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Ponies Of The Caribbean

The occasion for the adventure was the wedding of my oldest cousin. We will call him Cousin Halbarad, for he is a Northern (U.S. National Park) Ranger. He is the older brother of the cousin who got married in Vermont in August. He and his bride wanted to be married in a national park. He's currently stationed at Grand Teton in Wyoming and correctly assumed that The Family would be less than thrilled to travel to Jackson Hole in January. So Halbarad and Bride decided to go to St. John, USVI, which is mostly a national park, and be married there.

I'd never been to the tropics before this vacation, and I confess that I hadn't entirely believed that they were real. Brilliantly colored flowers, turquoise water, white sand beaches, perpetual warmth. . . these were things so foreign to me that I couldn't really comprehend them. Until I got off the plane in St. Thomas at the end of December, and it was suddenly summer! That was when it began to dawn on me that tropical islands might just be real.

We took a ferry to St. John, where the wedding adventure was to be held. St. John is an island of very steep hills, not much rain, and with almost no natural resources whatsoever. Just about everything has to be imported and is thus very expensive. Nine bucks for an anemic pineapple, for instance.

On the other hand, the place is just as beautiful as promised. The whole party (my family, my aunt and uncle's family, the bride and groom, their friends, and the bride's family) stayed at a block of lovely vacation condos, each family in their own little unit. The condos came with a resident kitty cat. Island Kitty was very pleased to see us, for she sensed that we were the sort of people who would feed and pet her when she meowed. There was blue sky, turquoise water, palm trees, bougainvillea (a word I'd only read and never heard before, so I had to get Mom Pony to tell me how to pronounce it -- it's boo-gun-VEE-yah, according to Mom Pony), warm weather mitigated by the constant breeze of the trade winds -- all as per spec for a tropical paradise. It was really real! We spent much of the first day marveling at the existence of this place.

It turned out that we also had neighbors. On New Year's Eve, The Family had a cookout, and the young man who owned one of the condos came to investigate. Now, the thing about The Family is that, when we party, we Party. It's a big, sprawling Jewish family, which means that relationships may not necessarily be blood relationships. Everyone's a cousin, and that goes for guests as well. Darin, our neighbor, was fascinated. Since it was the seventh night of Hanukkah, he offered the use of his menorah, and promptly became an honorary cousin. The bride's family (who are Southern Catholics and who were still, I think, getting used to the idea of being absorbed into a large loud Yankee Jewish family) had no idea that we'd never met this guy before in our lives.

Darin was very strange, and as the evening went on, it became clear that he had made liberal use of some recreational pharmaceuticals prior to his visit. Whatever, he was highly entertaining. When the bride's aunt mentioned that she had given the bride some Darvoset to help deal with a mild ear infection, Darin just perked right up. "All Sets are good!" he announced. "Percoset, Darvoset. . . all Sets, man!" Thus was another vacation buzzword born. When he began to get paranoid and started defending Timothy McVeigh against the police state of Oklahoma, we let him just drift on home. That was when we broke the news to the bride's family that we had no idea who he was. They were surprised to hear that.

The national sport of the Virgin Islands is, of course, drinking, and we did a fair amount of that, especially considering that The Family doesn't really drink. The official drink of the wedding turned out to be the Painkiller, a local cocktail of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream, and rum. The under-40 crowd took to this charming concoction like Hobbits to mushrooms, and for much of the event, we were Feeling No Pain. I will have to learn how to make these now that I'm back in Grad School Town.

And of course, you can't just lay around when you've got a whole week and a tropical island to explore. I did so many neat things. I went hiking twice, and I went kayaking. We took a trip to the British Virgin Islands as well, courtesy of Cousin Halbarad.

The first stop on the trip was off of a little cay to do some snorkeling. I'd never snorkeled before in my life. In fact, I'm not a real fan of swimming (though I can swim), and I hadn't actually been swimming in many years, but I was not going to let that stop me. Now, I'd grown up in New England, and I knew several things about the ocean. One, it's very murky, and two, it's freezing cold, so cold that it's not worth swimming in except in August. So I was a little nervous about the snorkeling, but I wasn't going to be left behind. I put on the gear and jumped off the back of the boat along with most everyone else.

After about forty-five seconds of sheer panic -- ohshit, I'm in Very Deep Water, with flippers on my feet and a strange breathing tube in my mouth, wait, are those fish? -- I began to figure out what this snorkeling business was all about. The first surprise was that the water was warm. I guess I'd known that intellectually, but for twenty-nine years, I'd thought of seawater as being very cold, and it was something of a leap of faith to just jump right in wearing a swimsuit. The second surprise was that the water was clear enough that you could in fact see things through the snorkeling mask. That discovery prompted me to stick my face underwater, float on my tummy, and teach myself to snorkel.

Snorkeling is not so much a sport as the nautical equivalent of croquet -- a pleasant activity that doesn't require a whole lot of effort. Mainly, you float face down in the amazingly warm, clear turquoise tropical water ogling the brightly colored fish and graceful coral that make up the lovely reefs out in the Caribbean bays. Not hard at all. Of course, Dad Pony never did get over the initial forty-five seconds of panic and returned to the boat to drink Painkillers with Uncle Pony, who didn't even bother to go in. But the rest of us snorkeled and snorkeled and snorkeled and had a blast.

Then we got back on the boat and sailed to Jost Van Dyke, a tiny British Virgin Island, where we found (for me) the highlight of the trip -- Foxy Callwood. Foxy is a calypso singer who runs a little restaurant with decent food, and a pretty thatched roof, though it does not, technically, have any walls. (Walls are optional in a climate like this.) Foxy came out about midway through lunch and serenaded us with awesome improvised calypsos about Boston, Connecticut, and current politics. It was fantastic.

The final event of the week was one of those quirky little things that turn out to be the best of fun. Cousin Jolie is living on the island for a year teaching fourth grade. In her spare time, she is a belly dancer -- in fact, she performs one night a week at a restaurant that changes ethnicities every day. She dances on Greek Night. A Jewish girl doing Arabic dance at a Greek restaurant. The world is one weird place, yes it is. Anyway, Jolie also teaches belly dancing on Thursday nights, so I got to go to her class. Since I've only ever had that one lesson, I am hardly sinuous and shimmying, but it was definitely fun.

Ah, but the wedding. . . the reason we were all there. It happened on Wednesday, on the beach at Trunk Bay, which is said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The weather was fine, the sunset was gorgeous, the bride was beautiful (all brides are beautiful), and Cousin Halbarad looked like a gangster. No, really. He had a nice silk shirt and slacks, but it was the sunglasses and the Panama hat that made him look like his name ought to be Gambino. For music, they had a steel drummer, which was just fantastic. The steel drum is a beautiful, delicate sound, and the musician was good.

It was a civil ceremony, performed by the wedding planner (she turns out to be a full-service wedding planner), and the Park Service sent a Ranger in full uniform to represent. The Ranger also ended up doing wheelchair duty for two elderly guests. The beach wheelchair has big fat puffy tires and looks like a dune buggy. Both of the elderly guests who used it thought it was humorous.

After the ceremony, we went on a sunset cruise on the same boat that had taken us to Jost Van Dyke (the wedding assembly, once again, was Feeling No Pain), and then we went to a fancy restaurant for a dinner of well-prepared Random Chic cuisine. This is the kind of food where a chef takes completely random yet fashionable ingredients -- say, potatoes, cilantro, hoisin sauce, crispy noodles, raspberries, and arugula -- and arranges them artfully into a meal. If the chef is good, Random Chic cuisine can be tasty. This chef, fortunately, knew what he was doing.

After an exciting, fun-filled island adventure, The Family was ready to roll once again. We headed out to the St. Thomas airport -- the bride, her dress, the groom, and The Family -- ready to take Orlando by storm. . .


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 11th, 2006 10:34 pm (UTC)
That was when we broke the news to the bride's family that we had no idea who he was. They were surprised to hear that.

But, no doubt, relieved!

The thought of snorkeling kind of panics me. I gasp for breath because I'm afraid I won't be able to get any air or might accidentally inhale through my nose.
Jan. 11th, 2006 11:46 pm (UTC)
I was a little worried about inhaling through my nose as well, but it turns out that it's impossible to do that. The snorkel mask seals tightly over your eyes and nose; neither water nor air can come in. Once that mask is on, you have no choice but to breathe through your mouth until it comes off.

I found that the best thing was to jump off the boat and just hang out in the water for a while getting used to breathing through my mouth. Then I put the snorkel in and practiced breathing through that. Then I stuck my face underwater and was enchanted. The weird thing is that, when you breathe through the snorkel, it sounds like Darth Vader, but that ends up being kind of cool.
Jan. 12th, 2006 12:04 am (UTC)
ogling the brightly colored fish and graceful coral that make up the lovely reefs out in the Caribbean bays.

Someone who understands my aquarium obsession! Ok, maybe not... but there is something fascinating about watching fish and all the critters living on a reef. A whole other world. Which is why my next tank will be a coral reef tank.

I love that you have a Cousin Halbarard. Sounds like the Pony family had a darn good time. I would even bet that some of your cousins live and/or work near me, LOL.
Jan. 12th, 2006 12:25 am (UTC)
It did indeed look like being inside an aquarium. I always loved going to Mystic Aquarium when I was little, and here I was right inside it. And you never got dive-bombed by pelicans at Mystic Aquarium, either.

I would even bet that some of your cousins live and/or work near me, LOL.

I wouldn't put it past them. I don't know exactly where all the extended family lives, but I do know that we've got New Orleans, Jackson Hole, Vermont, Massachusetts, sundry places in Illinois, Florida, and St. John covered, among others.
Jan. 12th, 2006 01:32 am (UTC)
LOL, I meant of the adopted sort - they would fit right in! - but who knows? One never knows when a real cousin might show up.

When I was in buying the new stuff, the saleslady was entering my name into the computer and asked who a,b,c,d and e by the same last were, if related? And of course, with our unusual last name, we are ALL related. I said cousin, cousin, brother, cousin ... and wow, that must be a cousin of the Philly branch of the family. And sure enough, it was.
Jan. 12th, 2006 01:35 am (UTC)
You must be related; you all shop at the same furniture store. That should at least count for being related in a former life, if not this one.
Jan. 12th, 2006 12:42 am (UTC)
I want to join your family.
Jan. 12th, 2006 12:56 am (UTC)
Show up! Everyone's a cousin!
Jan. 12th, 2006 02:50 am (UTC)
I went snorkeling in Hawaii a lifetime ago and found it to be a fairly pleasant activity. I'm not much of swimmer, mind you, but my little sister was, at the time, practically a mermaid, so I signed us up. I ended up spotting a nice family of sea turtles and following then along for an hour or so (of course, in the direction that we were NOT supposed to swim, but my head was underwater, so how was I to know. I blame the sea turtles -- I think they did it on purpose. ;-)) Anyway, I was the only one on the boat to see them, so it was worth it. :-D
Jan. 12th, 2006 03:02 am (UTC)
Sea turtles! How cool! I saw a few rays, but not while snorkeling. But I did see a lot of parrotfish, and they are a treat for the eye.
Jan. 12th, 2006 03:04 am (UTC)
Oh, those are pretty fishies, indeed. :-D
Jan. 12th, 2006 03:06 am (UTC)
And so luminous underwater. . . they just glow.
Jan. 12th, 2006 09:01 am (UTC)
LOL! Great vacation part one! Yet I enjoyed the "newest cousin" part the most! It sounds so like my italian side of the family!

I´m wondering about the cocktail, though... The coconut shells can be used for a good number of isntruments ... and your band would get a whole new air!
Jan. 12th, 2006 02:10 pm (UTC)
Well, of course she's my newest cousin. If she's gone to the trouble to marry Cousin Halbarad, she is well and truly part of The Family. That's how we operate, by absorption.
Jan. 12th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)
I was thinking of the " high -on- something-", materialized from next condo cousin ;-)

My italian side of the family too absorbs er... abducts almost everybody happening to walk in the surroundings... My granddad was a true patriarch and his summer villa was a beautiful one. Tourists used to step in on mistake (so they said, there was another great house in the surroundings that was a b&b,) and if he fancied it, he would invite them for lunch. I remember a German couple who were so confused when they asked to be led to their rooms and my granddad told them that their b&b was some miles away! They wanted to pay for the meal!

Your cousin aka The Bride surely knew what she was getting into....though not so sure about her family... LOL
Jan. 12th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
Ah, Darin. Yes, he was definitely a find. Mom Pony took some pictures of him, so his contribution to the festivities will long be remembered.

The Bride's family had no clue what they were getting into. The Mother of the Bride looked kind of shellshocked all week.
Jan. 12th, 2006 12:48 pm (UTC)
This sounds a fantastic wedding party - not just because the idea of Cousin Halbarad in shade is strangely hypnotic. Or the idea of wheelchairs intended for beach use.

You'll never be able to make Painkillers that taste like St John's Painkillers, though. There's something about being away that makes weird drinks taste about 500% better.

To your New England concept of the sea - 'it's very murky, and two, it's freezing cold, I would add the Old England suspicions - they pump sewage into it and it's a giant fish lavatory. And tomb. Although I concede that without one, two and three, it's easier to ignore four and five.

But it sounds as if it was tremendous fun.
Jan. 12th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)
I did end up making a bottle of Painkiller mix yesterday, after acquiring a bottle of rum to go with it. It was a pretty good imitation, if not a hundred percent. It's such a simple drink -- rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, and coconut cream -- that it's hard to mess up, although I would definitely recommend not building them from scratch each time.
Jan. 12th, 2006 08:56 pm (UTC)
Another great Pony adventure. Thanks for confirming the reality of the tropics. Your discovery of warm ocean water was priceless as well. If I lived in New England, I would enjoy many things but not going into the ocean. It would be strictly a visual treat.
Jan. 12th, 2006 11:14 pm (UTC)
New England beaches are great for walking on in the winter, when the sea is stormy gray and you can hear the gulls calling and smell the salt wind. And then you go inside and have hot cider afterward.

Swimming, not so much.
Jan. 14th, 2006 01:49 pm (UTC)
Ok, I live in Florida--snorkeling is something I have tried. I can do it and I have often enjoyed it. But everytime I do it, every single time I draw a breath while my face is in the water, I get a rush of panic. I don't think that will ever stop. My mind knows I am not going to suck in water, but my instincts just can't accept that. It is bizarre.

But this sounds like a beautiful trip.
Jan. 14th, 2006 02:37 pm (UTC)
The first few breaths you take with a snorkel are definitely weird. And I did panic a little when I was taking those first breaths. But then I told myself that I had been a singer since I was six years old, and that if something involved breath control, then I ought to be able to figure out how to do it. And then there was the incentive of all the things to see under the water.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )