11 March 2009

Something old is new again. Ahh, Bequia!

The weather really has me down.  Snow, sleet, ice, freezing rain, snow, more rain.  I took a comp day from work today and treated myself to reading some good fanfiction, re-reading a charming travelogue by Alice Steinbach called Without Reservations, and revisiting some of my own travel writing.  In particular I fell in love with the island of Bequia all over again and I must figure out a way to get there once more.  Here's my trip report from my first visit there:

BEQUIA       (pronounced BECK-way. Or BECK-weh)
Bequia was, in a word, delightful.  We used Barbados as our gateway to the Grenadines, primarily because I was able to secure one of our tickets using frequent flyer miles.  Our American Airlines flight was met by the SVGAir rep right inside the airport who took care of all of our immigration/customs/transit needs and sent us to wait in the departure lounge.  Where we waited.  And waited.  While BA, Virgin, Air Canada, and sundry smaller aircraft came and went.  And then our boarding time came and went.  And then our departure time.  Finally our flight was called.  This was definitely a flight worth waiting for – the windows on this low-flying plane provided stunning views of the region I’d been longing to see for some time, the Grenadines.  We landed first on Union Island (which my husband said reminded him of landing on St. Barths) and then went on to Bequia, where we experienced our shortest ever line going through immigration.  We popped outside and hailed a taxi to take us to the Frangipani Hotel in Pt. Elizabeth. 

I had been waffling back and forth between wanting to stay in town and wanting to stay at the beach at Lower Bay and opted for staying in town on our first visit, especially since we were only there for five nights.  I booked a Deluxe Garden room at the Frangipani, which was located at the top of the property, the upside of which is that we had a splendid view, the downside of which is that we risked a heart attack every time we returned to the room.  At only US $120/night it was certainly a good price (sidebar: it was the first time I ever paid the rack rate for a hotel) for what it delivered – a beautifully crafted room of wood and stone with pitched ceilings, large bathroom (shower only), nice dressing area with a mini fridge, and a spacious balcony with a table, two chairs, and two padded chaises longues.  In addition to the king bed, the sleeping area also had a writing desk and a comfy padded chair with ottoman.  The bedroom opened onto the balcony with double doors that folded back, proving a seamless transit between indoors and out.  The balcony view was westerly over the harbour and we had great fun in the evenings watching the sailboats, ferries, and other vessels coming and going while sipping our cocktails and watching the sun in its downward progression.

The room had no air-conditioning, but it was well designed to catch the breezes, aided by a ceiling fan and a standing fan.  All of the windows were wooden louvers.  The room would have been just about perfect except for one thing: lack of screens on the windows or doors.  We were provided with a mosquito net over the bed, but even so my husband woke up the next morning with over 100 bites.  Fortunately for me, I had covered myself in a 25% DEET bug spray for dinner the night before that clearly lasted through the night, for I woke up with just a few bites.  Our remaining nights we both coated ourselves with the OFF! spray before going to bed, which certainly cut back on the mosquito bites, but also made us feel a bit icky & sticky in the bedsheets.  I have to say that the mosquitoes put a serious damper on the trip.  It seems to me that installing window screens would be a relatively inexpensive and easy addition to make to the rooms, one that would reap exponential benefits for guests.  Other guests were also plagued by the mozzies, so we weren’t the only ones.  It seems to me that the garden rooms are far too nice an accommodation not to take that extra step to make them that much nicer.  To be fair, we made friends with folks staying next door at Gingerbread, and the mosquitoes were just as bothersome.  And when we casually mentioned over breakfast one morning that our mosquito net seemed to have a few small holes in it, it was replaced by the time we returned to our room that afternoon.  Were it not for the lack of screens, I would give the Frangipani an unreserved recommendation.  As it is, I still recommend it, but with the condition of bringing plenty of good repellent. 

 Our very first morning we embarked on a daysail to the Tobago Cays on the schooner called Friendship Rose.  We had intended to go out with them on our second day in order to rest ourselves from the long day of travel, but they changed their schedule and that was our only available day if we wanted to see the Cays.  The dinghy dock where we got picked up was a short walk away from the hotel, and by 7:30 we were on board and feasting on a lovely breakfast of croissants, pain au chocolat, fresh fruit, juice, and French press coffee.  There were about 25 people on board—enough to make mingling fun but not so many that one couldn’t get away for a quiet moment if so desired.  We were a truly international bunch.  DH and I were two of only four Americans.  The rest were British, Barbadian, Canadian, Belgian, French, and Portuguese.  During the three hours we were under sail we had a fine time chatting with the crew & passengers and watching the crew put up the sails—an amazing display of choreography, really.  Periodically a crewmember would circulate with an offering of biscuits, sodas, water, rum punch or fruit punch. 
 Upon arrival in the Cays we had the option of going ashore to one of the beaches that was deserted when we got there or to go snorkeling.  Well, duh.  I haven’t been dreaming about visiting the Cays with the idea of sitting on a beach, that’s for sure.  We were preparing ourselves and our snorkel gear when oh, no!  The strap on DH’s prescription snorkel mask snaps off, and the little pin with it.  Alan, who I believe is one of the owners of the FR, heard our cries of dismay and then spent a full 20 minutes below deck improvising a way to reattach the strap.  Success!  Once we were out on the reef we were even more thankful that Alan had found a way for DH to see everything—it was really beautiful out there.  No big fish, at least not where we were, but the coral looked healthier than anyplace I’ve snorkeled, and the fish were everywhere!  At one point we were surrounded on three sides by a large school of blue tang, which was pretty magical. It was over all too soon and we had to head back to the boat for lunch. 

Lunch was simple but very tasty fare with tuna, rice, and provision, followed by a type of fudge that I didn’t much care for.  After lunch the crew hung a few hammocks for folks who wanted to relax, but I opted to head back to the water to snorkel around the boat.  The other American couple had reported lots of turtles there in the grass, so I went off in search of them.  Well, I didn’t see “lots” but I did spy one large one that let me get very close.  At first it surfaced right next to me but after it submerged again I followed it for some time.  I also passed through a few dozen small squid, which was pretty fun.  All in all, I would give a B+ to the snorkeling in the Cays.  My only disappointment was that I couldn’t spend more time in the water, as we still had a three-hour sail back to Bequia.  

All of the crewmembers we met were engaging and knowledgeable and we were sad to see the day come to an end.  There was one handsome young man from the crew who would cross our path again, but his story will come later.  Of the other travelers we met that day, we became particularly friendly with two couples, frequently running into them for drinks, meals, or activities around the island. 

 We spent two days exploring different beaches on Bequia.  One morning we opted to hike over to Princess Margaret Beach.  We started off walking along the Belmont Walkway (a waterside path that starts just north of the Frangipani and fronts various hotels, restaurants, and shops) and started climbing a staircase cut into the rock face.  Very soon we realized we were in over our heads.  The hill itself wasn’t too bad, but all too soon the stairs gave way to a footpath, one which required the use of both hands to scramble up in parts.  It probably wouldn’t give any trouble to avid hikers, but we are not avid hikers, nor were we shod as such.  What’s more, it was raining when we started out and the footing was quite slippery.  What’s even more, my poor DH was suffering an attack of gout, which made every step increasingly painful. 
I am pleased to say that Princess Margaret aka Tony Gibbs Beach, was worth the trouble. 
It was a fairly long stretch of sand and we were the first to step foot there that morning, or so it seemed.  We walked to the far end, spread out our towels and damp clothing on some tree stumps to dry, and proceeded to explore the cave and grottoes that the large boulders formed.  It was great fun!  We whiled away a few happy hours there, mixing our reading with swimming and snorkeling (which was just okay, but it still made me happy) and chatting with the various locals who always stopped to greet us on their way to Lower Bay.  

When we ran out of water it was the perfect time to walk to Lower Bay, the path there being much easier than our earlier walk, we were assured many times.  We stopped first at De Reef for a cold drink and thought about having lunch there, but only the bar was open.  We ended up at Dawn’s Creole for lunch.  Since it was slow, she kindly let us use her chairs and umbrella for the rest of the afternoon.  Lower Bay was also beautiful and is very likely where I would want to stay for future visits.  I did quite a bit of swimming here and walked to both ends for snorkeling.  This beach was a bit busier than Princess Margaret, maybe a couple dozen folks all told.  There was some natural shade provided by sea grapes near De Reef, which always improves my impression of a beach.  All in all, it was lovely, including playing with the small packs of island dogs that wandered up to us.
On our last full day we spent several hours at the beautiful Industry Bay.  This is probably close to my ideal beach.  A sweeping cove, lined with coconut palms on one end, and completely deserted, with a swath of sand leading to the small inn, which was closed but whose kitchen  was open for lunch.  The water was beautiful, the setting was serene, there was plenty of shade available, good food and drink from Crescent Beach Hotel, a good book to read, and good company in my DH.  I only saw three rooms right on the beach there, but it would certainly be a place I would consider staying on a return trip, especially if I were looking to get away from it all.  There was a good bit of surf on this beach, which I loved listening to while I read, but it did make swimming in a straight line a bit of a challenge.  In the end I just gave up and did some body surfing.  After all, I knew I’d work off plenty of calories just walking up to our room that night.  
We had perfect weather while were there, with big storms every night and occasional brief rain showers during the day.  Despite being so close to the equator, I don’t remember a single time when we were out during the day or sleeping at night when it was hot to the point of discomfort.  In fact, we were more comfortable on this trip in July than just about any other Caribbean island we’ve visited during the summer.
 One morning we hired Ramzay to take us up to Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary, which turned out to be a real highlight of the trip.  Brother King runs the place with a dedication and a softspoken passion that belies his steely determination to operate his sanctuary in the face of a government who is not only not interested in conservation of these creatures, but in some cases acting against them.  He is self-taught in the ways of the hawksbill and green turtles and tells fascinating stories of things he has learned on the fly (in addition to sharing a few hair-raising tales of his skin diving days and coming face to face with tiger sharks).  We met Miss Busybody, a large hawksbill who sometimes goes swimming in the open sea with Brother King.  We met the newest Old Hegg, a turtle whose flippers are deformed and cannot propel itself forward the same way other turtles can.  We came away from our time there extremely impressed with Brother King and his operation, and in my opinion this is a not to be missed experience on Bequia. 

Despite its small size, we really just touched the surface of Bequia in our 5 nights there.  My DH experienced most of the island in a fog of pain and thus feels that he needs to visit the island again to make any kind of meaningful assessment, which I agree with wholeheartedly!  For my part, I loved it for its charm, its people, its beaches, its scenery, its laid-back vibe, and for retaining the flavor of what was best about the old Caribbean.  I am extremely eager to return.

Industry Bay, seen from above
cute dogs at Lower Bay
Underwater shot at the Tobago Cays

1 comment:

  1. Bequia sounds amazing! I love reading of your travels - really, it's no wonder you won a travel writing prize!

    Also, I don't remember if we've connected on this point before - I love, Love, LOVE Without Reservations! Gave it to at least 4 other people to read the moment I got done with it. My sister loved it as well. We'll need to chat more about travel writing sometime.


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