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.