1982 Anegada B.V.I.

It was 1982 and I was again feeling restless—very restless indeed. I had been in San Antonio, TX for about a year and a half working like a good little boy. Oh, sure I was enjoying my life. I had an OK job working as a draftsman for some over spoiled architect. He thought that he was gods gift to the world of building. It was true that he was talented, but only in the area a design. It was with people that he came up short. Clients and employees were just fodder to be used as he wished for his gigantic ego. I really didn’t care, because most of the time he left me, and Mike, my new friend and associate, alone in the office to do as we wished.

He did, however, have a exceptional talent for hiring young beautiful secretaries. The three of us wasted many, many hours lost in good-natured conversations. Most of it had a teasing sexual nature that left Mike and I weak in the knees by the end of the day.

Some of the evenings I spent with my brother Wayne. We locked ourselves in his stereo room—a converted garage–got loaded and blew our ears off with his fine selection of jazz tunes. He had a really great stereo, probably more suited for a small rock concert than a suburban garage, but we were always too out of it to have enough good sense to turn down the music.

It looked like a shack, but to me it was a castle!

Eventually, with Wayne’s help, I got my own stereo system. Once again it was way too powerful for my residential needs. Fortunately, my new home was a shack of a place located on the outskirts of the San Antonio International Airport. For my other neighbor I had a machine shop. The very one where Wayne worked. In fact I rented it from his boss. I could play my stereo as loud as I wanted! The dilapidated, unheated wooden structure was just what I wanted. Hell, coming from years of living in Central America, to me it was like a palace. It was built in the middle of five acres of uncleared heavily wooded land. No one could see, or hear me.

I thought about my present situation as I got stoned and put on my latest Styx album, A Man in the Wilderness. Tommy Shaw, lead vocal screamed at me:

Another year has passed me by
Still I look at myself and cry
What kind of man have I become?
All of the years I spent in search of myself
And I’m still in the dark ‘cause
I can’t seem to find the light alone.

I had it all– good job and a cheap place to live. I was even still driving my uninsured, California registered 1962 pea green VW Bus–so auto expenses were minimal. I could put away as much as I wanted. I should have been out of here a year ago, I mused to myself. After a year and a half I had only been able to save $3000. “Hey,” I reminded myself, “isn’t that about what I had saved after 6 months?” What was I doing? I guess I had no direction. What I needed was a PLAN. I had to get out of here, but where? I put on my thinking cap and floated with the music. After a short while of thinking I fell asleep and woke just in time to go to work. Shit! The needle of my expensive, but manual Thorens turntable had been digging a grove in the end of the Styx album all night. As I made the same toasted bagel and coffee that I had almost every morning since I got to SA, I tried to think what was it I was thinking about so hard last night? Oh well, no time anyway, it’s off to the ol’salt mine.

Later that evening, back at the ranch. I figured out that part of the problem was I really didn’t have anyone with whom I could talk about my PLAN. All of my new friends were pretty happy and set in their ways, in the life that they had chosen for themselves. How could I expect them to help me brainstorm on ways to get out of here. Besides, they also wanted me to be here. To finally grow up, and make a nice stable life for myself. But I had other ideas. It was up to me and me alone to work on this PLAN. I put back on my favorite album, cranked up the volume. And once again Styx shouted out to me:

Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness
I’m a lonely soldier off to war.
Sent away to die, never quite knowing why.
Sometimes it makes no sense at all.
Makes no sense at all.

Well, I really wasn’t off to war, and certainly nobody was sending me away to die. Sometimes, I mused, the lyrics just don’t match reality, but there is a mood trying to be set here, and it was definitely not … making any sense at all!  By the second joint and third beer I was floating above the couch. The music was so clear and so very load that it put you in another world. It was like meditating with out the work. First, I would become fixated on the clarity of the sound. Listen to that bass! It is rock solid. Not even a hint of distortion. At that thought I would turn the volume up another notch. Amazing just how it all held together. After a short while I would turn it up again. Jesus, listen to that! That guitar player sounds like he is sitting in my lap. Floating! Swaying to the beat. Eyes closed I moved into another reality. I was the music. The drums were me. My ribcage were pushed and pulled backward and forward with every sound. I opened my eyes just for a second to find out where I had placed the lighter. Out of the corner of my eyes I saw the VOLUME control on the industrial sized Crown D-150 power amp. It looked like a small air-conditioner. It reflected in the candlelight, and twinkled back at me even after I had closed my eyes again—taunting me.

“Go head, “ it seemed to say, “turn me up just one more notch. I can take it. Can you?”

Altec Lancing Santana “Bad Boyz”!

I could and I did. Two more notches seemed like the appropriate response. “Take that,” I shouted above the roar of Styx. My ears buzzed as if they were musical instruments. Still the sound stayed together—no distortion.

Up to then I was only playing my JBL 2200 speakers, each with a 16” woofer. They stood about three and a half feet tall. I had their covers off and I could see them moving a lot of air as they pulsed back and forth. Just for fun, I wondered what it would

I reached for the “A-B” switch

be like if I turned on my other pair of speakers. A pair of Altec Lancing Santana speakers sat on each side of the JBL’s. They were shorter, but wider. I reached over for the “A-B” switch that would bring them into play. Briefly, I thought that it probably wasn’t such a good idea to turn them on when I had the volume up so high, but before I knew it I had pushed the switch. The effect was instantaneous. The lights dimmed as all four bad-boys screamed back at me. I was now inside them and they were in me. I pulled another drag on my joint as I slowly shook my head from side to side to the constant beat of the music. Spit flew from the corners of my mouth as if I was a bloodhound in the movie Beethoven. I can’t believe it holding! At first I thought I heard some terrible distortion, until I realized that it was the old wooden windows rattling in their frames.

Then I heard Tommy Shaw sing:
10,000 people look my way,
But they can’t see the way that I feel
Nobody even cares to try.
I spent my life and sell my soul on the road
And I’m still in the dark ‘cause
I can’t seem to find the light alone.

Just before I passed out I thought that I just might need some help figuring out the PLAN.

Help came from very an unexpected source. I didn’t have a phone, so it was a letter that I received that next day from my old friend and ex-wife Rainy. She was now living in the mountains outside of Ashville, NC, and she was feeling as restless as I was, and she had a PLAN. Why don’t we go this winter to the Virgin Islands? It’ll be warm and an adventure, she taunted. We both loved the beach, and in reality I was yearning to feel the warm sun caressing my lily-white skin. By the time I finished the three-page letter, her PLAN was now my PLAN.

I immediately began making plans to leave. First off was my job. I knew that Ken would never pay me all of my vacation pay if I told him what I was up to. Somehow I thought he might not be too sympathetic to me taking a leave of absence for 5 or 6 months. I knew that he hated my old VW. We worked in a converted old Victorian house set in an uppity urban area of San Antonio. My bus with it’s fading pea green paint job parked next to his shiny Mercedes was often a sore point, so I told him that I had a line on a new vehicle, but I was short. Couldn’t he maybe give me my vacation pay, and possibly my Christmas bonus, I pleaded? When I described the classy vehicle I was looking at that sealed the deal. He wrote out the checks on the spot.

Next I needed to purchase some tropical camping gear. I bought a $14 tent from K-Mart. I liked it because it was so light. Lighter than the much more expensive North Face I had been eyeing earlier. Then I got a really bad deal on a convertible backpack. There was only one place in town that had it so I was stuck with the $250 price tag. Then came snorkeling gear. I went to a dive shop and purchased a prescription facemask, snorkel and fins, underwater light and best of all a short spear gun. I could almost taste the lobster.

Seeing as I was now so much into good sound I bought a top of the line Aiwa cassette player/recorder. The headphones were awesome. I then went to Radio Shack and bought a battery pack that would hold D size batteries instead of the AA’s that the Aiwa used. I figured that this little beauty would get a lot of wear and tear.

I was really excited, can you tell? I began counting the days till I left. In the evening I laid on my waterbed, listened to tunes and day dreamed of my adventures to come. I finally gave Ken my notice about a week before I was to leave. I told him that I was having family problems and I needed to return to California to sort things out. He wasn’t very happy, but what else could he say? Everyone else knew the truth. Mike and Jerry, another friend of mine, through me a bon voyage party. A lot of people showed up. I never realized that that I had that many friends.It was nice to see how loved I was.

I was on the road again. I drove to North Carolina, picked up Rainy and together we drove to Miami where I put my van in storage at a KOA. At a dollar a day storage fee I didn’t feel any pressure to return early. The plane ride to St, Thomas in the American Virgin Islands was like any other, except that for the most part we flew over water. Getting off the plane, we could feel the moist tropical air. Our stateside clothes immediately stuck to our skin. I couldn’t wait to get out of them and into my shorts and a T-shirt. We caught a taxi, which took up directly to the ferry, where we hoped to catch a boat to St. John. We were just in time to catch it. Everything was running so smooth that we felt the trip was blessed.

On board we heard the other passengers talking about how hard it was to find a place to stay on the island. I asked the middle-aged couple next to us if it was true. Oh, yes they assured us everything has been booked solid for months in advance. I guess they saw the look on our faces, because the guy blurted out that their friends were leaving today. If we wanted, we could have their place.

“It isn’t much of a place, it only has one room and the bathroom is outside, but it is only about 5 blocks from the beach,” he added, as if this was some kind of good thing.

I asked how much. “$650,” he replied.

That’s higher than we wanted, I said to Rainy, but it seems like we are going to have a hard time finding a place. At $650 for the month, that was only $325 each and we could take our time looking for a cheaper place.

My neighbor quickly corrected me, “That’s $650 a week. A real steal for St. John”

I didn’t even need to consult Rainy on this one. I thanked him, but declined. I said we could never pay that much, you see we are planning on staying 6 months. “We’ll find something cheaper. We might even camp.” I added. The couple in front of us who were listening to our conversation, turned around and made a deal on the spot to take the place.

Arriving on St. John confirmed everything that everyone had said. There was absolutely nothing available. As it got dark and we still hadn’t found a place, an elderly black woman, who worked in the kitchen in one of the hotels we tried to get into, offered to let us spend the night at her place. As it was already 10:30 pm we jumped at the chance. It turned out to be not much of a place at all. It had no utilities and no walls. It did have a roof, a fact that we were grateful for when showers rolled through later that night. All for only $20 I muttered to myself as I fell asleep exhausted.

In the morning Miss Emma suggested that we get off the island and travel to the less populated island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.

“Is it nice,” I quizzed her.

“Oh, yes Sir! My sista hab a place right on da beach. At a place called Brandy Wine Bay. She own most of it. She puttin’ up a resort for white folk just like you to stay.”

When she told us that she thought the beach bungalows rent for about $5.00 a day that sealed the deal. After another very expensive taxi ride, we were off on the next boat to Tortola. As the small converted tugboat made it way a cross the turquoise colored water dreams of sipping rum laced coconuts through a straw filled my head. We could see the island of Tortola gleaming in the distance like an emerald sitting on a liquid pool of blue. I lay back on the open deck, felt the warm healing tropical sunshine bath my body, and for the first time I tried out my new portable stereo. Of course I had made a copy of Styx’s “A Man in the Wilderness.” Tommy Shaw crowed to the rocking of the boat:

Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness
I’m a lonely sailor off to sea.
Drifting with the tide
Never quite knowing why.
Sometimes it makes no sense at all
Look at me now I’m a man with emotions
Hearts on FIRE!
I’m dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean

We arrived at the immigration station in about an hour. It was no trouble getting through. Finding a taxi was also easy. The hardest part through all of this was lugging our many bags around. We each had about four bags in varying sizes and weights. There was no way we could carry them all at one time. None of the taxi drivers seemed to take much of an interest in helping us. So we each made several trips to get everything loaded in the back of the old Land Rover. Our driver asked where we wanted to go. When we told him Brandy Wine Bay, he seemed surprised and said, “Why you wanna go der?”

“Because,” I replied, “We heard that there are some inexpensive places to rent. Miss Emma from St. John said she has a sister that is building a resort there. Oh, I know that it’s still, I blabbered on,  under construction, but we don’t need much to be happy. Just a roof over our head, a soft hammock and nice wide white sandy beach looking out on your lovely ocean.”

“$25 dalla, “ was all he answered.

Ten minutes later we arrived at Brandy Wine Bay. After we unloaded our gear on the side of the road I asked the driver where the resort was. He said he didn’t make it much to this part of the island.

I looked around. It was a small horseshoe of a bay, about a quarter mile across. The beach was only about 3 feet deep at it’s widest. Most of it was littered with old inner tubes and rusting car parts. There were no coconut trees—just small scrub sea grape bushes. I looked across the road, inland trying to find where the buildings were, but could find nothing except a dilapidated shack hardly larger than a garden shed. I left the bags at the side of the road and walked up to the building. Miss Emma’s sister was indeed there, but she didn’t “…know nuthin’ ‘bout no resort.” Oh, she said she would like to do a resort one of these days, but first she would have to find a job and save some money. “Maybe, I shud go to St. John and work for my sista. Wad you tink?” Returning to Rainy I told her what I had found. I suggested that at these taxi prices we would be back in the winter weather in no time at all.

The car of our dreams—a Land Rover!

We decided instead to rent a car and take our own tour of the island. It took several hours for a lone taxi to pass by. He drove us to the capital city of Roadtown. It had a nice tropical feel. There were closely spaced whitewashed buildings, many covered in huge fiery red bougainvillea bushes, which looked more like trees. There were plenty of restaurants, both funky and nice.

At the car rental place we settled on old Land Rover. I was thrilled to finally be able to drive a ‘Rover. It had been one of my dreams for a very long time to own one, I guess ever since I saw Marlin Perkins in Wild Kingdom chasing a zebra while hanging out the side of one I had fantasized about owning one.

We loaded everything in the back and took off. At first I had a little trouble negotiating the roads thorough town. I was not used to driving on the left side of the road. Traffic circles were a particular challenge. The seasoned drivers were aggressive and  loud, but for the most part good natured. I assumed that I was not the first tourist that they had seen coming at them head first in their lane.

Eventually we wound our way out of the city and started to climb a very steep hill. No problem, I mused to myself, cause we’re in a ‘Rover. We drove past many Caribbean pastel colored houses in various states of repair, but they were all surrounded by rich green tropical growth.

We hit the top of the hill and coasted along for about ten minutes. We were now riding on the ridge and could now see the sea on each side of us. They had given us a map at the car rental place. There were two roads which went down into the first bay, one on each side. The first one was the good road and it had a caution next to it all cars must use low gear. the other one said “Only for four wheel drive vehicles,” and it further admonished that  we should be careful as the road was subject to frequent repairs and landslides. “Perfect,”  I said to Rainy, “for our ‘Rover. Let’s see what this baby is made of!”

We came to a road that looked steeper than anything I had ever seen. I thought to myself that it really couldn’t be the road, until I saw the a caution sign just under the one that said Brewer’s Bay. I put it into low lock four-wheel drive and eased it over what almost seemed like a precipitance. Even in low gear the ‘Rover continued to pickup speed at an alarming rate. I stepped on the breaks to slow down our decent. Pow!, it popped out of gear and began freewheeling down the hill. I stood up on the breaks, but the car continued to pick up speed, but now it started to turn sideways as it skidded along the rough dirt road. “Woo Nelly,” I shouted as I used the steering wheel for more leverage to push even harder than my 175 pounds would allow. It slowed but continued to skid at an alarming rate

Then I saw the first switchback ahead. Beyond it lay nothing but turquoise blue water below. We banked into the turn, kind of power sliding into it. I threw it back into gear and she immediately slowed to a crawl. I regained control as we eased around the bend and started down the next decent. Rainy said that that was a close one and if I could pull over she would like to empty her britches. We both kind of laughed, but it wasn’t a good laugh.

 I leaned forward in my seat, half standing so I could see the road over the spare tire, which was securely mounted on the hood. I couldn’t see a thing. I asked Rainy if she could see the road ’cause I was worried about where the next switchback was. Just as she stuck her head out the window the ‘Rover popped out of gear again and we once again picked up speed. She ducked her head in just in time to avoid colliding with a tree trunk. It actually brushed her hair!

The “Aluminum Monster.”

Same thing happened, I stood up on the breaks, the “aluminum monster,”  as I now thought of it, began to skid sideways. Probably the only bright spot in our predicament was that I could now see the road ahead. Unfortunately it was through Rainy’s door. Now, I am not Andre Parnelli, nor have I ever wanted to be, but I was able to shove it back into gear and once again avoid the “ride of a life-time”

It took us about 30 minutes to descend down to the beach. By then we were both covered in sweat and dust. I pulled my dream vehicle over to the side and stopped  in the sand.  A very darkly tanned guy with a pony tail in floral Speedo trunks came over and asked if we had just come down the dirt road. “Cool,” was all he said as he jogged back to his friends.

We both got out and walked over to the sea. It was the most beautiful spot I had ever seen. Brewers Bay was a picture perfect horse-shoe bay. It had tall cliffs on all sides, especially the one we had just come down. They reached out to the very tip. A  sandy beach, of the cleanest white sand I had ever seen stretched out before us to the other side. And the water was every color of blue. You could just tell that there was coral out there–a whole lot of it.

The really neat part was that it looked to be a campground. there were tents of all sizes and colors everywhere under a grove of tall coconut trees. I turned to Rainy and said, “I don’t care what you want to do, but this is where I am going to stay,” and I added, ” for a long time.”

“Heaven on Earth” Brewers Bay

Well, we stayed in that little bay for about a month and a half. It was everything we could ever want. It had great diving and snorkeling, a terrific beach, and best of all cheap camping. Unfortunately, for me it had one major flaw. It had a lot of people. There were always people around, except when you were in your tent, and even then, if some one wanted to play they would call out to you, “Peter, want to go diving?” I yearned for something more–a true wilderness experience. I wondered if such a thing was even possible in these heavily touristed islands.

The answer came back unrepentantly from someone named Ponytail John. Yep, the same guy that had approached us when we first arrived. Among the campers who spent the winter months in Brewer’s Bay there various clicks. There was the volleyball group, the divers, the dopers, the partiers, etc. Kind of like it was when you were in high school. Ponytail John was well liked and he easily moved back and forth between a few of the groups. Rainy and I preferred to keep to ourselves, so  we rarely got to talk to him except to say Hi–even then we didn’t always get a response.

I had started to be a pretty good free diver spending most of my time out in the water. Deeper and deeper I would try and go each day, and I was beginning to feel pretty good about my ability. Many times I would run into Ponytail John either walking along the rocks, spear gun in hand, or sometimes out in the water usually out at the point were the bay waters started to drop off into the true Caribbean.

I hadn’t seen Ponytail John for a good while, and had been wondering if perhaps he went back to the states. As I sat on one of the large boulders sunning myself; trying to warm up after a hard morning of cave diving, I saw this figure off in the distance coming toward me. His skin was so dark that at first I thought it was one of the locals, until I noticed the almost white hair with a swoosh of a ponytail swinging behind. As Ponytail John approached he had to pass right by me. Now we all sunbathed back then, and add to that the many weeks of swimming in the noonday sun, we were all pretty dark, but as John got nearer I could see that his skin had a almost dark brown, blotchy look. As if it had been peeled and tanned many times. His hair was like straw and his bare feet  had the look of someone who had been on an adventure.

I took a chance and spoke to him directly, to my amazement he stopped and we exchanged pleasantries. I asked him where he had been, and he simply replied, “Anegada.”

I had never heard of it and when I told him so he started off on a description.

“it was my first time there also. I went there just to see something different and maybe get in a little spear fishing. When the taxi driver dropped me off on the North Shore, at the end of the sandy road, I was amazed to see that I had the whole place to myself. Seven miles of white sandy beach with not another living sole on it.

 I could tell right away that the snorkeling would be great. You could just tell by the color of the water. There is a fringing reef just about a quarter mile off shore, so it’s fairly calm inside the reef, except that at times the current is wicked.”

I asked him why there weren’t more people over there?

“Because that’s all there is–a sandy beach, and crystal clear sea. There is no shade, and the wind coming off the Atlantic is always strong and very cool. So cool that you find yourself spending all of your time in the sunshine just to stay warm. And once you are out of the wind, like in the interior, it is wickedly hot. Since it is a coral island there are no trees, and therefore no shade.”

“But let me tell you this, I have never seen bigger and more exciting sea life. It’s like they have no predators inside the reef. I gorged myself on lobster and fish for a full week, but in the end I longed to come back to Brewers.”

He then walked on, carrying his fins and long spear gun. From the rear he looked like about the healthiest human being I had ever seen.  It was then that I started to hatch a PLAN of my own.

We decided that I might be best if I did an exploratory trip over to Anagada. Actually it was I that decided that, and then had to convince Rainy that it was the best idea. In the end she conceded and I began preparations to make that big adventurous move into the unknown.  I wasn’t able to get any more information out of Pony Tail John. Once he returned to the beach he again acted like we were less than human. That was Ok because the lifestyle that his group did– sex, drugs and rock-and-roll–was not something I was interested in. Since he was the only person I could find who had actually been to Anagada, I had to fly mostly solo on this one.

I found out that there was a settlement on the island appropriately called The Settlement. As there were only about 40 people that lived in it I didn’t expect too much out of the general store.  I did my shopping appropriately. I expected to spend about two weeks there and so I bought a whole variety of canned goods and dry powder mixes. Of course I also stocked up on those batteries that would fuel my flashlights and almost more importantly my improvised stereo.  In the end I was looking at two very heavy cardboard boxes in addition to my backpack, tent and diving gear. I broke down my spear gun and concealed it in my bag. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was not going to take any chances with that baby. I hoped-expected to be able to supplement my diet with all kinds of sea-life. Visions of lobster, grouper, and yellowtail danced before me in my dreams.

Later on, in my research I found out that there was a 8-passenger plane that landed on a dirt runway twice a week. There was also a boat that made the sometimes-treacherous 4-hour trip across the exposed open sea. I opted for the boat.

On the day that I was to leave I almost made myself sick obsessing on all of the possible bad things that could happen. Storms, pirates, and waterspouts filled my dreams.

 I took an expensive taxi from the Brewers Bay Campground to the boat dock. The taxi drivers hated to come to this side of the island, mostly because of the steepness of the roads, but also because us campers were the known as the cheap tourists,who tipped poorly, if at all.

I bid adieu to Rainy and promised her that I would be back in about two weeks. She seemed a little excited to be getting some space. We had now been continuously together for about a month and it was becoming evident why we had split up in the first place.

The boat looked more like a cargo ship that perhaps only sold space to passengers as an after thought. It had no amenities and really not even any seats. That was okay. It seemed to better fit the sea safari adventure I was looking for.

As we shoved off I found a place on the deck and laid down staring up at the beautiful blue sky. I brought out my headphones and turned up the music.

Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness
I’m a lonely sailor off to sea.
Drifting with the tide
Never quite knowing why.
Sometimes it makes no sense at all
Look at me now I’m a man with emotions
Hearts on FIRE!
I’m dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean

The trip was pretty rough and long–about 3 or 4 hours I would say. After we left the sight of land we didn’t see another island until we reached Anegada. I had read that Anagada was a coral island with the highest elevation some 25 feet. That explained why you couldn’t see it until you were almost right on top of it. As we got closer I expected to see huge coral heads poking out from the ocean, but all I could see was that it got very shallow and on more than one occasion our boat scraped bottom sending a gray cloud of silt bubbling up to the surface. First impressions were not great. As our boat caption expertly maneuvered around the many sand bars, I wondered where was the pristine diving water that Pony Tail John had spoken about.

We landed at the municipal dock in the town called Settlement. There were a number of locals hanging around, but none seemed to pay much attention to us. I got off the boat and unloaded all of my considerable provisions on the rickety wooden dock.  I looked out to sea and could see a number of very  small islands quite  close to shore. Upon closer observation I could see that the mini-islands were in fact made up of thousands upon thousands of discarded empty pink conch shells.  Most of the islets had vegetation growing on them and a few even had some good sized trees! Inwardly I wondered if there could be any conches left in the whole of the Caribbean?

I  walked up to the closest person.  He was a dark skinned man of about 30 years of age. He stared out to sea as if he didn’t see me. When I was just a few feet from him I said, “Good mornin’.” He looked up at me as if I had just magically appeared. He said nothing. I asked him if he knew of a taxi driver that could take me to the north shore.

 “Dat be Mr. Charley,” was all he said and then he looked back out to sea.

” Do you know how I can find him?,” I asked about a nicely as I could.

“Da boat in. He be by shortly.”

I walked off down the narrow spit of beach. I had to avoid all of the littered engine parts and sea shells as best I could. I looked back at the town which consisted of about a dozen or so small concrete block homes with rusted corrugated tin roofs. Most were painted some gay tropical color such as bight blue with kelly green shutters. They all had their doors and windows closed. I guessed that they were either gone or taking a siesta. The whole place had a strange sadness about it as if the world had passed it by many years ago.

You could hear the land Rover coming long before you could see it, the fenders where missing and it had a bright red 5 gallon gas can tied to the roof. There was a clear plastic hose that ran from it, to the engine. Mr. Charley was very overweight. His tee shirt was two sizes too small for him and his ample belly did more than just poke out from under it. I approached him and asked if he could take me to the other side of the island. He said that, he had to carry “all of da tings off da boat first” so it would be a while.

About three hours later I was the only person left on the beach. I thought that Mr. Charley had forgotten all about me, but then I heard him come back.

No apology, just “Five dalla.” was all he said. He patiently waited while I loaded up all of my stuff in the back. We quickly left “town” behind and settled on a rutted sandy road lined on both sides by small olive colored shrubs and cacti as far as the eye could see. About 20 minutes later we came to the end of the road. Up ahead I could see a soft sand dune, and then just blue sky beyond. Once again Mr. Charley patiently waited with the engine running while I dumped out all of my belonging in the white sand. I’m not sure why, but I gave him a tip of $2.00 and he drove off. So much for the welcome wagon! There was not a cloud in the sky as I scrambled up the steep hill. It was hotter than hell and by the time I reached the top I was sweating profusely.

As I crested the hill a strong cool wind caught me off guard. From the top I could see one of the most beautiful white sandy beaches I had ever seen. And the water, oh my god the water was that lovely aqua blue in all the different shades that meant that there was indeed coral under there. There was a fringing reef about a quarter of a mile off shore that had a continuous line of white waves breaking over it. Inside the water was dead flat calm. So magnificent was it that I sat right down on the hot sand and almost cried.

“Seven miles of beach,” I screamed into the wind, “and not a living soul but little ol’ me!” My new PLAN had begun.

The first and hardest item to attend to was to find a location for my camp. If this was as far as the taxi could make it I wanted to get a little further up the beach. I guess that I had envisioned those throngs of tourists showing up at my campsite wanting to know where the best diving was. I would not have any of that, so I left my things baking in the hot sun and walked off down the beach. It was even more enchanting than I had thought, and my first impulse was to grab my mask and jump in the water for a look-see, but something deep inside me told me that I must first set up camp. About a quarter of a mile up the beach I found my answer. It was right on the point so it looked like a great place to enter the water, and believe it or not it actually had a tree! It was really no more the a bent over sea grape bush, but there looked like there might be enough room to sit under it and get out of the sun. In the back was a semi-cleared spot that would be perfect for my tent. Granted it was in the direct sunshine, but I reasoned that I would not be using it in the middle if the day.

Now came the arduous task of slepping all of my very weighty things to my chosen campsite. That was easier said than done. 

For my first trip I chose to take my backpack, and then I slung a soft plastic 5 gallon water bag which was nested in a mesh bag with a broad leather strap over my neck. This seemed to put me somewhat off balance so I did the same with another bag over my side. This seemed to balance me nicely so I picked up one of the many cardboard boxes filled with canned goods and cradled it in my arms.

I started up the steep sandy slope leaning forward under the considerable weight. By the time I crested the hill I was on my knees and grateful for the cooling gust of ocean air that blew over me.

The smart thing would have been to lighten my load, but of course that it not what I did. Struggling to my feet and forging ahead, I sunk deeply into the soft sand, but once I made it to the packed sandy shoreline the going got easier. As I trudged ahead the straps from my sandals cut into my freshly tanned flesh, and the weight of the card board box threatened to pry open my tightly closed fingers. I tried to put myself in a trance to forget about the pain. My new mantra became,  “Da da dum da, da da da dum da.” Over and over I chanted it. In the corner of my mind I mused that, “Hey it wasn’t that a death march”, but I quickly tried to shove that thought aside.

By the time I reached my chosen site MY fingers were so numb that I had to will them to open just to drop the box. It hit the sand with a silent thump. It seemed easier to lie down to get the rest of the bags off of me. I crawled out from under them and lay panting face down in the course white sand.

I left my goods there, just a few feet from the surf line, and staggered back up the beach to retrieve the rest. After only a few hundred yards of walking I was surprised at how good I felt. Taking the weight away had given me a new spring in my step.

The second and third trip proved to be much easier. I carried less and lighter boxes. Why had I taken so much my first trip? Still, as I finished my last trip, I began the next leg of the journey, which was to carry everything up the sloping beach, and down the natural path and into my future home. The sand was particularly deep at the point, so at times I felt like a pack mule going up the steep hill of some Arabian sand dune.

I set up my small cheap K-mart tent out in the hot sun. At that point I figured that I had earned the right to finally explore my new front yard of a water playground. I grabbed my mask and snorkel and of course my weight belt with just four pound of lead weight. I had learned long ago if you want to dive deep and stay under water without your feet constantly trying to make it to the surface before the rest of you, you needed to use a weight belt with just the right amount of lead. Too much and you would sink like a rock, too little and you would have a hard time getting down. I was comfortable with my four pounds.

As I stood on the shoreline and looked out at the line of white frothy breakers, I could see just how calm it was inside the reef. With my now ocean savvy eyes I could also see a distinct cut in the reef. I thought, “If I needed to safely get out to the ocean that would be the spot.” All of my dreams and hard work had finally paid off. San Antonio Texas and its shabby little house next to the airport seemed so very far away. Before I put on my mask I lit up a joint–just to make my new job more enjoyable. Peter-ocean adventurer extraordinaire. Robinson Crusoe’s long lost brother. My new life had begun and I knew at that very instant that I was not going to go back to the civilized world until they dragged me away. I put out the joint in the sand and walked silently into the steely blue north Caribbean Sea. I shuffled along as if in a dream, kicking up clouds of white sand in my wake. When the water got up to my waist I slowly put on my gear, and for the first time I put my face in the water. Even though I was only in about four feet of water I screamed through my snorkel. There were fish everywhere–yellowtails, chubs, angelfish. What the hell! Coming toward me was the largest barracuda I had ever seen. He looked easily to be over six feet long, and he was coming to look at the new man in town. When he got with in ten feet of me he stopped and turned sideways. I could see that something had taken a huge crescent chunk out of his mid section.  He looked at me and I looked at him, and I think that then and there we, eyeball to eyeball, formed a truce. You stay out of my way and I will stay out of yours.

I swam away leaving him trailing me at a respectful distance. Soon I came upon huge mustard corals that looked like small houses. Parts of it just broke the surface. I dove down to the white sandy bottom and stuck my head in one of the small caves. As my eyes became accustomed to the light I could see movement at the rear. I held my breath a while longer and as the darkness gave way I could see four gigantic lobsters not three feet from me. Their tentacles waved in the clear water trying to sense if this intruder was a danger.

Once on the surface I looked back to see that I was not even 100 feet from where I had started. I made a note of their location so I could come back later for dinner. Swimming on, the place looked like I was at some kind of Sea World Aquarium. I half expected to see tourists lining the tank to get a look at me.

I meandered around for about a half hour and wouldn’t you know it I found myself at the entrance to the cut in the reef. I could feel a gentle pull of the current enticing me to go out to the deep blue water–where the big boys played. Then I again raised my head out of the water and looked back at the beach. It looked tiny in the late afternoon sunshine. I had had a full day and briefly thought that I should wait until tomorrow. I thought that as I ever so slowly edged my way into the current. At first it was fun being swept along without having to even kick once, but as I began to pickup speed I started to get alarmed. How was I ever going to get back? Crawling across the white foamed reef with it’s sharp coral heads, did not seem like and option. Too late anyway I thought as I accelerated out of control.

 As I rocketed along I could see a whole variety of sea life hidden in the crevices. There were groups of yellow tails hiding under the ledges. Brightly colored orange squirrelfish poked their head out for a look. Up ahead I spotted a large grouper just hanging out in the heavy current. He wasn’t moving at all, but I was! I continued to pick up speed until I was literally shot into open water. After I stopped moving I looked below. The ocean floor looked to be about 60 feet down. It was crystal clear, but all blue. I figured since I was out here anyway I ought to make an exploratory dive. When I was about 15 feet from the bottom a school of dolphin rays approached me. As I justhung, suspended in the water, they began to circle me. Closer and closer they tightened their path until I could almost reach out and touch them. Shit, I thought, why did I leave my camera on shore. They have really sad eyes that now looked at me as if saying, “Hello, who are you? Would you like to play with us?”

“Oh, yes,” I said trying to form the words with my bubbles. I twirled slowly around and around trying to make eye contact with all of them. By now there were five of them. Gradually I began to be aware that I had sunk to the bottom. At the same time as my fins struck sand I got jostled into remembering that I was going to have to breathe – and soon!

I started to kick for the surface. My new friends followed me. At about 45 feet I knew that I was in trouble as my hands and feet started to go numb. I knew the signs of oxygen depravation well, but I still had a very long way to go. I relaxed my whole body. Every part of me went into a trance except my feet which ever so slowly kicked back and forth, back and forth. At about 30 feet the numbness had moved up to my arms and legs. Not a good sign! I closed my eyes as I retreated into another world, where there was no effort to be alive, where I did not need to breathe.

Just as I was about to pass out, I was pleasantly surprised to feel my head break the surface of the water. I took a big gulp of air. I was thankful to have survived. I looked back down for my new friends. They were directly below my looking up to see if I had and more games. Bidding them adieu, I swam back to the reef where I knew that the only safe place to get back on the other side was the way that I had come. I approached just to the left of the cut, where the force of the water was minimal. I took a big breath, dove down to the bottom and headed into the stream. I grabbed hold of every rock and coral branch I could find as I pulled myself along the bottom. When I could hold my breath no more I surfaced and was immediately pushed back toward the open sea. I took a quick breath and once again dove to the bottom where I once again pulled and kicked with all of my might. After many repeated attempts I found my self in side the calmness of the reef.

Breathing heavy into my snorkel I headed for shore and my new home. Echoing in my ears I could hear Tommy Shaw singing the now familiar:

Sometimes I feel like a man in the wilderness
I’m a lonely sailor off to sea.
Drifting with the tide
Never quite knowing why.
Sometimes it makes no sense at all
Look at me now I’m a man with emotions
Hearts on FIRE!
I’m dying of thirst in the middle of the ocean