view of Devil’s Bridge. photo by Sue Ann Pien.

So me and the frog had at it last night. He was swimming in the only pond waters available — our toilet bowl. It’s the longest dry spell Antigua has seen in over 80 years. The ducks up the road look longingly at their deep and empty watering hole as our hostess ‘L’ digs and piles the rich pond nutrients and minerals with a straight-edged shovel, anticipating wetter days for her winged neighbors. The girls, as I like to call them, quack and waddle about all day long. We’ve been fortunate enough to savor their fresh duck eggs on this journey, courtesy of the above-mentioned hostess.

I pet the tree frog 🐸 with one square sheet of toilet paper. Once, twice, three times attempting to lure him out as my hard-to-hold pee pushes on my bladder. He won’t budge. Daringly, trying not to harm him I flush the waters and finally, he hops up — but not out. Damn. I straddle the bowl as tall and far from the rim as I can and begin to pee into his makeshift pond. Finally, he jumps out and away from the Niagra Falls like golden shower (who wouldn’t?) as he jumps, I simultaneously shriek and hop away mid-stream. Tree frog — 1, cynthia — zero.

I’m sitting on the open-air porch of our rental cottage. The Caribean winds are ramping up hurricane style. It’s finally raining! I jump up to batten down the hatches, which include tarps and corrugated window coverings. It’s cool and the sound of the drops hitting the jungle leaves and tin roof soothes me. There’s a faint humidity in the air. An orange-bellied finch has been visiting us every day. He looks fat with treats though his hunger has yet to wain. He sings and makes weird aerosol can noises when he cries. He’s cranky and aggressive with his shy brown counterpart, perhaps his female companion who is far more gentle.

We are in Antigua one of the West Indie Isles. It is strange being here during the pandemic. There’s a slow sadness that’s hard to escape. Tourism has, by and large, shut down and gov’t support is nil to none. The island people have been instructed to grow their own food. Not an easy task in the midst of a grand scale water shortage. As we drive around exploring all corners of this place, there are colorful Shanti shacks in different phases of decay. Some from hurricanes, some from poverty, and some I’m certain, from life’s disillusionments. There’s a long sad history of slave trade and labor here. When the indentured English servants brought to the isles couldn’t survive the extreme heat and hard labor on the sugar plantations — the English settlers brought in droves of African slaves who reportedly, were treated in brutal sub-human conditions. It boggles the mind the depth of torture and abuses human beings endure and perpetuate. Prior to this trip, I did not know that sugar plantations and sugar extraction and production were the beginnings of Capitalism as we know it.

We drove out to witness the legend of Devil’s Bridge. History states captives jumped off its edges to escape the horrors of slave life. I could feel the heaviness in the air as I watched the sea waters swirl and white caps crash. Out of nowhere, and never before, my partner asked me to jump for a photo opp. Our rental key was tucked safely in my wristband. As I hopped up and flung my arms out in mock ballet, I watched our jeep key fly into the Atlantic, slow-motion style.

The slaves on this island were given emancipation in August 1834, twenty-eight years before America reluctantly followed suit. I can hear the African flare in the pidgin English based Creole languages spoken here. Mister ‘M’ is an English born worker of the land. He speaks the Patois language. ‘M’ has been living in Antigua since he was just three years old.

Aside from taking historical perspectives in, as you do during meditative retreats, I have been swimming in the ocean daily. What a glorious activity. This was something I did as a kid every summer during family vacations to Wildwood. I had no idea this favorite dormant activity could come back to life with such vigor! Thank goodness too as I carry around what feels like my “COVID 10” as in ten extra pounds from lockdown inactivity. The ocean waters are clear, temperate in various shades of aqua, green and blue-black. Ocean minerals have been healing wounds and fortifying hair and skin in a way only nature can. I live on the east side of Los Angeles and the hard waters have turned my long Italian locks into puffs of brillo. It’s so strange to feel the soft smooth hairs of yesteryear. Funny how I blame physical changes on age even when it’s clearly habitat.

The insects, amphibians, birds, and various wildlife in and around the cottage have been like visiting friends during a connection dry spell. Not to mention the sweet domestic guard dogs and short visits from our kind and generous host, who’s always bearing some sort of gift. So many strange sounds of the jungle — the gecko’s song reminds me of cracking knuckles, the loud frog burps, and chirpy bug scrapes and screams after dark — it’s literally a cacophony you can barely speak over, drowning out computer volumes as I try to zoom with friends and other members of humanity. When we venture out on our daily treks, the rental jeep feels like a churning washing machine as we traverse dirt roads and asphalt paths to new swim spots or open-air sites — as most stores and many eateries remain shut down. There’s a poignant poster on a telephone pole next to a market we visit, announcing a club opening on March 7th, which was just a few days before our world shut down.

I’m fortunate enough to be in this exotic one-bedroom eco-cottage, expertly built to withstand hurricanes. It looks like a tear from a Restoration Hardware catalog — or something like it. When we arrived, there was a brownout due to a failing solar battery — the cottage was lit by candles and gas lamps. It reminded me of a scene in “Out of Africa” when Meryl Streep’s character was waxing romantically on her front porch. ‘L’s’ thoughtful details put my days as an Airbnb host to shame. It’s amazing to witness her attention to detail. I always have a chaotic surrendering process when I arrived at one of my partner’s travel destinations. I don’t read her advances and often find myself shocked to learn we’re staying in yet another jungle. You would be surprised at how surprised I am, even though it occurs on almost every trip she plans. After my shock (and sometimes horror) there’s a deep surrender that leads to more present moment awareness than I could ever achieve in my day to day life. I am so grateful for these excursions. I guess its something my soul longs to experience, unbeknownst to my human suit.

Singer-songwriter testing out her pen. Freelance columnist formerly @Hot Press Magazine; blogger @Huffington Post for more.