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Bequia 2018

Updated: May 10, 2021



This is a note about our annual three weeks in the sunshine of Bequia. I recognize that the readership of this particular travelogue may be even more limited than usual.

Barbados

Our first stop is always Barbados, for two nights. Barbados seems more prosperous, more lively, with things working better, each time we come.

We discovered, as in India, the hidden advantages of a walking stick. As Mary strode, with her stick, towards the immigration desks, she – plus, of course, her attendant, me – was ushered straight to the front of all the various queues. (It reminded me of my first trip to Paris with my father who, because it was what one then did, walked with a walking stick. In the Metro, all the seated passengers leapt to their feet – “Ah, mutilé de guerre!”)

We were driven to the hotel by our new best taxi-driver friend, Trevor. Each time we befriend a taxi-driver, take his card, vow to see him next year – and never do. But Trevor is bright, well-informed, charming. Maybe we will.

The Dover Beach Hotel gets slightly better each year – skeptics might say, from a modest start. They have a new breakfast menu: Continental (as you’d expect, though croissants don’t exist in these parts); Stars and Stripes (with hash brown potatoes); Union Jack (with baked beans); and Caribbean (with some kind of fish).

Bequia

On arrival in Bequia, we are always alert to changes, although one of the attractions of the place is, of course, that it doesn’t change.

One change this year is good for the island, though sad for the reasons behind it. It is busier. In the past, the cry has always seemed to be, “Oh dear, fewer yachts in the harbour, times aren’t what they used to be.” But this year, subdued optimism. The locals are clear about the reason – the hurricanes up north and the terrible devastation in Anguilla, Barbuda and other places.

Restaurants

Restaurants come and restaurants go. In the latter category, sadly, is the Auberge des Grenadines. It was run by the amply-proportioned Frenchman, Jacques, and his Bequian wife. Il n’existe plus. You used to go into it past the large tank containing the unfortunate lobsters on the menu. The place is now offices, apparently.

But others open. Specifically, a young Swede and his wife have deserted their compatriot who runs the Bequia Beach Hotel (the Swedes are still taking over) to start a new one, the Open Deck. It’s way on the other side of the harbour and the word was that it was too expensive and maybe not worth it. But we went for their special Valentine’s Day dinner. It was excellent. Expensive by Bequia standards, but worth it. The one problem was access. They lay on a free boat taxi to get you there and to get you back. But getting in and out of the said taxi can be a challenge, particularly if the waves are surging and the wind blowing.. As they were on Valentine’s night.

Another new one is Laura’s, run by Argentines and replacing the Mexican Tommy’s Cantina. A big improvement, with no disrespect to the Mexicans and their tacos.

And miraculous transformations continue at Mac’s Pizzeria, now restyled Mac’s Pizza and Kitchen. This was always good, providing cheap (and good) pizzas. But a couple of years ago, Kevin and his wife Tracy from California took it over and have demonstrated how modest changes – of menu, terrace expansion and effective lighting – can work wonders. It’s always packed. An example to the Frangi . . .

The Frangipani Hotel

The Frangi, the hotel we all used to stay at and a few loyalists still do, teeters along. How, God knows! Almost all the old staff have left, leaving the saintly Sophie, who we’ve known for 15 years, doing it all – managing the place as well as serving the breakfast.

Our loyalty extends only to breakfast when our friends are there. As well as the bar in the evening for pre-dinner rum punches.

The “Jump Up” at the Frangi used to be the event of the week, with barbecue steaks and dancing to the steel band every Thursday. It still happens, but with declining numbers and a steel band that specializes in music that defies any attempts at dancing. And on one of the evenings, they ran out of steaks. If Sophie follows the others and decides to leave, the place will collapse.

Action Bequia

Action Bequia, the charity set up by the redoubtable Richard Roxburgh, still continues to do great things – things that the government should do, but either can’t or won’t. Litter has been on the agenda, plus attempts at recycling. Dozens of coloured bins are to be seen at strategic points – green for recycling, blue for rubbish. It seems to have worked. You don’t see much litter. Though the dreaded black plastic bags proliferate. No one seems to carry a shopping basket, so every thing comes in its black plastic bag. Poor turtles!

The money-raising dinner took place – with its inevitable auction of course. There was a mini-drama. An artist friend of the Mauleverers generously gave four of her prints for the auction – charming, but perhaps of modest commercial value. Action Bequia said thanks but no thanks. They wouldn’t raise enough to be worth putting in. Some consternation, though frankly, and always to my amazement, the pictures that they do auction tend to go for thousands of US dollars. I saw the point. The Mauleverers gave the prints to the other auction held every year for a local school, where they raised a few hundred EC dollars – one of them bought by us.

Birds

I am not a birder or even a twitcher, being challenged in any attempts to identify different varieties. But I was very happy to watch the frigate birds that frequent the harbour and the beaches. There are two types of predatory black bird: frigate birds and boobies. A Booby dive bombs into the water and hopefully bobs back up with a fish in its mouth. A frigate bird can’t. If it gets into the water, it can’t take off again. I was watching a gang of the latter skimming along the surface picking up the debris of some fish that a couple of fishermen were cleaning on the beach. They are aggressive birds – aggressive against each other, and slightly menacing to the human observer.

Toko’s

We went for the first time to a restaurant that was new to us but

certainly not new to the island – Toko’s. It’s real Caribbean, untouched by modernity, untouched by nouvelle cuisine. Our friends Martin and Gilly took us there. It’s in the area they call Paget’s Farm, down on the south end of the island, not that easy to get to. Toko is a jovial character and his wife cooks up a variety of dishes – spicy chicken, lobster tempura, beans, salads, all served as you turn up. No menu, no choices, but all delicious. The downside is that it writes the afternoon off.

On the way to Toko’s, Martin drove us to see the latest development, also at the south end of the island near the airport and even harder to get to than Toko’s. This is certainly not old Bequia or old Caribbean. It will be a top-end resort with its villas, each with its own small pool, and a restaurant looking out to sea big enough apparently to cater for up to 100 happy eaters. Much speculation about where they are all going to come from.

Tragedy

I seem each year to have to record a tragedy. This time it was Richard Hume-Rotheray, who we first met some years ago as he stood over someone on the departure desk at Barbados airport, quizzing the unfortunate operative. We called him “the General”. It turned out that he did have some military past, but latterly lived in England, spending time in Bequia in an old house set in generous grounds on the east side of the island. He hadn’t been in great shape in recent years, not helped by his favourite cheroots. He collapsed and died one morning as he got out of bed. His wife Carrie, by contrast, is one of the trimmest and fittest ladies you can imagine. She is a descendant of one of the old settler families on St Vincent, the Hazells, and still has family there. Accordingly she was able to organize funeral arrangements with amazing speed. Happily, all three of their children were able to come out from England the day after he died.

Sea salt

We did a rather abbreviated tour of sea salt production. This was not driven by a fascination with the processes involved, as much as wanting to see our friend Bernadette who worked in, and then managed, the bar at the Frangi. She bravely left in desperation a couple of years ago. She is now the salesperson for little bottles of sea salt, each with a different spicy or fruity flavour. It seemed to us a lonely existence in her little hut close by the Firefly Hotel, but she ‘s happy after some years of frustration at the Frangi.

A quick note for visitors. We went by mistake into the Firefly Hotel and the guy behind the bar was as off-hand, even rude, as anyone in Bequia ever is.. So, don’t think of going to the Firefly. It’s said to be overpriced anyway. Bernadette said, “Oh yes, he has Attitude!” Not good for business.

Weather

We Brits like to talk about the weather, although here in Bequia there’s normally nothing to say. It’s much the same every day and every year: 28 degrees Celsius during the day, not cold at night, the occasional quick shower, mostly tropical sunshine. But not this year! What’s happening? We’ve been having much more rain than normal. As I write, we can hardly leave the apartment, the rain is so tumultuous. Will we get out to supper? Who knows? Catastrophy!

Another problem – with possible meteorological causes: seaweed. A vile and prolific new seaweed that seems to be called Sargasso (after the Sea where it originates) has started to invade the island – as from a year or two ago. But this year it’s a potential disaster, particularly for the beaches on the east side of the island. We went there one day and watched a team of workers raking the stuff up from the beach and taking it away in endless wheelbarrows to dry out. Luckily it makes good fertilizer. And creates employment, said the hotel manager sardonically. We saw at least a couple of dozen wheelbarrow loads being shifted in about an hour. And still more of the dreaded weed continued to be washed up on the beach. I hear in the distance the usual cry of climate change. Who knows?

Plantation House

A word about Plantation House, the hotel in a prime position on the waterfront in charming “colonial” style that has been decaying slowly, empty, ever since we’ve been coming to the island. (There were all sorts of rumours about the Italian owners being in prison.) Two or three years ago, a New Zealander called Kelly Glass took it over and has been doing a slow but meticulous job of restoration. It is now absolutely up and running. It seems to be full of happy customers. Such that we now tend to go there for breakfast, finally deserting the Frangi.

In the current situation, if anyone were to ask me where to stay, I would definitely say the Plantation House. I tried to elucidate what the prices are. The young manager told me that they range between 200 and 450 US dollars a night – the latter end of the range seeming to me pretty steep. But we heard of people actually paying at the lower end. Negotiation seems to be called for.

Reading Group

I should add a word about the reading group – the gathering of literary enthusiasts that assembles each evening (in theory) on the terrace of the Frangi to hear me read some work of literature for about half an hour. The sad truth is that some of the core, indeed the original, members of the group no longer come to Bequia. But it survives – just. The loyalists are now Martin and Gilly, who come to Bequia for even longer than we do; Bruce and Sara Mauleverer, and Barry and Annie Singleton, for the times that they are here; and last but not least the ex-prime minister and Frangi owner Son Mitchell. What did we read this year? Could we be accused of going down-market? It all started with Homer. Almost anything else could be thought to represent a downward path. But we look for entertainment as we sip our rum punches. So it’s been PG Wodehouse (and the Market Snodsbury Grammar School) interspersed with Guy de Maupassant. I’m sure that Homer would understand.

Return journey

Our journey back always excites a degree of interest – and mirth. We go via New York – to avoid the night flight that is inevitable for the direct flight to London – and which I detest. Last year it all went fine. This year, frankly, less so.

The local inter-island flight by SVG from Bequia to Barbados was so hopelessly delayed (one and a half hours) that we had to cancel our luxurious lunch at the excellent, if naffly-named, Champers. Then JetBlue to JFK showed its defects in that the audio-visual system for Mary’s seat didn’t work, and changing seats seemed impractical. The JFK Hilton was up to standard, particularly its much needed Dry Martinis and rib-eye steaks. But the final blow was delivered next morning by Virgin cancelling the flight back to London. Disaster was at least partially averted by their rebooking us – in “Coach”– with American Airlines. Not perhaps the world’s favourite airline, explaining why they had plenty of seats available for disappointed Virgin travelers. I still have to ascertain how many squillion Virgin airmiles we get as compensation.

Postscript

I have to record a disaster that occurred after we left. The weather continued to throw its surprises. They experienced one of the “surges” that can do such damage. There was a massive surge – a mini-tsunami – that managed to devastate some of the things on the beaches of both Princess Margaret and Lower Bay. It also did much damage to the walkway that has been one of the recently completed achievements of Action Bequia. So, we all wait for news of how it will all have to be repaired or even rebuilt. The forces of Nature have to be kept at bay.

14 March 2018

Tony Herbert


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