Party at the End of the World
Trip Start Dec 25, 2006
6Trip End Jan 02, 2007
Bequia's obscurity makes it feel like it exists at the end of the world. It has been a well-kept secret of the yachters for years and just recently got somewhat convenient air service. But its seclusion, coupled with the government's commitment to promoting culturally sensitive tourism, is what makes this tropical rock worth visiting. Those who do find their way here are rewarded with a rare glimpse of the authentic Caribbean that, at least on other, overcrowded and resort lined islands, seems like only a fairly tale
In Bequia everything is local- from the shops to the top hotels, all is authentically Bequian and everyone is better for it. Here there is no need for gated communes or warnings to stay on the resort. One can take a leisurely stroll down the bayside Belmont Walkway at anytime, day or night, and be greeted by familiar faces. That is how local the island is. Like a small town, after being here for only several days, I feel at home amongst neighbors I have known for years.
Nowhere is this small-town-under-the-tropical-sky feeling more prevalent than at the Frangipani's Thursday Night Jump Up. Started in the early 1970's as a way of providing entertainment to a typically uneventful island, today the event brings people from all corners of the world. "Jump Up" is the local term used for a fete where people come to socialize, relax and, most importantly, dance. The concept is simple: create a backyard-styled party with barbecue, buffet and steel drum music. The Frangipani's Jump Up first attracted attention by preparing all of its food fresh the day of the event and serving US imported steaks and professional-looking desserts, all things never seen before in this area of the world. Soon word spread and yachts and chartered boats began making Bequia their Thursday port of call. Although today the meals are bigger, the crowd larger and the bar busier, nothing has really changed. Just as in the beginning, the event is held for the locals; we're just lucky enough to be invited.
Having reservations for the 7:30 sitting at the Frangipani restaurant, I make my way to the buffet line and grab a gently warmed plate on which I will soon burden with a mountainous terrain of gourmet food
We both acknowledge our recognition of each other with the universally understood smile. When I last saw them they were dancing on the Moskito Bar's nautical deck to a Swedish waltz, played from an iPod hooked up to the bars' speaker system. I recall the scene, painted with the backdrop of Friendship Bay's mist-shrouded islands floating along the horizon, as looking absolutely perfect.
Friendship Bay is host to Bequia's most pristine beach and is best reached via taxi. Located on the windward side of the island on the Atlantic coast, the waters here tend to be less clear and rougher than on the other beaches. However, its panoramic scenery, isolation and lack of boats blocking the view easily make up for any shortcomings. Further, the complimentary beach chairs are worth the trip themselves. The Moskito Bar, an open-terraced pub and restaurant located beachside, mixes up a wide array of tempting tropical drinks which can be enjoyed either on the sand or dangling from a bar side swing, which was my exact vantage point when I first met the Andersons. But like that meeting, the current one is brief as we both approach the buffet from opposite sides and go our separate ways.
The spread before me looks more like a work of art in a Guggenheim museum than something I should eat, but eat I do. Starting on one end of the floral lined table, I fill my plate with rice, pastas, juicy crescent wedges of passion fruit and mango, fried plantains, fresh produce and sizzling meats
As I struggle to find room for the last few bites of sugar, I think of how surprised I was when I first discovered how splendid, diverse and local the island's dining scene is. Take for instance Mac's Pizza, where they cook up the best lobster pizza, a local specialty, on their hot brick ovens. Further, at the Gingerbread Restaurant I was pleasantly surprised to discover that curry is a popular spice used here. There I enjoyed a fusion of the best of Indian food with a splash of the Caribbean in a dinner of chicken curry garnished with mango salsa.
Like the food and restaurants, everything on the island seems to be a unique mixture of international influences kept tame by local pride and culture. For example, in Port Elizabeth not only is the food local, so is the shopping. Port Elizabeth is the only real "city" on the island
Along the way there are numerous boutique craft, clothing, art and grocery shops all worth taking a browse through. For a selection of colorful local crafts and clothing, start at the Local Color. Located on the Belmont side of Port Elizabeth in the upper story of a dive grocery store, the Local Color specializes in tropical inspired women's clothing and basic island souvenirs. Noah's Arkade, adjacent to the Frangipani, also sells an excellent collection of homemade crafts, postcards, antique replica maps and clothing. For local books, along with a good selection of paperback fictions for beach reading, Bequia Bookshop is the place to go.
Historically, Port Elizabeth was a place of boat building. But as the carriages of the sea transformed from wood to steel, the town adapted by taking the same skills and craftsmanship and applying them to building model boats
Finally there is a stop at the local market known as the Rasta Market. It is held daily in a government funded market structure given to the local Rastafarians. Here, amongst a sea of dreadlocks, fruit bins and stray cats, farmers banter with customers over the price of pineapple, passion fruits, mangos and guava. Looking at my plate of fresh fruit, I wonder how much bartering was done over the produce that has now become part of my meal.
By this time Elite Steel, a classically Caribbean steel band from St. Vincent, or the "Mainland" as the locals refer to it, has begun the night's entertainment. Elite Steel represents the essence of Bequian nightlife: live and local under the stars on any given night of the week. The band is enjoying themselves, bantering back and forth with cocky smiles like true rock and roll stars. The crowd starts to shift towards the dance floor, which is nothing more than a cleared area of white sand beach. The melodic twang vibrating from the steel oil drums produces a magical voice and I catch myself looking for the singer only to realize that the voice comes from somewhere deep within the drums
I sway to the serenades of steel on the sand dance floor, mimicking the swaying of the towering masts of the anchored yachts bobbing on the bay. At night, with the boats' beacon lights blinking on top of their masts, the bay looks like a swaying city skyline. In the distance I see the shadow of The Friendship Rose, a wooden schooner built in Friendship Bay. Launched in 1967, The Friendship Rose was originally commissioned to carry fertilizer between the islands, before becoming the Grenadines official mail boat and later serving as the ferry between Bequia and St. Vincent. Today its sole responsibility is to usher tourist to and from Bequia and such magical islands as Mustique, Caanouan and the Tobago Cays.
I recall my trip on the boat to the Tobago Cays, a collection of five uninhabited and completely natural islands that comprise a national maritime park. The Cays are the perfect place to spend a water-themed adventure. Once here one can fill the day exploring the underwater treasures of Horseshoe Reef, where the movie Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed, or enjoy a relaxing nap on one of the numerous desert island beaches. Regardless of how the day is spent, nothing beats swaying in the canvass Crew hammocks strung up between the ship's tall masts, digesting your gourmet lunch and enjoying the collision of a pure blue sky with a tie-dyed cobalt sea
Slowly the dancing causes me to sober up from my wine and I become conscious of my inability to move my hips, torso and arms in any sense of a coordinated fashion. Giving up, I decide to make my way to the bar and order a rum punch garnished with nutmeg. At the bar I bump into Orton "Brother" King. Brother King is the founder of the Oldhegg Turtle Sanctuary, located near Industry Bay. The turtle sanctuary nurses and breeds hawksbill and leatherback sea turtles in an effort to replenish the Southern Caribbean's quickly disappearing turtle population. Mr. King started the project when he was camping on the beach now located next to the site. While sleeping under the stars he was awakened by the unsettling feeling that someone was throwing sand at him. As he cautiously came out of his slumber he saw a mother sea turtle laying her eggs at his feet. Fascinated by the creature, he built his home here so he could watch the turtles hatch. Inspired by this event, Mr. King eventually started the sanctuary program and to date has raised and released thousand of turtles throughout the surrounding islands.
After stopping to say hi, I retreat to the shoreline and walk out onto the salt-crusted wooden dock
For More Information:
Frangipani: www.frangipanibequia.com, 784-458-3255
Caribbean Star: www.vincyaviation.com
Mustique Airways: www.mustique.com
SVG Air: www.svgair.com
Grenadine Travel: 784-458-3795
Bequia Sweet: www.bequiasweet.com
Bequia Toursim: www.bequiatourism.com
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