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Bequia, 2019

Updated: May 10, 2021

I am starting to write this two or three days into our stay on the Caribbean island of Bequia, where we come now for three weeks in February, escaping, this year in particular, the dire weather being served up in England.


Fear of such dire weather caused us to make a modest change to our routine. We normally get up at crack of dawn (actually well before that) to arrive at Gatwick for our flight. But, we asked ourselves, what disasters might befall if the roads were to be snow-bound and/or icy? So, cautiously, we left the evening before at a leisurely hour to spend the night at one of the airport hotels, to wit the South Terminal Premier Inn. Calling it the South Terminal hotel represents a triumph of Marketing over Accuracy as it’s some miles away from the airport – but why quibble? It’s closer than Fulham.


Barbados


We only spent one night in Barbados, making another small departure from routine as sadly we weren’t able to link up with the friends we normally see there, as they had to cancel as a result of illness.


The Dover Beach Hotel was its usual simple, welcoming self. And our favourite restaurant, Champers, was right up to standard.


Bequia


The first thing to report is how Bequia recovered from the great surge of last year. Shortly after we left, they were hit by one of those surges that seem to be unpredictable and can do much damage. This one hit Princess Margaret Beach and the new walkway leading to it around the headland, as well as Lower Bay. The beaches were wiped out, with sand being thrown up to where the beach stalls are and damaging the beach restaurants. But now, who would know? Apparently all was speedily repaired with JCBs getting the sand back where it should be. People are now complaining that there are too many beach stalls, too many loungers . . .


Action Bequia (see below) went into action and rebuilt the walkway – in concrete this time, with a notice, drafted presumably by lawyers, saying somewhat ludicrously, “Construction trail only. Scramble at your own risk”.


Royal Yacht Squadron


Our first few days in Bequia coincided with the arrival, for just a day or so, of a flotilla of some 20 yachts of members of the more-than-prestigious Royal Yacht Squadron. It had all been organized by our friend Bruce Mauleverer.


Bruce had managed to have a drinks party for the Squadron people, plus a few others such as us, at the Villa Helianthus, the splendid home of Sir James Mitchell. (He was, some years ago now, the prime minister of St Vincent and is the owner of the Frangipani Hotel on the island – where he was born.)


The event was hugely enjoyable and recorded not only by our photographer friend Wilfred Dederer but also by a sinister drone that hovered over the proceedings.


The Commodore made a short speech and announced that the Squadron would be donating, or rather endowing, a prize for “sportsmanship” at the annual Bequia Easter Regatta.



Mary was able to bolster our credentials, if not actually justify our presence among the distinguished yachting fraternity, by mentioning her cousin Charlie who happens to be a much-loved member.


Breakfast


The first routine of the day is of course breakfast, typically for the last 15 or more years, at the Frangipani Hotel, where the gang tends to meet. But who are the members of the gang now? Many have fallen away, not (happily) because of mortality, but more because of the fear that urgent medical services wouldn’t be available on the small island. So, we are tempted away. (But on the subject of medical services, see below.)


Plantation House


The closest to our apartment is the Plantation House – splendidly refurbished, even rebuilt in parts, following years of decay and abandonment under somewhat sinister Italian owners. It is now owned by an enterprising New Zealander and managed by the Scottish hotel group that also runs the hotel recently bought by Andy Murray near Sterling. I have to report that the breakfast there is much better than at the Frangi.


We are now well-known to the staff: in particular the head chef, Glen, another New Zealander, and also the exuberant Ramon, known to his friends as Romeo. One of the stars is the pastry chef, Stelton from Jamaica. He manages to produce the most immaculate croissants, even better than those in that mecca of the croissant, Beaumes de Venise. I asked him where he learnt his trade: from a Frenchman on Mustique.


Restaurants and Cafés


Caribbean islands aren’t known for the food, and Bequia isn’t an exception. But every year things get better.


I was alarmed a few months ago when someone told me that the Cameleon Café had closed. It was started a few years back by the brave Leandra (or Lee) and was the only place you could get a decent espresso. She then expanded to sell clothes as well. But happily it’s still going. There was some truth in the rumour. She did, last summer, close the place to go on what she calls a “mission”: to sort out the labyrinthine regulations, permits, taxes and other things that have been making her life a nightmare and seemed to be designed to discourage any form of enterprise on the island. She told me that she succeeded – by going in person to see each of the multitudinous government bodies in St Vincent that have a role in it all. So, the Cameleon is open. Hooray!


And what’s new on the restaurant front?


The continuing success story is Mac’s Pizzeria and Kitchen, the last two words of the name having been added by the newish owners, Kevin and Tracy from California, to indicate to non-pizza people like me that it’s not just a pizzeria. Which it certainly isn’t, although pizza aficionados say that the pizzas are still as good as ever. It’s one of the best places to eat on the island and one of the reasons is the energetic and welcoming Kevin. On one of the evenings we went there, our fellow guests included Bengt Mortstedt, the Swedish property man who owns the top hotel (the Bequia Beach), with a big family party celebrating a birthday. Quite an accolade!


Another new addition to the gastro scene is a lunch place behind Lower Bay – Kudu. It’s run by an extravert American from Boston. Delicious fish tacos, as well as sashimi – not a lot of that around in Bequia.


And finally an addition to the island in the shape of a stupendous new development at the southern end of the island that must be causing much tut-tutting among the “but that’s not really Bequia” fraternity. It’s a resort and restaurant called The Liming, constructed in lavish (and tasteful) style that wouldn’t shame the Aman group of luxurious establishments. The restrooms (so called) are a wonder to behold.


We went with Martin Price and Gilly for lunch and a swim – having been at the same time last year when it was still a building site. Will it all work? There are two drawbacks. The first is that it’s near the beginning of the airport runway. Mercifully, while we were there, only two small planes came in: but they come straight at you, seeming to be about to land in your soup. Unnerving!


The second problem is of their own making. If you want to have a swim (as we did) in their small, perfectly-formed “infinity” pool, it costs you US$ 50 a head, a deal we found no difficulty in rejecting, as we admired the empty infinity pool. Not good marketing. I bravely took myself off along the manicured beach to swim in the sea – in face of some suggestions that even this would cost me, but happily my bank account is in tact. Their big problem is presumably getting in the punters. We had a largely solitary lunch – and, a few days later, a fairly solitary dinner. The food is certainly excellent.


Medical services


The island’s medical services were put on high alert for Ursula Duval: a potentially serious drama with a distinctly happy ending.


Ursula felt seriously unwell while at the far end of the beach. Sandra, our favourite taxi driver, was on hand and immediately called the ambulance (we didn’t know there was one). It arrived in minutes, with all lights flashing. Ursula was whisked into the local hospital, where all the necessary tests were done (she has had heart-related problems). The doctor in charge was a Cuban lady who greatly impressed the Duvals. She was able to transmit the test results to her cardiac unit in Cuba. After whatever care was dispensed, Ursula was pronounced healthy and able to go back to their apartment.


It all made us change our view of Bequia’s medical services. Frankly, we have always thought of the local hospital as being pretty primitive – understandably, it’s a small island. But no. The hospital is small, obviously, but modern, clean and seemingly well equipped. And the presiding doctor, actually a locum, was superlative. She asked Rod where to send her report. Answer: Beaumes de Venise, where they live. And in what language? Well, French, if possible. No problem. How much did it cost? Nothing. It’s all free.


Action Bequia


(Action Bequia is the charity, founded by Richard Roxburgh, to do things on the island that in a perfect world the government should do, but either won’t or can’t afford to.)


We went to their annual fundraising dinner, held at the Plantation House. As usual, various artworks were auctioned, raising staggeringly large sums. All are donated free, I think, as are endless raffle prizes. Thanks to all these generous people and the local hotels and restaurants – and Mount Gay Rum – they raised several thousand dollars, US ones. It all goes to the island. Richard deserves a peerage.


Mice in a Matchbox


We have, somewhat accidentally, become groupies of a couple of musicians calling themselves (for reasons unknown to me) “Mice in a Matchbox”. First encountered at Kudu (see above), then Laura’s (another improved restaurant, incidentally), also at Mac’s, and finally at the splendiferous Liming. She, Sally, sings; he, Jim, plays the guitar (and sings). They do ballads along the lines of Carly Simon. They live some of the year on their boat, otherwise in land-locked Herefordshire. They also sell, to Mary’s delight, miniscule model mice – not in matchboxes.


Return


Our route back provided an unexpected bonus: seeing for the first time the spanking new airport on St Vincent, the airport that has been many years in gestation, with all sorts of cries of woe and horror – about the cost, the site, almost everything about it.


It is indeed splendid to look at, the only problem being that it seems almost completely deserted – of passengers and planes. We got there at crack of dawn (off the good old Bequia ferry), keen on getting some breakfast. There’s a small café on the ground floor, but no kitchen – that’s in the café upstairs. So up we go to the café upstairs, smaller but with its kitchen. We get eggs but, sorry, no bacon, and – bizarrely - only one cup of coffee was possible. There was seating for about 50 people although, understandably, no one was there.


All this enabled one to admire the decorations on the wall: three portraits, one of Fidel Castro, another of Hugo Chavez, and a third of the prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, who looks a decent chap – I hope he approves of the company he’s keeping. The politics are confusing. There is also a grandiose plaque celebrating the friendship and cooperation between St Vincent and the Republic of China – ie Taiwan, not the mainland.


Happily, a LIAT plane arrived to take us to Barbados, all dead on time. One of the complaints has been that the runway faces the wrong way – going north-south, whereas the wind is relentlessly from the east, as it was when we left. However, the pilot seemed to overcome the problem immaculately.



4 March 2019

Tony Herbert




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