[ 00:50 tuesday 10 july – shipton street, london ]
ninety-four pictures from april’s caribbean adventure:
– sailing the grenadines (23 photos)
– bequia (39 photos)
– union island (15 photos)
– mayreau (5 photos)
– tobago (12 photos)
: c :
[ 00:47 thursday 26 april – shipton street, london ]
arriving on bequia on easter day i was looking forward to recording a stream of despatches on my uber-phone. unfortunately said phone and i parted company a few days later in a rather rowdy bar called “penthouse” in a shack just up from the port. so, it is only now i come to write about my travels in the caribbean, four days after my return to london.
mum and dad have been sailing in the grenadines a couple of times and out of all the islands bequia made a particular impression on them. then three years ago a childhood friend of mine, meg, set up home on bequia with her partner and baby daughter after several years’ wandering on a yacht. put these factors together with my well-known fondness for islands and it was probably inevitable i’d arrive there sooner or later. in february anna suggested it would be a fine place to recover after completing the investment deal and it seemed like the perfect thing to do. i dropped meg a line, she said “we’re expecting you” and that was that.
bequia is a small place (six thousand people, seven square miles) but it’s still the largest of the thirty-two grenadine islands, most of which are so small they’ve been left uninhabited. getting to bequia from london is not straightforward. i flew into tobago, close to the venezualan coast, where i stayed overnight before connecting up to barbados, then on to st vincent. finally i got the ferry to bequia which runs four times a day and takes an hour. that’s where i wrote my previous despatch.
after everyone’s descriptions of bequia’s divine tranquility i was a bit taken aback to arrive in the middle of what appeared to be a frantic party. the streets were filled with music, stalls and dancing crowds. it turned out i’d arrived in the middle of the island’s principal festival of the year, the easter regatta, which involves four days of yacht races and four nights of partying. i danced like a madman and loved it but it wasn’t what i’d expected at all.
then after a couple of days i woke up and it may as well have been a different island. the regatta was over. the streets were empty. all i could hear was birdsong and the waves lapping on the shore. little by little i started exploring the island, setting off on foot to traverse different parts of the coast or snorkeling around the abundant reefs. the glorious underwater spectacles prompted me to do something i’ve been meaning to do for years; i learned to dive. living on the isles of scilly and stromboli i always had friends who were divers and they urged me to try it, but i never did.
from the first moment i loved it. more than anything it felt like flying over an alien planet populated with the most bizarre and spectacular life forms. my modest experience with the yoga practice of pranayama, in which one’s respiratory process slows down, seems to mean that i can conserve my air supply for longer than usual; which is a tremendous boon. i made three dives in different locations, each of which was a completely new experience. i saw delicate sea-horses, swaying in the current with their tails hooked to a coral anchor. lobsters, crouched irascibly in their hidey-holes with long antennae twitching at intruders. eels of a hundred different patterns and colours, poking their fanged heads out of burrows or slithering amongst rocks in search of prey. a forest of corals of every shape and size. fish of a million iridescent hues and behaviours.
i swam with turtles off the tobago cays, following them as they munched on algae at the sea bed then pushed to the surface for a gulp of air before descending one again. i pestered a sting-ray that meg found dozing in the sand and watched it grudgingly flap along a few metres before settling down again. i fell completely in love with puffer fish but each time i found one and tried to hug it it would wobble off with its adorable contrary flapping of lumbar fins. the high point of all my underwater experiences came at the end of my third dive, when three eagle rays swam past in formation. this was the most mesmerising thing to behold. each creature had a wingspan of a metre and a half, the three of them passing perhaps ten metres from me, undulating with silent elegance and grace. i understand it is rare to see such a thing and i should count myself lucky.
during the second week of my sojourn meg and i went off on a bit of an adventure. we set out at dawn on the friendship rose, meg and alan’s seventy foot schooner which they charter for trips to the tobago cays and mustique. at the cays we transfered to scaramouche, another local schooner, to reach union island (population 3,000) where we stayed a couple of days to explore. from here we took a speedboat over to mayrou (population 270) across a choppy sea which duly soaked us. after a night on mayrou we hitched a lift with a dive boat which took us back to the cays where we liaised with the friendship rose and thus returned to bequia.
there’s lots i’d like to write about. the quiet undercurrents of racial and colonial trauma. the balance between native and ex-pat populations. the strange and pervasive mythology of “lovely bequia”. patterns of entrepreneurship in the islands. competing attitudes to development. it’s all fascinating, to me at least. but life being as it is i probably won’t find time to write about any of it.
most importantly, for the first time in six months i don’t feel tired. it’s wonderful!
: c :
[ 18:42 sunday 7 april – port of kingstown, st vincent ]
easter sunday, a little after sunset. i’m sitting cross-legged at the taffrail of the day’s last ferry across to bequia. the ramp below me scrapes and squeals in the rolling swell. bob marley songs pump out from a pick-up parked on the quay below, which is surrounded by a knot of people dancing and talking. lights start to pepper the surrounding mountainsides as the post-sunset sky darkens. the air is sultry, tinged with an acrid edge of diesel.
it’s barely 36 hours since i left london but it feels like i’ve been traveling for weeks already. last night on tobago i stayed with a security guard everyone calls the doctor who lives on the sea behind the airport and keeps a few guest rooms with his sister ruth. he drove me up to scarborough, the island’s main port, where we got some supper and soaked up the atmosphere around the market.
a lot of people had come over from trinidad for the evening’s beach concert by buju banton. some of them had brought seriously tricked-up cars with custom paint jobs, flashing lights, lots of chrome and big sound systems; which were parked along a stretch of road for people to admire. when we got back to the doctor’s place i clambered down the dark rocks and sat by the beaking waves with the hot wind on my face until i was ready to sleep.
this afternoon i flew on to barbados in a fifty-seater twin prop aircraft that seems to be the staple inter-island transport here. after an hour in barbados’ earily gleaming airport and a couple of delightful conversations i boarded another flight to st vincent where i arrived an hour ago.
my first impression of the caribbean is of strong warm people who are confident in their cultures. it’s easy to speak to people. it’s particularly interesting to hear opinions of america and europe. there’s a much more balanced, critical view than i would expect.
as i write the ferry’s ramp is raised, the engine throb gets higher and we cast off. in an hour i’ll be on bequia.
: c :
[ 12:18 saturday 7 april – gatwick airport south terminal ]
being marooned at gatwick is as close as i ever wish to come to a concentration camp. airports are grim places. british airports are especially joyless. but there’s something uniquely brutal and dehumanising about gatwick.
staff seem to be trained in a chilling gritted-teeth cheerfulness. efforts to sell over-priced crap to trapped passenger are raised to new levels of intrusiveness. the architecture is cramped and offers no hint of redemption.
but despite this, and a two hour delay to my flight, i have a light heart for i am on holiday for the next two weeks. later today i shall arrive on the island of tobago where i’ll find somewhere to stay the night. then tomorrow i’ll fly to barbados and on to st vincent’s, from where i hope to get a ferry to the tiny isle of bequia to visit my friends meg and alan.
the prospect is indecently glorious. even gatwick cannot damp my spirits.
: c :