My Lois' Concise Trip Description
Yesterday, we and our closest friends here went to St. Vincent on the 7:30am ferry in our jeep returning on the 4:30pm. We drove up one coast of St. Vincent, top speed maybe 20 mph, avg 15, low gear most of the way. Very narrow road, blind switchback turns sometimes every 1/4 mile, honk and go. The road is cliffside much of the way, looking a very long steep way DOWN, few railings of course. Thankfully, very little traffic up in that isolated area. Everyone waves and calls hello as we pass.
If someone wants to see "unspoiled", that would be it. No tourists. But: no one could ever describe the spectacular scenery: deep valleys, tall, lush, very cragged mountains, outcroppings everywhere, sheer cliff faces, hanging vines, patches of huge elephant-ear vines each leaf about 4 sq ft, hillsides so high and so steep yet terraced for crops. A jungle without the poisonous creatures. We were all in awe, had no idea it would be half so beautiful.
Stopped the car repeatedly in awe and/or to look back at the switchbacks where we'd just been. Our friends have travelled extensively, months in India, Thailand, Tibet, Indonesia, Bali. They say this is as scenic as anything they'd ever seen; much like Sumatra (Indonesia), which, I said, is interesting to know, because I'll never see Sumatra. We're still awe struck by the experience as perhaps is obvious.
The Big Wind
Now if you're really into reading verbose jabbering, here's my version.
A-h, do we hafta go Papa?
We had been ducking the proposed trip since first suggested to us in December. It was now mid-March and we return to Canada early in April. Lois really didn't want to spend a day riding around in tropic heat. At the best of times, she hates driving with a passion, but the idea of sweltering in the heat and fumes of narrow roadways bending your neck out of shape to see up impossible slopes just left her sick with anxiety. But, we had somehow agreed to do the run up the Leeward (Highway?) of St. Vincent on Thursday with our dear friends Bruce and Lois (his Lois) who also have a winter home on Bequia. Both Lois' and Bruce take gravol/dramamine/earpatches.. .etc for sea sickness, so the hour long ferry ride over and back from St. Vincent was an opening impediment compromising the days potential enjoyment, but we had it in mind to do the deed.
Let's get the show on the road, p-l-e-a-s-e!
Wednesday morning I called Admiralty Transport, the ferry operator, to reserve space for my jeep, over at 7:30am and back at 4:30pm. The first couple of phone tries, nothing but a recording telling the schedule. Finally a couple of hours later, a human at the other end of the line.
Unfortunately, one of the two boats hadn't sailed for the last two days and Monique, the party on the line, understood that one of them was going to St. Martin on an excursion (usually whenever they needed a fuel reload, tax free of course).
The Jumbies Get Involved
The Jumbies had to be into this trip plan! For the uninitiated, Jumbies are the Caribbean version of gremlins, goblins and ghosts. Couldn't possibly spell them with a "g" could we? However, Monique hadn't been told exactly when the trip was scheduled, or which boat, but she thought the 7:30am ferry run wouldn't be going, only the 6:30am one. But, she said, with totally uncharacteristic helpfulness, that she would check with the boats and, believe it or not, get back to me in a bit. The normal response in the Caribbean would be "call layta, see dem maybe". Well, shock of shocks, an hour later, Monique called to say that there was going to be a 7:30am ferry but suggested that we just show up, the boats take care of reserving space. I responded, "But what happens if we get over and can't get the jeep back." Like a kiss from heaven, Monique says, "O-h-h, I'll check with them and make your reservation then let you know." (Can this be? This has to be a trick!) However, I thanked her politely and hung up.
By 3:45pm Lois said if I didn't call to check with Monique she would be gone. I called; gave Monique my name; she sounded like she had never heard of me, until I said "reserve space for a jeep for 7:30am and 4:30pm" when the lights went on and Monique responded, "O-h-h, that's all right, it's reserved." I had my doubts, but I thanked her again and hung up the phone.
At 6am Thursday, the alarm woke us to a solid overcast sky with rain starting to build strength. My Lois was ready to beeline for the phone to cancel the whole thing. We agreed to have breakfast and prepare for the trip, since these early morning showers usually blow over within an hour. Well, it did but there were still lots of menacing clouds out to Windward, so Lois called Lois, whose home faces to Windward and got the confirmation that the clearing was coming our way, the trip was on, meet at the ferry at 7:25am.
By 7:20am we had the pretty blue 1989 Dodge Raider (Mitsubishi) loaded on the ferry. This had to be the right vehicle for the trip. It was a hardtop, 4 wheel drive, power steering, automatic tranny, big 6, with air conditioning. Every time we take this vehicle anywhere the young fellows shout out, "Pretty man, P-R-E-T-T-Y". We would hear it a few more times along the Leeward road.
After the rain, the sea was a millpond. We pulled into Kingstown harbour with more cloud than sun but very comfortable. Our trusty insurance agent, on his way to "town" on the ferry, advised that the Leeward Highway was reached from Back Street by turning at the Texaco Station. After that it was the only way of consequence in that direction. At the Grenadines wharf, out of the bowels of the ferry roared the "Pretty One" with four neophyte Vincie trekkers bound for the unknown. Down the wharf, dipsy doodling through the mass of foot traffic, down Bay St. past the market, right up to Back Street, left to the Texaco Station and right onto "the Highway?". Seemed more like a simple urban street to me!
Are we there yet?
Shortly we passed a sign for the Botanic Gardens. This is a must see for new visitors. Settle on a fee with one of the young fellows, who should be able to show you their guide certification, and have them identify whatever strikes you as you stroll the gardens. These are the oldest continuous Botanic gardens in the western hemisphere. The Captain Bligh Breadfruit Tree is a direct offshoot from the original planted by himself from the Pacific supply he brought here in the late 1700's. That shipload didn't suffer from mutiny! I know exactly what Bligh must have felt in the crisis, since keeping my Lois in line for this trip was a very good parallel experience.
I told you it was going to rain!
As we started up the hill to the west, the first showers started to wash the sea salt from the "jeep". Light fresh stuff. In dry season, I love it. We closed the windows and turned on the air conditioner. The showers were minor and short-lived and ended before we reached Campden Park. Open windows are the order of the day! It seems like we were traveling quite a while with the Campden Park shore facilities in sight to the left at the bottom of the hill. The Leeward Highway circles high on the hills surrounding the bay. We all note that the housing seems comparatively better off in the area although there is dense land usage. We climb on to Questelles where the housing standard seems to decline somewhat with similar dense usage.
I need fresh air, I'm getting car sick!
As we leave Questelles we are clearly leaving the urban surrounds of Kingstown heading into open country. We stop at a lovely small stone church high at the top of a hill looking out to the shore at the foot of the Buccament Valley. Unfortunately, there are no signs or cornerstones visible to find the name of the church or its age. The gate to heaven has a padlock so we can't get close to the building. Oh well, back on the road again. We pass the derelict sugar mill at the foot of the Vermont Trail Road cutoff. Our next trip will have to include time for a trip up the Vermont Trail, an ecologists and gardeners dreamland, for sure.
Do we have to keep going up and down like this?
Once we leave the Buccament Valley climbing to the north, we become more and more awestruck by the horrendous tortured hills/mountains to which we are exposed. The further north we go the more tropical the vegetation and the more stunning the scenery. Both Bruce and his Lois note that in their wide world travels they can only compare these exceptional crags to those of Sumatra. These are very seasoned travellers and St. Vincent has enthralled them to the core. This is true natural exotica. We all noticed that there was terracing even on the most remote portions of the mountains. There had obviously been intense cultivation over the years.
Man is that big toilet tissue!
At one point as we were climbing down the road to the next of many valleys, we passed a series of concentrated groups of elephant ear plants. One of these spread up the cliff wall for at least 80 feet for a similar width. Coming up out of a stream bed was another clutch of this same plant, with leaves about the size of my body, in one huge ball about 25 feet in diameter. Would some gardeners go out of their mind to have a specimen like that! Everywhere you look you see banana plants, mango trees, coconut palms, tropic vegetation and vines of every description. The fence posts are sprouting limbs! That's no joke. Shove a piece of green wood in the ground here and it will grow. Simple as that.
Ah, another art gallery?
Our day is mainly cloudy, thank goodness. The beauty of the mountains is accentuated dramatically with the clouds cruising in to shroud the highest peaks in mystery, allowing the sun to dart through in unpredictable patterns. No human artist or camera could capture the scenes. It is all just overwhelming. The sea is like a millpond here on the Leeward coast. Each bay takes on a placid aura with the majesty of the mountains diving directly into the sea at the limits of the black silky beaches.
Where are the hang gliders?
Layou is a significant sized town clearly comfortable for its inhabitants but somewhat back country in nature. Peter's Hope intrigues in that anyone would try to build anywhere on the promontory, but there they sit looking right at home. I have to admit the views of the sea from here are magnificent. The area back inland is all dramatically better for crop raising and the Peter's Hope Estate Plantation proves the point. Just north of Layou, there are some petroglyphs which are on private property. For a small fee of about EC$2 a person I've been told the owners will provide a personal guided tour. With what we thought a time shortage, I didn't mention looking up this site. Next trip up the Leeward coast, I will make a point of doing so.
If they fish how come I can't smell the fish?
Barroullie is relatively prosperous looking. I understand fishing is one of the main occupations here, along with root crop and banana production in the hills. Black fish (pilot whales) are a principal fish catch here. Just getting to the banana and root crops in the hills must be a major effort in itself in this area. We heard a few of the school boys calling out "P-r-e-t-t-y". The jeep must just hit the right colour for the Vincie eye.
Who would do such a thing to a town?
We all worked over the associations around the name Petit Bordel but the one that didn't even have to be verbalized as we laughed was the huge sign on one establishment promising "Cheap Drink and Cheap Entertainment". It was a very friendly town with all waving and smiles as we passed, as was the case throughout our trip. There was a fairly mean switchback in the road at the south entrance to Petit Bordel but it was no problem.
Love at first sight?
Bruce fell for Spring Village. I think he has a subconscious affinity. His home on Bequia is in Spring Estate.
One more hill and I'm getting out!
Chateaubelair looked like a comfortable town for being at such a remote site which was poorly serviced by road until this year. The new roads make this trip a real pleasure. There is very light traffic and the road has been well thought out and built. Congratulations to all who participated in the road improvement project.
It's a beach!
We came to a road sign that said Richmond Beach straight ahead and Trinity Falls to the right. We decided to check out the beach first. It was obviously heavily used for gravel and stone gathering with piles sorted by size and type along the whole streach of beachside road which at this point had ceased to be paved. We met a couple young fellows riding donkeys and asked to take a picture with them which they happily obliged. They told us the road continued to Soufriere (the volcano). We only went on long enough to see it turn inland and we turned back getting a big smile and wave from the donkey riders as we passed.
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink!
Back at the turnoff, we decided to take the fork to Trinity Falls. It was paved and lead through an obviously well manicured and tended fruit propogation farm where we saw passionfruit growing along with pumpkin and many varieties of bougainvillea, several root crops right back up into the mountains. We went on until the pavement ended and we had to cross a small stream, no problem with 4 wheel drive but a regular vehicle could turn around just back a few yards. Before reaching that point we had to stop on one curve in the road just to take a picture of the mind boggling vegetation spread over the mountainsides before us. This was true tropic splendour. The tips of the mountain were covered with mist and the sun shone through to make the whole scene Eden-like. This was a magic place indeed.
Variety is the spice of life!
Although paved the road in this area had drainage troughs every here and there crossing the road which could give your vehicle a jolt if you didn't slow enough. Bruce took on the "Watchit duties" since I was too tempted to gawk at the scenery and could have missed a few drains.
Some sweet things!
When we got back to the Richmond farm complex buildings at the turnoff, we hailed a young lady who was just inside the building and she came out with a passionfruit in hand to tell us about their production of passionfruit and lime juice and ask us to come through to see it all. We thanked her for the invitation but declined because we had to get back on schedule to make the ferry by 4:30pm. We talked with her for a bit and were told that the delicious Orange Hill brand products were made here since they had bought the rights to the name. We asked if their delightful Orange marmalade was being made this year and were told no because of an orange crop shortfall. We hope to see it next year. It is the best we have ever tasted.
Lunch at last!
So, off we went on the return trip south. We all took in the awe inspiring scenery again on the way back but it didn't seem quite as overpowering. We must have been getting use to having God's handiwork draped about our senses in heaps. There were still a few ohs and ahs as we made our way south. At noon we stopped at Wallilabou Bay for lunch. What a serene anchorage! The meals were well done and generous, but, we had to keep the flies at bay by using the placemats for fans with no wind to drive them away. The washrooms were nice and clean and modern.
Well, OK it was nifty!
The return was uneventful and pleasant with more sun and a different perspective from our trip up the coast. Without the cload we would have been uncomfortably warm or had to resort to the air conditioner as we did whenever we got into a rain shower. With the road improved, we really didn't need 4 wheel drive. As driver, I appreciated the automatic. I can't imagine the tedium of gear shifting for all those ups and downs and turns. All we saw on the road were the odd truck and government jeep or the ubiquitous minivan buses. The drive really was a pleasure.
Show me the cannons!
We wanted to see Fort Charlotte so we turned off at Gun Hill with the impression that we could get there along that route. We were mistaken but the trip out to the end was well worth the effort. The views from there were magnificent. The Bonadie family has built or has in progress several houses which should really be classed as mansions. A lovely lady came out of one of the houses to answer our query as to how we could get to Fort Charlotte. She advised with a cheerful smile that we had to go back to "town" and turn off the "highway" at the Kingstown Hospital, "no problem from there". Off we went still gawking at both the views and houses on the hill.
Down the highway into town again and turn off at the hospital to head back up the hill to Fort Charlotte. The climb up wasn't long, in a car, but I pity any walkers. As you pull up to the fort you pass under an arch gateway to enter the courtyard for the battlements. The view from here takes in everything from the Grenadines, all of Bequia and the entire southeastern St. Vincent Kingstown area out to Belmont. The coast guard maintain a station atop the battlements providing clear overviews of all the Kingstown harbour and the approaches. The Radio League must have one of the compound buildings for their use since their name was painted on the outer wall.
In an iron gated entry in the battlements, we find several cells each of which contains a couple large paintings depicting some of the history of St. Vincent. These are all accompanied by a brief descriptive on the facts surrounding the subject of each painting. In all they provide a concise overview of the turmoils involved in the settlement of St. Vincent. Don't miss them.
Good deed time!
Bruce had an appointment for 4pm with Dr. Thomas to meet a new candidate for the largess of the Bell Foundation program for the Hearing Disabled. Bruce has succeeded in obtaining a grant for a Bequia boy's hearing aid and hopes to expand the Foundation program in St. Vincent to as many youngsters as have a need for the support. We drop him and Lois at the doctor's office and continue on to the Grenadines ferry dock.
Hang out time!
We have completed our Leeward Highway tour with plenty of time to spare. Bruce and Lois got back to the ferry in time for the 4:30pm sailing and we are all still marveling at the awesome grandeur of St. Vincent's Leeward coast. We are going to do this again, I am sure.
Next time, for sure!
The next trip we take will include time for both the Vermont Trail and the Penniston Valley's Emerald Valley Resort & Casino, where there is also a golf course we have been told. That would have to be a golfer's dream with the unholy cragginess of beautiful St. Vincent.
Believe it or not, my Lois is already contemplating a run up the Windward coast since our friend and neighbour on Bequia, Kenny Cordice, says "They are different but which one to pick if you could only do one, that would be impossible." It sounds like a visitor will have to make time available to tour both coasts, and probably a little more too, to see the true character of this exceptional island paradise.
Hope you enjoyed the ride as much as we did!