Sweet Paradise: Harbour Island

Sweet Paradise: Harbour Island

The slow slide and bump after our plane landed at the North Eleuthera International Airport told me we’d slid off the runway. I froze in my window seat seeing the tropical brush below. The full plane exploded in happy applause. We were safe.

“Don’t worry”, yelled the pilot, “this happens all the time. The sand blows onto the runway.” He backed up onto the tarmac, and the door of the plane opened to a rush of fragrance. Roses? Coconut? Ginger?

“That’s frangipani,“ said the flight attendant, “you’ll smell it everywhere.”
The low wide-leaf vegetation we drove through on the 50-mile-an-hour, ten-minute taxi ride sounded like we were driving through a cornfield. At the dock the aroma of wet gaseous pulp permeated the air from the surrounding mangrove trees. Gasoline and oil from the idling water taxis stirred up into the tropical air. Fellow passengers and I boarded the small canopied motorboat with our suitcases full of clothes we’d never use.

We sped off toward Dunmore Town, the only tgovt_dockown on Harbour Island. Saltwater sprayed our welcoming faces and dried out our pollution-soaked nostrils. The sun heated, then soothed the top of my head, melting my restlessness.

Flowery shirts on happy-faced Bahamians greeted us on the crowded oversized cement dock. I announced to the gathering on the dock that I was going to Sunsets and was directed to Otis, the driver for all visitors to Sunsets. The 2-mile drive from town on a low sandy road through high vegetation evoked adventure. Otis talked all the way in an accent I had never before heard.

I had just run out on a job as the campaign manager for a dying cause. I’d been at a loss as to how to keep the campaign afloat with only one other paid staffer. Feeling depressed, disappointed in myself and physically weak, I complained to my cousin Therese who told me to join her, her husband and two children in their vacation house in the Bahamas.

Sunsets, a 3-bedroom cottage with windows all around looked westward onto the bay between Harbour Island and Eleuthera. I claimed my room, unpacked, and waited the few days for the family to arrive. I  read James Michener’s Caribbean while lounging in a hammock between two rubber trees. Snorkeling in the undulating salty turquoise water under a cloudless sky, I kept a slow pace with the barracuda, sea turtles, starfish, octopus – hyper-aware of every movement, every flutter, every splash.th-3

The day Therese and her family arrived I went for a long walk on the pink sandy beach, ate fresh avocados, papayas and mangoes and fell asleep with my book on the terrace overlooking the bay.  An unearthly, ominous pounding from the driveway of the cottage woke me up.  I rushed around back and found three-year-old Melissa jumping up and down on the roof of their car. She screamed, “There’s my cousin Regan!”. Sweet paradise, I was a happy camper.

La Dolce Vita in Cinque Terre

It took six months in 1998 to organize our jitter-filled lives around a two-week vacation in Vernazza, a thousand-year-old fishing village in Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.

Vernazza RoccoRooco, Kristina, Mark and I left the 19th century train station and rolled our overstuffed suitcases 20 minutes up a cobblestone switchback twined in purple morning glories. Our home abroad sat 1300 feet above the Mediterranean Sea and overlooked a village of 1000 happy Italians. We arrived at LaTorre midday, when the sea is dark turquoise and the sun swells the nose-tickling lemon and olive trees.

LaTorre is a 13th century pirate lookout with a galley kitchen, a modern bathroom, a luminous living-dining area and an alcove captain’s bedroom. Three other beds were lofted into stacked platforms in a stone tower, and the only way to get to them was by rope ladders. We staked out our sleeping arrangements and headed back down the path to the village.

Like bloodhounds we followed the scent of ground basil and garlic around the village into a ristorante on the piazza at the harbor. Our first meal was homemade bread dipped in fresh pesto,Vernazza’s culinary legacy to the world.

Some days we hiked the village-to-village trail along the sea, returning to Vernazza by water taxi. Other days the train took us to Le Spezia, Portofino, Pisa Vernazzaand Lucca. At night we lounged on LaTorre’s heirloom terrace in front of the twinkling lights of passing boats on the navy blue horizon.

And then the phone rang.

John Funderburk  was on the line frantic to let me know that a journalist was about to call me wanting information about Monica Lewinsky. John was a fellow political appointee in the Clinton Administration and he recommended I consult with a lawyer before taking the call. Perfect vacation bliss was now teetering at the cliff of a darkened sea.

My D.C. job occasionally had me organizing publicity and logistics at events for the President’s appearance. In the Spring of 1997 I’d been advancing a small fundraiser in a Washington hotel when an old friend from Indianapolis came into the room through the metal detectors right after Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was known among advance people as a Clinton stalker, so I asked my Hoosier friend to shield the President from her potential clutch as he passed by.

A half a year later news broke about a Grand Jury investigation into Clinton’s relationship with former White House intern Lewinsky. Back in Indianapolis my friend panicked that he would be hauled before the Grand Jury. So he held a press conference about his brief encounter with Lewinsky – and mentioned my name.

The sudden jolt of reality stirred our Dolce Vita quartet in Italy to hatch hilarious mad scenarios to confound the intruding journalist. When the call came, Rocco answered. “Prrrronto! Si? Si? Sorry. No Inglese! Ciao!”

Che finito, we returned to our intermezzo between the acts of the crazy world.

The World’s Worst Vacation by Carol Zoha Hawk

After the Thanksgiving of 1999, my husband, Jerry came home from work with the news that his friend had offered to let our family use his new townhouse in Miami for the Christmas holiday. He and his wife had only been there once. We happily packed our bags and were off.

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The pristine townhouse had all new furniture and was located in a new development in a Hispanic community. We enjoyed seeing the area’s highlights.

After breakfast on December 31st, I put the dishwasher on. We heard rain but how could that be – the sun was shining. Water was pouring from the garage ceiling. There was no handyman about. We got pots, pans and mops and eventually the deluge stopped. What would we tell Jerry’s friend?

As we started our New Year’s Eve celebration, we noticed an odor coming from the bathroom. Poo! Yes it was poo backing up into the tub. We heard the family next door celebrating New Year’s Eve as Jerry had the disgusting task of plunging the bathtub.

That same night, Emily awoke in intense pain and we decided we had to take her to the E.R. Twelve year old Robert was deep in sleep. We left him a note just in case he got up before we returned. Jerry stopped plunging and he knocked on our neighbor’s door to get directions to the nearest E.R.

The E.R. was dirty. No one spoke English. It took forever for them to get an interpreter. Lines of drunks were sleeping it off. An old woman on a gurney kept asking passers-by to shake her hand. The doctor was an unfriendly, ugly man with dirty hair and a triangular nose. Emily had refused an injection to relieve her pain, and they had no triage. He said there were three drunks to look after before he would see Emily. “We have a first-come, first-served policy”, he said as Emily was writhing in pain on a gurney. Smoke was coming out of my ears.

I asked the nursing staff to help, but they seemed reluctant. There was no administrator available. A security guard approached Jerry and said I had to leave the E.R. I wasn’t going to leave my daughter in the E.R. With his hand on his gun holster, he escorted me to the outer corridor.

Jerry stayed with Emily.

Eventually, an English-speaking nurse came out, and said that she was subbing at the E.R. just for the night. She agreed that this was an awful hospital. If any medical procedure was necessary for Emily, this Florence Nightengale said she’d take us to the hospital where she worked. Emily had taken her medication. There was a reduction in her pain. A while later, the same nurse said that Emily had passed a kidney stone and she was getting ready for discharge.

A tired Emily and her shaken parents drove to the townhouse, picked up Robert and drove to the airport. When we left, the garage ceiling was still leaking and beginning to fall and there was lots of poo backed up in the tub.