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Bequia, 2020

Updated: May 10, 2021


This is our umpteenth visit to Bequia, via Barbados, for most of the month of February; this time spending slightly longer in Barbados, coming by British Airways rather than Virgin, and having to spend much of the first day in Barbados recovering from a strictly 21st century crisis - caused by me leaving my iPad on the plane.


BA


I’m glad to be able to report that BA performed well, despite Mary’s apprehension about deserting Virgin, its friendly crew in their bright red uniforms and its amazing choice of movies. BA provided all these things, even if the crew were more soberly kitted out. From my point of view there was the minor benefit that the music channels on Virgin seem to me to be dominated by Richard Branson’s tastes. I must also report that the flight left dead on time.


iPad


And now the iPad disaster. How could I have been so stupid? I think I had it on the floor during the flight – not a good idea. And then, perhaps predictably, I forgot about it. When we got to the hotel and I realized what had happened, I spoke to son Dan, a BA pilot and expert on lost iPads and other items. He said that it would almost certainly have been found, although it might not find its way to lost property at the airport. It hadn’t!


The good news was that Barbados has an “iShop” in a shopping mall not far from our hotel. Off I went to the iShop. Such is the miracle of the iCloud that I was able to get a replacement iPad and download everything onto it in about 15 minutes. All this at some cost, but hopefully I’ll be able to trouble the travel insurers . . .


Polo


Our extra day in Barbados enabled us to join our Canadian friends Bill and Janet Rowley to watch some polo. The Barbados polo ground is perhaps more informal than Windsor Great Park, but magnificent all the same, particularly in the glorious afternoon sunshine. The whole event was greatly enlivened by the commentary from a local Bajan. He explained that, if we were expecting political correctness, we should leave immediately. He didn’t disappoint: always quick to give his opinions about the standard of play. “Ray Charles could have scored that one!” “A cut with all the finesse of a Polish butcher!”


Barbados


Barbados seems to me to be more prosperous every year we go, but there’s a downside. They have a serious traffic problem. On our first evening we went up to the Coral Reef Club for dinner with the Rowleys and saw ahead of us a long procession of vehicles crawling along the relatively new ABC Highway. Our taxi driver tried to avoid it all by diving off down a side road, only to be confronted by yet another queue of cars. This was the evening rush hour, I guess, but scrolling forward three weeks later, when we had lunch before catching the plane back home, we were alarmingly confronted by the same thing in mid afternoon. Happily we arrived reasonably on time for our dinner; and also caught the plane. But beware traffic jams in Barbados – worse than the Wandsworth Bridge Road.


Arriving on Bequia


I’m now sitting, as I write this, on the terrace of our little apartment overlooking Bequia harbour – watching the sun setting, as it does here, at precisely 12 minutes past six every evening. It has been a typical Bequia day: bright sunshine as we go for breakfast; a massive downpour as I go for my morning coffee; blue skies again by lunch time. Temperature around 28 celsius (25 at night), as it always has been since we’ve been coming – global warming doesn’t seem to apply in the tropics.


It took a few days to settle into the routines, particularly getting to grips with the technology. Have we switched off the “data roaming”? Does this effectively avoid the £6 a day charged by Vodafone for a service that doesn’t seem to work here even if you want it. My solution has been to make sure that my devices are connected to the wifi’s of all the places we go to – keying in the various codes, often variations on the themes of “rumpunch” and “lobster”.


Changes?


One of the first things you think about when arriving in Bequia is whether anything has changed. On the whole Bequia doesn’t change. And that’s part of its attraction. In so far as things do change, it’s mostly for the better.


Restaurants have tended, over the years, to up their game. I attribute this, at least partly, to the influence of Bengt Mortstedt, the Swedish businessman who recently set up the luxurious new Bequia Beach Hotel, and then took over Jack’s Bar on Princess Margaret Beach. Perhaps I should also add Kelly Glass, who has rebuilt and revived the Plantation House (see photo) and, very recently, established a highly ambitious resort and restaurant, the Limings, on the extremities of the island on the other side of the airport. Competition is always good!



I sometimes think that there are about half a dozen restaurants we like to go to. But I then sat down and started to count them. I got to a dozen before I gave up.


We made one new discovery and got to know the owner who has an interesting background. It’s called La Plage, having been located - as you might expect - behind the beach, in fact at Lower Bay – not perhaps the best location. But now it has moved over to the other side of the harbour. It’s still called La Plage and occupies the same place as the restaurant that was the Auberge des Grenadines. The previous restaurant was well run by Jacques, a Frenchman, and his local wife. It was a sad loss when he decided to pack up. La Plage, in its new incarnation, is run by André Hazell – and very good it is.


The Hazell family is part of St Vincent history. They came out to the Caribbean in the 18th century and established themselves in the cotton trade. There are still many Hazells in St Vincent and Bequia – of all races and mixtures thereof. We have for some years known Carrie, née Hazell, very much British by birth and residence, who is the widow of Richard Hume-Rotheray, and who boasts numerous Hazell cousins throughout the islands – including the delightful André. We wish him well. So far, La Plage has more empty tables than it deserves.


Gastronomy


People often ask about the food in Bequia. As is typically said, you don’t come to the Caribbean for its food. But you don’t starve. The basics are of course fish: kingfish; barracuda; what the locals call mahi mahi or, misleadingly, dolphin (it has a large forehead that makes it look a bit like a dolphin – I suppose!); tuna; and, if you’re very lucky, or if you’re Rod Duval, lionfish.


Our friend Rod is very keen on lionfish – rightly. They aren’t apparently native to the waters of the Caribbean, but have been introduced in recent years. They are brightly coloured and very beautiful, mainly because they have amazing quantities of coloured but poisonous spikes and antennae. Fishing for them must be tricky. But the white flesh is delicious.


I should mention another local speciality: calallou soup, made from a kind of green vegetable grown in the Caribbean, to which they add all sorts of other goodies. It varies from restaurant to restaurant, depending on what they add – often chicken, sometimes goat, maybe other vegetables., and spiced according to taste. Accordingly it ranges from slightly boring through to delicious and very nourishing.


I ought, for completeness, mention what they call goat water. People speak highly of goat water although, I have to say, its name has so far put me off sampling it.


And finally lobster. Plentiful and, by English and even Bequia standards, not too expensive. Actually they are what we would call crayfish or langoustines (no claws), but none the worse for that.


Disasters


Quite a few days were affected, particularly for poor Mary, by an accident from which she recovered well, but perhaps slowly. We were going down to a local restaurant for dinner (Mac’s Pizza, since you ask). It involved negotiating some tricky steps around a neighbouring restaurant, the Fig Tree. Mary, demonstrating her usual concern for others, called out to me to watch my step, thus causing her to miss hers. Luckily she tripped up just behind me, so that I could catch her and prevent a worse disaster. But she still fell against the wooden banister, hurting her ribs and causing much painful bruising. Initially, all very painful. But happily a miraculous combination of rest, moving as little as possible, Ibuprofen and rum punch seemed to achieve a slow cure.


A few days later, I managed to do a follow-up by stepping into a gully and falling on my bottom. Bequia has a rich supply of gullies, most of which are more treacherous than the one I chose to fall into. Luckily I only grazed my knee, although my trousers took more of a beating.


Weather and water


In the middle of our stay we suffered from two cloudy days – Shock-horror! Not at all what it says in the brochures, although visitors to Caribbean islands know well that you normally get clouds and often rain. However we did get more windy, cloudy weather than normal. I found myself wondering if this was a minor side effect of the dire storms back in England – Chiara and Storm Dennis.


This year the worry for the locals was lack of water. Bequia has no natural springs or supplies of underground water: it’s all collected rain water. The last rainy season – normally our summer through to about September-October – was bad, so the tanks were low. We heard of people buying water and you saw water trucks trundling around, supplying the rare commodity.


I was told, to my surprise, that the Plantation House has a well. But further enquiry revealed that the well water is brackish and only good for lavatories and the like. All the water from the taps is collected from the roofs. I’m told that it all gets filtered, but I have to say that I, possibly in an excess of caution, like to drink bottled spring water from elsewhere.


Climate change


We spent a lot of time with our very good Norfolk friends, Martin and Gilly, who introduced us to another Norfolk friend of theirs, Gervas Steele. (Norfolk is well represented among visitors to Bequia.) I discovered to my joy and amazement that he, like me, has been a keen supporter of the organization founded some 10 years ago by Nigel Lawson to publish facts on the dread subject of global warming, largely to counter the alarmist stuff being promulgated by the mainstream media and, even more important, to focus on what practical steps we should take to deal with the problems. Gervas and I had fun discussing these things, subject to strict time limits imposed by Mary and Gilly. We are climate change skeptics. The many people who want to be rude call us “deniers”, which of course no one is. But how nice to discover that Norfolk (and perhaps particularly Norwich) is such a vibrant centre for advanced thinking on this and possibly many other subjects.


Weight limits


Rod and Ursula Duval arrived from France towards the end of our stay, coming unusually via Grenada. Rod described the flight from Grenada on SVG Airline with much naughty hilarity. SVG operates small planes that hop from island to island, on this occasion stopping at Carriacou on the way to Bequia. They weigh the passengers as well as their baggage, so as to distribute the weight effectively. One passenger, herself substantial (Rod might have said “porky” but I may have misheard him), had to leave one of her large cases behind. She was, with some difficulty, placed in an appropriate position on the plane. But when they got to Carriacou, where she wanted to get off, she had to stay on board to keep the weight distribution right. The joys of little planes!



28 February 2020

Tony Herbert



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