Tuesday, March 31, 2009


As you will have worked out, the lovely island of St Jacques does not exist. It was a literary fantasy brought to life by Patrick Leigh Fermor. Follow the link to order his novel - The Violins of Saint-Jacques: A Tale of the Antilles.

We hope you enjoyed our little amusement?!

If you have come here directly or from a search engine then you might want to read the following article to make sense of our April Fool... The Violins of Saint Jacques.

We might also point out that we realise certain countries have certain traditions about playing the fool before midday or else you become the fool...Hopefully, as our site is a global one, we will be forgiven for running this story throughout the day?!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Barbados Sea Turtle Project

To witness a turtle laying its eggs is one of the Caribbean’s great natural spectacles. The mother drags herself up onto the sand, propelling herself laboriously around the beach, leaving a trail like a tank-track. She half digs a decoy nest and then selects a laying spot where she digs her hole, flinging the sand away with her rear fins. And then, as laying begins, she goes into a trance. In years past this made her, and her eggs, uniquely vulnerable to human predation. Species of turtles are reckoned to have lived on the earth for around 250 million years. Now they are on the endangered list.

And if nesting is so fantastic, hatching is another wonderful sight. The tiny turtles struggle up out of the nest and flip their way to the sea, guided by the slight differential of light on the sea horizon. They have an immense challenge ahead. About a one in thousand will make it into adulthood. And the human threat is there again. There are even slightly macabre stories of baby turtles marching straight off to a bar, because they are confused by the lights inland.

Of course there are efforts to help them. Turtle products have long been banned in the United States and there is a growing consciousness in the Caribbean itself. In some communities they have become part of the tourist fabric - bringing visitors to watch can bring in cash, which gives the community a reason to protect the turtles.

Key to the efforts to help turtles are organisations such as the BSTP in Barbados, the Barbados Sea Turtle Project. It has monitored the critically endangered marine turtle species that forage around and nest on Barbados for the last 20 years. Based at the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Cave Hill Campus, their involvement includes monitoring and conservation of nesting females and hatchlings, research, education and public outreach.

Professor Julia Horrocks, director of the Barbados Sea Turtle Project, is the Country Coordinator for the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network (WIDECAST) in Barbados, and of the regional WIDECAST Marine Turtle Tagging Centre. The BSTP gives presentations at schools, churches and other institutions to raise public awareness and support. During the nesting season (May to October), they lecture weekly at Treasure Beach Hotel on the West Coast.

The BSTP invites anyone to sign up for a hatchling release. The hawksbill turtle’s hatching season runs from mid-July through to mid-October and hatchlings usually emerge naturally between 6pm and 6am. However the BSTP will try and time their releases between 6pm and 8pm.

Activity is not restricted to the West Coast and it is not just the hawksbills that lay their eggs in Barbados. Until recently green turtles had never nested in the island and those seen along the West Coast are actually juveniles (10-15 years old), primarily from Ascension Island, Costa Rica and Surinam. They are expected to leave Barbados and swim back home to nest once they have reached maturity (25-30 years of age). However the BSTP estimate that about five females have begun nesting on the south east coast. As there are no historical records of this happening before, so it appears to be a new population that is colonizing Barbados for the first time.

It may also come as a surprise to hear that between 50-80 mighty leatherback turtles also head to Barbados each year to nest. These massive creatures are confined to the east coast as they need the help of powerful Atlantic waves to heave themselves up onto the beach. Leatherbacks are the world’s largest sea turtle and an adult male can weigh as much as 920kg and grow up to three metres in length – adult females are 1.4-1.8m long and weigh 250-650kg. The leatherback nesting season is a little earlier in the year, between March and July, and they lay between 70-90 eggs at each nesting. Once they have laid their eggs they head off to feed in British or Canadian waters where there is a plentiful supply of jelly fish. A fourth species that is occasionally spotted in Barbados waters is the loggerhead turtle. It does not nest on the island.

All of the Caribbean sea turtles mentioned above are endangered and protected species – leatherback, hawksbill and Kemps Ridley sea turtles are critically endangered.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tradewinds? Passaatwinden? Les Alizés?

Few aspects of Caribbean climate are more romantic than the Tradewinds. Sure, the sunset is probably the classic, preferably seen from a palm-fringed beach, and particularly on a cloudless evening when you have the chance of seeing the Green Flash as the sun disappears over the sea horizon. But as well as their balmy effect on the Caribbean weather, taking the edge off the tropical heat, the Tradewinds have a whimsical aspect that has been known to bring people out in poetry.

It’s worth considering the name itself. You might think that the English /Tradewinds/ would refer rather literally to the seaborne commerce that was so important in the 1700s. In fact the /‘Trade’/ comes from an old English word, /tread/, meaning direction. The winds were used by ship captains to get to the islands and so they were named for this.

Who knows what the Dutch might have had in mind with the strange-sounding /Passaatwinden/, but of course it is those flighty, romantic French who have the most lyrical name for this Caribbean wind. To them, the lumpy old Tradewinds are the /Les Alizés/. You can see why Apollinaire was moved to verse.

The Tradewinds have their effect on the weather of course and even on the land. They cause all the rain and the resulting greenery. They hit the coast off the Atlantic and then rise, water-laden, on the massive slopes, turning into the vast clouds that then dump huge amounts of rainfall. The rain in the Windward Islands is measured in tens of feet per year.

But the oddest effect is in the ABC islands, the Netherlands Leeward Islands, which are so windy sometimes that people walk around a bit like Charlie Chaplin, leaning sideways into the wind. And there is a tree, the /divi divi/, which has given up the ghost and accepted its fate. Instead of growing vertically, at about ten feet it turns at ninety degrees, growing parallel to the ground. Actually it looks like a woman bent downwind at the waist, her shawl and hair blowing on the wind.

For more information about Caribbean winds and weather, check out the Definitive Guide to Caribbean Weather.

Monday, March 16, 2009

On the bus - Caribbean style!

Riding the buses in the Caribbean has always been a good exposure to local West Indian life. Of course, most West Indians avoid them like the plague, calling them hot, crowded and noisy (they’d prefer to be in an air-conditioned car, mostly), but for a traveller they are always an adventure, a source of local gossip and an intravenous plug into the current musical hits.

Expect a lively ride… You’ll see them coming, bobbing and weaving in the traffic, squeezing through any gap in which they can fit – and a few they can’t! Out on the open road they perform all the same manoeuvres at high speed, running the central line in second gear as they prepare to floor the accelerator to get another rung up the traffic – it’s another reason that West Indians avoid them if they can.

But they are also fun. Things happen to you when you are out and about in the Caribbean. In Jamaica, sitting passengers are simply given things to hold for ‘standees’ – schoolbooks, shopping, anything goes, they drop it on your lap. Once, as a man in my late thirties, I was sitting quietly, to find myself handed a baby. Both he and his mother just smiled sweetly at me while I wondered what exactly I was supposed to do.

There is a magical quality to West Indian buses. You must understand that in terms of a departure schedule, well there is none, usually. Departure times are a near-mystical calculation – a carefully weighed balance in the driver’s mind, of how many passengers are sitting in his (usually his) bus at a given moment, against how many he thinks he can pick up on the way. Oh, then the decision is filtered through his boredom threshold, and whether there is someone, usually a slim 20 year old, whom he can impress with his driving as he roars off.

But most of all, Caribbean buses are like mobile discotheques. You can sometimes hear them coming before you can see them, with a thump, thump, thump that echoes down the valley. Inside they are incredibly loud, and the chassis reverberates to the latest tunes. Sometimes you get the idea that the stereo is worth more than the bus itself.

Actually it got out of hand recently in a number of islands. In Trinidad – those contrary Trinis don’t have mini-buses by the way, they have maxi-taxis - there were stories of school-children skipping food so that they could spend their lunch money on a bus-ride. Anyway, the rude-boys were having it too good and so the moral majority came out fighting. They got the banned music in the buses in several islands.

And so it was that I stepped onto a ZR van once, which was running along the south coast of Barbados. Tinted windows, oversize wheels and the shift and tick of cymbals and a bass thrum that threatened. The driver – hair shaved into a Nike tick, gold teeth with Nike tick, dark glasses on a cloudy day - his sidekick, a conductor of sorts - communicating in a sign language, all pointing – it was all a bit intimidating, really, not to say confusing.

Driver was doing all the wrong things. He was stopping in the middle of the road to pick up and let down, honking at old folk not travelling at the mandatory speed (very fast). But then, blow me down, if he didn’t veer off the road - on two wheels, I think - and grind his way through the backstreets of Inch Marlow. Suddenly he screeched to a halt at a small house – all to let down a lady so that she didn’t have to carry her shopping all the way from the main road. Bless.

Here is our guide to Caribbean local transport.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Pere Labat – Dominican Missionary, Gastronome and Occasional Spy

Père Labat, a Dominican missionary (and engineer, botanist and explorer), spent ten years living in the Caribbean until 1705. He was based in Martinique, but he was an adventurous type and was able to travel widely in the region. He was endlessly inquisitive, always humorous and a busy-body without compare. He recorded his experiences in his /Nouveau Voyage aux Iles de l’Amerique/, which was published in 1705.

As a religious man he was of course charged with tending to people spiritually, which he did in the Atlantic parish of Macouba in Martinique, but he was just as happy to defend them militarily and at times he is seen manning cannons when a ship comes under threat. And as it happens, he was also particularly keen to tend to his stomach. His writings are peppered with stories of the sumptuous meals he enjoyed.

One minute he is found chatting, over dinner of course, with English admirals in Barbados (and quietly making sketches of the island’s defences for his compatriots) and the next he is giving Mass to Catholic pirates and buccaneers. He even devised a system of compensation for their injured - so much for an eye, a hand, a leg – a pension scheme for pirates if you like. Smuggling was rife at the time. In Barbados he noted that the ship hands worked hard unloading their cargo by day – but twice as hard at night when they were away from official eyes…

And he had a fair few adventures in his ten years. Once, on his return from Santo Domingo, his ship was taken by Spanish pirates. He refused to fire the last cannon ball in their defence. After all, he claims, it was needed to crush the garlic. A moment later he was about to be put to death, he thought, but suddenly he found himself surrounded by his captors, all on their knees... While looting his luggage they had come across a cross of Holy Inquisition… He was obviously not someone to mess with. Labat claimed that the cross was there quite by accident, but it
was enough for the pirates to set him free…

An abridged version of Labat’s work, /The Memoirs of Père Labat/, was published in English by John Eaden in 1931.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Michael Winner reviews 'The Lone Star' for the Times Online

I'm not sure if I'm a fan of Michael Winner...he seems to court controversy wherever he goes? However, I think this review of The Lone Star, one of my favourite restaurants on the island (and, by the way, a lovely place to stay) is excellent and really quite funny! Duck pancake anyone?!

I get the feeling that even when he is rude about something he is actually only mentioning it because it deserves mention...Get what I mean? Well, if it was truly awful then he wouldn't have any positives to say, but as he mentions the places he stays at and eats at they must be worth visiting because he is actually staying and eating at them? Make sense now?

Erm, maybe not...Well - have a read of the review anyway...and get yourself to The Lone Star!

By the way, our editor James Henderson visited The Lone Star with his family one long summer ago...have a read about his time there and other Barbados restaurants with children.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Please pay attention to the following safety briefing...

I suppose I should admit that, like many regular air travellers, I stifle a quiet yawn when I hear these words, and I allow my attention to wander. Sure, I’ll take a quick look for the emergency exit, but over the years I have learned how to tighten my seatbelt. I should concentrate more, because once I got a surprise…
I was sitting near the front of a Twin Otter, the small propeller plane that for years provided the inter-island ‘bus service’ around the Caribbean. It even used to work like a bus – when there were no passengers to drop off or pick up at a particular island then they would just fly on by.

You get a real sense of flying, though in a Twin Otter. You can see the engines at work, five feet away from your seat, and hear their massive flatulent roar. They climb like a rollercoaster. And, at times, particularly when there are clouds around, sitting in one can feel a bit like being dangled on a string by a malevolent Caribbean sprite. People pay money to experience that sort of thing at the fairground. Before anyone begins to worry, they are great planes. It’s just a bit intimate with the other passengers, that’s all.

Twin Otters are so small that there is no real flight deck. The passengers can see the pilot at work as he, or occasionally she, works the various instruments. And so it was this time. The flight was quite empty and I could see that the pilot was reading from a card on his lap. ‘Welcome aboard Flight 315. Please pay attention to the flight safety briefing...’ Cue the light thud as my head hit the window…. My thoughts were drawn outside by the baggage handlers wheeling off the trolley. ‘You fasten your seat-belts by placing the….’ Amid the standard spiel, certain words made themselves clear. ‘Burble, burble…Your lifejacket is under your seat… blah blah …’

Then there was a pause, in the middle of the announcement. I came to, as the pilot’s voice began to sound a little impatient (itself a little unlikely as pilots are renowned for not losing their calm). A movement in the corner of my eye made me look up.

‘Yes, you, sir. The gentleman in Row 3.’ The pilot was leaning back out of the cockpit and looking me straight in the eye. ‘You sir, with the green shirt on.’

‘Er, me? Me what?’ I said, startled. I looked down, yes, definitely a green shirt. It had to be me.

Another pause, as the pilot let his disapproval sink in. Around me, as in classrooms I had attended twenty and thirty years before, other passengers began chuckling because they knew I had been caught out.

‘Yes, sir,’ he continued. ‘As I was explaining, we need to ask you to move across to the other side of the aisle.’
Blimey, what’s this, I thought ? Is it the naughty boy’s seat, or something? ‘Er, yes, of course…’

My lack of comprehension obviously engendered pilot-level exasperation (ie still firmly under control).

‘As I was explaining, sir, in order to trim the plane, we need the people in it evenly distributed.’

Ah, they needed me to move to the other window, in order to balance the plane. I moved.

Satisfied, the pilot turned back to his sheet and continued the briefing. ‘Blah blah… on-floor lighting will guide you to the emergency exits…’

With that we taxied to the start of the runway, where we stood for a while, getting ready for take off. Let’s say I’ve listened carefully ever since. Well, when there’s a chance of being singled out in a small plane, that is.

One more thing - I’ve often wondered how the pilots of really small planes know when it’s time to set off. They stand at the start of the runway, engines running nineteen to the dozen, with everything from the engine cowlings to the passengers’ fillings rattling and ready to fall out. Then, once the noise is just right, they let off the brakes and off the plane goes. Perhaps they have a little tuning fork and when the pitch is right they release the anchors.

Plans to name Grenada airport after Maurice Bishop sparks debate

As published on the Radio Jamaica website there are plans afloat, put forward by current Prime Minister Tillman Thomas, to rename the Point Salines International Airport after the former, slain Prime Minister Maurice Bishop.

Prime Minister Thomas was jailed for two years under the Bishop administration and the decision has received high praise from the former head of the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement, Dr. Terrence Marryshaw. But newspaper editor Leslie Pierre fiercely opposes it, saying it is unnecessary as there is already a Maurice Bishop highway.

What are you thoughts? Any Grenadians out there with strong views on this one?

Image courtesy of Scott Braley
For more information check out the Definitive Guide to the Grenada Airport
Bookmark and Share
Related Posts with Thumbnails