Monday, February 15, 2016

My Ongoing Love Affair with Real Bermuda

Ah, Bermuda. My "happy place". I fell in love with this island nation the first day I stepped off the plane and felt the warm sea breeze kiss my cheek back in 1976. I've been in love ever since.

It's hard not to feel the romance of Bermuda. The glistening pink-tinged sand is just stunning. The shimmering turquoise water is enticing. For an artist like me, it's all eye candy. I want to soak in the beauty I see. Everywhere you look, there is vibrant color. There are charming cottages nestled along the shores and hillsides of the many islands that make up this British Overseas Territory. There are boats of every shape and size dotting the waterways. And the tropical foliage that decorates the landscape constantly reminds you that you are in paradise. But it's really all about the the meeting of shore and sea. Magnificent!

Oh, I've been to other places that were intriguing enough. There was a memorable trip to Hilton Head Island during an extended heat wave (that unfortunately left the swamps and bogs spewing a gaseous aroma into the too-still air). Crabs popped up in my wake as I walked on the seemingly endless stretch of palm-tree lined beach. There was plenty to do on the resort island, from tennis to biking to golf. But it was was SO hot, the fish were cranky. Never in my life had I ever had one bite me on the derriere, but during one rather brief dip, a school of them decided I was fair game. Was it my colorful bathing suit? I admit I tend to go for wild tropical prints. Or was it the murky water? The water in Bermuda isn't murky.

Of course, I will admit to having a love-hate relationship with things in the ocean that like to nibble or pinch. I am fascinated by underwater creatures. You will find me with my nose pressed against the glass at any aquarium. And on most occasions, I'll be the fool with my hand out, willing to touch some sea monster, even as it wriggles and writhes. I have always wanted to learn how to scuba dive, but I've never quite gotten around to it. Time and money have never afforded me the opportunity to indulge in my passion for all things sea. (I swear I am buying a boat and hiring a crew just as soon as my ticket is chosen for the Powerball. Our first cruise? The Florida Keys. We'll take the Intracoastal Waterway all the way down to Florida, with stops in Charleston, Beaufort, and Savannah. Who's in?)

But when I'm in the water, I don't want to unexpectedly step on anything that has claws or a hard shell. Of course, this is probably a good time to mention that I got my swimming badge as a kid when I passed the test at a freshwater lake known for its snapping turtle population. With fear as my coach, too terrified to touch bottom, I developed a really strong kick that got me over the finish line in a respectable time.

I also once found myself facing a "gang" of electric eels out at the raft in Long Island Sound just a day or two after couple of folks had made the mistake of getting too close and got zapped. I'm pretty sure I came close to breaking the local record for eight-year-old swim champs when I did my Australian crawl into shore. To be honest, I probably would have hung around and watched those shocking snake-like critters if the water was turquoise and clear, like Bermuda. But with so much seaweed floating in the sound and plankton thick enough to choke a seahorse, it's hard to see what lurks on the sandy bottom in this tidal estuary.

But one of my favorite things to do in Bermuda is to people-watch. I've met some amazing characters that way and learned a lot about life on this small island nation.

You might see a fisherman with a drop line in the harbor and just assume that he's killing time. But I was lucky enough to have a lively conversation with this gentleman. He was actually hoping to snag something he could sell at the market. What can you catch along the shore? Anything from bonefish to barracuda (watch those tootsies!), snapper, or pompano. And best of all, especially for tourists, there's no license required if you want to drop a line into the water and do some shore fishing.

No trip to Bermuda would ever be complete without a good swim. Whether you like a quiet, secluded beach (remember that I said this was a romantic place) or a busy one, there are some amazing spots to take a dip.

What keeps it real? You can take the #7 bus along South Road, sharing it with Bermudian residents and tourists. You might sit beside school kids in uniforms, a grandmother on her way home from the market, a court clerk headed for work in Bermuda shorts and a proper jacket, or even some guy from Milwaukee who's there for an engineering convention.

It's easy to disembark from the pink bus and head to the beach. You'll walk down the steep hill (or catch a ride down by van for a couple of dollars), where you can buy burgers and soda at the food stand or rent chairs. Horseshoe Bay Beach has free-of-charge changing and restroom facilities that make it easy to enjoy a few hours of swimming or snorkeling.

People-watching is fun at the infamous Horseshoe Bay Beach. You can sit down on the stone wall along the path to the beach and gaze upon the constant parade of people coming and going.

Once you've got your suit on,spread out your towel on one of the top beaches in the world and take in the amazing view. Go for a dip in the crystal-clear sea. Lose yourself in a good mystery while you soak up the warm sun. If you snorkel, you might see angelfish, parrot fish, snappers, and even sergeant majors.

But one of the best opportunities for people-watching comes on Harbour Nights. That's when you'll see the locals mixing it up with the tourists. Everyone enjoys this street festival on Wednesday nights during high season. You can sit on any one of the many benches that line Front Street and admire the non-stop street action. The vendors offer their wares, the restaurants are packed with people, and everywhere you look, people are having fun.

Some people think of Bermuda as an expensive place, and given the fact that just about everything has to be imported, it is. But it's also a place where real people live their lives. If you treat the locals with respect, they are more than happy to share their stories with you. Some of the best conversations I had on the island were started on the ferry, at the bus stop, in this shop or that shop. The residents of this little paradise will happily tell you the "must not miss" places off the beaten path, but only if they think you will respect Bermuda and appreciate this treasure for what it is.

That's why I've got Bermuda on my to-do list. There are so many more scenes I want to paint... sunlight falling on cascading flowers in a crowded flower box, the sun setting the sea on fire in a blaze of glorious gold as evening arrives...colorful fish darting past the remnants of a shipwreck...and the faces of Bermuda. It's the people who make the island as special as it is. Without them, Bermuda is just a bunch of rocky little spits of land in a sea of turquoise water. With them, Real Bermuda is a delightful place to be.

My newest book is Miz Scarlet and the Perplexed Passenger. It takes place on a cruise to Bermuda.

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