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Bequia - 2022

28 January – 22 February


This was our first visit to Bequia since the lockdowns, the first for two years, going as usual via Barbados, stopping there for a few nights.


I’m going to have to struggle to keep off the subject of Covid as it still hovers menacingly over almost everything: the tests, the form filling, the vaccination certificates, the mask wearing (ugh!) and, I suppose, the fear of the disease, more evident in those parts than back in England. Congratulations to the Queen, continuing to work with her “mild cold”!


Many of our compatriots are still sufficiently concerned about all the fuss and the rigmarole to defer any form of foreign travel till things really do get back to normal. Which made me worry that Bequia would still be suffering and that too many of the friends who we tend to meet up with wouldn’t be there; that we would be solitary pioneers. The good news is that I was (as usual) being unduly pessimistic. Bequia is pretty much back to normal; there are plenty of visitors; the restaurants are full (mostly); even though, of course, the local people have suffered greatly from an almost complete absence, for almost two years, of the visitors they rely on.


Mary having lunch under the mango tree


I’ll describe how we dealt with all the boring and tiresome formalities – but at the end. Let’s hope it will all eventually be history, though I’m not holding my breath.


One point I will mention here. They are much keener on masks than we are. Masks don’t seem to be compulsory anywhere except in shops and the like. But you do see waitresses and others wearing them in the restaurants most of which are largely in the open air. Sad to see. As Lionel Shriver has written, they are “one of the vilest of the many ineffective interventions” in the pandemic.


Barbados


First stop, Barbados, where we stay for two or, on this occasion, three nights, for two reasons. One is to meet up with our Canadian friends, Bill and Janet Rowley; the second is to avoid the tense business of making the very tight connection with the little plane that takes us to Bequia if you try to do it on the same day.


This latter point has now changed. Virgin Atlantic now flies to St Vincent, allowing you to get the ferry from St Vincent to neighbouring Bequia. This is now a very attractive alternative to stopping and changing planes in Barbados, because any stop in Barbados, even in transit, means doing all the immigration and Covid paraphernalia there as well.


British Airways has so far said that it won’t go to St Vincent. Maybe this will change. We were definitely in the minority going via Barbados.


Anyway, we enjoyed our days and particularly evenings in Barbados. We were there at the same time as the English cricket team. The Barmy Army was well represented in our hotel, the Dover Beach.

As usual, we had dinner with the Rowleys at the splendid Coral Reef Club and then at the

almost equally splendid Champers, overlooking the sea. As indicated, our little diversion in Barbados does involve doubling up on the PCR testing and form filling, the tests being a rip-off there, as elsewhere. Maybe they will follow our lead soon in dispensing with it all. Otherwise, Virgin Atlantic will be the winners and they the losers.


Mary at Champers in Barbados


Bequia


The normal questions we ask on getting to Bequia are: What’s new? What’s changed? And the normal answer is: Not much. That’s part of the appeal.


This year, of course, the question is different: Are things back to normal? How have our Bequia friends survived?


Restaurants


As one might expect, it’s a bit quieter, but happily not much. There are plenty of visitors, even plenty of boats in the harbour, and the restaurants we like to go to are mostly flourishing: Mac’s Pizzeria and Kitchen, run by the American couple Kevin and Tracy; Laura’s, run by the Argentines, Carlos and Laura; Fernando’s Hideaway (Nando’s), presumably the longest running restaurant on the island, with Nando still going out every morning in his fishing boat to get the catch of the day; Papa’s; and Jack’s Bar on Princess Margaret Beach, owned by Bengt Mortstedt the Swedish businessman who also owns the up-market Bequia Beach Hotel.


Plantation House

Tojo's


Slightly sinisterly, the Bequia Beach had decided not to open its restaurant to anyone not staying there. We asked Bengt about it. He said it was due to staff shortages – difficulty in these troubled times to get and train staff.


So they decided that they must prioritise their guests. I understand, although you’d have thought there would be young people crying out for work after their enforced two years of unemployment.


Some things have closed. Sugar Reef was a lovely restaurant on the eastern Atlantic side of the island. No longer, although let’s hope it comes to life again. Two or three years ago, it was beset by vast quantities of seaweed – so-called Sargasso weed – that landed up on the beach outside the restaurant and had to be cleared up, constantly, by teams of young men with wheelbarrows. Maybe that got too much for the owner, Emmet, though the weed seems to be less of a problem this year.


Another sad closure is the Chameleon Café, one of the few places where you could get what I regard as a proper cup of coffee.


Otherwise, all good. And there are two new restaurants. One is called Cheri’s Rooftop Terrace – located above the graveyard behind the Anglican Church, which sounds rather sinister but certainly isn’t. Cheri serves what is probably the best food on the island.


The other new one is called, somewhat curiously, Provision. It is by Lower Bay, quite close to Nando’s, and is run by the bearded chef, Joe, from Boston. His sushi-like rice cakes are much admired (to die for, as they say). A few years ago he was at Kudu’s at the far end of Lower Bay.


George and Val (back) at the Village Apartments with Keisha and Clifford


Action Bequia


In previous years, we’ve gone to the annual fund-raising dinner and (of course) auction of Action Bequia. Not this year. I think Bequia still has the kind of rules that limit the number of people in a room – the rules that Boris Johnson had difficulty remembering to comply with. So, the event would have been tricky, even though largely outside. Instead, with no fund-raising involved at all, we were generously invited for drinks at the amazing house of the Roxburghs (Richard Roxburgh being the founder of the charity) followed by a dinner for a few of us at Cheri’s Rooftop above the graveyard.


Action Bequia goes from strength to strength. It is a charity, as indicated, founded by Richard, to do things that would normally be done by a government but that on Bequia aren’t. Previous projects have included building a walkway to the two main beaches, sorting out the drainage in the town centre, and setting up recycling arrangements. They have been very successful in getting serious amounts of money from American charities. This has enabled them to get going on a current project installing water tanks for the many houses on the island where the occupants have to collect water by hand. In any proper honours system, Richard should be made a Knight or possibly a Duke, although I’m sure he wouldn’t accept.



Sir James Mitchell


Very sadly, Sir James Mitchell, the ex-prime minister of St Vincent, died last year. Known to everyone as Son (although I always had difficulty in calling an ex-prime minister Son), he was a much-loved figure on the island. He was born on Bequia, his family having been boatbuilders for many generations. The family home became the Frangipani Hotel. Apparently they had various funeral/memorial events both on St Vincent and Bequia, all well attended. One of the least important aspects of his distinguished life was his keen attendance of the readings I used to do on the balcony of the Frangipani Hotel – readings of authors ranging from Homer to Maupassant and P G Wodehouse.





Fay’s Bar


Fay has been established with a bar on Princess Margaret Beach from time immemorial. We are regular customers for her loungers, less so for her rum punch and beer.


This year I got a commission from her. Would I paint a painting? An English couple had seen in a London art gallery a picture of her beach bar, priced at many thousands of pounds. They managed to get a copy of it for Fay. Fay asked me to paint another version, frankly a copy. She supplied me with a canvas donated apparently by Monica Harper. Fay seemed happy with the result, though you never really know. It’s not part of local custom to say thank you! It’s the only painting I’ve ever done in what I guess would be called naïve/primitive style. It depicts Fay’s ample proportions in a way I would have been embarrassed to do had I not been copying the work of another artist braver than me.




Museum


Bequia has a relatively new museum – in two parts. One deals with history; the other whaling. All beautifully presented. Well worth a visit.


Our friend Nicola Redway, who is immensely knowledgeable about all the history and has been much involved in researching and finding the artefacts, gives fascinating talks in the museum.


What was surprising to me was the quality of the pottery made by the Amerindian islanders some 2,000 years ago. Other little nuggets of history concerned the Hamilton family. The father of the great US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton settled on Bequia in the 18th century. Sadly his famous son wasn’t actually born on the island and probably never saw it. Too busy founding the United States and creating the US dollar, I guess.


The other part of the museum is about whaling and contains two whaling boats. Whaling became the island’s main business in the 19th century after the decline of the sugar plantations (and the abolition of slavery). They’re still allowed to catch four whales a year by the traditional methods. None have apparently been caught recently – bad for the islanders, good for the whales.


The Boat Museum


* * *



COVID Supplement


This is the very boring description of what we had to go through, first to go from Heathrow to Barbados, then from Barbados to Bequia; and coming back, from Bequia to Barbados and then Barbados to Heathrow. Each had its challenges.


Going from Heathrow to Barbados, we needed three things: vaccination certificate; a negative PCR test done within three days before arrival; and a Barbados entry form. BA says in many emails that you should download an app called Verifly and “upload” the certificates onto it. I saw (and see) absolutely no reason for doing this. We had our vaccination certificates on our phones; I got them printed out as well. Similarly I had printed copies of the test results. I had successfully “submitted” on line the Barbados entry forms, again without uploading anything, and also had copies of them. I had also heard that Verifly had teething problems.


We checked in at Heathrow. There seemed to be no disadvantage in not having checked in on line. The check-in girl didn’t want even to glance at the various certificates. She said that they would be checked in Barbados. Apparently BA has wisely decided not to police the ever-changing requirements of all the countries they fly to. When you stop to think about it, how could they?


So the conclusion I reached was: no need to download Verifly; no need to check in on line; and no requirement to present copies of all the bumf at Heathrow.


Arriving at Barbados. Here we benefitted greatly from some advice from our friend Bill Rowley. We employed a firm called Platinum Services (at not inconsiderable expense) to guide us through the formalities. We were met by an elegant young man who directed us swiftly to the Fast Track lane, allowing us to glance to our right and watch a massive queue developing for those who weren’t Platinum people. Our Platinum man took all the printed copies and presented them to the relevant functionary. It took almost no time at all. In contrast, the non-Platinum people took up to two hours, we heard.


Barbados to Bequia. Two challenges: another PCR test; and another entry form. The Dover Beach Hotel was able to gat a doctor to step round and do the PCR test. No problem. He was able to deliver the correct (negative) result – and we printed it out.


The form was more of a problem. I tried to do it myself. It’s more sensible than the UK equivalent (not difficult). I clicked on “Submit” and it promptly deleted everything I’d written. I asked for help from the Dover Beach Hotel. The immensely patient Natalie supplied it – not without difficulty. I don’t know what her magic touch was as she had exactly the same problem as I had. But she succeeded. I wondered later whether she spotted a way of overcoming the requirement to upload the certificates. She typed in “nil”.


In Bequia, no problem. No one took the slightest interest in any of the forms we had so patiently filled out or failed to upload.


Bequia to Barbados. Again two challenges: the entry form for Barbados (our old friend); and another PCR test.


The rumour on the island was that the PCR test had to be done (at considerable cost) at the Bequia Beach Hotel. Indeed Bengt, clever man, has set up a clinic to do it all, mainly for his guests at the hotel, but also for us plebs. However, I asked whether the Plantation House did it. (The Plantation House is where we have breakfast every day and where we are friendly with Jimmy, the manager.) They do – at much the same (exorbitant) cost as the Bequia Beach. A nurse showed up and did the business.


The form was the same old story. I tried and failed. This time it didn’t delete what I had typed in; it just failed to submit. Again I sought help, this time from Jimmy. He cracked it, by uploading one of the certificates, despite the form saying it wasn’t necessary.


At the airport, they glanced at the papers, but spent more time, as in years gone by, scrunching through our bags in search (I believe) of drugs and high explosives. Mary asked the girl doing the searching whether she had EVER found anything. She smiled weakly.


Barbados to London. The UK still needs a Locator Form – for impenetrable reasons (see that day’s Daily Telegraph). Again, I failed the test and had to call my son Dan who I regard as my helper on all such things. My failing was my inability to answer questions about whether we had been to “other” islands and go through border controls, none of which questions were easy to understand in a country (St Vincent) composed of many islands. I was probably being too literal. Dan answered all the questions in the way he knew they were wanting.


I diligently had all the forms printed out. The Barbadians looked at them. In Heathrow, no one wanted to see anything – perhaps, to be fair to them, because it was all on line and the system was (miraculously) working.


We arrived back in a state of nervous exhaustion.







24 February 2022

Tony Herbert









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