Cargo boat from St. Martin
Our ferry boat to Union Island
Inside the ferry boat
Mark enjoys the ride.
Land Ho! Our captain prepares to dock.
Excited islanders on Christmas Eve
Clifton Harbor Hotel bar
Shops in town square
Mulzac Square (Clifton Harbor town square)
MV Barracuda (SVG mail boat / ferry) arrives.
Anchorage Yacht Club Resort
Locals greet Christmas Morning
Fish resting in a pool
Cruisers gather here to send
mail and Skype friends
A cannon from the olden days
Little shops in Clifton Harbor town square
I am gifted with fruit and Merry Christmas greetings
Nativity creche in the town square
Home of future national park
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.