Monday 14 January 2013

The Grenadines

We have a marvellous day on the beach on New Year's Eve with the boys and the Oxies before they catch the evening flight back to the UK. I head back alone to Juno in Port Louis marina feeling rather glum but then I am invited by a neighbouring boat for dinner and things start to look up. We have all bought tickets for the News Year's eve party in the marina and we have a rather boozy evening dancing in the rain to a well-known band from Barbados and I weave my way back to Juno at 3am.

After a week working through my list of maintenance tasks and meeting new people in the marina, Fatty and my Mother arrive and we spend a day doing nothing, allowing them to acclimatise to the Caribbean after the UK winter.

The following day we have a fascinating morning exploring Grenada with Rowl, our guide. Driving the minibus with one hand, he points and gestures as we rattle along up the steep hills above the port looking down on St George, the capital of Grenada. He explains that Maurice Bishop, the communist leader of Grenada who took power in a coup and was subsequently murdered by the army, is a folk hero. In his short time in power, he implemented social programmes which stand to this day, including free education and food for school children, and a system of employee contributions that provides social care. We head away from the coast, inland up a narrow tarmac road with thick jungle on either side until we arrive at the Concord waterfall which pours out of the hillside into a deep ravine below.

The falls here are quite dramatic but we have more ambitious plans. Equipped with walking sticks we follow Rowl who is now shod in a pair of large black wellington boots, up a muddy path towards the river. The river is in fact a fast flowing stream, about ten feet wide, tumbling down the hillside through thick jungle, over large rocks and pebbles. The path runs along the river, occasionally crossing to the other bank and at these points we wade through the cool water, picking our way carefully through deep pools and over rocks slippery with moss. We stop frequently as Rowl points out trees and shrubs and explains how the locals process nutmegs, yams, plantains, calaloo and cocoa pods, extracting every ounce of nutrition and wasting nothing. Eventually we arrive at the Fontainbleu falls which drop 60 feet out of the rocks above into a deep pool, injecting clean spring water into the river. We end our tour with lunch at a local restaurant in the fishing village of Gouyave on the west coast before returning to the boat to prepare for our journey north.

We leave Grenada sailing into the teeth of strong north easterly trade winds and after five boisterous hours we drop anchor in the shelter of Tyrell Bay on the Island of Carriacou. After a rolly night we head north again for the very short trip across to Chatham Bay, my favourite anchorage on Union Island. Chatham Bay is a large wild dramatic bay of steep hills, dense with thick green jungle, enclosing a white sandy beach, deserted apart from a small number of beach bars at the northern end. The water is teeming with fish which attract the birds and around the southern end of the bay Pelicans fish, flapping noisily as they methodically farm the waters of the bay, circling overhead to spot their prey, then folding back their wings to plunge beak first into the sea, emerging with wings flapping and their huge beaks bulging as they gulp down their catch. We buy a tuna at an exorbitant price from a boat boy and we eat it raw, soaked in lime juice and dipped in soya sauce with wasabi and pickled ginger followed by fatty's delicious Callaloo soup. Mother goes swimming off the back of the boat and no-one can beleive that she is nearly eighty!

As we are now in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines I have to clear customs again so rather than sail around to the town of Clifton I pay a boat boy called Dr Jerry, to take me in his speed boat. We pound over the waves at high speed and dock in the small town of Ashton where we walk up the high street to a bar where Dr Jerry negotiates a lift for me in a four wheel drive. I sit in the back with a uniformed school girl, a housewife on a shopping trip and the driver's assistant called John. At the customs house in Clifton there are two female customs officers; one charming and smiling who stamps my forms, the other surly and uninterested who takes 120 Caribbean dollars off me and sends me to the immigration office with offhand and unintelligible directions. I have stopped saying thank you to rude customs officers as it doesn't seem to make any difference; now I just take the stamped documents and leave, returning their sullenness with a silence which makes me feel better. When I return, John jumps down from the jeep and with a cheery grin he accompanies me down the sandy lane which is the main street of Clifton, to the immigration office where the door is firmly locked despite the open sign on the door. He bangs on the door berating the occupants with a grin and we are let into the air conditioned offices where a friendly immigration officer with her hair scraped into a bun stamps our passports and says 'you're done'. John chats with a very pretty girl in the office who chides him saying 'mind your own business, it's the New Year and this year you should mind your own business'. She looks to me for support and although I have no idea of the context I am entranced by her smiling eyes and I enthusiastically agree. On the way back in the speedboat my bag of documents drops into the bilge and my iphone, blackberry and camera all drown in the murkey water, putting me in a bad mood for the afternoon.

We love Chatham and we stay another day, catching Albacore in the bay, walking on the beach and having dinner at a beach bar on the sand. The night before we leave a series of squalls pass through and then there is a glorious sunset, made more dramatic as the sun drops out of the heavy rain clouds and shines deep orange as it sinks over the horizon.

Yesterday we motor from Union Island, up Pelican Channel through the reefs and into the anchorage at the Tobago Cays. The wind has dropped and the water is calm, attracting scores of charter boats which anchor in the normal chaotic manner, with one particularly irritating boat of Germans who race across our bow to snatch a mooring buoy. However none of this detracts from the beauty of the place; three small islands around a large white sandy lagoon protected from the Atlantic rollers by a huge reef system. We dinghy out to the lagoon where I snorkel in 10 feet of crystal clear water over white sand that weaves between small reefs where shoals of fish bob and weave, posing for my camera, apparently without fear. Feeling rather guilty, we buy a fish to eat from one of the boat boys which Fatty cooks in the oven and we have supper in the cockpit.

Today we are in Mustique, tied to a buoy in Britannia bay where the water is clear, the beaches are manicured, the sun is shining and the flags flutter outside Basils Bar, where we have booked a table for dinner.

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