Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mugged (not smug)

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to the Windies (which, incidentally, were not actually that windy at all - why not the Sunnies?). Anyway, I spent 3 nights in Barbados and 2 nights in St. Lucia.

Smug? Well, I might ordinarily have been, a little... except that this holiday was not quite as I expected. The beaches were stunning, the weather was gorgeous, the hotels were lovely - but as for my time there? Well, let's just say it was...eventful.

First of all, I foolishly got very badly sunburnt on my first day, which was followed by an excrutiating night during which my aloe vera-ed legs stuck to the sheets and needed to be torn off inch by inch, resulting in a pain so extreme it made me look back on my last bikini wax with a fondness I usually reserve for cute boys with cupcakes.

Second of all, there was the vomiting. All the vomiting. I was sick in the air, I was sick in the sea, and I was sick in the bus depot at Bridgetown (do NOT recommend).

Not quite the glamorous, sun-kissed look I was going for - more lobster pink body topped with pasty, sweating face grimacing between heaves. Sexy times!

And thirdly, the cherry in my Banana Daiquiri: I think I got mugged in Soufrière. I say "think" because I'm still not entirely sure what happened; all I know is that I ended up handing over 60 Eastern Carribbean Dollars to a local who told me his name was 'Isaac'. I prefer 'Dodgy F*cker' thanks, or DoFo for short.

He was already hustling us through the window of our mini-van as we pulled up to the ramshackle town, saying he would take me on a tour and telling my boyfriend don't worry, don't worry, he would look after me, and to make sure I had enough money for the day. Alarm bells should have been ringing at that point, but I am so ridiculously naive that I always expect people to be well-intentioned and am unfailingly disappointed on the odd occassion they turn out not to be. As my boyfriend and driver took off so he could hike the Gros Piton (not that I'm blaming him or anything), I was abandoned left behind willingly in a very shabby run-down town, alone with a skinny and poorly dressed man in his late thirties - just us and a couple of chickens scratching around a neighbourhood back street that had a sorry air of neglect to it.

It scares me a lot more now that I reflect on it. At the time, I was feeling a little vulnerable to be left on my own in a strange and not particularly nice place, so I was happy to be in the hands of a local who was promising to show me around (I believe that people are mostly good, remember). As he led me away from the main streets - I didn't realise this until later, for the moment I had no points of reference to tell me otherwise - he pointed out 'sights' that included such highlights as: a woman selling coconut cookies by the side of the road, an abandoned estate, a hummingbird. As we made our way further away from the centre of town, he was reduced to pointing out trees and shacks, all while keeping up a stream of heavily accented babble which I had to concentrate to understand. I made positive but non-committal noises, wondering how long I would have to walk around with him before I could politely take my leave and figure out where the hell I was.

Damn my stupid, obliging, subservient politeness. It really doesn't serve me well in situations like this.

Eventually, after about twenty awkward minutes, the 'tour' ground to a halt and DoFo demanded 100 ECD - all the money I had in my wallet. My jaw dropped. At this point, I still didn't realise I was being mugged, if you can believe that. I thought he literally expected me to pay him 100 ECD for his crappy tour. I said something like "100 EC? But it cost us 80 to get all the way here from Castries!", about a 1.5 hour journey. He insisted, his tone darkening. I quickly re-counted the bills in my wallet, buying time while I decided what to do. Despite my ludicrous naivety, I realised what a nightmarish proposition it was to be left alone in this dreadful and possibly unsafe place with no money. I needed water, and food, and possibly an escape route. So I stood my ground, and decided that I could reasonably give him 60 and be OK with only 40 left in my wallet for the day. I said shakily, "I'll give you 60". He was getting jumpy by this stage, not looking me in the eye and hassling me in a low voice, asking hadn't I enjoyed the tour? And he must have 100, it was worth 100, give me a hundred. I gave him 60 and started walking away, in the direction of where the mini-bus dropped me off. He came after me and insisted that 70 was the only reasonable amount, he would take 70, 70 was a good price, but 60, no. I just kept saying 'sorry, no' as he trailed me, and eventually he gave up and took off, muttering darkly to himself.

Relaying this story to a St. Lucia travel agent who approached us with a questionaire in the airport, she said, eyes wide, "You were robbed!" and I realised that yes, actually, I was. I didn't realise it at the time - I even joked about having 'survived' Soufrière when my boyfriend (finally) arrived to pick me up - but I was well and truly mugged, for the first time in my life. And I'm so daft I didn't even realise it until after it happened.

Makes for an interesting cautionary tale, no?

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