I took this trip to the Caribbean, in the fall of 2005. It was October 9th exactly, a late graduation present. I had never been outside the country before and was eager to go, though I wasn’t sure that going on vacation was the best decision for me to be making. I was already on rocky academic standing and was planning a week of doing extra credit. The trip was to be kind of a family reunion which I was completely uninterested in. Traveling with my family? They were a loud and obnoxious sort of bunch when gathered in one place. However, to please my grandmother, Yvonne, I tagged along. I prepared my-self of the mess I would have to clean up following my return. I knew I would have so much making up to do that I was completely pessimistic about my ability to relax and enjoy my stay on the cruise. The first stop was in Puerto Rico from O’Hare airport. From there we would take a boat; the Royal Caribbean cruise line to St. Thomas. Barbados, Antigua. St. Maarten. The first stop among the four was Antigua. It was a small island; 14 miles long and 11 wide. When approaching it from the south, which we were, you could see its highest point; Boggy Peak. It was covered in green, which made the air seem thinner, crisper. There was a wonderful musk about the place that felt so welcoming. It was beautiful.
The first night there was an enjoyable one. After we settled into our cabins, which, my mother, two younger sisters and I shared, only added to my anxiety and annoyance. There was a festival in the corridor. It was vibrant in color and sound. A band located in the corner played and upbeat tune. I stood there listening to the blend of percussion instruments. I recognized each of them; drums, bells, shakers. It was a unique musical style with special tempo setting rhythms. They played with claves and when coupled with bells they produced multilayered and weak beats that were so soothing. The ship was alive. They were so many people gathered down the hall, all with huge grins on their faces, enjoying their first night aboard the Royal Caribbean. I looked around to see everyone dancing. I did a bit of a “jig” myself. I felt like part of the show, which was sort of a never ending parade down the long foyer. It was supposed to be a taste test of what we were to expect entertainment wise from the cruise. I watched in awe as two men danced together on stilts. They jumped and did splits in the air all while holding each others hand. I was entertained. Every now and then I would let a smile of pure admiration and amazement creep across my face, exposing the teeth I’ve always worked at to hide. The mere fact that I was slightly amused suggested the trip would not be as horrible as I might have thought.
I went to bed that night with decorated men on stilts (my favorite part of the show) dancing in my head. I woke up late the next day, exhausted from the excitement of the night. My mother and two sisters had already left for the day and decided not to wake me, which I was so grateful of. With a heavy foot I climbed out of my cot and made my way for the bathroom. It was mid afternoon (too late for me to grab breakfast, my favorite meal of the day) and I could already feel the evening getting started under my feet. There must have been another festival going on because the boat was jumping with excitement. I could feel the beat of the drums being played from where ever on the boat as I brushed my teeth.. I unconsciously put a bit of “pep” in my step.
I spent the entire day by myself, unable to find the rest of my family. I was dressed in my most comfortable; a loose fitting blue tank embroidered in “diamonds” that were centered in the middle forming the words “Super Star” across the chest, knee length shorts (I forget what color) and a yellow sarong hid my robust bottom. I walked leisurely around the deck of the ship. I thought about every step I took, making sure not to trip. The boat had a comfortable way in which it rocked. I soon adapted a natural sway, which, in union with the boats rock had me walking straight again. It was the afternoon and the boat was docked in Antigua so there were not many people aboard. This left me with short lines to wait in and only the best of service from the attendants. I spent some time swimming, letting the salt water crushes take over me. I floated on my back, day dreaming. I couldn’t wait to see what spectacular the cruise would turn into at night once again. The water felt warm on my skin. Some instances I forgot that I was even in water. It was the easiest swim I had ever taken.
In the evening I caught up with my sister. We sat in a café located down the main hall of the ship and swapped stories of our adventures of the day. I was having a slice of strawberry cheese cake and she a cup of peppermint tea. I was so enjoying our conversation but could not help wandering off as she explained to me how advanced their exercise facilities were. The hall was such an amazing place to gaze at. Up the walls was renaissance art, some familiar to me, some not. Big colorful dots were seemingly placed randomly on the floor, but when looked at from a distance made up the most fascinating of patterns. The ceilings were covered in bright round neon lights that shook simultaneously to what ever music was playing in background. There were statues of can can dancers, butlers, cowboys and astronauts lining the hall. It was the epitome of eye candy, a stimulus overload. Some might have called it gaudy and in a way it was, but there was something about it that was also pleasing. I drifted in and out of the conversation with my sister. I could tell it didn’t bother her that I was barely paying attention. She was so wrapped up in her own story that it didn’t matter if I was there or not. After her ramblings we strolled around until we found ourselves in a piano bar. This was where we to spend our evenings from then on every night on the boat. We sat there at the piano, giggling like little girls as we watched the piano man wince at the requests we had scribbled on napkins and passed to him. He was a young British man who we quickly grew fond of. We were at his piano the same time every night. We thought he might have been annoyed, but he never grew weary of our company. He even expressed that he enjoyed the challenge of our requests. We would sing the tunes for him as he played along to a song he had never heard. He was quite talented. He played everyone from Charlie Baker, to Stevie Wonder, to John Lennon and Elton John and the Beach Boys. We had the most wonderful time there with him.
One night, after an exhausting list of requests my sister and I stumbled out onto the deck of the rocking boat. The air was so cool and crisp. There were few people out so it was quiet and we could hear the ocean crashing beneath us. We began to walk straight towards the bow. The walk was surprisingly long and we were winded be the time we reached the front of the boat. What we experienced there however was the most amazing thing.. Before reaching it we walked through a door way. Right between there seemed to be a vacuum that pulled at us towards the bow. We passed through it and were hurried along a board walk that brought us to a set of stairs. After climbing them we realized that we were no longer protected by a covering of the ship and were completely exposed to the sky. I was shocked at its enormity. It was so massive and black that it made me shake with fear. I don’t know why it was so different seeing the sky while on land than it was on a boat but I definitely felt it. I was overwhelmed with emotion. The air was just thick enough and just thin enough. It had a wonderful musk to it; sweet and so soft. It was perfect up there. I felt as though the sky was going to swallow me up. I looked to my left and saw the moon shining. It seemed so close that night; gorgeous. My sister grabbed my hand and began to weep. I knew that it was the most beautiful thing she had every seen as well. I brought her in closer to me. It was like something out of a movie. With her arms now wrapped around my waist and mine around her shoulders, chin placed on the crown of her head we rocked slowly to the dance of the boat.