Tenacious Journey Part One
Well where do I start? I got up really early on Valentines Day, packed and got ready, then went over to the airport here in Bermuda. There the rest of our team had nearly all arrived, at seven-thirty in the morning, in our T-shirts printed for us by the Bermuda Sailors Home.
Being so early, it seemed we had plenty of time, but it all went very quickly. We needed disability assistance for at least one of our members, and this was sorted by American Airlines. Bermuda doesn’t have a skybridge, yet, so anyone in a wheelchair needs to be put onto the plane via a cheery picker device, with a platform. All the immigration stuff was done at the Bermuda end, so I had to verify my visa waiver, get my fingerprints and retina’s scanned, and the others just went on through.
Now for anyone who doesn’t know, if you have a vision impairment, like the young man Branden who I was supporting, everything takes longer. Imagine the usual rigmarole of shoes, belts, jackets, computers, cell phones, liquids, bags, all having to be scanned by security; then try to imagine doing all of this with effectively your eyes closed. Then on top of that, try to walk through the scanner, without a cane, without touching the sides, with no help. In Bermuda, they let me go through the scanner, then go back and take Branden through, once I was cleared. This helped immensely. Once we were all on the plane, it was just like any other flight, but this one was to Miami. They had biscuits I could actually eat, such a bonus, and the flight time was quick for me being under three hours. Smart girl brought her own travel mug, a birthday pressy from my sister in New Zealand, so I had a cup of tea that lasted the whole flight.
On approach to Miami International, the plane went into its usual landing pattern. Just as we were about to touch down, it suddenly veered upwards steeply and accelerated, and flew away from the runway. After a few tense moments, the pilot explained that there was another plane still on the runway and he had to take aversive action. Thank god for that! The bonus was another circuit of Miami from the air, which to my impression looked like a lot of man-made lakes and a very flat sprawling city. I didn’t have the window seat so it was tricky to get a view.
The second landing was, I am delighted to report, a complete success. This airport had a skybridge, and wheelchair assistance waiting for us. It felt quite weird to be taken straight to arrivals without the immigration part, but remembering that was already done in Bermuda, we picked up our bags and then went out to find the hotel transports. Most hotels have free transport directly from the airports. These usually drive by every thirty minutes or so, and are various vans, or shuttles. When I say free, you must tip and this is usually a dollar per bag, and we had six plus a wheelchair. I do get quite weirded out in America when the vehicles drive around the corner onto the right side of the road. My brain isn’t managing that it’s correct, and I’m not sure how I’d get on driving there. Luckily I wasn’t that day. So basically we were driven right around the edge of the airport, and then to our hotel, about a half hour drive.
The hotel was part of the Marriott chain, and very nice. We had two rooms to sleep six people, and managed well privacy-wise considering. Once settled, we hired a taxi and went to the Dolphin Mall, quite close by but too far to push a wheelchair. We had a most welcomed meal, as none of us had eaten all day, and it was four-thirty by this time. Then we had a look around the Mall, and did last minute shopping for the voyage. It rained while we waited for the taxi back, and decided to abandon it and take the first van we could find. That worked out, but I felt a bit of a heel having to cancel the first one ordered. When we arrived back, Branden mentioned going for a swim in the lake. We went to check it out, and there was a notice saying ‘Danger. Alligator and snakes in area. Stay away from water and tall grass’. I’m so pleased Branden didn’t go out there on his own! We quickly abandoned that idea. Anyway there was an early start in the morning and another big day ahead of us.
Feeling fairly rested, but again too early for breakfast, we were off on the transport back to the airport again. The way the flights are, they all fly out in the morning, and back in the afternoon, causing a day in transit. Wiser to yesterday, we got a snack for breakfast once through security and waiting to board the next plane to Antigua. This time, I couldn’t help but intervene when the disability service person tried to drag Branden by his hand. Taking an extra couple of minutes, I showed him how to offer his elbow and let Branden take it then follow along just behind him one step. I’m unsure if this went down well, but he’s educated now. Because we took a little longer, I always had the feeling we were being left behind, but soon caught up with the rest of the group. Boarding the next plane was much cooler, because they had a sky chair for our young man in the wheel chair, Jaime. Jaime was transferred to a tiny chair on wheels that was literally dragged through the plane aisle to his row. It was all a bit indignant, but it’s what they do.
Flying into Antigua was amazing. Like landing in Bermuda, the plane banks around and you get a view of the whole island. Antigua is quite bushy and green, and a lot bigger than Bermuda. Our transport was waiting, which was great. We all got in, and I swear the driver took the back road on purpose, and managed to hit every pothole he could find. Poor Jaime was bouncing around in his seat, so we timed it well and popped his wheelchair cushion under him in the nick of time for a big bump. Antigua houses appeared not as solid as Bermuda’s, but maybe it’s not as affected by hurricanes as we are. They are colourful, with lots of plants in pots, not gardens, which implies it does get quite windy there. It was about half an hour across the island to Falmouth Harbour, where we were staying.
The Antigua Yacht Club is quite flash, and everywhere we went, people would ask where we were staying, and go ‘ooool’ when we answered. We felt quite spoilt. The rooms were lovely, but Branden got put in a room a long way away from the rest of us, which had a set of stairs he could easily fall down if he missed the left turn into his room. We spent a bit of time practising this, and I asked the hotel for a chair to put in front of the stairs opposite his door, just in case. That seemed to work well, but we checked that it would be a different room on our return after the voyage and was relieved to find it was. We all met and went to Bar-B’s restaurant. They had seating that suited us, and quite a good menu, and very good service. The first glitch was that now we were paying in Eastern Caribbean Dollars. We had US Dollars, and how it worked was we paid with those, the staff calculated the difference and gave us EC dollars change. That did my head in. I remembered my lovely husband saying when we first got to Bermuda ‘It costs what it costs’ ie. We can’t do anything about it really. And I chilled. Or that may have been the rum punch accompanying my meal!
We went for a walk down to the ship to make sure we knew where it was. There were masses of super yachts in the Marina, and a few growly owners when our cameras came out. They were incredibly sleek with their own matching doormats on the dock, some even had doorbells. When we turned to the last part of the Marina, there was the ship at the end, and I had to giggle, we could hardly miss it! The tall ship Tenacious is quite something, sixty five metres long, the largest wooden sailing ship built in the last one hundred years. I must admit that’s when I started to get excited about it. One more sleep and we would board the next afternoon.
It was really rowdy at the night club opposite our hotel during the night. I remembered about the industrial ear plugs my friend in New Zealand had given me, and I found two pairs, one for me and one for my room mate. Once inserted I had a good nights sleep. In the morning we went to a little cafe on the dock for breakfast. I went to pick up Branden from his room and was relieved he was okay, as the hotel staff had tidied the chair way! Afterwards we came back to the hotel to pack our belongings and then stored them with the hotel reception until it was time to board, since we had to check out. They were lovely and even transported the bags down to the ship for us when it was time to go.
We went exploring, and visited a few shops, walked up the road a little way, and found the supermarket. It wasn’t very good weather for sight seeing too long, so we headed back to the Marina and got a bite to eat for lunch. We let the hotel know we were on our way, and wandered down to the ship. Then it was really happening , we were about to board Tenacious and join her as crew. But that’s another story!
More soon – Sally