Welcome to tiny island of Bermuda

Published 9:56 am Wednesday, March 6, 2013

by James D. “Archie” Howell

It’s cold; my heavy overcoat holds the wind at bay.

It’s only a short ride on the bike to work. I rented the Zundapp motorbike for a couple of weeks until I could get settled and learn my way around.

I don’t remember rain and cold being in the forecast for Bermuda. In fact, I don’t fully know where Bermuda is in relation to the rest of the world.

All I know is we got here. Yup, “we.” Got married just after training, on my way to Virginia and a short leave; it had been planned for a while.

We took the military airlift flight from Charleston, S.C., as directed and met our “sponsor” at the airport upon our arrival in this foreign country. We don’t know what to expect and have little knowledge of the country or our future.

We live in temporary quarters at a small hotel that caters to military arrivals. Someone has done all this before us. It seems to work.

This is Bermuda? Where are the sunshine-drenched, pink coral beaches? So far it’s cold, rainy and windy. Apparently winter comes to Bermuda, just like other countries of the same latitude.

I’m told the Gulf Stream wavers according to season, and in winter it abandons Bermuda entirely, leaving somewhat murky waters and significant rainfall. The rainfall is always welcome because the island has no other fresh water source.

Every house and building of any size has a limestone whitewashed roof, with guttering and downspouts that feed underground cisterns.

Every new arrival is cautioned to conserve water. At a penny a gallon, it can be expensive to flush a toilet. Hotels have large catch basins in addition to their roof area and very large cisterns.

We learn that some household cisterns also have goldfish swimming around in the dark. We find the carcass one day as we check the water level.

It doesn’t cause distress to any residents or change the flavor of cooked food.

It’s common to have a bit of intestinal disruption upon arrival on the island, but it generally isn’t a major problem. I have learned to adapt. In many ways.

This island is about 20 miles long and about 1½ miles wide at its maximum. Road traffic is according to British custom, on the left. It takes a little getting used to.

I learn to avoid running into or colliding with road cuts through coral, the basic building block of Bermuda. Any road rash from such could result in nasty infections. I ride my bike rental with due caution.

Bus service is available, sorta. I learn that the schedule runs on “island time,” according to the vagaries of the bus driver. Many times, when I’ve been aboard, the driver sees someone he knows and stops to chat for a spell; it’s a little frustrating.

Did I say, “I’m learning to be flexible?”

Motor assisted bicycles are the norm for personal travel. The narrow, twisting, mostly single-lane roads easily handle two-wheel traffic.

Local policemen drive black Sunbeam Talbots. It’s a larger than standard size automobile, barely fitting into the maximum vehicle width for all vehicles. (Or maybe the police department has a special dispensation for the larger size.)

It has raked fenders with rearview mirrors mounted atop. The cars are regal, distinctive, stately and easily identified from a distance. Government officials also utilize the luxurious auto. Everyone gives way to an approaching Talbot.

A law prohibits citizens from owning a vehicle older than five years. Cars approaching the limit are sold off island; no salvage yards litter precious acreage on the island.

I will purchase a car from a departing military officer, and when I leave Bermuda, I will ship it to Charleston, where I will license and drive it.

Its right-side steering will be a novelty on American roads. It’s a black Ford Anglia without a heater, but with other idiosyncrasies. I will order a heater from Sears, ship it via Fleet Post Office address and install it in the auto. Creature comfort.

Registration and licensing fees for cars are very high, and laws are rigidly enforced. Fuel costs are equally exclusive. Bermudians have learned how to keep their island clean, modern and attractive, and the price of ownership keeps the number of vehicles to a manageable level.

Each time I return to the United States for duty, I go through an acclimation process; each return to the island requires the same. Somehow, a flexible spirit makes it work; that trait remains a valuable asset.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at archiepix@kingwoodcable.com.