Monday, June 3, 2013

St. Vincent & Bequia

Last weekend we took the all-inclusive trip that we won through LIAT ("The Caribbean Airline"), which included flights, 3 meals/day, accommodation and a day trip.
We'd never been down island before, so we were pretty excited, despite all the horrendous stories we'd heard about LIAT (aka Late If At All)...yes, LIAT is an airline notorious for delays, screw-ups, cancellations etc. etc. 
Our itinerary was booked as follows:
San Juan - Antigua - Dominica - Barbados - Grenada - St. Vincent
Yes, its more like an "Air-bus" instead of an airline..this flight direct would be close to 2.5 hours. Instead, LIAT turns it into a 6 hour trip (at the best of times that is).

We decided to take Memorial Day weekend, as it was a "Four day vacation", which meant taking only one extra day off work. The fun began as soon as we got to San Juan, where we had to connect onto a LIAT flight. "Delayed by an hour" - we were told by a check-in agent. Three and a half hours later, with a story that differed from what other passengers were told as to why we were delayed, we discovered that we needed to overnight in Barbados. Well, ok - we thought. That is more than half way there at least.

HA! So we thought... once we got to Antigua, we had to switch planes for whatever reason. Only once we were inside the (freezing!) terminal were we told that we had all missed the last plane and we had to overnight in Antigua. (The two of us plus about 20 other passengers, including a family of 6 with small children). You can only imagine the disappointment of everyone, considering the long delays and stories we were told at various points along the way already

LIAT had organised a hotel for us, and provided transport there, with the promise of everyone being booked on the first flight out tomorrow morning... meaning that we had to be at the airport at 4am, after a 9:30pm drop off. (Excellent way to start a vacation if I may say so myself). 
The hotel, Royal Antiguan Beach Resort looked rather nice as we pulled up, but once we reached the rooms, the blood stained pillowcase, brown shower water, non-working A/C and door that didnt lock, resulted in little sleep, as you can imagine.
3:00am, our alarm went off and we were back the airport with the little amount of adrenaline we had left as we looked forward to getting on that first flight....

"I'm sorry Sir/Madam, we have no record of you flying with LIAT and we certainly have not booked you on the first flight"....fantastic.
After much back and forth, waiting, discussing with other agents, they got us on a 6:30am flight to Dominica, which I have to say, was rather smooth sailing (well, flying) after that.


As you can imagine, after all of this with next to no sleep, Geoff and I were elated, yet exhausted by the time we reached St. Vincent around 1pm on Saturday (we were originally scheduled to arrive Friday evening).
Because of all the flight changes, our ride that was scheduled to meet us at the airport was not there, so we took a cab to the accomodation that was scheduled for us.
Beachcombers Hotel...what an absolute delight! The staff were super friendly and the room was really cute and comfortable. Here is a pic of our room:

Beachcombers has it's own restaurant, which is where the majority of our included meals were scheduled. As most of you know, Geoff and I much prefer to explore and try local dishes outside of touristy areas, but the menu here looked so tempting that we ended up not only dining here all the time, but thoroughly enjoying each one!
We found that although the cuisine is similar to St. Croix (lots of stews, curries, rice, beans etc.), there is an enormous abundance of fresh seafood here. We dove right into the fresh Mahi and salad for lunch that day.

After resting for an hour or so, our eyes hung heavy and the deck chairs at the hotel were calling our names. But, we only had a half day in St. Vincent now thanks to LIAT's screw-up's, so we rented a car and tried to explore as much as possible in what daylight we had left. (Mind you, $80 U.S. for a one-day Jeep rental, not including any extras is a pretty penny when compared to mainland U.S. rental car prices... but, better than sitting around and getting sun, which we can do at home at any time, right?)

We started off in Kingstown, the main port and largest town in St. Vincent. Saturday meant market day, and boy - do these locals know how to do it right!? I just had to shake my head when I saw the amount of fresh fruit and veggies available here - LOCALLY GROWN - oh, and did I mention the Fish Market, that is sponsored by the Japanese? A fully enclosed, air-conditioned, spotless fish market with all of the daily catch - scallops, lobster, fish, name it.

After buying some local fruit, we continued onwards towards the mountains. I really wanted to check out the  Montreal Gardens near Mt. St. Andrew, but it began raining so hard, that we could barely see a couple of feet ahead of us. We tried to wait it out, but this was a true Caribbean downpour. 
Worried that we may not be able to get out of the mountains once everything was flooded, we decided to let the gardens be for this trip and head along the coastline, heading west.

The locals, hitching a ride

The road heading west lead us to Fort Charlotte, which gave us spectacular views over Kingstown. This fort was constructed in 1806, with cannons facing inland to protect the English against the Caribs (the local people). 
The rain had ceased and we were the only ones up there, except for a childrens birthday party that was starting to thin out due to more threatening weather. They certainly seem to be taken in by our camera and my blonde hair :)

With daylight running out, we decided to get as far as we could heading north west. Along the way we came across many tiny towns, beautiful rain-forests, beaches and mountains, mountains, mountains.
Our turn around point was a little bar and restaurant run by a woman from Munich, Germany. She had married a Vincentian (local from St. Vincent) and had started to run a bar from her home, catering to sailors that used her moorings (she had around 8 in the bay where she lived). After a local beer (Hairou) and lots of good conversation, we said our farewells to her and headed back to the hotel.

Day 3: Bequia
Prounounced "Beck-way" by the locals, we took the 8:30am ferry to this little island, just 9 miles away from St. Vincent. I had enough of travelling already on this trip, but this ferry ride just had to be one of the highlights for me on this holiday.
Sunday morning, and a lot of Afro-Caribbean religious members were travelling to churches from St. V to Bequia. This was certainly a sight to see, and I only wish that they had allowed me to take photos (I had asked, but they shook their head). Men dressed extremely well, and women in the traditional Caribbean, bright colored linens, with their hair wrapped high up on top of their head. We had been told earlier, that the people belonging to this religion were also the type that practiced "voo-doo".
They had their musical instruments with them, mainly different types of drums and before the ferry even departed, they began to sing gospel tunes at the top of their lungs and play their instruments ... the type to really give you goosebumps. I thought it was an incredibly unique, cultural experience and dont think that I'll ever relive anything like that again.
This little guy (below) seemed to enjoy the hymns on this particular Sunday morning too, circling and following the ferry the entire hour to Bequia.

Our driver met us at the ferry port  - a young guy, totally and utterly obsessed with cricket. At times I forgot that we were in a former English colony until one of the locals would open their mouths - and came out with the most proper, English accent. It was quite a sight really.
This little fruit shown below was similar to a dragonfruit, except that it didnt have any flavor. The color was bright red/purple, like a beetroot and it grew everywhere on all the wild cactus.

We loved this view from the back of our 'safari-taxi' - an open air ute with purpose-built seating. Doesnt it look like something straight out Hawaii?

We had heard many good things about "The Old Hegg" - a non profit, homemade turtle sanctuary, started by one retired diver enthusiast.
Here, 'Brudda King' would collect Hawksbill turtle eggs, hatch and raise them, until they are about 5 years old, at which point he releases them back into the ocean. Unfortunately, there are too many people in the world that consider turtle eggs a delicacy, with just one in 1000 surviving in the wild.
This was a wonderful experience, and one that I will spread the word about.

Bequia's whaling station. Each year, four whales (no more) are allowed be caught in a certain passage of water, and are then brought here to be cut up and sold. For those restaurants or people wanting a piece, must travel by boat to this little island to buy it - they do not bring it to the mainland for selling.

After an tiring day sightseeing, we had lunch - a fresh mahi salad with all the trimmings from local farms - melon, tomato, greens, name it. Topped with a mango, papaya and banana smoothie... a perfect way to end the day!

All in all, St. Vincent and Bequia were beautiful and very, very different from the few other Caribbean islands we have been to. The Tourism Association put together a great package with wonderful vendors for us once we got there and we thoroughly enjoyed our trip. Next time however, we'll be travelling with American Airlines so we can make the most of our time at the destination.
Oh, and you may be wondering about the way back...? Just 3.5 hours of delays this time, with the pilot turning back the plane mid-air to pick up some passengers that had gotten left behind on one of the other islands. Sucks for those who had tight connections on our flight, right?

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