Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Chuck Dreams of Rock Cottage in Antigua


        Chuck had another fantasy.

It seems he’d come to Antigua with two dreams--to meet Eric Clapton, his hero, and to stay at Rock Cottage.

Now, Rock Cottage, is a premo cottage located in Blue Waters, the resort that Bob and I were staying at while we were in Antigua.

Surrounded on three sides by the Carribean Seas, it is very private, sequestered far away from the villas and rooms of Blue Waters. It sports an elegant pool, a secluded beach, a hot tub, multiple sun decks, open balconies with beautiful water views, a private bar and dining area, full kitchen--everything the visiting traveler could want to relax and be happy.

Chuck wanted that experience.

He wanted to be pampered and surrounded by quiet and beauty.

So here we were, thoroughly enjoying ourselves in our villa when Chuck lowered the boom.  

Rock Cottage.  

Since we were not part of the rich and famous set and couldn’t afford to actually stay there, he at least wanted to see it and pretend for a brief moment, well, life was different and that he was more than just “almost famous.”

At first, I objected, but Chuckie is hard to resist when he puts on that face.

So, one morning after breakfast, we trekked up the magnificent path that leads to this cottage.  Our intention was to get a look-see inside.  Unfortunately, Rock Cottage prohibits pets and the cottage was closed for renovations so we had two problems that needed solving.  

The path we followed was flanked on either side by greenery and beautiful flowers.  We gazed out to our right--to the dazzling Caribbean water shining brightly in the sun.  Bob said, “We’ll just have to do what we always do--we’ll stuff the kid in your smart bag and sneak him past the workers.”

So Chuck went into my bag, and Bob and I put on our best charming faces and somehow wheedled our way through the impressive stone archway, up the steps and into Rock Cottage. 

Luckily, the men were busy working outside so we had the chance to walk around and see the inside.  Chuck hopped out and began to sniff around.
Yeah, we were taking a chance.  Any minute someone could spot him, but after his disappointment in not meeting Eric Clapton, I didn’t have the heart to say no.
         And then I lost sight of him.

        I was intrigued with this wonderful place and imagined what it would be like to stay here for a week or two.

        My mind was filled with images of delicious meals and sunbathing on the deck.  Suddenly, I snapped back to reality in a panic.

        Where was Chuck?

Bob grabbed my arm.  “Look. Look what the kid is doing now.”

I glanced outside the cottage. There was Chuck, laying on the deck, in the sunshine, gazing out to the Caribbean Sea.  Oh, brother.  He looked like he belonged there. 

“Just give him a minute,” Bob said.

Chuck got his minute.  And then we quietly went back to our villa. 

I supposed that night that Chuck, the “almost famous” cat, dreamed of Rock Cottage and maybe becoming “famous” one day.    


Sunday, January 20, 2013

"Cool Cat" Chuck Longs To Meet Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton in Barcelona in 1974 courtesy of Wikipedia

           Ever since we adopted Chuck, we’d called him the “rascal cat,” the “chuckster,” and even at times, the “bad boy,” because this orange and white tabby we took in as an “almost feral cat” seemed to have a knack for getting into trouble.  
Nothing serious, mind you, but when Molly is hiding under the bed afraid to come out or Stanley is in the hallway growling, we know that Chuck has been there and done something to rile them up.
Yeah, he’s cute and yeah he’s smart, but he’ll also go to the limit at times to be an “all play and no work” cat. 
As we continued to tour around Antigua, Chuck had the attitude that we were on vacation.  He appreciated the beautiful beaches and the delicious food.  He was on the “lookout” for other cats.  
And this is where things got ugly.  
Chuck, for the first time in a long time, had done his homework.  He’d researched Antigua and discovered that his idol lived and worked here.  Chuck, otherwise known as “the cool cat” --at least in his mind AND as my husband was fond of saying -- Chuck was a legend in his own mind -- had discovered that Eric Clapton had a home on Antigua. He owned a mansion in the most beautiful and wild part of Antigua.  And Chuck wanted to see the house and possibly meet the man.  
Now, talk about an impossible dream.
Meet Eric Clapton?
Are you kidding me?
      And why, you may ask?
Well, “cool cat” Chuck is into rock ‘n roll.  Some of his favorite music harkened back to the tunes that Clapton played way back when.  We’re talking about the beautiful “Layla.”  We’re talking about Cream.  And the Yardbirds.  And Derek and the Dominoes.  
The kid just loves Clapton's music. 
My plan, on the other hand, was to enlighten Chuck with historical information.  We were on Antigua, and I wanted him to know something about the island’s history. 

The port, known as Nelson's Dockyard, is now an historic site.
       For example, I knew that during the 18th Century, Antigua was used as the headquarters by the British Royal Navy’s Caribbean fleet.  Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson commanded the fleet.  The port the English used was a sheltered and well-protected deep water port.   

This port is still a popular port for boats, even today.
  Today it’s an historical landmark, and that’s what I wanted Chuck to see.
Almond, the owner and operator of Pelican Safari -- www.pelicansafair.com  -- took us first to the port itself so that we could see up close and personal the historic buildings that surrounded the U shaped inlet where the ships were kept.

        Now, of course, those buildings are museums or restaurants, but still we listened and tried to imagine people living there over two hundred years ago.  Chuck, on the other hand, looked at the beautiful boats and yachts in the water.  
We then left the port and traveled the road that journeyed up the mountain, way up the mountain.  Our final destination were the cliffs that peered down on the port. Back in the eighteenth century, this is where the English Navy placed their canyon, aimed down at the entranceway of the port.  
Any ship naive enough to sail into the port without permission would face the wrath of the British canyon.  

Juet one of the many canon that used to line the cliff, overlooking the port.

It was a perfect set up.  The inlet protected the British Navy not only from foreign ships but also from harsh weather.  

The U shape of the port gave it protection from both the weather and invading ships.
But Chuck wasn’t interested in the history nor in the magnificent views. He didn’t want to hear any stories of battles.
He had eyes for only one thing.  
Eric Clapton’s mansion.
If you stand on the very edge of the cliffs, with the wind howling behind you, and squint as you gaze down, you might be able to make out his house, which looked to me to be all boarded up.  
But Chuck didn’t care.  He was gazing on the house of his hero. 

The buildings you see in the distance comprise the home of famed guitarist Eric Clapton

He listened intently as Almond explained that Clapton not only lived on Antigua but he’d also started a rehab facility in 1998 on the island called Crossroads Centre.  Chuck had that look of longing in his eyes.
I knew what he wanted.
“Is there any chance of meeting him?” I finally asked Almond. “I’m a big fan,” I said.
Almond smiled.  “Well.  Actually he’s not on the island at the moment.”
Chuck’s dreams were dashed.  
The only thing he could take solace in was that he’d seen his house -- from a distance.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chuck Almost Meets the "Pineapple Queen" of Antigua

Beautiful Clemie, the "pineapple queen" of Antigua

Chuck was in love, or so I thought.  He sat quictly in the back of the van, gazing out the window, and I thought it best to leave the kid alone.  

        Let him “moon” about Lady on his own.  

With Almond Peters at the wheel, our trusty tour guide, from Pelican Safari (www.pelicansafari.com)  we began moving in the direction of the Rainforest on Antigua.  This was one thing I wanted to see, a lush tropical forest, which has remained the most natural part of the island.  Luckily, the rainforest was not destroyed during the many years after the island was “discovered” in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and named “Antigua.”  

In 1632 a group of English colonists established the first settlement there and soon Antigua became a profitable sugar colony and Britain’s “Gateway to the Caribbean.” Eventually, however, malnutrition and and slavery destroyed the native population.  In 1807 slavery was abolished and all the slaves were emancipated in 1834.   
     Before reaching the Rainforest, we made a pitstop at Almond’s favorite fruit and vegestable stand: Clemie’s Fruits and Vegetables.  

If you are ever in Antigua, please stop by and pay Clemie a visit.

Clemie, who Almond called the “pineapple queen,” owned and operated this stand for many years.  She lived across the street and made her living selling the fruits and vegetables she grew to the motorists who passed by.  As a special treat, she cut up some fresh fruit for us--papaya and banana and pineapple and coconut, and we ate it off a plate with a toothpick.  Antiguan style!  

It was simply delicious.  

This fruit had not been refrigerated or shipped half way across the world.  It literally had been picked off a tree, walked across a street, and then cut up seconds before we popped it in our mouths.  It couldn’t have been fresher and tastier.  

Imagine us--talking to Clemie, taking in the atmosphere of the place, enjoying the fruit. 

Almond agreed to pose, holding some of Clemie's fruit, near her stand.

And that’s when disaster almost happened.

By accident, we’d left the back door of the van open, and Chuckie, who normally is a bit shy about jumping out of vans--jumped out.  He landed on the grass along the side of the road.  Now, usually, he would have been totally freaked out . . . but he began to sniff around and I guess forgot for a moment that he was in Antigua and not home in his own back yard.

        Also, I guess he was “over” Lady and his own curiosity got the best of him.

Clemie just happened to look out from her stand and she spotted him.

Clemie herself, at her stand, doing what she loves best 

“Look at that cat,” she screamed.

I heard the word cat, and knew in less than a second, it could be none other than the Chuckster himself, making an appearance.  

But should I admit that “that cat” was my cat?  

“He’s a handsome devil.”

“Probably a stray,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” she said.  “He looks too . . .”

And I waited for her to come up with the word.   Well fed?  Plump? Fat?  But, luckily, Clemie was distracted, never got a chance to finish her thought, and I hustled over to Chuck, who had been staring up at Clemie, and now--oh, so calmly--had discovered an old decaying coconut on the ground and was investigating this rock solid ball like structure.  

I hoisted the kid back into the van.  “Are you kidding me?”

Chuck let out a big yawn and nestled on the back seat, where I quickly covered him with my sweater.  I wasn’t quite sure how Almond would react to having a cat on tour with him.   He’s a super nice guy, and he admitted himself to having dogs and cats.  But some people are finicky about cats on tour.
Soon we walked over and said our goodbyes to Clemie.

“Now where did that orange and white cat--” 

       “Oh, I think he ran across the street,” I said, telling a little white lie.

And we continued our tour of Antigua.  


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chuck Meets His True Love at Antigua's Darkwood Beach

Darkwood Beach in Antigua in all its glory

           But had Chuck really changed?

How many of us make New Year’s resolutions--quite sincerely--only to break those very resolutions--just days later?

Not that I believed that salamanders on Antigua were in any real danger from Chuck.  But the heart of the resolution that Chuck had made centered on being better behaved--showing respect for others.  

We could only wait to see if our rascal cat had learned his lesson.

We were only visiting Antigua for a week, but one of the things we were eager to do was tour the island, get to know the people, and see the sights so we hired a guide to take us around.  

The best tour guide on Antigua . . . his name was Almond Peters and he was the founder/owner of Pelican Safari : www.pelicansafari.com

           He picked us up at our villa and took us around the island--showing us not just the usual touristy sites, but introducing us to the local people so that we could get a feel for the island.

Chuck, of course, came along -- peering out the back window of the van, mesmerized by the sights and sounds of this beautiful island.  

Our first real stop was Darkwood Beach.  Now Antigua has over 365 beaches on the island, one for every day of the year, but Almond said this was his favorite.  He declared this beach to be the most beautiful of all the beaches on Antigua.  We stepped out of the van and couldn’t believe how pristine white the sand on the beach was, how greenish blue the water was, how crystal clear the sky overhead was.  The place seemed almost surreal.  

The white sand, the blue green water, the perfect sky

Now I’m a Jersey girl and I’m used to the Jersey shore, but nothing on the Jersey coast can compare with Darkwood Beach.  

The gentle waves slosh onto the beach

I was almost afraid to blink.  Was it some kind of fantastic illusion created that would disappear if I broke my concentration?

But, no, it was real enough.

There's a restaurant with a bathroom and changing area

That visit to Darkwood Beach was my first clue to the magic of Antigua.  The beauty of the island can seduce you into wanting to live there permanently.  

Almond wasn’t just a terrific tour guide--in that he knew everyone and knew all the facts and figures of the island--he also was an interesting person.  He’d had the opportunity to live in the United States.  In fact, he’d spent time in New York City, working construction, but although the economic opportunities were greater in the states, he’d chosen Antigua because he felt his life style would be better. 
As I sat on the beach and gazed out over the water, I was beginning to understand his decision.

Rustic but also convenient and if you miss the tourists who arrive from the cruise ships, you can have the beach all to yourself . . . 

          And I guess you can say I was so mesmerized by the beauty of my surroundings, I forgot for a moment that Chuck, the rascal cat, was with us.  Now Bob is a beach person, too, but not as much as I am.  He can't sit for hours the way I can and just gaze out at the horizon.  He's a bit more restless.  And, Chuck, well, he was a bit picky when it came to putting his paws onto the sand.  

          Chuck loves the New Jersey beaches because, well, there are always interesting things washing up on shore.  Here, the beach was so pristine there was nothing but sand.  Well . . . almost nothing because I saw Chuck become instantly focused--not on the water or the sand but on the restaurant behind us, and the buildings which lay just off to the left.  There were bathrooms and changing areas.  And . . .

         Chuck saw her before I did it and before I could issue my usual warning about interacting with an Antiguan cat, Chuck took off across the sandy area toward the restaurant, past it to that very area.  

         Cat fight?

         But no.  Luckily, this little beauty was more a lover than a fighter.  Chuck stopped a respectable distance away and then proceeded more slowly.  Eventually the two of them moved closer together and after the requisite amount of sniffing, Chuck sat down next to her.  

         Had Chuck made a friend?

         I thought this was truly remarkable until I approached this exquisite brown and white tabby, and she began to purr.  

         One of the guys from the restaurant explained, "She's Lady.  She lives here."

         Of course.  Thankfully, not a stray cat.  And when I looked at her more closely, she did have a rather regal air about her.  

         "Well, Lady, you certainly do have a beautiful home."

         We could have been in  garage for all Chuck noticed.  He was happy and content.  The waves sloshed on the beach.  The sun shined.  The breeze blew, but Chuck had eyes only for Lady.  

         We stayed for awhile until it was time to go.  Reluctantly, Chuck purred goodbye and climbed back into the van.   Heart broken??  He's a handsome cat.  Cat in every port???  Almost.   Such a rascal.