Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 11/1/2013 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 12/9/2013 12:24 PM | Updates
If you’re looking for a one-stop shop of postcard-worthy photos to illustrate the beauty of the Caribbean, all you need to do is take a camera to the Tobago Cays Marine Park in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
There you'll find deserted islands for beachcombing, with such charming names as Petit Tabac, Jamesby and Baradol, their white sand dotted with palm trees. The waters surrounding those five uninhabited islets are innumerable, almost unreal shades of blue and green. Swimming in those waters are hawksbill turtles, nibbling sea grass in a protected sanctuary. Nearby coral reefs are teeming with life, the clear, calm water allowing snorkellers and divers perfect views of stoplight parrotfish, blue tangs, sergeant majors, fairy basslets, blueheads, horse-eye jacks, trumpetfish and other iridescent, colourful beauties.
But SVG -- a chain of islands between St. Lucia and Grenada -- is more than idyllic picture-postcard moments, although there are plenty of those. There are 32 Grenadine islands -- only nine are inhabited -- each with its own personality. The best-known is probably the private island of Mustique, an exclusive getaway for the rich and famous (Sir Paul McCartney got married there), but others are accessible, refreshingly undeveloped and untouristy.
And if you need a thesaurus to describe all the shades of blue in Tobago Cays, you need a poet to document the greens of the lush, mountainous terrain of the biggest island, St. Vincent. The steep hills of its 344 square kilometres are thick with tropical-rainforest vegetation: the variegated emerald-and-white leaves of the screw pine, dusky palm fronds, the pale, fragile greens of the young ferns and grass, and the glossy jade of seagrape leaves.
The sides of the verdant hills are scalloped with gardens cut into the steep sides in rows like fish scales. Adding pops of colour are houses, often on stilts, painted in hues of melon, turquoise, lemon and tangerine.
St. Vincent is a volcanic island; La Soufrière ("emitter of sulfur") in the north is still active -- the last eruption was in 1979 -- and its lava has contributed to another of the island's unique features: black sand beaches. One luxury resort trucks in white sand to appeal to tourists' idea of a Caribbean landscape, but in my view, this isn't necessarily a place to lie on a lounge chair, but a place to explore -- there's a new discovery around every corner in the winding road.
If you're looking for a slightly more beach-bummy vibe, however, Bequia (pronounced BECK-way) is a lovely, horseshoe-shaped island an hour by ferry from St. Vincent with the white sand you expect. It's a favourite with "yachties," who anchor in its sheltered bay, and it has a laid-back, Jimmy Buffet feel to it, with a host of casual restaurants and bars along its main drag. Although it's tourist-friendly, it still feels unspoiled.
It has a long whaling history and the citizens are still allowed to kill four whales per year -- but only the old-fashioned way, with long boats and harpoons.
-- -- --
Young Island Resort (www.youngisland.com) is technically part of St. Vincent -- you could swim there if you were so inclined -- but it feels like a world unto itself. It's easy to see why visitors return there year after year (during my visit, a couple was celebrating their 50th anniversary here, the same place they celebrated their 20th). The place feels enchanted, as if the minute-long boat ride from the mainland has taken you back in time.
The resort seems to have been built into the five-hectare island, rather than on it. The winding paths follow the natural curves of the hills, and the adorable stone cottages -- with louvered windows on three sides that let in cooling breezes at night -- feel as if they've been there since colonial times (although they're sparkling clean with all the amenities).
The Captain Bligh Lounge, lit with jewel-like coloured lanterns, is the perfect place to relax after a long day of reading in a hammock, whether you like the privacy of a club chair or the social atmosphere along the polished dark wood of the bar. You can imagine gentlemen in cream linen suits and mutton-chop sideburns enjoying a cigar and a pre-dinner gin and tonic in days gone by.
Even if you spent your entire vacation without leaving the resort, you'd see plenty of exotic creatures, from iguanas to the multicoloured St. Vincent Amazon parrot. One morning in the fabulous outdoor shower, surrounded by flowering vegetation, I saw a green chameleon, a tiny frog, a hermit crab, a hummingbird and a frigate. I half-expected them to animate and flit about to help me dress, a la Disney's Cinderella.
Dinner and breakfast are served by the water, under pagodas with thatched roofs made on-site. Every meal starts with your choice among five loaves of freshly baked bread -- white, wheat, cinnamon, raisin and coconut -- a homey touch that is followed by delicious food, combining continental flair with Caribbean flavours. Pumpkin, breadfruit and fresh fish turn up often, in elegant presentations that are both innovative and satisfying.
One night at dusk, I climbed the hill up the hand-cut stone steps to see the sunset from the top of the island. A startled agouti leaped out of my way, and the tree frogs began their peeping chirp, an iconic sound of the Caribbean evening. By the time the retro glass globe lanterns lighting the path came on, the noise had reached an almost comical din, like high-pitched church bells all ringing at once. It was a magical moment that seemed to encapsulate the varied charms of this beautiful country.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 1, 2013 A1
Updated on Monday, December 9, 2013 at 11:36 AM CST: adds photos
12:24 PM: Corrects spelling of Bequia
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Michigan's national heritage area reauthorized
Rescued dolphin dies at SeaWorld San Diego
Beijing to get third airport to reduce congestion, delays
Cash-strapped Indian airline SpiceJet grounded
Canada man finds woman for free trip around world
App for Yellowstone geysers now available
Customs & Border Protection launch wait time app
Jose Andres to open restaurant in DC Trump hotel
Minneapolis-St. Paul airport to get $18M makeover
Verona's Arena to get $17.5 million restoration
A tourist in Detroit: Motown, coney dogs and art
Canadian tourists will have company in Cuba
Now that Detroit museum has been saved, go see it
US travel industry carefully eyeing Cuba tourism
New initiative to make air travel easier
Berlin exhibition evokes final months of WWII
American Samoa man accused of ruckus on flight
FedEx truck crashes in Georgia, spills packages
Southwest bag workers picketing over flight delays
Go For the Food: Coney Island hot dogs in Detroit
WWII Museum tour 70 years after Battle of Bulge
Makeover of iconic Charleston park begins in 2015
Bus security guard kills passenger on Vegas Strip
Weird museums: Travel off the beaten path
Rich fun on a low budget: South Beach side streets
Colorado resort towns worry over pot perception
1 dead after crash involving Walt Disney World bus
Spain church criticized over Cordoba monument name
Sales of macadamias soar in Korea after nut rage
P.E.I. prepares to wind up big year
Grand Canyon contract offer fails to attract bids
UK airspace manager calls glitch unprecedented
Yellowstone opens for snowmobile traffic on Monday
Jet lands safely in Baltimore after bird strike
Northern New England snowmobilers hope for snow
Congress OKs national park expansion for Delaware
Repairs to Grand Canyon pipeline break completed
China to punish tourists in Thai air rage assault
Schumer calls for investigations of high airfares