Just over a month ago my reality was: Living a nice life in a small southern city and driving my car to my cushy office job every day where I spent my time on the computer and on the phone. I almost never went to the beach. And when I did, the seaweed and jellyfish were usually so bad I did not often go in the water. I bought a Glock semi-automatic pistol for "home defense" but deemed the threat of a home invasion to be so low that the gun stayed in it's case, unloaded most of the time.
Now, I live on a tiny little island and drive a boat to work every day. I swim every day in the most beautiful, clear water that you could imagine. I have not worn long pants since I got here, not even at work; most of the time I wear sandals too. I almost never talk on the phone except at the construction site, where cell phones are used like walkie-talkies. Most startling of all, there are no Wendy's down here. Talk about a reality shift! (For single guys, Wendy's and the $.99 value menu is great. Who needs to cook?) We've already had one intruder on the island trying to steal one of the boats in the middle of the night. Something tells me it's not the last time we'll be "visited" at night. The Glock now stays on my nightstand, loaded and at the ready. The night-vision goggles for me and laser-sight for the gun are on order. You can't shoot what you can't see.
I grew up in New York City in the 1960's and '70s. We did not fish. Back then, you would not want to eat anything you caught in the East or Hudson Rivers. We did not even swim in them. As a city boy, I never had the opportunity to drive a boat. Even as an adult, even living in a boaters paradise like Pensacola, that activity never interested me. Oh, I went out with a few friends on their boats occasionally, but I never drove. Ever. Now, at the ripe old age of 51 I get down here to Guanaja and suddenly I'm the boat driver. It is, ahh, interesting.
Since there are no roads on Guanaja, we use boats as employee shuttle vans, picking up groups of workers at two opposite locations from the jobsite. Every morning, I pick up 12 to 14 guys in a little 21 foot center-console outboard. Every afternoon I take them back. Calm or windy, flat water or rough. And sometimes it is very rough. Scary-rough. The lumps in my throat sometimes feel like golf balls.
So far I have not crashed the boat, capsized it or run aground. So far. I'm not saying it won't happen. The guys all look at me confidently. I can almost see what they're thinking: "Hey, he's a pilot, right? He knows what he's doing." And I pretend that I do.
After work yesterday I stayed in town. "Town" in our case is a breezy little island called Bonacca, about a half-mile out in the water toward the barrier reef. Bonacca is commonly referred to as "the cay" (pronounced kee, even though we say Cay-man Islands and not Kee-man Islands - don't ask me why some things are the way they are). Thirteen-thousand people live in Guanaja, and half of them live on the tiny, overcrowded, smelly sewer of an island of Bonacca.
The story is that Guanajarans originally moved over to the cay to escape the sand flies and mosquitoes that can be fierce on the main island. That's probably the most likely reason. You think the gnats and skeeters are bad where you are? Feh- you have no idea. Or maybe you do...IF YOU LIVE IN THE AMAZON JUNGLE... Whatever, Bonaccans built their houses up on stilts, dumped their garbage out their windows, and just ran their sink and toilet drains down open pipes to the water. Many still do. You can imagine the ambiance.
Now, the cay is a happening place, especially on a Friday night. Plenty of bars and even a dance club or two. The guys wanted to show me a good time. And we started having that good time around two p.m. with the opening of the first beers. There are a couple of local Honduran beers, and they are not bad. In fact, Salva Vida is quite good. There are not many things to do on the cay except drink. Fortunately, I've had practice. I could keep up. The beer flowed like water, the good times rolled, shots of tequila all around, the jukebox blared (strangely, they love American country music down here). Just like home. But not just like home, the local women all gathered around the rich gringo. I'll admit to being a gringo, but rich? Heh, if they only knew.
We called it quits sometime after midnight. And here's where that weird reality thing kicked in again.
We were on the way home in the boat. Kenny, the brother-in-law of our caretaker and who lives most of the time on our island was driving. He was at least as drunk as me. The night was pitch-black. He had the throttle wide-open as he usually does when he drives. Oddly, boats do not have headlights. Immediately in front of the boat was the dim glow of our puny navigation lights. The water was really rough, so I was standing up next to him. Looking forward, I could see...nothing. And I mean absolutely nothing except for four yellowish lights out on the horizon. There could have been a Navy battleship parked in front of us and we would not have seen it. "How do you know where you're going?" I yelled above the roar of the engine.
"See those lights?" Kenny asked, meaning the ones arrayed in front of us. He pointed to the right-most one. "That one is Half-Moon Cay. The middle one is us. The one to the left of that is Graham's Place."
"And what's that one all the way on the left?" I asked.
"I don't know," he shrugged. We weren't going that way anyway.
And we droned on like that for ten more minutes or so, pounding over, across and crashing through the waves (hey, maybe smaller boats for all I knew) until we got to our island. I kept staring out front, at the black nothingness and thinking, "Man, this is insane. What am I doing here?" I've done some stupid things in my life, and that was one of them.
Kenny got us home...er...safely. Well, without crashing, anyway. As I stepped onto the dock, Javier roared up in another, smaller speedboat, one with no lights. He'd left the cay ahead of us but somehow got behind us. Kenny hopped in and they sped off, back to the cay to continue partying. They do like to drink down here in Guanaja.