It’s basically summer (summer starts for me the last day of classes!). That means it’s time for my annual mega trip! And I was ready to mix it up a bit. For summer 2016, I did one long housesit in Costa Rica. For summer 2017, I did a long housesit in Malaysia, but went to Singapore, Greece, Italy, and Sweden as well. For summer 2018, I did a whirlwind European tour interspersed with a few short sits- 10 countries in 3 months. For summer 2019, I wanted to do something totally different. I knew I didn’t want a trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flight. And I knew I didn’t want to do one long housesit. Normally, my travel plans start at TrustedHousesitters.com. This year, I skipped THS in lieu of a new site- Workaway.info. The premise of this site is that you work for people around the world in exchange for accommodations. There are tons of things like “build our house with your own bare hands out of sustainable wood you cut and mill from our property!!” or “check in guests, prepare meals, and clean our hostel with a toothbrush in exchange for a bed in a 10 person dorm!”. Uh, yeah. Manual labor really isn’t my gig. Plus, I’m not really keen on taking away jobs that locals can/should be doing. So I thought I’d put my intellect and unique skills work. I started searching for workaways (preferably non-profits) where I could put my marine biology/teaching/researching/marketing talents to work. Enter Adopt A Coastline.
Adopt a Coastline is an organization that focuses on cleaning up the beaches of Antigua. They do this in several ways, including creating trash bins to place on the beach and educating and empowering the communities (especially youth) to become beach stewards and take care of their local beaches. Sounded like a great fit for me! I wrote the director, Jennifer, and she said she could use me in June! In exchange for a sweet little house right on the water in the fishing village of Seatons, I would be helping her with organizing reports for her UN grants, website work, and educational materials. I planned for June 4-27, and there it was…the first leg of my summer trip.
The next order of business was to find some other opportunities in the Caribbean, so back to the WorkAway site. And that’s when I found a housesit on the island of Guadeloupe! A French couple who are, get this, MARINE BIOLOGISTS, needed someone to watch their house and cat from July 4-25! Hey….I’m a house sitter AND a marine biologist! I knew I had a very good chance at getting this one! Wrote them a letter, we had a video chat, and as easy as that the second part of my Caribbean summer was finalized! Two months down, one to go!!
Next, I found a lodge in the El Yunque rainforest of Puerto Rico that was looking for volunteers. Now, I’m not going to clean rooms or anything like that, but I did send a proposal to create educational signage for their guests on their trails through the rainforest. They loved the idea, and we finalized (or so I thought…) dates for July 25-August 17. They even contacted a forest ranger who works in the rainforest who was willing to help me with plant identification. Perfect!! And with that, August was booked and my summer was set (or so I thought…). We had finalized all of that in February. I contacted them a few days ago to confirm, and they informed me that I had never sent them an airline ticket, so they had accepted other volunteers and had no room for me. I informed them that they had never even asked for a ticket to confirm. Oh well, whatever. It obviously wasn’t meant to be and something else will come along. So as of today, I do not have a ticket home and have no idea where I’m going or what I’m doing when the housesit ends on July 25. Stay tuned.
So I hopped a red eye flight out of LAX on June 4, quick layover in New York, then I was on my way to Antigua. Time for your first educational lesson of this blog. Antigua is pronounced An-TEE-guh. Not An-TEE-gwuh. You’re welcome. I wasn’t expecting much for a small island nation airport, but wow, it was really nice! And immigration was so easy and friendly! Jennifer picked me up in her 100% electrical van, we stopped and picked up a donation a local swim club was making to Adopt A Coastline, then headed toward the house. We stopped for groceries along the way. Thank god, because it was now after 4pm (1pm LA time), and all I had eaten since yesterday at about 7pm LA time was a snack size bag of chips and a snack size bag of Cheezits. I was STARVING. Jennifer just hopped out of the van, windows rolled down, and started walking in. I was like, “Um, my life for the next 3 months and my life period (laptop) are in the car. Shouldn’t we lock it up?” She said no, that’s not a problem here. What?! Everywhere in Central America you don’t leave anything unattended that you don’t intend to leave as a “gift”. Refreshing. I’m not 100% sure I trust that yet, but refreshing still. I picked up just a few things: some chicken, bag of rice, bag of beans, bananas, zucchini, canned tuna, and coconut cookies (a requirement for any vacation south of the border!). Scanned the soda shelves for my beloved maroon can, and nada. I knew that going in though. It’s the one thing I did research about this trip!! Bill- $20. Not dirt cheap, but not terrible either for a country that has to import everything.
We drove and talked until we reached the little fishing village of Seatons. Jennifer is quite the interesting character, and reminds me a lot of me- except she’s artsy and I’m well…nope. Jennifer pointed out a little convenience store and cafe that is within walking (or kayaking) distance of the house. Then we pulled down a long private driveway. I’m home! So secluded, with no neighbors right on top of me, and it is SUCH a cute little house! Oh my gosh…There are 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and living room, and a kitchen. It’s not fancy at all, just cute and functional. And it’s RIGHT ON THE WATER!! I’m in like a little mangrove cove, and Jennifer says I can take out the kayak, paddleboards, and even snorkel right from the yard!! WAAAAAAAAAAAAT?! #awesome
She showed me around the property with its cute little garden, gave me the pertinent information about how things operate, and left because it was almost dark and she needed to get home to walk her pup. And just like that, I was all alone, in a little fishing village called Seatons, on an island in the Caribbean. I seriously had never even looked Seatons up on a map. I had no idea if I was north, south, east, west. And I didn’t care. This trip is seriously a “let’s not really plan and just see what happens” kind of trip. Europe was planned to the hilt last year, because there was so much fast travel. Like I said, I’m mixing it up a bit this year!
First order of business, FOOD. Cooked a little chicken and rice. Ate outside and the mosquitoes are pretty bad here. They’ve been getting a lot of rain. Every time I travel somewhere tropical, I pack my mosquito spray. I never use it. Last night, I used it! It got dark, the frogs and crickets were putting on a concert, and I was ready for bed. Which of the 4 bedrooms shall I choose….hmmmm….. NONE OF THEM!! Because I didn’t mention the bestest part of this house. There’s a queen sized bed on the porch with a mosquito net!! So I climbed in, put on my sleep mask (research says sunrise is at 5:45am), and fell asleep to the sounds of nature.
I woke up several times last night, but always was able to go back to sleep immediately. It rained several times. Straight down and HARD! But I slept for 9 hours!! Woke up to birds chirping. And a lizard staring me down….
This porch is the bomb! In fact, I have moved all operations to the porch. I strung together 3 power strips so I could set up my office at the outdoor table. I unplugged the modem and brought it out here. I am eating out here, working out here, and sleeping out here! I only go inside to cook or use the bathroom! Like I said, I’m pretty secluded. And I don’t have a car. So I’ll be hanging out at the house a lot. I worked on my business (new summer semester started yesterday). I worked here at the house pulling some weeds in the garden to pay for my accommodations. After lunch I decided to really get out of my comfort zone and snorkel by myself. If you know me, you know that’s a major deal… Walked the 30 steps to the water and stepped in. Warm like a bath- perfect! There was tons of seagrass and it was super shallow. I walked out until I was about knee deep, then started snorkeling. It is seriously shallow here, but that’s fine by me. I’m not a hang-out-in-deep-water-all-by-my-lonesome kind of girl anyway. For as shallow as it was, and as near to shore, it was AWESOME!! There were lots of species of algae, huge sea cucumbers, sea urchins (watch your step!), purple gorgonians, red sponges, feather duster worms, lots of fish (I even saw some big eye squirrels, damsels, and a butterfly fish!), and even CORAL!! At least 2 different species. A mounding variety and a branching variety- both yellow. If I had to guess based on my knowledge of Indo-Pacific corals, I’d say some type of Porites sp. Brian needs to hurry up and get here with the GoPro so I can take pics and identify everything!!
I snorkeled around from one side of the property to the other. Where I got out there was a lot of seagrass. I stood up, took 3 steps, and promptly sank into the mud up to my calf! I seriously had a panic moment where I imagined myself incapable of getting my leg out of the mud, no one around, and I would just die there and be crab food until Jennifer came back in a few days….Luckily I over dramatized the situation slightly! Both of these areas I can see from my porch office!
I slept for 10 hours. Count them. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, TEN! I know my poor body and brain are in recovery mode. Too much stress when I’m home, so I have a hard time sleeping. Made breakfast, raked some leaves to earn my keep, then headed down to the water (30 whole steps away) and filmed a 15 minute video for my students about the red mangrove forest here! I’m trying to compile a little series of free videos for World Oceans Day, and this will be the first. Kind of hard without a cameraman, but I managed!
Then I decided to get crazy and go for a walk! Now, there was a pack of 5 or 6 pretty vicious sounding dogs at the corner when we drove in. Jennifer said the last volunteers were too scared to walk by them. So either I suck it up, or remain trapped. It was about 2pm when I left and hot as hell. I walked slowly by the dog house. They were on the porch and barked, but I think their bark was saying, “Hey, lady…this is Antigua. No one in their right mind is walking around in this heat at 2pm. And that includes us. Safe passage granted.” Whew. I wandered down a road, having no idea where in the heck I was going, other than Jennifer had said there was water this way. Then I saw tell-tale signs of a beast Jennifer had mentioned to the gardener had been in her yard…wild donkeys!! Apparently they were brought here in the 1600s to work in the sugar cane fields. These are the leftovers of those bygone years, and there are about 400 roaming the island- leaving a path of destruction in their wake quite often…Brian is already in love with them and insists we go on a donkey hunting adventure when he gets here!
The road literally dead ended right into the water. It was low tide. There was a really interesting mangrove root. And then I saw something that made me squeal outloud!!! INTERTIDAL ZOOANTHIDS!!! These are colonial coral polyps, and I immediately recognized them all closed up waiting for the tide to come back in. And INSANELY red/orange sponges!!! I was losing my mind and sorry that I didn’t bring my snorkel gear. I took some exciting video for my students, with the promise that I’d come back and see them at high tide.
So I’m laying in bed. It’s pitch dark outside. I mean PITCH. DARK. And remember, I’m sleeping outside on the porch. I start hearing weird snorting noises. Um, that got my attention. And the weird snorting noises were getting closer- like to the point I knew whatever it was was in the front yard, inside the gate, with only six stairs and a piece of mosquito net between us! My lack of research meant that I had not had the foresight to research “Antigua Chupacabra”, so I was quite certain that that was what it was. Tentatively, I turned on my phone flashlight and shined it out into the yard. Nothing. But it couldn’t see past the fence. I didn’t know if I should run in the house and lock the doors or what…then I heard a familiar sound. You know that flap-flap-flap sound horses make when they shake their head? I heard that!! And I knew I was safe from the chupacabra (for now) and was being visited by wild donkeys!! Except I don’t know how friendly wild donkeys are to white girls from the US who sleep on porches, so I didn’t venture out for a closer look…
More downtime. Unfortunately, Jennifer doesn’t have much planned for me right now, so I’m kind of left to my own devices all day. I have the dog gauntlet, the heat, and the not-so-great wifi that are limiting my ability to explore and work. So I just hung out here all day. It was hot. Like REALLY hot. And I’m one who doesn’t mind the heat. As long as there’s a breeze, I’m fine. But not even a breeze. Ugh. I literally spent the day just doing nothing, counting down the hours…Jennifer is coming tomorrow to take me to a new place where there’s supposed to be….FIBER OPTIC WIFI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And that’s when our work together will really begin.
In the past, I always intend to make a list of how much these trips cost me. Uh, yeah. There’s a whole section of the road to hell paved with those….Let’s see if I can just add them in daily to each blog. Then maybe it won’t be so overwhelming at the end. Paperwork…the bane of my existence! #lookingatyouIRS
LAX to Antigua flight on Jet Blue: $277
Travel Insurance: $187
Diet Dr. Pepper in New York: $3
Lodging: FREE! In exchange for a little gardening totaling about 2 hours over 2 days.
Days 1-4 Total: $487