Latest Trip

NYT Talks Grenada & I Talk Back

Posted on: Monday, February 9th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | 3 comments
On Saturday, February 7, the New York Times published a lengthy and insightful travel article, “In Grenada, Leaving the Past Behind,” by Ned Martel.  After digging into Grenada for the past 2+ weeks (and exploring the West Indies for nearly two months) I must say he’s mostly spot-on.  Yet a “conversation” with this big-time write-up is too tempting to pass up.  First, his quotes; then my replies…

Leaving the past behind…”  
Yes, they’re working on building a brighter future.  But the past is omnipresent too, in ongoing hurricane repairs, print, street paintings, and conversations. In a bar where I killed an hour today, four locals debated 1974 and 1979 events the entire time.  Who in America can discuss politics circa the 70s? And would 95% of Americans wear the national colors the whole weekend during Independence celebrations?  No way.      
What I get is the feeling that folks are happy to see me, even if they see me on occasion as a human dollar sign.”  
True dat!  But folks here may have mastered the art of be happy, don’t worry.  And a dollar can buy a lot of happy down here.  An EC buck costs about US$.40, and seems more appreciated than in typical tourist economies—maybe because tourists are still rare on most of the island.  Mercifully, guests are rarely “horossed.”  What I’ve more noted is the generosity:  I couldn’t quantify the poundage of perfect produce that’s been cheerfully given to us.  And in Grenville, a kind vegetable vendor gifted my children two bags of cheesy chips after I’d refused to buy them.  She wins, my kids win, I smile and wag my finger at her coy smirk.  
The intervention.”  
Guidebooks may have clued me in.  But I’ve heard it called everything from “the invasion” to “the intervention” to “the liberation.”  Of course, politics run thicker than callaloo stew down here; I’ve seen people this weekend (their Independence Day) wearing Bishop t-shirts.  He was the one assassinated in ’83, shortly before “the intervention.” 
Islanders have savored relaxation so heartily…”  
No exaggeration:  I hear that word used many times a day by locals.  Like a mantra.  Not only are they selling it, they’re practicing the discipline themselves.  Loitering. Chilling. Hanging out. Grenadians have made it an art form.  They also say “rest” a lot.  If you ask if that’s the restaurant owner sitting at a corner table alone, they’ll just say, “Ya mon, he restin’.”  Nobody would question it if he sat there all night.  
An air of gratitude that suggests they couldn’t have enjoyed the freedoms of today without the despairs of yesterday.”  
Indeed, freedom rules.  Yet the customs and manners here are eerily old school, the people reverent and demure.  Not only do they say thank you, they always say you’re welcome.  As for the mentioned despairs, my guess is a gutsy, national pride has grown from all they’ve been through:  slavery, revolution, US invasion, huge hurricanes.  They work hard and take little for granted, including the fruits of their labor and the ease of feeling free.        
We stop half a dozen times.  
Yep.  At least.  Mr. Welcome Cummings is obviously a classy, high-end driver.  We’ve used recommended renegade drivers, who charge less but don’t have a taxi license, AC, or seatbelts, and who will stop dozens of times.  In the middle of the road.  The authenticity is priceless, and we meet local folks and gain instant insight into real-life Grenada.  Cell phones may be common, but Grenadians still communicate in person and on the move. 
More hypocrisy in the churches than in the rum shops.”  
Ha!  Perhaps, but there’s more macho, booming BS in the rum shops than all the churches combined.  Grenada is uncannily spiritual.  “All family belongs to a church,” I was told yesterday.  “Even the Roman Catholic dance in the aisles,” I was told today.  People paint inspirational messages—not graffiti—all over.  The public-transportation “reggae buses” have names like “Bless Up,” “Always Decent,” and “Yes Jah.”  The back windshield will boast verses as simple as, “God is Love” to “The sky is wide enough for a million stars.”  Like billboards in an American city, you can’t escape these messages—of positivity and faith.    
From the hilltop jail, convicts enjoy the best view of the island.”  
For real.  Methinks they could convert that hoosegow with a view into a chic S&M resort called “Incarceration,” except this conservative island has a dress code and doesn’t even allow cleavage (never mind that men carry knives and machetes).  The harborside hospital also has a stunning location, and has the rep of being full of new equipment—that no one knows how to use.  That, too, could make a nice fantasy resort…for wealthy hypochondriacs?
I could spend all night at Patrick’s, and with Patrick himself.”   

Put simply:  We had the exact opposite experience.  The worst night, worst food, worst encounter with a Grenadian.  Maybe it’s because I don’t write for The Times?  Or perhaps it was just fate. It matters not.  Travel teaches us that bliss comes in 555 forms.  And letdowns happen.  Even his waitress couldn’t handle Patrick that night, and our cabbie (nobody special) was embarrassed upon hearing our story.  We were the only table in the joint that evening.  But were also told that the previous night had been packed with naughty yachties.  Hmmm.  I’m glad the NYT writer had a good experience; that gives me simultaneous skepticism, hope, and—maybe—a reason to try again.

…endure a lot of stares and the occasional shout of ‘White man!’ even as I sit safely in One Dog’s passenger seat.”  
Yep.  My posse is a white man, woman, boy, and girl—all Scandinavian blonde and blue.  Been there, heard that–though we may have looked less “outsider” when traveling in the rusty jalopies of locals.  I prefer to think that we were novelties, not targets.  You know, like a donkey in the Mall of America, where everyone would no doubt yell, “Donkey!”  
We reach a spooky town…  
For sure, if you tour the many neighbohorhoods, villages and towns of Grenada, at least one will strike you as spooky.  Or your driver will tell you it is.  Or a “local lunatic” or “half-brained crackhead” will come at your car.  Spooky, or just predictable island drama?  Still, the worst vibe I felt and mischief I saw was PG compared to a drive through many ‘hoods in Minneapolis.  For fear management, I’ll take Grenada.  (Yet that cemetery at Carib Leap in Sauteurs was sorta creepy…) 
For now, Americans are cool.  The Caribbean glows with the pride that the USA chose a Black man to be president.  His face appears on bumper stickers, gallery artworks, and roadside paintings—where he sitteth alongside the likes of Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela, MLK, and Fidel Castro.  
  • In conclusion:  Great story, Ned.  Come back before February ends, and we’ll compare notes and local rums–on me.  And just for some extra theater, let’s have our last supper at Patrick’s. 
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Cool Breezes Bless Annual Sailing Festival

Posted on: Sunday, February 1st, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | 3 comments

What a glorious Sunday!  Days like this—exactly like this—float like fantasies in the mind when one is plotting a BreakAway.  So when they finally happen, the pleasure feels both familiar and profound.


Grenada’s sailing festival is a big event, running over several days, with yachties from all over the world filling the harbors, hotels, and bars. That’s fun.  And in our resort, it was easy to make new friends.  Heck, a team from the Shetland Isles of Scotland invited me to join their team for two races.  Unfortunately, the timing didn’t work out. Dang!

The Finish Line

But the real action—at least for the locals—is the “work boat” races on Grand Anse beach.  These are traditional, home-made boats, with plywood for the body, bamboo for the mast, and sponsor-donated sailcloth for the one mainsail.

The towns and outer islands (Petit Martinique and Carriacou) race each other, and yes, there is rivalry!  The race begins on shore with a LeMans-style start, heads out to sea for three turns around buoys, and then returns to shore again.  When the boat hits sand, and a sailor scrambles out and crosses the finish line–and runs to the stand for a shot of rum–we have a winner.

Run for the Rum!

The festival features all the sights, sounds, and smells that make events like these so sweet…

  • An MC sets the stage and keeps things moving and dancing; his subwoofer is the size of an SUV and keeps all three miles of the beach bobbing in riddim.
  • There are junior races (sorry, no rum for you), so the families can get giddy and noisy.

Future Sailor

  • There are rivalries, sure, but also times when a whole team goes missing and the race gets delayed.

Strategy Session

  • The occasional “man overboard” makes for lots of excitement, as the waterlogged sailor swims as quickly as he can to catch up with his craft.
  • Kids play in the sand and swim right around the start and finish lines and couldn’t care less about no races.

Time for a Swim

  • Vendors line the beach selling bbq, oildown (the national dish), souvenirs, hand-made crafts, cold bevies, and lots and lots of beer.
  • Young men gather in groups under seagrape trees to catch a buzz and be cool.

Run from the Big Boys

  • Pale tourists chase around with bazooka-sized cameras choking their necks.

Grande Anse Beach Scene

When it’s time for this fam to sail away, this guy doesn’t want to.  But our bags are again packed, and it’s time to move to our next home in Gouyave, a little fishing village half-way up the island.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Greetings from Grenada

Posted on: Saturday, January 31st, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 4th Stop: Grenada, Latest Trip | Leave a comment
Getting to Grenada is not easy. Maybe that’s why tourists are relatively rare, and an “undiscovered” label still sticks in most guidebooks. That’s all good by me. We came here, 12 degrees north of the equator and not far from Venzuela and Trinidad, to find out if some authentic, old-world Caribbean still thrives. 

Good news:  It’s alive.  The BreakAway timetable bestows us with about 27 days here, so much exploration lies ahead.  But the early impressions are pleasing and promising… 

  • It’s about the people.  Every reference source raves about the friendly, happy people.  Maybe all 110,000 of them aren’t, but most I’ve met so far sure are. 

Study in Orange, Part 2

  • They’re landholders.  Grenadians love their land, and most of them own some.  That does a lot to keep pride up, crime down, standards high, and poverty low. 
  • Size matters.  At 118 square miles of volcanic steepness, this place is expansive by island standards.  That gives it some added depth; the locals call inland “the country.” 

Grenada Town

  • History.  Talk about color!  This gem has had tribes fighting over it since the Arawaks and Carabs, then the French and Brits, and not long ago, a group of Cubans and Soviets. 
  • The revolution.  Now, and for all of 35 years, this nation is independent!  There WAS that nine-year period of fledgling socialism, that led to a short but bloody revolution, that led to a short but successful 1983 intervention by US and others.  But since then, government has been quite stable, peaceful, and democratic here.  Folks love to talk (and chuckle) about it, and may mention acquaintances who were part of the drama. 
  • Hurricane wreckage.  This island is allegedly off the main path and had seen no major storm since 1955.  Oblivious to that, Ivan tore through here only five years ago, crushing most of the island into a dreadful disaster.  Though some destruction is still evident, the rebuild has been impressive and inspiring. 

Hurricane Ivan Evidence

  • Education.  Most Americans wouldn’t want to send their kids to school in the Caribbean–with one exception:  St. George’s University has an oceanfront campus, a respectable medical school, a high-school program for residents, and 5,000 lucky students from all corners of the world. 
  • Natural beauty.  Find it anywhere and everywhere here.  Diversity too, from inland lakes, rivers, and waterfalls, to craggy cliffs, rural fields, and 3-mile long beaches.
  • Quaintness.  They take their old-world Caribbean vernacular seriously.  Fat new-money homes are rare, as are sprawling resorts.  Instead, owner-occupied, charming little venues dot the waterside.  And houses come in rainbows of colors—though the red-roof tradition carries on. 

St. George's, Granada

  • Art.  Batik is big.  Face carvings and masks tell stories.  And bright paintings hang all over.  There’s even a thriving arts and crafts market.  It’s as if Grenadians are trying to outdo each other sometimes. 


  • Safety.  Practice good travel hygiene, of course.  But after that, this place has a rep that gives little to worry about.  I saw two uniformed police dancing at a packed event.  And one white local told of being the lone whitey entering a big cricket match.  When some teens with ‘tude started harassing him, a crowd of older natives (all strangers) surrounded the bad boys and scolded them long and hard. 
  • Food.  Necessity is the mother of all big gardens.  But they eat well and cheap here, thanks to plentiful fisheries, rich volcanic soil with organic gardens, and generous, tasty traditions.  Known as the “spice island,” Grenada grows one-third of the world’s nutmeg, and much of its clove, cinnamon, and more. 

Spice Plantation


  • Tourism.  The revolution didn’t help.  The hurricane hurt.  Two charter airlines just went bankrupt.  And remoteness rarely draws.  There’s just enough tourism here to boost the economy, but not so much that it’s choking the locals. 

Somewhere Over the Cruiseship

  • Culture.  It’s different—more diverse—down here.  English influences outweigh America’s. There are hints of South American, India, and Asia.  It’s a melting pot, a spicy stew.  But for sure the main influence around here remains authentic Caribbean, no:  uniquely Grenadian.  
  • Partiology.  They call it “limin,” and make a science of it.  Students, locals, tourists:  It don’t matter.  Bars, beaches, and resorts can become one rollicking party, any time of the day or night.  Bar closing time:  Until…


  • God Bless Our Nation.  So hangs a sign, in the flag colors, thoughout the island.  Manners matter.  Island and tourist dress code is not only in effect, but debated in the papers.  It can feel conservative to Americans, but these little courtesies stand for respect, pride, tradition, and preservation of something sacred.  God Bless Grenada! 
Flag of Grenada
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

To Grenada: 3 Vessels, 2 Seasick,1 Exciting Day

Posted on: Monday, January 26th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, In Transit, Latest Trip | 4 comments

The alarm chirped at 5:55, long before sunrise, but this insomniac had already been stirring for hours.  So we arose fast, snarfed food, and began this Sabbatical’s most ambitious day of travel. Taxi Calvin to downtown.  Friendship Rose schooner to Tobago Cays.  Water taxi to Petit Martinique.  Ferry to Grenada.  Taxi to our next home. 


Taxi Calvin was uncustomarily late.  But after our requisite (and passionate) dispute (that he “won”) a few days earlier, this was a predictable rebuff.  Yet he got us to port, whereupon we and our large luggage boarded the stunning old schooner and enjoyed the generous continental breakfast that was awaiting. 

  • The Promises of Sail:  Get Bliss or Seasick

The trip exceeded expectations of beauty, service, and comfort—for the first half-hour or so.  Then the dark clouds began to roll in.  It rained.  Hard and long.  Stinging and cold.  Captain Lewis had all sails up and engines on and tried every maneuver, but the clouds followed us like pesky dogs. 

Stormy Seas Ahead

Elegant white pillows filled like wet sponges.  The deck turned into a skating rink. Crew donned raingear while the rest of us had none.  (Note to posh boat:  Keep cheapo ponchos for your customers, please.) 

The mammoth vessel had space to burn, but only two places to try stay dry:  Under a little canopy on deck; or in the cabin below.  I avoid cabins in choppy seas—in that way that I avoid puking when possible.  But my family descended into the dry but perilous purgatory. 

For a while, that is.   Then, naturally, they came up and started belly-aching.  My sick 5-year-old, CurlyGirl, collapsed on my lap as I sat under a corner of the canopy on the hard, drenched deck.

Seasickness Happens

And there she stayed for, oh, an eternity or two.  My squished body went from uncomfortable to miserable.  But she fell into a shaky sleep, after much moaning and whining, and a few hours later woke up giggling about a few “little burps.”  In no time, she was ambling her way back to stability—and I was happily munching more ibuprofen. 

That was a big, messy bullet to dodge, as our 11-hour travel day was mostly on boats.  In the worst-case-scenario fearbook, she could have been green and groaning all day. 

  • A Day of Island Hopping

Thanks to motor-sailing in uncooperative but heavy winds, (so loud, so unromantic), we made it “on time” to the Tobago Keys—a surreal preserve of tiny, beachy islands plopped atop a shallow reef and loved to near-death by 100s of yachts.  A dinghy took us to a tiny secluded islet.  A place where you can stand on a strip of sand, face out, and see nothing but uninhabited cays. 

Leaving the Friendship Rose

The trip was off to a so-so start, but that moment provided the payoff.  This was the edge of the earth.  A place where simply standing makes your spine tingle.  A snorkel revealed dozens of endangered hawksbill turtles; even CurlyGirl saw several and felt the enchantment.  Then we were rushed back to the boat for lunch, as we’d soon be picked up by a water taxi right here, in the middle of nowhere. 

  • Island Time Knows 2 Speeds

The thing about “island time” is that it’s very digital.  Usually it’s on “LOW”—slow and sluggish; don’t even try to rush things or people and powers conspire to gradually assimilate you.  But when someone in charge of your destiny gets a bug up their butt, and there are a lot of bugs in the tropics, they get ants in the pants and make you dance. 

So it was when our dinghy driver asked us if we wanted to snorkel some more, a mere rhetorical question.  Because then, he abruptly shifted to “HIGH” and started barking at us to get our stuff and get back to the Friendship Rose.  Speedi (the taxi driver) had arrived.  Very early.  But he too was on “HIGH.” Our Water Taxi

Indeed, there floating about 12 feet off the stern of the FR was a sorry tub painted pink, and one sunglassed race-driver with a hand on the ample motor.  Back on the Rose, I pulled aside Captain Matt (an acquaintance from long ago that we did NOT know would be on the boat, but that’s another story), “Isn’t Speedi early?”

Matt confided, “Yes, and that’s unusual.  He must want a little something to eat.”  And sure enough, Speedi boarded after us, shook our hands, and got a bonus lunc,.  As we gobbled (a yummy chicken dish with Calypso sauce) and gabbed, “island time” hit the “HIGH” button again, and the crew started throwing our luggage down to Speedi’s boat.  Everyone started hollering commands about needing to set off before the dinghy got to the boat with the rest of the remaining, and staying, passengers. 

Captain Matt did some quick Q&A and PR work on our behalf with Speedi, some of which went something like this…

M:  Speedi, do you have a tarp if it rains?  These people have electronics gear.

S:  You doan need to worry yo’seff about no rain!

M:  I’m not worried, Speedi.  They asked me so I’m asking you.

S:  (Quick glance at sky)…I doan tink it gwine rain.  If it rain, we figga some-tin out. 

M:  Well, we have some large garbage sacks…

S:  Yeah-yeah-yeah.  Give me sum dem big socks, mon. 

Speedi moved full-speed at distributing our stuff and our persons for weight and mind control.  My “seat” assignment was beside clingy CurlyGirl, and on the edge of the boat—ensuring that I would endure nonstop ocean spray plus the sensation that I was about to fall off. 

  • High Seas Ahead

Our new, now-rosy friends on the Friendship Rose waved with one hand (while the other clutched drinks)—just like in the movies—while Speedi hit the motor and we lurched into the seas.  When I enquired about the gnarly conditions, he shouted, “Yeah, it does be pretty choppy out dere today, but I does have some life preservers.”  I’m sure he did, though I couldn’t say where. 

But away we went, into the rocking and roiling blue abyss. 

To be fair, we took air only five or ten times.  The kids loved it, sometimes.  I found it frightful and delightful, and kept reminding myself that since I signed up for this at great cost, surely I could soak it all in and keep fear, if not seawater, at bay.  That worked mostly, though less so when AllBoy would thrust his arms in the air as if we were riding a roller-coaster.  “Boy Overboard!” was not on this itinerary! 

Speedi spent most of the time selling us, his captive audience, on taking a full day trip with him to study all the sights we were buzzing by—bellowing in harmony with his big motor. 

  • The World’s Tiniest Port?

Finally, we slowed, and started entering the world’s smallest port, Union Island.  Speedi babbled about this taking “maybe 3, maybe 5” minutes, which I know means add a zero to both numbers and start to pray.  I asked if this was the customs stop where we’d have to pay a fee.  He replied, “Yes!  $68 EC”—different from what others had quoted—but added, “Maybe since you wid me I git you outa dat money today.”  My eyes rolled, both from the rough ride and his expected comment.

Frozen-in-time (or was it ice and rum?) yachties watched us drift in, while the little boys fishing on the dock stopped to stare.  Speedy tied up loosely to a slivery dock, left all our stuff, and commanded, “Follow me.”  Island time was still on “HIGH.”  We scampered for several blocks on a muddy road—past dead shops, tiny bars, a neglected “Yacht Club,” and shanties. 

Customs This Way

Once inside the world’s smallest airport, it was clear that we would undergo some sort of customs thing here, as there was an 8” x 10” yellowed, ripped piece of paper on a door that said “Customs In Here.”  But that’s another story, too, this surreal customs encounter. 

At any rate, and by that I mean at least 30-50 minutes (and only a few “Please dear Gods…”) later, we emerged—having gradually been granted permission to leave the north end of the Caribbean and enter the south end.  An invisible line in the sand and surf that says:  Good-bye, St. Vincent Grenadines; Hello, Grenada Grenadines. 

Best of all, they waived the fee.  Speedi gave himself the credit, but it didn’t hurt that the kind lady was smitten by our rare, blonde, little CurlyGirl. 

  • Riding the Waves

Speedi pushed us back into his giant floating bathtub, and off we returned to the wild blue yonder for more thrills and chills, as waves and swells grew to several feet and Speedi zipped around them like an Olympic bobsledder, or else over them like an Olympic ski-jumper.

As with the first leg, the middle of the voyage was the worst—once protection from islands and reefs disappeared.  We watched our luggage take a sea bath.  Sunglasses became salt-glasses.  And we passed some surreal sights:  Abandoned homes built on remote, unreachable precipices; bedroom-size islands with one palapa and a chaise lounge; peninsulas piled high with precious conch shells, some ancient gray, some fresh pink. 

Happy Island

Who ARE these people!?!  I kept wondering.  What do they “do” for a living?  Or are they on a secret, perma-BreakAway?  Before I could figure all that out, Speedi mercifully slowed toward a dock on Petit Martinique, population 1,000 (as if!).  Thanks to Island Time on “HIGH,” we had arrived an hour and 15 minutes early.  Go figure. 

All About Petit Martinique

PM (as its called down here) had not a lot of “there” there.  So AllBoy went exploring a dirty beach with 1000s of forgotten conch chunks.  CurlyGirl needed a bathroom, which set off an lengthy expedition.  And I rested on wet baggage and watched this little world go by—a few loud fishermen coming in, a curious boy not in school, and some Bible-toting ladies sauntering off to do the Lord’s Work. 

  • Ferrying the Final Leg

Finally, the impressive Osprey Express tooted its arrival and came slamming into the dock, looking out of place on this Gilliganesque island.  At most, 5 or 10 of us boarded.  My children chose the air-conditioned indoor area. Partner and I took choice seats on the deck. Leaving Petit Martinique

One more stop before Grenada:  Carriacou.  This time, 100 enthused folks piled on, including a rowdy cricket team celebrating victory (or loss), a dozen international tourists, and one large motorcycle.  The ride was fast and smooth, with myriad, mysterious flying fish soaring, veering, and skipping over our wake like so many waverunners. 

Speaking of, two rambunctious waverunners DID soon find us, and join the flying fish in riding the waves.  The world being a small place, they occasionally rode right up to the deck and had conversations with friends on board.  They all but passed along beers. 

The emerald, craggy west coast of Grenada provided entertainment.  And by the time the sun was setting, we pulled into the handsome port of St. George’s. Grenada Welcomes You

Taxis fought over us, almost literally, and the one who won was yelling, “STOOPID!  STOOPID!” to the loser (who was yelling more and shouting much naughtier phrases) until we drove out of sight.  (He kept his language G-rated on account of our children.)  As usual, this driver sold us nonstop on his island tour while repeatedly pushing biz cards into my palm. 

Then we checked into our little resort, a lovely and refreshingly sleepy place.  Land felt good, but that wavy sensation took hours to subside. 

After a day like that, the buzz wears off slowly.  So unpacking clothes and gear and taking an enthusiastic swim in the cool saltwater infinity pool were good ways to wind down.  Overpriced Sauvignon Blanc was room-serviced to our villa.  The restaurant took its sweet, “LOW” Island Time to feed us supper.  And we toasted our adventurous day. 

We did it.  We’re drained, but still in one piece. 

Grenada looks grand.  And we have about 27 days to make ourselves at home. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

A Bittersweet Bye-Bye to Bequia

Posted on: Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 4 comments

After 18 dreamy days, it’s time to depart this Paradise. Happily, the BreakAway is not over; we set sail for Grenada at 7 am. But like most packing days, this one brings waves of emotion that crash loudly like the Friendship Bay surf outside our door. It’s doubtful we’ll be back. And these precious days with the kids float away so fast. 


But today the overriding undercurrent is gratitude.  To the fates that brought us here, the Caribbeans who keep it real, and the experiences that lived up to my oft-unrealistic visions.  Bequia has been so generous with both rich encounters and easy living.  She’s blessed us with a long list of experiences to be thankful for…

  • Kindness and generosity.  It would take pages to tell the tales of the beaming Caribbeans who would go out of their way to make sure you don’t worry, are happy.  (Example?  As I write this, cabdriver Kenny just stopped by to drop off a beach mat we forgot in his car.) Many here have an inner bliss that shines like the sun.  It’s a heartwarming thing. 
  • Tradition.  Culture and lore thrives here, in many ways. Music, whether live, radio, or spontaneous.  On the seas:  Fishing, sailing, boat building, and even mini-boat building. Arts and crafts, from carving to painting to calabash bowls.  Even whaling happens, and you get the sense that the community anticipates that pageantry like Americans get all stoked for the Super Bowl. 
  • Purity.  It’s the name on one of the dollar busses.  And it’s all around.  The locals still rule.  Roads are few and far between.  Houses only dot some hillsides.  And nature—as in greenery, fishing stock, sparse beaches, cool breezes, and odd critters—surrounds you.  And holds you.  And inspires you.  Skin color is rarely pure here; it comes in countless colors, which makes the people pure too.  Here, race rarely matters. 
  • Safety.  Unlike many islands, this one has some money.  Not much poverty or too many people.  And plenty of pride.  So ramshackle shanties, abandoned cars, and derelicts (both boats and folks) are uncommon.  That makes adventuring much more pleasant—especially with kids.  Getting a laid-back groove on need not make you an easy target. 
  • Media drought.  When scheming this trip, I sincerely proposed the family go somewhere remote and try a virtually media-free Sabbatical.  That plan fell flat.  Yet Bequia comes close.  Most homes don’t do TV, magazines, newspapers, or computers.  Teens don’t shut the world out with ear-buds.  Few folks are seen fondling their personal digitalia.  Heck, the best chef on the island bragged about being in Bon Appetit in 2005 and how it still brings in guests because it’s online.   “But I never see it,” he chuckles, “I have no computer.”  Another day, one Rasta guy was intrigued with my Nikon, asked questions, and then said, “Take my picture.”  He seemed spellbound as he stared at himself on the small, digital screen.  Why such media scarcity?  Many can’t afford it, most likely.  But you also get the sense that they’d rather engage in live entertainment.  They prefer to BE HERE NOW. 
  • Street talk.  It’s like island smoke!  There are cell phones here now.  But most word travels by mouth, and possibly faster than phones.  So if you’ve business to conduct, your odds for success go way up if you show up.  Go downtown and it appears that some folks are involved with five conversations at once—as cars and acquaintances pass by. 
  • Car talk.  You can tell how two people get along by how they react when meeting in their cars (which can happen a dozen times a day for some).  In descending order of affection:  Stop and chat (right in the road); Honk and wave; Honk OR wave; Nod; Ignore; Honk long and frown and furrow brows; Get in way or brush by close and fast; refuse to move if on tight road; roll up your dark-tinted window when you pass by. 
  • Street preaching.  We’re not in stoic, passive-aggressive Minnesota anymore.  At least once a day, I’d see somebody just standing on a corner (or in a bar or ???) yelling, preaching, ranting.  It’s creepy at first, but then downright refreshing.  Let it go! 
  • Living in the open.  Doors and windows?  Plenty, but typically sans screens. So you can see inside houses.  And what do you see?  Someone looking back at you!  Life is open here.  People sit around on porches, palms, curbs, and benches—and watch the world go by. 
  • Bar ubiquity.  Little bars are hidden all over the place—sometimes called “step-up” or “step-down” bars.  Most folks who congregate there drink nothing, yet these neighborhood hangouts are often busy, even when they’re closed. 
  • Vendor mania.  You can buy fruits, vegetables, jewelry, art, and carved boats just about anywhere people gather.  Rental chairs, kayaks, and other essentials also abound.  Some things, like fresh fish, require much more work to score, but you surely can—and anyone you ask will want to help.  The best part?  Never once did a seller harass or get pushy. 
  • Clandestine vendors.  It helps to know the language and have open ears.  But among other things, I was quietly offered (when dude saw my big camera) to be taken to a visiting celebrity,

“Hey, Paparazzi, I can’t say who tis, but I kin take you to da superstar on de iulunn—just give me half of what you make.” 

  • One had wine, “Good red, good white; check it—you look like wine-drinking man.”  One just smiled, caressed his dreads, and asked, “Hybrid?”  “No thanks,” I replied, “I need no alternative transpo on this island.” 
  • Coldness and stinkeye.  Sometimes service was slow, locals were ornery, and a few were just plain belligerent.  But I’m grateful because it reminds me no place is perfect—and there was more bark than bite.  This is their home, after all, and I’m just another passing thrill-seeker. 
  • Scolding and shaming.  This can be that kind of culture, for sure.  And often, it’s not pretty.  But much of it is in fun.  Some of it is earnest and enlightening.  And pretty soon, you learn to hold your own or, if need be, just take the medicine and forget about it.  Heck, maybe we could use more directness in our sometimes happy-slacky culture back home. 
  • Music.  So sweet.  So omnipresent.  In the states, wherever you go, you hear the same damn songs over and over again.  Here, I’d never heard the vast majority of stuff.  They like it local, like it real:  Bob Marley, reggae, toasting, soca, steel-pan, early country, and intoxicating island riddims in as many colors as the Caribbean sea all around us. 
  • Eatery fare.  It can be redundant, but it’s typically healthy and good.  We’re talkin’:  BBQ, grilled fish, soups (calaloo!), rice, beans, simple vegetables, small salads, roti (curry roll-ups), and of course, wings and fries. 
  • The local diet.  Hang out where people buy food, and see that most people instinctively eat well.   Few are schlepping packaged goods home.  No wonder most folks are svelte and muscular.  And as for cigarettes?  The rare trail of smoke usually leads to vacationing youth, Yachties, or Euro-party-monsters. 
  • Fresh, fresh, fresh.  Fresh food is abundant, brought over from verdant St. Vincent.  People don’t walk around sucking a Gatorade; they walk around munching messy mangos, plumrose, and passion fruit.  In a small store one day, four people were enthusiastically eating something I’d never seen.  I had to ask, “Whassat?  Looks good.  Want my children to try dat!”  They replied, “Golden apple.  Just in season now.  Take dese last 2 home and share.  They refused my money.  (And yes, they were yummy.) 
  • The dialect.  English?  Me tink no.  On St. John, USVI, I can understand about half of the nativespeak—or they’ll meet me halfway.  Here, not so much.  This patois still runs thicker than nutmeg jam.  And they’ve had less exposure to “culture” like movies and TV.  What’s more, there are many generations of Scottish influence here; they speak with a Scot brogue atop the patois.  Misunderstandings happened.  And on some occasions, communication was reduced to gestures and pointing.
  • Freedom.  Here, it’s not a military rationale, bumper sticker, or baseball anthem.  It’s just free.  Police show up rarely, and aren’t carrying much attitude or heat.  Traffic signs resemble rusty art.  Cars park anywhere.  People wander, smoke, eat, fish, swim, drink, and gather as they wish.  And if a party goes late and loud, so what?  Common sense rules, yet rules are rarely posted.  As the leader of this April’s whale hunt proudly told me,

“This is one of the last places on earth were you can not only feel free, be you can live free.  If only for that, I hope you come back.” 

I hope so too. 

Thanks, Mister Whaler.  And thanks, little Bequia.

(to see the complete collection of my photos from Bequia click here)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Bequia’s Best Entertainment Value: “The Dollar Bus”

Posted on: Saturday, January 24th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 4 comments
Within moments of landing on this island, one is struck (almost literally) by the plethora of mini-vans bearing massive monikers in front, blasting deafening reggae, and driving like NASCAR wanna-bes.  They’re called “the dollar bus.”  And for about 40 cents (US), they’ll move you and your stuff and most always guarantee some real-life thrills. 

When you gotta get to town, you need Faith.

When you gotta get to town, you need Faith.

Story goes that just about anyone can enter this line of work, decide their own route (there are only a few), and make up their own hours. Most driver-owners customize their vehicle’s interior with an assortment of lights, signs, accessories and sparkly upholstery. They also determine their own bus nickname, of course, which offers a glimpse into the driver’s personality or view of the world.  

Here are a few of the buses plying the rutted streets of Bequia these days…

  • BE BE
  • B COOL
Traffic peaks week-day daytime—with students, workers, and errand-runners—but someone is usually running 7 days a week between about 6 am and 8 pm.  Most busses have a second person, usually a boy, who collects the money (at the end), runs the door, helps with stuff management, and may dictate the seating arrangement. 
Looking back on a few weeks’ worth of journeys, a few favorite memories come to mind…
On my first ride—with both children—we got on a VERY full bus with 21 people, and were seated in separate rows.  CurlyGirl looked like a deer in bus headlights.  But after, when I asked if she liked it, she just said, “Yeah, but I was kinda squished.” 

 Riding the BusWhat if someone needs to get out and we’re all in the way?  What else?  We all climb out, the helper handles the fold-up seats (in the aisle), we maybe bid “good evening” to the departing, and then shimmy back in again.  Always in the middle of the street; there are no official stops. 
An argument between a man and woman who got on at different points went on the entire route, at full volume.  Eventually, others tried to calm them, chimed in, or laughed.  When they disembarked downtown, they continued their quarrel on the street. 
At about 5, when bus use peaks, about 20 of us were squeezed inside and then taken to the only gas station where we politely waited.  And waited.  The driver got out and chatted up friends, eventually paying with 100s of coins (how he’s usually paid).  Since the door was open and I was on the edge, I snuck to the nearest bar and grabbed a beer—with the driver’s permission, of course, “No problem, mon!  No problem!” 
An elderly lady got on and off, always taking the helper’s arm, and given the best seat (beside the driver).  As she exited, the helper made sure she got her 12-pack of Pepsi up to her house. 
Another time, we made a detour to Lower Bay so the driver could make a delivery.  Riders are offered no explanation, but you learn to just trust and go along for the ride. 
When stuck downtown awaiting more passengers, we all watched a large, loud local man who was preaching in a booming voice about something in the middle of the street.  I could only fully comprehend the foul language for sure.  
When I asked, “Wha he yellin’ about?”  The driver replied, “Oh, he just need more sex.”  Everyone laughed.  So I retorted, “I don’t tink dat be any way to get it!”  And everyone laughed harder. 

When on “MAJESTY” once, it started to rain.  The driver keeps a clean, dry vehicle.  So he stopped suddenly, made us all roll up the windows, started the AC, and then made us all check the rear vents.  When it stopped raining, he stopped, and we did all that again in reverse. 
When I took a picture (at a distance) of FAITH, the driver called me over, gave me a nasty tongue-lashing, and insisted I owed him EC$25.  I explained that I like his bus name, and anyway, I thought FAITH sets you FREE.  He kept trying to collect until I just walked away—to the sound of devilish, cackling laughter of a woman spectating nearby. 
When I photographed MORE FAITH, things went much better.  I’d been passenging—chatting some with the rider and helper.  This time, I politely asked permission as I got off.  He smiled and answered, “Ya shore.  You a good boy!” 

When a little Faith isn't enough...
The helper stuck his head out—which is often how they ride—so he could be in the picture too.  Guess it just goes to show ya:  We could all use MORE FAITH. 
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Some People’s Kids!

Posted on: Friday, January 23rd, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | Leave a comment
Word of warning to future island-hoppers:  Beware the goats and sheep. And their kids. I mean, they are everywhere—EVERYWHERE!  On St. John, where goats are preferred, herds of them can appear in the road around any corner.  Here on Bequia, and on St. Vincent, folks tie up sheep by the roadside to munch on free grass.  Even in town. 
3199492180_897a948bd2They’re a driving risk, to say the least. But even worse, they’re noisy. One recent, early morning, a nearby sheep was having a ba-a-a-a-a-a-d dream.  He would NOT shut up.  It wasn’t til the sun came up that I could see him—tied up in the yard next door.  No way did the shepherd own that property. But who cares?  It’s free sheep chow. 
Speaking of cheap graze, on St. John, the island is still considered “free range.”  We’re not talkin’ organics here, but rather, old laws that allow “farmers” to let their livestock roam.  (Fortunately, there are only a handful of cows and pigs still ambling about.)  
While I have yet to consult an attorney, it’s my understanding that this law means that free-range animals can wander into your yard and eat your bougainvilleas. Poop on your driveway. And yes, walk en masse onto your deck. And they do. 

Call me prejudiced, but the thing is, these critters are dumb as bricks.  Look into their eyes and you see…nothing. Just big, popping, bulbs of emptiness. They’re so stupid they don’t even know how to run away when scared. 
I don’t yet know all the animalia etiquette on the island of Bequia. But on St. John, story goes that if your Jeep hits (and kills) a goat, the owner will find you and request remuneration for the loss. But if you hit the goat and it does damage to your Jeep, the owner will simply say, “Not my goat” should YOU request repair reimbursement. 
If you visit a goat owner to say,
Please keep your goats out of my gardens; they’re eating my flowers,


you’ll simply get laughed off their property. Word about your ludicrous ignorance will quickly spread in bars and on streets. Even the goats will laugh at you. Best avoid that. 

So why all the fuss over grow-your-own meat?  It’s cheap, for starters.  After all, every time one has a baby, you can slaughter the parent and still break even.  But mostly, they just love their mutton.  It’s a delicacy around here.3181671249_5577eaa028_m
You’re considered “in the circle” and a close friend when invited to an event where they slaughter and roast a kid (of the animal nature). And those feasts are reserved for the most special of occasions:  Christenings, high holidays, weddings, voodoo ceremonies. 
If invited, go! Not only will you experience an extraordinary cultural ritual, you’ll help rid the island of one less live driving hazard. You may even like the taste. Some say you can’t bleat it! 
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Obama in Bequia

Posted on: Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 3 comments

Barack Obama became president of the USA, and the whole world, and Bequia today. There was a Big Party of Americans at a fancy new beach bar with a Big TV, but we missed it (long story). Instead, we ended up in a few neighborhood spots with small TVs, and smaller, but no less enthusiastic crowds. Here are just a few memories…


  • In the bookstore, where there are maybe 3 American magazines (most likely dated November), Obama was on virtually every cover.
  • On the streets, spontaneous cheering was erupting wherever people gather.
  • In the Sailor’s Bar, the owner’s daughter came home from school and watched with wide-eyed curiosity.


  • In Coco’s Place, a handful of salty Yachties were mostly speechless, but leapt often to their feet, wiped many a tear, and became instant soul-mates.
Thanks to Jesper (breakaway kid) for this great photo.)

Thanks to Jesper (breakaway kid) for this great photo.)

  • Coco himself seemed emotionally entranced by the event.


  • An elderly couple, probably expats, sauntered down the street grinning. She held a big bunch of red, white & blue balloons.
  • A young, dressed-up native woman stood on a corner yelling about “Obama!”. When we stopped near her, she stuck her head in our car, said “Where you from?” And gave us big love.
  • “Obama” was the one word clearly heard all day long and the morning after, no matter how unrecognizable the patios or how thick the Creole.

The future is upon us. The hard work has begun. I’m far away from my homeland, but proud to be an American.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Paradise Lost (BreakAway Breakdowns, Pt.1)

Posted on: Saturday, January 17th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 9 comments

Insects and infections. Noisy nights and strange neighbors. Hyper dogs and bored offspring who don’t yet understand “Island Time.”  Not nasty enough? Okay:  Rude dude choking his chicken in the bushes below our balcony; hostile neighbor kid piling dry plywood on my blazing BBQ grill. There are worse stories, but let’s keep this PG-13. 


Somebody asked me if a Sabbatical like this brings constant Paradise–or is the BreakAway road pocked with potholes?  Of course there are plenty.  And while complaining rarely helps, here—by request—is a short, requisite rant about…

11 Predictable Problems in Paradise

  • Surfing the interNOT.  We chose our places to stay based on purported internet access.  But so far, all 3 destinations have had disappointing, if not maddening, connectivity.  Makes this project (and communication in general) a major head-banging challenge.
  • Feeding the bugs.  At times, my children appear to have chicken pox.  And nights are often punctuated with slaps and curses and rabid scratching. But it’s just the mosquitoes, no-see-ums (sand fleas), and more.  Even free-basing deet doesn’t help. 
  • Feeling faraway.  I rarely mind not “being there.”  But helplessness drifts in like stormy seas when a close family member is in surgery, the house is exploding with its second messy plumbing disaster, and imperfections persist that Paradise can’t fix. 
  • Going without.  Living with less is part of the Mission—and good for the kids.  But frustration quickly elevates when one is unable to get essentials like a guitar pick or sandals.  2 deliveries of necessities to St. John didn’t make it before we left.  And one can waste hours “in search of” on islands. 
  • Ride the rip-offs.  The St. John gas attendant, for example, will fill your Jeep to $23 and not have $2 when you give him $25.  Or the dollar bus driver will take your money twice (she paid the fare; he didn’t see/know it so paid the  man again).  Encounters like this happen on a daily basis.  Make it a game (and carry small bills). Or simply say, “Happy New Year!” and consider yourself the richer.  
  • Pre-negotiate most everything.  It took some “hold-ups” by porters, taxis, and vegetable vendors to remind me of this mantra.  First ask, “What’s this cost?”  And when a restaurant hands you a menu without prices, ask for another or just leave. 
  • Paying the price.  These islands are expensive, naturally.  But they’ve proven to be manyfold worse than expected—200%+++ markup on everything.  Our travel budget included hefty per diems that have been, to paraphrase President Bush, woefully misunderestimated. 
  • Doing island time.  The Slow Movement is cool, but getting blown off is a bummer.  In a recent 12-hour period, a playdate didn’t show.  A fishing guide didn’t show.  And neither did the caretaker/cleaner.  As a part-time adult, I can accept it.  But the kids were genuinely hurt. 
  • Managing eating disorders.  I’ve become a grocery sherpa for the kids.  Restaurants serve warm wine and cold meals.  Buffets become an inebriated feeding frenzy.  A simple “club sandwich” arrives as something unrecognizable.  OMG:  I miss my kitchen?
  • Being held hostage.  Transit brings risks.  Some movers view customers as sub-human cargo.  At one airport, they took our water at security and then put us in a balmy waiting area for a few hours.  There was no snack shop, no vending machine, and no drinking fountain.  Thirsty?  Tough. 
  • Bad (or rude) service.  Disinterest in tourists is a science in some places.  But so can be rudeness (especially on the American islands), where macho machine-gun banter can be the cover charge for getting attention.  When my Jeep broke down in the middle of the road, right by a service station, getting “help” from the attendant (!) went like this.  

ME:  So sorry, but you want help me move dis broke Jeep outa da way?  

HIM:  (long pause)…Don’t want to.  

ME:  Ha!  Okay.  You just take da wheel and I poosh.  

HIM:  You not strong enough to poosh!  

ME:  Yassuh!  Assa good one!  Allright allright:  I just leave Jeep hee-ya; not my sah-vees station; I doan give a sh*#!  

HIM:  No no no—can’t do dat.  (pause, stare)  You tryin’ put me to work!  

ME:  Yah well, I can see you very bizzee in dat dere chair.  

HIM:  And I can see you ain’t go noplace wid dat brokedown Jeep.  

ME:  Okay.  Dat sound real good den.  How ‘bout I just sit right hee-yah wid you all day den.  

HIM:  (stands up abruptly, but we’re both smirking by now)…Put dat ugly ting in neutral me-son; I show you how to poosh a Jeep.  

ME:  And I owe you a cold beer, me-frenn. 

But who ever said travel was easy?  Or settling into a new place with strange food, currency, customs, and characters?  Gosh, if it were easy and cheap and risk-free, people would be doing it all the time.  Money aside, I’m reminded often why a guy can only tap the moxie to do this every seven years or so. 

And while I’m happy to rant, may I also state that—as is true anywhere, people are mostly kind and honest, and will go out of their way to help a stranger.  That’s even more true on islands like these, because it has to be. 

No, Paradise isn’t perfect.  But it can come pretty close—with enough patience, persistence, and (to quote the Rastas), positivity. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sun(day) Worship at Low Bay

Posted on: Monday, January 12th, 2009
Posted in: Travelog, 3rd Stop: Bequia, Latest Trip | 4 comments
On islands everywhere, Sunday is Local’s Day. Most shops are shuttered. Eateries open only limited hours. And folks of all sizes, ages, and colors congregate at the beach for an all-day affair. Tourists are welcome too, of course. But we may not know where to park, score the best table, or snorkel where the octopi are parading. 
On Bequia, the place to celebrate–and worship–the sun is on Lower Bay.  Or Low Bay, as the locals call it.  It’s a dreamy scene.  Let me take you there…

  • The water taxis come and go, cruising the shoreline for wayfaring fares, while the occasional “small” cruise ship looms in the distance, presumably disgorging passengers onto the island, though none are evident (thankfully) on this beach…


  • Local fishermen elbow-up at the bars and swill Hairoun (the local beer) while trading soccer bets, harmless insults, and fish stories. 
  • Kids create stunning sandcastles, then await the waves or naughty boys that smash them.


  • De Reef and Dawn’s Creole (beach bars) sling fresh fish and bar-b-que oh-so slowly…till they run out or just feel like shutting down. 
  • A brawny Rasta man balances a ball on his head and walks back and forth on the beach for hours in a Zen-like trance.


  • Buff teen boys completely covered in sweat and sand compete in hard-core soccer matches using sticks in sand for goals. 
  • Gregarious groups gather at tables and linger leisurely, like Parisians, for as many hours as they wish. 
  • The smell of ganja wafts on the breeze; partakers don’t hide it; nobody cares. 


  • Aging ex-pats with sunspotted skin and strange accents exchange updates and photos of faraway grandchildren. 
  • Entrepreneurial young men rent out kayaks and beach chairs (half price after 3!), rarely bothering to leave their own chairs to collect their goods or fees.


  • Gaggles of children from myriad neighborhoods and nations share beach toys and laughter and the universal language of play. 
The sun shifts.  The waves crash.  And sudden conversations transpire—even for us—with people you’ve met before, who introduce you to the people they know, who introduce you to the people they know…
And suddenly, you’re feeling like a local…
Print Friendly, PDF & Email