Puddle jumper from Union to Bequia
Bequia looks lovely from the air
Our pretty room is protected by rebar reinforcements
on the doors and windows.
The waterfront boardwalk into town.
Lots of shops and eateries line the footpath.
The Gingerbread House
Ice cream shop.
Open seating for everyone along the harborfront.
Vegetable market next to the town docks.
Cruise ships of all types arrive daily.
Tourists get guided island tours.
The dive shop.
Boutique shop in Port Elizabeth, Bequia's town
"Island Style" shop
Bequia's Government Building
A "locals" bar on the far side of the island.
The other side of the island has fewer tourists and
Bequia (St. Vincent & The Grenadines)
Late December, 2009 - We had such a great time on Union Island that we
were reluctant to leave. The Christmas spirit was alive everywhere, and the
wide happy smiles we saw on everyone's faces were contagious. Maybe it
was the holidays or maybe it was the warm tropical air... whatever it was, this
island seemed genuinely contented. Years ago I had sailed through the
Grenadines on a charter boat, and the guidebooks in those days dismissed
Union Island as a bit run
down and dangerous, so
we had bypassed it. How
satisfying, after all these
years, to discover its delights. In those bygone days Bequia was the favored
island, and it was the highlight of my long ago visit. To avoid a holiday booking
nightmare, I had made advanced room reservations on Bequia which required
taking a 15 minute flight on a 10-seat airplane rather than waiting a few days
for the next mail/ferry boat came through again.
Bequia (pronounced Bekway) looked lovely from the air. Seven square miles
with 4,300 inhabitants, it is smaller than Carriacou but larger than Union
Island. Having been in the islands for almost three weeks at this point, away
from all hustle and bustle for almost 10 days, we emerged from the plane into
the sultry air as mellow as could be.
So it took me a while to catch on when the customs agent began to
hustle us. We were the only passengers to get off the plane in
Bequia (and it was one of just two planes to arrive that day), but
when we asked him where to go to catch a bus to town he refused to
tell us. He insisted we get a taxi ride with his brother instead. We
explained that we wanted to take the bus, as it was about 1/5 the
price of a taxi, but he physically blocked our way and whipped out his
cell phone to make a call to his brother. When another uniformed
airport official approached us to
give us directions to the bus
stop, the customs agent scolded
her, told her not to help us and
waved her away. Meanwhile a
crowd of twenty or so locals watched all this unfold before them while they sat on the
pavement in the shade of the terminal building. They stared at us with blank expressions,
heads turning in unison to watch our every move. They seemed to have been glued to the
pavement all morning and gave no indications they might do something different in the
Disgusted, we shouldered our big packs and started walking away from the air strip, figuring
there had to be a bus stop somewhere along the road to town. A young boy suddenly ran
after us from the crowd, yelling, "Those people are mean back there. I'll help you," and he
proceeded to walk with us towards town until we came to a bus stand. Suddenly a taxi drove
up and stopped in the middle of the road right in front of us. The customs agent was hanging
out of the passenger's seat yelling at us. The driver -- his brother -- shouted too, and the two
of them screamed and waved their arms in fury, telling us we were cheap rotten tourists and
that we'd spend more on lunch once we got to town than a taxi would have cost. Luckily
nothing more than insults were hurled, and eventually they drove off.
As we stood waiting for the bus, the young boy suddenly turned to me
and asked if Mark was going to tip him for having shown us the bus stop.
Taken aback by his boldness, I wondered if I could have been as brazen
when I was 10. Eventually a bus arrived, we tipped the boy, and were off.
After the mellow, sweet air and smiling people of Union Island, Carriacou
and Grenada, this miserable encounter was a real shock to the system. I
hadn't been angry at anyone or anything in ages. We arrived at our
apartment still reeling from the encounter. We set our bags down and
immediately the host and hostess launched into a long lecture about
safety on the island. The windows were barred and the door had three
dead-bolt locks on it. We were to leave the windows closed and locked if
we stepped out during the day and we were to keep all valuables far from
the open windows at all other times, as thieves would reach in and grab
stuff. At night we were advised to lock all doors and windows, but would have to pay a surcharge of $1/hour if we chose to run the
air conditioning. We weren't to take anything of value to the beach, and
we should watch our wallets carefully if we chose to go into town.
We told our hosts about our experience at the airport. They weren't
happy to hear the story, but even though they knew who the customs
agent was, they explained to us that reporting the incident would be
pointless, as the local authorities wouldn't do anything about it.
Our host and hostess left, and we looked around our very pretty room
and felt like we were in jail. There wasn't a breath of air, the sun baked
the room all afternoon, and the cool water and ocean breezes were
barely visible in the far distance.
Discouraged but still hopeful, we took a walk along the shore-side
boardwalk into Port Elizabeth, the main town, to see if we could find a
trace of Bequia's former loveliness that still haunted my memory.
The harbor was filled with boats of all shapes and sizes, stretching on
into town and out to the edge of the bay as far as you could see.
We passed the ornate Gingerbread
House, and stopped in at an ice
cream shop. $7 for a single scoop of
ice cream was too much for us, but
we watched an extended family of at
least a dozen European tourists get
double scoops all around and slowly
began to understand Bequia's charm.
If you arrive on a yacht and are on a
brief vacation with lots of money to spend, Bequia has much to offer.
Groups of chairs and
tables line portions of
and it is a beautiful
place to while away
the day, first with
ice creams and
later with cocktails
before an elegant dinner at one
of the fine restaurants in town.
As we sat there soaking up this
tourist ambiance, we watched and
conversed with many well-heeled
folks around us who were doing just
The ARC Rally from Europe (the
trans-Atlantic Rally for Cruisers from
the Canary Islands off of Spain to St. Lucia in the
Caribbean) had arrived just a week or so earlier,
and almost every boat in the harbor flew a
European flag (mostly Norwegian).
Exquisite, beautifully appointed
yachts disgorged equally exquisite
and beautifully appointed people.
There wasn't a skin tone darker than
sunburned pink to be seen anywhere
along the boardwalk. Behind the
counters of the shops, boutiques and
eateries. however, black sullen eyes
stared out of dark, drawn, unhappy faces.
Further towards town under some trees,
in an area that tourist brochures colorfully
describe as a haven for local artisans,
throngs of unemployed men in Rasta
garb hung out in varying degrees of
We had wanted to find the heart of the Caribbean soul on the other islands, and up until
this point we often felt we did. But here in Bequia there was no soul. Stopping at the
vegetable market, a flash from my camera elicited the command, "Hey, you gotta buy
someting to pay for that picture." We filled our bags but didn't enjoy the process, as every
vendor in the market aggressively hassled us to buy this or that.
Bequia and its harborfront are tiny, but
mammoth cruise ships that dwarf the island
arrive daily, sometimes in twos and threes.
In a round-robin cycle these cruise ships
deliver waves of tourists to and from the
island in tenders.
These tourists are then piled into the
canopied backs of pickup trucks and taken
on guided tours of the island. As we walked along the roads we
would cling to the edges when these cabs came careening
around the corners at top speed.
After a while we made our peace with the commercial
nature of Bequia, gravitating towards the boardwalk along
the harbor front. As tourists ourselves, this was where we fit
in best. The beaches around the island were pretty, but not
stunning, and where the locals did not want to interact with
us, we found that other tourists did. We enjoyed
conversations with Germans, Spaniards and
Norwegians, and we discovered people who were
visiting Bequia in elegant villas, on bareboat charter
boats, on personal ocean-going yachts and in more
modest accommodations like ourselves.
We had originally planned to stay on Bequia for a month, but we
were ready to leave after a few days. Besides finding that either
the island or I (or both) had changed dramatically in 20 years, a
new chapter in our traveling lifestyle had started to take shape in
the background. With the arrival of New Year's Eve, our lives took
a dramatic new turn as we came face-to-face with our new
conveyance to adventure, "Groovy."