Riot of color on Front Street, Port Elizabeth and all around the island…
Some times you have to look hard to find color when we’ve been in a drought for so many month.
Thank goodness for bright paint colors, but in spite of the drought even though your garden in general looks pretty sad, many plants still bloom.
Yesterday, I took a drive around Bequia, from Hamilton, to Paget Farm, and up Mt. Pleasant in search of color.
When you’ve lived on a Caribbean island for a while, you discover that your clothes just don’t last. Items that have been put away in a drawer develop strange discolorations which I think must be from the humidity, but white and pastel items show it the worst. Remember your mother telling you to always wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident; well, your underwear will be clean, but have strange yellow/beige blotches. The only way I’ve found to prevent this is to pack completely clean and dry items into a zip lock bag with the air squeezed out; however, while that might be fine when you are ‘coming and going’ and are only here for holidays, when you are here all the time that just isn’t practical.
Clothes hanging in the closet fare a little better due to air circulation, but they get gecko droppings on them, and moth holes, which might not be from moths, but little holes all the same. Clothes also develop little bleach like markings which I can’t figure out, especially if they are items that you’d never think of using bleach on. Elastics rot, and spandex threads breaks apart, so your bathing suit will lose it’s shape, as well as anything else that has stretch to it.
Clothes left on the line to dry in the sun soon rot, so you have to have a line in the shade for hanging your laundry. It’s not uncommon to walk into a friends home on laundry day to find a line stretched across their deck, or through their living room. One of our neighbors has a room solely dedicated to laundry with lovely drying racks and lines, but for most of us that just isn’t practical.
White sheets and towels also suffer from the same strange discolorations, which is probably why laundry bluing is so popular here.
Dressed up here is a clean pair of shorts and a clean top, they may have mysterious stains, bleach marks, holes, or frayed hems but they are clean. With the reality of keeping your clothes nice here being nearly impossible you quickly give up on keeping stylish. The only stylish people you see on Bequia are almost always tourists.
We were once tourists here ourselves and I clearly remember a lovely pair of Italian sandals that had their thin soles ripped to shreds on the rough concrete roads after walking to the beach one day, and white linen slacks that got mud spatters up the back of the legs that never washed out.
Leather gets hard, and flakes, and purses, belts and shoes have a short lifespan. It’s not uncommon to be wearing a fairly new pair of shoes to have the sole fall off while walking along; or for a fairly new purse to leave little flaky bits all over your hands or blouse where the strap rides as the leather flakes off, and to be looking at these flaky bits wondering where it’s come from and then you see that your purse strap has developed bald patches
You learn to be practical rather than stylish, a small backpack or a local flour sack made into a shopping tote becomes your purse, flip flops are the footwear of choice, you no longer care what the latest trends in summer clothes are, and you realize that you wear the same 2 or 3 pair of shorts, the same 3 or 4 shirts, all the time, and they tend to be the most comfortable, breeziest items that you own. Just as you don’t care what your friends are wearing, they don’t care of notice if the shirt you have on today is the same shirt you had on a few days ago.
Photo: Spring beach, Bequia
Contrary to what most of our friends and family back in Canada think, we don’t spend every day at the beach, in fact we rarely get to the beach as we are too busy working, the upside though is that it is gorgeous summer weather all year long. We were invited to a beach barbecue not that long ago and we realized that it had been two years since we’d been at the beach for a swim. I have a couple of friends who do get to the beach every day for a swim, but they live right at the beach so they start their day with an early swim in the sea.
Though we may not get to the beach for a swim often, we are in the pool every day.
The big difference between summer weather here and summer weather in Canada is we don’t have mosquitoes like Canada has mosquitoes, and not a black fly in sight. Mosquitoes in Canada are big and fast, mosquitoes here in Bequia are quite small and slow, so when you do see them they are much easier to swat…I guess they are on island time too! Also there generally aren’t swarms of mosquitoes here, so you don’t need screens and you don’t have to quickly close the door to keep the mosquitoes out. We do have screens on the bedroom windows, but that’s more to keep moths out at night when the lights are on than mosquitoes.
We were told that after we’d lived here for a while that the mosquitoes wouldn’t bother us anymore, and I couldn’t understand how that could be possible; however, it’s true, they are still present and they still bite, but after a while you no longer react to the bites, they no longer raise a bump and they no longer itch. We still enjoy having an electric swatter to zap them with when we find some hiding under the office desk or in the bathroom.
We truly enjoy outdoor living all year long, with all the doors and windows open wide to the outdoors, letting the breeze blow through the house. Dining on the deck for every meal. We live on our lovely shaded deck enjoying the view and the breeze more than inside.
We have two seasons here, dry season and wet or rainy season, which coincides with hurricane season. Dry season is from December through to June and rainy season is from June to November. Dry season is very dry and just about everything green gets brown in a hurry. Wet season is very erratic, and we hope for enough rain to fill our water tanks, and to bring the gardens back to life. It’s surprising though, that through dry season, when most plants are looking just about dead, that the bougainvillea bloom in a riot of color, and the yellow poui and the frangipani burst into glorious color.
The daytime temperature is usually 30 Celsius and at night it might drop to 25 Celsius. Every day you can go swimming. Every day you can wear shorts, a sleeveless blouse, or short sleeved shirt and sandals, or a sarong. At home I always wear a sarong or pareo and bare feet. There is only the very rare evening in the winter months where you might want to put on long pants and a light sweater and a pair of socks or slippers. We look forward to those evenings though as it means we’ll be able to snuggle under the sheet, or maybe even the blanket. It’s such a rare occurrence that we treasure it when it happens.
My husband, who still has to keep up appearances as a Chiropractor has to wear long pants and dress shoes a couple of days a week, but that’s in an air conditioned office, and he changes into shorts and sandals once the clinic is closed and he’s ready to catch the ferry back to Bequia.
We laugh to hear the winter residents complain about the heat, but the winter months to those of us that live here year round are much more comfortable, and the winter residents think we are nuts if we say we are feeling cool. In the winter months, though it’s still shorts weather, the pool gets down into the low 80’s and that feels cold to us. It’s all relative though. We’ve gotten so used to the heat that when we go back to Canada in the summer we find it cold when family or friends set their air conditioners to 75F. I remember one visit going outside to warm up because the a/c inside was too cold for me, and having to wear a sweater indoors.
In the summer months/rainy season if there is a storm to the north of us, the breezes die down and it gets very still and very humid, and those days we’ll be in the pool 5 or 6 times a day to cool down. The summer rains help keep the pool from getting too warm, but by October/November the pool and the sea are like a bathtub and it’s more refreshing when you get out of the water and feel the breeze on your wet skin.
When you live here year round since the climate pretty much never changes, unless you have a boat of some sort, you don’t check the weather very often. The only time we check the weather is every few days during the summer months/hurricane season/rainy season if we think about it, just to make sure that there isn’t a hurricane heading our way; but we get so few hurricanes and the worst we ever get is a category 1, that we get lazy about checking the weather.
Photo is of Ixora at the Gingerbread Cafe
There is no such thing as a quick maintenance job here.
The hardware stores in Port Elizabeth might not have the part you need, which means you usually have to take the ferry across to Kingstown, St. Vincent, and try any or all of the hardware stores in Kingstown, which means walking all over Kingstown, then if none of them have the part, you have to source it online and either have it shipped in, or have it sent to a friend to have them bring it with them. Sometimes a store clerk might suggest another store that might have what you need, but that is rare, usually the response is ‘all finish’ and if you ask when they will have it again, they shrug and say ‘me nah noh.’ If you are able to let your fingers do the walking and source what you need over the phone, then you have to send a cheque across on a ferry, or make a deposit to the stores account at the bank on Bequia, and the store will send the item across on a later ferry.
What would be a 5 minute repair job if you have the part, can end up taking 5 weeks or 5 months. Of course this is a great improvement over pre internet days when you’d call a friend or relative to tell them what you needed and hope they got the right part, or you’d wait until you were going to Canada or the USA and take the old part with you to make sure you got the right replacement part.
I used to think that if you bought what was locally available that that might help with getting replacement parts, but that doesn’t work either.
Maintaining a car is somewhat of a challenge too, something is always needing attention. We both carry jumper cables in the back of our cars, as well as basic tools and bottles of oil, rad fluid, wiper fluid, water and rags, and I’m not sure what else. My husband makes sure I have what I need and when I have a problem I just go and grab the appropriate bottle from the back. I’ve learned a lot more about cars here that I ever knew when I lived in Canada. Here I’ve had to learn how to check to make sure my battery contacts are clean, how to use jumper cables, and how to top up all the fluid levels, things I never did before moving to Bequia. Fluid levels must evaporate somewhat here, as there is no leak and yet the fluid levels seem to need to be topped up regularly. Car batteries generally don’t last more than 2 years. Our roads are rough concrete which are hard on tires, so tires need replaced about every other year. Because our island is all hills, brakes need repaired quite often as well. The rubber on wiper blades only lasts about 2 years as the rubber gets hard and stops functioning properly. Fortunately we have a great mechanic and he’s rescued me on several occasions, meeting me on the side of a road to change a hose, coming out to the house to check the car and bringing back a new battery or whatever part needs replaced.
Many of the roads in Bequia are narrow and if you have to go off the shoulder to let somebody else pass, your vehicle might get scratched, so you don’t want a new vehicle here. We both drive really old cars, mine is a 1993 and Gregs is a 1991, both are Suzuki jeep type vehicles, and they are ideal for the road conditions, rough windy hilly narrow roads. If you mistakenly get a tire stuck in one of the road side gutters, they are light enough that a few strong guys can easily pick it up and move it back onto the road. Plus when you drive an old vehicle you don’t care if it gets sand in it after a day at the beach; and with our cars being used for property management, and sometime construction management they often get more than sand spilled in them.
When we lived in Canada we kept our vehicles spotless inside and out. Here, not so much. I had a construction worker who I’d often give a lift to and he showed up one day and said he was here to clean my car for me because it was dirty. Since then I take it to a guy to have it washed and vacuumed once in a while. Somehow it’s not much of a priority.
We joke that bumpers are meant for bumping, because everybody’s bumpers are a little cracked or dented from backing into a wall or stone outcrop on the side of a road when you are turning around, and side mirrors are often a little battered from cars passing too close and ‘clicking’.
Collage above is one of mine…
Island time is a hard concept to grasp for most people from 1st world countries, where most of us do everything by a clock, where you pride yourself for being on time, never late, never holding other people up because we believe that other peoples time is just as valuable as ours, so we’d never want to make anybody wait for us which we’d consider rude.
I imagine our concept of time is just as alien to people from the Caribbean who have moved to a 1st world country, as island time is to us.
If you want most islanders to be on time, you have to specify ‘early time’ though even then chances are good that they might still be late, but they won’t be as late as they would have been if you hadn’t said ‘early time.’
Maybe it’s just that everybody is just so consumed with the here and the now that time doesn’t matter, or whether it’s some sort of rebellion against rules, or if the heat and humidity has anything to do with it; or whether it has something to do with the fact that a lot of our life here is ruled by the ferries which may or may not be on time as although they have a schedule, it’s a little loose, the ferry may leave early, or it may leave late, or it may not leave at all. Even the planes here rarely ever leave on time. If you are meeting a ferry or plane, you go early and wait, and if you are smart you take a book to read, because you don’t know how long you have to wait.
Many people don’t even go to work on time. If they show up on time or maybe just a little late, then they go out to get breakfast, or a drink, or to run errands. It’s a miracle to me that they stay employed.
One of the contractor who did some work for us would tell us ‘I’ll be there in 20 minutes’ we got to the point where we took bets on how long his 2o minutes would be, or which 20 minutes of an hour that he meant, the first 20, the middle 20 or the last 20. This wouldn’t have been a problem if his workmen weren’t waiting on him to arrive with construction materials.
Whatever the reason, Island Time does not have anything to do with clock time. When it comes down to it, I think it means, whenever I get there, no rush, no worries, just relax, chill out it’s Bequia.
Photo is by my friend Anna Landry, and amazing artist and photographer
If you are going to live on a tropical island know that you may not be able to find everything that you want, but you can get everything you need, though you may need to visit a couple of stores and a couple of market vendors to do so.
When you can’t get what you want in the stores or markets, you have to make do with what you can get. Sometimes it’s easier to plan your menu based on what is available rather than trying to adapt a recipe; though some of the adaptations come out wonderful and create a new favorite dish.
You need to learn to cook with what is available locally. There are many vegetables that I’d never cooked with before moving to Bequia: okra, eggplant, christophene, snake gourd, sweet potato, dasheen, breadfruit, pigeon peas, plantain, pumpkin. We love plantain, and came up with a version of lasagna that uses thinly sliced plantain in place of lasagna noodles. It’s so delicious. Eggplant is wonderful cooked in coconut milk with onions and a little hot sauce. I’ve always slow cooked okra in a vegetable stew, but recently started roasting okra just tossed with olive oil and salt and pepper, and the pods taste delicious with a french fry crunch.
I happened to be offered a lift one time by a couple who were staying with neighbors and they were hoping to buy a house here, and the woman went off on a tangent because she couldn’t get a yellow sweet pepper and she wanted a yellow sweet pepper as she wanted to make dinner for her hosts and the recipe called for a yellow sweet pepper. You’d have thought it was the end of the world. Her husband asked if she couldn’t just use a green pepper since it tastes the same. She glared at him and said it would taste right but it wouldn’t look the same. I was almost afraid to say anything, but said that usually the only time of year that you can get yellow peppers is at Christmas time when all sorts of foods are brought in. I told my husband later that we shouldn’t expect those people to be neighbors as she’d never be able to handle life in Bequia, if not being able to get a sweet yellow pepper was such a calamity.
There is a huge variety of fruit that varies from season to season, from bananas that taste like candy, papaya, mango, soursop, sugar apple, wax apple, pomegranite, star fruit/five fingers, passion fruit, guava, limes, and more that I just can’t think of right now. So many fruits ripen quickly that we peel ripe banana’s and freeze them, and then cut them in chunks and throw them in a blender to make banana shakes. We take the seeds out of soursop or sweetsop and put the pulp into a container in the freezer and it’s like ice cream. We make juice from five fingers/carambola/star fruit. We make juice from the sorrel flower that is usually only available near Christmas time. Guava jelly or jam is a popular item here. For a change of pace and because I was curious to see what I could do with extra ripe mangoes I altered a recipe for lemon curd and made mango curd, which was very tasty, and would go nicely with vanilla ice cream, pannacotta, or custard.
In the winter months, because of demand from private and charter yachts, and winter residents, there are more imported items available, but in the summer months you just make do without. We have a fabulous shop in Bequia, called Doris Fresh Food and Doris imports wonderful treats, but even her stock tends to run low by the late summer and fall. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary though, Doris’s is where you will likely find it, even yellow peppers on occasion! She has the most wonderful selection of chocolates which are a real treat, and if you want cheese other than mild cheddar, then Doris’s is the place to go. She also carries an amazing wine selection, as well as just about everything else edible.
We often purchase non perishables when we see them as they might not be readily available when we run out, and we fill a shipping barrel to ship down whenever we go to Canada or to Miami, because it is cheaper in the long run, even after you pay the shipping and duties, to import many items.
You can get fresh milk in the winter months when there is more demand for it from the winter visitors, but the rest of the year it’s scarce so you usually have to get tetra pak sterilized milk that doesn’t taste anything like fresh milk…some brands taste better than others. Learning to drink tetra-pak sterilized milk is an acquired taste, and it goes down better if you drown it with chocolate syrup!
We get locally made yogurt here, made by Maranne and it is fabulous. She also makes lovely ice cream.
We also get lovely farm fresh eggs. Farmers in St. Vincent grow pigs and the ham is incredible, as is the pork tenderloin and the ribs. There is also local beef, and chicken, though that is primarily imported. And of course there are fish in the sea: Snapper, Cavalli, Grouper, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, Lionfish, and Lobster, to name a few.
The strangest thing to me is that we have lots of almond trees, but nobody bothers to collect the nuts to shell them to sell. We have lots of coconut trees and though people will climb the coconut palms to collect coconuts to sell coconut water, you can’t get freshly ground coconut for baking; you have to get a nut from the beach, and you tell if it is ready by the sound and the color, the color needs to be brown, and there should be a sloshing sound inside, break it open, get the meat out and grind it yourself, it’s very labor intensive. I did discover a trick that makes it easier though, once the nut is free from the husk, if you freeze the nut overnight, the next day, cracking the nut open leaves the meat, which looks like a snowball, free from the shell, and it just pops out; then you poke a hole or two and let the liquid inside drain out into a bowl as it defrosts, then you can drink the coconut water and shred the coconut meat in your food processor or with a madeliene slicer. We also don’t have local sugar; although some sugar cane is still grown in St. Vincent, it’s not processed for sugar, our sugar is imported, so believe it or not, sometimes sugar is scarce if the sugar boat hasn’t come in.
Funnily enough, sometimes you go looking for a common item in a store only to be told that ‘we don’t carry that anymore as we couldn’t keep it in stock.’ That seems a strange way to do business.
Colored pencil drawing of Papaya, Lime, Mango, Bananas, Passion Fruit, Mango, Soursop, and Avocado
Mosquitoes: If there is rain, we have mosquito’s, and since Dengue Fever is endemic, you must use mosquito repellent and mosquito nets to sleep under. You don’t need to overdo it with the mosquito repellent, usually just spraying your legs is enough and we usually only spray our legs if we are going out at night. At home if necessary we use mosquito coils or bug mats. Mosquitoes in Bequia are not like mosquitoes in North America where when the mosquitoes are out they are swarming everywhere and you need screens to keep them out, here we might see a couple a day if that. Our home is open all day until we go to bed, there aren’t that many mosquitoes it’s just that they do carry dengue fever and possibly other fevers, so you want to avoid getting bit. Two years ago saw the Chikungunya virus some to Bequia, and it is spread by the same mosquito as spreads Dengue fever. I’m not sure why, but it spread like wildfire and just about everybody on Bequia had it. We were all walking around like cripples for the longest time, as the fever causes terrible crippling arthritis like pains that last for the longest time. Fortunately you can only catch that once, so since everybody has had it, it isn’t a problem anymore.
Ants: Ants can be a real problem, so you need to make sure that no food is left out. Everything needs to be sealed up, or refrigerated. The tiniest bit of food, especially anything sweet will attract hordes of ants in no time at all. Ants will even get into a closed microwave if there is a crumb or bit of grease inside. Another problem with ants is that they for some reason are attracted to electrical wires and can make a mess inside of outlets and light switches, so those need replaced on occasion.
Termites: Oh yes, we have termites. Termites can do a lot of damage fast, so you are wise to spray at least once a year. Before building your foundation hole should be sprayed, and after construction is finished, spray once a year and as needed if you discover a trail.
Cockroaches: When we see evidence of cockroaches, we spray, but they aren’t a huge problem. They do like to hide in damp vegetation though, and you might unintentionally bring them into your home in cut flowers, or in a bunch of bananas. The like to hide between the stems of the bananas, so you should try to remember to check them before bringing them into the house.
Other bugs: We often joke about the bug of the month, which depending on the time of the year is whatever bug seems to be the most prevalent. We have moths that are so big that Greg says they come with their own stewardess. We have locusts which are horrible and leave droppings like mouse droppings and stains on walls. We have green grasshoppers, a green leaf bug that we call a sticker bug as it has sharp edges and catches in fabric, a huge green mantis that looks like some alien life form (apparently the mantis are good for eating bugs, but when I saw that, I was so freaked out by it thinking it was some sort of mutant lifeform that I sprayed it with BOP), now that I know what it is the next time maybe I’ll just nudge it to fly away with a broom, scorpions that are scary but aren’t toxic but sting if you get bitten, centipedes that are nasty but rattle as they move so you hear them before you see them, a small brown beetle that we call a June bug as it usually appears in June, and spiders, dandy long legs types and the Oh My God, which is some sort of tarantula that isn’t harmful, but scares you half to death as they are about the size of your hand. Also there are ticks and fleas so if you have a dog or two, or a cat, you’ll need to protect your pet from those. Dogs can get mange here, so when you adopt a local dog one of the first things to do is to give them a bath with this special shampoo that kills mange.
Critters: We have geckos, lots of cute geckos which like to hide behind picture frames and bookshelves and come out at night to dine on whatever bugs have been attracted to the light. We have several types of lizard and though they might wander into the house, they scoot out in a hurry. For whatever reason, it seems that a gecko can live inside a house but a lizard can’t. We have big ground lizards that live in the garden and they only time we’ve seen one in the house is if one of the dogs brings it in as a gift. We have land crabs and we have had a couple of land crabs come into the house. They bang around as their shell hits the furniture, and you have to get them out by sweeping them into a garbage pail avoiding the claws. We’ve had a tortoise come in for a visit; those you can lift up and take out to the garden, and if you like you can scratch their back, they can feel you scratch their back through their shell and they appear to enjoy it. Mice and Rats are another reason to make sure all food items get sealed up and put away otherwise you’ll have unwanted guests. We have manicou’s which are an opossum and a fruiteater. We did sleep with the doors open when we first came down until we had a manicou come in and eat the fruit off the kitchen counter. We have bats that like to swoop over the pool at night to get a drink. We have tiny little tree frogs that serenade up to sleep along with crickets, and fireflies that light up the trees like tiny twinkle lights. We have two types of snake a ground snake rather like a garter snake, and a hooded snake that nest in trees and eats rodents. Last but not least we have iguanas, beautiful iguanas, and we sometimes see them in the yard eating hibiscus blossoms, and sometimes they’ll come for a swim in the pool. The iguana in the photo above was feasting on hibiscus flowers. It’s hard to tell it’s size from the photo, but it’s tail was about 3 feet long so it was quite large.
We do have a few other things in Bequia that you need to be aware of. The machineel tree which has a small apple like fruit is toxic and sap from the machineel tree will burn your skin, so you don’t eat the apple and don’t sit under the tree if it’s raining, those trees are found along the shore at some of the beaches and are posted with signs. The brazil plant is a wild shrub that has leaves that look somewhat like holly leaves, and this plant will give a nasty rash like poison ivy, so you want to avoid that at all costs, this shrub is found everywhere so you need to be able to identify it so that you don’t touch it. The other thing to be aware of are sea urchins which are often found in shallow waters along the shore; they have nasty spines which are very painful when stepped on and they break off under the skin; the remedy to remove the spines is ammonia, which makes the spines pop right out of the skin. If you don’t have ammonia, urine does the trick. Untreated you are going to be in a lot of pain and will need antibiotics for infection; so although it sounds gross, if need be get somebody to pee on your foot.