The roar of the plane is still with us, the buffeting of wind and air as we leave the sky behind, the tear drops of island chains in the blueness,the massive shining depths beyond the reef,the bumpiness of the football pitch/runway, the goats hurtling into the brush as we hop out of the fuselage.
We stand on the crumbling runway watching the plane gain altitude then bank right, wings catching the sun, then its gone, first a far off drone, then silence. The goats bleat in the bushes, the waves crash the reef on the far side of the tree line, yellow ragged sea poppies flutter in the spiky grass. The customs shed has a tree fort look to it. A perspiring, quite tall and angular dark man is reading a romance novel. His uniform of khaki shorts and shirt is more or less pressed. He waves us over and gives us a beautiful grin.
“you from the plane”
We look around, nod “yep”
“that’s good, mailboats late” he looks at our tickets then gives us warm Coca Colas in glass bottles. As we finish, a rusting and white Defender pulls in, brakes squealing as it stops in the rutted sand. The driver is wearing a “Let’s get physical” tshirt and baggy shorts. “Welcome to Canouan” he beams. “I’m your transport”.
The following ten days are a complete idyll. I feel as if ive gotten away with something, I feel quite like Gauguin. There are ten other guests at the ramshackle cluster of buildings. All French, all middle aged, with English being an afterthought, if not entirely verboten. The hotels manager is seemingly always working on the Defender, crazed grey hair sweat plastered to his scalp and kicking outwards on the collar of his stained and faded red Ferrari jumpsuit. He wears nothing underneath and strips out of it casually when hot and cools off just down the beach. We eat dinners and lunches at a communal table in the white sand. Bottles of rose and packs of Dunhill red and gold litter the smooth driftwood top. Sometimes there are topless lunches.Always there are magic tricks with francs,shells,cards,cigarettes, anything and everything appearing out of ears,bottles of Hairoun, and bikinis. The Magician (Olivier) performs his act in a salt faded, purple leopard skin speedo, tanned belly protruding above, youngish girlfriend/assistant on his arm.
We take the rover along the bumpy track and drink beer in the ruins of the church. Looking down from the hilltop we see an unspoiled island, iguanas scuttle in the palmettos. White horses to the east mark the reef line, an unparalleled aquamarine in between. Some days we take the cat out with Philip and grill fish at Salt Whistle Bay over on Mayreau, grab some rum in Union, or drift through the Tobago Cays, the feeling of space and emptiness washes over us, the sun a crucible.
It’s all gone now. The quirkiness, the feeling that you are at the end of something, shared with collateral friends. The Italians came and made a mess of things, then Trump with his golf course. The Raffles resort was the last straw. When we left on the mailboat I always thought I’d return. Now, years later, I’d like to remember it as it was. As I was at that time in my life.
Why do we feel the urge to return to the scenes of previous crimes or jubilations? It’s been said that the past is another country that you can’t revisit. Is this why we keep moving forward, always looking for the next thing, the hump of land that we sight just over the horizon?
You return to your childhood home in Kent. Of course it’s smaller than you remember, the path has more bramble, the motorway much closer to the back fields. Then you catch a glimpse of a fox darting into the hemlocks down the lane and you are careening off the sand and into the past. The gooseberry pies, the guardian lions,Mack and Henry, the boarding school boys who stole the Lancia and crashed into the gates. It exists beside or on top of the current state of things leaving you both melancholy yet comforted.
Is it like this with ones acquaintances, do they become another country over the years, borders best left alone? Faces from the distant past always seem to disappoint yet there are some that continue to shine and sparkle through the years. Perhaps it’s like this with certain places. Ones that resonate and hail us back. Sounding boards for where we are now when compared to the point of ones last encounter.
There will always be a mail boat to leave on, a prop plane on a dusty runway, an overcrowded Nicaraguan bus to take us to the next destination. I’ll never stop traveling but it would be nice to see how some old favorites have weathered the years. Sound thing that my itineraries are never set in stone. Who knows, the mail boat might be coming in any day now…..
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