We are in New York for two weeks attending family and friends' gatherings, a graduation, a milestone birthday, a wedding and other functions while Kalunamoo is berthed in Port Louis Marina in Grenada. We rent a car while here and reacclimatize ourselves to NY traffic but reminisce about Cruisers in Cars.
Cruising around the Islands in our own boat does not preclude cruising on the Islands in autos. Yes, we cruisers are as interested in the interior of the Islands visited, as we are of the harbors and bays we anchor in. Buses and maxi-taxis are employed, but nothing beats the independence and mobility of cruising the Islands in autos. With the tropical wind blowing thru our hair (because the A/C isn't working) while touring the picturesque countryside, it is one of the benefits of Island Adventures.
Of course, this means, as a first step, renting an auto from the locals. Our yachts lack the required garage space for our own vehicle (although mega yachts can easily fit helicopters, sport fishing boats, landing craft and other toys in their yachts). Be warned however, auto rentals from locals may not be a Hertz experience.
With Roman and Olha, (Moya Mareeya) and Harry and Melinda (Sea Schell) on Long Island, Bahamas. "We can rent a car from that guy in the laundromat". Of-course he or his wife would not be in the store until later in the morning. That will cut our tour travel time down considerably. We dare not drive after dark as the roads tend to blend into the countryside after dark. The idea of painting lane markings, much like guard rails and street sign names, seems to have escaped the thoughts of most road authorities.
A worker suggested we call a guy at the local landing strip (calling it an "airport" would be disingenuous). No problem, the guy came to his competition at the laundromat to pick us up and drove us to the "airport" parking lot. After giving him some cash, he handed us the keys to a car parked nearby. I honestly don't know if the car was a "rental" or someone who just happened to leave his car keys in his car when he flew off the island.
Twenty-four hours later we wanted to return the car and happened to see the "agent" driving by. He said just leave the car and keys by the dinghy dock and drove off. I hope the car's owner got his car back when he landed at the "airport".
With Judy and Ed, (Judith Arlene) in Dominica. "Let's do a road trip". Dominica, like most Eastern Caribbean Islands, is a mountainous countryside, not like the flat pancake islands of the Bahamas. However, they share the same aversion to lane markings, guard rails and any identifying road signage. Mountains eat gasoline. Even with the small engines in the cars, gasoline is consumed at rates higher than one might imagine. Gasoline is also more expensive than imagined so there is an incentive not to buy any more than needed. Maybe that is just an excuse. "Hey, the tour is great Bill, think we need to stop for gas?" "Got plenty, lets go down this unmarked dirt road that doesn't appear on Google Maps and see what we can find." What wasn't found was a short jaunt into the countryside. Beautiful scenery, steep inclines, waterfilled potholes and uninhabited expanses made for a great inland cruise. "Doesn't E mean empty?" We'll stop at the next petro station! When we see one. When we get on a bigger road. When we see civilization again. Whenever.
Engines do indeed run on fumes although it does nothing for the nerves or thoughts of pushing cars in rainforests for hours. Petro stations are the most important points of interest in any car tour and probably the rarest sight you may see. Maureen and I repeated this scenario on St Lucia some time later. In my defense, it was Good Friday and I think there was only one petro station on the whole island opened that afternoon. We managed to find it. Luckily it was at the bottom of a mountain we could roll to.
With Doug and Katie, (Casa Tu) Anguilla. "We put our costumes in the boot, lets hit the road!". For some reason the British look at life reflected in a mirror. That is the only explanation I have for driving on the left side of the road. Although I will admit, I have found that driving on the left side of the road has a natural feel to it. Maybe it is because the oncoming traffic is on your right and prize fighters are taught to "lead with your right". Roundabouts, however, are another matter. All passengers quickly learn the "kept left" mantra to remind the driver that imminent death is only a few feet away to the right. Only those who drive these "lefty" cars appreciate the way the windshied wipers indicate a turning vehicle.
"Don't you smell something burning?" Most rental cars are, to be charitable, not in the best condition. Flats and blowouts are to be expected and taken in stride. "Burning? Close your window, nothing smells up here in the front." Eventually it did. Off on a back road, which are almost all roads, we stop and inspect the wheel well liner generating the offending odor as it rubbed against the almost bald tire. Said liner quickly saw new life as an artifact in a cow pasture, heaved over the fence by the ever-resourceful Doug. We continued on and eventually made use of our costumes in the boot.
With Tom and Josephine (Windward), Grenada. "Lunch in the hills sounds inviting, pick us up in Port Louis". And so we did. Off to see Grand Etang and the Rain Forests of Grenada we drove the narrow, winding, unmarked, roads up and down the hills of central Grenada until stopped by the Road Closed sign. You have to remember that when the U.S. Army landed to liberate American students at St. George University in the intervention of 1983, their first stop was at the tourist office to get road maps (true!). Road maps are not common in the Islands and the best you can hope for are the tourist pamphlets that mimic road maps. They're colorful and provide good information where to buy t-shirts and rum drinks but not exactly suitable for a major land invasion. Nor much of any help when traveling off the "main highways" in the hills. Surprisingly, Google Maps can provide more information notwithstanding their directions that sometimes lead you over a cliff. We ended up on a one lane road that carried two-way traffic although we didn't see any other vehicle for some time. Then the front tire blew out.
Yes, there was a spare in the car! Tire iron in hand we fumbled with the jack. But then down the road a truck approached. We had the car somewhat off the side but doubted there was room to pass. The truck slowed and finally stopped behind us. All alone in the middle of nowhere, were we to become victims of some criminal activity? Two men jumped out and surveyed the situation. Clearly we were out of our element with no resources around to help. "Stand clear" he said with some authority, as he took the tire iron from my hand. He quickly swung around and jacked the car up while his partner got the flat tire off and mounted the spare. He then told his partner, who was his son, to fetch some water from the stream so we could clean our hands. In ten minutes, we were on our way with a stern warning not to go to fast as the spare looked pretty worn. They refused any compensation for their work as they bid us farewell.
With Judy and Ed (Judith Arlene) and Phil and Judy (Rum Runner) in Antigua, as written above, most rental cars are not in the best shape. Given the roads they are driven over, the beaches they get stuck in, the steep mountains they must climb (and hopefully the brakes that won't burn out), they do function amazingly well. Dings, scratches and dents notwithstanding, they are usually presentable. It was with great anticipation of another road trip that the six of us piled into the minivan, me at the wheel. I quickly backed out of the parking spot in Jolly Harbor Marina where we rented the car, right into a parked pickup truck. Crunch! The clerk who I just rented it from saw it happen and quickly ran over to us. Concerned with our safety? No! He began assessing the damage amount that was due to restore the vehicle into pristine, just off the assembly, condition that he assumed it was 3 minutes before.
I off handedly said that we can settle this matter when we returned the car. In this way any further damages incurred will be just added to the bill. We needed to be off to a rum distillery and didn't want to miss the free sampling bar. He seemed perplexed but said to come back at 7:30 AM before his boss came in and we could "settle up" at that time.
During our road trip we managed to pull out the small oil can indent in the rear lid, re-attach the tail light (which was not part of the damage) and faithfully cleaned up the interior. A small crease was all that remained of the early morning collision. I didn't return the car until after the boss opened the shop and took my chances that whatever "insurance" coverage we had would take care of it. Out of ear shot of the boss, he looked at the damage and said that a few hundred U.S. dollars will be required for repairs. As Bob Dylan once sang, some people rob you with a fountain pen. Not wanting to go to an Admiralty court for the ensuing piracy we settled and went on our way. Maureen, as a parting shot, asked if he really was going to fix the small dent with the money we just handed him. He offered to return it as we quickly retreated to our boat.
These minor adventures on land happen as much as those at sea. It's all part of that lifestyle where surprises, pirates, unexpected help and daunting possibilities are all around. All that is asked is to accept them as opportunities and not as impediments of living. And that applies to everyone. You don't need to be a cruiser to participate.