Thursday, February 8, 2018

Here and There: Scenes from the Windward Islands

 Day 1: Hotel Bambou, Trois-Ilets (across the bay from Fort de France), Martinique; quite a contrast from buildings we would encounter in more economically disadvantaged islands
Day 2: Affordable waterborne accommodations in Le Marin harbor, southern Martinique
 Day 3: Pope was easily distracted by the tourist attractions in Sainte Anne, Martinique
Day 3: The crew fell for it instantly: 2-for-1 happy hour for visiting yachters, Marigot Bay, St. Lucia; I resisted getting ice in my drinks, due to lack of sanitation
 Day 4: Fellow passenger Mark took the helm for the passage to St. Vincent
Day 5: Primitive coffin factory at the foot of lush volcanic peaks at Wallilobou Bay, St. Vincent; mold is rampant in the rain-forest humidity
Day 6: Shelter from the daily drizzle under plants of the tropical rain forest, during a hike to a waterfall and garden, Wallilobou Bay, St. Vincent
Day 7: Prowling the coastal path between Princess Margaret Beach and Lower Bay outside of Port Charlotte, Bequia; we stopped for a very pleasant swim in clear, warm water
 Day 8: Homes on the hillside and stripped cars, Port Charlotte, Bequia; we saw quite a few abandoned cars and houses, on several islands
 Day 9: Each day we sailed from one island to the next: mini ocean passages, or short hops; here, en route to our snorkeling expedition at Tobago Cays Marine Reserve, St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Day 10: Modest home on an island you probably never heard of: Union Island, St. Vinvent and the Grenadines; this was our turnaround point, where we headed back toward Martinique
Day10: Liquor sales are a lucrative business in the Eastern Caribbean; on Union Island, we felt compelled to sample the local "intoxicated liquor;" it tasted normal to us
Day 11: On Mustique, the island of the very rich, the beaches are clean and private, and the workers' boats are clean and brightly painted, in contrast to other islands of the Grenadines
Day 12: 255 steps up a steep rock cliff to Fort Duvernette, a British stronghold that protected the harbor and sugar cane shipments from uprisings of the local Garifuna, who opposed the British colonial occupation; Blue Lagoon, St. Vincent
Day 13: Lush, tropical rain forest and blown-out streets coexist on St. Vincent; here, a stroll around Chateaubelair, St. Vincent
Day 14: We conquered Gros Piton, a volcanic peak near Soufriere, St. Lucia: a very tough five-hour hike and climb, nearly straight up and down with few switchbacks; admission to the trail and a guide:  US$50 each

Day 14: Back to reality after the beautiful and invigorating mountain hike: typical urban street and fruit stand, Soufriere, St. Lucia
Day 15: A shipment of life jackets for our boat, White Cliffs, caught up with us at an upscale marina in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia--on the last day of our cruise! Now I felt safe!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

I Went To the Caribbean, and All I Got Was This T-Shirt

I went to the Caribbean, and all I got was a suntan, and this t-shirt. But it's a pretty blue shirt with colorful sailboats, from an exotic-sounding place--Tobago Cays. It's a place I had never heard of until a few months ago, when my partner Pope and I signed up for a sailboat cruise in the Eastern Caribbean.
It says Tobago Cays on the front
Geography lesson: The islands we explored are at the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. They are known as the Windward Islands because sailing ships following the prevailing trade winds--which blow east to west--to the New World encountered these islands first. Windward means toward the source of the wind; leeward means the opposite direction. Thus, the Windwards are east (actually southeast) of the better-known Leeward Islands, which include the U.S. Virgins (St. John, St. Thomas, etc.). They are largely volcanic.
The Windward Islands
We began our journey in Martinique, where we met our Dutch captain and three other passengers aboard a 45-foot sailboat. (See previous post.) Our first stop was St. Lucia, which has its fair share of fine villas, mega-yachts, and luxury resorts (renting for a few hundred to a few thousand per night).
65-foot yacht and 5-star hotel at Marigot Bay, St. Lucia
We spent the bulk of our time in the island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a long history of colonization and collapse, not to mention volcanic eruptions. In 1979, St. Vincent became the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence, though it still recognizes Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. Although it's a beautiful place to swim, snorkel, and enjoy sunsets, the country is struggling with an uncertain future. Governing and keeping the economy afloat is a challenge in a water-bound country consisting of 32 islands and cays (pronounced keys, they are small, low islands or even sandbars and reefs). Poverty is widespread; health care is out of reach for many residents. 
Home in Wallilabou Bay, island of St. Vincent
Fence and home near Clifton Harbor, Union Island, Grenadines
One of the islands, Bequia, has intrigued me for years because we were once offered an opportunity to boat-sit there for six months. Bequia boasts a smattering of leftover colonial elegance amid run-down houses, farmers' stands, and struggling 10'x10' stores. The glorious sunsets are free.
Plantation Hotel, Admiralty Bay, Bequia, Grenadines
Typical ventilated (not air-conditioned) home in Admiralty Bay
Shops in Admiralty Bay
Model-boat building is a traditional Bequia industry
Sunsets and bathing in the sea are free for everyone
Only one island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines has emerged strong from the realm of dilapidated homesteads, polluted streams, bad roads, and downtrodden residents: Mustique, purchased by a Scottish brewery heir, cleaned up, and minimally developed for the very, very rich (think David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Princess Margaret, Kate Middletons' parents).
Prince William vacationed with in-laws at this hilltop mansion on Mustique
At the prettiest shops in the Windwards, you can buy lace camisoles and boutique flip-flops
Mustique is an anomaly in this Small Island Developing State (United Nations designation) reporting a 30% poverty rate and nearly 20% unemployment. Despite its woes, however, many of the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are rich with natural wonders that beckon to visitors. My t-shirt came from Tobago Cays, five tiny islands--some no larger than a sandbar, surrounded by reefs, accessible only by boat.
One of the five Tobago Cays--a sandbar with a few palm trees
 Visiting sailors flock to Tobago Cays' turtle reserve and remote beaches
 At many of the economically challenged islands, enterprising citizens have found ways to make a buck. At each harbor, our "yacht"--not really, but to the locals it spelled money--was immediately surrounded by entrepreneurs in vessels ranging from beat-up kayaks to fast motorboats, hawking mooring balls, boating supplies, fruit, and fresh fish--ranging in size from the 15-inch tuna our captain bought (below) to a 3-foot barracuda.
If they don't already have the fish you want, they will catch it, pronto!
In the Tobago Cays, a remote marine reserve with no infrastructure or factories, this fellow who tied his boat up to our stern pulled out stack after stack of t-shirts! In many colors and sizes! (The one he is wearing has the same design as mine.) Probably made in China; but how were they shipped (no post office or ferries)...? Where are they stored...?
Let's tie up your boat while we try on your t-shirts
The marine reserve is a popular snorkeling spot and a primary draw; indeed, we saw a few sea turtles, though very few fish. 
You pay the man before you swim with the turtles
The water is warm, idyllic for swimming, and very, very blue. I could gaze at it for hours, and did. Dressed in my matching blue shirt. 
Yes, the water really is a translucent aquamarine color!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Here Comes the Sun

The forecast for 10 inches of snow in New York was a bad omen. Our flights connected through JFK the very day that 2,000 flights were suspended--our flight to New York among them. Trains and buses were shut down.

Naturally, since we didn't make it to JFK in time, the second, international, flight left at 12:59 pm, exactly as scheduled. I accepted that as my fate as an eternal pessimist--if it can go wrong, it will. Pope and I consulted. He pondered. I bitched. We vowed to throw money at the problem; i.e., we threw away those worthless boarding passes and bought new tickets for the next day, this time connecting through Florida.

Everything brightened after that: First the flights. Then the sun, the temperature (high 70s in the Caribbean), the $200/night hotel that didn't charge us for our no-show the first night, and--especially--the paint job on our very cute cottage.
There was hope! That's quite a concession for an eternal pessimist to make. And in fact, I was not disappointed. Even this frequently disgruntled fussbudget and bellyacher is hard pressed to find a reason to regret our excursion to the Windward Islands, in the eastern Caribbean. 

What went well, from my point of view? Let's start with our arrival on Martinique, a French island.

From the first day, I enjoyed fresh fruit and flowers. The croissants at our resort were the best I've ever tasted. I luxuriated in the warn sand and clear water.
The next day, we met our Dutch captain and fellow passengers at a breezy waterfront bar on a sun-drenched afternoon. Loaded up with bread, butter and water (the Americans), wine, beer and rum (the Dutch) and dinghied it out to the boat. (That's called provisioning, in sailors' parlance.)
The Jenneau 45 that would be our home for two weeks was large and luxurious compared to our O'Day 30: two heads, refrigerator/freezer, oven, and radar. Pope and I were assigned a roomy aft bunk.
Just as important as a comfortable boat, the crew and all passengers heartily agreed to heed the universal call among sailors for sunset cocktails. We didn't even have to vote.
A calm night. Sunrise and another bright day: fortified with baguettes and French cheese, we hauled the 75-pound anchor easily. Other than some minor hangovers, what was there to complain about? Not much, even for this hard-core pessimist. 

We set sail and headed out to sea.