After a long and difficult January, where we both got caught up in interviewing and considering whether to change jobs, it was clear that we needed a break and a chance to recharge. So at the end of Feb we headed off to spend a day in Barbados and a week in St Vincent.
The trip started like every trip seems to start in London; an early start; hurry to the station to find the train is cancelled; rush around to find an alternative route; switch train somewhere you weren’t expecting and then end up getting to the airport about the same time as if nothing had gone wrong, just feeling more frazzled. 8 hours of movies later we arrived in Barbados to a lovely 29 degrees and we caught a cab through the Barbados traffic to our accommodation on the outskirts of Bridgetown. Barbados looks a great deal like most tropical islands we have been on; it had a raw, almost unkempt, countryside full of palm trees and flax with the occasional goat pegged to the side of the road, making crop circles in the long grass. Where it was different is that it was much more populated compared to St Lucia and (as we would find out the following day) St Vincent and there a wide variety of single story houses ranging from brand new, through to praying there isn’t a strong wind any time soon, all mixed in together side by side.
When we arrived at our accommodation, after a slight pause trying to get in through it’s large and imposing wrought iron gate, we found ourselves inside what I can only describe as a 19 century plantation house. It was a beautiful old wooden house with large airy public spaces including a proper (shady) day room and a very pleasant open air sofa area under a veranda. Less traditional was the inspirational messages written in big letters seemingly on every wall throughout the house (go grey gracefully! kiss like you mean it…). Our bedroom was also of massive proportions but the highlight of the room had to be the bathroom with a lovely ornate ceiling fan that was probably 2 meters across and the view from the (very large) shower down to the ocean. In the morning we had a very pleasant 4 course breakfast in the day room watching as what can only be described as a tropical shower erupted around us. The meal was lovely and the cheesecake and bitter desert wine most unexpected, but nicely fitting in with my plantation house ideals. The ongoing downpour killed any thoughts of a morning exploration of Barbados and so we settled in to read until it was time to head off to the airport to wait (and wait) for our hop to St Vincent.
Whenever we get anywhere new I like to spend my time staring out the window and getting a feeling for the place. St Vincent gave an interesting first impression, it’s tiny airport looked more like a bus station on a busy street than an airport and it only just managed to fit the immigration area (whose staff double hatted as tourist information), the world’s smallest suitcase carousel (12 bag limit) and the zealous customs agents. Once through we were bundled into a van that traversed a number of increasingly steep hills as we crossed the island. St Vincent felt like it was the poorest of the Caribbean islands we have been to, the road was steep and narrow, with little traffic, and had freshly laid open sewers. The worn and tired houses were mainly built from concrete and cinder block and with the steepness of the terrain there was some pretty impressive / concerning multi-level concrete foundations under a significant number of them. That said, it also felt like a place on the up with many new buildings going up, however we soon found out that some of these projects were taking a while (the international airport was due for completion in 2010 and then every year since then but it is still apparently quite a way away from being done).
As we approached the resort the driver pulled to the side of the road as a funeral procession was approaching the other way. The first thing we saw were two cars, full of what we could only presume was the family, that were closely flanked by 15-20 men and children on bicycles. This was followed by the hearse, moving very slowly up the steep hill, with probably 75 people, all dressed in their wedding finery, packed in as close to the back of the hearse as they could get, singing, playing instruments and dancing. It sounded very beautiful and seemed like a lovely way to be seen out to us. However, it was also clear that we were intruding and we were both glad that the vacuous French man in front of us didn’t whip out his camera. Behind the tightly packed group came a more ragtag element and we saw men passing rum bottles (and slightly less legal substances) as they walked and children running to keep up.
I think it is fair to say I am not by nature a beach resort kind of person and every time we come to one I spend the first couple of hours wondering what we are doing there. This was no exception but after a couple of hours we realised the place was ok, maybe creaking a little at the seams, but we had a lovely room with its own pool and the resort was very prettily situated. The next week is probably best described in flashes and sound bites…. food everywhere, but none of it Caribbean, and everything needing to be signed for despite the place being all inclusive… ever present hummingbirds hovering in the plants outside our room that all deftly avoided any attempt to photograph them… every day another book (ok wild swans took 2 days) and a trip to the gym… the local boys break dancing on the beach every evening as the sun started to set… slow dives watching the soft corals and the variety of fish for nicola and getting colder as the dive went on… getting up at 7.30 to find the Brits had already long claimed the sun loungers by the pool yet wouldn’t actually deign to sit in them til 10am… watching the clouds in the mountains every day and hoping it wouldn’t come our way (which they didn’t, apart from on one day)… being escorted home by around 100 dolphins when we went on a sunset cruise
I am slightly embarrassed to say we never actually saw St Vincent, apart from the trips to and from the airport (well I did say we needed a proper unwind). That said, from talking to the other guests we realised we didn’t miss much as there wasn’t much to see, as St Vincent appears to be a place for the locals and tourism hasn’t really set in like it has in some other Caribbean islands.