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Published: February 21st 2014
Kingstown, St. Vincent was once a major port - our hotel was once a warehouse for sugar and then for arrowroot. Now the town is just an administration centre with dusty streets full of stalls selling everyting from fruit and pirate DVDs to handbags and bootleg rum. We only stayed the night.
The supply and mail boat leaves at either eleven or noon, it depends who you ask. In reality, it left at one thirty. By then we have loaded three lorries, all full of sand; pallets of breeze blocks, cement, biscuits and tissues; a septic tank; about 100 plastic pipes; maybe 40 reinforcing rods; a stack of timber of various sizes; two cars; a refrigerated meat van; a lorry load of water in various size bottles, laboriously taken off the lorry and stacked; and then there are the stacks of eggs, the list goes on.
On the passenger deck the half dozen tourists and dozen locals watch on in disbelief at the lack of speed and efficiency in the loading process. A cheer goes up when we finally cast off and sail out past lovely Bequia.
Our first port of call is about two and a half
hours away. We make stately progress, passing a recent wreck - he missed the channel and hit an island - and Mustique, holiday home to the rich and famous. After three hours we gently dock at the island of Carouan. Off goes one sand lorry; on comes an empty lorry onto which is slowly loaded all those bottles of water; off go the plastic pipes and reinforcing rods ... one at a time!
Passengers start guessing how long this 15 minutes, scheduled, stop will take. Nobody guesses a hour an a half, by which time the sand lorry has been driven back on, apparently still full!
A short leg now to the next island but by the time we reach it the sun has set. On Mayreau we unload a random selection of goods and move on, with just the final leg of the journey to complete. We carefully dock on Union Island in the dark. It is 8 o'clock, we are just over four hours late. The sand lorry is first of the ramp but we still have no idea why they export sand to Union Island.
We only have one day on Union and want
to see the Tobago Cays - which will take all of Wednesday. But to be allowed onto Thursday's Carriacou ferry, we have to get a passport exit stamp from airport immigration the day before - there is no immigration at the ferry port. So we make a dawn trip to the airport to "stamp out" before we board a little boat for the Cays.
It had been stormy overnight and there are big waves running against us as we headed out to sea. Our boat gets pitched about in a worrying way, only George the captain looks happy. After about half an hour we are both thinking "enough" when George tells us we are nearly there.
Approaching the Cays, the waves abate and we see five small white sand, coral islands, all protected by a marine park. They sit like gems in an azure sea.
Around the boat, green turtles feed. As much as a metre long, they swim around and under us, heads regularly breaking the surface to breathe. Gently drifting in this beautiful and pristine place, we agree it was worth that bumpy ride.
The next day's ferry is early and we sit on
the jetty in the dawn light filling out more immigration paperwork, this time to enter Grenada. Our exit stamps are checked, our bags thrown into the cabin, we scramble aboard the little Lady J J and off we go. Everyone looks apprehensive but this ferry is a little larger than yesterday's boat; the sea is less rough; and we are travelling with the wind and current.
Soon after 8 o'clock we are all relieved to dock in Hillsborough, Carriacou's only town. We wander off to find breakfast.
Hillsborough has one main street, along the water's edge. It is not touristy, with just a couple of middle-of-the-road hotels. Minibuses take us north and south to visit villages and empty, undeveloped beaches, fixed fare 88p.
We found a coastal track to walk, passing through mixed woodlands. Cactus and agave grow below big, unidentified trees. Lizards, iguana and hermit crabs scamper in the leaf litter.
There are many big, unoccupied houses on all the islands. At first we thought they were holiday homes but this is only part of the story. Islanders go abroad to work in their 20s and return 30 or 40 years later, with their new
wealth, to build "the big house". Their children, born and brought up abroad, don't return and when mum and dad pass on, "the big house" sits there to be used only occasionally by the family.
We like Carriacou and its people but tomorrow we must board our last ferry, taking us South to the main island of Grenada.
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