|A three hour cruise with the wind to our back and a gentle following sea had us in West End, the tourist trap of the Island, sans tourists. We were alone in the mooring field when we first arrived but eventually one other boat, a sailboat, with the typical herding instinct we notice all too often, proceeded to snag the closest mooring ball to us, although there were a dozen more private spots to choose from. It’s not as easy to fulfill the deserted, devil may care, no modesty required anchorage down here in the Caribbean as you might imagine.
Suffering from the decline in tourism due to the political crisis on the mainland, West End was ready for a party when we arrived. The annual fishing tournament and festival was underway and hundreds of people were pouring into town. Tourists were few and far between, however, the crowds were locals arriving for the occasion.
Colorful little booths, decorated with party beads and palm fronds, lined one stretch of the white sandy road that is West End. Island fare was served up - jerk chicken, lasagna, curry meatballs, ribs, pork, chicken, chicken and more chicken. Red beans, rice, coleslaw and tortillas, no meal would be complete without them. Oh and tajadas, deep fried plantain, which the Captain has developed a taste for. Cholesterol count, you must be joking, this is Central America. Deep fry it and hopefully it won’t make you sick.
Extended families poured out of buses, vans and taxis, SUVs and water taxis. Many lugged huge pots of already prepared meals, frescas (pop), alcoholic libations, etc and proceeded to park in the shade along the beach to eat, drink and watch the kids play and swim, much like we would do at Wasaga Beach or Kempenfelt Bay, where I spent many such afternoons with my kids, well minus the rum and/or beer.
In addition to the few local boats and water taxis in the harbor, several fishing trawlers and yachts lined the docks. Every once in a while one would come in but No fish. Then a small dory pulled right up on the beach and crowds of people flocked to the boat, surrounding it on all sides. Much display was made of hauling the huge marlin out and carrying him to stage central to be measured, weighed and photographed.
I don’t mind crowds so while John sat on the party barge watching from a safe distance, I dug my way into the crowd approaching the big fish to take photos. The crowd carried me forward until I was close enough to get a shot, well, sort of. The Spanish idea of closeness is MUCH closer than what we are used to. I’ll do a lot for a good shot though.
The awards ceremony was so long that I was afraid we would miss it going out to the boat to shower and change, a necessity in these climes. However, after a long trip back to the boat, we arrived to find it still well under way. Nothing goes quickly here.
Three different disc jockies played three different kind of music along the street, one with a more Spanish influence, one with more of a black influence and one, well we didn’t stop long at it. There was also a local gringo band with people we see all the time in town so we watched them for a while. We ended up dancing at the more black music dance, however. I know I was black in a previous life, I just know it!
We stayed out way late and took a few quiet days to recover. Meanwhile the dingy sprung a HUGE hole and we had to drag it quickly to shore and quickly go to Plan B. No dingy means no mooring ball. Luckily our friends Lonny and Cynthia invited us to tie up at their dock, haul the dingy up on their gorgeous West End white sandy beach front for repair and just hang out. So we spend the last 6 days on what I feel is the prettiest part of West End, right beside Ronnie’s Barefoot Beach bar where we ate our Christmas dinner last year.
The new party barge, built and opened by a fellow Canadian, Captain Perry from Niagara Falls pulled up on the beach beside Diamond Lil and we had ourselves a happening little stretch of sand. UNTIL Cowboy Mel showed up in his white hat and ruined all the fun.
Actually curfew, or the touch as it is referred to in our translated Spanish news, was kind of fun, well for me, being of strange mind. It reminded me of a good old Canadian holiday, quiet, stores closed. It was a nice change. Everyone stayed home. Police drove down the road waiting at each shop to see it closed and the people heading home. Traffic could leave town but not enter. As touristas, or gringos at least we appear invisible, we walk anywhere we like, to the store and back and nobody bats an eye. We stocked up on cash, always the first to go when this stuff happens, and a few necessities. The rum shelves were empty. People wondered about cigarettes.
Lonny brought in a huge marlin himself just days after the tournament. The beast was close to 300 pounds and we watched it cleaned. Wow, what a lot of meat. Cynthia says it's the same every year, either right before or right after the tournament, they get a big one, but never at the tournament. He also brought in about 6 tunas and gave us 2. John stuffed one with his homemade salsa and bbqd it, mmmmm good.
Earlier in the week, our new friends Mark and Lori from Calabash Bight came down to spend an afternoon. I really enjoyed having them visit. We had lunch at Sundowners and a drink at Ronnie’s and sat at Lonny’s under his paplapa doing nothing like people do here. We went out to the boat and swam and then back to town, all in Lonny’s son Anthony’s water taxi because our dingy was lying on it’s side in the sand being glued.
Well the week was great, I walked the stretch a hundred times and savoured it each time. Perry and I chatted one afternoon as we sat aboard the Reefrider about just what makes West End so special. I can’t tell you, you’d have to come to see and even then you wouldn’t see unless you stayed a while. The only reason the town is still alive is because so many of us came and stayed. On the last day people said “You’re leaving.” How do they know?
We bade our hosts farewell and enjoyed an equally pleasant cruise home, catching a rare south breeze that made the sea lie down for us. It was nice to be back. I’ve done laundry every day since we returned.
We had a day or two here before Joe headed home after his working holiday. Papa John flew back to the U.S once the airlines reopened after the "Mel" incident for his flu shot and doctors appointments and will be back in November.
Until then it's Chiquita, Jip the Captain and me here at La Punta.