Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Big City - Kingstown Day Trip

While St. Vincent is a relatively small island with a limited number of things to to… We were still unable to do and see everything we wanted to. There are waterfalls on the island that we would love to see… An old fort, a botanical garden and rainforest in the interior… But we wanted to share all of those things with another couple, perhaps hire a guide for a day… and as there wasn’t another boat with like-minded Cruisers in our little Bay, we will put those things on hold for the next visit. 

With one more day of weather in our window… we chose to hop on the local bus van and see the island in a a mind-numbing-white-knuckled-stomach-in-your-throat kind of way! Thankfully, my Personal Safety Bubble was working and we made it through the day!

We set out mid morning and waited patiently on the main road for the bus coming from the south that would take us back north for a quick spin through Chateaubelair and all other villages to our north.

Most of this post is simply a photo-essay and an attempt to capture the beauty of this island. The bus was almost full when we got on, and they stopped several times to let off and take on more passengers. At the end of the road, Chateaubelair, we were the only ones who stayed so we got to move from our centre seats to a window seat which is much less squished and has the view.





Coulls Hill Village, the road we haven't taken! 
It was a stifling hot day, but when the bus got going, the air cooled us all off so we didn’t sweat on on another TOO much…











Running through my mind are these thoughts: 

I wonder if these people know each other, or are we all a bunch of strangers melted together like a bag of marshmallows in the sun?

I wonder why nobody warned me about the sheer drop-off on the roads on St. Vincent with nothing but a small retaining wall or less between me and a bouncing tumble downhill to the Sea?

The people of St. Vincent are so very quiet. Nobody talks, nobody yells… you can hardly hear them when they speak, either to you or to one another… I wonder how the bus driver hears them when they request a stop…

This island smells better than any of the other’s we’ve visited, with the possible exception of Nevis. It smells like a mix of honey, red candy and shampoo. I can hardly get a breath enough to hold it all in… Oh wait… there’s this one town that smells like cows… but otherwise, the scent blowing in through the windows is heaven!

I wonder why this 14 passenger bus holding 19 people doesn’t flip over when we take these hairpin curves on a hill without slowing down? Well, at least packed in like this, we don’t need seat belts to keep from sliding across the seat!

Nothing between us and tumbling into the abyss but that old retaining wall...

Scattered homes and crops here and there...
A village called Rose Bank

We went through so many little villages on our way south… Houses blanket the valleys down to the ravine where the mountains drain into the Caribbean. The flora grows rampant, lush, and green. While very “tired” and of uncomplicated design, the buildings were fascinating. There is hardly a level surface on this island and the homes and businesses are all thrown together with most having a side held up on stilts… Their views are priceless and I wondered why no rich developer has come to snatch all of this up! It’s so very undeveloped and “real”.


Chateaubelair - The dock is at the end of this road.  We cleared in here.

A little schoolboy watches life outside the schoolyard.







School


Hillside cemetery

Small Gardens on the hillside.

Large butterfly net?  Or harvesting tool for breadfruits?  You tell me...


Awesome "Airport" Sign!!!
Another school
Whooooooaaa!  Don't miss that turn!
See the zig-zag road down and back up the ravine!
Moving away from the coast into the interior valleys
Sheer wall on one side, sheer drop off on the other

Hydroelectric plant on the Cumberland River
20 people in a 14 person van.  Who needs seatbelts?


Livin' Large in the window seat...
Prison Rules Please read...




Communal back yard?


Detour.  You shoulda seen the cars trying to pass us with the ditches right beside the road.  

Suburbia



Nice roads closer to the city
Enormous Supermarket!






Another hillside cemetery

This is it.  We're in the capitol city of Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Leeward Bus station
Back in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia, we had a mega-yacht come in that was registered out of Kingstown, St. Vincent. This gave me the preconceived notion that we would be seeing a more modern metropolis in Kingstown… but as we approached, while the homes may have been a little more upscale, I soon realized that the bar is very low here…

As we disembarked from our bus and paid the $12 EC fare, we walked toward the exit to the Bus Station looking around at all that was going on. Dozens of tiny little bar/restaurants lined the streets. 
Harbor.  There might be a cruise ship dock out there...

There are no brightly coloured Cruise Ship Villages… no Luxury Resorts… There is just this vibrant, busy, slightly sleazy… OK very sleazy… city. Town? I don’t know… it’s full of people - still rather quiet people - offering taxi services, selling produce or crafts… from tables or carts set up along the streets and sidewalks.






We passed them by with a polite “no thank you” and went in search of lunch! We found VeeJay’s and entered the dark interior. There was a lunch counter toward the back where a short line was formed. It was sort of like a Luby’s cafeteria… you tell them what size plate you want, then pick your sides and meats. One of the lovely things about these islands is that lasagna is considered a SIDE!


Balcony seating overlooking the bustling street

We got two slices of a spicy meat lasagna, shredded salad, Potato, Baked Pumpkin and Stewed Pork. It was more than we could eat… we could have stopped at the lasagna! We took our meal upstairs to sit on the balcony in front of the building and watch the world go by. While eating our lunch, we checked into the world back home via Facebook on the free wifi! We’ve been without contact for some days and it’s been kind of nice. We have no idea what’s going on back there… Perhaps that is why we have been able to so fully immerse ourselves in life here and really appreciate the slower pace.

After lunch, we went back out and wandered about town in search of a new pair of shoes for Bruce. There was one street that had variety stores lined up for two blocks. Each had a small store front with a dark doorway, but when you looked inside, the store opened up a fair distance back with so many things stacked floor-to-ceiling… if they didn’t have what you wanted… you don’t need it! Unfortunately after visiting several that sold shoes, we realized that the people of St. Vince must really have much smaller feet than Bruce does… Very few shoes in his size were available and those that were weren’t to his liking… but he did pick up a pair of “tourist plaid” shorts for $20 EC. (lots of skinny dudes here)




We abandoned that search and took a look at some of the very old buildings still in use here… The Government building is just sitting here in the middle of town for anyone to access… Where are the Secret Servicemen? Where are the guards???



Rounding out our tour with a stroll through the large covered market building, we passed on so many things we might have purchased for fear that we wouldn’t get home with them on the sardine-bus… We picked up one bag of peanuts, later discovered to be raw… Guess I’ll have to figure out how to roast them using a propane stove… No internet makes that difficult…


Huge indoor market

Cobbled streets

Very colonial looking. Old and new collide!



Making our way back to the leeward bus station (there’s a different one for the windward side) we were again struck by the gentleness of the people. Nobody yelled… hawkers were non-existent. Now and then someone would offer something to us quietly and then melt away when we said no… We weren’t followed or harassed… People were just going about their business…





The Windward Bus Station
The streets may not have been in the best shape, but the town was as clean as it could be with the ageing infrastructure. It was evident that there wasn’t a lot of money being spent on upkeep of public spaces. The docks that had been destroyed by recent storms went un-repaired. It was all just very poor… I wondered what it would take to get some tourist dollars here… they are just starting so close to the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but UP!

Returning to the bus station, we asked around for the next bus going to Cumberland. We were pointed to a nice one that was, to the western-born eye, quite full. We piled on and climbed to the back where we squoze our butts in between two other ladies who weren’t giving up the window seats…There wasn’t enough room for our shoulders to sit straight so Bruce had to put his arm around my back while I sat forward in the seat… It struck me that there would be no way I would have participated in anything like this back in my other life. Now it just seems like a part of the adventure and a taste of what it is like to be one of these people… although I know that I will really never know…

We are treated too well. We are held separately with a silent reverence that won’t ever let us into their real lives… I am appreciative of the small glimpse we had here this week…

We made it!
We sped back along the road to the north and, watching out the window with my limited view, I realized that we were just about to our stop. Suddenly it was speeding by the windows and I raised my voice “STOP PLEASE!”… no stopping. The young lady next to Bruce sprung into action and in her quiet voice, asked the driver to stop… for some reason he heard her soft plea but had not heard my shrill voice… Guess it’s what you’re used to… He brought the van to a halt and nearly everyone on the bus had to get off for us to see the sunlight again. 

Before I could get my backpack on and my camera out… the bus was GONE leaving only silence and swirling dust as evidence that it hadn’t all been a dream. We looked at one another and laughed! That was close! We almost missed it!


Hot and tired but jubilant at our intrepidness…we trudged back along the now-familiar path to Bay Central. We found Wesley and several others playing dominos in the shade… We greeted our friend and he returned a big smile… “You made it!”. WHAT??? What made you think we WOULDN’T have made it???

He laughed and shrugged his shoulders… asking us questions about our adventure as if searching for some flaw in our achievement. The joy of our day bubbled out in excited chatter as I told him of all we had seen and done… It was a very good day and we felt emboldened and empowered at our baby steps into off-the-beaten-path travel. We had gotten off the boat and seen the island like a local. No nice safe taxi… just a split seat-covered, grubby, hot and driven-like-the-hounds-of-hell-at-our-heels… bus.

We retired to our hot boat and changed into swimsuits to cool off in the cool, clear water around our floating home. Ziko came zooming up from around the point with a small tuna for sale but I declined.  It was really tiny and very stiff. He motored off without any trouble.
Held by a thread


Not too interested in chatting when he realized he wouldn't make a sale today...


Later while drinking our cool sun-downers on the aft deck, our friend The-One-And-Only-Wesley came by to give us some parting gifts. He brought two baskets full of produce and gave us a tiny baby pineapple, tomatoes, grapefruit and coconut. Everything else we refused… He’s too good to us already. 

We talked for a long time. He told us of recent meetings he’s attended with the Tourism Board and I made a few suggestions… why not move the Customs and Immigration offices out of sleazy Chateaubelair and the boycotted Wallilabou Bay here to the more central Cumberland Bay. He said that he had been lobbying hard for that and I told him that I would write a letter if it would help… I told him what Cruisers want and need to feel safe and he is really going to work on improving his island’s appeal to us.

The problem is that without visitors, there is less money to improve infrastructure… And without infrastructure, there’s less of a chance that visitors will come. The safety issue… I can’t argue that. Everyone must make their own choices for their personal safety.

But with increased tourist dollars, more jobs and less poverty can only improve safety. Never once did we feel the slightest bit unsafe here. Wesley and others working here in Cumberland keep a close and protective eye on the bay. Wesley knew of everyone who came to our boat… Some weren’t from Cumberland, but even those were quiet, respectful and not the pushy boat-boys we’ve experienced in other island anchorages. The people of St. Vincent are trying hard to organise and repair the damage done in the past. Without being given a chance, how can these gentle and friendly people succeed?

While we were having lunch  today, I signed onto Facebook and read several warning posts about this island that really angered me. I can’t change everyone’s mind about St. Vincent… and that is not my goal… What we’ve experienced here is not for everyone. But what we’ve found here is exactly what we expected to find while Cruising… The unspoiled and undeveloped hidey holes that can still be found out here if you search for them. So I’ll do my small part to pull back the veil… To undo the harm done by the wagging tongues of people who have never been here, that continue the spread of negative information.

We have LOVED every minute of our time here... even the zany, messy, unexpected and surprising parts.  The people have made us feel welcome and we have heard them.  Make your own decision about stopping here... but consider the big picture.  These people are trying very hard to improve the tourist experience and I think they have begun in the right place... Customer service doesn't cost anything... and they are giving it.