Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Honeymoon from Hell

One thing that happens when you get married, is that you learn you have to compromise.  When we first discussed a honeymoon after our wedding, we both agreed it would be nice to be somewhere warm and sunny, on the ocean, a time to relax with each other before returning to our wonderful, but hectic jobs and lives in D.C.  My fiance had enjoyed a Senate junket to Bermuda the year before, but Bermuda in October was somewhat iffy as far as warm weather went, so I suggested the Virgin Islands, specifically St. John, Virgin Islands.  Even more specifically, Caneel Bay Resort on St. John, Virgin Islands.  Caneel was formerly owned by the Rockefeller family and was situated in a National Park with a golf course, tennis courts and a swimming pool in addition to the beach and ocean.  As in this place:

But my intended put his foot down when he saw the cost. His family origins were modest--his father was a rural Presbyterian minister, who had not earned more than $15-20,000 at the height of his career and with 6 kids that had not gone far.  So he had sticker shock when he learned the cost of a week's stay at a premier resort.  Instead, a coworker of his recommended a place on St. John's called Maho Bay. We sent for information, and this is what the multi colored brochure we received back said:

Maho Bay is dedicated to the belief that it is possible to live in comfort and harmony with a fragile environment without spoiling it.  The resort is a community of tent-cottages located in a private preserve within the boundaries  of the U.S. Virgin Islands National Park. Here one may study the delicate ecology of one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean .  Like a Japanese Garden, Maho is a careful grooming, not an alteration, of nature.  No bulldozed roads scar the land.  All materials were carried in by hand in order to preserve the ground cover.  In such surroundings, solitude and privacy are balanced with a relaxed sense of community....
...The dwellings measure 16' x 16' and are set on plank decks that cantilever over thickly-wooded hillsides.  Most units offer a spectacular panorama of sea, sky, crescents of white sand and peaceful islands.  There open porch for private sunbathing.
All this ecologically preserved paradise, and for only $50 a night!  I was persuaded by the rhapsodic lyricism of the brochure and, of course, by the fact that the soon to be spousal unit, had put his foot down on Caneel Bay.

After our wedding night dinner with friends, we spent the night in Lexington at a hotel and rose early the next morning to catch a flight back to DC.  Several of our friends who had been at the wedding were also on the flight, and one of them, Michael, let the pilot know that it was our honeymoon, so we had greetings over the loudspeaker.  This was back in the days when you were served meals on flights, and we were given breakfast even though it was a short hop to DC from Lexington.  However, having had beaucoup champagne and Bloody Marys the day and night before, breakfast did not sit well with me, and I ultimately had to make a dash for the restroom as soon as we deplaned at National Airport.  With seconds to spare, I gave up my breakfast.  Luckily my friend Karen shepherded me to the loo, and returned me back to my spouse so we could take the next leg of our honeymoon, which was a flight to Miami, where we transferred to a plane bound for St. Thomas. 

We arrived in St. Thomas in the late afternoon.  Then, we had to find a way to get to St. John.  If we had gone to Caneel, a private launch would have picked us up and whisked us to the resort.  As it turned out, we were held up at the airport trying to figure out how to get to the ferry terminal on St. Thomas, without spending too much money.  As I recall, we finally took a taxi, but missed the evening ferry by minutes.  I was attired in a silk dress and heels, carrying my luggage and a wooden tennis racket which I had intended to use on the tennis courts, wherever they were.  Obviously reality had not set in.  It began to once we boarded the very last public ferry from St. Thomas to St. John for that day, after the sun had set.

We were the only white folks on the ferry.  It was loud, crowded and it was the first time I ever saw a spliff being rolled and smoked.  These are large conical shaped marijuana joints.  There we were, two white kids on a large ferry in the dark of night, trying not to watch these guys in dreadlocks with a boombox belting out reggae, passing the spliff between them.  Hoping not to be noticed. Not knowing what to do if we were.  I remember sitting very close to my new husband, hiding my head behind his shoulder for some portion of the trip.

When we got to St. John's we were some of the last to come out of the ferry because we were so weighed down by our luggage.  And when we got off the dock and stood on land, we could not find a taxi or a bus.  Finally, the husband approached a flat bed truck that was parked under the yellow glare of a streetlight to ask about where we might find a taxi to take us to Maho Bay.  "Maho?  I can take you mon, in my taxi," the driver said.  And that's when we learned that there were no taxis per se in St John's but instead these flat bed trucks with benches nailed in the back where you sat and clung to the wooden slats as the truck took hair pin turns up and down narrow roads whose only illumination came from the headlights of the truck.  And although the truck was noisy, its noise was drowned out by the tree frogs croaking out their songs of lust to each other by the thousands and thousands.  We had to yell at the top of our voices to be heard over deafening roar of nature and diesel.  We were also the only two passengers on the truck, which meant we paid full freight.

By the time, we made it to Maho Bay, we were ready to tuck in for the night without noticing much of our surroundings, although the two single camp beds seemed a bit more than I had bargained for.  In the morning we awoke and this was what our cabin looked like from the outside:

The overhang from the tropical forest created a  shade which killed the idea of sunbathing on the porch. There was a nice view of the ocean from our kitchen, with only one, or maybe two electrial wires in sight:


But that was the one, nice thing about the tent.  It was stuffy and humid during the day despite the brochure's waxing on about  "a vacation without walls.  The three room cottages literally breathe with the cooling trade winds."  And I should have read the brochure more closely because where it was honest,  e.g. it did mention that the bathrooms were "centrally located."  This meant that for us, the bathrooms were down two flights of wooden stairs, that they were separated by sex and that there was no hot water (part of being ecologically conscious here).  No hot water. 

The secluded nature of the Maho Bay meant that there was nothing besides the beach within walking distance and even the beach was four or more flights down the stairs.  Which meant that coming back to your cabin at the end of the day from the beach was a fair puff. We had a camp stove to cook on and an ice box to keep things cool, as long as we had ice, which we could purchase from the Maho Bay camp store at dreadfully inflated prices.  Prices on all foodstuffs were dreadful, except for rum.  Rum could be had for less than a $1 a bottle. 

Which would have been great, except that I was on my first week trying to quit smoking, so I could not drink alcohol at the time, lest it weaken my resolve.  A half rasher of bacon at the camp store was close to $5,  highway robbery at the time, but we were stuck, unless we wanted to pay premium rates for a flat bed taxi truck to take us into Cruz Bay, the town on St. John to buy groceries, or wait for a bus which showed up at irregular times and took half again as long.  As I recall we took the bus to Cruz Bay only once or twice.

There was a small restaurant at Maho Bay that had a limited menu and was, of course, rather expensive, which meant we cooked most of our meals on our honeymoon.  Neither of us were particularly good cooks as I recall.

The major indignity, and one that had not been mentioned in any of the brochures or information provided to us, had to do with termites.  Lots of termites.  As in waking up to a 5" wide termite trail snaking through the bedroom of our tent.  Going to bed at night and having to yet again, sweep out the termite trail from our bedroom.  Twice a day, and I was still not used to it by the time we left a week later. 

And if that were not enough, early on in the honeymoon, my then-husband came down with an itching purulent rash on his face, the result of standing under a machineo (ph.) tree for shelter during a sudden rainstorm.  Unknown to us, the sap of the machineo tree is like poison ivy and some of the sap dripped on his face.  So he was in agony for several days.  Then, when he was healing, I developed an allergic reaction to bug bites on my legs, so I was rather out of commission.  The camp store had a very limited pharmacy.

It could have been worse.  We visited another campground at a national park while we were there, and the tents provided by the National Park Service had no floor at all, no separate kitchen, and the latrines smelled far worse than those at Maho Bay.  I didn't even dare think about what I was missing at Caneel Bay.  What with the nicotine withdrawal and cold showers and camp beds, I was already plenty crabby.  I didn't need to think about what could have been.*  And we did have a wonderful charter day sail with a couple who ran Bare Ass charters--their motto was "Put a little color in your cheeks."  Jim bought a tshirt from them that he wore out over the years.

I understand that years later, back when the then husband was teaching graduate school in public affairs at the UW, he did use our honeymoon as an object lesson of some sort in one of his economics classes on how spending a lot of money can be a GOOD thing in certain situations.  Whatever.

*for the record, I have never smoked tobacco again in any form.


Dan Matyola said...

Another wonderful story, Regina!

Marriage is a compromise? I have no idea what you mean. As soon as I learned to say "yes, dear" in response to every request, everything was just fine.

We would never have made the mistake that you did in your choice of honeymoon spot. As soon as my wife saw the words "tent-cottages," that would have been the end of Maho Bay. After we had been married two years (14 months of which I had spent overseas), I reserved a cabin on the north rim of the Grand Canyon. She insisted on called them and getting details about the bathroom facilities, the beds, the linens, and several other questions before agreeing to "rough it" in a National Park cabin.

Our honeymoon was also a bit of an adventure. We were married on Memorial Day weekend, the night before she graduated. We then spent two days driving to Florida, where I was stationed. At 4:00 the next morning, I left her in the motel to take a navigation training flight. The plane developed problems, resulting in a three day stay in Oklahoma, while she was all alone in rural Florida.

We finally took our honeymoon 9 month later (after being apart for our first Christmas because of a squadron employment). We went to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (St Thomas)for a week. On the first full day of our trip, Lee got a bad sunburn, which greatly limited what we could do in the tropical paradise. Thank God for the rain forest.

A month later, I shipped out to Viet Nam. In the first two years of out marriage, we spent 17 months apart, including the first two Christmases and our first anniversary. After that, little annoyances seemed not to matter much.

I hope that you are feeling better, and that your treatment in on course. You remain in our thoughts and prayers.


Susan said...

Oh my - at least you have a humorous story to tell out of it (humorous to readers, at least). I, too, remember the sinking feeling I had at times on my honeymoon. Just who was this guy I had married, and what exactly had I signed up for here?

odp said...

A great argument for sticking closer to home! We took 4 days in the wine country (an hour's drive) and visited 11 wineries. Felt no pain!

Remind me to tell you, though, about the trip to Timbuktu...


Laura said...

Great story! It's one of those things about adventurous travel--it's not fun at the time, but it makes for great stories. I have nothing quite so "interesting" in my travel adventures. I did have quite a time in the former Yugoslavia (now Croatia) in an over-crowded train, having to stand for hours in a narrow aisle of the train--the compartments were all filled with families, gypsies, goats and chickens. It was the Orient Express! From Trieste to Zagreb. Later in the same trip I ran into a situation where I had to pay the equivalent of .001 for toilet tissue at the restroom in the train station. I had no change, but the clerk was not going to give me that little piece of waxy paper without me giving her a coin! Then there was the time where we forgot where we parked our car in Italy and walked around for an hour looking for it...Now great stories, but at the time, not so fun.

MVroom said...

thanks for sharing--what a crazy experience! i guess the saying "you get what you pay" is true, huh? Looking forward to reading more entries!