Monday, October 05, 2009

St Vincent and a Grenadine

A brief stop in St. Lucia (which, along with Antigua, Barbados, and Trinidad, I had ‘done’ in ‘82), and then on to St. Vincent, one of the least visited of the Caribbean Isles.
It looked nice enough as we were coming in. More green, jungled, jumbled hillsides dotted with multitudes of varying qualities of housing units. A tiny Immigrations, and then a $10 taxi ride the one and a half miles into the capital, Kingstown.
The driver did know where to take me though, Leslie’s Guest House, at $24 a night. The next cheapest I had been able to find had been $95. For the lower price I got a typical old school Caribbean guest house room: Decent, simple bed, a fan that worked, a bathroom down the short hall, and that was it. Leslie did, however, have an outasight balcony view over downtown Kingstown and its harbor, what with the flowers and the water and the hills and the tropics and all that.
From above Kingstown looked like a bustling metropolis compared with Dominica’s capital Roseau. Still in all, it looked like even a tubercular wolf could blow the thing down. Anyhow, once I had rested a bit I decided to head on down the steep hill to it.
Not much happening once I made it. Hot and humid. (At least Leslie had a nice breeze going.) I made my way to the informal minibus terminal and found one headed for Rassa at the end of the line. Being the first on board I got shotgun, and then waited the few minutes until they had crammed many, many more in back.
It was about forty minutes up the west coast, the driving as maniacal as I had read it would be. When it ended I was the last one off, and was only a couple hundred yards from the entrance to Wallabou Bay, the famed ‘set’ of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’.
When I got to the waterfront and the fake buildings and cannons I realized that it, like Johnny Depp himself, was a lot smaller in person. Still, it deserved a few pictures. I got out my trusty camera and… What The …!!! The camera was broken. Kaput. Frozen. No matter how I jabbed every conceivable button, all that was there was some weird Kirelian photo of a leaf.
Not only couldn’t I take any more pictures on the trip, I had also probably lost all the ones I had already taken. This was a severe existential crisis. After all, how did my life have meaning if I didn’t have hundreds of photographs documenting it? I was numb. You would think that if you gave Canon a few hundred dollars they wouldn’t sell you a complete piece of garbage. That’s what Americans were supposed to do!
But I had to carry on. Back up the steep hill. Catch a minibus as it started back to Kingstown. Get dropped off on the north side to visit the famous botanical gardens which were actually really boring. Walk into town, then up the hill to Leslie’s. Lie in bed as the little floor fan goes whirr, whirr, whirr.
Well, that was about all there was to do on St. Vincent. So the next morning I took my baggage down the hill and walked to the ferry terminal, where I boarded the 10:30 for Bequia (pronounced Beckway). The largest of the Grenadines. Which are a string of islets stretching between St Vincent and Grenada. This was the first boat I’d been on that actually carried vehicles, about 20 or 30 if there had been any business.
But this was the slowest of the slow season here, too. And when we docked less than an hour later, I was one of the few passengers getting off.
For some reason I had thought that Caribbean islands, especially the small ones, would be sandy and flat, with a few palm trees scattered about. But in my ignorance I had been thinking of Pacific atolls. Almost all Caribbean islands are insanely hilly and jungle covered; the smaller ones, catching fewer clouds and less rain, are still verdant but rather less intensely a-jungled.
The Grenadines are a particular favorite with the yachting crowd. And Bequia is regarded as an ‘undiscovered’ version of the slightly larger and much, much more developed St. Barts. For me this meant a small, funky infrastructure coupled with yacht club prices.
At least I didn’t have far to go in the tiny non-town of Port Elizabeth. Julie’s Guesthouse was basically across the street from the ferry. For $38 I could have had a Leslie kind of room. For $49 I could get a/c, a fridge, hot water, and cable tv. A few minutes later I was luxuriating in coolness and watching MSNBC.
It’s kind of obvious, but age really does slow you down. In every infuriating way possible. So in my planning I had wisely slotted in a few extra days so I could rest up, and now my incredibly creaking joints and tired muscles were thanking me for it. And except for a small wander around the small town, and a couple of trips downstairs to the store next door, that’s pretty much all I did for the rest of the day.
And most of the next. Oh, around noon I started out on an expedition towards the other end of the island. But after walking up another giant hill in the middle of the stinking heat I said ‘screw it’, stopped the next passing minibus, and rode it on out the two miles further. Then I walked around a bit, admiring the picturesque houses, the calm blue seas, and various other Grenadines marching around offshore. And took another minibus back to Port Elizabeth.
It was Friday, and Friday night is when everyone in the Caribbean is/goes lime-in’. Someone had set up a pulsing PA system on the other side of the ferry landing, and pretty soon it was pumping. Around eight I ventured out from my room, but I couldn’t make it closer than a hundred yards or so from the center of the action. Why is it that ‘party’, ie having a good time, has come to mean subjecting yourself to extremely unpleasant music at such an unpleasantly loud volume that even if in some sense it did originally have some meaning then it absolutely didn’t have any now? The islanders seemed to at least intuitively catch my drift, since they were all wandering around kind of silently and numbly.
I went back to my room, caught a movie on Starz, and turned in early so as to be able to wake up even earlier still.


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