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  • Writer's pictureTony Herbert

Bequia 2024

Updated: Mar 8

1-21 February 2024

 



 

Three weeks on our favourite island in the sun, Bequia - avoiding what has been a particularly dire February in England.

 

Bequia, by contrast, tends to be the same every year, weatherwise: 28° Celsius during the day, 24°C at night. With the occasional shower, but at 28°C , who cares?

 

But this year, actually, it was a bit different. Before we got there, they had had quantities of rain. They depend on it, of course, there being no underground sources of supply. They rely on collected rainwater. The watertanks were full. So, good for the locals, not quite so good for the visitors.

 

For us, when we arrived, it meant clouds, humidity and mugginess. This cleared after a week or so. But, again, who cares? The sun still gets through all right and it’s still around 28°C.

 

The Surge

 

End of weather bulletin, except to report a Surge. Are we all familiar with Surges? They

happen there once in a while and cause much damage. A Surge is a mini-tsunami, sudden big waves all along the waterfronts and the beaches, splashing over the walkways and breaking up some of the jetties and beach stalls.

 

The timing of the Surge that happened on 9 February was uncanny. The great Action Bequia (more about them in a moment) had just put the finishing touches to a new slightly precarious-looking walkway the day before. It’s mainly wooden, though embedded in concrete, out in the water going round the headland leading towards Princess Margaret Beach. The very next day came the Surge. The walkway survived - unlike the jetty by Jack’s Bar adjacent to it, which took a lot of damage. A baptism of fire - to use a most inappropriate metaphor. You can see the end of the new walkway in the photo below - just.

 



Bequia

 

A word about Bequia itself. As all its many regular and devoted visitors know well, it’s a small island in the Grenadines, some five or six miles (or perhaps kiliometers!) long and about one wide. It’s part of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was British, despite its curious name (pronounced “bekway”), before it became independent in the 1970s - although, as with other Caribbean islands, it had alternated between us and the French. It was French before we won the Seven Years War, since when (in 1763) it became British, which it remained, subject to some French interludes, until independence. It’s still part of the Commonwealth and the late Queen still appears on the East Caribbean banknotes. They had a referendum a few years ago to approve a change to a republic, as proposed by the left-wing prime minister, Ralph Gonsalves, but it was voted down.

 

Visitors

 

What’s it like for us visitors? I say “visitors” with some hesitation. We’ve been coming during February for the last 20 years. It may seem a bit presumptious, but we almost feel semi-local. We certainly get warm welcomes from the many real locals we’ve got to know. It’s rare to go into town without hearing the odd “Hello Tony” ringing out.

 

An example was at Jack’s Bar, the lovely restaurant on Princess Margaret Beach (see below). We agreed to meet an old friend and ex-colleague of mine, Jeff Golden and his wife Rita, for lunch there. They got there first and struggled to identify the reservation - “Herbert” no joy. But when he slipped in the first name, they said “Oh, Tony, yes, that table on the front!”

 



There are old-stagers, even - believe it or not - older-stagers than us, who say, “Ah, but Bequia isn’t what it was”. Which must be true. It’s a real Caribbean island, with real inhabitants. Things change. Indeed, as Giuseppi di Lampedusa said (in Italian), “Things have to change to remain the same”.

 

Changes

 

What are the changes? There are two that stand out: the Bequia Beach Hotel and Action

Bequia.

 

The BBH

 

The Bequia Beach Hotel is a classy hotel of a kind - reassuringly expensive, as they say - that was certainly unknown 20 years ago. It was established by a Swede, Bengt Mortstedt, who also owns Jack’s Bar, itself a relatively new addition to the island. They both add something new and, I guess, bring visitors who wouldn’t be quite so tolerant of the lesser comforts that the likes of us enjoy.

 

Action Bequia

 

Action Bequia is a phenomenon, created by our very good friend, Richard Roxburgh, over ten years ago. It’s a charity and manages to fund and carry out things on the island that would never have been done without it: building and maintaining the walkways from the town to the beaches; setting up refuse and recycling facilities that keep the island clean; providing watertanks for local people; the list is endless. Their latest triumph is the improved walkway I’ve already mentioned. Let’s hope it survives the next Surge!

 

Cruise liners

 

Another change, about which opinions differ, to put it mildly, are the cruise ships. Last year there were massive visitations - boats with almost a thousand tourists on board - stationed outside the harbour almost every day. This year, many fewer. Only two while we were there. One run by Saga appeared in our first week. Then none, until our final day - a monster run by the German firm TUI, full largely of Brits (it used to be Thompson Holidays).

 

Are they a good thing? Yes and no. Obviously, they don’t do much for the ambience, to put it politely. But allegedly they bring in money. Do the locals get it? Who knows? One minor

blessing is that despite the vast numbers on board, they don’t always appear in large numbers on the beaches. Maybe they’re happy sitting by their swimming pools, sipping their pina coladas while looking at the islands from a respectful distance.

 

Shake!

 

We made a musical discovery, sadly only towards the end of our stay - a group who call themselves Shake!, not forgetting the exclamation mark, they insist.

 



 

Shake! is a trio: singer, saxophonist and keyboard, billing themselves as “Soul, R&B,

Motown”. Originally, it was just the last two, Jan on the sax from Yorkshire and her husband Louis on the keyboard from Scotland. But a few years ago they were joined by the charismatic Tem, a singer from Chicago, now living on Bequia. I thought they were great. They seem to have a regular slot at Mac’s Pizzeria every Friday, plus a session at De Reef on Lower Bay, on Sundays - inconveniently for us in late afternoon. Their rendering of Gershwin’s Walking the Dog is memorable!

 



Bequia Theatre

 

I wish I could do a proper review of the Bequia International Theatre Festival. We were too late off the mark to get tickets. But worth noting. All reports were positive. They did five shows, two performances for each, mostly musicals, including Same Time Next Year about naughty liaisons, and also one straight play, Darrow, which we had seen a while back in London about the so-called monkey trial in the States.

 

Restaurants

 

Finally, a quick up-date on the restaurants. Not much change. The best ones, we reckoned, were still Cheri’s Rooftop Terrace; Laura’s on the waterfront on the way into town, run by Carlos from Argentina; and the redoubtable Mac’s Pizzeria and Kitchen, run by Kevin and Tracy from the US. Mac’s has its big terrace in front, which has now firmly taken over as the early evening meeting place - that is to say, taken over from what was the social centre of the island, the bar at the Frangipani Hotel, now much deserted.

 

Also, Nando’s or, more properly, Fernando’s Hideaway. It’s still run by Nando himself, who is getting on a bit and no longer goes out in his little boat every morning to catch the fish of the day. But it’s still excellent, offering - though not always - the only roast lamb and mint sauce on the island - probably unique in the Caribbean.

 

On our final evening we went to a restaurant that’s slightly out of the way up the mountain, Sugar Hill. Excellent, with very accommodating staff. There was a party of about a dozen Americans on the next table, making a predictable racket. The waitress felt able to tell them to reduce the volume, which amazingly they did, for a short time. Also, the arrival of food had a positive effect!

 



 

Tony Herbert

23 February 2024

 

 

 

 

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