Saturday, May 26, 2007

Happy Knickers

A short hop from Bequia is the National Park of the Tobago Cays, a paradisaical cluster of a half dozen small islands floating in shallow Bahama Blue water and protected from the Atlantic by a large shelf reef that rises up to the surface. Since the DR, we had not really connected with any other families. Fortunately, our luck was about to change. As we were leaving Bequia we met “Jimmy” from NYC, his Bermudian wife, Judy and their 4 year old daughter Charlotte. In TC we also met a French/American and Norwegian family all with babies!! Together we scuba dived, dined, beached, and limed the days away. Judy had a birthday party for Charlotte on the beach. Fortunately, Charlotte inherited her mothers lifting English accent vs. her dad's Brooklyn one. We all laughed when she wanted to swim with the other kids but had no proper bathing suit. "But Mummy, I don't want to soil my happy knickers!", she exclaimed. As long as she feels the same way when she is 16.

We spent just a day in Union Island to clear out and buy some poor quality produce in what was also a very seedy harbor. The boat boys tried to offer us up one of their moorings that we declined having more faith in our ground tackle. For giggles I dove and photographed one of these fine moorings and counted 5 different lines that had failed and were re-knotted together, severe chafe, rusted links and a half a foot of barnacles attacking the thing. Some naive yachties trust these more than they trust their own anchoring ability! Skipping Grenada, we sailed on through the night to Trinidad our final destination of the season.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bequia, Paradise Lost

For years, we had heard stories, read articles, and even listened to songs extolling the beauty of Bequia and its people. “Do you want to buy some fruits? I am your fruit man….(and I’m also stoned out of my mind and haven’t bothered to bathe in a week) No fruit? You want some smoke? How about for the nose? I can help you out.” If someone wasn’t wanting to sell drugs to our family out for a stroll, then our "Hellos" and "Good Afternoons" fell on deaf ears with hardly an acknowledgement.

The next morning I awoke at sunrise and went for a walk . I upon saying good morning to everyone, I got two responses. I think they were drug dealers by the look in their red eyes. The privately contracted school vans looked like something straight out of “pimp my ride”. They traveled at insanely fast speeds with 1000 watt sound systems reverberating through the hills long before you saw them. Gee, I wonder why Joey and Suzie can’t hear.

Around 11:00 that morning, when not 50 yards from out boat on shore we saw a female tourist and local man “wrestling”. When suddenly she really screamed and he took off running up into the wooded hillside with her bag. My God she was just attacked and mugged!! Now, I’m really lovin’ this place. We put out a “Pan Pan”, May Day, and anything else we could say on the VHF trying to call for help. Not one single local response. She sat their shaking with that stunned look in her eyes. Fortunately, all that her pack contained was a Lonely Planet Guide. I flagged down a local boat boy for help. He shrugged and said you’ll have to go to the police and fill out a report not bothering to offer his cell phone. Now that’s apathy. So there the perpetrator sat halfway up the hillside. When she went to the police, they had actually told her to come back at 5:00 p.m and give her report!!! Just go get the guy!!

At 5:00 in the evening we happened upon the victim giving her police report. We learned that the attacker had a cloth over his face and what she thought may have been mace or something. We let the policeman know how appalled we were at the lack of response from the Bequia community and authorities. You’re on an island of less than 3000 which means you know everyone by first and last name and you still haven’t figured it out who the bad guys are? The next morning I was in the tourism director’s office. We had a very long chat and she was truly appalled and frustrated. I suggested to her that the boat boys should “take care of things”; I didn’t go into the exact proportions of cement and water for the shoe mold…but after all, cruisers are their and many shop keepers’ livelihood. We provided email documentation of the incident and the toursim people were following-up, not the police.

Our final afternoon, Parker, Sabrina, and I taxied over to the “the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary” a place that preserves baby sea turtles until they juveniles of about 3-4 years old. The self made concrete tanks and facility were a culmination of this incredible man’s life work to help save the hawksbill turtle from becoming extinct. He gets no subsidies and relies solely on admissions and a few donations to keep his efforts afloat. I was appalled when a group of loud mouthed American tourists showed up and were demanding a discount from the $4 to get in. I suggested, in addition to paying the full admission price, they should also consider an additional contribution. They paid their proper way and the assistant quietly thanked me for “handling” the situation. He is trying to educate the local youth that it is not OK to eat the eggs and the turtles which is still customary in this part of the Caribbean.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fort de France, Where All the Action Is.

This is now the capital and cruise ship port of duty free shopping. The streets are jammed with cars, busses, vendors, shoppers and life. This is a sight to behold, bag home schooling, we are going to get off the boat early to see the sites for a change. What's doing on, everything, including McDonalds is closed on Ascension Day???!!! In America, we’d be having a sale, but here you could have heard a pin drop a block away. Well, no problem, we can walk around and see the historical sites on this French owned island.

The State Buildings were blocked off and under renovation, the fort wa closed today, Place de la Savane (12 acre waterfront flower park) was taped off and under repair, the grand Episcopal church was shrouded in scaffolding and a 3 hour church service was in session. We were able to buy some fruits and veggies from a couple of other sinners on this holy day in the ghetto street market 6 blocks from the waterfront. Well that about covers it; let’s go.

Mt. Pelee-Vaporized

Our first sight of this beautiful island was the infamous volcanic mountain of Mt. Pelee jutting up some 4,582’ and dripping of lush green vegetation. We anchored on the northwest side in front of the city of St. Pierre. For our sundowners (the kids had milk), we read the story of St. Pierre and that fateful day of May 8th, 1902. For weeks leading up to that day, there had been rumblings, gasseous eruptions and smoke belching from the mountain top above the city. There was an election coming up and the incumbent didn’t want to upset the people of the capital and have them evacuate unnecessarily and possibly lose the election because of it. He also got pressure from the merchants who said it would be bad for business if everyone left. So he and his “experts” assured the people there was absolutely nothing to be concerned about and that it was perfectly safe to stay. The people must have been quite gullible because next to no one left. Unfortunately, “they” were wrong. In a very unique eruption, the whole side of the mountain blew out with such intensely hot gases (1800-3600˚F) that it vaporized the entire city. In an instant, all 29,933 people were dead except for one prisoner deep inside an underground jail cell.

Today, the town is only a fraction of what it used to be. Many of the structural foundations like that of the grand theatre and hillside buildings still stand in memory. We walked through these and the museum, Musee Vulcanlogique. Is it English? “Oi, boot of cours” Like 10%! But the visual collection of ruins needed no explanation. They had remains of vaporized food stores, blobs of glass bottles, melted church bells, and limp iron implements. The collection reminded us of just how powerful Mother Nature can be when she’s unhappy.

The kids seem to want to leave quickly and did not really like the hike to the base of the volcano, sensing that it could happen again.