Our introduction to island living came shortly after we arrived. We were heading to the Gingerbread Cafe to meet friends and enjoy a coffee on the beach. We didn’t know exactly where we were going, so when we got close we stopped to ask directions. “Just turn left at the Almond tree and you can’t miss it mon.” To an American, that seemed like a odd way to give directions. For starters, which Almond tree? There are lots of them here. And where should I stand so a left turn gets me to where I want to go? Confusing? Welcome to Bequia Island!
Turns out we were making things more complicated then they needed to be. We quickly came to understand there is a specific Almond tree used for giving directions. Once we knew which tree they were talking about, it all made sense…sort of. Port Elizabeth is not a very big place and everything is pretty much lined up on two roads: Front Street and Back Street. And they are only two blocks long. It’s a hard place to get lost.
To to get to the Gingerbread Cafe, you do turn left at the Almond tree, walk up Front Road to the end, then cut right and take the sidewalk that is right on the water. In one minute you are standing under a different almond tree right in front of the Gingerbread.
Sooner or later anyone with some time to kill ends up at the Gingerbread. One day, the former Prime Minister of St. Vincent – Sir James Mitchell – stopped by, introduced himself and sat down with us. We had a nice conversation about house sitting, travel, wine and how to solve the U.S. immigration problem. In only fifteen minutes we agreed on a solution. Turns out Sir James owns the Gingerbread and the attached hotel (the Frangipani,) so he is a regular customer.
As long as I’m talking about the Gingerbread Cafe, I should point out the architectural style of many of the buildings here is “Gingerbread.” What makes it unique is all the detailed trim in the rooflines, railings and other features. It’s always painted white and sometimes gets a little playful. The local ice cream shop had little ice cream cones included in its pattern.
We visited Bequia Island during the summer, which is the off season. A few tourists, a few locals and not a lot of energy. And it was hot! The place was very much on island time. That all changed on Fisherman’s Day. One of the largest festivals on the island, it seemed everyone came together as a community to celebrate and party. The men took the fishing boats out for some fresh catch and unloaded right on the beach. Here the fish were cleaned, cut up, battered, fried and sold along with a few sides to raise funds for the local Rotary Club.
Other than this opportunity to eat out, we prepared most of our meals at home. It was a bit of a challenge as the local grocery store was pretty small and only had a limited selection of items. But we innovated and eventually figured out how to prepare tasty meals with just the local ingredients. The house we were staying at had fruit trees in the yard – limes, star fruit, mangos and papayas. So we learned to make lime bars, lime pie, lime pancakes, fresh squeezed lime juice on everything and, of course, gin and tonics. Our big discovery was lime juice makes everything taste better. But no matter how hard we tried, the limes matured faster than we could use them.
In addition to getting our ingredients from the front yard and the local grocery store, we would stop by the vegetable stand for fresh produce. Besides the fruits and vegetables we were used to seeing, there were any number of Caribbean items we were completely unfamiliar with. Darkie made a special effort to introduce us to these local fruits.
About once a month, we would take the ferry over to Kingstown on the island of St. Vincent where they had larger grocery stores with a better selection. Usually we would do some sightseeing before we hit the grocery on the way back to Bequia. We timed one visit so we could take in the steel drum competition at Vincy Mas, which is the biggest festival of the year. Unfortunately for us, the steel drums didn’t start until 9:00 PM and the last ferry back home was at 6:00 PM. Since we were house sitting, we couldn’t stay the night. Once the steel drums get going, they usually go all night. It would have been fun…..
As long as I’m talking about the island of St. Vincent, we had a great view of it from the little neighborhood park on top of the hill next to where we were staying. The nearby residents all pitched in to build this beautiful park. It’s a great place for a barbecue, or searching for shooting stars. We visited regularly to enjoy the amazing views.
We were on the island long enough that Greg needed to get his hair cut. We had spied this sign on Back Street and decided it was a real opportunity to connect with the locals. Clive did a great job and was really stoked he had the chance to cut my hair. As you can see below, he has a picture board with all his customers. Needless to say, my picture was really going to stand out.
One other fun thing we did while we were on the island was visit the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. We had heard stories about Orton King and his turtles and decided we needed to check it out for ourselves. Situated right on the beach, they gather turtle eggs from secluded areas around the island, bring them here to hatch, hand feed them tuna, raise and then release them into the wild. The Hawksbill Turtle population here is under pressure, so the idea is to raise them in captivity to help repopulate the reefs. It’s not perfectly clear if the sanctuary is helping, but at least he’s trying. In any case, it’s always worthwhile to stop by and check out the baby turtles.