Stranded In Paradise

Cook Islands 2b

Most folks are like me — terminally ordinary.  There isn’t much more than what the world sees, and the back story is usually just about the same.  However, give any group of these “average” people a crisis, and the interesting ones will emerge from the herd like characters in an Agatha Christie novel.  Some years ago, I was privileged to observe a planeload of tourists when disaster (inconvenience?) struck.  These people are real.  I’ve left out the boring bits and glossed over the sordid parts (this is, after all, a family-friendly blog) but for the most part, this is how I remember them.

It was a trip to the South Seas.  The cunning plan was to find a shady spot, eat like Dumas, drink like Hemingway, unleash my inner Robert Louis Stevenson and write an adventure story.  Meanwhile, my beautiful and humourous companion would soak up some sun, snorkel and take award-winning photographs of everything exotic.  Good plan, great execution — and three days in, we were entirely on schedule.  I was sitting in the sun-warm morning, having my after- breakfast rum and umbrella concoction when …

“What do you think we should do?”
It was a voice from a face I kinda recognized from the airplane.
“About what?”  I asked, pulling the umbrella out of the glass.
“Canada 3000 has gone broke.  We’re stuck here.  We can’t get home.”
There was silence, so I took a drink.  More silence.  I’d missed something important.
“Well, we have to do something,” she said and walked off, hard stomps in the sand.

Over the next ten days, because we were trapped and I was a permanent fixture at a cabana close to the bar, I got to observe everybody up close and personal.  I discovered my little slice of paradise was an unsinkable lifeboat with a list of personalities worthy of Hitchcock.

There was the fat woman and her husband who showed up to The Stranded Tourist Meeting in skin-tight pink and yellow wet suits.  They looked like two gigantic Easter eggs.  Later, over frustration cocktails, they explained that they knew the scuba gear looked hideous, but, and I almost quote, “We like pink, so screw ‘em!”  It turned out their 9-to-5 job was doing English voiceover work for foreign porno films.

There was the oilman father, full of golf and Steinlager beer, his wife, mother of none and their two children, 20-something adolescents who had travelled the world on their parents’ dime.  We hung with the kids cuz they were fun.  She was beautiful, and as far as I remember, that was her career.  He was a delivery driver who lived in her spare bedroom.  One night, they danced in the moonlight surf as if they were silhouettes in a Thai shadow play.  It was weird!

There was a man and his wife who made the airline representative cry at The Stranded Tourist Meeting and were subsequently shunned by the tribe.  One night, they confessed to us that they were married — but not to each other — and were supposed to be in Dallas at a teachers’ conference.  No wonder they were stressed about getting home on time!

There were the three amigas, office worker women who had saved up all year for a two-week bikini experience – and they had a lot of bikinis.  They were broke enough to borrow money but not at all worried about it. (“We travel like this all the time.  People are always really nice to us.”)  They hitched a flight to Auckland with a German tour group and, I suppose, got home from there.

And there were the newlyweds, who discovered they shouldn’t have when the groom, in a fury of they’re-not-going-to-get-away-with-this spent his days fighting with the airline, the hotel, Visa, the Canadian government, New Zealand and a local guy named Henry – and his nights recounting the battles to anyone who would listen.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Groom wandered the resort in pretty clothes and a bottomless Singapore Sling.  After a week, she disappeared, and the rumour was she’d dumped the prince and caught a flight to Tahiti.

A week later, we followed her and from there, flew to Los Angeles — then home.  I never did write the adventure story, but for 10 years I’ve been toying with a murder mystery — except I just can’t get the characters right.

Cook Islands 1`

7 Types Of Tourist (plus 1)


Europe is awash with tourists.  You can’t go three metres in any major city on the entire continent without tripping over some foreigner trying to take a picture.  In fact, Europe is actually in serious danger of becoming a gigantic theme park on the nose of Asia.  And since tourists are unavoidable west of the Ural Mountains, here are 7 (plus 1) types of tourist you should definitely avoid.  (Trust me; this is only a partial list!)

The Tour Guide – No, not those “umbrella in the air” Pied Pipers who march through the streets with a phalanx of old people in their wake.  No, not those people.  These are the folks who, armed with Wikipedia, have taken it upon themselves to explain to the entire restaurant (at concert pitch — and usually in English) the significance of whatever their group saw that day.  Everything from when Dante met Beatrice to Botticelli’s favourite dessert!

The Photographers – These are the people in the art galleries who are all assholes and elbows, kicking you out of the way to get the perfect photo of ….  Hey, buddy! You’re taking a picture of a picture that’s been professionally photographed a million times and studied in minute detail for 3, 4, or, sometimes even 500 years.  To do what with it?  Take it home and show it to your brother-in-law?  “Wow! What an unusual smile!  Who is it?”

The Selfie Sticker – Somebody is going to put somebody’s eye out with one of those damn things.

The Telephoner – These are the folks who decide to talk, text or check Instagram in the middle of a crowded street, at the top of the stairs, at the bottom of the stairs and at the entrance to every store, restaurant, museum and art gallery they run across.  The only thing worse is those doofuses who stumble around town, staring at their Google maps instead of actually looking where they’re going.

The Baggage Handler – These are the people who’ve loaded every conceivable item they might possibly need in the next 7 days into a backpack and stomp through the streets as if they’re trekking the Andes.  They swing those things like lethal weapons and insist on rearranging their crap at every opportunity – usually, in the middle of a crowded street, at the top of the stairs, at the bottom of the stairs and at the entrance to every store, restaurant, museum and art gallery they run across.

The Bros – These are the boys (friends or co-workers, in their mid-30s) who came to Europe together and have somehow managed to escape from their women for the afternoon.  Alone in a strange land, they huddle together in a defensive group to sample European culture by the bottle.

The Girlfriends – These are the wives of The Bros.  They don’t actually like each other very much, but (because of The Bros) they’ve spent so much time together their menstrual cycles are in sync.  They travel in a pack, and they’ve come to shop, and they’ve come to talk, and everybody else can piss off.

And finally:

The Parents – These are the young couples who’ve bundled up baby for a “vacation” in Europe.  They are pushing a stroller the size of a Smart Car and hauling around enough baby stuff to outfit a Malawian orphanage for a decade.  Mom looks like she hasn’t slept since the night the child was conceived, Dad looks like he’s been hit in the face with Novocaine and the poor kid is jetlagged out of his mind.  Folks, this is not fun – for anyone.  What the hell were you thinking?  Even if a child that young could remember anything — which they can’t — from their vantage point, all they’re seeing is the tourist bums directly ahead of them.  Besides, I’ve seen those strollers rattling over the cobblestones and I don’t think it’s legal to shake a baby like that.

FYI – for those of you keeping track, they’ve found our luggage.  It’s in Zurich!

Florence … beyond!


We’re back — uh — home?  After 10 long Lufthansa hours — that turned night into day and before that 90 Dolomiti minutes that turned our luggage into a curious rumour (they didn’t lose it – they know exactly where it isn’t!) we’re here.  Oddly, our house is huge and needs a Canadian autumn furnace not Italian air conditioning.  The streets are enormous.  The buildings are tall — and skinny.  The Internet is down (out?) (over?) with no hope of redemption!
“It could be the modem, sir?  Or the routor (rotor?)”  We know it’s not the server.”
I’ll deal with it domani.  Doesn’t anybody speak Ital-lish in this country?

We decide to have chocolate for dinner — and wine — and try to remember what was in the suitcases.  Nothing we need.  So why did we take them across the Atlantic in the first place?

Anyway, so far: so good and sometime in the near future we’ll get back to normal.  Whatever that is!

Hey, is it still Monday?  Maybe?  There’s nine hours difference and … we got on the plane at 6 in the morning so … screw it … too much math!