Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Blog minus 1

It's a bit less than nine years since I wrote this record of a much-relished holiday, which prompted my brother to remark "you should write a blog."  I researched how to do that, and started to do so.  This is where my recently neglected blog habit started.

Holiday in Bequia, February 2008

Thursday 14th
Completed packing, shopped, made dinner (chicken and lentil curry).  Dick and Val arrived about 7.30.  Got drunk and fell over on patio after ‘the last cigarette’.

Friday 15th
En voyage; arrival at Barbados; St Lawrence Gap; the Whistling Frog Café
Up 6 a.m.  D drove us to Gatwick and negotiated parking.  Flight very smooth and shorter than expected.  Excel’s idea of in-flight entertainment (not that I was bothered) seemed a bit weird, as pretty well nobody would’ve been able to see the miniscule TV screens.  Arrived Barbados 3.30 p.m. local.
I was first to the immigration queue, which stretched out almost to the runway.  D&V, having been seated amidships in the plane and therefore nearly last off, took a while to catch up.  Inside the building, a zig-zag snake queue, which took more than an hour to negotiate.  Three flights had arrived at about the same time – several hundred people striving, good-naturedly, towards sixteen or so hardpressed officials.  When we finally got through, we found that our luggage had taken even longer to get to the belt.  Imagine our surprise!
Taxi to the Dover Beach Hotel at St Lawrence Gap, to be greeted by charming staff and shown to our very pleasant rooms.  We swam in the rough sea (high winds, D a bit worried about this unexpected aspect), then wandered out to the main Gap drag in search of food and entertainment – ended up at the Whistling Frog Café for dinner.  Apparently, Barbados is populated with frogs, which whistle.  I definitely heard whistles, but didn’t see a single frog.

 Saturday 16th

Dover Beach; Oistins fish night; karaoke
Breakfast at the hotel bar.  Just after we’d ordered, the bar was invaded by a horde of English teenage sporty girls from some posh school, on some kind of sporty activity holiday.  We were loudly informed that Gemma had been sick, but then that ‘I’ve cleaned up the vomit’.
To my relief, we spent the day lounging around the hotel pool and strolling up and down the Gap strip (which proved to be pretty dreary).  We decided to taxi to the Oistins fish night event – major tourist attraction/trap – overpriced food and 30 mins of local worthies speechifying and Christian entertainment – then back to the Dover Beach for their karaoke night (featuring a different bunch of teenage sporty girls, and some loud Americans).  I will say no more about this – we’ve all been there.  (The karaoke I mean, not the girls …)

Sunday 17th

Transit; first impressions of Bequia; Gingerbread; Farine
 We negotiate the complex check-in procedure for the flight to Bequia, which turns out to be via Mustique, with pick-ups and drop-offs en route, which almost resulted in my suitcase winging its way back to Barbados.  This is a 20-seater two-engined prop plane, two pilots visible up front, 8,000 feet up (1,000 for the Mustique-Bequia leg), bucking around in the steady breeze.  Mustique airport looks like a par three golf hole in tarmac.  Jolly Mustique holidaymakers with self-consciously beautiful girls and sulky iPod boys come and go.  Landing at Bequia James F Mitchell airport is like aiming at another par three, through trees and cliffs, on the pillion of a bucking motorbike.
Once my case has been salvaged, Curtis, our taxi driver (who we will learn to know and love) greets us and takes us to Gingerbread.  On the way D&V are having local knowledge conversations with Curtis, but I’m just seeing concrete roads, flashes of turquoise sea, glimpses of colonial or shanty buildings; feeling steep ups and downs and vicious speed humps; breathing the warm sea air and odd spice smells: all from the back of this bright yellow Challenger pick-up truck, bench seats each side, which is a Bequia taxi.
Gingerbread is gorgeous.  I feel at home at once.  Easy to wander out around the town, down to a little local beach (Plantation House) for a swim, along to Frangipani for rum punches then back to Gingerbread for dinner and Farine.  They’re a local group – guitar, banjo, bongos, and a varying number of singers – who do a unique take on everything from gospel to skiffle via Motown, Marley and the Beach Boys.  We get pissed and close the bar.
This is my first experience of the mosquito net – essential in these parts I’m told.  It hangs from the ceiling, a huge swathe of muslin which you drape over your bed, tuck in, then crawl under and sleep in your private indoor insect-free tent.  Certainly I wasn’t disturbed by mozzies that night.  But nothing is perfect.  They will get to you sooner or later.  Fortunately, my skin is fairly mosquito-proof (years of conditioning in Italy, maybe), and Bequia mozzies are indolent and rather impotent.  I got bitten a dozen or so times over the stay, but none endured or itched intolerably.
There is a notice in my bathroom which reads, in full:  Flushing toilet.  Do not let the handle spin around.  Press back until down then let it come back up.  Management is working to solve this problem.’

Monday 18th

Port Elizabeth; Princess Margaret Beach; the Green Boley; Captain Mac’s
We walk into town, where I fail to change money, due to huge queues in the RBTT bank (Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, I learn from Google).
Then we try to walk across the headland to our nearest ‘proper’ beach, the Princess Margaret or Tony Gibbons.  I haven’t researched either of these labels, but I’m inclined to D’s theory: originally, it was probably called ‘Middle Beach’ or somesuch; Princess Margaret went for a swim there one day, slumming it from Mustique; the locals weren’t having that, decided the beach needed an authentic indigenous name – and just then good old Tony walks into the bar.
Whatever, the headland path turns out to have been blocked off by a cavalier housebuilding project.  We were warned of this by a guy cleaning the Plantation House beach and by an American fellow-tourist, but went to have a look anyway – sure enough, a block wall and industrial barbed wire make this public right of way totally impassable.   All the locals act appalled, but nobody seems to know what to do about it.  Even the water-taxi drivers (who stand to benefit) feel that it’s wrong, and probably illegal – yet this construction has obviously been allowed to go ahead, unchallenged to the point of irreversibility.  It’s my first intimation, or reminder (Tobago), of the sinuous workings of Caribbean local politics.
So we get a water taxi.
I am not going to repeatedly describe the experience of lounging on a Caribbean beach for a day – so pay attention: I am only going to say this once!
Find a place with available shade and pitch camp.  Spread your towel and lie/sit on it; read your book, shifting your posture according to discomfort levels, which may be caused by sand, sun intrusion, muscular strain, buried hard objects, or ants.  Go for a swim.  Snooze.  Repeat as necessary until lunchtime.  Have lunch at local hostelry.  Return to camp and repeat above, until it’s time to leave.
Henceforth, this delightful process will be identified by the phrase ‘lounge on beach’.
Lunch, on this occasion, was at ‘Jack’s Bar’, a slick new venue.  Food good (although I still want my tomato remoulade – having looked it up, what I was given no way conforms to that description!).  The place seems unfinished – concrete floors and pillars – and so a bit impersonal.
Rum punches at the Green Boley, ten paces down the Belmont Walkway from Gingerbread.  They’re a tad more rummish than Frangipani’s.  Can’t find out what a Boley is, never mind a green one – but the bar is basic, relaxed, a place you could sit and lime all evening.  We view the sunset, then head off to Captain Mac’s, a new place opposite the fruit market.  Apart from a bunch of American teenagers, we’re the only customers.  We ask for the wine list: two bottles are brought to the table for our selection.  We choose the Chilean Sunrise Merlot, which is to be our staple diet.  Food and service are good; just a bit sad about the ambience, the less than ideal location, the optimistic desperation of the enterprise.  Nice map of the world though, filling an entire wall of the inside, unused, room.
Tuesday 19th

Friendship Bay; Moskito; dinner at home
The wind (external not self) gets up at 6 a.m. and howls through the shutters and the plants outside the window.  I see I haven’t described my room properly.  It’s big, about 5 metres square, unglazed but shuttered windows on three sides; bed in the middle, nets hanging from the ceiling over big wall hooks, a kitchenette and a bathroom off the fourth wall; big balcony through sliding shuttered doors to the front.  I now have a key to my safe.
Breakfast with D&V (purchased yesterday – fruit, eggs and tomatoes).
We take our first big walk across the island to Friendship Bay.  The ups are a bit challenging, but I’m gratified by how well I manage.  Beach a bit of a letdown, rather narrow and ant-infested.  Good lunch though at Moskito café – excellent well-endowed burgers, and V’s seafood pasta looked good.
Lounged on beach.
Dinner at home uncovered a few issues, mainly that we couldn’t work out how to light the oven – which is a concern when you’re cooking chicken legs.  As luck would have it, Pat Mitchell had decided to install, experimentally, a microwave in D&V’s apartment, and V rose heroically to the occasion.  But we resolved that eating in probably isn’t a high priority option – especially as it seems that raw materials in the shops cost far more than the prepared, cooked and served equivalents in the restaurants.  The starter was a feta cheese salad, at about sixteen guineas an ounce – at any rate, far more than we’d paid for the same thing at Jack’s Bar.  How can this be?  Caribbean economics becomes more and more mysterious. 

Wednesday 20th

Lower Bay; Da Reef; Devil’s Table
After breakfast, split between fruit at D&V’s and banana bread at Gingerbread café, we walked across to Lower Bay – the best beach.  Far fewer ants.
Lounged on beach.
Lunch at Da Reef, a big canteen-like bar/restaurant right on the beach.  I had conch (pron. ‘conk’) curry.  This is the animal which inhabits those huge shells you see at beach-side venues everywhere, and which can with practice be blown, like a trumpet, to announce, for example, the arrival of the day’s fish catch at the market in Port Elizabeth.
We’ve discovered a great non-alcoholic refresher, lime squash.  Freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar syrup, a dash of Angostura, over loads of ice, made up with tap water – brilliant!  You could add white rum or vodka for a long cocktail … try this at home, when the summertime comes.
Excellent dinner (though not very Caribbean in character) at Devil’s Table, apparently named after a nearby reef.  It’s their ‘reggae night’: a semi-live, semi-backing tape on-stage performance, which worked – I’d have danced had the opportunity arisen –  because of a young, lively crowd, all fired up to watch the total eclipse of the moon.  This duly came about; would perhaps have been more interesting if it hadn’t!  The moon gradually disappears from one side, then gradually reappears – a bit like the London Eye in reverse.  I expressed the view, to a local, that it was being eaten by a dragon, but was told ‘no, man, it’s a shark’. 

Thursday 21st

Friendship Rose to Tobago Cays; Frangipani BBQ
Up at the crack to join the much-anticipated boat trip.  Strong winds and torrential rain overnight caused some apprehension, but there was no risk of cancellation merely for a bit of weather.
So we embark and set off, with about forty others, mostly Americans, and five crew, under the command of Captain Lewis, who has been running this ship since she was the St Vincent ferry back in the seventies.  Departure is delayed by engine trouble, and in fact we have to return for repairs; but once we get going properly, and clear Admiralty Bay, full sail is set and we are soon scudding along through wine-dark seas past island after island, bucking and crashing through the waves.
We reach the Cays about 11.30, and are ferried to the reef for snorkelling.  The undersea views are breathtaking; but that’s perhaps not the best choice of words.  The sea was choppy enough for me to ship several mouthfuls of seawater through my snorkel, often when I’d just breathed out and so had no air in my lungs to blow through like you’re supposed to do; and the leg action, with fins, is more arduous than I remember from when I was sixteen.  I’m glad I did it, but not convinced that this particular recreation is quite for me any more.
Back on the boat, we are served a good lunch, with unlimited rum punch and wine, then set off for the homeward leg, through a massive blow and drenching squalls – shipping dense spray and occasional green water, plus rain – soaked to the skin several times – boat keeling at twenty degrees – exhilarating!
After regaining dry land (which refuses to stay still for hours), we freshen up and go to the Frangipani barbeque, which is fine except that we’re too knackered to do it justice.  We’re seated at the back of the restaurant, away from the band, along with several of our fellow voyagers – and, as D&V discover to their amazement, a delightful young couple called Cherie and Dylan, from Toronto, whom they’d met in Carriacou five years ago.  Arrange to dine with them Monday.
I’m lulled to sleep, under my gauze tent, by the gentle swaying motion still retained by my body’s memory, sea-legs so thrillingly acquired aboard the lovely Friendship Rose.
Friday 22nd

Fort Hamilton; Tony Gibbons beach; Tommy Cantina
Despite good intentions to sleep in, we’re up and running by 8.00.  ‘Full breakfast’, which is bacon and eggs, as opposed to ‘English breakfast’, which is that plus sausage, beans, tomatoes, etc etc, at Porthole café, Mrs Taylor’s tight ship.  She and her staff of daughters or nieces are highly organised, but make us feel comfortable and relaxed, the best customer care yet!
We walk up through the town to Fort Hamilton, built by the British in 1760 to defend Bequia from American privateers or French pirates.  The views are great, and we stroll back down, past ineluctable shacks and enterprises, painted in vibrant colours or allowed to rot down to sad greys – some with religiously challenging rasta slogans carefully etched on their facades, others with failed fading bar names.  Now, I am pleased that I didn’t photograph these relics, or record their names.  I am glad that I didn’t demean them in that way.Lunch at D&V’s, using up the solid gold Feta cheese.  Then water taxi to Princess Margaret, lounge on beach, return, rum punches (RPs) at the Green Boley (GB).  An intense meeting of, we think, the Easter Regatta Committee is taking place inside.
Dinner at Tommy Cantina’s – O.K. depending on how far you’re into Mexican.  I ordered a ‘lime daiquiri’ as an aperitif, which turned out to be a rather odd kind of rum and lime sorbet, to be sucked through a straw as it melted – hardly a drink at all, more like a dessert.

Saturday 23rd

Spring and Industry; Mrs Taylor’s
Buffet breakfast at Frangipani, then walk across the island to Spring then Industry Bay, which is trying to reinvent itself as ‘Crescent’.  Presumably they think ‘Industry’ has adverse connotations (invokes dark Victorian satanic mills, whereas I suspect it was actually named for the sturdy Victorian virtue; ‘Crescent’ is of course free of any such negative associations, or any other sort for that matter).  The beaches, especially Spring, look at first sight like a lost opportunity, but then you think, just how many idyllic tourist beaches can this island, and its fragile economy and ecology, sustain?  Certainly, Industry/Crescent’s café  will have to do better – hugely overpriced and inadequate in quality and service.
At 6 p.m., D&V bumped into Cherie and Dylan at Gingerbread; we all repaired to GB to find they’d run out of RP (we’d drunk them dry), so to Frangipani instead.  Then dinner at Mrs Taylor’s ‘Porthole’ – food very good, but the ambience (irritatingly loud TV) and service not quite up to the price.  Shame, because just a little bit more effort could make this into a star turn (see Fernando’s later).

Sunday 24th

Lower Bay; Can’t Remember the Name; Gingerbread; Farine
Walk across to Lower Bay.  My legs are getting good at this by now: once you have seen your destination, the journey does become a bit easier!
Lunch at ‘Can’t Remember the Name’, a newly built venue – very nice building, roof made of natural untreated timbers, a good, friendly, professional service, we all had ‘fish and chips’ – not quite as we know them back in Blighty, but then, that’s not what we came for is it?
Dinner at the Gingerbread restaurant, curries.  Farine were playing again – what a joyful, inspirational experience this group is!  The Gingerbread waitress, Arlene, did a couple of numbers with the band, then went back to work.  Next thing, she’s washing up behind the counter whilst performing ‘Stand By Me’ with the band, exactly parallel to Aretha’s take on ‘Respect’ in The Blues Brothers – this woman is precisely conscious of what she’s up to, and, as I told her later, is an unmistakeable star.
I attract the attention of Farine’s guitarist, who forces me to play his guitar for about 45 embarrassing seconds.  I try to decline: ‘no man, I’m too pissed’; he responds ‘yeh, so’m I’; I say ‘yeah man but, you got pissed whilst playing, while I got pissed then got asked to play – there’s a difference!’  He acknowledges this distinction, but makes me do it anyway. 

Monday 25th

Hope Bay; Fernando’s Hideaway
Heavy rain overnight.  Strenuous walk over Mount Pleasant to Hope Bay – hard work, but there was cloud cover most of the way.  Very humid though.
Hope Bay is a totally deserted east-facing cove with a derelict shelter, self-seeding coconut palms and biggish surf, in which we swam.  Then back up a rough overgrown track, a bit hard to find at first, not helped by well-meaning pink ribbon waymarks which unfortunately had, some of them, been fixed to moveable objects.
Rotis for lunch at Mrs Taylor’s, then lounged around on the balcony.  We walked into town to change money and try, unsuccessfully, to find a ‘live-slow@bequia.calm’ T shirt for me – how can they have failed to re-use such a great slogan?
Cherie and Dylan join us for drinks at D&V’s, then Curtis taxis us across to Fernando’s Hideaway, now I think just called Nando’s, an excellent local-style family run outdoor restaurant, with good fish, stewed eggplant (aubergine) etc. – great meal and lots of good conversation.

Tuesday 26th

Breakfast with ‘Son’; Princess Margaret’s beach; Jack’s Bar; Moonhole; Moskito
Breakfast at Frangipani, very nice fruit platters.  We chat at some length with Sir James (‘Son’) Mitchell, ex-prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Caribbean world statesman, now owner of Frangipani (and probably half the island), ex-husband of Pat who runs Gingerbread – very interesting.  He isn’t too forthcoming about the famous footpath blocking – a vested interest in there perhaps?  D has bought his autobiography, for which Sir J gladly supplies a dedication.
Water taxi to Princess M’s; lunch at Jack’s Bar, better than last time.  The feta salad costs significantly less than it did when we made the identical thing at home – how can this be?  There’s obviously more to the local economy than meets the eye.  Sorry, I’m repeating myself.
When we arrive at the beach, Friendship Rose is moored offshore and the place is heaving with people.  After a couple of hours, at least forty are ferried back to the boat, which then apparently returns to Port Elizabeth.  Strange, we think.
In the afternoon we visit Moonhole, at the far end of the island beyond the airport.  It’s a complex of nineteen weird and wonderful houses, built from and totally integrated into the local landscape – no straight lines.  It was initiated in, I think, the sixties by an eccentric American called Tom Johnston, and now run by his son Jim and lovely English wife Sheena.  The houses are mostly privately owned, and passed on by inheritance, the managing company having first refusal should anyone want to sell.  So there are a few owned by Jim and Sheena, and rented out.  But they make most of their money, I guess, from guided tours like this one.  Fascinating and great fun.
Curtis taxi to Moskito at Friendship Bay for dinner – very disappointing, at least for me.  My fish was overcooked to inedible, service was rushed, wine vastly overpriced.  Aspirant corporatism at its worst.
Curtis actually seems stressed out – wife ill in hospital in Trinidad; can’t meet demand for his services on his own, but terrified of losing business; drafted in his son to help, but unsure he can trust him to deliver, etc…  Just how ‘laid back, live slow’ is this place in actuality?   Jim Johnston, as laid back as they come, explained how, in the rental homes at Moonhole, all you have to do is make your decisions: the full-time staff do everything else.  In the best restaurants, the staff work their butts off to get it right whilst presenting as ‘laid back’.  V thinks we’re seeing the early signs of a new ‘laid back Bequia’ corporate product range.  The Americans we’ve overheard and talked to certainly think that’s what they’re buying. 

Wednesday 27th

Quiet day; Mac’s Pizzeria; Devil’s Table
Breakfast at Frangipani.  Good pizza for lunch.  D&V went on a snorkelling trip to Moonhole; I lounged, took photos, read, snoozed.
Quiet (!) dinner at Devil’s Table: nothing like the atmosphere of last week, perhaps due to lack of lunar influences – no hordes of nubile teenage dancing girls, just middle-aged Yanks who really shouldn’t.  Lovely steak though.

Thursday 28th

Lower Bay; Can’t Remember; Fernando’s
Last day!
We attempt breakfast at Frangipani, but are met with stony-faced opposition (‘all these tables are booked!’) then ignored for five minutes – so we decamp to Gingerbread.  No fruit (how do they manage that?), but otherwise OK.
We walk over to Lower Bay, now confirmed as the very best beach.  There’s a huge cruise liner called ‘Wind Surf’ anchored out to sea, not the first one we’ve noticed, but thankfully its population haven’t made it to Lower.  We lunch at Can’t Remember – their burgers aren’t as good as Moskito’s!
Another nice dinner at Fernando’s, back to Frangipani for a beer, and so to bed.

Friday 29th

Homeward bound
We pack, pay, and bid a sorry farewell to sweet Bequia.
We by-pass the immigration queue at Barbados, as transit passengers.  Flight to Gatwick O.K., but the seats are incredibly uncomfortable – don’t they test these things?
Luggage doesn’t get lost, though it takes hours to find its way to the reclaim; car delivered by an enthused boy racer; back to Reading, cup of tea – and I’m back where I started.


There are three kinds of taxi on Bequia:
·         Minibus.  We didn’t use these, but they’re standard people-carriers, with mostly edifying names like ‘Don’t Give Up’, ‘Justice’, ‘Faith’ etc painted across the front in graffiti-style lettering.
·         Pick-up truck.  This is Curtis’s style of taxi – a truck with bench seats ranged along each side.  Apart from the taxi firm’s ID, they don’t seem to have names.
·         Water taxi.  Obviously, these are not strictly ‘on’, but are boats with outboards, which hang around the jetties or tout for trade up and down the beaches.  They have racy names like ‘Humble Afrikan’, ‘Sweat’, and our favourite ‘Phat Shag’.

The following types of bird were observed:
·         Bequia Blackbird.  Shaped more like a starling than its English cousin.  Supposedly says ‘Bequia sweet sweet’, though to me it sounds more like ‘Bequia cheap cheap’, which isn’t entirely true.  They’re everywhere, but mostly hang around restaurant terraces.
·         Brown Boobie.  Four foot wing span diver, seen everywhere around the coast.  They hunt constantly, not hovering like raptors but cruising and plunging on the off chance – but rarely seem to catch anything.
·         Frigate Bird (aka Man o’ War).  Magnificent huge sea hunter, up to eight feet span.  They can’t actually dive, not having water-resistant feathers, so have to snatch prey from the sea surface (or from brown boobies).
·         A tiny yellow and black finch who frequents balconies.
·         Humming Bird.  Surprisingly few spotted, as there are allegedly about 29 varieties.
·         A black heron, seen elegantly winging across the bay one evening.
·         Pigeons.

Quite a conservative scene, with the shining exception of Farine (named apparently after a kind of cassava-based porridge).  Bequia musicians don’t seem to have got over Bob Marley yet – seventies style reggae predominates.  A guy called Elvis plays steel drum at the Frangi once a week, to a pre-recorded backing track.  He’s actually very good, jazzy when he lets himself cut loose, but mostly feels he has to do tourist-pleasers.  Quite a lot of country & western, which seems incongruous.  Very little Soca or other more adventurous forms.

We concluded that most locals take the ferry to St Vincent to shop – certainly they don’t get their clothes here!  The fruit & veg market is vibrant and well-stocked, though the sales technique can be a bit off-putting – reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  A notice on the back wall reminds vendors not to apply this kind of ‘in your face’ selling approach; but one or two of them seem to have missed the word ‘not’.  Clothing is almost exclusively tourist crap – there is some good stuff, but you have to hunt it out.  Prices, as noted, seem on the high side.





1 comment:

  1. This is BRILLIANT! I'm saving the second half for tomorrow as i want to savour it.