Rum punch is the classic Caribbean drink. It is served at hotel managers’ ‘welcome-to-the-islands’ cocktail parties, on day sail excursion boats, at Caribbean beach parties and barbecues and on and on. But rum punch is often used in a more subtle way, as a pacifier, a soother for guests who have experienced the not uncommon frustrating experiences of Caribbean island life.
Joe and Jenny finally landed on the island of St Thomas after a grueling flight and a lost bag. At the exit gate a lady with a hibiscus in her hair was offering new arrivals free rum punches while a scratchy rendition of Red Sails in the Sunset was trying hard to imbue the scene with a quaint Caribbean flavor; all rather spoiled by loud taxi drivers trying to hustle visitors into their cabs. Joe and Jenny usually didn’t drink; perhaps a glass of wine with dinner. On this occasion they managed two plastic cups each of the very sweet libation. “Welcome to paradise,” smiled the hibiscus lady.
When they arrived at the hotel the room wasn’t ready even though it was 4pm. Joe’s voice rose to a crescendo of complaint when he was quietly offered free drink tickets at the beach bar by a smiling receptionist. At the bar they were poured two rum punches; three quarters rum with a splash of red liquid and a cherry, “Oh, this is disgusting, tastes like kerosene,” whispered Jenny. The bartender smiled as he passed Joe his concoction. The weary couple decided to wander down the sandy beach, drinks in hand.
Half-an-hour later they were back at the bar in a noticeably more jovial mood. “That rum punch is not bad when you get used to it,” giggled Jenny. The bar tender came over with the unhappy news that their room was still not quite ready – but would they like another drink. “Island time,” he said with a toothy grin. They accepted with not very convincing reluctance.
The next day they arrived at the ferry terminal for Tortola in the nick of time; they had overslept and curiously they both had a slight headache. Probably the humidity, thought Joe. As soon as they maneuvered from the dock a deck hand started handing out – yep, you guessed it – rum punches. It was 10.30 in the morning!
“Welcome to the islands,” said the deckie. The background music was a scratchy song about a yellow bird and a banana tree. After a few minutes their headaches subsided.
When they arrived at the ferry dock in Tortola, Charlie was there to meet them and take them to their boat. At the marina there was a catastrophe. Their boat was taking on water and one engine was flooded. The batteries were under water, too. The marina manager, Sam, was apoplectic; the mechanic hadn’t turned up for work.
Joe and Jenny should have been angry; it was the first day of their sailing vacation, but by now Joe was getting into the swing of Caribbean island life. He dug into his short’s pocket and pulled out two tickets. “Here Sam, have a rum punch.” Then he started humming ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy.’
Hey, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’