Caribbean Beat Magazine

Snapshots of St Vincent

You can climb the volcano, hit the trails, or watch whales and dolphins. You might snorkel the reefs, bathe in mountain pools, or brace for the waterfalls. You could head straight for some of the best sailing waters in the world, or simply relish the island life and people. Skye Hernandez remembers some of her favourite moments in St Vincent and the Grenadines

  • Sandy Bay, Mustique. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Bequia waterfront. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Mauvin's Model Boat Shop, Bequia. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Athneal Ollivierre inside his Whale Museum. Photograph by Skye Hernandez
  • Tobago Cays anchorage. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Palm Island. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Admiralty Bay, Bequia. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Mesopotamia Valley. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • St Vincent Parrot, Amazonia guildingii, the national bird of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Christian Daniel. Photograph by Skye Hernandez
  • Kingstown Botanic Gardens. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Trinity Falls. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Orchid in bloom. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Young Island. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Tobago Cays, part of the Grenadines chain. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Falls of Baleine. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Camelot Inn. Photograph courtesy Camelot Inn
  • Kingstown Market. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Interior of Anglican Church. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Panoramic view of downtown Kingstown with the Catholic Church in the foreground. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Kingstown Police Station. Photograph by Tony Da Silva
  • Government Financial Building. Photograph by Chris Huxley
  • Photograph by Chris Huxley

The breeze hit me as soon as I stepped out of the airport in St Vincent. It was the sort of breeze that said “mountains”. I knew that before, of course, but it still came as a surprise.

It was already dark, and we drove through the bewildering night towards the New Montrose Hotel, around bends and up and down hills. We stopped off in Kingstown to have a quick dinner at Aggie’s on Grenville Street, a dark, friendly place with good seafood, and to see if anything was going on. There was. Around the corner, the launch of “Vincy Mas” was taking place, an outdoor fete to kick off St Vincent’s Carnival festivities and introduce some of the artistes whose music would soon be heating up the place.

Apart from the Cobblestone Inn and Vee Jay’s upstairs bar on Upper Bay Street, the rest of the town seemed to be asleep. But here was a Carnival party in full swing, in the middle of the street. Some of the big soca names were out of town, on tour elsewhere, and I missed seeing Becket, whose rude and amusing Small Pin had so delighted Trinidad and Tobago Carnival partygoers earlier in the year. But the song was played, of course, and it had the same effect on the home crowd that night as it did in Trinidad. I heard other artistes I didn’t know, barely announced for a crowd that knew them all.

In St Vincent, the soca is fast and throbbing; music from the French islands is part of the Carnival experience – zouk and soca make a happy combination. The crowd was mostly young and eager, and there were a few visitors keen to get into the act. The youngsters were sizing up one another, and a few colourful characters were walking around commenting on the proceedings. This was the beginning of the long lead-up to Carnival, Vincy Mas; it would end in early July, after 10 days of partying, competitions and a street parade. The party accelerated slowly, people unaccustomed to such activity on a Sunday night; but heat up it did. As I left to find my hotel and prepare for the week ahead, the crowd was bobbing up and down, shoulder-to-shoulder, glistening eyes and blissful faces.

ON THE WATERFRONT

I spent the first couple of days getting a feel of things by walking around Kingstown, the capital. It’s primarily a waterfront town set in a sheltered bay, the centre of activity for the Grenadine islands (which stretch southwards from St Vincent like the tail of a kite) and the rest of the southern Caribbean. Waterfront activity is a big part of town life. Everyone seems to know the ferry schedule, and people talk of something happening in Canouan or Union Island as if it were just down the road.

Near the Grenadine boat dock, an attractive cruise ship centre was being repaired after hurricane damage last year. There was a lot of talk, shouting and joking, oiling the business of loading and unloading goods by hand all day. For everything comes and goes on the boats: water, mail, bananas, ground provisions, the arrowroot for which St Vincent is famous (it’s the world’s largest producer), building materials, even school-children from Bequia, who emerge from the ferry chatting and then disappear into town as if they’d just come off a bus.

In the market square, vendors display their goods and minibuses come to the end of their routes. It’s the centre of the town’s activity, with the lovely old police station and the cenotaph, and the big new
concrete building – the Ministry of Finance – which houses the Tourism Ministry on the third floor and a visitor information centre on the first floor. The area is known as Little Tokyo or Tokyo, after a fisheries depot built with Japanese aid. The new market, across the street, is nearing completion; it will change the look of the area, with the vendors moving from their wooden outdoor stalls to hygienic but less picturesque surroundings indoors.

There’s no way you can miss the three beautiful churches on Grenville (or Back) Street – Anglican, Catholic and Methodist (St Mary’s, the Catholic Cathedral, is just off Grenville but can be seen easily from the main road). The Public Library on Halifax Street and Cobblestone Inn are two other landmarks in the city.

Kingstown is small and totally manageable, its residents quite happy to advise visitors, sometimes without invitation. “You’re a stranger,” I would be told, followed by a warm smile. Bequia plums were in season; I bought a bagful from a roadside vendor on my way back to the hotel every day.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

My first impressions of St Vincent came to me long before I visited the island. The lady who helped my mother look after me as a child was from St Vincent. Mrs Babb probably died many years ago in Venezuela, where she went to live with her daughter, but I remember her very clearly- a roomy lady with a church hat, grey plaited hair and the lovingest voice in the world. She also had an iron hand, or tried to have one, when we stole sugar, or ran away from her. I still remember with sadness the day she had to leave, and I always hoped that she lived happily ever after.

Like Mrs Babb, many people from St Vincent go to Trinidad, to make a living in a place with more “opportunities”, just as Trinidadians go to New York or Toronto to look for a better life. Now, I was finally getting the chance to see where Mrs Babb came from. And Pandora, Cynthia, Val and Jasmine, all women who had helped my family or friends at some time over the years. They would probably have told me a lot about their homelands if I asked but they left me with the impression that people from St Vincent must all be warm-hearted, generous and hard-working.

The country they came from consists of one big island, St Vincent, and 32 sister islands, islets and cays (the Grenadines). St Vincent itself has an unbelievably impressive land mass. No small island with a massive volcano rising over 4,000 feet (and La Soufriere erupted as recently as 1979) can fail to be impressive, but St Vincent’s black-sand beaches, sheer cliffs, picturesque towns, coconut, banana and arrowroot plantations, waterfalls and sea life make it much more than the popular stereotype of a Caribbean island.

St Vincent’s hotels set a high standard, with luxurious or rustic surroundings, excellent service and a truly relaxing ambience. One of the things the country does very well is cook. I never had a meal that wasn’t top-notch, always fresh, cooked just right, and with a little something to surprise. In fact, Prince, the cook at my hotel, was so good that I was reluctant to tear myself away and tryout too many other places. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in that position.

Kingstown, the capital, is on the south coast of St Vincent. On the outskirts of the town, Villa, Calliaqua and Indian Bay are the main tourist areas, with a stretch of trendy spots on the seafront and the private resort, Young Island, just across the bay. Arnos Vale, with the E. T. Joshua Airport and one of the Caribbean’s best-loved cricket grounds, is minutes away. Stretching up to Chateaubelair and Richmond is the leeward road, not the greatest road in the world, but quite manageable. It goes through lovely little fishing towns and beautiful bays, through Questelles and Layou, and Barrouallie, a village where you might see evidence of whaling activity. Small pilot whales, or “blackfish”, are hunted, and the strong-smelling meat is hung out to dry on bamboo trellises along the beach. The drive is dramatic, with steep climbs and fertile valleys and perfect beaches with sleepy seas. There’s a popular anchorage at Wallilabou Bay, with a good restaurant, a pleasant spot to take a cooler during the two-hour drive. Further north, on the leeward side of the island, are the Falls of Baleine, most easily accessible by boat,
a trip that shouldn’t be left out.

The windward coast, stretching north from Kingstown on the Atlantic side, shouldn’t be missed either. Most of the beaches here have black volcanic sand and the seas are rough, making for a rugged coastline, softened by the wealth of the gardens of Mesopotamia and Montreal.

BLACK CARIBS

The far north of the island is dominated by the Rabacca Dry River, a grey tumble of volcanic rock that has to be cleared constantly to make and remake a path to the Carib villages of Orange Hill, Overland, Sandy Bay, Owia and Fancy. The dry river is La Soufriere’s link to the sea.

And there she looms above everything. In 1902, 2,000 people from these Carib villages died when the mountain erupted; cut off by the no-longer-dry river, they were trapped in their villages when the lava came down the mountain. The area is still grey and desolate, though it boasts at least one famous Vincentian: marathon-runner Pamenos Ballantyne. Pamenos and his brother Benjamin used to run on the black sand at Sandy Bay, training to become Caribbean champions.

The people who live in this area are descendants of the Amerindians who settled in the islands long before Columbus turned up. Their later history is one of conflict with the English and French, leading eventually to their demise in nearly all the Carib- bean islands. St Vincent was known to them as Hairoun. Their knowledge of this mountainous country and their defensive skills prevented the island from being easily subdued by colonial forces.

In 1675 a Dutch ship carrying settlers and slaves was wrecked between St Vincent and Bequia. The Africans were the only ones who survived, and they were accepted by the Caribs. They intermarried and were eventually joined by escaped slaves from St Lucia and Grenada. They became the “Black Caribs”, living peacefully within the Carib culture. However, conflict eventually tore the “Red” and “Black” Caribs apart, and there was civil war in 1700.

The warring French and British made good use of the tensions among the Caribs. In 1763, St Vincent was ceded to Britain, only to be lost again to France in 1778. Britain regained the island in 1783, but the Caribs fought to regain control. Peace of a sort eventually came when the British crushed a revolt by French radical Victor Hughes in 1796. In 1797, over 5,000 Black Caribs were deported to Roatan, off the coast of Honduras.

DANIEL’S PLACE

As you stroll into the Botanical Gardens in Kingstown, you may well be accosted by someone who looks like a Black Carib. Christian Daniel, official tour guide, can be a bit startling, but he’s the best person to take you around, a font of knowledge and a really gentle, sweet man. And he has the high cheekbones and almond eyes that identify him as a descendent of the Black Caribs.

Small in stature, and very energetic, he’ll take you on a good hour’s tour of the gardens and the parrot conservation area, pointing out all there is to see. He’ll scoot into the “Rambo” tree and tell you the story of how it got its name a “screw palm”, it has a criss-cross of above-the-ground Kingstown Botanic Gardens roots, and is native to Vietnam. During the war with the US, the North Vietnamese used to booby-trap the trees or hide among the roots and rout the American soldiers. There’s also a giant banyan in the gardens, but not as big as the one in the Calcutta Botanical Gardens which, Daniel claims, can shelter 20,000 people from the rain. He will, of course, take you to see the most famous tree in the gardens, a breadfruit tree grown from a sucker from one of the original breadfruit plants brought to St Vincent by Captain Bligh. This was in 1973, after the famous mutiny on the Bounty.

Daniel has been working at the gardens for 37 years. He was a teacher before that, but he says the pain of having to recount the island’s history (especially the part about the deportation of the Caribs) made him too sad. He decided to follow another interest, and immersed himself in learning about plants. He’s learned well, for he seems to know everything, from the most profound to the most trivial details. The gardens are the oldest in this hemisphere, and contain everything from hibiscus plants (now fully recovered from an infestation of “mealy bug” a few years ago), to nutmeg, lignum vitae and bay leaf.

Some plants are for sale, early on Saturday mornings, and can be prepared for export: all the soil is washed away and replaced by peat, and a moistened plastic bag is put around the roots. The plant is then boxed for travel, free of hassles with Customs.

There’s a new area in the gardens for the St Vincent Parrot (Amazonaguildingii) Captive Breeding Programme, giving these beautiful birds a much larger area to fly in. I went there late one afternoon, after a trip up the leeward side of the island, and thought I would get a chance to go back.

Next time, Mr Daniel.

VINCY ROAD RULES

I made a habit of riding the buses whenever I had to get out of Kingstown. They are cheap, and the drivers know their way around every corner and hill.

This particular day, the bus was almost full, so I made my way to the back where there was one space left. In front of me were three women, two young ones on the double seat right in front of me, and a much older woman on the single adjustable seat in the aisle. I noticed her right away: she had such bright little eyes and looked so small and sparkly. She was thin, in a flowered print dress with a black background. Her face was dark and pointed, with a sprinkling of grey beard on her chin; her hair was mostly grey.

The young driver and his “conductor” both wore red bandanas and hip-hop clothes; dancehall music played, not too loudly. Nobody seemed to notice that the bus was swinging around the corners at an alarming speed. The driver was obviously accustomed to the road and the contours of the hills, but I couldn’t help being a little nervous as I bounced shoulders with my co-passengers in the back and held on, perhaps a little too tightly, to my handbag.

The old lady was holding on to the double seat next to her and, after a while, suddenly shouted to the driver: “Aye, what is dat! Handle yuh vehicle! I can’t be lashing to left and right every time you pass a corner.”
“Well,” retorted the driver, “if the road bend, howde bus mus’ stay straight? Bus must follow de road, miss.”
“No, you going too fast. I not in the air, I on de road and I not suppose to be flying. I not suppose to have to grip every minute. When I fly in a plane, I don’t have to grip every minute … I flying smooth.”
“Why you choose dat seat then?” shouted the driver.
“I couldn’t get the seat I accustom,” she replied, as if his question was a valid response. “But anywhere I sit, I suppose to sit good.” With that she settled back in her seat and looked out at the scenery.

The bus, which had slowed slightly, soon picked up more speed.

“Look at you again,” said the woman. “Is a good thing these two ladies here – otherwise I would be on the floor. Don’t kill me for a dollar. My life not so cheap … if you want, I give you an extra dollar to drive me safe. I now start living my life; before I was living for my children, but now I living for me and I not ready to go. I have plenty more to see.”

The old man sitting next to me shook his head and chuckled.

“Aye, man,” he said quietly. The bus slowed a little, but not enough. “Stop de bus, if yuh want,” the woman shouted.

The bus stopped suddenly. She sat quietly for a while, as if she had nothing to do with this development, then started looking around, firing puzzled looks at everyone. Nobody but the driver paid her the slightest attention. He took his time and watched her in the mirror from the safety of his seat.

“What he stop for?” she asked, pretending she didn’t know. “To see your face,” the conductor said, turning around boldly. She looked a bit ruffled, rocked back and forth a few times in indignation, then readjusted herself and returned to surveying the landscape.

Eventually – taking just enough time to make things a bit tense – the driver continued the journey and soon we arrived at Little Tokyo, the bus terminal area in downtown Kingstown. The bus began to empty out, led by the conductor who waited outside to collect the EC$1.50 fares. He looked at the tiny woman carefully, and took a long time to accept her money; but then he smiled and said tenderly, “You behave so bad, man.” She screwed up her face and went her way.

I handed him EC$2. He smiled and, in a very low voice, suggested: “Keep the change?”

THE LAST HARPOONER

At some point I realised I was avoiding the inevitable. I couldn’t be in St Vincent and the Grenadines and escape the water.

But I get sick on boats. On the way to Carriacou a couple of years ago, I was the only person on the boat who even noticed that it was moving, and the only one to get seasick.

Still, the ferry to Bequia, MV Admiral, only took an hour. And it was big. I still had that familiar green feeling, but the people on the boat kept me occupied and the breeze up on deck made it easy to concentrate on other things until we docked at Port Elizabeth.

The people of Bequia, I soon discovered, have a strong and distinct identity as islanders with a culture and tradition of their own. They still hunt whales. They have a turtle conservation programme. There’s a great tradition of model boat-making.

I’m not a fan of killing whales. But I was fascinated by the story of Athneal Ollivierre, “The Last Harpooner” as he’s called in Bequia. I wanted to visit his home-made Whale Museum, though I was prepared to be unimpressed by anyone or anything associated with the harpooning of whales.

The museum occupies the lower floor of a blue-and-white house on a hill at Paget Farm, overlooking Friendship Bay on the south coast of Bequia. lt was a hot June afternoon; Ollivierre had just said goodbye to two van-loads of tourists, and looked like he was about to take a little rest when we arrived. He came down to greet us, a quiet man with a slim, straight build. The entrance of the little museum was made of huge sun-bleached bones, from successful whale hunts years
ago. Inside were pictures of family members and whales, paintings, signed photographs from US actors Tom Cruise and Clint Eastwood. “They never came here, but they heard about me and sent me their pictures,” said Athneal with a grin. There were whaling implements on the walls: a new harpoon, used for the first time this year, two or three feet long and lead-heavy, and the iron gun that finishes off the job.

It is amazing to me that these implements can be ordered “from America”, for they look like ancient tools, a glimpse into the darkness of time. Painted on the shoulder blade of a whale was a scene
that also seemed to come from another time. A boat was being pulled under the water by a giant humpback, men struggling to stay afloat and one man stretched out, trying to cut the rope that bound the whale to the boat. It was painted by Sam McDowell, an American who lives in Bequia for part of the year; the man struggling to cut the rope is Athneal.

“That was eight years ago,” he said. “The whale was hit with the harpoon. The rope got tangled and she began to dive. The boat followed her and the men fell overboard.” He was at the front of the boat and fought until he managed to cut the rope with his knife. Luckily, the men all survived. Athneal was 70 at the time. He’s told this story many times since that day, but was no less excited to tell it again and to admire the whale that got away.

My taxi driver, Billy (another of the many Ollivierres in Bequia), told me about another famous time when the whale got away. There was a big humpback in the bay, swimming “up and down, playing whole season, but she was very smart and they never caught her.”

But not all whales are smart enough. This year, Athneal’s young nephew Bentley was the one to use the new harpoon and make the kill. “He wasn’t ready last year and I had to take the harpoon, but this year he did it,” says Athneal. We’d seen young curly- haired Bentley on the road earlier, a smiling, cheery young man on whom the responsibility of keeping the tradition now rests.

Bequia is allowed to kill two humpback whales a year, one fully-grown cow and one calf, under the International Whaling Commission’s provisions for indigenous traditions. This takes place during the breeding season from February to May, before the whales travel north on their annual migration. In the modern world, this is a controversial tradition. But despite the protests of conservationists, kills have been made in the last three years. In Bequia, says Ollivierre, whale meat is essential food for the islanders, and brings in much-needed income.

Athneal’s grandfather, Joseph, was among the first whalers in Bequia. He and Bill Wallace, son of the manager of Friendship Estate, started the industry in the mid-19th century, and set up a whaling station on Petit Nevis, just across from Friendship Bay. It was a thriving occupation for over a century.

Athneal himself has been a whaler since the age of 16, when he taught himself the art of hunting, which excited him since he was a child. His father wasn’t a hunter, but his three uncles were, and he went out in their boats and learned well. He is proud that Bequia upholds a tradition which “has died out everywhere else.”

Even though there is no whaling in the nearby islands, people haven’t lost their taste for whale meat. They go to Petit Nevis when they hear news of a successful hunt. The whale is towed there to be processed. Its meat is dark in colour, says Athneal, a bit like beef, “but the oil has a different smell.” This oil has been valued all over the world for centuries, and is one of the reasons some species of whales have been hunted almost to extinction. Islanders cut the meat into small pieces, dry and salt it. Or they eat it fresh – “put it in a pan and cook it down with the oil.” The meat is apparently so rich it can only be eaten in small amounts, so meat from a kill can take three months to finish.

“When I die, I don’t know what will happen with whaling,” says Athneal. But he plans to go on “until I can’t go out no more.”

DOLPHIN DAIZE

Hal Daize looks out to sea, his hands steadying the wheel of his speedboat Sea Breeze as he scans the waters north-west of St Vincent. Between May and December, he says, you are sure to see dolphins in these waters. But today, with slightly choppy water and a sky that could have been bluer, we’re not so sure.

In the boat are Hal’s dad John, their friend Keith, two American medical students of Iranian heritage, and me. Our eyes scan the water, not wanting to get too excited in case it doesn’t happen, but hoping it does. Then Hal says calmly, “I see them!” He turns the boat and heads away from the shore. “They’re over there. I’m seeing splashes.” We novices see nothing but horizon and sea, even as we get nearer.

“Make sure you don’t point at them,” says Daize. “They think it’s a harpoon and will hide.” Fine to say that, we think, but where are these creatures? “Do you smell them?” asks Daize. Not really, we say.

And then we do. Daize calls it “dolphin sweat”, and it does have a very rank kind of smell, but it seems more like animal energy than anything else. We still don’t see the creatures, though the smell is now even stronger.

Then suddenly we see them, very close to the boat, slicing through the water, tiny wave-crests signalling their arrival. Some are on this side, some on the other, some far in front. They keep appearing and disappearing. We’re like little children wanting to jump up and down, trying not to point. Then one leaps out of the water, first here, then there; and others follow suit. We spend about an hour with the dolphins. There are thousands out here today, says Daize, but they’re not swimming all together, they’re dispersed all over the sea.

He’s apologetic: we actually have to look all around to see them. But to us, it’s one of the most exciting experiences imaginable. Those leaping dolphins are the climax of a perfect St Vincent day.


Twelve things to do in St Vincent and the Grenadines

• Explore Kingstown. The town is small and the people friendly. The Anglican St George’s Cathedral has a famous stained glass window with an angel in red, originally commissioned by Queen Victoria (the story goes that Her Majesty thought angels should be in white, not red, and so the piece was put in storage at St Paul’s Cathedral in London until the 1930s when it was brought to St Vincent and installed at the cathedral). St Mary’s, the Catholic Cathedral, is much more flamboyant and boasts at least four architectural styles. The Methodist Church has been undergoing renovation; it has a wonderful, bright feel inside. The Cobblestone Inn’s Roof Top Restaurant and Bar is a good place for lunch, or Aggie’s Restaurant and Bar. But Vincentians are good cooks, so even if you grab something in the market, it’s more than likely to be good. Vee Jay’s Rooftop Diner & Pub is one of the few places that’s open late; Friday is karaoke night, very popular.

• Visit the Botanical Gardens, the oldest in the Western Hemisphere (1765) and a very cool place to relax and to find out about some of the exotic trees and plants there. They’re just a few minutes out of Kingstown. Tour guide Christian Daniel is recommended.

• Visit Fort Charlotte, on the north side of Kingstown Bay. It has a wonderful view of Kingstown, and on a clear day of the Grenadines. It’s only about 15 minutes from downtown Kingstown. There’s a famous mural depicting the Carib wars. The fort was also famous because its cannons pointed inland – they were meant to protect the colony from the Caribs, rather than enemies approaching by sea.

• Have a meal or spend the day at Young Island, a tiny private island resort within minutes of Kingstown. For day visits, just call first and make arrangements.

• Enjoy the trendy life in the Villa area, on the mainland across from Young Island. Places like the French Restaurant, the Lime Restaurant and Pub, Slick’s and The Aquatic Club are hot spots for dinner and evening entertainment.

• The busy ferry jetty is well worth a visit, but hopefully you’ll get there anyway because you have to …

• Take the ferry to Bequia. lt only takes an hour and is an easy trip, even for those without sea legs, like me. It costs EC$30 return. A typical tour of the island would start at picturesque Port Elizabeth on Admiralty Bay, then south to Friendship Bay at Paget Farm, and on to Park Beach to visit The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, a turtle conservation programme set up by Orton “Brother” King to protect turtle hatchlings and release them when they have a better change of survival in the ocean. A visit to Athneal Ollivierre’s private whale museum is a must, as is a visit to one of the model boat-making shops. The one I visited, Sargeant’s, was the first, the origin of the craft that has made Bequia world-famous. The boats are hand-carved and intricately decorated, and the craftsmen are very relaxed, welcoming strangers asking questions.

• Explore the rest of St Vincent – there is no road going all around the island, so it has to be done in parts. You’ll find the tours well worth the US$30- 50, as you will get a good taste of local hospitality and humour, lots of information and some unbelievable scenery. Sailor’s Wilderness Tours, Seabreeze, Hazeco, Sam’s Taxi Tours and Fantasea Tours are among the best-known, and depending on what you’re looking for, you can get any combination of tour you like. The hike to the crater of La Soufriere is a must if you have time. It takes about three hours from the Windward side of the island and is a strenuous, all-day expedition but, from all accounts, is well worth the effort, though it is perhaps not such a good idea in the rainy season, as the huge Rabacca Dry River sometimes overflows suddenly, bringing volcanic rocks downstream towards the sea. Go with an experienced guide.

• Drive the leeward coast road to Richmond, through Camden Park (which has an industrial estate), Questelles, Peniston, Barrouallie, Troumaka and Chateaubelair. The Vermont Nature Trail, Wallilabou Falls, Richmond Beach and Trinity Falls are on this side of the island. The Falls of Baleine are also on the leeward coast, but are more easily reached from the sea. A sea tour of the leeward coast might allow you to see “blackfish” or pilot whale sections being dried on the beach at Barrouallie, and you’ll get a majestic view of La Soufriere rearing up high above the sea.

• Drive the windward road too. It goes up the coast all the way to Fancy, the last of several Carib towns. Make sure to stop at the Owia salt pond, natural pools in volcanic rock that tumbled down from La Soufriere in the distant past. The many steps down to the pond can be daunting, but you’ll love the water and the extra-terrestrial look of the place. On the way to Owia, stop in Georgetown, the old
capital of St Vincent, and once a thriving sugar town. At Ferdi’s Restaurant you can have your lunch in the little verandah and look at the goings-on in town. You will have seen the Mesopotamia Valley early on in your trip – “Mespo” to the locals; it is one of the richest spots on the island, food-wise, and is planted all round with bananas, breadfruit, cane, everything you can imagine. You will see bananas trees, their fruit encased in blue plastic bags, all through your tour.

• Explore the Grenadines. Take a light plane to Union Island, join a boat charter and spend the day sailing, snorkelling and relaxing at Mayreau, the Tobago Cays and Palm Island. Yannis Tours at the Clifton Beach Hotel is highly recommended. Then take a drive to Clifton and Ashton before heading back. At the Anchorage Hotel there’s a shark pool with (timid) nurse sharks to keep you entertained.

Or take a day trip to one of the other islands. Mustique is where the rich and famous have holiday homes – arrangements to visit can be made through the Mustique Company which runs the affairs of the private island. The famous Basil’s Bar and Restaurant is the place where residents, the yachting fraternity and day-visitors gather for a bite to eat and a good chat. Further south, Canouan has fabulous beaches and reefs. Diving trips can be arranged and Canouan is a good base to visit the Tobago Cays, Mayreau or Palm Island. A new development, the Carenage Bay Resort and Golf Club, has put the island in the big league of luxury visitor accommodation – it housed the Caricom Heads of Government at their July summit this year.

• Make sure to go dolphin or whale-watching. The tour I took hugged the coast and went at a relaxing rate, not too fast, not too slow: we saw all the villages on the leeward coast and the eco-resort Petit Bayahaut, which is not accessible by land, then went northwards to La Soufriere and the Falls of Baleine, only a few minutes walk from Baleine Bay. This coast has black volcanic sand on the beaches, and very calm waters. After some time at the falls, lunch at the Wallilabou anchorage and a swim at a beach, the captain took the boat about a mile and a half out to sea to keep our date with the dolphins. Out of this world.