Paradise opens early. At 04:57 to be precise when the cockerel beneath my open windows announces the predawn, and then just to ensure the world does not fall back into slumber he and his friends continue to cock-a-doodle-ooooo until the first seaplane takes off at seven. I can see white spray flashing from the pontoons as it bounces across the still sea, taking its first load across to Puerto Rico or another of the Virgins. Commuting Caribbean style.
The breeze is wafting the sheer curtains in my room and there is no need for air conditioning or even the fan. The sun, just starting to frill the edges of the world, promises intensity but for now is a gentle reminder of what is to come as the island wakes: bright colours and warmth that are not just climatic.
A couple of bananaquits, splashes of yellow, flit between the power line and a pod-laden rain tree, or maybe it’s the mangos hanging ripe and buxom from the tree next to it that is attracting their attention. A flock of pigeons, what Stephen our gateman in Equatorial Guinea called African doves, have taken off from across the road flying to who knows where.
A woman is walking her dog along the street below; it’s little black legs struggling to keep up with the tightening leash and her stride. Far different to the strut of the camel-coloured, unfettered hound of indeterminate parentage who last night made his rounds down the middle of the inky road, stopping only to raise Cain among those animals restrained by fences.
An occasional car coughs into life but on the whole the sounds are natural as the island gently approaches a new day. Driving is on the left as in the US but most vehicles are also left-hand drives, which makes for interesting road skills. Middle of the road takes on a whole different meaning and is a little alarming at night when oncoming headlamps pierce one’s night vision with bull’s eye accuracy. A sharp swerve to the kerb jars the nerves as gravel and dirt splutters before the reassuring black top is once again reached.
I notice rebar reaching for the skies atop what look to be lived in and completed homes and wonder if the same laws apply here as in parts of Africa: that which allows no tax to be collected on unfinished property thus ensuring a horizon of metal rods amidst the ceibas.
Fallen remnants of the brief storm last night are being swept by the lady of the house off the pavement outside the gate to my bed and breakfast. A cluster of magenta bracts from the bougainvillea climbing the outside wall forming a pile under the rhythmic swish of her broom, reminding me that being the chatelaine, mistress of all one surveys, is strenuous work. Emani will, at the agreed upon hour of nine, be presenting me with a breakfast of ‘the best scrambled eggs in town’. I was asked last night as she entrusted the key to me whether I’d like them with pancakes or muffins. I opted for the more reserved latter.
And so my first day on St. Croix, well the first day for thirty years, starts. A day of exploration and idle ambling that I predict will remind me the rhythm of life is essentially unchanged despite the arrival of cruise ships disgorging Tommy Bahama clad men and scantily, though not always tastefully, clad women and girls, fortunately though at the other end of the island. So too a planeload of Danes arrive in this old, Danish colonial island, regularly on Wednesdays. In a startling coincidence flown in by the same charter company, JetAir, that used to fly to Equatorial Guinea, the island nation in West Africa I called home for three years.
I am reminded in this first flush of exploration of the importance of looking beyond the obvious, of talking to Emani and others, and of bearing in mind what is at first glance paradise to me need not necessarily be so for those from here. To tread carefully as I wander.