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The Caribbean

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Things I Learned in the BVI.

As two eagle-eyed sidebar surfers seem to have already discovered, I finally put up a smattering of pics from my recent sailing excursion in the British Virgin Islands. (That’s me above, jumping off the bow of our chartered boat, Searider, just off the coast of Jost Van Dyke.) In lieu of a day-by-day overview of our adventures, I’ll just make a few observations which may or may not be of interest to those heading out yonder way.

1. The actual sailing was good fun, but also a bit more rigorous at times than I anticipated. And if you don’t have someone on board who knows what they’re doing, there could be trouble. As the saying goes, “anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm,” and that was basically true for the first half of our trip. But there were definitely a few days on the back end when the winds and the swells kicked up, and I was very glad we had two seasoned sailors (as well as a Coastie) on board to commandeer the ship. I mean, I can turn a winch or pull a rope as well as the next guy, but the actual boat handling during highly variable and/or gusty winds never really felt intuitive to me. Let’s just say, when it comes to captaining nautical vessels, I think I still prefer my boats oar-powered.

2. Admittedly, extended time on Kauai will turn you into a snorkel snob. Still, while we didn’t see much in the way of spectacular, blow-your-mind reefs, we had really great luck with the local fauna. Turtles abounded, including one barnacle-covered fellow who’d probably seen a few decades. Several rays were spotted at various times, as well as a dolphin (seen from the ship), a barracuda (he camped out under the boat for an afternoon), and, for those who dove, even some members of the shark persuasion. Above ground, a few of the islands were home to feral goats, and every bay we anchored in had more than a few pelicans feasting well. (And if you stop at Little Harbour, bring extra lunchmeats for the hungry dock-daschund.)

3. While clearly less populated than their US counterparts — you can tell that just from their respective nighttime glows — the British Virgin Islands are not particularly British. Although, that being said, they do have roundabouts in Roadtown, as well as the occasional English candy options here and there — Sadly, no Bassetts’ Wine Gums, tho’. (This may not seem important, but it is. Since my English kindergarten days, I’ve been a bit of a wine gum fiend.)

4. Speaking of midnight glow, I always tend to forget, after spending the last 17 years in the East Coast megalopolis of BosWash, how breathtaking the nighttime sky still is in the dark places of the world. One of my personal highlights of the whole experience. (In related news, I really need to brush up on my constellations.)

5. If you want to get the authentic Caribbean pirate experience in the BVI, then head to Norman Island and stop at Pirates’ Bight. Because, trust me, you will end up feeling totally robbed. In general, a lot of the hyped places in the guides were overpriced, underserviced tourist traps — Saba Rock near Virgin Gorda was another — which eventually prompted a lot of jokes among the crew about the “Comcast Virgin Islands.” But the Bight was far and away the worst — come for the sticker shock, stay for the microwave wings and world’s most ornery parrot. (That poor, miserable bastid was a living, breathing, screeching PETA commercial.)

6. Now, that being said, one island haunt that *did* live up to the hype was the much-touted Foxy’s in Great Harbour, Jost van Dyke. After getting burned a few times in the early going (see above), we went to this night spot with rather low expectations. But Foxy’s actually delivered on the local flavor, Caribbean rhythms, and Cocktail-ish beach bar ambience it promised. (The co-ed, drunken gaggle of 40 or so French sailors having their Spring Regatta farewell party may have helped. Good lookin’ people, the French.)

7. If #5 didn’t make the point above, I strongly advise trying to find mooring or anchoring spots off the beaten path. In fact, one of our generally-agreed-upon favorite stops on the trip was just around the corner from the aforementioned Bight. I’d tell you exactly, but then I’d be making the mistake in The Beach. (Granted, some folks may be wired differently than me on this front. One of the more bustling places we stopped at to resupply was The Bitter End, a luxury resort on Virgin Gorda. Well, ok, but I don’t know why you venture all the way out to BVI just to approximate the experience of Hilton Head. But don’t mind me — I’ve been getting more Mosquito Coast-y in recent years.)

8. If you’re enjoying a nighttime campfire on a small island covered with dry wood, brush and other highly flammable material, and the notion strikes you to go all Survivor or Lord of the Flies and make yourself a torch, do NOT use one of your cheap athletic socks in said torch’s construction. Because, for whatever reason, athletic socks apparently explode more than they burn, and watching dozens of tiny embers of flaming nylon or polyester or whatever float away and scatter all over a very arid paradise in the middle of the night is not a happy moment. Just sayin’.

9. Similarly, if you’re a right-wing billionaire who, when not giving millions to the Republican Party or funding Creationist “research”, up and decide to buy yourself a private island, and on that private island, overlooking the, uh, White Bay, you call your exclusive private resort the, um, “Eagle’s Nest“…well, let’s just say the optics aren’t too good. (Nice beach, tho’.)

10. As Herman Melville once wrote, “At sea a fellow comes out. Salt water is like wine, in that respect.” And fellowship was in no short supply aboard the Searider. I think it’s safe to say we all had a great time — yes, even at the Bight — and made some memories to last a lifetime. So if you do head out for your own sailing adventure, bring sunscreen, somebody with sailing experience, some extra turkey for the dock-daschund, and, most importantly some interesting folks and old, good friends along with you. You won’t regret it.

Yo Ho, Yo Ho, A Pirate’s Life for Me.

Well, friends, I’m afraid y’all are on your own for Clash of the Titans (altho’, FYI, I hear the 3D is a scam, and was added after the film was in the can.) ‘Cause, as of tomorrow morning, I and a group of good friends — all in need of a grand vacation — will be disappearing off the grid, Mosquito Coast-style, for the next ten days or so.

To wit, we’re chartering a 40-ft boat in the Caribbean and sailing ’round the British Virgin Islands for a spell. (Being of the landlubber persuasion, Berk will be holding down the fort in my absence.) So, assuming I don’t go native and learn to live without all these newfangled wired contraptions, see y’all in a fortnight or so — and apologies, me hearties, if those next few logs in the journal be all pirate-y and such

Update: Well, I’m back, and, indeed, much fun was had — I’ll put up a separate post on the trip once I’ve gotten some pictures back. (My camera was a casualty of the seas, so my boatmates are providing the pics and scanning my salvaged memory card.)

Horror in Haiti.

“Parliament has collapsed. The tax office has collapsed. Schools have collapsed. Hospitals have collapsed.” Haiti reels after a devastating 7.3 earthquake that may well have claimed thousands of lives. What a horrible nightmare…and it kinda puts the past week of idiotic Beltway yammering about Harry Reid’s vernacular and the Edwards’ bad behavior in perspective, doesn’t it? Real news please. [How to help.][How not to help.]

Ex-Pats United.

It’s not just here at home. Sen. Obama takes the Americans Abroad primary 2-1 (65%-32%), winning most of the countries around the world (Ex-pats in Israel and the Philippines opted for Clinton.) Thanks, Kris, and all the other Obama voters out there across the seas. Update: Clinton did well in the DR as well.

Oarsmen of the Caribbean.

Back as of Monday from the Dominican Republic, where I enjoyed a crew reunion weekend in lovely Cabarete, a friendly backpacker-going-on-tourist town rife with European ex-pats and kitesurfing experts. With the local reputation in mind, we spent much of the weekend taking kitesurf lessons at Extreme Cabarete (kitesurfing, skate park…that’s extreme in the Harold & Kumar sense), enjoying sun, surf, food, drink, and the rather underwhelming De La Hoya-Mayerweather fight at the many restaurants and nightclubs along the beach, taking in more of the local flavor in neighboring Sosua, and staying up into the wee hours at our hotel, the (highly-recommended) Cabarete East, indulging in marathon sessions of competitive backgammon. (Yep, that’s how we roll.) All in all, a very fun trip…although unfortunately a sore throat I brought with me to the island on Thursday had metamorphosed into a full-blown virulent cold by Sunday, and I’ve been waylaid in bed the past few days trying to recuperate. I must say, it’s more fun to feel sick under the Caribbean sun.

Re-U in the DR.

Yes, so it’s been quiet around here again — the usual reasons. And, what with the GOP debate this evening and
Spiderman 3 on Friday, there’s much to discuss in and around here in short order. But, sadly, GitM is likely off again until early next week, as in a few short hours I’ll be flying down to Puerto Plata, in the Dominican Republic, for a travel-reunion with old-friends. Y’see, it was ten years ago this weekend that my lightweight crew boat, though derided in the early standings, won the National Championship, and thus we’ve all decided to congregate and commemorate the occasion in grand style. (This also means my ten-year college reunion is in a month…my, time flies.) So, at any rate, I’m off to escape the dustbin of history for a bit and go enjoy the sights, sounds, and shores of the DR. Have a good weekend and a safe, happy, and memorable Cinco de Mayo. (And, while Tony Soprano may be correct in noting that “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation,” I have to say, back then, we were pretty darned fast.)

Abandon Ship.

[Argh! Shiver me timbers! I had just finished this post, when an accidental double-click conspired to send it to the depths of Davy Jones’ locker. Ok, let’s try this again…]

Given that it just enjoyed the biggest opening weekend ever and that #3 (World’s End) is already pretty much in the can, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what I thought of the relentlessly overstuffed Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest, which I caught last Friday with the rest of America. Still, for what it’s worth, I found Pirates 2 both remarkably disappointing — sadly, this film is yet another whiff in a summer full of them so far– and literally stunning, in that the movie spends two and a half hours remorselessly beating the audience senseless with spectacle, to the detriment of plot, character development, pauses for breath, or anything else you might think to expect in a 150-minute flick. (AICN’s best reviewer, Alexandra du Pont, hit the nail on the head on this one: “The movie is stimulating without being dramatic. Nothing is properly contextualized..”) What we have here with Dead Man’s Chest is a reasonably well-directed film brimming over with talented actors (Say what you will about Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but Johnny Depp, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce, and Stellan Skarsgard? That’s a Murderer’s Row), expertly crafted special effects, striking cinematography, and — yes — rousing action sequences, and for some reason it all adds up to so much less than the sum of its parts. Pirates’ magic, this is.

So, what’s the gist of Dead Man’s Chest, besides all the furious running back and forth, and then back again? Well, that’s most of it. Somewhere in there, a malevolent magnate of the East India Company (Tom Hollander, doing a Peter Sarsgaard impression) has decided to break up the wedding of Will Turner (Bloom, bland and pretty) and Elizabeth Swann (Knightley, pretty and bland), in order to send them out to locate the formidable Captain Jack Sparrow (Depp, even stranger than last time) and — more importantly — his magic compass. Sparrow, meanwhile, has run afoul of the unfortunately not-so-mythical Davy Jones (Nighy, by way of Serkis), the squid-headed commandant of a ship of lost souls — among them Bootstrap Bill Turner (Skarsgard), Will’s dad — that he has retrieved from shipwrecks (and who are now turning into sea creatures as a side-effect of their Faustian bargain.)

With the board thus set, the pieces move…and boy, do they. Jack and Will spend a good forty-five minutes running to and from natives, Elizabeth stows away on a “haunted” ship, Will serves some time with dear old Dad, the Kraken — a ginormous creature of the deep — attacks not once, not twice, but three times (“ah ah ah!), everyone stops in for a few voodoo sessions and/or swordfighting, and all the characters from the first movie drop by every once in a while for a pop-in or three. This all may sound fun, but trust me — the frenetic result goes from intriguing to exhausting to mind-numbing in surprisingly short order. After a smile on my face for the first quarter-hour, I was starting to check out after forty-five minutes, trying to will my watch faster after seventy-five, and was ready to cut a deal with Davy Jones myself by minute one-hundred.

I liked the first Pirates, although I also said that it felt twenty minutes too long, Well, for almost its entire running time, Dead Man’s Chest basically feels like being trapped in that extra twenty minutes. Still, I have to admit, it also feels like something of a watershed. Perhaps the best way to look at Pirates 2 is as [a] an homage to the action-packed, plot-irrelevant, somewhat nonsensical pirate serials of yesteryear and [b] a sequel to a movie based on a Disney theme park ride — really, how good could it have been? And yet, in another way this really does feel like the type of flick film historians of the future might look back to as a signpost in the devolution of American film — as the moment when the summer blockbuster ethos, Krakenlike, effectively swallowed the moviemaking process whole. (There may be something about the increasing caffeinization and decreasing attention span of America in there somewhere too.) I mean, when reasonably talented people get together to spend a whopping $225 million and hundreds of man-hours to make a “movie” like this, which, as DuPont also suggested in her review, is effectively a two and a half hour version of Indy running from the big ball in Raiders — and then are so amply rewarded for it, to boot — one has to fear for the quality of future film offerings. Can we turn this ship around, or are we just going to have to watch it run aground?

One Love.

“Bob Marley, all of his songs are fire to Satan, the dragon quake. Bob Marley is still alive, vibrant style, Rastafari.” On what would have been his sixtieth birthday, Ethiopia (and Time Magazine) celebrate the music and legacy of Bob Marley.

Uprising.

“‘Cause we’re moving right out of Babylon, and we’re going to our father’s land.” On what would be his 60th birthday, the late, great Bob Marley will be exhumed and reburied in Ethiopia, his “forefather cornerstone” and spiritual home of the Rastafari. Said his widow, Rita Marley, of the move, “How can you give up a continent for an island? He has a right for his remains to be where he would love them to be. This was his mission. Ethiopia is his spiritual resting place.”

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