Worlds Apart -June 6, 2002
A modest home on the Intracoastal Waterway in south Florida
Before we left the Jumento islands in southwestern Bahamas a couple of weeks ago, we dropped into the one and only grocery store in the one and only settlement in the archipelago. Maxine's store in Duncan Town was neat and tidy and reasonably well stocked with basic canned and packaged food. There were two cartons of eggs in the cooler. We took one. We searched in vain for any fresh dairy products, meat or produce. On the floor by the door was a cardboard box containing a single head of cabbage. "How much for the cabbage?" Eileen asked. "Oh, goodness," Maxine chuckled, "that cabbage isn't for sale. I'm saving it for myself!"
Four days later we were in Miami Beach, having sailed directly from the Jumentos via the Old Bahama Channel and Florida Straits. We anchored at our favourite spot near the north end of the Venetian Causeway and hoisted our yellow "Q" flag. We took the dinghy ashore, phoned US Customs from a pay phone and walked the short distance to the Publix supermarket. There were acres of food. We stood in awe of the piles of fresh fruits and vegetables. Coolers bulged with exotic cheeses, pate and every cut of meat imaginable. The shelves were overloaded with fresh-baked breads and pastries. They didn't just have bagels, they had at least twenty different varieties of bagels! For a moment we were frozen with indecision, then we plunged forward with our shopping cart and began throwing things in.
The next day, it was blowing 20 knots from the northeast and the Gulf Stream wasn't looking pretty. We reluctantly decided to motor north on the Intracoastal Waterway to Vero Beach, turning an overnight sail into a three day slog in the "ditch". David's stepmom lives in Vero and there was no way we'd be forgiven if we didn't drop in before heading up to the Chesapeake, our ultimate destination.
For a first time visitor to the US, motoring along the populated stretches of the ICW reveals an amazing slice of America. From Miami through Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach to Vero Beach it would appear that everyone lives in veritable palaces surrounded by slightly (only slightly) scaled down versions of the Versailles gardens. Mega yachts churn up the water in front of the mansions and leave humble cruising boats rolling in their wakes. Newcomers must marvel at how affluent the country seems.
Of course, we know better than to assume waterfront real estate is any indicator of how the majority of the population lives. We recall borrowing David's stepsister's car a couple of years ago to check out some boatyards in the interior of Florida. After travelling only a few miles from the coast we encountered smoke-belching sugar refineries, clusters of shabby mobile homes surrounded by fields of smouldering sugar cane, and dusty towns where no one spoke English. It wasn't the Florida you see on the post cards.
Still, for the casual observer transiting the ICW in Florida the evidence of material wealth is pretty incredible. Returning cruisers reeling from culture shock need to be wary. We were a hundred dollars poorer after a ten minute shopping spree in Publix. In Duncan Town, where the waterfront views are also quite spectacular, we dropped five bucks at Maxine's. We didn't need a bag to carry the dozen eggs and two chocolate bars back to the dinghy. We still wonder what that cabbage might have cost.
Cheers, David & Eileen