I'd only ever been to the Bahamas one time, in high school, with my mom and sister, all of us broke, on a lark. We spent a few days on Paradise Island, thus named because it is such a steaming shit hole. The beaches are indeed beautiful, but inland was, at that time (1983), a third-world version of Las Vegas, without shows, free buffets or happy hours and with a terrifying racial divide.
Because Paradise is an island, everything has to be shipped or flown over and thus a box of Triskets costs $12. Room service was out of the question.
We managed to have a good time though, in large part because we decided to only sleep in our overpriced cubicle and spend the rest of the time mooching off a friend who was staying at the Club Med up the road. Aside from the date rape my sister narrowly avoided at the assailing hand of an overzealous "G.O." (Gracious Organizer, I kid you not), Club Med was a much better bet. We discovered slammers early in the trip - a shot with some carbonate that you whacked on the bar and slammed down your own gullet, preferably in rapid succession - and things improved.
So, when Henry suggested Cat Island, one of the more remote islands in the Bahamian chain, I was enthusiastic. I envisioned something like one of the more remote Hawaiian Islands, maybe Kauai, where fine hotels dot pristine beaches and men in crisp whites bring you cocktails with little grass skirts, like panties, on the glass. I imagined it would be possible to slip away for a pedicure and new flip flops on a quiet afternoon, or maybe rent a bike to cruise the outer reaches on a leisurely pedal.
Our Cat Island hotel was more like a cat box - six concrete bunkers on a patch of sandy scrub. Meals were included as an option. You'd inform the Bahamian proprietress in the morning if you'd be taking meals and if so, $35 per, was added to your bill. Beer was $5 a bottle, and we started a collective tab with our drinky friends. Meals were made from local ingredients, which, on a prickly island in the middle of the ocean, is fish and corn meal. Delicious for the first-through-third meals, gag inducing for the balance.
The rain started right away. A light and constant drizzle, not enough to warrant an umbrella, even if we'd had one, but enough to make me wish I'd packed a hoodie. Enough to moisten me uncomfortably.
The TV in each room was hooked to a satellite that was controlled by the bartender in the main building, where the Heineken and powdered eggs were served. It was his whim, be it a soccer match or spanish language soap opera, that determined what all the cabins would be tuned to. Your programming options ran the gamut from 'on' to 'off'.
The road that ran the length of the island was so high with overgrowth on either side, that it was impossible to see anything other than pavement and mirages of other, better vacations. We walked this road for many miles, unable to see the ocean that we could smell and taste. There was no commerce, very few people, and a terribly infirm donkey with sores on its head that hung unnaturally low. Even the jackass was depressed by Island life.
Hungry, we came upon a shed with a sign that indicated it was a store. Anxious for a retail experience of any kind, and food other than a spam omelette, we trundled in. The shelves were barren but for some outdated Little Debbie cakes and a fridge keeping cool a huge log of bologna. We bought a pound of the meat, sliced by hand into 1/4 inch slabs and a pack of Strawberry Shortcake Rolls.
Now, before the Interweb gets all puffed up and sends me irate email about the natural beauty of Cat Island, bear in mind that these people are not my friends. More importantly, they were likely staying at the wildly expensive resorts at either end of the Island, where exorbitant prices allowed for brush removal and chaise-lounges. The only thing spectacular about my Cat Island, other than its being the birthplace of Sidney Poitier, was what went on under water.
The men in our group, all experienced sailors and snorkelers, hit the tides early and long, exploring the shallows and depths in the warm current, ignoring the cold rain that soured our bologna above ground.
Its not that I didn't want to snorkel, its just that I wanted to do it in the sunshine, not shivering in the gloom. But I decided, finally, to don a mask and flippers and have a look at these fishies before they were dusted with cornmeal.
Flap-slapping in fins over the beach made entirely of boulders, I slid my body into the current, mask on, ready to see the splendor of the sea. I paddled out with Vild but he swam away, fast and far, show-off snorkeling, leaving me quickly alone to nervously explore the underworld. Immediately my mask filled with salt water. I'd stop and tread, fumble with the dry, cracked rubber straps, spit into the lens, lather, rinse, repeat. But my pin head could not make suction with that old husk of a mask, and with the current slapping me against the coral, my skin was beginning to nick and bleed with every swell. I was miserable and becoming desperate. Some buddy system I thought, at the very moment that the first stranger I'd seen on the island paddled up to me in the surf and with great excitement asked me if I'd been lucky enough to see the shark.
I know intellectually that fear of sharks is largely irrational. There are compelling statistics to back this up. But bleeding from the knees in stormy waters, abandoned by my future husband, unable to see under water, cut to ribbons by an unfamiliar reef - this is not the moment I review statistics. This is the moment I shit my pants.
My husband will tell you that he was never more than twenty yards from me, that I was but arms length from shore, that the blood on my knees was nothing more than a pin prick, that I was never in any danger, that the shark was never anywhere near me. And because he says these things, I can get mad at him all over again, every time I think of it.
I tried to swim to shore in a dead panic, but the coral, which upon review was the real danger to my safety - imagine swimming over the tops of submerged pine trees with needles made of glass - I could not see it. I was clumsily, blindly, swimming across broken bottles.
In my estimation I am alive today only because that shark had already eaten breakfast, and the bloody cloud that wafted fragrantly out from my body was no enticement.
In Vild's estimation, I am alive today only because of therapy and a rigorous protocol of anti-depressants.
I think we may both be right.
* In The Terminator Series, Skynet is an artificially intelligent system which became self aware and revolted against its creators.