Why hasn’t anyone ever named their band St Vincent and the Grenadines? If they had, they’d have to be fond of strong rum and playing from the calypso, soka, reggae and gospel songbooks that form the soundtrack to this beautiful, remote corner of the Caribbean. The more difficult a place is to get to in real life, the more pleasure Leroy and I get from a virtual visit. And knowing just how many hours we’ve bypassed in the air or in airport queues makes it all the sweeter. Add the words island, Caribbean, waterfalls and active volcano, and a day trip becomes a no-brainer.
The prevailing trade winds blow east to west and the Windward Islands – Grenada, St Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica – were named for their windward position to the slaving ships arriving in the New World from Africa. Together with the Leeward Islands, they make up the Lesser Antilles and mark the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea. The islands also mark the edge of the Caribbean Plate, which is basically in a violent, longstanding techtonic stoush with the neighbouring South American Plate. The collision of these plates under the sea floor is responsible for volcanic activity and earthquakes down the entire west coast of South America, as well as for the emergence of the gorgeous tropical islands Leroy and I have decided to visit today.
We arrived on the main island of St Vincent early this morning. A balmy 27 degrees and fairly humid, we could already tell we were in for a great day. The capital of Kingstown, with its steep hills forming a kind of amphitheatre around the bay, is bustling and filled with tooting horns, bicycles and people. Leroy and I ducked into Lola’s Café for a hearty breakfast of fried salt fish, onions and red peppers (Leroy) and a vast platter of fresh Caribbean fruits (for me, as the non-fish eater). A pile of sliced banana, pineapple, breadfruit, mango, coconut, guava, passionfruit and plumrose. We then shared pots of coffee and cocoa with two local women in their 50s who were more than happy to give us the low-down on the islands. Violine and Atabei told us that it’s considered rude to call out someone’s name in public. And that taking photos of people without their permission is a big no-no. Handy information to have before accidentally falling foul to local standards of etiquette.
Kingstown is (moderately) famous for what is possibly the oldest tropical botanic garden in the world. Following the lead of Kew Gardens, the St Vincent and the Grenadines Botanic Gardens were established in the late 1700s and became focused on growing and exchanging plants with other tropical areas of the world, including spices like cinnamon. Located just out of town, we discovered they also have a captive breeding program to help protect the handsome, threatened St Vincent Parrot, which is also the National Bird. After a wander around the 20 acres of gardens, we decided to attempt the hike to Saint Vincent’s very own active volcano, La Soufriere.
Last erupting in 1979, by geological standards that date well and truly cements its position on the Active Volcanoes of the World list. It’s thanks to La Soufrière that Saint Vincent has black volcanic sand beaches while its compatriots – the Grenadines – all have white sand beaches. Leroy and I left Kingstown and headed up to Rabacca, following the paved farm track inland. We hiked through banana plantations, keeping an eagle eye out for snakes, until the path came to the start of the proper trail. From there it was a two-hour uphill climb through rainforest and cloud forest to the edge of the crater. It was steamy work but absolutely worth the effort.
Leroy then insisted it would be crazy not to visit the Pirates of the Caribbean film set at Wallilabou Bay while we were there. Who was I to refuse such a request? Several pirate-costumed photos later, we were ready to leave St Vincent and head to Bequia (pronounced ‘Bek-wee’), one of the beautiful Grenadine islands. Something interesting I learnt today: the name ‘Grenadine’ is derived from the French word for pomegranate (grenade), and is an allusion to the islands scattered like the seeds of a pomegranate. Not to be confused with Grenadine syrup, which was originally made with pomegranates.
We’re planning to spend the rest of the day swimming with sea turtles and lazing around on the beach. We may even go for a sunset sail around the bay before a relaxed, and possibly musical, roti dinner under the trees at The Green Boley. Want to join us for rum punch and beef, chicken or conch rotis?
P.S. Since most people have a hazy grasp of Caribbean geography, here’s a lovely Google map to help you visualise the region: