Our ‘Indiana Jones’ tour of St. Vincent

Our first full day on St. Vincent was a Sunday and we started off with a lovely breakfast at the Heron, after which we decided to go for a walk through Kingstown toward the churches.  We were no sooner out the door when a guy starts walking along with us.  We thought he was just friendly, but the next thing we knew he was giving us a tour.

We wandered up to the Botanical Gardens which are reputed to be the best in the Caribbean, and possibly the oldest.  They were established in 1765.  At the garden entry we were given a little Rastafarian fellow as our guide.  He was a super fellow, quite informative about the gardens and he answered our questions about Rastafarianism.  As well as being thrilled to see all the wonderful exotic flowers in a riot of colors, we saw the breadfruit tree which was an offshoot of the original breadfruit tree brought to the area by Captain Bligh in 1793.  Breadfruit was introduced as a cheap source of food for slaves.  We learned how cinnamon grows, it’s actually the bark of a tree; and nutmeg, which is two spices in one, as the outside of the shell which holds the nut is covered in mace.  We also saw a St. Vincent parrot that lives in a the gardens.

We thought that the time in the gardens might have shaken off our guide, but while we were in the garden, our unofficial guide was arranging for a taxi to take us on an island tour, and showed up with an unmarked car, whose driver was a Carib fellow from the north end of the island.  We weren’t sure if this was a safe thing to do or not, but we got in anyway.   I guess this guy didn’t have any other plans for the day and figured he could make some extra money by driving  us around.

We went up to Fort Charlotte, an old fort finished in 1806, 600 feet above sea level.  The fort was built as an English stronghold against the warlike Black Carib Indians, so the cannons face inland.  There is a painted history of the island, in what would have been officers quarters, telling of the Arawak Indians being conquered by the Carib Indians, the shipwreck in the Bequia/St. Vincent channel which introduced free Black slaves from Africa, and they intermarried with the Caribs, creating the Black Caribs, and then the battles between the English and the French and Black Caribs.

A few years later, I discovered that one of my 3x Great Uncles was a soldier based in that fort for 7 years, from 1807-1814.  I’ve since done some research on what life was like for the soldiers and it wasn’t easy…more on that eventually.

Downhill from the fort are the ruins of a leper colony/hospital, and down at the waters edge is a bathing area where the lepers could get into the sea.

From there we went north into the Mesopotomia valley where all the vegetables are grown for marketing.  We saw lots of banana plantations.  At that time St. Vincent provided all of the bananas for the European markets as well as many other Caribbean islands.  It was strange to see the bananas already bagged on the tree.  Clear blue plastic bags are put over the bananas, open at the bottom, which are to protect the bananas from insects, and likely birds as well.

Then on further north up the east or windward coast where we saw black sand beaches, a side effect of volcanoes, and went as far as the dry river bed, which is the lava river bed.  As we weren’t in a 4 wheel drive we could go no further so we walked across with our guide, and went a little way up the road toward Orange Hill, past the entrance to the path up the volcano and through a plantation area.  We were interested in seeing petroglyphs that we’d read about, but neither guide nor driver knew anything about them or where they might be found.

We really felt like Indiana Jones on an adventure as we didn’t know our guides and it was obvious that they didn’t like one another, we had no idea where we were or if we were going to make it back to Kingstown, but we arrived back at the Heron safely and negotiated a reasonable price for our tour with our driver who it turned out was a really nice guy once the other guide was gone.  Must have been some history there.

Would I recommend getting into an unmarked taxi…no I wouldn’t, though many of the taxis in St. Vincent are not marked, and I’d agree on the tour price beforehand as well.

 

 

 

Touring St. Vincent – The Heron Hotel

Scan0008 (2)Since we had to fly to St. Vincent to catch the Friendship Rose ferry to Bequia, we decided to spend a few days there first, and we stayed at the Heron Hotel in Kingstown.

The Heron Hotel was a funky old georgian style building, owned by the Orange Hill plantation, that was once a plantation warehouse on the lower floor, and the owners residence upstairs for when they came to Kingstown.  Entering it you went down a little dark alleyway, through a big gate and up a set of stairs that were alongside an open courtyard area that was full of tropical plants.  The top of the stairs opened to a doorway to the small reception area, and to an open upper patio area that overlooked the courtyard where meals were served.

Our very basic, but clean and comfortable room with twin beds, was just off the hall at the top of the stairs, and we had old wooden shutter style doors that led out to a narrow little balcony that overlooked the main street.  There was a sitting room down the hall which had windows that overlooked the river beside the hotel and herons for whom the hotel was named used to wade in the river.

Our first night there, we kept hearing a squeaking sound, which we thought was the gate swinging and we both kept thinking, why can’t somebody latch that gate.  We clued in at breakfast the next morning that the squeaking noise was tree frogs singing all night long. It doesn’t take too long to adjust to the sound of the tree frogs, and if you don’t hear them singing you miss them.

The Heron was famous for it’s breakfasts, and weekdays it would be full of people from Bequia who’d come over on the early ferry.  Once we’d established the chiropractic office in Kingstown, we’d often go to the Heron for lunch.

There is still a Heron Hotel located in the back section of the structure with modern rooms, but unfortunately the main or front part of the building was in a sad state of repair with termite damage and it would cost too much to restore it, so it was torn down about 10 years ago.

Little did we know as we entered that gate and went up the stairs that it would be the first of many stays at the Heron, as until the airport was built in Bequia, we would usually overnight at the Heron on our way to Bequia.

A Christmas tree for Bequia

We were all excited about our upcoming trip to St. Vincent and Bequia, and at church one Sunday we had guest speaker who had just returned from a mission somewhere in the Caribbean.  He spoke eloquently about the needs of students in the Caribbean, that they needed to provide all their supplies and books and often had no pencils to do their school work with.  After the service we spoke with him and asked if he had any suggestions about things that we might possibly bring down to Bequia.  He gave us some ideas and said that we should see if there were any active missions in Bequia.  This was long before the internet, and there were only 5 phones on Bequia, so it wasn’t going to be easy to find out.  We reached out to friends and family asking if anybody knew through their churches of any ministry or mission that might be able to give us some direction.

Greg’s step sister Sharon Hull, also a Chiropractor, coincidentally belonged to an Anglican church that helped support the Bequia Mission, and was able to provide us with a phone number for Rod McComb the president of the Bequia Mission.  We gave him a call, told him that we were going to Bequia and wanted to know if there was anything that we should bring down for school children.  We were told that Father Ron Armstrong and his wife June, the founders of the Mission who had just been to Canada for a visit, had a small pile of supplies that they weren’t able to take back and would we have space in our luggage to carry them down with us.  We arranged to drive into Richmond Hill to meet and pick up the items, one of which happened to be an artificial Christmas tree for their daughter Judy who lived with her family in Bequia.  We were going to be travelling carry on only, so bringing the box with the Christmas tree was not going to be a problem.  We were also bringing supplies for the Handicapped Workshop which made different craft items to sell, and some lovely greeting cards of Bequia scenes that one of the Mission volunteers had drawn of the Almond tree, the Friendship Rose and St. Mary’s Anglican Church.

The Almond tree was a huge old tree in Port Elizabeth near the ferry docks that we would later find out was a common meeting spot, also called the ‘house of parliament’ where the taxi drivers would congregate to discuss politics.  That tree was 204 years old and had to be cut down last summer as it had died.  The next tree over, which is about 30 years old has taken it’s place as the shade spot.

The Friendship Rose – by Sam MacDowell 1979Scan0016 (2)The Friendship Rose was one of the Bequia ferries, a wonderful old sailing schooner, built in 1969, which until the advent of motororized ferries was how supplies, the mail, and passengers got back and forth between St. Vincent and Bequia.  We were told when we first saw her at the dock in St. Vincent, that ‘she be okay mon, as long as de worms kep holdin hans’.  The Rose as she is familiarly called has been refitted and now does day trips.  I loved sailing on the Rose as the ferry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beginning

My husband Greg is a Chiropractor and I was his office manager in beautiful Erin, Ontario, an hour northwest of Toronto. We lived there for many years with a home office practice in an old Victorian house that we’d lovingly renovated on the Main Street.  We worked 6 days a week, so we would take every 13th week for a holiday, or chiropractic seminar.  In December of 1988 I bought a copy of the magazine “Caribbean Travel and Life” to put into his Christmas stocking thinking it might give us ideas for future holidays.  Little did we know that doing so was going to turn our lives upside down and send us on a life changing adventure.

The issue I bought had an article about Roatan and the snorkeling and diving there sounded fantastic.  As well the photos of the rustic cabins over the water looked so romantic.  We thought it sounded like a place we’d like to go for a holiday.  We put it into the hands of our travel agent, but she was unable to figure out how to get us to Roatan.  She’d called the consulate for the Honduras and was told by the agent that if we wanted to know more, that we’d have to buy a book that the agent had just published.  We thought that sounded a little strange and decided to forget it.

In the meantime, we’d enjoyed the magazine so much that we had subscribed to it, and one of the cover articles of first issue that came in the mail was ‘Beguiling Bequia’.  Reading about how laid back it was, and that it said “entertainment, how entertaining can you be,”  we were hooked, and it gave directions how to get to Bequia.

Off to the travel agent with magazine in hand.  We told the agent since we couldn’t get to Roatan, we’d like to go to Bequia.  She said, no problem, I just sent somebody else there yesterday, so I know how to get you there.

The tickets were booked for our trip for November 1989, and since we didn’t know if we’d ever travel that far east or south in the Caribbean again, we decided that we should spend a few days in Saint Vincent before taking the ferry to Bequia.

Little did we know that we’d be making Bequia our home.