Fort Amsterdam

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The moments you have now are the special memories you have tomorrow. I’d just been uploading some photos of Deb from 4 years ago. It wasn’t bitter-sweet, it was just sweet. Somehow the bitterness gets filtered out in looking back. I exited Glee’s companionway with the realisation that even this simple act may well  become a golden memory in time. But only when this chapter had expired and I am immersed in new phase in life.

In the shade of the RBC bank, I squint into the afternoon heat along airport road looking at the registration plates of the vans as they approach. Taxi, no. Taxi, no. Bus, yes. Stepping forward facing the minibus is enough of a signal for it to pull over and stop next to me.  For a fair deal, the trick is not to look like a tourist. Asking “How much to Philipsburg?” is a dead give-away.

I slide open the door and squeeze into the last remaining seat with a casual greeting.

‘Pay on entry’ the notice says but the bus moves off and nobody flinches. I watch how the passengers leave and join. I get the system… they pay either in transit or on exit. I bask in the fan driven draught of the air conditioning trying to dry out the sheen of sweat between back and t-shirt. I should really set about these excursions at 8am except the sufficient motivation doesn’t usually overcome my inertia until gone noon. The penalty is to suffer the full force of the Caribbean sun.

These buses remind me of the blue and whites in Sharm El Sheik. They run on tacit local knowledge as money passes silently from passenger to passenger to and fro. The same behaviour in different cultures, different colours of notes and coins with different faces of historical heads of state imprinted upon them, yet under the very same sun.

Philipsburg is just over the hills to the east of Simpson Bay lagoon. Maybe three miles, separated by a ridge of tall hills. As we descended into the outskirts, I was looking out for some stores located near a set of traffic lights that had been recommended by some friends. The traffic had stopped and the bus swerved down a back street. My guess was that this was a rat run past the traffic lights.

Plan B was to stay on the bus until the far end of Philipsburg. There wasn’t much of note to see, to be fair. Apart from the humongous refuse tip that some bright spark decided to put in the Great Salt Pond in full view of the city centre. It  frequently catches fire and casts a noxious cloud over the city. The recent fire had died down and a faint plume drifted out of it like Smaug’s breath from under the Lonely Mountain.

Apart from looking out for the stores that were presumably bypassed along the way, I had no agenda and alighted at the library and wondered down to the coast near Bobby’s Marina.  A thick grove of palm trees offered a tranquil spot for some quiet contemplation. I didn’t need to do anything in particular so I ordered a beer in the shade of the palms.

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Nothing needs doing, which leaves a huge space for what I want to do, and what is that exactly? This kind of thing doesn’t come about by thinking… more by feeling. I could see an old fort across the bay, I’d go and have a look. Just because I feel like it.

The Boardwalk, they call it: a wide paved promenade that separates Philipsburg from the beach. Kicking off my deck shoes, I tread the warm, white sand down to the turquoise sea and west along the shore. The Boardwalk peters out as the commercial properties merge into villas.

Up and down the beach there is no-one within about 100 metres so I strip off and plunge into the cool blue water. Cool enough for relief but, unlike the UK, not so cool that skin feels like it spasms into two sizes too small for the body.  When I’m ready to get out couples emerge from east, west and over the ridge from the car park. No towel, no swimming trunks, no nothing. It would be hard not to emerge scuttling to my back pack without looking like Gollum back from a fishing trip.

Ten minutes later, two sets of couples pass by in opposite directions level with me. No-one ever looks back so I escape the water when they are ten metres past and sit on the sand between my bag and my clothes until most of the water drains from my skin. I then dress myself over the sticky salt water. The sand is coarse and covers my feet like breaded frozen fish ready for frying. I put my shoes in the back pack and pad toward the Sonesta Great Bay Hotel. The Fort is not far along the coast but there is no way around the Hotel. Walking with purpose around the Sonesta, I go unchallenged, use their fine bathrooms and find my way out to the road.

The pavement is smooth and warm under foot until the footpath fades into gravel filled gutter at the roadside.

Fort Amsterdam is obscured by the Divi Little Bay Beach Resort guarded by a military looking security gate. There are no restrictions for accessing the fort but I walk straight through as if I belong there anyway.

Fort Amsterdam is a neglected ruin but is preserved as a bird sanctuary. Pelicans were nesting below the cliff tops but fairly well hidden that they are heard and not seen. The place was deserted so it was an opportunity to try and shake this coarse sand out of my clothing. The sand would not brush away easily, it was stuck to my skin but I brushed and shook as much off and out as possible and got dressed. My shoes were back on but they were hot and rough as I walked over the rugged terrain of the fort. I kicked them off again as I retreated into the Resort complex and headed home.

Navstick Mike hasn’t worn shoes for ten years. He says your feet toughen up so I take his word and lead. Mindfulness while walking at the roadside is crucial. Green chips and shards of shattered glass glitter like emeralds in the afternoon light. Little gems the value of which expired at the transformation of bottle into fragments after last gulp of Heineken had been downed and the bottle launched into oblivion.

The footpath at G.A. Arnell Boulevard was a relief on the feet. The incline around the foot of Cay Bay Hill was fairly steep but the pavement was smooth. There was a traffic island at the top on the main road. I sat on the curb and put on my shoes seconds before a bus of smartly dressed commuters arrived to take me home.

I returned home feeling fulfilled. Had I achieved anything? no. But every moment of the day was lived. A series of seemingly ordinary moments strung together. But it was all something new to my senses and, whenever I think of Debbie and that all this is no longer possible for her, it reminds me to live consciously. Nobody dies with everything done, nothing needs doing above living your own life in the present moment… Do something new every day.

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