Construction in Island Time: the finale

We arrived back in Bequia in February 1994 bringing Greg’s mother for a visit, fully expecting that the few remaining jobs would be completed.  They weren’t.  We were now over 4  years  under construction.

The day we were to return, a couple of Julie’s masons finally showed up to block up the lower part of the kitchen wall to install the windows.  Our neighbors who had started a property management company and who we had cleaning our house for us, figured correctly that we must be coming, as the workmen had arrived. We arrived to find plywood over the hole and a partially done job.  By this time we were sick and tired of the whole process.  We felt abused; by not being assertive, we let our construction job be pushed aside while other more aggressive people made sure that their work was being done.  We were tired of being compliant and nice so we set off to talk to Julie.

Long story short, though Julie wasn’t planning to have the workmen there to finish the window, thinking we’d want to be left alone for our holiday, we convinced him that we wanted the job done, over, finished.  The masons showed up the next Monday to finish the window job, plus a masonry repair where they’d had to dig out the wiring to the lights for a bathroom and rewire putting the switch outside the bathroom. Somehow the wiring had been crushed, plus it needed moved from one side of the wall to the other, as the switch had been in the shower!  We took back the keys from Julie figuring that anything else that needed done, we would have done ourselves.

We’d warned Mother about the ants and not to have any candy unless it was in a sealed container, and not to leave any food out.  We hadn’t been at the house more than a half an hour getting settled in when she started to scream for Greg to help.  We raced downstairs to find out what all the fuss was and her white purse was now black, just covered in ants, inside and out, and there was a thick trail of ants coming into the bedroom.  We asked her what she had in her bag that would attract ants and she said nothing, but it turned out that she had a bag of dried apricots in a plastic bag that the ants were going crazy for.   BOP insect spray and a broom to the rescue.

Mother kindly offered to varnish railings a couple of mornings while Greg and I got some more painting done, but mainly we showed her the sights, taking an island tour with Eddie to all the highlights, going to Lower Bay beach a couple of times, dinner at the Gingerbread listening to the band.  Mother picked up an admirer at the Gingerbread; one of the older taxi drivers came over and sat at our table and flirted with her, so we started teasing her about her Bequia boyfriend.

Toward the end of that weeks visit, Mother was shopping in Port Elizabeth for souvenirs and we’d gone in different directions while I got supplies for the house.  I went looking for her and was standing on the roadside looking around trying to figure out which way she might have gone, and a man called out to me from the other side of the road, to tell me where I’d find my Mother.  Nothing goes unnoticed in Bequia.

We would continue to come down for holidays and to work on the house, when my father took sympathy and said that he and Mom would come down and paint, and their good friend Jim MacDonald wanted to visit Bequia so he’d come too.  So we planned a trip with me, my parents and Jim and painted until we had it fully painted outside.  What a lot of work.  By this time the metal light fixtures outside were all rusted, so they were taken down and painted as well, and I realized that a different type of light fixture was going to be needed.

We’ve gone through several different materials for exterior light fixtures over the years and finally have nickel plated stainless which are holding up well.

After we moved down full time there would be paint colors changed and additional improvements made, from a retaining wall and a sidewalk across the back of the house and nice wide set of stairs down the one side to allow access to the downstairs apartment without having to come through the upstairs which would allow us to rent out the apartment, a patio out the kitchen side of the house for our rotary laundry line, a parking space for two cars.  Then about 6 years ago we put the electric and cables underground, moved the kitchen into the great room and had new cabinets built with concrete counters, and made the old kitchen into the master bedroom, renovated the master bathroom completely making it into a wet room with a huge shower, added a new private patio onto the apartment,  installed a gorgeous swimming pool and another water tank for the pool water supply,  concreted steps all the way down to the road below our house, replacing the step stone path that used to be there, and had stone put over the concrete steps down to the house and the sidewalk across the back.  Just recently we decided to replace the counter in the master bath with granite, and Greg informed me that he hated the concrete counters so we replaced them with granite too.  Very nice.  I think we are done for a while with renovations, though I’ve been eyeing the other bathroom upstairs thinking it’s looking a little dated, so you never know.

One thing is certain, other than touch ups, we now hire a team of painters and in a week or so, everything we want repainted is done.

Photo shown at the top is our first island dog, Gizmo aka Gizzie



The sun, the sand, the sea, the reality

So you think you want to live on an island in the Caribbean.  Here are some of the realities of life in Bequia.  Other islands will have most of the same conditions, though some are drier, some get more rain, some get hurricanes.

Just about everybody says ‘you’re living my dream,’ but that dream is usually based on ideas or memories of a romantic resort holiday in the sunshine, with palm trees swaying and water lapping at the shore, and no pressures other than do you go barefoot or wear flip flops.

Sun: The sun shines just about every day which is wonderful, however the sun is relentless, not only does it burn unprotected skin quickly, it fades and blisters paint, fades and rots fabrics, it fades posters and prints, fades roofing materials, dries out wood, and if there is no rain for a while it burns up a lot of the plants, plus with the heat it’s been known to happen that tiles will just pop off the floor in a closed up house with no ventilation.  A benefit of the sun though is that we have solar hot water tanks to heat our water, solar pool pumps, and solar air conditioning units are now available if you want a/c. Solution: have as much shade around your house as possible, large wide roofed decks, and be prepared to paint and or varnish yearly.

Humidity: On top of the heat from the sun, and it’s about 90F everyday, there is the humidity.  There is so much humidity year round that there is no need to use moisturizer as it just slides off. Cosmetics just melt off your face, and sometimes even your sweat has sweat.  From May through to September the humidity is so thick that you get out of the shower and by the time you are dried off you are sweating already and feel like you need another shower, the rest of the year isn’t too bad for humidity.  Solution: have a swimming pool so that you can be in and out of it all day long, or go to the beach.

Sea: The sea is always beautiful, gorgeous shades of turquoise blue with white foam crashing over the rocks out at the opening to the bay below us.  The combination of wind and sea foam creates ‘sea blast’ and the water particles are lifted up high in the air and carried ashore where it lands on everything in it’s path, then the moisture in the air is attracted to the salt in the sea blast and everything feels greasy.  If surfaces aren’t cleaned weekly, the sea blast etches glass, and allows rust to start quickly.  From our deck we can see sea blast like a thin mist blowing through the air across the valley below.  Closed doors do not keep the sea blast out, as it will make its way through any cracks and the essential breeze blocks and into the house.  It will even make it’s way into cupboards, so we don’t just spring clean, we are always cleaning.  The sea blast corrodes wires, so that the phone line, the cable line, and the electrical lines where they connect from the pole to the house are frequently needing repaired, and appliances just don’t last very long.  Solution: Clean often, but the corrosion of the sea blast on appliances and other metal surfaces is part of the cost of living in paradise.

Sahara Dust: Have you heard about Sahara dust?  You wouldn’t think that dust could blow all the way from Africa to the Caribbean, but it does.  A sand storm in Africa elevates the sand to such a height that the dust blows in the wind all the way across the Atlantic. When it lands it leaves a reddish dust film.  Solution: Clean often

Wind: Being in the windward islands, and on the Atlantic side, we almost always have breeze, and in a couple of the months of the winter, we have wind.  The breeze is wonderful for keeping you cool, and for drying the laundry on the line, but when the wind blows, anything that will blow needs to be weighed down, otherwise it will go flying.  Any lightweight decorations need either to be put away or moved out of the wind.  Forget about candles, they just blow out unless they are right out of the wind. The obvious benefit of the breeze is the cooling effect so ideally your house should be oriented to take advantage of cross breezes.  Solution: if you are on the Atlantic side and haven’t sited your house correctly you may have to get hurricane blinds that allow you to see out, but cut the wind completely.

One of the major benefits of the location of Bequia is that we are south of the normal hurricane path.  Storms tend to cross the Atlantic, hit Barbados and veer north west from there.  We rarely get a hurricane and in the past 18 years we’ve only had a couple of category 1 hurricanes, and that’s not a big deal, it breaks a few branches but that’s about it.

It’s not a bed of roses, but there are many benefits, you can dine alfresco every day, your wardrobe consists solely of light summer clothes, swimsuits, and sandals, the views are incredible, and you can swim every day of the year.  We can’t imagine being anyplace else.

Meanwhile, back in Erin, Ontario, with Bequia never far from our minds

At home in Erin life goes on much as usual for us.  Working 6 days a week in the two offices, one in Erin and one in Grand Valley, taking every 13th week off with one week reserved for a North American road trip, two for Bequia, and one someplace different using our time share, chiropractic seminars, an active church life, bible study groups, guitar lessons for me, piano lessons for Greg, studying to become a holistic nutritionist, teaching literacy, step aerobics at the gym in Guelph, Greg involved with the breakfast club at his Masonic Lodge providing breakfast to kids who didn’t get a good breakfast at home, Optimist Club events, visiting friends in the evenings after the clinic closed, reading stories to children of our friends which I loved as much as they did so it wasn’t hard for them to con me into ‘another story please’, playing euchre with friends, going to live theatre with friends, and taking every chance we could get from Easter through to Thanksgiving going up to the cottage at Big Hawk Lake, even if it was a 3 hour drive each way with a break at a country market to pick up fruit, veggies and pies, and another break for a burger and fries to go at Webber’s on Hwy 11 , so we’d really only have a day up there. We loved long weekends when we’d get two full days off, especially if we were going to the cottage.  A piece of my heart lives at Big Hawk Lake, so many memories, so much fun.

The chiropractic practice is growing and we have more and more families coming in, the children racing in saying ‘me first.’  I’m not sure why they wanted to be first, whether it was just because they enjoyed having a chiropractic adjustment so much, or because they wanted time to play in with the toys or Koko, our Jack Russell terrier who came to work with us.  They certainly weren’t afraid to get their adjustments and put many new patients to shame, who claimed they were scared, but finally had come in as a ‘last resort’ to get rid of whatever their problem was.  Then of course after their first adjustment, they wonder what they’d been afraid of, and later on they’d say, they wished they’d come in and gotten better sooner instead of relying on pills to dull the pain.  Chiropractic care is great, it’s not a cure all but it does work miracles for many people, and most people just feel better when they get adjusted regularly.

Kelly and Laura our chiropractic assistants are fabulous and we have fun going to chiropractic seminars together.  We’d try to get to two Parker Seminars a year, plus a mini seminar in the Toronto area, either put on by the Ontario Chiropractic Association, or by a chiropractor who’d book a conference room and invite other chiropractors to come and share their stories.  As well, Greg was involved with the Orangeville Chiropractic Association, and he’d sometimes fill in for a fellow chiropractor in need due to injury or sickness.

We’d changed churches from the United Church in Erin to Lakeside Bible Church just outside of Guelph and we attended bible study once a week and we were involved in the Stephen Ministry at Lakeside.

We’d have Greg’s children, or some of them anyway, every other weekend, and as the kids developed other interests, we’d drive across to Oshawa to take whoever was interested out for the afternoon and a meal. Later on when the youngest was at Wilfrid Laurier in Waterloo and able to think for herself, we were no longer ruled by the ‘every other weekend’, we’d drive over to to visit and take her out whenever she wanted to see us.

We crammed a lot into a week, and looking back, I’m not sure how we did so much, but it was a very good life, so it boggled the minds of family and friends that we’d want to leave, and yet we dreamed of Bequia, of moving down full time to live where it is summer all year long, and opening a practice so that Greg could bring the benefits of Chiropractic health care to the people of Bequia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Construction in Island Time: Part 6

Late 1993, it is now 3 years since we began the process of building in Bequia, and yes we can stay in the house, but Julie is still not finished.

I’d arrived at the new Bequia airport so I was able to get to the house before dark; fortunately, as I quickly discovered that there was no electricity.  The marine radio needed charged so I couldn’t use that to call Julie.  Decision time, do I walk up the hill to the Gabriel house, or do I walk down the hill to Julies farm and hope he’s home.  I decided to go up the hill to the Gabriels, which is a newly finished house on the road above ours.  I was in luck, they were home and I was able to use their telephone to call Julie at the Guest House in Port Elizabeth.

At that time the arrangement with Julie was that until the house was finished or if you weren’t living here full time that you’d leave him with a sum of money and he’d pay the utility bills.  When I got hold of him and told him that the electricity was off, he said that they’d just paid the bill, but that he’d check into it.  After a cold beer with the Gabriels I headed home with my flashlight, and through the bush looking down I could see the lights were on. I thought that Julie was really fast but when I spoke with him the next day to thank him, he said that he hadn’t called Vinlec until that morning.  It turned out later that we had a corroded connection at the utility pole and that when the wind blew it would shut off.  A lineman showed up and did some work at the pole and fixed the problem.

When the new countertop arrived it was discovered to have twisted in shipping and was torn, so we had Julie rip the arborite off the first counter before I arrived so that I could tile it and on this visit, I came down a week before Greg again, with several boxes of tile and a tile cutter in my luggage and tiled the countertop.  Julie was impressed with my tiling and jokingly suggested that maybe I should work for him.

the kitchen…the fridge was installed in the wrong position and would need changed as it overhangs the door to the pantry and I wasn’t happy about the hose for the gas can as the gas can was to be inside a lower cabinet, same for the transformer…growing pains…it seems funny now, because this is about where our canopy bed sits and there is a big window on that wall now…we weren’t happy with these cabinets for long, but they served the purpose…

By the time Greg arrived I had the kitchen painted.  I wanted to get as much done as I could so that when he arrived we could have a real holiday.  I should have known better as he is as much a workaholic as I am, so it just meant that we could get more done this visit.

We discovered that the french doors from the kitchen to the courtyard were rotted.  Julie said it was because those doors were in full sunlight and rain, so we decided to have them removed, the lower part of the wall run up and sliding windows with screens put in to allow as much light into the kitchen as possible.

apartment kitchen, very basic with a bar fridge, an apartment sized stove, but it was a start…
the apartment bedroom, a comfortable bed, a mosquito net and a wire shelf for hanging clothes, it would suffice for now…

We wanted to get the apartment painted so that friends and family could come down to visit, so that was our priority for this visit.  By the time we left, everything in the apartment was a nice crisp white except for the bedroom that we painted green, and I’d hung roman blinds that I’d made in a nice tropical fabric.  Now the interior was painted, we had a table and chairs, and we had beds, it was pretty sparsely furnished, but it had the essentials, and we now felt comfortable enough to have company come and stay.

We soon discovered that the louver windows let in a lot of bugs, so we installed screens, but that only trapped the bugs between the louvers and the screen, we’d eventually replace them all with sash windows with screens, not as tropical or as traditional for Bequia, but practical, and they let in more light.

To be continued…




Construction in Island Time: Part 5

I’m staying at the house, how fabulous it was to have the house all to myself for an evening, with no workmen around, and though it isn’t done, it’s beginning to feel like it’s really going to be home someday.

Greg arrived bringing some Ikea chairs and a hammock, and we buy paint, a lot of paint, and get to work, alongside the painter who is now varnishing the roof and will also be varnishing the railings, and a carpenter who is working on installing the door handles.

great room before the paint with the Ikea chairs
the great room with paint…for several years we’d have just basic furniture because the plan was to move down from Canada and bring all our furniture with us…in the right hand foreground you can see the marine radio on a table…our only method of communication…

When I’d arrived the week earlier, I found a pile of boxes full of door hardware and only the dead bolts installed on the doors.  Apparently they couldn’t figure out how the handles were meant to be used, so once I explained that one was a working handle and the other merely decorative, the carpenter got to work, drilling the holes to install the handles.  Normally that would be a fairly quick job, but the carpenter only had a brace and bit, so he’d drill for a while, stop and sharpen his bit, drill for a while, stop and sharpen his bit, have a cigarette, drill for a while…with 12 sets of french doors it took him several days.  Greg had asked Julie if he could give the guy a power drill to use, but Julie said ‘No, don’t do that, he’ll only break it, because if he has a power tool he’ll get the job done faster but he’ll also be paid for fewer days.’ That’s just the way it was, but fortunately it isn’t that way anymore and most carpenters carry their own power tools to work with them.

We went into Port Elizabeth to pick up our paint and as we were walking along the road towards the hardware store, at least two taxi drivers called out to me, “Mrs. Thomas, everything all right?”  They seemed to know who I was, but didn’t know who Greg was, and we decided they were checking on me to make sure this strange guy wasn’t harassing me. Nothing goes unnoticed in Bequia.  I told them that yes, I was okay and introduced them to my husband.

At that time, the hardware store carried a limited amount of the premixed paint colors, so unless you wanted white, you’d have to order your paint ahead of time as it was mixed in Trinidad and shipped.  The color palette was very limited.  Thank heavens there are now several stores that carry paint and they mix the colors in the store.  They can scan a swatch and match it, or you can select from a vast array of paint chips.

ready to relax after a long day of painting, the front wall upstairs is done…the wood scaffold/ work bench for the painter who’d varnished the ceiling is in the background…we made good use of that ourselves…

So we’d work all day, sweating buckets, trying to get as much of the painting done as we could in a week, and though we practically killed ourselves working so hard in the heat and humidity, we managed to get the master bedroom, the great room and the front of the exterior of the house painted.  We had to learn to pace ourselves better and not try to do so much, so in future we had a rule to only work until lunchtime and then relax the rest of the day, and drink plenty of water.

Since we didn’t have any water for showers we’d go down to Spring beach for a swim and our bath in the sea, but we woke the one morning to the sound of heavy rain. Greg looked at me, I looked at him and we scrambled out from under the mosquito net, grabbed soap, shampoo and our towels and headed for the courtyard for our morning shower.  We felt like kids being allowed to play in the rain.

We’d been planning to go into Port Elizabeth to the Frangi for Jump Up the evening after the rain, but we heard over the marine radio that the detour was impassable as a taxi was stuck in the mud on the track through the dump, so we stayed home.  The next day we discovered that it was our driver Eddie who’d gotten stuck in the dump as he was trying to come out to see how we were as he hadn’t heard from us in a few days and he was worried about us.  He asked us to keep our marine radio on during certain hours so he could check on us to make sure we didn’t need anything.  Having the marine radio on provided us with some entertainment; there would be everything from people calling for a water taxi or land taxi, people making reservations, people ordering bread for delivery, to somebody hogging the airspace pontificating on politics, religion or safe sex, and somebody would eventually come on and tell them to get off the line or switch channels.

We made ourselves get out of the house and forget about painting for a day, and went down to Lower Bay to visit Mac and Grace John at Keegans. My Mom had sent along a few items that Grace said she couldn’t find in Bequia.  While we were there we noticed that Mac was switching out the old iron chairs from the bar for pvc chairs and he asked us if we’d like a couple of them.  I didn’t like to be greedy and only took two, but I wished later that I’d taken four. We gone through several sets of pvc chairs and still have the iron chairs, they need refinished but they are still good strong chairs.

a terrible photo, but Greg in chill mode…from the way he’s sitting he’s exhausted…

Each time we’d come down for the next year or more, we’d be painting, and we hadn’t even finished when the railings needed varnished again.  It took us a couple of years of trying different types of varnish, but we eventually decided that instead of varnishing once a year, we’d paint the railings and that would only need done every couple of years.  The varnished railings were pretty though, just not very practical with being exposed to the sun and rain.

Friends and family would come to Bequia and help us paint.  We’d spent so much money building the house that we didn’t feel we could afford to hire painters, and at that point in our lives we didn’t mind painting.

There were still things to be done by Julie and his crew.  When the kitchen cabinets were put in place it was discovered that the arborite counter had been cut the wrong way and the edges were all rough and it had to be reordered, so the kitchen upstairs wasn’t yet functional, we were missing a cabinet (it was probably at Mr Arthurs house but I wasn’t about to break in on him to search for our cabinet), we had a cabinet that was wrong, but fortunately it was the measurements for the apartment bathroom, and it was not Mr. Arthurs missing cabinet, the exterior tile floors and floors in the apartment still needed cleaned with muriatic acid to clean off the grout film.


to be continued…




Construction in Island Time: Part 4

Our next planned visit to Bequia was May 1993.  Julie had called us to say that he needed one of us to come down and show him where all the cabinets were to be placed, so I came down a week before Greg, hoping that by the time Greg arrived that we’d be able to stay in our new home. Because I’d be at the house much of the time, I stayed at Julie’s Guest House in Port Elizabeth. Since the road to Spring was under construction with a detour through the dump, and few taxi drivers would drive through the dump, Julie kindly arranged for his son Rocky to drive me back and forth on his way to and from work at the house.


it’s taking forever, but we are getting closer

Most of the plaster coat was finished on the walls and there were just a few places that still needed the plaster coat, mainly the ceiling of the apartment on the lower level.  I asked if the bedroom ceiling in the apartment could be finished as that would be the only room we would be able to stay in, if we could stay at all.  The water tank still needed cleaned out, so we had no water, and the electricity wasn’t connected, so we had no electricity.  None of the cabinets were in place, but the toilet was installed in the apartment, so if we had buckets of water we could use the toilet.  The apartment floor was tiled, but tiling was still being done upstairs and they’d run out of the tile used for the apartment and the outdoor spaces, so Julian would have to contact Isla Trading to see if we could get more of the same tile.  It turned out that that tile was no longer available, but there was a tile that was similar so they’d send that.  Fortunately, there wasn’t too big of a difference and where this tile would go it wouldn’t be too obvious that the tile was a little different.  If you are going to build in Bequia, you have to learn to compromise or settle for something less than what you want.

I had brought with me a queen sized air bed and some linens and a mosquito net, so we would have something to sleep comfortably on should things move far enough along.  I made a trip over to Kingstown and purchased a pvc table and chairs, some bed pillows and a few other items.  One of the wonderful things about shopping in Kingstown is that the stores will deliver your items to the ferry for you, so you don’t have to lug your purchases all over town, you just tell them what ferry you want them put on and usually they can accommodate you.

Julie just kept shaking his head, laughing and saying ‘No miss, it’s not ready’…I knew that, but I was determined that in a week, it could be ready enough to ‘camp’, and I hoped by being on site to encourage the process along.

Julie brought a painter to stain and varnish the wood ceilings upstairs, and to paint the fascia boards.  I had wanted decorative ‘gingerbread’ fascia boards but that didn’t happen and we ended up with plain boards.  This was not a huge problem, but it was a little disappointing.

Julie showed me samples of stain on scrap of cedar, and thought I’d like a darker stain than I’d selected because Mr. Manyweather who was a house builder in England was using that darker stain.  No, I didn’t want the darker stain, I wanted the lighter stain, I don’t care what somebody else is doing, I don’t care if he’s a house builder, he can do whatever he wants in his house, but that doesn’t mean I want it, in fact if it was up to me alone the ceilings would be painted white.  Sometimes we’d find that something had been done, like extra trim on the outside of the door frames, which prevented the doors from opening flat to the wall, and which we had to remove and then fill the holes left by the nails.  When we asked why that had been done, the answer was that ‘Mr. Athur had it done, so we thought you’d want it too.’

It took me about 15  years to finally convince Greg room by room that the ceilings would be nicer white, he let me start by painting a bathroom ceiling, then I convinced him to let me paint the bedroom ceiling, little by little I got my way and the entire upstairs interior has a lovely white painted vaulted timber ceiling.  It might not be everyone’s choice, as many people seem so hung up on the beauty of the timber as if painting wood is a sin, but it’s what I like, and it makes the interior so much brighter.  When you consider that the roof of the covered deck that wraps around much of the house extends 15 feet out from the house, though while it provides lovely shade for the deck, it also lets less light into the house, so the white ceiling makes a dramatic difference.

So we had the ceilings being stained and varnished upstairs, masons plastering the ceiling in the apartment, tilers laying tile upstairs, now we needed to place the cabinets and bathroom fixtures.  We quickly discovered that a few doors needed moved, as the door to the pantry wouldn’t be able to be opened as the fridge was going to be half in front of it and the door to the bathroom was too far over not leaving enough space for the bathtub.  I suggested a compromise, we’d slightly reconfigure the kitchen layout, moving the fridge to the opposite end of the row of cabinets, so they wouldn’t have to move that doorway, but they had to move the bathroom door as I was not giving up the bathtub.

Before we uncrated all the cabinets, Mr. Arthur, who Julie was building for further up the hill at the same time, came storming in one day, looking for one of his cabinets that was missing, and since his shipment came in the same container as ours, he assumed that it must therefore be in our house.  It wasn’t, but he was unintentionally helpful as he ended up uncrating most of our cabinets in his search.  It wasn’t a very auspicious way to introduce himself, but he and his wife Melanie would eventually be good neighbors and friends.

When the bathtubs were being installed, we discovered that the bathtub which was to fit nicely into the space allocated for it, had a 6 inch gap at the end, and the counters that were to span the opposite side had a 6 inch gap, and the mirror that was to wrap around the counters had a 6 inch gap.  Why have a blueprint if it’s not going to be followed? Now I’m getting frustrated, but there is nothing to do but figure out a solution.  I arranged with Julie for the gap at the end of the tub to be filled in with block and we’d tile the top and front of it to make a little ledge, which turned out to be handy anyway.  For the cabinets, we centered them and constructed spacers to fill the 3 inches on each side of the vanity, and built up the sides the height of the backsplash and tiled the top edge with leftover floor tile cut to fit.  For the 3 inch space on each side of the mirror, I purchased several small mirrors and used a glass cutter to cut the glass into various sized tiles and tiled the space on the sides, it took away a little from the wrap around effect that I wanted, but it worked. Years later  I’d remove the side mirrors and have a big frame made to go around the big mirror.


floors are tiled, ceiling fans are installed

The water tank was cleaned out ready for rain, the inspector from St Vincent came and inspected our wiring and gave the okay and the Vinlec linemen showed up to connect the electricity the day before Greg was to arrive, so now I made arrangements to move out of the guest house into our own home.  Our taxi driver of choice, Eddie, who would drive through the detour through the dump, was a huge help as he knew where I needed to get the attachments and propane tank for the stove, as well as a step down transformer so that we could charge our power drill and marine radio.  Julie still thought I was nuts, but he arranged for one of his laborers, Keith, to bring us a 40 gallon container of water each day.  I couldn’t believe it, Keith would carry the container full of water down the stairs on his shoulders.

The laborers gone, I got a ladder and drilled a hole in the apartment bedroom ceiling to hang the mosquito net, swept the floors and inflated the air bed and put the sheets on, set up the table and chairs, and made a pot of tea.  And then I heard a noise.

Is that somebody coming up through the bush?

And then the noise change to a raucous screeching and some pheasant like birds came into view.  Whew, it was just some Cocrico birds. Scared me half to death until I knew what it was.



To be continued…



Construction in Island Time: shopping for house fittings

Julie had told us that at some point we’d need to get in touch with his supplier Isla Trading in Miami, Florida, to arrange for all the interior house fittings; so in August 1992 Greg and I took a week off work to head south to Florida to visit the supplier to order all the things we needed to finish off the interior of the house.

Just about everybody from the US and Canada building with Julie in Bequia made a trip to Isla Trading to pick out their supplies, and almost everything  for the house had to be imported since there were so few choices in SVG.  At that time in SVG there were about 4 colors of 4 inch square bathroom tile, 2 choices of floor tile, white and off white, 4 colors of arborite countertop, white, pink, beige and off white, and 6 colors of paint.  We could have had cabinets made, but we were thinking of how long it had taken to get our house built, we didn’t want to wait another year for the cabinets to be built.  Of course nowadays you can just sit down at the computer and order everything you need and send a consolidation load through a shipper, but I think our trip was a lot more interesting.

With all of our money going into the house, we opted to drive instead of fly.  We fondly refer to this as our ‘hell bent for leather trip.’ We headed off from Erin, Ontario on a Saturday morning, in a new car, armed with CAA triptik maps and CAA tour books for each state we’d be going through, and with a cooler full of prepared salads and other picnic foods and a picnic hamper, so that we could just keep on going without the hassle of having to stop at restaurants for our meals.  We stopped at rest stops to picnic and refresh, and we overnighted in Best Western hotels the Saturday and Sunday evenings.  The car didn’t have a/c so when we’d stop to get gas we’d also buy big bottles of gatorade, as well as ice for the cooler.  We didn’t quite realize how hot it would be driving in the southern states in August with no air conditioning.  It was extemely hot and humid.

The Monday morning, having driven 1500 miles in 2 days, we arrived at Isla Trading about 9 am and spent the better part of the day, discussing our cabinet needs, picking some of our materials out in the warehouse, and approving suggestions.  I can’t remember the name of the owner, but he had loads of great advice; such as for security with french doors, it made more sense to have the slide bolts that slide up inside the edge of the door, as opposed to the fancy ones which mount on the inside of the doors, which though they look really nice, could be accessed and opened by breaking a pane of glass.  He also helped with suggestions for the kitchen layout, and bathroom cabinets to fit our needs, using the dimensions from our blueprints.  Little did we know then that the room dimensions had changed a bit, as Julie added a half a foot to the bathrooms, pantry and closet and took 6 inches off the kitchen and bedroom,  he put a door into the pantry where the fridge was to go, and a door to the bathroom which didn’t leave room for the bathtub.

After a long productive day, we’d made all our selections from door hardware, interior doors, kitchen cabinets, bathroom cabinets, countertops, bathroom mirrors, 2 stoves, 2 refrigerators, sinks and faucets and all the fittings, interior floor tile, exterior floor tile.  We’d been given the amount of tile to order, without allowing the extra 10% so this would prove to be another challenge later down the road, when we weren’t able to match the exterior tile when it was discovered that there wasn’t quite enough.  Whatever we didn’t order now, we’d have to buy and carry down from Canada.

About 5 pm, we left Isla Trading and we headed north to Alligator Alley and across to Naples, planning on getting as far north as we could with the intention of driving around to New Orleans for a few days before heading home again.  We made it as far as St. Petersburg when we stopped for the night in a lovely beachside hotel, the Best Western Sea Castle on Treasure Island, and it was so nice that we decided New Orleans would have to wait, we were going to take a few days to relax.  We spent a day at Busch Gardens, and another day just wandering the beach, renting one of the aquatic tricycles, which were much harder to use than you’d think, and finding some nice waterfront restaurants to dine in.

Then north on I75, taking 4 days to make our way home, we stopped for a picnic lunch at Stone Mountain Park just outside of Atlanta, Georgia, under majestic oak trees dripping with spanish moss, toured the antebellum plantation complete with a moonshine still out behind the farmyard, took a paddleboat ride around the lake, and admired the stone carving at Stone Mountain Park just outside of Atlanta, Georgia; we stopped briefly in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to see the Chattanooga Choo Choo; shopped for crafts in Berea, Kentucky, where we purchased a wrought iron triangle to use as our door bell at our new house in Bequia; broke our drive to picnic and see the gorgeous horses and statues of famous race horses, such as Man ‘O War, at the Kentucky Horse Farm, in Lexington, Kentucky; then on north to Toledo, Ohio where we went to the zoo and got as up close and personal with the animals as you would want to get, were impressed to see the hippo in the Hippoquarium, and entertained by a huge polar bear playing in his pool, and where we saw a rare albino alligator; then across the border and home the next day.

That was a wonderful trip; as well as being productive and getting the fittings for the house organized, we saw some interesting things and had a great time.  The day after we got home we took the car in for it’s 5000 mile check.  And a day or two later Hurricane Andrew ravaged Florida.

We still haven’t made it to New Orleans, but maybe one day we will get there.

Isola’s coalpot: whale meat

On our final day of the visit in January 1993, we went out to Spring to see our house once more and stopped by to visit Julie at his farm to discuss a few details, such as the fact that we were going to need a set of stairs built down to the house.  We discussed the progress, the supplies that needed to come in from Julies supplier in Florida, who we’d visited in August 1992, just getting out of Florida a day or two before Hurricane Andrew stormed through; and that we planned to return in May and hoped we’d be able to stay in the house at that time.  Fingers crossed.

After we finished talking about the house, Julie said to come into the garden behind the house to see Isola, and we discovered most of the family congregated around Isola and her mother Miss Lillian, who was in her 80s, who were standing at a work top cutting a large slab of whale blubber into chunks.  The block of whale blubber was about 8 inches thick and at least as wide and deep, and it needed to be diced into roughly 1 inch cubes.

Isola welcomed us warmly, told us to have a seat, have a drink, and you’ll learn how to cook whale.

The first thing to know is you must cook whale outside as the smell from the oil is very strong and will stink up your house, so you need to do all the preparation outside.  And you need to have some very large bowls and a big cooking pot.

While they continued cutting the thick blubber into small chunks, one of the sons started a fire going in a coal pot.  Once the coals were red hot, Isola put a large pot full of the cut up blubber onto the coal pot full of glowing coals to render down to oil.

While the blubber was melting, Isola and her mother started preparing the whale meat.  They had a huge bag full of seasonings, and they would take a fist sized chunk of the meat, cut a slit into it and then rub the seasonings all over the meat and inside the slit.  My husband is quite the kitchen helper so he asked if he could spell Miss Lillian for a while. Everybody looked shocked that he would want to help, but Miss Lillian was amused and happy to sit for a bit of a rest.

Once the fat was rendered down, the ‘crips’ which are the skin boiled crisp, were ladled out and dumped in a bowl and salted, and they tasted pretty good, rather like pork rinds. Then the seasoned meat could be added to the oil.

Immediately on adding the meat to the oil, the oil turned murky, but after a while, the oil went clear again, and that is your clue that the meat is cooked.  The meat is ladled out of the fat, more chunks of blubber were melted down to top up the oil, and then more seasoned meat added to the oil to cook. It was going to be a long process as they had quite a large amount of meat to cook.

Julie and Isola insisted that we had to have some, so we were given plates with a portion of the whale meat and a fork.  I couldn’t believe the tenderness of the meat, it was like very rich filet mignon and so tender that you could cut it with a fork.  It was delicious, and I’m glad we had the opportunity to learn how to cook it and taste it, since it is part of Bequia culture and history.

Apparently the cooked meat can be stored unrefrigerated in whale oil for up to a year, this is called the Bequia refrigerator.  In years when there was a successful whale hunt, Isola would put cooked meat into canning jars and top them up with whale oil, then parcel them up to send to her children that lived in Canada.


Traditional whale hunt in Bequia

I’m not a proponent of whaling, though I do understand the other viewpoint to a degree, so when we were on the Friendship Rose trip and heard about the whale being caught we wanted to know more about it.

Traditional whaling is still allowed in Bequia, and the International Whaling Commission allows Bequia whalers to catch 4 humpback whales a year, provided they follow the traditional methods, which basically is a small sailboat (no motor), and a hand held harpoon; however years can go by with no whales being caught, and even in a year when they have caught a whale, they’ve never caught 4 in a year.  Many people say, why doesn’t Bequia offer whale watching trips instead of hunting whales, but there really are very few whales that come through here.

Though some humpback whales do go south to the Gulf of Paria off the north end of Venezuela near Trinidad, to winter and calve, and Bequia is on the migration route for those humpback whales, most of the North Atlantic humpback whales winter and calve in the northern part of the Caribbean and Antilles, particularly the waters off of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Island and Dominica.  Studies done in the past few years, suggest that though the North Atlantic Humpback whale is not endanged,  the stocks of humpbacks that winter in the Southern Caribbean are definitely lowering.

In one fairly recent study season in the Gulf of Paria and around Trinidad and Tobago, there were only 46 whales spotted, including 3 mother calf pairs.  When you consider that the North Atlantic Humpback whales total 10,600 whales, 46 is an incredibly small fraction, so it’s no wonder that we see so few go past Bequia.  It’s suggested that the over whaling of these waters from the Norwegian whale factory off of Grenada after WWII depleted the stocks such that this particular group may never recover, especially since this group is still being hunted with the Bequia whalers hunting calf and cow pairs. It is also a possibility that the oil refineries and tankers in the Gulf of Paria may be a factor in why the Humpback whales don’t breed and calve there much anymore.

Whatever the reason, we see very few Humpback whales in the waters off of Bequia, but I’ll always treasure the memory of seeing a huge humpback breaching twice off of the island Balliceaux to the east of Bequia a number of years ago.

So, how do you catch a whale?

First you need a whaleboat, and Why Ask shown in the photo above is one of them. The whaleboats, are about 25 feet long, like a very long open double ended fishing dory which allows it to be rowed from either direction, with a stepped mast. From the end of January to the end of April, lookouts will be posted at various high points on Bequia and Mustique to keep watch for whales.  In the days before cell phones, if they spotted a whale they’d use a piece of mirror to signal. When a whale is spotted, and the signal received, the whalers waiting near the whaleboats push the boats off from the beach, jump in and row until they can pick up the wind, then the sails are lifted and the boat takes off and the chase begins.

If they don’t lose sight of the whale, and they often do, when they close in on the whale, the sails are dropped, and when they get close enough to the whale, the harpooner, who has to be not only very brave, but a great sailor with incredible balance and strength, who is in the front of the boat lets loose the 25+ pound harpoon with line attached, and he has to throw it hard enough so that it will stick a couple of feet into the whale.  Then the whale takes off, the line attached to the harpoon plays out with men continually pouring water on the line as it pulls otherwise with the speed with which it plays out the friction will cause the line to catch on fire. As the line plays out the whaleboat is pulled very fast through the water, this is called the ‘Nantucket Sleigh Ride’ and eventually tires out the poor whale, but heaven help the whalers if the whale dives.  When the whale finally gives up and is beside the boat, the whaler steps out of the boat onto the whales back and delivers the final blow with a long lance which he drives deep into the whale into it’s heart.

Then one or two of the crew jump into the water as they now have to sew up the mouth of the whale so that it can be towed to the whaling station to be butchered.  Without sewing up the mouth the whale will take on water and sink.

The whale gets towed to the whaling station.  At the whaling station the whale is attached by chains to huge winches which need about 10 strong men to turn the crank to pull the massive whale up the ramp where the butchering begins with huge flencing tools as they remove the blubber in sections before getting to the meat.

The meat and blubber are sold and the crew is paid from the proceeds by a share method, depending on their job, and the danger involved, the harpooner taking the largest share. Traditionally a person buying whale meat was automatically given an equal amount of blubber to render down to cook the meat, but the whalers now charge for the blubber and that upsets a lot of people to have to pay for that which they used to get for free.

Bequian’s are for the most part ready for the end of whaling. Each time there is a catch, more and more Bequian’s are turned off by the hunt, and the butchering of the incredible creatures.  A few years ago a motor boat got involved in the hunt which is against the IWC rules.  I happened to see that chase as I was at a house way up top of Spring looking to the east and the motor boat went and collected the harpooner from the whaleboat which would never have caught the whale, and took him to the whale, where they didn’t harpoon the whale, they just shot it.  There was a great uproar about that and the harpooner was taken over to Kingstown by the coast guard, but it seems he was just given a slap on the wrist where they should have lost their right to whale.  That whale was towed to Love Island and secured and left til the next day for butchering and by then the meat was turning rancid in the heat.

Up until the 1970s there was an international market for the whale oil and traditionally, just like North Americans would have a dose of cod liver or salmon oil in the winter months, Bequians would have a dose of whale oil, whether they needed it or not.  And before frequent shipment of frozen foods, the whale meat was necessary as a food source, but now, Tyson’s chicken seems to be the protein of choice for many.

We did go out to the whaling station to see the whale so I do have some photos of the calf being butchered, but I don’t have the heart to post them, and I would never go to the whaling station again, once was enough; instead here is a teaser ad for The Wind That Blows, which is about whaling in Bequia.  The harpooner in the clip is Athneal Ollivierre who was in his 70’s when the film was made.


Time out in Bequia

On our January 1993 trip to Bequia we again stayed at Keegans Guest House at Lower Bay, and met yet more lovely people.  While we were spending some of our days painting doors and windows at the house, we took several days just to explore and have fun.

We had a great day hiking out to Hope with a picnic with a lovely couple from Boston, Buddy and Susie, and taking the scenic route along the way. It had been suggested that we should take the Spring Road to the Hope Road as the walk was easier than the more direct route up Camel, which is pretty much straight up, so we walked from Lower Bay into Port to pick up a bottle of wine to go with our picnic, then because we were coming from Doris Fresh Food old location by the fish market we turned a road to soon and walked up through a residential area named Paradise before coming down to the Spring road, so we went up a hill only to go down again.  We were using a little tourism map with foot paths marked on it, but we managed to go astray yet again as we missed the old broken down road to Hope beach and ended up at Hope Estate, fortunately there was a man working in the garden and he kindly gave us directions down to the beach from there, and explained how to find our way out later.  The way into Hope is now clearly marked in several spots along the way, so today’s explorers shouldn’t have any problems finding it.

Greg on the beach at Hope after bobbing in the waves

We played in the waves a bit and afterward we found a nice shady spot for our picnic.  Buddy was a bartender in Boston and had a million stories, so it quite an entertaining day, plus a wonderful day on to be out for a walk and on the beach.  We kept in touch with Buddy and Susie exchanging postcards for a few years, and always thought we’d meet them in Bequia again some day.

The Friendship Rose refit changing the Rose over from a ferry to a pleasure boat was finished while we were on Bequia and a call was made over the marine radio for people interested in taking the Friendship Rose day trip to the Tobago Cays to sign up at their hotels and guest houses.  As soon as we heard about the trip we headed to the bar to find Mac John to get our names on the list.  There was an option of flying back to Bequia from Union Island late afternoon, or sailing back and getting back to Bequia around 7pm.  We opted to sail back and we were so glad we did.

We’d snorkeled off of Moonhole on a previous trip but it was always great to see the original Moonhole house from the water as we sailed past on our way south.  Later we’d become friends with Jean Poisson, who styled himself ‘the cave man of Moonhole,’ and Jim and Sheena Johnston who used to give tours of Moonhole when they lived there.


The trip was fabulous, sailing on the Rose is always a treat, and Captain Adams and his crew took great care of everybody.  We’d never been to the Cays so it was a great surprise to see the incredible vibrant colors of the water and the clarity.  You truly have to see it, to believe the color.  We were off loaded into the dinghy to take us ashore and we spent several hours snorkeling off the beach, and then went back to the Rose for a lovely late lunch.  After lunch everybody lazed around on the boat while the crew cleaned up, and mid afternoon we headed for Union Island, dropped off most of the passengers who were going to fly back, and that left us and a young honeymooning couple from Germany who were also staying at Keegans to sail back, and what a treat to have the boat to ourselves. The marine radio was on and there was a call made out to let everybody know that ‘Athneal caught a whale off Mustique,’ which made for considerable excitement from the crew.  Apparently a diver from the whaleboat ‘Why Ask’ was in the water sewing up the mouth so the boats could begin to tow the whale back to the whale station at Petit Nevis.  More on whaling in Bequia soon.

The Friendship Rose under sail to the Tobago Cays

One of the crew was from one of the Nordic countries and his father was on the trip with us.  He was an astronomer, so after the sun set and it got dark, he was pointing out all the constellations and planets that we could see.  As well, there was quite bright phosphorescence in the wake of the boat and in the waves, so we felt like we were surrounded by stars, stars in the big sky above us and below us in the sea…it was quite magical and beautiful.  That sums up Bequia actually, quite magical and beautiful.