Caribbean Beat Magazine

Island Beat (Summer 1995)

Partying in St. Lucia, Carnival in Grenada and Antigua, Crop Over in Barbados, fine dining in Tobago, plus turtles, sport fishing, cricket and more

  • Turtle country: Grande Riviére, on Trinidad's north coast. Photograph by Ric Hernandez
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  • Dancers at the 1992 Carifesta. Photograph by Harold Prieto
  • Waxing warm? Cricket hero Brian Lara
  • Tobago's Coco Reef is due to open in a few weeks
  • Junior Carnival in Antigua. Photograph by Allan Aflak/ Antigua Tourist Board
  • Caribbean style at Tobago's new Coco Reef
  • Kadooment in Barbados. Photograph by Sharon Almerigi
  • Carnival in Grenada. Photograph by Jim Rudin
  • Lobster temptation at Rouselle's, Tobago. Photograph by Bruce Bishop
  • Getting ready to party. Photograph by Chris Huxley

A ST LUCIA FRIDAY NIGHT

Ten pm On Dauphin Street, the first fragrant plumes of smoke float starward from Mrs Hector’s wood-fired grill. In the Golden Apple Restaurant, pretty Delia Jariah sets a row of icy Piton beers along the counter. At the crossroads, a roof-high heap of speakers, black and boxy, some as big as a hut, crackle, screech, then burst into a blood- pounding beat. It’s Friday night, any Friday, every Friday (except Good Friday, please), and Gros Islet, on St Lucia’s north-western shore, is kicking off its weekly street party.

This is not a manicured, pasteurised, for-the-tourist party with musicians in sequins and waiters doubling as dancing flame–throwers. In Gros Islet, Friday night is strictly local. Which is not to say that tourists, passing sailors and down-island householders are not always more than welcome.

Down on Church Street, taxis, vans and jeeps ease through the potholes to park in front of the imposing façade of St Joseph’s church. Partygoers, six or eight or ten at a clip, pour forth. Like schools of fish headed upstream, the crowd moves as one towards the music. Young girls arm-in-arm, with hibiscus blooms in their hair, walk unruffled through a barrage of male admiration (Yo, sweet baby! O honey-girl! Pretty, pretty lady). They walk on, disdainful, hut not quite concealing their pleasure.

The warm air is heavy with the scent of cooking fires, jasmine, and the salty tang of the sea, which laps the beach only a hundred yards down the street. Hens, roused by the music, cluck amiably among the gutters, wandering below the gingerbread houses that sit atop tidy piles of stones. Old ladies sit on the stoops of the houses, skirts pulled down to make a calico cowcatcher between their knees. Pass them by and they call out, “Good evening, yes please” and smile gold-toothed smiles in the lamplight.

At the Village Gate, across from the Golden Apple, Guinness is being snapped up at three Eastern Caribbean dollars a bottle. Drinkers crowd the tiny tables, angling for a good view of the dancing which is now under way in the street. For it’s not the beer or the barbecued ribs, or even Mrs Hector’s famous fried fishballs, that put the zing in the Gros Islet parties. It’s the dancing. No need to hang back, for all are welcome. Stretch out your hand and you’re whirled right in. And there you are, stepping and twirling, stomping and dipping, spinning and jumping. The blood sings in your ears. Your feet are locked in the rhythm. Nothing to it. Just hang loose, let it go. And never mind saying you don’t know how, because tonight you do know how.

On a wooden porch chair Herbert Scott sits outside Scott’s Café. Now he’s 69 he’s taking it easy. He’s leased the premises to prime-of-life Sam Flood who tonight can count on selling several hundred of the house specialty, rum-and-coke, EC$4 a round.

The crowd thickens. Tourists in madras shorts, pastel sundresses and peeling noses, redolent with After Sun lotion, unwind with the locals. On holiday from Ottawa, Toronto, Frankfurt, Bonn, Glasgow, Manchester, Dallas and Chicago, they mix it up with their looser-limbed hosts. Gradually the northern hips and knees take on a new fluidity as the music seeps into the bloodstream.

Up and down Dauphin Street the food grills are doing brisk business. Beef doused with a fiery sauce of pimento, pepper, lime juice and oil competes with chicken wings and drumsticks hot enough to bring water to the eye. As always, ten local policemen, immaculate in dress uniforms, patrol the party. Three stand at street barricades to wave off vehicles, seven walk the street to keep an eye on things. But the partygoers are out for fun, not for trouble. As pretty Delia puts it, “Sometimes the boys try to behave a little bad but not dangerous.”

Tonight most of the music is by the Magic Circle with a few numbers thrown in by the Sugar Cane boys. The sound drifts down around the drinkers and the dancers, around the lop-eared village dogs nosing for scraps, around the roosters strutting between the houses. It falls gentle as flower petals on the babies that sleep on their mothers’ backs and on the children watching wide-eyed, their chins propped on window sills.

Overhead the stars wheel across the dark blue tropical sky. The tide at the end of the street rises, falls, and quietly begins to rise anew. It’s Friday night, any Friday night, in Gros Islet, in St Lucia


Gourmet Tobago

Ten years ago in Toronto, when I was a waiter at a posh women s club, I remember a fantastic taste sensation the chef produced one day: lightly-breaded deep-fried brie surrounded by a cold, fresh raspberry purée. It’s a rather common dish these days, but at the time my tastebuds screamed in delight as the hot brie melted on my tongue, chased with the sweet and tangy raspberry sauce.

I didn’t expect a similar pleasure so many times in Tobago.

But Tobago, Trinidad’s sister isle, is a real culinary delight, where fresh fish and seafood are expected daily treasures. Compound this healthy staple with tropical fruit, vegetables and sauces, and you have to throw caution to the winds when you go out dining.

Tobago has been relatively undiscovered by the hordes who invade the bigger Caribbean destinations every winter, and this works to the Tobago visitor’s advantage. The equivalent of five- star restaurants in Canada, almost unadvertised in Tobago, are priced at the level of many Toronto bistros.

One night I went out to dinner in the company of a young German couple and a mother/daughter team of travel agents from Canada. We started with a house rum punch, flavoured with Trinidad and Tobago’s famous export, Angostura bitters. Hot callaloo soup followed, a national dish with spicy appeal. Everyone ordered a local Carib beer, sampled the homemade bread and watched the sun set. When the others’ broiled lobster and my fresh grouper arrived, all eyes drank in the incredible palette of colours on the plates. Surrounding the fish were patchoi (bok choy) in vinaigrette, stuffed in a tomato; a hollowed sweet pepper laden with steamed cauliflower; glazed green beans dotted with pearl onions; and baked squash with almonds. Leading this cavalcade was the grouper, poached in a white wine herb sauce.

For dessert, we could not resist a homemade pineapple ice-cream with a topping of banana, rum and tamarind. It was an exquisite end to a wonderful meal, costing about 25 Canadian dollars each.

I didn’t expect to taste another meal of that quality, but the very next restaurant we were recommended to try proved me wrong.

We were greeted with a warm smile and welcome as a waitress brought a complimentary appetiser of shredded saltfish fritters with spicy mango chutney, and we knew at once that we had chosen the right spot.

My German friends tried another version of the callaloo soup, while I chose fresh crayfish in a tomato and onion coulis. Next came broiled barracuda in a pepper sauce, complemented by local dasheen, plantain and cassava. We finished with a delicious guava cheesecake resting on pureed papaya.

To find meals of this quality — they would do credit to many a posh restaurant in Toronto — was one of the greatest pleasures of Tobago.

I’ll be going back next year.


TURTLE TIME

From March to July or August, on favoured beaches around several of the islands, huge Leatherback and other turtles heave themselves out of the sea to nest in the sand, an unforgettable sight. Correspondent Janice Hernandez writes from one site on Trinidad’s isolated north coast:

Grande Rivière beach is a nesting site for giant Leatherback turtles. GREAT (the Grande Rivière Environmental Awareness Trust) is pledged to protect them. Thalia Moolchan, its President, tells me that the first turtles arrived in February last year, and egg laying continued through September. During the peak period between May and July, they had up to 100 turtles a night.

“Although the Leatherback is endangered, numbers seem to be increasing here. Fifteen members of GREAT patrol the beach and drive away dogs and human predators. Leatherbacks are huge creatures, graceful in the water but slow and awkward on land. Pulling their great bulk through the sand with their flippers requires a miracle of creative energy. It’s actually painful to watch.”

“But once they begin the laying process, nothing deters them. They dig a hole in which they deposit a cluster of gleaming eggs about the size or ping-pong balls and sharing that perfect roundness. When the female covers her eggs and completes her task, she drags herself back to the sea. There she catches a wave that restores her grace. As she slips into the dark waters, you feel like cheering. ”

“The eggs are vulnerable, and so are the tiny hatchlings that break through to the surface later, mostly between July and September. GREAT estimates that 60% of them are lost.”


SIR FRANCIS DRAKE

The 16th-century British buccaneer SIR FRANCIS DRAKE may be going home, if the British have their way. Drake, who behaved as badly as any bloodstained conquistador around the Caribbean, died somewhere off the Panamanian coast after contracting yellow fever, and historians and salvage experts think they know where. They have raised £80,000 to try and recover his remains (which they think are in a watertight lead coffin) off Portobelo and bring him back home.

“Drake represents a wonderfully romantic part of our history,” enthused one of the project’s backers. But the British navy has been objecting. “It is the same as grave-snatching,” a spokesman said. “He had an honourable burial at sea and we wish his remains to be undisturbed.”


SUMMER IN GRENADA

Just as Easter in Grenada means kite-flying – when every neighbourhood hears that familiar buzz of a stringed captive, a mere speck in the sky – so summer in Grenada means festivals.

By the time the summer break approaches, Grenada is already well warmed up: the St Mark’s Day festival in April, in the coastal village of Victoria, is just a start, with its steelband music, craft displays and home-made food.

Then, in the fishing village of Gouyave, a few miles to the south, the annual festival known as Fishermen’s Birthday is held on June 29, St Peter’s Day – the patron saint of fishermen has a busy time around the Caribbean islands. The festival starts early, with the blessing of fishing boats that have been decorated with flowers and candles, and continues until night with unusual games (ever seen someone trying to climb a pole greased with lard?), music, dancing and feasting – fresh fish, naturally prepared in many different ways, with prizes for the largest and best catches.

By the time the Rainbow City Festival (August 6-8) comes around in Grenville, on the island’s east coast, the holiday mood is in full swing. With some of Grenada’s most idyllic countryside as a setting, the Rainbow City Festival highlights real Grenadian life; local produce like cocoa, bananas and spices are the centrepiece, and there is usually a good variety of craft and manufactured products as well. But for many visitors it’s a massive street party, throbbing with loud music and unforgettable food.

Then comes Grenada’s Carnival. Its major events – like Kiddies’ Carnival, the Queen Show, the steelband and calypso competitions – showcase Grenada’s talents and lifestyle as nothing else can. Dimanche Gras, on the Saturday before Carnival, is when the Kings and Queens of the Bands parade and the winners are chosen.

Carnival celebrations officially begin with J’Ouvert. Before dawn on Monday, the streets fill up with chanting, prancing revellers, many of them in short pants, heavily smeared with black grease, carrying chains and wearing horned helmets. This is one of the oldest Carnival masquerades, and old-timers will tell you what it all means – but no matter how they look, the only real threat is the greasy hugs the revellers love to give curious onlookers.

After that riotous start, the beauty of Carnival unfolds. From mid-Monday (August 14), the Pageant begins at Queen’s Park, outside St George’s, with lavishly costumed bands parading to their favourite calypsos. On Tuesday the Parade of the Bands takes over St George’s, and by late afternoon many spectator have joined the revellers’ slow dance to a calypso beat.

Sharon Almerigi


BEST OF BARBADOS

Barbados too has launched into a series of spring and summer festivals, kicking off with the traditional Oistins Fish Festival in April. This celebration of the island’s fishing and fishermen starts with a prayer and the blowing of a conch, and moves into fishing contests, boat racing, fish-boning competitions, art and craft displays, road races, and, of course, lavish festivity.

In May, Barbados presents one of its most interesting innovations – the annual Gospelfest (May 26-28), now in its third year but already a popular event, attracting gospel singers from the United States and Britain as well as the Caribbean.

But the centrepiece of Barbados’s summer is the Crop Over festival, which gets under way in mid-July and climaxes on August 7. This is a historic festival that began as an end-of-season celebration in the days of the old sugar estates. Workers would parade around the plantation yard with a procession of carts

loaded with the very last canes of the exhausting harvest. Everyone, even the animals, were decorated with flamboyant, frangipani and other flowers, and the dancing lasted late into the night.

Today’s festival has transformed the old celebration into something much bigger, though it still includes plenty of music and dancing. In fact the arts flourish at Crop Over time. Every village gets involved with street fairs, concerts and parties. The opening ceremony takes place on one of the old plantations; the decorated Cart Parade conjures up memories of those old workers’ processions with the canes. Other highlights include the hugely popular Bridgetown Market, the Bajan Culture Village, the calypso competition, the spectacular variety show called Cohobblopot, and a children’s costume parade.

But the climax of it all is the Carnival parade, Kadooment, when costumed revellers surrender to the heady rhythms of the music from early morning till late at night. If you want to jump in- or rather jump-up in the dance – or enjoy any of the other Bajan festivals this summer, you’ll find yourself as welcome as the crowds of Bajans who come home every year for the fun.

Sharon Almerigi


JUMP UP IN ANTIGUA

After the excitements of its annual Sailing Week, one of the biggest in the Caribbean (April 30 -May 6), Antigua plans for its big summer Carnival. Most the events are staged at the Antigua Recreation Ground, which turns into Carnival City for the season, with a big opening on July 29.

Two or three calypso tents are on offer during June and July, including the Swallow Calypso Pepperpot and a tent at Miller’s by the Sea, a beach restaurant that stages entertainment. The cream of the crop take part in the semi-finals of the nationwide calypso competition on July 28, followed by the Soca Monarch competition on July 29 and a female calypso competition, together with a village pageant, on July 30. The popular local band Burning Flames, which can be heard regularly at the Lions Club on Cross Street, a few minutes’ walk from Carnival City, stages its 10th Anniversary Splashdown on July 31 with a feast of soca, reggae and zouk.

Then the Carnival pace accelerates:

August 2: Carnival Queen competition; Children’s Carnival and Junior Calypso competitions

August 4: Seven steelbands from around the island compete in the Panorama competition; Kings and Queens of the Bands competition

August 5: Jaycees’ Caribbean Queen Show

August 6: Calypso Monarch Competition.

August 7: J’Ouvert procession, St John’s, from 4 a.m.: judging

of the 20 or more bands, involving perhaps 10,000 masqueraders; Caribbean Calypso Competition (open to outsiders).

August 8: Parade of bands from midday through St John’s; awards ceremony at Carnival City (4 p.m.); Last Lap through St John’s till midnight.


NOTEBOOK

NEWS FROM THE RESORTS. The Caribbean’s newest mid-size resort is Tobago’s Coco Reef, overlooking one of the island’s most beautiful bays and beaches, Store Bay, and close to the famous Pigeon Point. Coco Reef, formerly Crown Reef, has been completely redesigned and re-developed over the last four years at a cost of over US$27 million, and re-opens with 135 rooms, suites and villas, plus a full range of sports and watersports and top-class food. Other special attractions include a hideaway Lovers’  Cottage (complete with full butler service), a Longevity Spa, and a classic Rolls Royce limo for ferrying guests from Crown Point airport. The new resort is operated by the Bermuda-based Island Resorts International.

In Barbados, the new 290-room Almond Beach Village opened last November on the north-west coast. Formerly Heywoods, the entire resort has been renovated and refurbished, and is now an all-inclusive. The size of the resort – 30 acres, on a gorgeous white-sand beach – has allowed the addition of a 70-room family section. More than half the rooms are categorised as suites, and there are now four restaurants, six pools, a nine-hole golf course and a dine-around programme which allows guests to sample local restaurants as well as the sister Almond Beach Village. The two properties together make their owner, the Barbados Shipping & Trading Company, the largest resort operator in Barbados.

If good dining is important to you on holiday, check out the Jalousie Plantation Resort & Spa in St Lucia, nestled between the island’s famous Pitons. Jalousie broke all records in last year’ annual Culinary Competition for hotels, taking 12 gold medals and a bronze, a feat never achieved in the competition’s seven-year history. The resort – with its 103 cottages and 12 sugarmill rooms – has four different restaurants in which to show off its expertise, not to mention a spa and fitness centre, hiking trails and a full range of sports and watersports.

NO MORE SHORT,WAVE? The explosion in broadcasting technology in the last two decades has raced the Caribbean from AM radio to FM radio to myriad channels of satellite TV from the United States. Now, a Washington company is preparing to send the region back to its radios again – this time with clean digital sound which will send Caribbean programmes around the world and bring world radio to the Caribbean.

In January, WorldSpace signed a $500 million deal to launch three satellites by 1998 to set up a global digital broadcasting system; one of them, CaribStar, will serve the Caribbean and South and Central America, while the others will cover Africa and Asia, leasing channels to international and regional broadcasters.

Listeners will pick up satellite signals by using radios called Starman, complete with a tiny satellite antenna. Napier Pillai, Managing Director of the CaribSpace subsidiary in Trinidad and Tobago, says the system will allow Caribbean people “to hear each other’s music, enjoy each other’s culture and share information among the nations of the region”.

Meanwhile the Caribbean News Agency in Barbados is already setting up a satellite radio link with CD-quality sound to service member stations across the region.

SPORT FISHING fans head for St Maarten in June, when two major tournaments take place: the Sea Rescue Foundation Fishing Tournament and the Caribbean Liquors Fishing Tournament. These are among the most popular of the many events now staged around the islands, and St Maarten itself has plenty of added attractions, as its many visitors know – outstanding beaches, duty-free shopping (it’s a genuine free-port), casinos, unusually good restaurants.

St Maarten is the southern, Dutch half of an island of only 37square miles – the northern half is French St Martin. The border runs across the middle, but without any immigration controls or customs searches, just a sign saying “Bienvenue Partie Française”. BWIA has been dramatically increasing its service to St Maarten’s Princess Juliana airport.

INTERNATIONAL CRICKET in the Caribbean, including this year’s tour by the Australians, enjoys the sponsorship of the telecommunications giant Cable & Wireless, which invested US$l million in the game in 1988-91 and is spending US$2 million in 1992-96 to make sure that international matches can be played across the region.

The game now seems to be finding similar benefactors to support overseas tours. The 1994 West Indies tour of lndia was sponsored by the Indian-based steelmaker Ispat, which has a plant in Trinidad, and their tour of England this summer is being sponsored by the highly successful Jamaica-based hotel chain Sandals. The West Indies will play six Test matches and a series of one-day matches in England between May 13 and September 15 .

The deal is worth over £400,000, and Gordon “Butch” Stewart, Sandal’ chairman, said it was the first time “an indigenous Caribbean company has ever undertaken the sponsorship of an event at this magnitude.”

• The ultimate accolade:

BRIAN LARA in wax? The West Indies cricketer, who last year broke the world records for the highest Test match score and the highest score in first-class cricket, is joining the ranks of the world’s greatest at Madame Tussaud’s, the London waxwork museum, not far from the hallowed Lord’s cricket ground. Lara recently signed a new three-year contract with his English county side Warwickshire.

CARIFESTA, the Caribbean-wide arts festival last held in 1992, takes place in Trinidad and Tobago this summer, from August 19 to September 2. This is the region’s biggest arts event, drawing together dancers, actors, musicians, writers, Carnival performers, painters and sculptors, cooks and designers, film and video makers, in one grand celebration of Caribbean art and life. Artists from 40 countries have been invited. Don’t miss this one.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the UNITED NATIONS – not an easy year either, with peace-keeping operations under stress in various parts of the globe, not least on Capitol Hill. The Caribbean is convening a Model UN General Assembly in Port of Spain on October 20, to debate global issues and review the UN’s role in a fast-changing world. The Assembly will draw young people between 17 and 25 from UN member countries across the region, including Cuba, Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela. They should have plenty to talk about.