Ultra-exotic, and surreally familiar

  • Photo by Akil Simmons
Guernsey reporter Tom Ogier, who came to Bermuda to support his brother, men's champion Patrick Ogier and his island in the NatWest Island Games.

    Photo by Akil Simmons Guernsey reporter Tom Ogier, who came to Bermuda to support his brother, men's champion Patrick Ogier and his island in the NatWest Island Games.

  • Photo by Akil Simmons
Guernsey's Patrick Ogier returns a serve during the NatWest Island Games Mens Tennis Final.

    Photo by Akil Simmons Guernsey's Patrick Ogier returns a serve during the NatWest Island Games Mens Tennis Final.

The following is an opinion piece from a Guernsey-based writer, Tom Ogier. Mr Ogier visited Bermuda for the first time to support his brother who was participating in the Island Games.

Bermuda is hot! And the 2013 Island Games have been swaggering along with all the characteristic panache and colour you’d expect of this beautiful Island.

The Guernsey team have been winning medals in multiple events, attracting jubilant crowds wherever the competition, and it’s hard to imagine a better venue ... especially having hired a scooter to see as much as possible.

To a Guernsey visitor, thousands of miles from our island in the English Channel, Bermuda seems both ultra-exotic, and surreally familiar.

The islands are more or less the same size in land area and population, have rich seafaring histories, tourism, and these days are kept afloat by the finance industry.

Neither are they impervious to outside influence, yet they both have a strong sense of identity, and a friendly attitude.

In fact, the people have been wonderfully relaxed and accepting ... if you ask directions, you usually get a lift.

If you ask for recommendations, the answer will be longer than you expect, full of consideration and helpful opinion, and may even end in an invitation.

So whether it’s the coast’s famous wrecks, the number and variety of beaches, the fishing fleets, the parochial conversations, the businesses I just walked past Deloitte and Butterfield or the British touches influencing island life ... much here seems oddly close to home.

But, they couldn’t be more different in other ways, and though the similarities are funny to notice, the differences are what make it endlessly exotic and exciting to explore the more you dive in the more you bump into Bermudian life.

First it’s the climate wow! the sun is glorious and the evenings long, warm and sweet, making you want to stay out wandering with a drink, or just collapse in a hammock with a sea breeze.

Yet yesterday, while sweltering in midday sun on Elbow Beach, I watched offshore thunderstorms cruise noisily past under battleship-grey clouds, shooting lightning forks down to the reef.

The contrast between the bright beach where I slowly baked, and the tempestuous passing rainstorms, seemed utterly incongruous, like watching a war from a deck chair. You don’t get that back home.

Next the flora and fauna, quite ludicrous colours of flowers on every turn, giant palms, creepers, mangroves, lizards scaling walls, turtles, and more tropical fish than the eye can take in.

First snorkelling on a reef here, I thought my mask had been swapped for a kaleidoscope.

And the people are full of tropical character and style, though I must admit my tastes have yet to adapt to the Bermuda shorts worn with socks pulled up, shirt tucked in, and tie too.

To my un-climatised eye, this garb first made full grown men look like giant schoolboys in old-fashioned prep uniform ut that can be forgiven, considering the flamboyant beauty of most of the rest of the population.

People walk, talk and laugh with attractive ease, the men are cool, the children seem free and friendly, and the women are Bermudiful.

I’ve even heard a few refer favourably to how men look in the infamous shorts, even calling them “hot” so perhaps I should invest in a pair after all

It was at the (WER Joell) Tennis Stadium that my island plans took shape, as sitting surrounded by enthusiastic locals means being told where to find the best grilled fish, the finest diving, the perfect Rum Swizzle the list is endless and opinions differ, but it works better than any guidebook I’ve read.

Sitting there, watching the Guernsey tennis team ‘clean up and gather the golds’ as one local put it, I was also next to supporters from Jersey, Isle of Man, Faroe Islands, Minorca, Gotland, Aland, a big mishmash of accents and attires, all loud in support and happy to cheer each other on.

The volume and the heat, and the rhythmic drumming of spoons on pans, was a far cry from the quiet, subdued tension with which spectators surround British courts, and I far preferred it.

Spurred on by the exuberant crowds, my brother Patrick thrived, playing with greater passion and power than I’ve seen for years, leading his team to gold medals.

Local stars Gavin Manders and David Thomas were awesome too, with superior swagger and superb shots, and both they and the Bermudian ladies provided an entertaining masterclass in hard-court tennis.

But my time wasn’t just filled with the Games, and I had a mission to try at least some of the suggestions given.

So after strapping on a helmet, jumping on a speedy red scooter, and meeting a helpful, beautiful blonde Bermudian girl called Anna — who promised not to laugh at my motorcycle skills, I set off on adventure number one.

This took us scooting along the dramatic coast road, ducking around pristine golf courses, zipping through villages of houses coloured like ice cream flavours with white icing roofs, then descending into an area of mangroves, where fish swum among tangled tree roots.

We hiked up into the lush bush and along overgrown, palm-fringed pathways, following instructions given to me by Cheryl, a lovely Bermudian lady who understood my taste for remote spots.

And eventually, after one “Ogier shortcut”, aka a long, badly planned detour, on which I saw a sign for “Wild Boar” and one warning “Keep Out, BadDogs!”, we came upon our first stop.

An unmarked cave entrance like a gaping jaw, it’s ceiling serrated by stalactites, it’s floor descending into water so clear that I thought I was looking down through air at the stalagmites, until a drop fell and disturbed the surface.

It was cold, icy cold, but a welcome wake-up after the hot walk and a good contrast to the warm tropical sea.

Which is where we went to warm up, mere minutes away, stripping off and jumping in, much to the dismay of a disturbed turtle who hadn’t seen us coming.

He didn’t like the sight of a pale Englishman plunging into his private, pristine waters.

We stayed in for what felt like hours, never getting cold, never at risk of boredom with the aquatic activity around us, and I was even forgiven for my long-cut route.

It was so warm and salty I could’ve nodded off, floated off, and found myself sleeping with the fishes.

If I don’t make my flight back, I probably have.

Tom Ogier is a 28-year-old novelist and a PhD Literature student at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, England. He works as a freelance journalist and artist and teaches writing. He can be contacted on thomasogier@hotmail.com

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Published Jul 24, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 23, 2013 at 11:04 pm)

Ultra-exotic, and surreally familiar

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