Somewhere out there exists the real Caribbean- A hidden land pleasantly lacking foreign owned all-inclusive resorts that gate guests in and keep the island out. On this island expats, 7mgg sailors, guests and locals merge into a unique blend of camaraderie shared over cold beers while serenaded by the rhythms of reggae and steel drums. Here one falls asleep to the cry of the neighbor’s pet goat and wakes up to the alarm of the resident rooster. This secret land, although hard to get to, is well worth the visit, or perhaps even an extended stay. Whether you fly, sail or swim, in order to meet the real Caribbean face to face one must get themselves to Bequia, the crown jewel of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The island, only nine miles south of St. Vincent (known as the “Mainland” to locals) was first settled by the Arwak people. The Arwarks were eventually eliminated by the Caribs, manguerose a warlike race who took over the island and named it “Becouya”, meaning “Island of Clouds”.
The long period of European colonization began in 1664 when the French claimed Bequia, although permanent settlements were not established until 1719. Between 1763 and 1783, the English and French flip flopped control of the Grenadine islands until the Treaty of Versailles gave ultimate control to England.
Under English rule, agriculture, particularly sugar, was promoted throughout the island. When the sugar trade declined, the people of Bequia turned towards the sea and began a culture of fishing, whaling and boat building. The whaling industry attracted Scots and even today their lingering influence is felt. Because whaling is considered an indigenous tradition, the country is allowed to catch two whales per year under international treaty.
In 1979 St. Vincent and the Grenadines attained independence but remained part of the British Commonwealth. Due to its off-the-beaten-path location, Bequia, and the country as a whole, has focused on local, authentically Caribbean tourism that appeals to yachters and adventure travelers. In a large part, roomidea the lack of mass-tourism is a direct result of the stringent policies of beloved Prime Minister J.F. Mitchell, who once said:
“The tourist dollar alone, unrestricted, is not worth the devastation of my people. A country where people have lost their soul is no longer worth visiting. We will encourage only small numbers of visitors whose idea of a holiday is not heaven or paradise, but participation in a different experience. We shall try to avoid the fate of some of our Caribbean neighbors who have ridden the tiger of tourism only to wind up being devoured by it. Large super-luxury hotels with imported management, materials, and values bring false prosperity with the negative side effects of soaring land prices that kill agriculture, polluted beaches, traffic jams, high rise construction that ravages hillsides and scalds the eyeballs – the very problems that the visitors want to forget.”
When to Go
Although Bequia’s tropical climate makes it an ideal year-round destination, the best time to go is during the dry months. The dry season runs from approximately January to May and the rainy season from June through December, with July being the wettest. From September to November hurricanes are always a potentially dangerous occurrence.
How to Get There
This remote island is reached by air or sea. Flights can be booked directly into Bequia’s small, J.F. Mitchell airport via Barbados on LIAT, spaice Mustique Air, SVG Air or TIA. The more common route is to fly into St. Vincent and then ferry to Bequia’s Admiralty Bay. Ferries run a half a dozen times a day and take approximately one hour, dock to dock.
By far the most popular mode of transportation is via private yacht. Long a yachties paradise, Admiralty Bay serves as a watery parking lot for these sometimes luxurious carriers of both the rich and famous and those who just enjoy taking to the sea. Customs is located directly opposite the ferry dock in Port Elizabeth.
Being only a mere seven square miles in size, the entire island can be taken in with a leisurely stroll. Other options include dollar buses, taxis (pick-up trucks with canvass awnings over the cabs) and water taxis for beach hopping. Taxis can be picked up at The Almond Tree in central Port Elizabeth, which is literally just an almond tree where the taxi drivers sit in the shade and wait for business. Fares should be negotiated prior to the trip.