March 21, 2011

St. Barts field trip

We're back from our Sea Dream cruise and, despite my fear of water, I had an excellent time.

I did sleep with my life jacket on the floor next to the bed, and I'd reach down periodically during the night to touch it for reassurance. We had some stomach-churning bumps and rolls the second night, but otherwise the waters were calm. The gallons of champagne I consumed during the voyage helped dull my fear. I was beginning to grow sea legs by the fifth day, but by then it was time to go home, so I'll have to grow new ones if I ever go out on the ocean again.

Almost all of the cruise's optional activities involved water, so I participated in none. Instead, I'd go ashore for some terra firma exploration in one of the tenders that were always available to ferry Sea Dream's guests to and from the ship.

I bumped into a lot of schoolkids on my shoreside forays. In Cruz Bay on St. John I watched kids file out of the elementary school at day's end, the older kids in purple and black uniforms, younger ones in black shorts and yellow t-shirts. They walked home in orderly pairs, a big brother or sister sometimes holding a younger sibling's hand. Down at the Cruz Bay ferry dock, uniformed teenagers disembarked from the boat that brought them home from their high school on nearby St. Thomas.

On St. Barts, a department of France where the currency is the euro, the language French and the license plates the blue and gold of the European Union, I watched kids at the Ecole Maternelle de Gustavia at recess and marveled that their school's backyard was gorgeous Shell Beach, a powdery strand in a Caribbean cove sheltered by high headlands. No asphalt jungle gyms. Just sun, sand, shells and seaglass.

I climbed a path up the headlands and came upon a class from the Ecole Maternelle on a field trip. A docent from St. Barts' nature conservancy was explaining the richness of the island's flora. "There are so many plants here that are useful, that are like medicines," she said in French to her intent audience, some of whom leaned in to hear every word. "It is like a pharmacy. But today people don't know about these plants. The knowledge is lost. To learn about what is here, go to the library. Or ask your grandparents. They know."

(And a shout-out here to the Sea Dream staff and crew: You guys rock.)