Just to state more of the obvious, it does also rain in the Caribbean. When it does, the storm is strong and harsh, often disappearing as suddenly as it arrives. It was during one such downpour, just over a year ago, that I experienced one of my most surreal moments since joining ships.
In St. Maarten, as is the case in so many cruise ship ports, discovering a world the tourists miss is as simple as turning right where most turn left. On this day I moved away from the crowds, favouring the road less travelled by. I wandered aimlessly through the residential streets, winding up in an area that appeared to have the population density of an urban centre combined with the odd farm animal in someone’s yard. The buildings were in various states of disarray and the wary glances of their inhabitants reminded me that the rest of the tourists had gone the other way.
I found a great view of cliffs and ocean from atop a pile of rubble I assume had once been a house. I spent the next hour intermittently reading in the Caribbean sun and photographing the waves as they crashed on the rocks. I was looking through the lens, impressed with the height the waves were gaining, when I realized that the sky had suddenly gone quite dark. I shot only a couple more frames before packing away the camera, but it was too late. The dark clouds were rolling in rapidly and I could already see the rain across the bay.
The only shelter in sight was a tree… a rather stunted and bare one at that. I made my way toward it in a gentle hurry, hoping to beat the storm but still meaning to look confident to the eyes I could feel watching me. I really don’t mind being drenched by tropical rain, in fact I usually enjoy it, but the camera is somewhat less of a water-baby.
By the time the clouds broke, I had made it to my tree. As the rain increased in both force and volume, my shelter seemed to provide very little shelter at all. Ever concerned for the camera, I dropped to a crouch with the bag between my feet and wondered what my observers thought of me now.
If you’re thinking that waiting out a torrential downpour by crouching under a bald tree is an odd way to spend an afternoon in St Maarten, we think alike. I remember considering the absurdity of the moment and wondering, as I often do, how I would write about it someday. Still, I thought, the scene held nothing truly uncommon. Then I saw the chicken.
Running toward me and my tree was a loose chicken, occasionally flapping its wings as though momentarily forgetting it couldn’t fly. I turned to look around, trying to figure out where it might be headed. With no apparent change in course I realized we were destined to share the tree. It settled in comfortably beside me, the two of us gazing out from under our damp shelter.
Then came the dog. Hungry and damp, he marched under our tree with neither introduction nor apology, shoving the chicken a little closer to me as he took his seat. I glanced over, strangely obliged to be sure he was as well covered as any of us. He cocked his head at me for a moment before staring blankly back out at the rain with the chicken.
And finally came the goat. He trotted toward us, skipping over the rivers that had formed on the road, then took up his position on my other side.
The four of us huddled under that small tree for perhaps twenty minutes before the rain died down. I was struck by the peace, the silent understanding that we were in the same predicament with a single solution that would work only as long as we all got along. The spell was broken by the end of the storm when, as if on cue, the animals stood to go their separate ways. The dog even nipped at the chicken for a few paces as if to remind it that the rules of the food chain were back in place now.
I pulled out of my uncomfortable crouch, but I stayed under the tree a few moments longer considering my odd shelter-mates. I wished then that I had risked the camera to take a picture. I mean, come on… who in their right mind would believe my story without seeing photos?