Category Archives: Caribbean living

St. John, St. Thomas, St. Croix, PR Fingers Crossed for all of You Fellow Americans

A Cat 5 hurricane, Irma, is bearing down on people and places I love and it’s weighing on my mind. Especially St. John–Love City–such a tiny place, for such a big storm.  And, Borinquen–con Madre de Dios.  Y Jesu, too, of course.
Hispaniola, Cuba, then Fla.

It’s gonna be a long week.

This is really scary.  The models all seem to include where I am.  I’ve been through a Cat 5.  It’s not an experience I’d recommend.




Chainsaw Phil

Once upon a time I lived on islands. Not always the same one, but always
islands. The first time I moved to one it was in the Caribbean and it was
supposed to be for a couple of months. I didn’t come back to the continent
for 12 years. And even then I lived on barrier islands. For awhile I lived on
two islands at once–one in the Caribbean the other a Florida barrier
island–and commuted.  On Fridays I’d walk to the dock, take a ferry to St.
Thomas, a surrey-bus to the seaplane terminal, then the Goose*–a
seaplane–to St. Croix, then a surrey bus to Christiansted or Frederiksted, do
my work and return home the same way.

I met a lot of interesting people.

One of them was Chainsaw Phil–or, as people called him more or less
affectionately, Chainsaw–the most consistently pessimistic, skeptical, cranky person I ever met.

BTW, on this particular island there were three things one was never supposed to ask.  “Where are you from, what’s your last name, what do you do for a living?”

Chainsaw just kind of appeared on the Caribbean island at some point,
having migrated from the Pacific Northwest where he’d been a lumberjack.

He was, and probably still is, the second most profane human being I have
ever met. Because of his profession, and the fact that much of the bush to
be cleared was cassia, which is full of thorns, Chainsaw was always
scratched, cut, bleeding, and with a patchwork of other occupational wounds in
various states of healing/scabbing. His T-shirts suffered the same fate and were invariably torn in several places.

Chainsaw, however had hidden depths. Brilliant, literate, and with a
massive database of general liberal arts information, Chainsaw was quite a
conversationalist. He could riff on various obscure philosophers, contemporary fiction, history, you name it. We had a number of fascinating chats over the years.

I only ever saw him happy once. After a huge hurricane had pretty much
squashed the island, all the locals had to pitch in to clear the roads and get
the power back on. None of the airports were open so each island was pretty much on its own.

I came around a corner and there was Chainsaw, dangling above the debris strewn roadway from one of the few trees still standing, by one arm, the other swinging along with the chainsaw like a damn bullwhip, cutting the hanging branches dangling from also-dangling wires and trees, just a-whoopin’ and hollerin’ like a cowboy gettin’ some little dogies along on the dusty trail.  He sounded like Slim Pickens in the final scene of “Dr. Strangelove” (one of the greatest films ever made).

Chainsaw had this huge grin on his face.  I’d never seen him smile–normally even when he laughed he frowned.  I wasn’t even aware he could smile

*BTW for Goose flights they would have to take passenger weights to determine if the lumbering aircraft could safely get airborne and land.  Seems as though I recall that here’s an old VI Daily News photo somewhere of the Lt. Gov. or Gov. or head of the legislature, something political…wading in the shallows having been forced to abandon a Goose plane for reasons I can’t recall.  The seaplanes had a reputation for being rickety but there were a limited number of ways to get to St. Croix from St. Thomas, and the Goose was the quickest one.

Apocalypse Wow–Riding Windsurfer Bill’s Honda 90 in a Caribbean Hurricane

Life in America is way too constrained.  There’s too much pressure to conform in oh so many ways, despite our unsupported belief that here in the USA we are wild, free and nonconformist.

So I happened to be thinking wistfully about the time Windsurfer Bill rode up to my place in the Caribbean, on his Honda 90, in the middle of a hurricane.  He burst in and said excitedly; “All the boats are draggin’ anchor in Chocolate Hole.  Wanna go get some champagne and watch expensive boats crash?”

It sounded like fun so I said sure.  Now, at the time, I was living up in Bethany on a dirt road which was steep, full of rocks, and would wash out during the infrequent rains. It was no simple thing for Bill to have gotten his underpowered little vehicle up that road in a damn hurricane either!  That boy had some onions.

Who wouldn’t jump at a chance for an adventure like that?  So I hopped on the back of Bill’s tiny motorbike, sans helmet of course, and we rode into town (Cruz Bay) and went to the deli/restaurant at Mongoose Junction to get some Dom Perignon.  (What else would you drink to watch an apocalypse?)

Tom, the owner, had just closed up.  After we explained why we needed a bottle of Dom he allowed as how he just happened to have one on ice in the back of his jeep that he’d be willing to part with in support of such a good cause.  “I always carry one” he said “in case I get lucky”.  Tom must have been a boy scout at some time to take preparedness to that level.

So we got the champagne and had a fairly harrowing ride up to Bill’s place, which was up a much steeper and rockier road than mine.  Since he lived right at the top of a big hill on the south side shoreline, it was blowin’ like snot up there.  Huge things were flying through the air and, in fact, millions of dollars worth of sailboats were already being pounded against the beach like cockroaches that accidentally wandered into a flamenco fiesta.

It was grand!  We hauled out a couple of chairs, plunked down on the deck and sipped the Dom until it ran out.  Then we switched to a more plebian Cold Duck, or something along those lines, and got fairly tipsy from the alcohol and the wildly dynamic scene playing out for our fun and amusement.  It was soooo fun!  It was like the end of the world but without pain–the wind was screaming, roofs were coming apart, the sea was smashing everything that was in its way, and the noise was deafening.   It was chaos incarnate, if a hurricane can be said to be an incarnation.

People don’t do stuff like that here.  Here they prepare seriously and take precautions. But that was the glory of St. John back in the day.  People did things with panache and free spirited attitudes.  (Once  a St. Johnian sank his new–and very expensive–boat, but stayed on board since part of it was still out of the water.  A friend of his had a case of champagne delivered to the stranded sailor via helicopter.  (No word on whether he thought to report the sunken boat–we’d all heard about it from another boatie.)

Recently I re-connected with an old friend/colleague from the St. John days. He wrote a novel about St. John at that time, in order to memorialize a golden moment when, as Sarah Palin wistfully noted once, people were free.  I asked if he remembered when I tried to shoot his dog, and he laughed that, yes, as a matter of fact, he did.  The name of the book is Back Time in Love City & it definitely, even definitively, captures the zeitgeist of that time and place.  I would recommend it to anyone who has ever dreamed of jumping their traces and taking off into an unknown place for adventure.

One time I rode my big race horse into that iconic Cruz Bay pub, the Back Yard.  She was huge, very high strung and prone to going into wild frenzies of hysteria where she would buck and kick and race around trying to chase any human who crossed her path.  So I rode her up to the packed bar and Dougie Sica didn’t blink an eye, just said, “What’ll ya have?”  Kamikazes seemed appropriate for that particular moment.  So I sat on my big horse and drank kamikazes at the bar, then rode her on out and went home.  Neither of us wore shoes.

Ya can’t do stuff like that in America anymore, except maybe out west or in Texas.  Nope, now and here, decorum is required and one must comport oneself in a manner that couldn’t possibly offend anyone.  Yeah, God forbid that anyone might have their delicate sensibilities offended.  I’m pretty sure there must be a clause in the Constitution about that.

So I sigh and plod on, bereft of any scintilla of spontaneity or free-spiritedness.  We don’t approve of such things in America anymore.  More’s the pity.  But at least I know what it means to have been free, wild and stupid enough to have adventures, to do stuff people wouldn’t approve of.  Sad to say I don’t think all that many Americans get to have that luxury anymore.

What would Jesus say?  “Did ya like my storm?”

Sigh.  I miss being free.


Ummm, Excuse Me CNN, Puerto Ricans Are NOT Permitted to Vote for US President!

I hope I misunderstood CNN’s Poppy Harlow this afternoon.  She was discussing the presidential election with someone–I wasn’t paying much attention, just flicking through channels, and didn’t notice who it was–when Ms. Harlow seemed to make an incredibly uninformed remark.  She was asking about the “growing Puerto Rican vote”.

Uhhh, Puerto Ricans, (and voters in the other U.S. Territories) are NOT, repeat NOT permitted to vote in U.S. presidential elections. They can vote in primaries but not the general election.  Ya’d think a political reporter/anchor should know that very basic fact.

I sure hope that I’m the one who’s wrong here and that I did misunderstand Harlow because, if not, then she is far too ignorant to be permitted to open her mouth on international television at least about the presidential election.

It was also evident today how individual TV “News” networks are trying to influence the vote.  Within five minutes I cycled through CNN, MSNBC and Fox News channels and they each had a different cherry-picked presidential poll that they were reporting.  Fox News said polls show Clinton five or six points ahead, CNN said she was ahead by 12 and MSNBC said she was 20 points ahead.

Of course, I rarely even look at the news anymore because of the incessant yammering about the election and the dearth of any real facts being reported while the respective “news” networks are spewing opinions day and night.  God only knows what might be going on in the rest of the world because we’re sure not gonna hear about it on the “news”.   Presumably this is not reporters’ fault, my guess would be they are all getting their marching orders from corporate HQs.

All together now–can you say “media whores”?


Hurricane Tips from a Storm Survivor

Hurricanes are kinda fun if you’re a kid, a pain in the butt if you’re not.  My first was before I was two years old.  I’ve been through more than a dozen, including going through a cat 4 one, alone,  in a tin roofed cottage on the beach on a tiny island in the Caribbean.  The airport blew away and help didn’t arrive for days, so everyone was on their own.  Jeez, in that one much of my neighborhood was gone–and I mean GONE— in a few hours.  My next door neighbor’s home was crushed by a tidal wave–which, fortunately, I did not see because the storm was so intense that visibility was only a few feet when it happened.  That storm was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced, and I’ve had plenty of scary moments.

So here are a few tips (that I learned the hard way) for those of you in the path of big storms.

If you have to leave in a storm, or if you stay and lose a roof or windows blow in, you’re going to get wet.  Pack a bag ahead of time, ’cause you might wind up having to leave during or after the storm.  Two gallon ziploc baggies are a perfect size to hold one set of clothes, a set of sheets, some shoes, or a towel.  Where I live in Florida you can get them at Publix (but not Winn Dixie).  Don’t get the kind with the zipper-they break.  The ones with the double-locking seal will hold.  Just buy a couple boxes of them ahead of time so you’ll have them if you need them.  Before the storm gets to you,  just put whatever you’re going to need/want in them & squeeze all the air out like a mini-storage bag, so they don’t take up much space.  They’ll fit easily into a suitcase. (Actually this is a useful packing tip for any trip.)  It saves you from having to root around among everything in a luggage bag & will keep stuff dry until the rain stops or you get someplace where it’s dry.  You just pull out a baggie with a set of clothes & nothing else gets messed up.  Don’t throw the empty baggie away–when the clothes are dirty, you can put them back into it so your luggage won’t smell like dirty clothes.

If the power goes out, no telling when it will come on again.  You can do without food but you gotta have water.  And it’ll be hot so you’re gonna want something cold.  Freeze a bunch of half-liter bottles of water.  (A larger size will split open so don’t try that.)  This way you have cold water for a few days after the storm, depending on how often you open your freezer when power is out.  It’s a godsend when there’s nothing cold available for sale.  It takes about a half hour for the bottled ice to melt, so you can sip it as it melts, and you can put it against your  skin to help stay cool.

If you have to leave there’s no telling when you’ll be back. Before the storm or before you leave, take everything except the frozen water bottles out of your refrigerator and wipe down the interior surfaces with a bleach solution (so mold won’t grow in the heat).    This will prevent you from having a hideous stinking mess when you come home.  Duct tape the freezer door(s) closed so the bottles can’t fall out in the wind.

Close the lids of your toilets.  If the ceiling caves in this will prevent you from having to dig out a bunch of plaster, etc. from inside the toilet bowl. (Ick!)

Sprinkle Clorox 2 on your carpets.  If they get wet this will help prevent mold growing.  If the carpets don’t get wet you can just vacuum it up after the storm is gone.  If they do get wet, you may be able to just let them dry and then vacuum the dried powder up.

Gas up your cars, and fill up some five gallon containers (don’t leave them in the house though).  Even though there may be plenty of gas available after the storm, there probably won’t be any power to pump it.  (Fla. governor Jeb Bush once famously sneered at everyone getting gas before a hurricane.  He said there’d be plenty of gas after the storm.  There was.  It just couldn’t be pumped.)

The most important thing to have?  Water, water, water!  Being hungry is uncomfortable but not life threatening for quite awhile.  You’re not gonna starve.  But you can only go two or three days without water.

Hope you find these tips interesting but don’t have to use them.  But if you do they could save you some effort afterwards, and keep you more comfortable (dry clothes, sheets shoes and towels) during and after, once you get to someplace dry.


Here’s a tip about mosquito spraying.  Its effectiveness is inextricably tied to the size of the spray’s droplets.  The maximally effective droplet size is between 7 and 22 microns.  Most spraying results in much larger droplets.

Some years ago mosquito spraying in Collier County, Florida resulted in a die-off of fiddler crabs, which resulted in restrictive sanctions against the spraying.  And, the insecticide used in spraying is expensive.  So a Charlotte County mosquito spraying pilot, Richard Howe, who also happens to be something of an inventive genius, figured out a way to increase the percentage of appropriately sized droplets and decrease the amount of pesticide by 90%.  He met with great resistance from various vested interests.

Mr. Howe, and his brother Bob, are legendary pilots among certain segments of South Florida.  I mean, those guys can fly!  They can do pinpoint spraying that other pilots just do not have the ability to replicate.  Richard Howe tinkered with any number of ways of getting costs down and effective kill rates up.  He finally came up with spray nozzles and flying techniques that accomplish both.  The droplets, being so small, hang in the air longer than the much larger droplets most spraying applications produce.  Since it was the droplet size, not the pesticides, which was the operant factor, research showed that much lower pesticide concentrations could be used to achieve maximal spraying effectiveness.

So, now that the Zika virus has reportedly caused paralysis in 30 people in Puerto Rico, maybe local governments could start taking the virus seriously.  It’s not just a threat to the intrauterine development of fetuses.  According to a news item of a few days ago, someone was saying that, well, paralysis is rare and temporary and nothing to worry about.  Unless, that is, the muscles that get paralyzed are the ones involved in breathing.  Yeah, that might be a problem.  Ya think?  Jesus, what does it take to get people to wake up?

Remember polio and the “iron lung” machines of the 1940’s and ‘50’s?  Polio victims whose breathing muscles were paralyzed had to be kept in the machines, which artificially pumped the air in and out of their lungs.  Do we really want to go there again?

Again and again, disasters of all types are linked to one common cause–lack of
imagination in people who are responsible for preventing them.  So, while people are wasting time trying to get the U.S. Congress to get its collective sorry asses in gear to get some research funding into the pipeline pronto, if not sooner, maybe South Florida and Caribbean local governments could think about contacting Mr. Howe’s company, Application Dynamics.  Y’know, to at least look into some less environmentally intrusive and destructive ways to kill mosquitoes, for the time being.

Because, while the infected mosquitoes may only have a range of about 400 yards or so, that of the people they infect has a considerably wider radius.

Just sayin’.

Stop Complaining

That’s advice to me from me.  Surely there must be a few things which don’t send me screaming into the night in aggravation.  Yes, there are.

Natural systems.  The world, and by extrapolation, the universe, are fascinating.  Just watching water flow can keep me occupied for a good long while.  The stars?  Definitely on my A-list.  Growing things?  Ditto.  Animals?  Even better to watch.  There are some coyotes–or as my neighbor insists, red wolves–in the area.  I’ve seen them a number of times, heard a group howl once only a few yards away in the wood, and even stumbled upon the pups once.  Too cute for words and fascinating to watch.  Bobcat(s) in the neighborhood are another thing I love.  Once I came across one stalking three bunnies when I was riding my bike.  It was only about 35 feet away and didn’t even flinch when it saw me.  Quite the contrary, it gave me what could only be described as a stern look that said clearly “Heyy!  Human!  I’m workin’ here, don’t screw this up for me.”  I just froze and watched the ultimately unsuccessful hunt for about fifteen minutes.  Now, I try not to anthropomorphize but it was pretty clear the animal did not want to have a golden opportunity like three bunnies effed up by some klutzy human scaring them off.

And, to digress as usual, BTW, for those who think that they can just pretend away facts about the natural world–global warming comes immediately to mind–here’s a tip.  The laws of physics weren’t passed by Congress.  Water doesn’t compress, it goes where it can and when there’s more of it, say, from melting ice caps, it takes the path of least resistance.  And in that path there’s a ton of expensive stuff that humans have built.  Try as you might, ya can’t just wish away water.  Water doesn’t give a damn what you want, it has its own agenda, so to speak.  And it wants the low lying ground.  Upon which puny humans have placed their cherished stuff.  Which will win?  My money’s on the water, which tries 24/7/365 for as long as necessary to get its way.

The oceans are also on my top five list of cool stuff.  The Caribbean (sea, ocean, what’s the difference?) is a subset of that category which I especially love.  For many years I lived on a tiny island in the Caribbean, including a long stretch of time with a nifty little bay in my front yard.  And that nifty little bay had a nifty little coral reef only a few feet from the shore, so it was possible to hop right in from the beach and start snorkeling with virtually no effort and still be in waist to chest deep water.

The people on that island–also on my A list–were very cool to know.  Both the natives and the continentals were an incredibly interesting bunch, and always full of mischief and doing neat things.  And they didn’t nitpick about stuff like wearing shoes to work.  Once I rode my racehorse into a local bar to get a drink–a kamikaze.  The bartender didn’t even bat an eye, just said “What’ll ya have?”.   Since the horse was almost 17 hands high and known to erupt into furiously crazy episodes of bucking, kicking and biting, I had to give the bartender points for aplomb.  Ya just can’t do that kind of thing in America.  People can’t handle it.  Shoot, I probably wouldn’t get past the front door, let alone get served.  (Hey, it’s not as if I was totally unsocialized.  I left the foal at home.  She was way too fond of drunks to take into a bar.)

When my baby horse was old enough I didn’t “break” her but taught her to accept a rider the way the Indians did.  By taking her in the water–my beautiful front yard Caribbean bay–and leaning on her, then gradually lying on her back and eventually sitting on he, bareback.  The weight in the water wasn’t alarming so there was never that traumatic bucking, kicking and screaming horses are so often goaded into when they are “broken”.  I wanted her whole, not broken.  The big horse would swim around the bay, I’d hold onto her mane and she’d tow me as I snorkeled.  The baby horse would swim circles around us, impatient that we were so pokey and slow.  None of us wore shoes, either.

And on that island, people used to steal my big horse, which was one of only four on the island.  (They learned to regret that particular crime though, because of her aforementioned tendency to go bats–t crazy without warning.)  Even worse, the staff at the luxury hotel–where I used to sneak her in to eat the yummy, expensive and well-manicured lawn–would occasionally try to impound that big thoroughbred.  Not to worry, though, a local guy–a white native, who looked and acted like a Viking–had the same problem.  His solution was to steal his horses back and he very kindly taught me how to steal a horse quietly so I didn’t have to go in like gangbusters to get my horse back.  (For years I’ve tried to figure out a way to get that on my resume but haven’t come up with a socially acceptable way to do so in our overly conformist, even tight-assed, society.)  Good times, as they say.

And my Viking friend had a few asocial tendencies himself.  Recently a mutual friend and I were reminiscing about that Viking gentleman’s amusing episodes.  When I laughed about how he used to get frisky with people who intruded on his beach, the friend countered.  “Hey, he used to climb up into coconut trees and shoot a high impact pellet gun at boaters and people on his beach!”  Frisky indeed!

We used to have archery contests with his hunting bow.  We had the same nemesis, a fake Rasta.  (He not dread, mon.  Irie.)  And my friend would pretend it was him we were aiming at and scream “Take that, mon!” and let fly with an arrow, then race down the mountainside to fetch it for my turn.  We’d drink wine and shoot that damn bow for hours.  And ride horses!  He taught me to ride like an Indian–bareback, no bridle, just a rope wrapped around the horse’s nose.  We’d have a blast riding along the goat trails, and pounding down the beaches in a flat out gallop, the sky so blue, the water so clear and wonderful, making a perfect backdrop for the heart-pounding races.  I knew true freedom in those moments.  He taught me how to build a fish trap one afternoon, sitting on his own beautiful beach, not a soul in sight.  What a guy!  Everyone should be so lucky as to know someone like him.

That crazy, huge Viking could disappear like fog evaporating too, when someone wanted him to do something he didn’t want to do.  When pursuing females,  generally glaring in fury at his disappearance, quizzed me about where he was, I could say innocently, and truthfully, “he gone bush”.  Sadly, I report that my Viking friend died young–hounded to death by women trying to pry his very substantial personal fortune from his grasp.  He beat them to the punch by dying so they couldn’t pry it from his cold dead hands.  Ha ha ladies.  He gone bush fah true!

It was a measure of how much people loved him that some natives insisted on personally digging his grave by hand.  Since he was 6’5” or more, it was a big grave, too.  Hard to imagine that such an exceptional person left the place he loved rather than hand it over to some grasping females.  But typical of him.

Jeez I wish there were still people like that in America.  I love people like that!

Yeah, there are things that don’t make me complain.