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Caribbean: Island Hopping, Exploring St. Vincent and the Grenadines

2023-01-18T12:04:29.933Z

Chronicle of a journey through this Caribbean destination. Storm clouds billowed ahead like an unmade bed as our captain revved his outboard motor directly into the oncoming swell. Puff! Every 10 seconds we would bounce up and then land hard, in the middle of the salt spray that drenched us, onto the wooden seat. An island journey in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. To see more than one or two of this Caribbean country's 32 islands , mostly uninhabited



Storm clouds billowed ahead like an unmade bed as our captain revved his outboard motor directly into the oncoming swell.

Puff!

Every 10 seconds we would

bounce

up and then land hard, in the middle of the salt spray that drenched us, onto the wooden seat.

An

island journey in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

To see more than one or two of

this Caribbean country's 32 islands

, mostly uninhabited and stretching out in a roughly 90km-long crescent closer to Venezuela than North America, you're going to need a speedboat.

Inter-island flights are difficult to find, and if any are found, takeoffs are unpredictable.

Canouan Island is an open secret for millionaires and celebrities.

Photo Shutterstock

During our

nine-day tour of the archipelago

, my husband and I visited

eight islands

—including one barely larger than a sandbar—by ferry, water taxi, small yacht, and the occasional swim to shore.

This was a far cry from my previous forays into the Caribbean.

Those other land trips culminated in daily hot showers and hair dryers upon returning to the hotel or Airbnb.

Here,

we lived in mesh and bathed in the sea

, immersed in the consonance of the land, the ocean and the culture that is island life.

Yachts moored on the coast of Canouan Island.

Photo Shutterstock

Rum punch with the yachties

Our

journey began in Saint Vincent

, the "mainland" island of the Grenadines.

We rented a car, loaded up with water and an addictive regional snack made from molasses, coconut and spices called toolum balls, and set off on its winding routes, dodging stray dogs, goats and roosters.

The northernmost island in the chain, just 18 miles long, St. Vincent is an amalgamation of hibiscus, bougainvillea, pastel cottages and bars with corrugated tin roofs and names like Joe's Bla Bla and Chillspot.

We stumbled upon a hiking adventure on the Vermont Nature Trail, a 2-mile stretch that winds around a pair of towering pitons (sharp volcanic peaks), thickly covered with Caribbean pines, palms, epiphytes, and towering trees like thick buttresses.

Tobago Cays, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Photo Shutterstock

The guide we hired at the entrance was worth the $20: the slippery trails might have persuaded us to turn around before reaching the summit reserve, where we spotted a pair of endangered St. Vincent's parrots circling the valley green.

Heading for Cabouan

The next morning we embarked on a ferry loaded with pallets full of potatoes, concrete, diapers and other necessities, heading to the

island of Canouan

, where a floating Airbnb awaited us.

Suite hotels and luxury villas offer beachfront accommodations in Canouan.

Photo Shutterstock

Disembarking two hours later, we met Johan Kotze and Nelia Lindeque, a South African couple who left their jobs in the aerospace industry a decade ago and crossed the Atlantic on their 10-meter catamaran, the Wind Kat, on which they now host visitors joining his island-hopping voyages.

On the aft deck of the Wind Kat, the couple introduced us to

"yachtie" life

with a rum punch toast.

The "yachties" - something like yacht enthusiasts - form a kind of floating community of nomadic expatriates in the Caribbean.

They are a relaxed people (some boast of spending weeks without clothes on their boats), they meet when the wind takes them to the same bays, they exchange news about the waves, the weather and which islands are short of provisions such as butter and lettuce and

they gather to moor their boats

to coastal mangrove roots when hurricanes are coming.

Some of the Grenadines are private

: Mustique and Petit St. Vincent, for example.

Canouan is open to the public, but increasingly colonized by "the 1%".

Travel sites call it

"the next billionaire's playground"

, on its way to becoming a superyacht destination like St. Barth.

Rooms at the Mandarin Oriental start at $1,800 a night.

Not far away, the new Soho House Canouan, a members-only resort, has a stylish outdoor bar and restaurant open to the public, but yachties scoff at paying $6 for a Carib beer when local bars sell it to them. in less than half.

That night

we slept under an open hatch

.

The gurgle-gurgle of the waves against the hull woke me up just before dawn and I opened my eyes to see a rectangle of starry sky turning from purple to pink.

Mayreau: view of Salt Whistle Bay.

Photo Shutterstock

After a breakfast of coffee and eggs, followed by the obligatory rum punch toast (yachties drink shamelessly during the day), we set sail.

Fish splashed and glittered along the hull.

At the top, the mast tilted back and forth like a compass needle pointing to the sky.

An hour later we had anchored in Salt Whistle Bay on

Mayreau Island

.

What is Mayreau Island like?

From up high, the Mayreau, which is just over 5 km², looks somewhat like a manta ray, one of the creatures that live in the nearby waters.

It is about 11 kilometers from Canouan, but economically it is another world.

It does not have service stations or ATMs.

It lacked electricity until the early 2000s, when the national government convinced the family that had owned the island since colonial times to sell just under 25 acres to its 250 or so residents.

Tobago Cays, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

Photo Shutterstock

Mayreau is the

only inhabited island within the Tobago Cays Marine Park

, a protected area that also includes three islets and five cays (including Petit Tabac, which served as the setting for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl).

The surrounding reefs teem with turtles, rays, sharks and other marine life.

The park attracts yachts, private charters, and some medium-sized cruise ships.

But the fishing restrictions pose difficulties for the local population as well.

After three days of

exploring and snorkeling

in Mayreau we sailed an hour west aboard the Wind Kat to the Tobago Cays.

According to locals, commerce is only allowed on one of the cays, Petit Bateau, where Big Mama Beach BBQ sells beers and snacks on the beach and a businessman named Captain Neil hosts a daily lobster feast on picnic tables.

But both visitors and merchants must collect all their belongings after dinner and

leave the island overnight

, although it is allowed to sleep on ships offshore.

Union Island, the Tahiti of the Caribbean

After a day and night in the Keys, we set course for a shadow resembling a reclining dragon on the horizon.

Bristling with pythons,

Union Island

is sometimes called the Tahiti of the Caribbean, and after our peaceful isolation in the marine park it seemed like a return to civilization.

With a population of approximately

3,000

, it has an ATM, a bustling produce market, and at least two sweet shops with espresso machines.

Union Island has about 3,000 inhabitants.

Photo Shutterstock

We loved Union for its inventiveness and its efforts to increase

sustainability

.

As of 2019 its electrical network is totally solar.

And when real estate developers vandalized a lagoon and abandoned their project for bankruptcy, a local organization stepped in and replanted mangroves, which filter water, nurse fish and protect the coast from storm surges.

The restored lagoon is now home to turtles, rays and the occasional snorkeler.

Reward for a Hard Journey

The Grenadines may all be part of a single volcanic island chain, but they

belong to two separate nations

.

Crossing the border

from Union Island to Carriacou

, Grenada was a relatively short boat ride…and a longer bureaucratic journey.

We spent the morning hanging around the pier looking for a boat that would take us.

The weather was turning bad when we finally found a captain.

Among his various activities, he sailed his single-engine boat several times a week to Carriacou and loaded plastic tanks with fuel to sell on Union Island, which lost its only gasoline station in a deadly explosion in 2020.

Hillsborough Bay, Carriacou Island, Grenada.

Photo Shutterstock

At the end of a

torrential journey

through the swells, we docked with some relief and joined the queue in a dark customs shed, where we spent about an hour with yachties and restless local merchants, sharing the feeling of a rare moment in where the line between tourist and resident was blurred.

Clearing customs, we checked into the Green Roof Inn, a waterfront inn furnished with old leather couches and mosquito-netted beds, and ventured out at sunset to the whistling of tree frogs.

We thought about renting a motorbike at the wonderfully diversified Wayne's Car Rental bar, but were drawn in by videos of Caribbean hip-hop artists like Koffee and Popcaan playing on a big screen in the place and we went in and stayed late into the night. drinking Carib beers instead.

The next morning we walk up a steep path to a

jungle redoubt called Fundación KIDO

, created decades ago as an

animal sanctuary and environmental school

.

Little boas curled up in empty coconut-shell bird feeders;

a colony of fruit bats hung from the ceiling of a meeting room, and a rescued one-winged hawk was perched in a cage the size of a room.

KIDO proposes various volunteer activities, such as patrols to protect turtle nesting spaces.

The foundation has planted tens of thousands of mangroves and offers a Green College after-school program that, among other projects, teaches island students how to care for and plant native trees nearly wiped out by the colonial craving for exotic woods.

The next day, in the pre-dawn darkness, we boarded our

last ferry to Grenada

, called Spice Island for its production of nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon.

To get there, the ship passed over Kick 'Em Jenny (kick 'em Jenny), an active underwater volcano that occasionally spews gases so dangerous that boats have to change course.

Jenny wasn't kicking that day.

Looking back in the warm breeze, we watched the

Grenadines fade into the rosy horizon

.

Frigatebirds and gannets soared above the deck, occasionally landing on the radar before diving in to eat.

On all sides the sea rippled the color of quicksilver.

For two hours the sleepy passengers dozed rocking.

On this last journey of our journey from piece to piece of land, everything -water, flora, fauna and human beings- seemed to live in synchrony.

NINA BURLEIGH/The New York Times.

Special for Clarín


Translation: Roman Garcia Azcarate

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Source: clarin

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