The Mystery

Everybody is worrying about where they’re going to go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be.

-Iris DeMent

Our good friend, Bob asked if cruisers should cruise to the Caribbean or stay home next season. Bob is on the Salty Dawg Rally team and he is their Port Captain for Antigua. Since the pandemic has affected the entire world, the same question could be asked more generally. Sally Erdle, publisher of the Caribbean Compass monthly asks how to entice cruisers back to the Caribbean. Ironically, if there is any place not affected, maybe that would be the last place cruisers would be allowed in.

However, cruisers will cruise, and the Caribbean is an ideal place to do so. Specifically, the Eastern Caribbean. The islands are a unique bubble; far enough to sail for a good “blue water” adventure yet close enough to easily get back home if needed. The weather is ideal if you enjoy summer beach days. The only thing cold here is the ice cream. And beer. And rhum drinks. Even the people are warm and friendly! The constant Trade Winds keep everything light and breezy. And there is enough besides the beaches to keep you occupied for days, weeks or years.  

I needn’t duplicate the islands’ tourist brochures or post pictures that are absolutely stunning as they would do a far better job than me. But I will comment on what I mentioned above: the bubble.

Inside the bubble, time moves at it’s own pace. Yes, island time is a real artifact. Cruisers usually encounter that the first time they clear into Customs/Immigration/Port Authorities on arrival. Once the initial adjustments are made and accounted for most cruisers realize that time is relative. You’re in the bubble. It contains all the elements you would expect of a tropical paradise and rarely fails to please the adventurous.

The bubble, however, is not like Disney World or a big amusement park. These islands are not manmade pseudo-replicas of reality unless you are in an all-inclusive resort. And if you are, why did you cruise here? Maybe it’s just me, but the islands’ natural beauty and landscapes are not enhanced by these large resorts. However, the fact of the matter is that they are inevitable.

They are inevitable because the bubble is not self-sufficient. The last time they were, if ever, was before Columbus “discovered” them. The Amerindians didn’t have resorts to accommodate visitors and it took over 400 years and a very tumultuous history to arrive at the present status. I highly recommend looking into that history to really appreciate today’s bubble.

Today, the islands rely on tourism and services for 70-80% of their economy. Trinidad is the only outlier. Besides an economy about 20 times the size of the other islands, services in Trinidad only accounts for 43% of their economy with tourism a small part of that. This translates into islands that need to open their arms as wide as possible to welcome visitors and yet keep the islands looking like “the islands”.

Then the pandemic came. Yes, the cases that were here obviously came from outside the bubble. As elsewhere, the fear of being overwhelmed forced a lockdown and barriers to enter. They have been successful as the virus did not overwhelm the islands, mainly because the tourist trade ceased, and they took social distancing, masks, lockdowns and curfews seriously. The timing of the virus’s arrival was nearly optimum. As the owner of Spice of India here in St Lucia told us, it came just as the season was winding down. The real test of survival will come in a few months.      

So the mystery is how will they accept tourists but not the virus they may bring? The islands are in a better position to control that then most other tourist destinations. Could Paris, New York, a small town in Italy really control it’s visitors? Grenada did a good job allowing cruisers in but required a quarantine. That system could not work for the general tourist season. Quick reliable testing at point of entry seems like the main way that could be done. That, or until vaccines that might arrive early next year are universally available, seems like a viable system.

Will that be the way these islands open? I think it may unless the mystery is solved some other way. Relying on good luck to stop the spread doesn’t work. There will be a great desire and demand to escape the restrictions of the last 5 months by everyone. The inducement to come may lie in demonstrating how safe it will be. Everyone is hoping that the bubble doesn’t burst.  

For now, I will just have to let the mystery be.

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