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With a hankering for small villages, we still savor the animation big cities and their inhabitants offer. These thoughts lead us back into a conglomerate of memories; here are a few, from deck level.
San Juan, Puerto Rico
Our history lesson started at 5 am. The drone of a twin- engine plane climbed to a crescendo of air grabbing propellers and oxygen sucking combustion engines. The re-enactment of the Berlin airlift had begun. San Juan bay Marina, was a fascinating stop for a few months; not just because the rich, the poor and the colourful mingled around this historical part of the world; but because of the constant reminders of momentous events in our past were present at every turn. Next on our historical journey were the morning ablutions. Cold showers provided that Elizabethan background. Black soot in a fine layer had been spread over all surfaces including the one mirror in the ‘ladies’, that the men had to sneak into, in order to have an accurate shave. Placing one’s clothes on the peeling Laminex of the basin shelf, as they have thoughtfully omitted the tedium of hooks, was always rewarded with an authentic smudge. The day’s preparations were completed as we return to the boat, learning the method perfected by daring buccaneers, in assailing a vessel via the moving target of the bowsprit. Mind you we thwart reality somewhat and only juggle our shower bag, towel and valued copy of ‘Here’s Luck’. I am sure it would be more fun with a cutlass. To reach San Juan town from the Marina you cross eight lanes of freeway interspersed with three ‘Bailey’ bridges and the construction team building their replacement. This is our lesson in futuristic history (yes, I know, how can you have ‘futuristic history? Well, if you can have such a thing as ‘Military Intelligence’? I rest my case.) Yes, this gives a glimpse of things to come, a time when there are no demeaning problems to consider, such as, ‘the pedestrian’. Once in town you can experience good coffee, colourful Spanish, a magnificent fort, and police who wear bulletproof vests on traffic duty. The old town is brimming with character and sports ancient castles and modern parks – if you can get there safely.
Romance in Paris
In the heart of the most romantic city in the world, I tried to elope with a man I had met for just ten seconds. The marina, right in city allowed us to pushbike to the Arc de Triomphe, The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and so on. As the red light changed to green, I leapt on my saddle and peddled to beat the pedestrians crossing the road. A small, green car came hurtling around the corner – through a red light – and we gently collided. Somehow, I pushed myself away from the wheels. Paris ground to a halt. The eight lanes of traffic stopped to stare at me lying in the middle. Then he appeared. Tall, dark, elegant . . . . he swooped down to my uninjured but shaken body and took my hand.
“oh, madam, you are ‘urt, no?, moi dear you flew through the air like a ballerina. Oh my, you ‘ave come all this way to my country and this is what we do to you! Come with me, let me ‘elp you.”
I was helped up, my eyes locked into his and my knees became even weaker. As he led me down the road to the safety of I didn’t care where, I suddenly felt an elbow in my side. “She’s all right mate, leave her alone!” Noel pushed between us, the fuzzy surrounds suddenly became too clear and my gorgeous saviour faded away into the crowd. Reality was too bright. Noel handed me my bike and said with not a hint of sympathy “come on, let’s go back to the boat”.
Washington DC’s heart
While exploring Washington’s gifts of magnificent monuments and museums was thrilling, I remember more vividly the boat I rescued. I was onboard alone and heard shrieks. An 18-metre motor boat, built like a block of apartments was bearing down on Mariah.
“We are dragging anchor and I don’t know how to start the engine,” the two women onboard screamed. I calmly said they could come alongside if they’d just help me guide their boat. They ignored me, “help me fend off,” I shouted. The two chicks on board clucked some more.
“Help me now” I bellowed, “our bow sprit is going to scratch your . . . oh, too late!”
I managed to safely tied them up with no help. They had produced one fender, with all the clucking I think they must have laid it. “Just as a precaution, I’m just going start my engine” I said. With that strange reflex of giggling when in trouble, I was amused to find our batteries had finally died. Without trying to cause alarm, I said to my feathered friends, “erm, just to let you know, if you start dragging me back, I will have to let you go, I have no power.” Squawk, squawk, twitter – as we all glanced at the low bridge nearby.
Enter the “men” on dinghy returning to the fray. The husbands leapt onboard, started their engines and powered forward. “Excuse me!” I shrieked, “would you mind if I untied you first!” They stopped, their eyes clearly focussing down at me through their noses. “Oh, did we save you, great, where would you like us to take you?” My reply was unprintable. I simply untied them and retrieved my fenders. They powered away, without a look back or a thank-you.
Casablanca – Morocco
Safely in Casablanca, we soon learned that traversing the dilapidated jetty takes SAS training. Thereafter the four-kilometre walk through the lonesome industrial port felt ideal for an ambush. In town, vivid Bougainvillea tangled its way through the evil barbed wire. Mercedes and the Hilton mix with hawkers of fake goods. Peanut vendors, load bearers, beggars, dust and chrome, all created a nose-curling hum. Conversely, genial natives emerged in the vibrant nightlife making the journey worthwhile. The harbour was incredibly sheltered, though anchoring between the shipwrecks was a little hard. Traipsing through the port, the interior became more and more heavily guarded and soon we were asked who we were and what on earth were we doing. The guards got to know us and would stop a worker in his car and demand they take us into town, our unbidden chauffeurs would accept no payment.
Cuba – Havana
Old Havana, Cuba, bustled around us as we did the bewildered, tourist walk. A free bus ride dumped us in the heart of the city, with just our wits to find our way. Decaying and refurbished buildings fought for attention and we felt as though we had stepped back in time as the clot of American Classic 50’s cars, wrestled for road space. The absorbing tour of the cigar factory, inevitably ended in the shop. The aversion of the extravagant prices was clearly etched on our faces and this prompted the cloakroom attendant to offer us a pirate cigar for a few American dollars. Back in the crowded streets, it did not take long to find the bootleg pushers, where a box of fine cigars could be acquired at a fifth of the cost in the shop. The dodgy sellers, most of whom had not started shaving yet, pressed a seal on the box and assured us they were ‘legal’ to take out of the country. We were lucky to have probably the only understanding official in Cuba, clear us out . …