silent couple. With a downturn mouth like a monkfish. Watching the different stages of the ‘cute couple’ break down as the long days and day drinking slowly get to them, how the weight gain and sun burn spikes up and brings a new heated temperament to the plunge pool politics. How the works calls become a welcomed break to the rolling eyes and pitter patter of light mumbled conversation. Slowly realising they probably should have brought friends along and fourteen real days alone, together, with American tv and that sun is way too long to spend with anyone.
The staff are not silent. It’s all just a bit wrong, the yeah mans become comical after a while. Shuffling my feet around the balcony and punching fists as I saunter around trying to find a corner of solitude becomes a new game in itself. How many people can i get ‘that nod’, in one day. And that nod being, do you want to buy some green; I’ve never been offered so much blow in one day. At one point, mid morning; whilst crossing the road with my mum - a small jeep with this man wearing too many chains, and an arm so long and weighted by his bedazzled white gold watch stopped. Emergency stopped, causing traffic - and shouted. “Boy - you want some blow”
For me to turn and reply, as polite as I could; “oh no thank you, I’ve had breakfast this morning”
They have no shame.
One of the unbelievable views of the Pitons from Cap Maison.
Albeit a couple of serious hoteliers do get it right - they leave you alone, but their weird head down pigeon pacing looks more like time wasting than table touching. And that method of management mixed with the staff being over friendly - creates a strange divide leaving you a little on your back feet.
The drowning sounds of jet skis are punishing after ten days, the slapping waves and crying kids is like Japanese rain drop torture. It starts to become a bit like a horror film waiting to happen. How long can Dad last without murdering us all?
We’ve all gone crackers albeit we daren't touch his stash of Jacobs. Half our time and conversation is taken up by planning. Planning tomorrow, planning how to get there, planning the perfect timings, planning what to wear, planning how to slip past the next argument. Lots of plans.
We were reading out the treatments at the spa, just for something to talk about, not to actually do because why would we do anything relaxing on a family holiday, it wouldn’t feel right; where we found the following which was shocking, and warranted a double take or three.
We read aloud; which I hope was a spelling mistake; the spa serves a “Distressing massage”, I can only imagine what damage the eighteen stone Patty the masseuse could do to your fragile limbs after nearly two weeks sleeping on memofoam which has the same consistency as damp cardboard.
"Distressing" massage anyone?
The real currency is silence. Surely.
But I know, through all the complaining, the excess, expense and the long tail dynamite like arguments; I will miss it all. The parade of blue, the sky leaking into the distance, not knowing where one starts and the other ends - the rose tinted lensed life surround by your flock is frankly what money can’t buy.
And with it all, was it really paradise lost, or paradise found.