~The Island of Marina Cay, BVI~
Like an unwelcome cat, I watched as my never before used suitcases- a wedding present- were unceremoniously tossed from the hatch of the rusted mini-van. They landed with a puff of gravel dust, just inches from the abandoned dock where we had been ferried by the taxi driver who had, apparently charged us by the word. “Wait here for the boat,” he instructed gruffly, and held out his hand for a $5 bill. American money stuffed in his pocket, he sped away as if he were fleeing a crime scene. Another cloud of gravel dust kicked up behind the balding tires. The car disappeared quickly into the inky night, but the cloud of dust lingered, held aloft by the wildly swirling wind.
As if a living being, the dust wafted and waved before organizing itself into a powerful whirlwind. The wind-beast turned its attention to the only other beings within ten miles. With whipping force, the wind knocked over our virgin luggage like dominos and slapped us in the face. We held onto our clothes to keep them from ripping off our bodies and steadied ourselves by grabbing onto each other. Still gripping each other, we strained to see down the path where our only contact with civilization had retreated. Blackness. Turning, we stared into the empty expanse that we assumed was the ocean. Also blackness. With nothing else to do, we looked at each other in silence. I was nineteen years old, a newlywed of one day, and this was the start of my honeymoon.
~A windy day on the Island. Note the trees bending in the wind~
The arrival at the Beef Island Tortola airport an hour prior was a foreshadowing for the overall atmosphere that followed us to the dock. As our single engine prop plane putted onto the runway, there was just enough light to see the line of locals who had gathered on the roof of the airport to watch the plane come into the island. If we had been in a cartoon, thought bubbles with dollar signs in them would have appeared over the heads of the onlookers as the fat Americans and their fat wallets squeezed out of the tiny plane. We were the anomaly in the equation, having come to the British Virgin Islands because it was the only place we could afford on our meager newlywed budget. A January wedding meant that we were traveling during peak season for the Caribbean. Almost every standard acceptable honeymoon locale was out of our price range. When we happened upon the small island of Marina Cay off the coast of Tortola, we saw the affordable price tag and booked immediately. Our youthful idealism took no pause to consider whether the lower price tag indicated a less than ideal infrastructure.
With an involuntary air of pearl clutching, we entered the airport-a term that can only be applied loosely to the carport type structure with rusted chairs inside. We proceeded quickly to customs, another misnomer for the corner where a single agent sleepily broke the binding on my pristine passport and christened the untouched symbol of adventure with my first ever stamp. It was a moment I had intended to relish, but my eye was drawn to a flurry of activity in the opposite corner of the room. A low-riding pick-up truck circa 1972 was backing towards an opening in the side of the building. Filled to the top with luggage and locals, it was obvious that this was the baggage handling team. Bags began flying with gobsmacking velocity through the hole, another affront to my heretofore unspoiled luggage. The stray dogs that were wandering in and out of the building didn’t even bother changing their path as the bags landed and created the section of the airport designated as “baggage claim.”
With this culture shock beginning, the arrival of the boat to take us to Marina Cay was viewed with as much skepticism as relief. Skepticism mixed with relief gave way to full blown dread when we arrived at our nuptial paradise. Our dinner-the first real meal we had eaten all day-was utterly inedible. Our room, in glossy brochure terms, was rustic and intimate. Read: tiny and sparse. But, it was the hurricane shutters that tipped the scale towards full on alarm. The room was surrounded by levered shutters that lent an unsettling personality to the space when accompanied by the wind. With the shutters opened, the tropical breeze was nothing less than violent. Fully closed, the room stifled and shimmied with threatening power as the winds clawed for an open space. A delicate balancing of tinkering was required to find a point where the wind was pacified. Balance more or less achieved, we two climbed into bed and wrapped our bodies around each other, not in intimacy, but in exhaustion. There we stayed, silent in our uncertainty until the storm drove an icy rain through the open shutters and into our bed.
Years later, in the maturity of steadfast married life, we each revealed our most intimate thoughts in that vulnerable newlywed moment. He was mentally bemoaning his fear that he had utterly failed in his first official act as protector and provider. Meanwhile, my mind was churning with a talking-to of pep rally proportions to not be a whiny, wimpy disappointment in the adventurer category. By morning’s light, our worrying gave way a new understanding when reflected through each other. He was my hero, a champion who knew my desire to wander better than I knew it myself. To his delight, I was every bit the explorer he knew I would be, and he loved me even more deeply as he watched me embrace uncertainty without fear. I still think of that moment as one of the purest expressions of love-each of us striving to find a way to meet the needs of the other and changing for the better in the process.
I have digressed into a love poem without intention, but travel and storytelling are nothing without a diversion or two. I can’t help but meander into the love story of me and my life partner when I talk of my love for adventure. What I meant to tell was how this trip-one that seems so comically ill fated-was a balance point for me during which my entire view of the world so subtly, but certainly shifted. It was an almost imperceptible flash in the corner of one eye, but in turning my head to catch the distraction, I altered my path forever.
~A stunning sunset, proof that the beauty of the island was not completely overshadowed by the weather~
To my delight, I recorded the growth in progress in a journal of our experiences on that trip. I simply wanted to catalogue the events so that we could look back on them and remember our first trip as a married couple. I had no idea that something much bigger than a honeymoon was in progress, but oh how I treasure every single word penned in that paperback journal. It is not often that life course corrections so subtle can be pinpointed precisely and tracked moment by moment.
Re-reading those youth-kissed words are like watching a time-lapse video of a spring bulb emerging from the hardened earth. Frame by frame, it is impossible to perceive any movement at all, but viewed all together it is easy to see the miniscule moments that string together a scene of growth. Each moment, even the unfortunate ones, was an illumination to a side of me that I had not yet encountered- a more honest side of the person I needed to become. I learned that I was comfortable with leaping into the unknown, and that there was an itch in my being that yearned for the unfamiliar. I saw, for the first time, that pearl clutching and perfectly preserved suitcases did not suit me. I was cut from a wilder and more ramshackle sort of cloth.I discovered that I was not meant to be, and could never be content to be a passive participant in any endeavor from that point forward.
By any other standards, our honeymoon was a failure, maybe even of epic proportions. Did I mention that I was stung by a jellyfish, a stonefish and a TREE?!?! I also ruptured my eardrum. Good times. Remarkably, I don’t just remember each moment fondly, I value that trip as the hair trigger for the purpose in my adult life. Before that trip, I was in danger of continuing down a predictable path simply by the unfortunate default of not knowing to expect something more. Once I had felt the glorious feeling of teetering in the unknown, I could not go back to before. I could not un-know the delight of unpredictability. I cannot, with any honesty, look at the joy in my life today, and not believe that it rode in on the wind that blustered next to that abandoned dock in the middle of the ocean.