Union Island – Christmas Day Fun!

Cargo boat from St. Martin

Cargo boat from St. Martin

Our ferry boat to Union Island, SVG

Our ferry boat to Union Island

Inside the ferry boat to Union Island

Inside the ferry boat

Mark enjoys the ride.

Mark enjoys the ride.

Land Ho! Our captain prepares to dock.

Land Ho! Our captain prepares to dock.

Welcome to Union Island, SVG Excited Union islanders on Christmas Eve

Excited islanders on Christmas Eve

Clifton Harbor Hotel bar, Union Island, SVG

Clifton Harbor Hotel bar

Shops in Clifton town square, Union Island, Grenadines

Shops in town square

Mulzac Square Union Island, Grenadines

Mulzac Square (Clifton Harbor town square)

MV Barracuda (mail boat and ferry) arrives from St. Vincent

MV Barracuda (SVG mail boat / ferry) arrives.

Anchorage Yacht Club Resort

Anchorage Yacht Club Resort

Anchorage Yacht Club Resort Union Island, SVG Anchorage Yacht Club Resort Union Island Grenadines Locals greet Christmas Morning

Locals greet Christmas Morning

Fish resting in a pool, Anchorage Yacht Club

Fish resting in a pool

Cruisers gather here to send mail and Skype friends

Cruisers gather here to send

mail and Skype friends

A cannon from the olden days

A cannon from the olden days

Little shops in Clifton Harbor town square Union Island SVG Grenadines

Little shops in Clifton Harbor town square

I am gifted with fruit and Merry Christmas greetings

I am gifted with fruit and Merry Christmas greetings

Star fruit

Star fruit

Nativity creche in the town square

Nativity creche in the town square

Home of future national park Union Island St. Vincent & The Grenadines

Home of future national park

Conch shells piled high Union Island SVG

Conch shells piled high

Union Island (St. Vincent & The Grenadines)

Christmas, 2009 - We could have stayed on Carriacou for weeks, but we

wanted to keep exploring other islands in the Grenadines chain.  These

islands are all within just a few miles of each other, lined up like pearls on

a necklace, with each one nearly touching the next.  However, because

they are owned by different countries, there is no easy ferry system to get

between them.  Both Grenada and St. Vincent & The Grenadines (SVG)

have ferries for their own islands, but the link between Grenada and SVG

is -- well -- quaint.  Oddly, Carriacou Island (in Grenada) and Union Island

(in SVG) are practically within yelling distance of each other, but the "ferry"

goes just twice a week and is an informal, rickety affair.

The ferry was

to leave

sometime in the

morning, but we were advised to get to the docks in Hillsborough early

so we could tell the captain our intentions.  When we arrived, there was a

cargo boat at the dock that had just come in from St. Martin.  Among

other cargo, this boat was transporting a car which was strapped down

on deck.  The boat had experienced some bad weather en route, and

the captain and his mates were shaking their heads about what a wild

ride it had been.

Our ferry was

on the opposite

side of the

dock.  We

clamored aboard but soon realized it wasn't going to be leaving until all

the goods it was transporting to Union had been loaded on board.  A truck

rolled up and unloaded a bunch of boxes into the hold of the boat.

Thinking we'd be leaving soon, we got back on the boat only to find out

the truck had to make another trip to get more goods.  We got off and

walked around town, waiting.  Finally, some three hours later, near 2:00

p.m., the truck returned and the remaining goods were loaded onto our

boat.  All this for a half-hour trip between two neighboring islands!

We climbed back aboard and found a seat on the bench inside.  There

were a handful of locals on the ferry and five of us foreigners, a Finnish

couple, a Brit and ourselves.  The diesel fumes in the cabin were

intense, so several folks climbed out to sit on the foredeck.  It was a little

crowded up there, so Mark and I hung out the side door and watched

the waves go by.

We got talking with an enterprising young fellow on board from the island

of St. Vincent.  He made brooms out of bamboo and took advantage of

the slightly varying economies on each island for his business.  He would

circle the islands, ferry-hopping, so he could do his shopping on

Carriacou, where goods are cheapest, and sell his brooms on Bequia, where chic tourists drive prices the highest.  After doing a

loop of the islands he would come home to the island of St. Vincent with full

shopping bags and cash in his pocket to boot.  After telling us about his broom

business he had a few questions for us about President Obama, whom he greatly

admired, wanting to know how much money he made as president and whether he

was guaranteed a second term in office.

As we approached Union Island, the captain stood on deck, anchor in hand,

preparing for our docking.  The Carriacou ferry doesn't go to the main town docks

on Union Island, and tiny Ashton harbor, where we pulled in, didn't have a soul in

sight.  Once docked, the captain huddled us foreigners together and took all our

passports.  We exchanged nervous glances when a taxi van showed up and we

were instructed to get in.  After a brief, bumpy ride we were delivered to customs

and immigration and were eventually reunited with our passports.  Whew.

We had heard

various rumors about

Union Island, ranging from "it's dangerous" to "the people are

wonderful," so we had no idea what to expect.  Despite repeated

emails to various tourist outfits and small hotels on the island, I had

also not been able to get any solid information about where to stay or

what it might cost.  However, one look at the Clifton Hotel smack in

the center of the main harbor town convinced us to stay there.  The

hotel was clean and tidy, and it was right in the middle of all the

action.  Perfect!

As an added bonus, the woman who had originally built the

hotel (as an extension of her home) back in the 1960's had just

died, and her entire extended family was visiting Union Island

to mourn her passing and celebrate Christmas.  The family

spanned three generations, several continents and many

countries, so 64 little cousins from the UK, US, Canada and

many Caribbean islands were all running around the hotel in

their Sunday finest, getting to know each other.  The new

family matriarch (and proprietor of the hotel) was as warm and

friendly as could be, and we settled right in.

The town of Clifton is just a block or two of walking streets along the harbor.  The town

square (or triangle) is lined with brightly painted open air store shacks.  Being

Christmas Eve, the whole area was hopping.

Soon the big ferry boat (and mail boat) "MV

Barracuda" arrived on its twice weekly jaunt

from St. Vincent and unloaded a wave of

passengers.  Most were friends and family

arriving to celebrate Christmas with loved ones on Union Island, and the reunions

were loud and excited.  The streets were filled with laughter, and as darkness

came the parties started.  We discovered that being smack in the middle of the

action meant just that: a band started up right outside our window, and soon

everything in our room was rattling to a driving Caribbean beat.

Eventually, near dawn,

the party ended.  Yikes,

and Merry Christmas!

We snuck out to get a

look at the town in the

morning light.  The

harbor was packed with

sailboats tugging at

their anchors in a brisk morning

breeze, but there weren't too many

signs of life out there.  Walking

along a little path that lines the

waterfront we came to the

Anchorage Yacht Club.  This

beautiful resort was also snoozing

on Christmas morning.

As we walked, we came across two

locals who were just finishing off

their night of revelry.  Down in a

saltwater pool we saw some fish

taking a break on the sand.

This resort is very popular among

sailboat cruisers, and we soon found

ourselves lined up on the picnic table

benches setting up our laptop to take

advantage of the free wi-fi, right

alongside all the sailors.  Some were

using Skype to call home with

Christmas greetings, and

others were emailing photos of

their adventures home to loved

ones.  The phone calls were a

sing-song of many different

languages, as most of the

cruisers were European.  We

made our Christmas calls too,

gazing out at the boats bobbing

in the harbor and enjoying the

warm Caribbean breeze on our

cheeks as we talked.

When we returned to the little

town square we were surprised that the shops were opening

up.  Most families here enjoy their Christmas celebrations

later in the day, so the shops were open for a few hours in

the morning.

I wandered into one, looking for a nice banana for breakfast.

The shopkeeper suddenly reached up and plucked a banana

from a bunch, picked out some golden

apples and star fruit and handed them all

to me.  I reached around for my wallet but

she waved me off.  "Merry Christmas" she

said warmly.

We were enchanted by the entire island.

Walking up and over the hill to the

beaches on the other side, we got a little

confused at one point and asked a guy

walking the other way for directions.  He

turned around and walked with us for a quarter mile until we got ourselves back

onto the right road, making absolutely sure we were headed the right way.  How

much more friendly and hospitable could people be?

A resort on the other side of the island glistened in

the sun, the quintessential Caribbean holiday spot.  A

local fellow came by and started chatting with us,

explaining that the developer had torn out the native

mangroves to "improve" the white sandy perfection of

his piece of beach.  But that had caused terrible

erosion on the other mile

or so of beach in the

other direction, and 100

feet of sugary white sand

beach had been sucked into the sea

for that entire expanse, leaving a thin

strip of white crushed coral where the

sand had been.  We could hear the

tinkle of the coral and rock as each

wave drew back from the eroded

beach.  What had once been a prime

public swimming beach was now

unusable for that purpose.

Nearby was a sign pointing out

the location of a future national

park, and not far from that was

a pile of conch shells (an

endangered species)

whose contents were

long gone.  Enjoying

these islands without

destroying them, loving

them without loving them

to death, is a delicate

and tricky business for

tourists, developers and

the tourism industry alike.

On a lighter note, we found the Caribbean

whimsy alive and well on a sign in a shop:

"Is there life after death? Truspass and you

will find out."

In a search of a snorkeling spot we

took a path through some palms and

found a delightful place to cool off and

check out the underwater world.  Up

on a hill someone had painted holiday

greetings in front of their house.

Back at the hotel two champagne flutes were waiting for us.

Our stay at the hotel had put us over our budget, so the

glasses became our dishes for a cool dinner of canned

baked beans.  It was a classy presentation for the simplest

Christmas dinner I can remember.  But what an awesome

Christmas it was.  Next morning we got up bright and early

to journey on to, Bequia Island in the country of St. Vincent & The Grenadines.