His arms were flaying, his feet were stomping and his body gyrated rhythmically as he danced passionately to the silent reggae music. I was at a St. Lucian ‘jump-up’ and I’d just met Clyde. We quickly became good friends and he became a regular visitor to my home at Tapion School. He was a peace corps volunteer from California and directed the School for the Deaf in Castries.
Being deaf didn’t stop Clyde’s enjoyment of life in any way. He taught me a bit of sign language but I was an abysmal student. Undeterred, I became an animated mime artist, we exchanged crudely scribbled notes, and our friendship grew. We shared similar views and enjoyed frequent misadventures together – the most memorable being an amazing island hopping tour to Trinidad.
At our first stop, on the island of St. Vincent, we climbed the isolated trail to the rim of La Soufriere Volcano. It was a long lonely hike to the top but as the mist blew away we had a spectacular and enticing view of a beautiful sulphur rock island smoking eerily in the midst of an emerald green lake that filled the summit crater.
Clyde strode ahead scrambling down the crater wall until he reached the waters edge. I had no choice but to follow but I wasn’t quite ready for his next move. He stripped down to his shorts and plunged in, apparently transfixed by the enchanting scene. I was mesmerised too and followed right behind him. We swam to the crumbling island and basked in the sulphuric fumes steaming around us – completely oblivious to any danger. Danger what danger ?
Exactly one year later the volcano awoke with a series of short-lived but violent explosions. From April 13, 1979 there was a two week period of ash showers lofting high into the sky. The small island that Clyde and I had swum to totally vanished in the vigorous eruption that peaked with a plume reaching 18 km high. There was lots of disruption, with 20,000 people evacuated to shelters, but no direct loss of life. Luckily, Clyde and I took our trip in April 1978 and not a year later. Phew!
Also by chance, back in Kingston harbour, we met friends with a sail boat and hitched a ride. They dropped us off on the tiny privately owned island of Mustique, an exclusive swank getaway for the very rich and very famous, where very few tourists every visited.
Princess Margaret, began vacationing on the island in the ’60s, having been gifted a 10-acre plot of land by Colin Tennant (aka Lord Glenconner), on which she built a vacation home. Queen Elizabeth dropped in for tea in 1977 before heading to Bequai where my friend Mac got to schmooze a bit with her. Margaret’s frequent trips to Mustique ushered in a slew of interested celebrities, including rock stars like Mick Jagger and David Bowie, who each built their own extravagant villas there. The island is so small Clyde and I managed to hike around visiting most of the homes and idyllic, white sandy beaches. There was hardly anyone around, off the golf course, and security was very chill.
With our beachcomber clothes, beards, backpacks and growling stomachs we cruised into the super posh Cotton house hotel before realising we couldn’t even afford the price of water. Looking for food a bit later we crashed a private party in Basil’s famous beach bar. Surprisingly, no-one objected as Clyde and I cheekily filled plates with the luscious food. I can only guess we must have been mistaken for scruffy rock star guests. With so many famous faces making their way through the bar doors, like the rest of the island, Basil’s has a strict no-camera policy and luckily no-one dared ask us for selfies or ID.
After filling our belly’s and quenching our thirst with free food and drink we left our fellow party people to return to their villas while we slept soundly under native fishing boats on the nearby beach. Leaving Mystique was a little more complicated but late the next day we somehow got seats on the one daily LIAT flight to St.George’s, Grenada.
On the Spice island Clyde and I witnessed, first hand, the growth of The New Jewel Movement (NJM) under the leadership of the infamous rebel Maurice Bishop. In 1979, the NJM overthrew Eric Gairy, who had ruled the country as a puppet dictator since independence in 1974, and they created an exciting new socialist government. Bishop saw his poverty inflicted homeland as part of the exploited Third World and wanted to create a new economic system that served the people and social justice. The NJM initiated lots of community development projects and at their Centre for Popular Education we helped young inspired activists working hard to serve their country promoting literacy campaigns.
A year later, after the revolution, NJM majorly improved the health sector. Free medical consultations were provided with the help of Cuban doctors and milk was distributed free to all pregnant women and children. They created a new ‘people’s economy’ by offering very low interest loans and subsidised equipment to farmers, and establishing agricultural cooperatives. The NJM government also worked to improve infrastructure, developing new roads, upgrading the power grid and building an international airport. Most changes were inspired and made possible through Cuban government assistance which scared the hell out of the United States! Maurice Bishop was murdered in a coup and then President Bush sent marines to invade this tiny nation in 1983 to reinstate a government of their choice.
Our last stop on the tour was Trinidad. We were riding a crowded and bumpy bus from Port of Spain when a local East Indian chap got entranced watching Clyde and I signing. He invited us to visit his village saying he had a place for us to sleep, so we got off the bus with Mukul. We meandered through a densely packed, heavily populated, squalid cluster of shanty huts and, while walking, we understood why we got his invite. As the only whites, in a place where whites never went, we were a huge novelty and everyone stared. A few called out to Mukul asking who we were and very proudly he claimed we were ‘his friends’ which apparently gave him considerable status in the eyes of his envious community members.
In the centre of this cacophony of homes we reached his home where his very pregnant ‘wife’ and two kids were totally shocked to see visitors but welcomed us warmly. We sat uncomfortably outside on the stoop trying to relax while his wife scrambled to make us some food – despite our pleas not to. As it got dark he beckoned us inside the tiny 10’x10’ space and pointed to the only bed telling us to sleep there. With incredulous looks we smiled at his poor wife and shook our heads together. We couldn’t believe he wanted us to take the bed of a pregnant woman and her kids. We crashed on the floor with the bugs.
The next morning, cruising along with Mukul, a dusty old cadillac low-rider slowed as it passed. Two very large, heavily dreadlocked, rastas inside sternly questioned what strangers were doing in their ‘hood’. As we endured their piercing stares Mukul began bragging how these ‘whities’ were his friends. Seeing Clyde and I signing apparently blew their minds because we got invited back to their nearby, securely gated, compound. We began a deep immersion into the Trinidadian underworld as they rolled monster spliffs, one for each of us, blared reggae tunes from big ass bass speakers and proudly showed us their various weapons. As the day progressed the party grew with customers who came to score ganga. They paid the Rastas, gave homage to Jah and stayed to be entertained by the ‘whities’.
Barely before dusk Clyde and I managed to stumble out, very stoned and very relieved, and crawled on the bus to Port of Spain. We flew back to St.Lucia the next day happy for all the experiences but praising Jah for safely returning us to enjoy future renegade adventures.
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