St Vincent, Windward Islands, West Indies

Published: December 19th 2014
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Monday December 15th, 2014. St Vincent, Windward Islands, West Indies

We awoke and went and had a posh breakfast in the restaurant. We then collected our gear and disembarked the ship and emerged at the cruise terminal at the capital city, Kingstown, which is on the South West coast of the island. This is the only town of any size on St Vincent which is only 18 miles long and 11 miles wide but very hilly. Like Grenada and St Lucia it has a chain of forested mountains running from north to south. The volcano, La Soufriere is the highest point in the north with Mount St Andrew the highest point in the south dominating the city of Kingstown which nestles in a valley.

The warlike Carib Indians were the first inhabitants of St Vincent. Their reputation was so fierce that Columbus did not bother to land when he passed the island on the 22nd January 1498 (St Vincent's Day in the Spanish calendar - hence its name). Britain and France who were the main players in the area had an unwritten agreement to leave St Vincent to the Caribs. For this reason no settlers came from the Eastern Hemisphere until 1675. In that same year a slave ship sank off the coast of the island. Many survived the wreck and were welcomed by the Caribs, resulting in inter-marriage and the development of a virile race known as the Black Caribs. St Vincent became British in 1763 and 20 years later, after 4 years in French hands was made a Crown Colony. The Island achieved full independence in 1979 but remained within the Commonwealth.

We emerged through the port security gate to find hundreds of taxi drivers touting for business. We avoided these and made for the tourist desk where we obtained a map and found out where we could get access to Wi-Fi so M could email her friend Sprout in advance of our visit to Antigua. We were advised to go to KFC. We followed some crew who were headed straight to a supermarket so we also collected some supplies before going to KFC to send the emails. Mission accomplished we walked along the main street when we were approached by another taxi driver offering a tour. We did a deal and jumped in to a clean, new Toyota. Our guide and driver was called Roachie.

We headed up and out of Kingstown until we reached Fort Charlotte which stands on the top of Berkshire hill on Johnson's Point. The views from here were amazing. Fort Charlotte, once a formidable complex of batteries, barracks, moat, powder magazines, drawbridge and outworks, was built with Herculean effort 630 feet above the sea upon Berkshire hill was completed in 1806 and was the chief defence of the island. The fort was started soon after St Vincent was ceded to the British in 1763. For Charlotte was named after Queen Charlotte the wife of King George III. The fort was the headquarters of the resident garrison and became the largest fort on the island. Its armament included 34 cannons. Unusually, the cannons are placed pointing inland as they were positioned for defence against inland attack from the Caribs and the French rather than an attack from the sea.

We found Roachie mincing around with a few mates in the car park outside the fort. He then drove us back into town and dropped us at the lower entrance to the St Vincent Botanical Gardens. He told us there was a second entrance at the top and that he would meet us there. These Botanical Gardens are the oldest in the Western Hemisphere. The conservation of rare species of plants has been practised here since 1765. Following the Treaty of Paris in 1763 the newly appointed Governor of the Southern British Caribbean Islands, Robert Melville, and the Military Surgeon of St Vincent, George Young, decided to create a botanic garden primarily to provide medicinal plants for the military and improve the life and economy of the colony. Captain William Bligh brought the first breadfruit plants to St Vincent in 1793. The first half of the 19th century was a lean time for the gardens. By 1850, due to lack of interest and maintenance the gardens had fallen into disrepair. Local efforts to revive the gardens began in 1884, and by 1890, the work was reactivated as part of a larger agricultural and botanical scheme. Today they are a tranquil haven (despite half the ship having made their way there!).

We paid our entrance free of 5 $EC (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) and continued up a central path with a slight incline. This ended at a rather lovely pond which contained some beautiful water lillies. After checking with one of the gardeners we turned off right towards the Nicholls Wildlife Complex which is housed within the grounds of the Botanical Gardens. M was determined to see the rare Saint Vincent Parrots which are bred in captivity in this complex. The Saint Vincent Parrot (Amazona Guildingii) numbers only around 500 individuals and is one of the rarest birds in the world. They are absolutely protected and are only found in pockets of rainforest on the island. M tried to take some snaps with her flash new camera but it kept focusing on the aviary cage instead of the birds inside - so she gave up! At least we have seen the rare beasties! We continued to the top of the hill where we found the famous Breadfruit Tree. This tree has grown from a sucker from one of the original plants introduced by Captain Bligh in 1793 during his voyage on HMS Providence.

We waited outside the top entrance of the gardens for Roachie who was nowhere to be seen. He showed up about 5 minutes later explaining that he had taken someone back to the ship who was suffering from a nosebleed. No doubt he took someone back to the ship (for a fee) but not too sure about the nosebleed. Still at least he showed up. We got in the car and continued out of the city towards the airport. Roachie explanied that the authorities were in the process of building a new International Airport on the east coast of the island. The current airport can only handle up to 42 seater planes. We continued winding our way through tiny villages, taking a detour because the road had washed away, until we reached a viewpoint overlooking the Mesopotamia Valley. This valley is known as the "Breadbasket of the Caribbean" The richly fertile valley with its volcanic soil is carpeted with bananas, cocoa, arrowroot, breadfruit, nutmegs and coconuts and the view was breathtaking. Mountains rise around the balley and rivers and streams rumble down over the rocks of the Yambou Gorge.

We continued on and M chatted away to Roachie. Asked why he was called Roachie (and expecting some reply connected to the smoking of wacky backy) he replied he didn't know and that his mother had called him that and then gone off to live in England! M didn't press for further info. We continued towards George Town and during the drive Roachie kept receiving phone calls on his mobile about picking various people up from places in the city. He kept replying that this would be impossible as he was "still in the country" which we found strange as we were right on the coast. We pulled up at what Roachie described as a "Tourist Site". This turned out to be the site of the Black Point Tunnel. We paid our entrance fee of $5EC each and made our way through immaculate picnic grounds set right on the Atlantic Ocean (windward side of the island). The Black Rock Tunnel also known as Jasper Rock Tunnel was constructed around 1815 by Colonel Thomas Browne using slave labour. Colonel Brown, then owner of the Grand Sable Estate drilled this 360 foot tunnel through hard volcanic rock a a cost of five grand. It was constructed to enable quicker transport of sugar from the factory at the estate to the wharf. At this point we turned around and made our way back to the city. M chatted to Roachie and established that he had 11 kids scattered all over the globe and wacky backy smoking half brothers and sisters in Coventry and High Wycombe back in the UK. He has never been there though.

We drove past the site of the new airport where the tower and terminal buildings are already finished and headed south along the Atlantic Coast. The sand here was black due to the volcanicity of the island. We drove through the town of Calliaqua where we stopped for M to take a picture out towards Young Island which is just off the coast. We were dropped at the ship where M purchased a Fridge Magnet (FM) at the Cruise Terminal shopping centre. These have replaced the mandatory T Shirt as the souvineer of choice as the wardrobe(s) back home have no more space.

Tonights dress code was casual. Our dinner companions were a couple from Yorkshire and a couple from Grimsby. The couple from Yorkshire were avid Rugby League fans and even remembered Mick Blacker - David's daughter Kate's father in law who played for Huddersfield back in the day! We gave the entertainment a miss.

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