Bermuda's a great place. Unusually for us, we spent
more than two weeks in one spot, St. George's Harbour at Bermuda's
northeastern end. We rented scooters for a couple of days when Tina
and Lou were still here, and drove madly from one end of the island
to the other; but after that we relied on the excellent bus service.
It's a lot less dangerous, gives you a chance to look around, and
is much less expensive.
We chose the
phrase "less expensive" carefully. Everything in Bermuda is outrageously
expensive -- it's just a matter of more or less outrage. Scooters
rent for almost exactly what cars rent for in the States. (It's
against Bermuda law for tourists to rent/drive cars, so the only
rental vehicles are scooters and motorcycles.) At the grocery store
in St. George's, we paid $25 for two 6-packs of Coke, a large bag
of ice, and 100 g. (3.5 oz) of gourmet cheese. The locals don't
seem to pay much attention to the prices, though we noticed that
people returning from the States come back with tons of stuff, probably
for Christmas presents. There is no unemployment, and in fact the
local restaurants have difficulty finding Bermudian staff.
a racial divide -- all the public service personnel are black, and
most of the golfers are white. But race relations appear to be harmonious,
on the whole; for example, we just spent the evening in a local
pub where the mostly black clientele made us feel very welcome.
Rob went golfing
twice, once on a little par-65 course in St. George's and the other
time at Port Royal, at the other end of the island. The layouts
and views at both courses were spectacular,
but the course conditions were not nearly as good as those in the
Hampton Roads area. The greens were burnt out, and there were large
bare patches in the middle of the fairways.
As soon as we
got there, we looked up our old friend Chuck Millican, against whom
we used to compete in 470's many years ago. He was the Bermudan
Olympic Sailing Coach but has retired from that post, and now runs
a custom embroidery shop in Hamilton. Chuck immediately hooked Rob
up with the local Laser fleet, and as a result Rob spent two Sundays
racing Lasers, in the Frostbite
series. The venue is Hamilton Harbour, and both days the wind blew
25+ knots with 45-degree shifts. Rob was up and down (literally),
placing in the top 5 several times but also failing to finish a
couple of races. The post-race socializing as good, as always in
the sailing world.
One of Bermuda's
charms is its interesting juxtaposition of cultures and climes:
the British traditions, the proximity of American pop culture, and
tropical exuberance. For example, almost every house has a very
English traditional formal garden with paths and hedges or fences.
But the flowers are hibiscus, orchids and lilies rather than roses,
the boundaries bougainvillea instead of hedge, and the fences are
limestone or coral walls instead of granite walls. And of course
the houses are all stucco in vivid colors or more subdued pastels.
All the roofs are white and
step-tiered, to provide a natural method of gathering rainwater
into mandated cisterns. The abundance of all the white roofs lends
a consistency and brightness to the wonderful green of the island
One rainy Monday
we enjoyed a "traditional skirling
ceremony" at Fort Hamilton at noon. The Royal Bermuda Pipe Band
marches in full Scottish
regalia (kilts, plaids, etc.), and performs traditional Scottish
tunes and marches. Under the date palms. They conclude with their
rendition of some calypso tunes, but the only one we could make
out was "Mary Ann." We've heard steel drum bands play "Danny Boy,"
and have to say that the musical translation seems to work better
history, Bermuda has had to deal with the issue of how closely to
tie itself to America. The American influence is everywhere, but
never seems to overwhelm the local culture. We watched Monday night
football at a local bar this week, but one is equally likely to
find soccer or cricket on TV or as the topic of sports conversations.
This is definitely
not a third world country, and prides itself on being different
from the "manana" atmosphere of the Caribbean. But that attitude
does creep in, and there are aspects of life here that are reminiscent
of "the islands." The telephones, for example. You cannot place
a call to the US without using an operator. Of course, all you have
to do is tell the operator that you want to use an XYZ calling card
and she connects you to the XYZ line, so she doesn't actually place
your call. This makes dialing 800 numbers impossible, so there are
companies whose service departments we can't reach because they
tried to make it easy for us by giving us 800 numbers!
Since the regular
sailing season is over, we haven't had the opportunity to see the
"fitted dinghy" racing. These are 14' sailboats that carry a crew
of six: 5 of them sail and one bails! There are now only 6 dinghies
on the island seriously racing, but serious is definitely the word
for it! Each is sponsored/owned by a syndicate, which spends more
than $10,000 a year. Each boat has a selection of masts, booms and
spinnaker poles (and, of course, suits of sails for each). Masts
can range from 24' to 48' high! Races start at a large tugboat which
has lines running fore and aft along its sides. Half of the dinghies
start on each side, at the stern, and hand-over-hand their way to
the bow where they then shove off and start to sail. Instead of
the traditional rule of starboard tack has right of way, when boats
meet, they both must tack away. This changes tactics considerably!
Another interesting rule is that it is only required to have one
person aboard at the finish. Apparently, on the final leg all unused
gear is thrown over, and in light air, crew members run to the stern
and dive off with as much thrust as they can generate. Lest one
worry that this is a dying sport with just 6 boats, we understand
that the spectator fleet frequently numbers in the hundreds, and
they are very knowledgeable, following the races without interfering
with the racers. Sounds fascinating! We want to come back in the
summer to see this.
The week after
we arrived, St. Georges was awarded World Heritage Site status by
the U.N., joining a prestigious group of sites that include the
Statue of Liberty and the Great Barrier Reef. St. George's was founded
in 1609 as a result of a shipwreck by settlers bound for Jamestown,
VA, and still features 17th-century buildings built along narrow
cobblestone streets. (The shipwreck provided the inspiration for
Shakespeare's "The Tempest.") The settlers, by the way, built a
smaller ship from the remains of their old one, supplemented by
local cedar, and made it to Jamestown. But a number of crew members
returned to found this little nation/colony. We think they may have
gotten the better part of the deal!