After a long week out on the unpredictable Atlantic, Bermuda’s craggy shores were a glorious sight to behold. The island enveloped us as we wound around coral heads and miniature islands with single trees upon them. This maze led us from the raging ocean swells to the calm, smooth-as-glass bay of St. George harbor. From the moment I laid eyes upon it, I noticed Bermuda was an eclectic blend of the two places I knew and loved; Maine and the Caribbean. Stately Bermuda cedars and majestic palms mingled harmoniously. Even the water was a mix of the two. Caribbean turquoise combined with the steely blue-grey of Maine to make a shade of bright teal. The architecture was the only thing that was purely tropical in style. Every house was painted a pastel hue with neatly manicured lawns. The entire island was immaculate.
I could not sit and gawk at the tidy shore for very long, for we had to go in to the customs dock, as it is a requirement for all vessels. Or so we thought. We puttered around in line behind five other boats, waiting our turn. Although the rough seas had been kept out by Bermuda’s surrounding coral heads, the winds went right over the relatively flat island. The wind swirled around unpredictably in the small, crowded cove, making maneuvering extremely difficult. We all frantically scurried around, throwing and catching lines, adjusting bumpers, and fending off the boat. All the while, a customs official with a clip board stood in the background, watching us scrambling to keep our boat from crashing into things. It didn’t even occur to him to try and help us. This was probably the most hectic docking experience we’ve ever had, and it was all for naught. After everything was secured, and we had cleared customs we found out it wasn’t necessary for us to come into the dock, as we had been told before. Our first experience with Bermuda hadn’t been the greatest, but all those that would follow would more than make up for it.
The island exuded an old-world, colonial charm, unlike anything I had seen before. The stately churches of all shapes and sizes and numerous forts were only the tip of the iceberg. Just beyond the dinghy dock in St. George was a traditional town courtyard, complete with a beautiful old church and even stocks. Stocks are a device through which the neck, arms and occasionally legs that was once used for punishment, and is now used for tourist photo-ops. Everything was extremely well maintained and looked almost as it would have a few hundred years ago.
One of the many attractions of Bermuda is that it pulls visitors right into the past. A few times a week sightseers can watch, or even take part in, a public dunking put on by the Town Crier and the Town Gossip. Both in period dress, the town crier clangs his bell and yells the traditional “Hear Yee, Hear Yee,” and people instinctively flock to him. The Crier picks people randomly out of the crowd and accuses them of such crimes as being drunk and disorderly or dressing in more colorful attire than the Town Crier. He even has signs to hang around the people’s necks, labeling them “drunk”, “nag”, or “public nuisance”, and on-looking relatives generally take advantage of this photo-op. After he’s done good-naturedly humiliating a few tourists he moves on to the Town Gossip. In colonial times, gossiping and nagging was a punishable offense, and a public dunking was one of the milder punishments used back then. The two of them banter back and forth and spit out clever lines at each other. It all ends with the woman getting dunked into the harbor on this peculiar dunking stool, which is basically a long board with a seat on the end. While this is now all fun and games to us now, it was strange to think that criminals, or victims depending upon how you look at it, actually took part in such dunking, or were sentenced to stand in the stocks for any number of days, depending upon the crime.
Another link to Bermuda’s past we experienced was Fort St. Catherine. Bermuda’s first settlers had actually been shipwrecked sailors, and the site of this fort was where they first made landfall. This fort, in addition to being a major stronghold, is also a museum, giving a wealth of information about Bermuda. Dioramas highlighting the island’s turbulent past, rooms filled with various artifacts, and even the British Crown Jewels in replica were all exquisitely displayed. The dingy underground passageways of the fort were the perfect place for tourists to learn of George, the Fort St. Catherine ghost. At one time, so many eerie, unexplained occurrences had happened at the fort that officials actually had the fort exorcised. The built-in sound effects in these dark chambers encouraged the mind to wander and wonder. Is he really gone?
Fort St. Catherine was not the only place on Bermuda that had underground passageways. In fact, the whole island is practically hollow. Throughout the entire island below ground is a mass of glittering caves. As we descended into the earth we began to hear the soft ping ping sound of dripping water echoing throughout the cavern. Each droplet has seeped though the earth and picked up various minerals from the soil. When the minerals from the droplets accumulate for thousands of years stalactites and stalagmites form. Light shimmers off of the stalactites dangling from the roof of the cave and stalagmites jutting up from the ground, ranging in size from those no wider than a pencil to those as fat as a baby elephant. Some caves even have underground lakes. One had an expansive body of water 55 feet deep with massive stalagmites looming in the motionless water like the skeletons of ships, creating an otherworldly effect.
Originally, we had only planned on staying in Bermuda for a couple of days, but we ended up staying much longer because of the weather. This has been an all too frequently recurring predicament throughout our entire trip. Bermuda was great, but by now we were all rather anxious to get back to Maine. Home was only a week away, but we kept experiencing delay after delay. As soon as one nasty front had cleared another one would come up right behind it. So here we were, stuck in Bermuda. Our friends and relatives were incredibly unsympathetic. The weather was often nasty and we were unable to leave the boat for days. All we could do was wait for the weather, and wait and wait and wait.