3rd Stop: Bequia

A Bittersweet Bye-Bye to Bequia

Posted on: Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 4 comments

After 18 dreamy days, it’s time to depart this Paradise. Happily, the BreakAway is not over; we set sail for Grenada at 7 am. But like most packing days, this one brings waves of emotion that crash loudly like the Friendship Bay surf outside our door. It’s doubtful we’ll be back. And these precious days with the kids float away so fast. 


But today the overriding undercurrent is gratitude.  To the fates that brought us here, the Caribbeans who keep it real, and the experiences that lived up to my oft-unrealistic visions.  Bequia has been so generous with both rich encounters and easy living.  She’s blessed us with a long list of experiences to be thankful for…

  • Kindness and generosity.  It would take pages to tell the tales of the beaming Caribbeans who would go out of their way to make sure you don’t worry, are happy.  (Example?  As I write this, cabdriver Kenny just stopped by to drop off a beach mat we forgot in his car.) Many here have an inner bliss that shines like the sun.  It’s a heartwarming thing. 
  • Tradition.  Culture and lore thrives here, in many ways. Music, whether live, radio, or spontaneous.  On the seas:  Fishing, sailing, boat building, and even mini-boat building. Arts and crafts, from carving to painting to calabash bowls.  Even whaling happens, and you get the sense that the community anticipates that pageantry like Americans get all stoked for the Super Bowl. 
  • Purity.  It’s the name on one of the dollar busses.  And it’s all around.  The locals still rule.  Roads are few and far between.  Houses only dot some hillsides.  And nature—as in greenery, fishing stock, sparse beaches, cool breezes, and odd critters—surrounds you.  And holds you.  And inspires you.  Skin color is rarely pure here; it comes in countless colors, which makes the people pure too.  Here, race rarely matters. 
  • Safety.  Unlike many islands, this one has some money.  Not much poverty or too many people.  And plenty of pride.  So ramshackle shanties, abandoned cars, and derelicts (both boats and folks) are uncommon.  That makes adventuring much more pleasant—especially with kids.  Getting a laid-back groove on need not make you an easy target. 
  • Media drought.  When scheming this trip, I sincerely proposed the family go somewhere remote and try a virtually media-free Sabbatical.  That plan fell flat.  Yet Bequia comes close.  Most homes don’t do TV, magazines, newspapers, or computers.  Teens don’t shut the world out with ear-buds.  Few folks are seen fondling their personal digitalia.  Heck, the best chef on the island bragged about being in Bon Appetit in 2005 and how it still brings in guests because it’s online.   “But I never see it,” he chuckles, “I have no computer.”  Another day, one Rasta guy was intrigued with my Nikon, asked questions, and then said, “Take my picture.”  He seemed spellbound as he stared at himself on the small, digital screen.  Why such media scarcity?  Many can’t afford it, most likely.  But you also get the sense that they’d rather engage in live entertainment.  They prefer to BE HERE NOW. 
  • Street talk.  It’s like island smoke!  There are cell phones here now.  But most word travels by mouth, and possibly faster than phones.  So if you’ve business to conduct, your odds for success go way up if you show up.  Go downtown and it appears that some folks are involved with five conversations at once—as cars and acquaintances pass by. 
  • Car talk.  You can tell how two people get along by how they react when meeting in their cars (which can happen a dozen times a day for some).  In descending order of affection:  Stop and chat (right in the road); Honk and wave; Honk OR wave; Nod; Ignore; Honk long and frown and furrow brows; Get in way or brush by close and fast; refuse to move if on tight road; roll up your dark-tinted window when you pass by. 
  • Street preaching.  We’re not in stoic, passive-aggressive Minnesota anymore.  At least once a day, I’d see somebody just standing on a corner (or in a bar or ???) yelling, preaching, ranting.  It’s creepy at first, but then downright refreshing.  Let it go! 
  • Living in the open.  Doors and windows?  Plenty, but typically sans screens. So you can see inside houses.  And what do you see?  Someone looking back at you!  Life is open here.  People sit around on porches, palms, curbs, and benches—and watch the world go by. 
  • Bar ubiquity.  Little bars are hidden all over the place—sometimes called “step-up” or “step-down” bars.  Most folks who congregate there drink nothing, yet these neighborhood hangouts are often busy, even when they’re closed. 
  • Vendor mania.  You can buy fruits, vegetables, jewelry, art, and carved boats just about anywhere people gather.  Rental chairs, kayaks, and other essentials also abound.  Some things, like fresh fish, require much more work to score, but you surely can—and anyone you ask will want to help.  The best part?  Never once did a seller harass or get pushy. 
  • Clandestine vendors.  It helps to know the language and have open ears.  But among other things, I was quietly offered (when dude saw my big camera) to be taken to a visiting celebrity,

“Hey, Paparazzi, I can’t say who tis, but I kin take you to da superstar on de iulunn—just give me half of what you make.” 

  • One had wine, “Good red, good white; check it—you look like wine-drinking man.”  One just smiled, caressed his dreads, and asked, “Hybrid?”  “No thanks,” I replied, “I need no alternative transpo on this island.” 
  • Coldness and stinkeye.  Sometimes service was slow, locals were ornery, and a few were just plain belligerent.  But I’m grateful because it reminds me no place is perfect—and there was more bark than bite.  This is their home, after all, and I’m just another passing thrill-seeker. 
  • Scolding and shaming.  This can be that kind of culture, for sure.  And often, it’s not pretty.  But much of it is in fun.  Some of it is earnest and enlightening.  And pretty soon, you learn to hold your own or, if need be, just take the medicine and forget about it.  Heck, maybe we could use more directness in our sometimes happy-slacky culture back home. 
  • Music.  So sweet.  So omnipresent.  In the states, wherever you go, you hear the same damn songs over and over again.  Here, I’d never heard the vast majority of stuff.  They like it local, like it real:  Bob Marley, reggae, toasting, soca, steel-pan, early country, and intoxicating island riddims in as many colors as the Caribbean sea all around us. 
  • Eatery fare.  It can be redundant, but it’s typically healthy and good.  We’re talkin’:  BBQ, grilled fish, soups (calaloo!), rice, beans, simple vegetables, small salads, roti (curry roll-ups), and of course, wings and fries. 
  • The local diet.  Hang out where people buy food, and see that most people instinctively eat well.   Few are schlepping packaged goods home.  No wonder most folks are svelte and muscular.  And as for cigarettes?  The rare trail of smoke usually leads to vacationing youth, Yachties, or Euro-party-monsters. 
  • Fresh, fresh, fresh.  Fresh food is abundant, brought over from verdant St. Vincent.  People don’t walk around sucking a Gatorade; they walk around munching messy mangos, plumrose, and passion fruit.  In a small store one day, four people were enthusiastically eating something I’d never seen.  I had to ask, “Whassat?  Looks good.  Want my children to try dat!”  They replied, “Golden apple.  Just in season now.  Take dese last 2 home and share.  They refused my money.  (And yes, they were yummy.) 
  • The dialect.  English?  Me tink no.  On St. John, USVI, I can understand about half of the nativespeak—or they’ll meet me halfway.  Here, not so much.  This patois still runs thicker than nutmeg jam.  And they’ve had less exposure to “culture” like movies and TV.  What’s more, there are many generations of Scottish influence here; they speak with a Scot brogue atop the patois.  Misunderstandings happened.  And on some occasions, communication was reduced to gestures and pointing.
  • Freedom.  Here, it’s not a military rationale, bumper sticker, or baseball anthem.  It’s just free.  Police show up rarely, and aren’t carrying much attitude or heat.  Traffic signs resemble rusty art.  Cars park anywhere.  People wander, smoke, eat, fish, swim, drink, and gather as they wish.  And if a party goes late and loud, so what?  Common sense rules, yet rules are rarely posted.  As the leader of this April’s whale hunt proudly told me,

“This is one of the last places on earth were you can not only feel free, be you can live free.  If only for that, I hope you come back.” 

I hope so too. 

Thanks, Mister Whaler.  And thanks, little Bequia.

(to see the complete collection of my photos from Bequia click here)

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Bequia’s Best Entertainment Value: “The Dollar Bus”

Posted on: Saturday, January 24th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 4 comments
Within moments of landing on this island, one is struck (almost literally) by the plethora of mini-vans bearing massive monikers in front, blasting deafening reggae, and driving like NASCAR wanna-bes.  They’re called “the dollar bus.”  And for about 40 cents (US), they’ll move you and your stuff and most always guarantee some real-life thrills. 

When you gotta get to town, you need Faith.

When you gotta get to town, you need Faith.

Story goes that just about anyone can enter this line of work, decide their own route (there are only a few), and make up their own hours. Most driver-owners customize their vehicle’s interior with an assortment of lights, signs, accessories and sparkly upholstery. They also determine their own bus nickname, of course, which offers a glimpse into the driver’s personality or view of the world.  

Here are a few of the buses plying the rutted streets of Bequia these days…

  • BE BE
  • B COOL
Traffic peaks week-day daytime—with students, workers, and errand-runners—but someone is usually running 7 days a week between about 6 am and 8 pm.  Most busses have a second person, usually a boy, who collects the money (at the end), runs the door, helps with stuff management, and may dictate the seating arrangement. 
Looking back on a few weeks’ worth of journeys, a few favorite memories come to mind…
On my first ride—with both children—we got on a VERY full bus with 21 people, and were seated in separate rows.  CurlyGirl looked like a deer in bus headlights.  But after, when I asked if she liked it, she just said, “Yeah, but I was kinda squished.” 

 Riding the BusWhat if someone needs to get out and we’re all in the way?  What else?  We all climb out, the helper handles the fold-up seats (in the aisle), we maybe bid “good evening” to the departing, and then shimmy back in again.  Always in the middle of the street; there are no official stops. 
An argument between a man and woman who got on at different points went on the entire route, at full volume.  Eventually, others tried to calm them, chimed in, or laughed.  When they disembarked downtown, they continued their quarrel on the street. 
At about 5, when bus use peaks, about 20 of us were squeezed inside and then taken to the only gas station where we politely waited.  And waited.  The driver got out and chatted up friends, eventually paying with 100s of coins (how he’s usually paid).  Since the door was open and I was on the edge, I snuck to the nearest bar and grabbed a beer—with the driver’s permission, of course, “No problem, mon!  No problem!” 
An elderly lady got on and off, always taking the helper’s arm, and given the best seat (beside the driver).  As she exited, the helper made sure she got her 12-pack of Pepsi up to her house. 
Another time, we made a detour to Lower Bay so the driver could make a delivery.  Riders are offered no explanation, but you learn to just trust and go along for the ride. 
When stuck downtown awaiting more passengers, we all watched a large, loud local man who was preaching in a booming voice about something in the middle of the street.  I could only fully comprehend the foul language for sure.  
When I asked, “Wha he yellin’ about?”  The driver replied, “Oh, he just need more sex.”  Everyone laughed.  So I retorted, “I don’t tink dat be any way to get it!”  And everyone laughed harder. 

When on “MAJESTY” once, it started to rain.  The driver keeps a clean, dry vehicle.  So he stopped suddenly, made us all roll up the windows, started the AC, and then made us all check the rear vents.  When it stopped raining, he stopped, and we did all that again in reverse. 
When I took a picture (at a distance) of FAITH, the driver called me over, gave me a nasty tongue-lashing, and insisted I owed him EC$25.  I explained that I like his bus name, and anyway, I thought FAITH sets you FREE.  He kept trying to collect until I just walked away—to the sound of devilish, cackling laughter of a woman spectating nearby. 
When I photographed MORE FAITH, things went much better.  I’d been passenging—chatting some with the rider and helper.  This time, I politely asked permission as I got off.  He smiled and answered, “Ya shore.  You a good boy!” 

When a little Faith isn't enough...
The helper stuck his head out—which is often how they ride—so he could be in the picture too.  Guess it just goes to show ya:  We could all use MORE FAITH. 
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Some People’s Kids!

Posted on: Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | Leave a comment
Word of warning to future island-hoppers:  Beware the goats and sheep. And their kids. I mean, they are everywhere—EVERYWHERE!  On St. John, where goats are preferred, herds of them can appear in the road around any corner.  Here on Bequia, and on St. Vincent, folks tie up sheep by the roadside to munch on free grass.  Even in town. 
3199492180_897a948bd2They’re a driving risk, to say the least. But even worse, they’re noisy. One recent, early morning, a nearby sheep was having a ba-a-a-a-a-a-d dream.  He would NOT shut up.  It wasn’t til the sun came up that I could see him—tied up in the yard next door.  No way did the shepherd own that property. But who cares?  It’s free sheep chow. 
Speaking of cheap graze, on St. John, the island is still considered “free range.”  We’re not talkin’ organics here, but rather, old laws that allow “farmers” to let their livestock roam.  (Fortunately, there are only a handful of cows and pigs still ambling about.)  
While I have yet to consult an attorney, it’s my understanding that this law means that free-range animals can wander into your yard and eat your bougainvilleas. Poop on your driveway. And yes, walk en masse onto your deck. And they do. 

Call me prejudiced, but the thing is, these critters are dumb as bricks.  Look into their eyes and you see…nothing. Just big, popping, bulbs of emptiness. They’re so stupid they don’t even know how to run away when scared. 
I don’t yet know all the animalia etiquette on the island of Bequia. But on St. John, story goes that if your Jeep hits (and kills) a goat, the owner will find you and request remuneration for the loss. But if you hit the goat and it does damage to your Jeep, the owner will simply say, “Not my goat” should YOU request repair reimbursement. 
If you visit a goat owner to say,
Please keep your goats out of my gardens; they’re eating my flowers,


you’ll simply get laughed off their property. Word about your ludicrous ignorance will quickly spread in bars and on streets. Even the goats will laugh at you. Best avoid that. 

So why all the fuss over grow-your-own meat?  It’s cheap, for starters.  After all, every time one has a baby, you can slaughter the parent and still break even.  But mostly, they just love their mutton.  It’s a delicacy around here.3181671249_5577eaa028_m
You’re considered “in the circle” and a close friend when invited to an event where they slaughter and roast a kid (of the animal nature). And those feasts are reserved for the most special of occasions:  Christenings, high holidays, weddings, voodoo ceremonies. 
If invited, go! Not only will you experience an extraordinary cultural ritual, you’ll help rid the island of one less live driving hazard. You may even like the taste. Some say you can’t bleat it! 
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Obama in Bequia

Posted on: Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 3 comments

Barack Obama became president of the USA, and the whole world, and Bequia today. There was a Big Party of Americans at a fancy new beach bar with a Big TV, but we missed it (long story). Instead, we ended up in a few neighborhood spots with small TVs, and smaller, but no less enthusiastic crowds. Here are just a few memories…


  • In the bookstore, where there are maybe 3 American magazines (most likely dated November), Obama was on virtually every cover.
  • On the streets, spontaneous cheering was erupting wherever people gather.
  • In the Sailor’s Bar, the owner’s daughter came home from school and watched with wide-eyed curiosity.


  • In Coco’s Place, a handful of salty Yachties were mostly speechless, but leapt often to their feet, wiped many a tear, and became instant soul-mates.
Thanks to Jesper (breakaway kid) for this great photo.)

Thanks to Jesper (breakaway kid) for this great photo.)

  • Coco himself seemed emotionally entranced by the event.


  • An elderly couple, probably expats, sauntered down the street grinning. She held a big bunch of red, white & blue balloons.
  • A young, dressed-up native woman stood on a corner yelling about “Obama!”. When we stopped near her, she stuck her head in our car, said “Where you from?” And gave us big love.
  • “Obama” was the one word clearly heard all day long and the morning after, no matter how unrecognizable the patios or how thick the Creole.

The future is upon us. The hard work has begun. I’m far away from my homeland, but proud to be an American.

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Paradise Lost (BreakAway Breakdowns, Pt.1)

Posted on: Saturday, January 17th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 9 comments

Insects and infections. Noisy nights and strange neighbors. Hyper dogs and bored offspring who don’t yet understand “Island Time.”  Not nasty enough? Okay:  Rude dude choking his chicken in the bushes below our balcony; hostile neighbor kid piling dry plywood on my blazing BBQ grill. There are worse stories, but let’s keep this PG-13. 


Somebody asked me if a Sabbatical like this brings constant Paradise–or is the BreakAway road pocked with potholes?  Of course there are plenty.  And while complaining rarely helps, here—by request—is a short, requisite rant about…

11 Predictable Problems in Paradise

  • Surfing the interNOT.  We chose our places to stay based on purported internet access.  But so far, all 3 destinations have had disappointing, if not maddening, connectivity.  Makes this project (and communication in general) a major head-banging challenge.
  • Feeding the bugs.  At times, my children appear to have chicken pox.  And nights are often punctuated with slaps and curses and rabid scratching. But it’s just the mosquitoes, no-see-ums (sand fleas), and more.  Even free-basing deet doesn’t help. 
  • Feeling faraway.  I rarely mind not “being there.”  But helplessness drifts in like stormy seas when a close family member is in surgery, the house is exploding with its second messy plumbing disaster, and imperfections persist that Paradise can’t fix. 
  • Going without.  Living with less is part of the Mission—and good for the kids.  But frustration quickly elevates when one is unable to get essentials like a guitar pick or sandals.  2 deliveries of necessities to St. John didn’t make it before we left.  And one can waste hours “in search of” on islands. 
  • Ride the rip-offs.  The St. John gas attendant, for example, will fill your Jeep to $23 and not have $2 when you give him $25.  Or the dollar bus driver will take your money twice (she paid the fare; he didn’t see/know it so paid the  man again).  Encounters like this happen on a daily basis.  Make it a game (and carry small bills). Or simply say, “Happy New Year!” and consider yourself the richer.  
  • Pre-negotiate most everything.  It took some “hold-ups” by porters, taxis, and vegetable vendors to remind me of this mantra.  First ask, “What’s this cost?”  And when a restaurant hands you a menu without prices, ask for another or just leave. 
  • Paying the price.  These islands are expensive, naturally.  But they’ve proven to be manyfold worse than expected—200%+++ markup on everything.  Our travel budget included hefty per diems that have been, to paraphrase President Bush, woefully misunderestimated. 
  • Doing island time.  The Slow Movement is cool, but getting blown off is a bummer.  In a recent 12-hour period, a playdate didn’t show.  A fishing guide didn’t show.  And neither did the caretaker/cleaner.  As a part-time adult, I can accept it.  But the kids were genuinely hurt. 
  • Managing eating disorders.  I’ve become a grocery sherpa for the kids.  Restaurants serve warm wine and cold meals.  Buffets become an inebriated feeding frenzy.  A simple “club sandwich” arrives as something unrecognizable.  OMG:  I miss my kitchen?
  • Being held hostage.  Transit brings risks.  Some movers view customers as sub-human cargo.  At one airport, they took our water at security and then put us in a balmy waiting area for a few hours.  There was no snack shop, no vending machine, and no drinking fountain.  Thirsty?  Tough. 
  • Bad (or rude) service.  Disinterest in tourists is a science in some places.  But so can be rudeness (especially on the American islands), where macho machine-gun banter can be the cover charge for getting attention.  When my Jeep broke down in the middle of the road, right by a service station, getting “help” from the attendant (!) went like this.  

ME:  So sorry, but you want help me move dis broke Jeep outa da way?  

HIM:  (long pause)…Don’t want to.  

ME:  Ha!  Okay.  You just take da wheel and I poosh.  

HIM:  You not strong enough to poosh!  

ME:  Yassuh!  Assa good one!  Allright allright:  I just leave Jeep hee-ya; not my sah-vees station; I doan give a sh*#!  

HIM:  No no no—can’t do dat.  (pause, stare)  You tryin’ put me to work!  

ME:  Yah well, I can see you very bizzee in dat dere chair.  

HIM:  And I can see you ain’t go noplace wid dat brokedown Jeep.  

ME:  Okay.  Dat sound real good den.  How ‘bout I just sit right hee-yah wid you all day den.  

HIM:  (stands up abruptly, but we’re both smirking by now)…Put dat ugly ting in neutral me-son; I show you how to poosh a Jeep.  

ME:  And I owe you a cold beer, me-frenn. 

But who ever said travel was easy?  Or settling into a new place with strange food, currency, customs, and characters?  Gosh, if it were easy and cheap and risk-free, people would be doing it all the time.  Money aside, I’m reminded often why a guy can only tap the moxie to do this every seven years or so. 

And while I’m happy to rant, may I also state that—as is true anywhere, people are mostly kind and honest, and will go out of their way to help a stranger.  That’s even more true on islands like these, because it has to be. 

No, Paradise isn’t perfect.  But it can come pretty close—with enough patience, persistence, and (to quote the Rastas), positivity. 

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Sun(day) Worship at Low Bay

Posted on: Monday, January 12th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 4 comments
On islands everywhere, Sunday is Local’s Day. Most shops are shuttered. Eateries open only limited hours. And folks of all sizes, ages, and colors congregate at the beach for an all-day affair. Tourists are welcome too, of course. But we may not know where to park, score the best table, or snorkel where the octopi are parading. 
On Bequia, the place to celebrate–and worship–the sun is on Lower Bay.  Or Low Bay, as the locals call it.  It’s a dreamy scene.  Let me take you there…

  • The water taxis come and go, cruising the shoreline for wayfaring fares, while the occasional “small” cruise ship looms in the distance, presumably disgorging passengers onto the island, though none are evident (thankfully) on this beach…


  • Local fishermen elbow-up at the bars and swill Hairoun (the local beer) while trading soccer bets, harmless insults, and fish stories. 
  • Kids create stunning sandcastles, then await the waves or naughty boys that smash them.


  • De Reef and Dawn’s Creole (beach bars) sling fresh fish and bar-b-que oh-so slowly…till they run out or just feel like shutting down. 
  • A brawny Rasta man balances a ball on his head and walks back and forth on the beach for hours in a Zen-like trance.


  • Buff teen boys completely covered in sweat and sand compete in hard-core soccer matches using sticks in sand for goals. 
  • Gregarious groups gather at tables and linger leisurely, like Parisians, for as many hours as they wish. 
  • The smell of ganja wafts on the breeze; partakers don’t hide it; nobody cares. 


  • Aging ex-pats with sunspotted skin and strange accents exchange updates and photos of faraway grandchildren. 
  • Entrepreneurial young men rent out kayaks and beach chairs (half price after 3!), rarely bothering to leave their own chairs to collect their goods or fees.


  • Gaggles of children from myriad neighborhoods and nations share beach toys and laughter and the universal language of play. 
The sun shifts.  The waves crash.  And sudden conversations transpire—even for us—with people you’ve met before, who introduce you to the people they know, who introduce you to the people they know…
And suddenly, you’re feeling like a local…
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Bequia: Room with a View

Posted on: Thursday, January 8th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 11 comments
We done good.  Although the family obsessed and argued and made a science out of indecision when picking our places to stay, in this case, it was worth it.  This new temporary home is 2die4.  Opening the door, seeing the endless sea, and hearing the crashing-wave soundtrack instantly confirmed all hopes, and erased all doubts. 

We’re in the top level of a brand-new, 3-story condo on Friendship Bay.  The view is that magical shade of teal; some rolling green hills and peninsulas; some shanties and villas and two hidden hotels (with way cool beach bars!); and some boobies and fishing boats bobbing in the bay.  


And the best part?  We got a delicious deal, direct from the American owner (whom we “met” on TripAdvisor), because the place wasn’t finished and on the rental market yet…
So while our temporary home may lack a peeler and beach towels and a functional ceiling fan (it seized up right after it was installed, according to the caretaker), it’s impeccably fresh and well-executed.  The design is smart, the furnishings are tasteful and the deck is stunning.  We lucked out.  

The kids know it too–and that warms the heart more than the sunshine that beats in nonstop.  They were giddy–dancing and screaming like Little League champs–for a long time after we moved in.  And it wasn’t just the water and view and obvious stuff; they were even gaga about the mosquito netting on the shared bed, and jumped in and just played together (with no arguing!) all giggly for an hour or so.  (Then, of course:  CAN WE GO TO THE BEACH NOW?)  Yes!  

Forgive me if I refuse to leave this place and just keep taking the same pictures over and over…
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