Islands in the sun

Published: February 16th 2014EDIT THIS ENTRY

St Vincent and the Grenadines is a long string of islands, St Vincent is the biggest and most northerly. It is about the same size as Barbados but, being volcanic, St Vincent is very rugged, its extinct volcano topping 4000 feet.

We stayed in a very basic eco-lodge ... in other words a bamboo shack complete with resident green lizard. The shack was wonderfully situated halfway up a hillside amongst verdant foliage that turned out to be lots of market gardens. Here grew root crops (sweet potatoes, peanuts and yams) and fruit trees (bananas, tangerines, mangos and cocoa). They were tended by both men and women, working the steep slopes in seering heat. Their soil looked wonderful, dark and fine. A lot of crops were new to us, like soursop which looks like a spikey green melon growing in a tree and tastes like creamy green apples!

Zen was our host, a girl in her late twenties, who also runs the Bush Bar used by locals on their way home from the fields. Zen took us on a tour of the hillside. Nearly everyone we met was a member of Zen's family from Auntie Bee, who keeps bees, to Zen's mother, who was tending her crops with Gorgon, who seemed to be everyone's helper.

Actually, Zen is the only child her mother and father had together. But as both parents have other children with other partners, and these are Zen's "brothers and sisters", she has a very large family. This is very common here, most people have multiple relationships and complicated sets of offspring.

We spent an interesting afternoon with Zen's dad, 72, in his strange little three storey tower house, with one room on each floor and balconies all the way round. Once, dad owned all the land on the hillside. He bought all the land when he returned from living abroad - with money he made playing poker in casinos, from Southsea to Las Vegas!

On our last day the power failed, so we all dined together by candlelight in the Bush Bar . Still no power in the morning so we breakfasted together too. While we drank tea with Zen, Gorgon had his breakfast shot of rum while Jim had two beers and two joints, "the breakfast of champions" he told us! St Vincent is noted, apparently, for the quality of its marijuana and the skill required for its successful cultivation had been a hot conversation topic over dinner.

Our first ferry trip took us to the Grenadine island of Bequia (that's beck-way) and another world. Bequia is small and beautiful, green and undulating. And it is ringed by curved white sandy beaches lapped by a warm azure-blue sea.

The shore of the only town, Port Elizabeth, is a string of bars, cafes and small hotels. We stayed in the oldest, our fabulous room having a stunning view across a bay dotted with yachts - this is one of the Caribbean's great natural harbours. We walked the island and its beaches, discovering that while the west coast has the calm waters for swimming, the east side enjoys year round cooling breezes from the tradewinds.

The contrast between these two island experiences is extreme. Living with a family on a hillside in St Vincent was challenging and fascinating. As visitors to Bequia, we enjoyed an idyllic life, both beguiling and a little unreal.

The ferry we should have been taking tomorrow, to Union Island, has broken down. Instead, we must travel north to Kingstown on St Vincent. The next day we plan to catch "Gem Star", the supply and mail boat for Union Island.

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