Lost and Found
Have you ever lost something while travelling? I have. My grad ring in a hotel room. Pearl earrings on the shelf of a houseboat. A raincoat and favourite hat after diving with great whites. My stuff. Inconveniencing no one. The day I lost the basket to the coffee pot while sailing into Virgin Gorda…that was a little different. I’d committed a party foul and I needed to fix it. Not a huge deal. But what would have been an uneventful errand at home became a charming side-step into the closeness of island life.
We only have a few standing rules on the sailboat. Watch out for one another. Do the job you’re assigned. And the first person up makes coffee. That’s never me. I’m typically the second to last cup of that initial pot. Meaning, I don’t empty it or start the next one. It’s not that I’m shirking responsibility, it just always works out that way.
On that morning, I’d grabbed a mug from the cupboard and wrapped my hands around the handle of our coffee pot. Lifting it from the counter, I could tell it was light. Enough left for one cup. Mine. I poured, added a splash of bailey’s and placed it on the table thinking I’d give the pot a quick clean before sitting down.
Here’s the process. The coffee grounds go overboard. Then you do a quick ocean rinse before washing it in the galley sink. I walked to the back of the boat and down the stairs. The sails were up and we were moving fast, so I knelt down and braced myself against the ladder. Looping one hand through the railing, I held the pot over the water and tipped it upside down, watching the grounds fall out. But the basket went with them. Right into the ocean.
It was a rookie move. I didn’t know it was a separate piece that sat inside. Unattached. And now, it was sinking. I had two options. Go in after it – or start my apology tour. If I jumped, they’d have to drop the sails and come back for me. It would take almost an hour. In open water. With sharks. Let the sea keep it, and I’d be the subject of intense scorn by this time tomorrow. Honestly, the sharks almost won, but I’d hesitated, and it was already gone. The choice was made. I would be taking an unplanned field trip.
After navigating the reef and dropping anchor, the shore party loaded into the dinghy. Three would go for ice and I would go find a new coffee pot. Failure was not an option.
As islands go, Virgin Gorda is on the bigger side. With a population close to 4,000, it’s known for a labyrinth of beachside boulders called the Baths that draw tourists to the Caribbean each year. You’ll find hundreds of boats along its’ coast. People flood the marina’s, but rarely go further. Everything they need is right there, stores dot the beach. They sell milk and fruit, sunscreen, band-aids, the things we run out of while travelling. Coffee pots do not fit into that list. I had to go inland.
Asking around, I learned there was a bus that circled the island. It could take me to the store. The one store. Finding that bus meant walking a few blocks inward, away from the ocean. And like most places, the trappings of tourism quickly fall away when you leave the trail. The airiness of the beach gave way to a thick, green canopy punctured by sunlight. Cars trickled by, but there were no signs pointing towards town or a stop where I should wait. It didn’t matter. When the bus went by, it was obvious. You just had to wave your arms and it stopped.
If you’re imagining the standard yellow variety, you are way off. It was a red pick-up truck with wooden bench seats and a striped vinyl roof. The driver leaned out the window and pointed to a step at the back. I didn’t know how long it would take or even where I was headed, but at least I was seated – in the bed of a pickup hurtling down the highway.
Our first turn took us off the main road. Still paved, but narrow and lined with homes. The next one was down an alley. We stopped about halfway down. And waited. Minutes ticked by with just the sound of the engine. But then a woman emerged from the house, smiled and waved to the driver. They said their hello’s and then she climbed in the back and joined me.
We stopped four more times. Picked up half a dozen people. They would chat with the driver. Sometimes there were hugs, awkwardly exchanged through the window. Other times, just handshakes. And then they would join me in the back. I could tell by the looks on their faces that foreigners were few, so I’d introduce myself and explain where I was headed. They were curious and very sweet. It was like being along for the ride in someone else’s family car. The Caribbean Griswold’s.
I’d neglected to ask how far away the store was. Or how long it would take to get there. Not that it would have mattered. I was on island time and absolutely no one is in a rush. I don’t even think there’s a schedule. When we eventually arrived, the store didn’t disappoint. It was small, with floor to ceiling windows so cluttered you couldn’t distinguish one product from another. If there wasn’t a coffee pot among the lot, I wouldn’t find one anywhere else on the island.
The shelves were silver. Racks rising high above my head. They were stuffed with boxes. Every small appliance you’d expect. All I needed was that one piece, the basket, but there wasn’t a section or really much hope that there would be an Amazon-like list of available parts. Nor would it a solo shopping experience. The time spent browsing the aisles. The owner emerged from behind the counter to help. We discussed my predicament. He thought about his inventory. And then together we ventured into a back corner where I spied what I was after. We smiled at one another. Problem solved. I was victorious. Our boat would be the proud owner of a brand spanking new moka pot.
Invented by an Italian engineer in 1933, the hexagonal stove-top maker is iconic and widely available around the world. I recognized it immediately. A staple in every camping box or cabin I’d ever experienced. Come to think of it, I’m adding one to my zombie apocalypse survival kit right now. And the best bit…the basket for grounds is in the middle. You have to unscrew the base to get it out. There was no chance I’d lose it. Again.
With my purchase safely tucked away, I wandered out to the street to catch a return ride. I hailed the next bus to pass and hopped in. People got in and made small talk while we bounced softly down the dirt alleyways. In navigating the network of alleys that criss-crossed the community, side by side in the bed of a pick-up truck, we’d become neighbours. Maybe even friends. I realized that there’s something to be said for slowing things down. Spending time with strangers. Savouring the mundane as much as you do the extraordinary. Be it daily errands or that next cup of coffee. In my journey to replace what was lost, something else was found.