December 2008

Grenada thru St Lucia

General Overview - Leg VIII

Ah, the beauty of the long sought after Caribbean islands have finally become a reality for us…. we’re officially in the heart of the Caribbean! This leg of our voyage took us thru the Windwards, the Eastern chain of islands. We hope you’ll join us as we take you thru some of our adventures. Photos of this leg and our entire web site can be viewed at www.Dreamweaver-bigbear.com


Can you believe it? Almost 4 years, and 16,000 miles ago, we cut our dock lines and headed out for life at sea with an open ended agenda, hoping our boat, our enthusiasm and our finances would hold out long enough to allow us to cruise the Caribbean someday. Knowing we lived our everyday life in Big Bear on 40 acres, many of our friends wondered if we could take living on a 40 foot boat - with only 39’ between us - long enough to make it to the Caribbean. Here we are... miracles do happen!

Surprisingly enough, each of the islands have their own personality. Some being lush, tropical and mountainous, some flat with little vegetation and no beaches, others volcanic and steep to, while still others are the perfect island paradise you see in magazines with shallow turquoise waters, palm trees and white sand beaches. Along with geographical differences, their culture, customs, language, economy, currency, industry, religions, also differ. Some were prosperous, hard working, and welcoming, while others seemed to be a little burned out by the visitors. Some of the islands rated significantly higher on our “fun meter” than did others!

Tourism plays a big factor in the economy of most of the islands, as is particularly evident on the larger islands where the cruise ships visit. The island can be hopping, bursting at the seems with people while a cruise ship is in port, but almost immediately after they leave, the town becomes a ghost town with nearly every shop closed, even before the ship gets out of the harbor! The Caribbean is also a major destination place for bareboat chartering with literally hundreds of charter boats available. With the economy being what it is, the charter business is down as much as 50%, which has really taken its toll in the smaller islands. It has been refreshing to see that many still have the “Hey mon, don’ worry - be haaappy,” attitudes about life!

Tour guides come in all shapes and sizes, particularly in the Caribbean. However, most seem to share many of the same peculiar, yet colorful personality characteristics. We lucked out when “our gang” (Jo & Adie on Wandering Star and Les and Rose on Voyager,) decided to take a tour of Grenada, the first of the Windward Islands in late November.

“Boney” picked us up in a nice van, which was a big plus, especially when you see what passes as a car in some places! He was hands-down, the best tour guide … coulda’ been the Ambassador for tourism for Grenada he was so good. He took a lot of pride in his country, filled us with more information than we could keep in our pee brains and showed us all the sights, along with every kind of tree, fruit, flower and shrub you could imagine. The land is so fertile, fruits and vegetables grow everywhere you look. Although we saw a lot of poverty thru our travels, they say that rarely will people go hungry in Grenada because fruits and vegetables grow all over the place.

No contest, rum is the drink of the Caribbean with over 60 varieties made here in the West Indies. As such, the boys have taken to collecting quite a variety of them. Rather than the traditional wine tasting, rum tasting seems to be the order of the day in the Caribbean. Our tour would not have been complete without visiting one of Grenada’s rum plantations. The one we visited had been in operation for nearly 300 years, with much of the same old equipment still in use. With the 60 varieties of rum I mentioned, they say they run the gamut from dreadful to better than a fine after dinner liquors. We were anticipating a nice, spicy, smooth taste of rum at the end of our tour... they had something different in mind. The rum they gave us to taste must have been aging for the 300 years the place had been in operation – it was pure fire water – rock gut – it was so strong they had us add water to it rather than drink it straight! We felt duty bound to buy a bottle, but rather than drinking it, we think we will use it to clean the barnacles off the bottom of the boat!

Now we had to ask ourselves “how do we get rid of the god-awful taste in our mouths?” Chocolate! Chocolate cures everything... and we were off to tour of the Coco/Chocolate Factory. We now appreciate chocolate more than ever, as we found that the process was much more complex than we dreamed it would be. One of the end processes involves placing the cocoa beans outside in drying trays which need to be “turned” every half hour. “Turning” them involves having women in bare feet walk thru the beans shuffling their feet as they go, so that the beans are continually stirred up. Jo, Rose and I tried our hand (or in this case – our feet) at it, which was similar to Lucy and Ethel’s stomping of the grapes. It was quite comical and we knew they must have had a candid camera out there watching the three little white girls drag their feet thru the dark cocoa beans. We earned the taste of chocolate they rewarded us with - which was much better than the rum!

Rastafarians are everywhere and dreadlocks are all the rage here. The guys wear big baggy red, green and yellow hats, and tuck their, sometimes waist length dreads up inside them, making their heads look larger than life. They are generally very peaceful, loving people who smoke Pot openly as they walk the streets - Boney tells us its part of the Rasta religion!? If you look at our “photos” page you will see some fun photos of a few typical characters! Nothing is sacred, even the guardrails, steps, and busses are painted in the traditional red, green and yellow Rastafarian colors.

A large cruising community added to our experience in Grenada. The cruisers net each morning is helpful, where the weather report along with, social events, activities, new arrivals/departures, help wanted/needed, and “treasures of the bilge” (ie – similar to a boaters garage sale) are announced over the VHF radio. We met many cruisers who had been in the Caribbean for quite some time and knew the area well. Pot lucks and get togethers were common, which is where we met Liz and Craig (Salida) and Kathy & Fred (Makai,) both initially from in So. California. We found ourselves reminiscing about our homeland, some 3,000 miles away. They are heading north like we are so we anticipate seeing them along the way over the next several months. All in all we found Grenada – the “Spice Island” - to be very friendly, one of our favorite places – and one that will go on the list of places to return to some day!

Heading north, we pulled in and set our anchor in a bay on the little island of Carriacao (pronounced Keri-Koo) where we were introduced to the sound of “steel drums.” After grabbing a light dinner on board, we wandered down the main street of the small little town to a roadside café’ one evening, where some very colorful locals and tourists alike, were gathered around the patio and spilling out into the streets. A group of ten 10 men and women were playing the steel drums, and they were fabulous! So Caribbean, so cool!! If you have never seen steel drums before, they are 55-gallon oil drums that have their tops hammered into a bowl shape and are tuned to produce tones that cover a full range of notes. They produce any type of music you can think of. To know what steel drums sound like, just listen to a few Jimmy Buffet songs - you can’t miss em’, After returning to our boats for the night, music continued to spill out into the bay until the wee hours as we fell asleep to the upbeat music of the steel drums.

“Peace and tranquility” is a common theme and as such is advertised in a variety of ways, especially in Carriacou. I noticed someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “Forgive… and when you remember again… Forgive Again!” There were roadside billboards that simply said “Patience, Tolerance and Love.” As the saying goes in the islands, “The people eh easy mon.”

Throughout the Caribbean we found that local children, especially in the smaller islands like Union and Mayreau, are drawn to visitors. Perhaps it is the color of our skin, which is so different than theirs, or just curiosity. One thing that seems consistent is that the kids love to have their pictures taken…. as opposed to the adults, who shy away from the cameras. It is common courtesy to ask before taking their pictures - and you always have to be willing to pay them for it. Jo & I found this out the hard way after being bawled out by a lady in an open air market who thought we were taking her photo. The way she started screaming at us, we thought she was going to chase after us and take our cameras! She was big ….. she was black… and she was scary! We drew a scene and quickly ditched our cameras and high tailed it out of there as fast as we could.

Both Jo & I have had fun taking photos of the kids, who are generally such willing subjects. More than once we’ve had kids glom on to us, hankering to have their pictures taken. They immediately start posing, usually with a group of their buddies, then clamor to see themselves in the digital screen. These are Kodak moments and make me wish I had a Polaroid so that we could hand them their photos right there on the spot. Another bonus is that the kids we’ve come across have tended to be so polite and happy-go-lucky, which is so cool especially given how little so many of them have.

After not getting a good set or finding a good anchorage on the west side, we moved to the quieter east side, where we dropped anchor and dinghyed to shore to visit the little island of Mayreau. The guys headed for the funky Rasta bar they’d heard about, “Richeous Robert’s,” for a local brew, while Jo & I were adopted by some young barefoot children that took us by the hand and proudly escorted us around their small little village, all the while stopping to pose with their friends. Don’t know who had more fun, the kids or us?

The next morning we had our first experience with “skinny waters” when we carefully picked our way into the shallow Tobago Cays. The winds were strong, so although the water was a beautiful turquoise blue, it was quite churned up, and trying to snorkel the reef without getting swept out to sea was next to impossible. We were disappointed, but in keeping with the mindset of “when one door closes, another one opens,” it forced us to move to a more protected spot, closer to the island. There we found an area with tons of BIG Leatherback turtles to swim with, which became one of the highlights of our snorkeling adventures.

Bequia seems to be a little known island in the Grenadines, but one we became quite fond of. The holidays were fast approaching, and on the week-end their local police band (who obviously hadn’t played together long – or at least hadn’t practiced much) played Caribbean Christmas music all afternoon, which filled the quaint waterfront town with festive music. Fascinating shops, cafés, and beachside bars wound around the scenic bay. Christmas is celebrated for the entire month of December throughout the Caribbean. Each neighborhood in Bequia was decorated and had a Christmas lighting ceremony - the ones in the hills above town were quite elaborate. Our favorite included Santa in a sailboat that lit up the mountaintop and could be seen from our boats in the bay below. It got us (well ok, me) right in the spirit of things and I proceeded to decorate Dreamweaver for bypa holidays with our scant but meaningful decorations!

Next it was on to St. Vincent, which we almost bypassed due to all the piracy and violence that is reported there. Many boaters were avoiding it; however, Captain Chaos wasn’t going to let no stinkin’ pirates chase us out of the opportunity to visit the island! After all, he was armed with a baseball ball and bug spray! In reality we found the southern half of the island to be quite enjoyable…. Wild, but nonetheless enjoyable. We arrived at our anchorage along with our friends Les & Rose, in time to take a “Collectiva” bus (i.e. mini-van) to the capitol of St. Vincent, Kingston, to see the big City. A trip in the Collectiva is 40 cents as opposed to taking a taxi for $15. Eight of us were aboard on the trip to town, which included steep hills, very narrow twisty roads, and lots of speeding, which kept us on the edge of our seats the whole way. We were dropped off in town where we did a little shopping at the biggest rowdiest outdoor vegetable market ever. No sanitation rules in place here!

Soon it was getting late and time to catch a “bus” to get back to where our boats were anchored. We set off to the marketplace where we were dropped off. There were now masses of local people milling about, trying to catch a bus home. Sounds of beeping horns and screeching tires alerts everyone that a bus is about to arrive, and they come flying into where all the people have congregated. Each mini van has a driver and a “spotter” (a guy that literally hangs out the door - even as they are driving down the road) that helps solicit people, then proceeds to cram as many people in the van as is humanly possible. Each of the vans has wild flashy names painted on the van, such as “Wild Thang” and “Yo, Mama.”

When a van pulled up, Les asked if it was going near where our boats were anchored, the guy says “Ya Mon, hurry up and get in” but by the time we got around to where the sliding door was, they had a mob of about 30 people trying to get in. We backed off and a few minutes later another van comes screeching in to a halt. We’re ready this time…… along with dozens of other passengers – as we scramble for the door. At this point of the story I am going to paraphrase Les’ version that probably explains it best...

“Ok, we go to get in and Rose goes first. Ken says ‘you shouldn't let her in there.’ Les follows. There are now about 14 people in the van when we (4) go to enter. We all say ‘no way.’ The crammer/assistant says ‘ya mon, plenty of room.’ Rose is in. I'm in. Les is in. We can't get Ken in. We all bail out. To get out we have to unwind a number of other people to get them out and tip the flip seats. We thought we would give it one more shot, when all of a sudden, BEEP BEEP BEEP and here it comes, like a NASCAR coming in for a pit stop. Ken goes first, back seat, then Rose, then one 230# lady and one more innocent local. Next seat, Les is next to a 300# lady, I’m next to him, and another guy in the flip seat next to Les. In the seat next to the door, including the crammer, is six people, not including a baby. The front seat has four people including the driver. Twenty people, in a van built for ten, and we’re off.

The sound of the shifting was straight out of a LeMans sound track. Up shift, up shift, up shift, down shift, down shift, brakes, up shift, up shift, down shift, up shift. Tires are squealing on the road of all hairpins and switchbacks. Everybody is mushed into everybody else. All the while this is going on, they blast the rankest RAP music ever, so loud it’s hard to hear yourself think. We finally arrive and unwind ourselves from all the other passengers. ----- all this for only 40 cents! As we walk away, Ken and Les said they could put a ride like this in Disneyland and call it CARRIBEAN TAXI ….. you would need to sign a waiver to get on of course!”

It was quite obvious that if we wanted to really see the interior of the island, and come out alive that is, we should get an official tour guide, which is what we did. Roger knew the island well and his tour took us thru the interior of the island which was lush and mountainous. Thick vegetation everywhere with hundreds of little farms growing bananas, Calliacoo, Dahine, and other regional crops. It was interesting to learn that about every 15th farm is actually a marijuana farm! Yes, Marijuana – as in “Pot.” Roger, who owns a banana farm, tells us the “pot” farms are at the top of the mountains where the police do not patrol. Even though they know they are there, there are no roads, so they don’t go up the sides of the steep mountains to do anything about it?! And they wonder why crime is high in St. Vincent!?!

We stopped in Walliaboo, a bay where the Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. Much of the set is still intact. Rose and I put on some of the costumes and proceeded to search high and low for Johnny Depp ... or Jack Sparrow. We couldn’t find them anywhere, but we found something better…. the Captains of our real ships, who just kept rolling their eyes at us.

First stop in St. Lucia was Vieux Fort, where we checked in to the country. There is nothing touristy about this town and we did not receive a very warm welcome. We took enough time to pick up a few provisions and stop for lunch at The Old Plantation House, where Mama cooked us up an authentic Caribbean meal of curried chicken, stewed lamb, dashi, plantains, pumpkin, etc. The three local ladies working there were charming down home folks, who jumped at the chance to nestle up to Ken for some photos in the patio.

We’ve been treated to so many beautiful anchorages along the way, but pulling into the scenic wonderland of the twin Grand Pitons in Soufriere, on the west side of St. Lucia was both stunning and unusual. The Grand Pitons is what Oprah has called one of the most spectacular must see places she’s ever visited. Now granted we did not stay in the exclusive suites that she did, but we were anchored in our own little castle in the bay just the same... for free! The Pitons are shaped like upside-down cones and rise from sea level to 3,000’ surrounded by lush dense jungle and are quite dramatic.

We took a mooring near what they call the bat caves and the snorkeling and diving was amazing. In addition to some beautiful coral and underwater sea life, on one of the dives we saw some kind of a crawly creature we had never seen before. At first it appeared to be a round plant of some sort, but when we picked it up we realized it had hundreds of tiny legs with little suckers on them. It was like a handful of tiny snakes that wrapped themselves around our fingers – a little alarming, but very cool! We later learned that it was called a “basket starfish.”

On our way back from diving, we stopped in our dinghy to visit one of the boats on the moorings near us. On the way back to Dreamweaver something terrible happened. Luckily, Ken was only driving about 5 miles per hour, when a lady snorkeling in the water appeared - seemingly out of nowhere - and we ran over her!! We heard a sickening “thud” and immediately put the boat into neutral while Ken jumped in the water after her. She was right next to her charter boat with 5 of her friends sitting on their back deck. Thank God she was only a little dazed and said she was OK. Ken helped her swim back to her boat and all the while her husband, who was snorkeling 100 feet away, was screaming at us at the top of his lungs - *!%$!*! idiots – stupid Americans – #*!%!... you get the picture. I thought the guy was going to kill Ken if he got close enough. In the area where the lady was snorkeling boats regularly run thru there at up to 25 mph, so of course we were so thankful that we were going so slow! Again, both we, and she, were so fortunate to get away with a bump on the head and a very significant lesson learned! Not much sleep was had that evening. Not sure if it was because we were so concerned about the lady, or because we could feel the daggers piercing thru our hull from the neighbors!

It was now Christmas Eve, and once we made sure all was well with the lady, we were on our way to meet up with our buddy boats Wandering Star and Voyager in Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. We celebrated Christmas Eve together on Voyager in traditional style – with great friendship, food, fun, frivolity, music and, as always with this group, dancing. We had a great Caribbean Christmas and dinner on Wandering Star with Jo & Adie and Heather & Ted in St. Lucia.

After Christmas I flew home to see our girls, our moms, and a few friends while Ken continued on with Wandering Star and Voyager thru Martinique, Dominica and Guadaloup, before meeting me in Antigua in mid January so we could continue on with our Caribbean voyage. Until next time, we hope this finds you all pursuing your dreams and enjoying life.

Love & Dreams,

Ken & Dottie
Dreamweaver

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