By Lawson Lau
Pristine turquoise Atlantic Ocean waters lap the long shoreline on tranquil days. Golden beaches speckled with pink coral sand beckon to one and all. Cozy temperatures in the mid-60s at night and lower 70s in the day soothe the soul of a winter-weary Midwesterner.
All these and more greeted us as we wandered as in a dream from the easternmost to the westernmost tip of Bermuda for 10 days over the Christmas and New Year holidays.
Warmth of family, friend
There's absolutely nothing like vacationing with family and friend to close off a year and start another.
We left behind our busy schedules to unwind, reflect, enjoy one another's company and explore an island nation we had not previously set foot on.
My wife, Pam, and our two children, lawyer/daughter Andreana and computer science graduate student son JohnMark, as well as Katie Ya Zhang, a doctoral psychology student whom I baptized on Father's Day, flew from O'Hare to Newark, N.J., to Bermuda. The fishhook-shaped Bermuda, an archipelago of seven main islands, lies about 650 miles east of North Carolina.
We rented, through bermudarentals.com, a three-bedroom, two-bath apartment in Hamilton Parish on the east end of Bermuda, a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport.
Sizzling prices, smiley faces
Expect sticker shock: Grocery stores are unconventional tourist traps. Cabbage, air flown, costs $1.69 a pound. I grocery shop for my family and am a bargain hunter.
"However," I told myself in the initial hours after arrival, "you are on vacation. Treat your stomach to souvenir food."
Pam loves to cook, and we decided to indulge her love. The apartment had a fully equipped kitchen plus a washer and dryer.
Fish and chips (rock fish battered and fried and served with tartar sauce, fries and coleslaw) at White Horse Pub and Restaurant cost $19.95. A lobster went for $75.
The U.S. dollar is on par with the Bermuda dollar, and the currencies are used interchangeably — and the only thing that disappeared in my sojourn in the northern tip of the Bermuda Triangle is my small wheelbarrow load of greenbacks.
No visa is needed to enter Bermuda, just a passport. The port of entry for returning to the U.S. is in Bermuda, where U.S. immigration officers actually smile ever so sweetly.
Said one officer: "The weather."
Cannons to the East and West
Bermuda's historic strategic importance to Britain is evident in the many cannons mounted on hilltops that used to keep a wary eye for invading ships. No longer do they volley and thunder. They are mute museum mothballs, reminders of times of yore when picturesque marauding galleons would ply the high seas.
Having served three years in the military, these cannons held a certain fascination for me.
Fort St. Catherine guards the eastern end. Many more gun emplacements dot the island. At the western tip are the cannons of the Royal Naval Dockyard, once known as "Little England." Small museums capture pertinent tales.
We took the short ferry ride from the city of Hamilton to the dockyard a couple of times.
Jogs and walks
I have been a jogger for more than 40 years. Hence, it was a delight to run with minimal accessories in the heart of winter. Pam joined me a couple of mornings and Katie on another two mornings. JohnMark headed out on his own.
Then there were the long scenic walks to explore portions of the country's 22 square miles. Our longest ramble was about 2 miles on Somerset Island's Railway Trail, where motor vehicles are prohibited. We cross the world's shortest drawbridge, climb to Scaur Hill Fort and finally arrive at Mangrove Bay.
Beaches, bays and coves
Horseshoe Bay, appropriately named because of its crescent shape, was our first beach photo-taking venture. Katie loves to have her photo taken; memories are made of these. I obliged a couple of hundred times.
We also strolled along Warwick Long Bay, reveling in the steady wind coming off the ocean, the gentle sound of the waves swishing on the beach, sinking our shoes or slippers in the soft sand.
Both bays have coves, almost designed for a family or two to picnic in private.
Flowers, flowers everywhere
Hibiscus of many hues brightened the landscape. Aloe vera plants were in full bloom, resplendent in their cluster of bright orange flowers. Passion flowers displayed their intricate, delicate structures. Spring, not winter, was in the air.
Bermuda also has plenty of ancient-looking trees that would not be out of place in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth. Some are in the 36-acre Botanical Gardens.
Souvenirs for her
For those disenchanted with men, there's a sign with the sentiment: "If We Can Send A Man To The Moon, Why Not All Of Them?" As for housekeeping, there's "He Cleans Fish, Why Not The House?"
I bought a glass whistling frog for my friend Mary's family of frogs. And I added four turtles to my collection.
White roofs, colorful walls
All houses in Bermuda, including commercial buildings, have distinctive white limestone roofs. Without any rivers or fresh-water lakes, the roofs are the nation's primary water catchment. Rainwater is channeled into storage tanks under each building. The tanks provide a source of water for drinking and bathing.
Houses are painted shades of red, orange, pink, green, yellow, purple, whatever suits a homeowner's fancy.
We visited three of the many churches in the country. The first was St. Peter's in the Town of St. George. Founded in 1612, it's the oldest Anglican church outside the British Isles. As with churches that date back to the last several centuries, the cemetery lies within the church grounds.
Next was the Unfinished Church. Whoever started it did not count the cost of completing it.
On our only Sunday in Bermuda, we worshipped at the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, another Anglican or Episcopal church. It was my first visit, but I felt a sense of serenity, of belonging, of the presence of God among his people.
Bermuda's speed limit is 35 kilometers an hour (21.7 mph). Why rush helter-skelter around paradise?
Unless, that is, a person is a hireling. All the bus drivers on the buses we traveled on seemed to be practicing for the Indy 500. Often using only one hand, they confidently twisted and turned the largest vehicles on the road around narrow, snaky, rolling roads — sometimes without sidewalks, sometimes trimming the hedges.
We did not encounter a single squad car prowling the streets or sinisterly lying in wait, or those ubiquitous busybody flashing speed signs mounted at construction sites on American highways.
Once we came across a Bermudian learning to drive. A square red-lettered "L" metal plate was hung prominently on the rear of the tiny car (no hunky chunky SUVs in the land). The learner driver obediently observed the posted speed limit, causing a backup of a Bermuda kilometer.
Honking is common in Bermuda as friends greet friends with a toot or two. After all, the nation has a population of only 69,000. There are no strangers here. As we walked around, we greeted the people like they were long-lost cousins.
Bermuda does not offer rental cars. A seven-day bus pass costs $45 and is also good for ferry rides. Buses took us to all the sights we wanted to visit.
Frigid as a freezer
On our final day in mostly sunny 70-degree weather, Andreana looked up the Weather Channel. It was a frigid 4 degrees in Champaign.
Why would anyone who is not an ice cube wannabe choose to live in a freezer? Don't they know there's a land called Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean basking in the warmth of the tropics? Where there's no property tax once a homeowner turns a golden 65? Where there are no income, capital gains and sales taxes? Where it's cool in summer and warm in winter?
Lawson Lau begins his 17th year as pastor at All Nations Baptist Church and is a part-time humanities faculty member at Parkland College in Champaign, where it sizzles in summer and freezes in winter.