Wednesday, December 8, 2010

World Travel Market 2010 - DefinitiveCaribbean reports from Excel

World Travel Market is the biggest event of the year for us...A great chance to meet and greet our friends from the Caribbean as they update us on all the latest news and views from the region.

This year we linked up with Caribbean specialist journalists, Jane Anderson, Tim Ecott, Sara Macefield and Stephen Thorpe to explore their specialist areas - Cricket, Diving, Family Travel, Weddings and Honeymoons.

Feel free to leave comments and spread the love!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Security in the Caribbean - Danger in Paradise?

Sara Macefield explores the subject of security in the Caribbean.

Once again, a Caribbean island has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons - crime. It is a curse that blights every country across the world, but when it strikes in such a seemingly tropical paradise, the impact is far worse.

This time it was the turn of St Kitts and the victims were a coach-load of cruise passengers who were ambushed and robbed at gunpoint in an audacious attack. Luckily no one was injured, but the blatant nature of this crime meant cruise lines were quick to respond in dropping the island from their itineraries.

And who can blame them? How could they possibly guarantee the safety of their guests ashore with such criminals at large? The victims were left mourning the loss of their possessions and St Kitts was left mourning the damage to its reputation and disappearance of vital tourism business.

As islands such as Jamaica and Antigua know to their cost, the spiralling effect of such incidents can have a deadly impact on their image. Nothing hurts healthy tourism trade as fast as a crime-ridden reputation, and countries have to ensure that they act fast – and are seen to act fast – to clamp down on criminal or anti-social activities. After all, this doesn’t only benefit tourists, but the local population too.

St Kitts has responded swiftly, rounding up suspects and implementing security measures, but this isn’t always the case. Some Caribbean destinations kid themselves, claiming that crime levels are no worse than in London or other big cities around the world - but that’s completely missing the point. Is it really realistic to compare a tropical island, where the population is generally in thousands, with major cities where the population runs into millions?

Of course, holidaymakers need to be aware and they need to be streetwise. However, they don’t expect to have to adopt the sort of siege mentality needed in some rougher areas of the world’s leading metropolises. On the other hand, it’s also important to keep things in perspective. An outburst of violent crime in Jamaica’s capital Kingston doesn’t mean that its popular north coast resorts are no-go areas. Not only are they on a different side of the island, but there’s a mountain range between them too.

Everyone realises that crime happens and when it happens to tourists there will be a flood of international newspaper headlines. It’s then up to the islands to nip the problem in the bud. Catch the perpetrators and put systems in place to prevent a repeat. Paying lip service to such efforts and failing to take appropriate action fools no one.

Editor’s note:
Definitive Caribbean passionately believes in the beauty and friendliness of the Caribbean islands. Crimes that touch tourists are very rare but as in every other country of the world, they exist. As Sara Macefield says, "It all depends on how swiftly governments respond to negate the problems as to whether you should travel to the destination." Our message to those contemplating a holiday on St Kitts is to keep things in perspective - when did it last happen (never) - is this likely to happen again? Unlikely...

For an update to this story please read Cruise Lines Return To St. Kitts After Armed Robbery by Nevis 1.

For information about what to see and do on St Kitts please see The Definitive Caribbean Guide to St Kitts.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jamaica – the world’s first 3D destination film

Travel writer, Sara Macefield, discovers a new dimension in Caribbean advertising.

Jamaica has always been one of the most forward-thinking and high-profile destinations when it comes to advertising. In years past, it carved out a niche as one of those destinations to appear regularly on TV screens in the post-Christmas advertising blitz as it competed with other countries across the world for our attention.

Its memorable TV adverts brought a slice of tropical glamour into British homes, brightening up cold, dark winter nights with glorious shots of dazzling white-sand beaches, ultramarine seas and lush forested mountains. And all to the distinctive soundtrack of the island’s legendary son, Bob Marley and his distinctive One Love anthem.

Now Jamaica is leading the way again with what it claims is the world’s first destination video to be filmed entirely in 3D. This time viewers are drawn even closer to Jamaica’s iconic sights - and the effect is stunning. One of Jamaica’s national symbols, the Doctor Bird, flutters just in front of your eyes as it takes viewers on a 24-hour journey across the island’s most iconic sights in just a few minutes. Even rafting along the Martha Brae river suddenly becomes more real as the punting poles seemingly reach out to touch you.

“While viewers will need to use standard red and cyan glasses to fully enjoy the destination film, it has been released in anaglyph 3D, which means it can be watched on any screen or laptop. The film will also be aired in private viewings and some cinemas around the world in polarised 3D, which requires special screens. This was a conscious decision taken by the eXposure4 team and Jamaica Tourist Board to ensure the widest possible audience enjoyment. The film will be accessible across multi-viewing platforms, including home televisions, laptops and computers, and even mobile phones. Viewers will be able to apply online for free, Jamaica-branded 3D glasses, which will be sent in the post to them. The destination video will be available on the internet on and viewers can also request copies on a flexi DVD.”

Look closely and you will spy some Jamaican personalities too. Watch the enthusiastic barman in the nightclub scene, which was filmed with locals. It’s none other than the JTB’s UK district sales manager Torrance Lewis, while the chilled our Rasta-man who appears works at the Mystic Mountain tourist attraction. Jamaican tourist officials are excited about their latest creation and rightly so, because as you watch the scenes unfold, it really makes you want to go. Full praise to Jamaica for having the courage to devote time and money to such a project.

Shouldn’t it be something that perhaps the Caribbean as a whole should consider? At a time when the region is suffering from falling UK visitors amid recession and ever-rising Air Passenger Duty, wouldn’t this be an ideal occasion to invest in such a campaign. After all, many destinations would kill for the sort of photogenic landscapes and colourful cultures that make up the fabric of these islands – perhaps the Caribbean as a whole should follow Jamaica’s example and make the most of them.

For more island information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Jamaica.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Air Passenger Duty - Unfair and Biased? Sara Macefield Reports...

Could there, at last, be light at the end of the tunnel for the Caribbean in its fight for a fairer playing field where Air Passenger Duty is concerned?

Ever since the spectre of the new tax emerged some years ago, it has been a cause for controversy. And with the second round of increases coming into force earlier this month, the need for reform has taken on a more urgent need.

The main point of contention surrounds the four banding levels that critics say place the West Indies at more of a disadvantage than other destinations further away.
How can it be fair, they ask, that air passengers pay more to fly to the Caribbean than Hawaii?

How indeed? No one can argue with the facts. Hawaii is around 7,200 miles from the UK while, for example, Barbados is 3,000 miles closer. Yet Hawaii is in the less expensive Band B while the Caribbean is in Band C.

The bandings are actually based on the distances to the capital cities of each country – in this case Washington DC and Bridgetown – a formula branded as iniquitous and illogical by Caribbean nations.

In an impressive show of strength and unity, the region mobilised its tourism leaders in an intensive lobbying campaign that took them to the corridors of power at Westminster.

Their strong words and determination brought tea and sympathy aplenty from MPs – but none of the reforms they asked for, even following the change of government. Faced with such an implacable stance, Caribbean leaders knew they could not afford to accept defeat especially as the number of British tourists to the region has already dropped.

Instead, they have changed tack. Amid high-level discussions at last week’s World Travel Market in London, tourism chiefs revealed their latest idea – to replace the current bands with a two-tier system placing European destinations in one band, and the rest of the world in the other.

The Caribbean Tourism Organisation says just £1 extra APD on flights in Europe could enable cuts of up to £50 on long-haul flights, and even increase revenue. Suggesting a system with potential to bring in even more money to Britain’s cash-strapped coffers could prove to be too tempting a prospect for the government to refuse – leading to the breakthrough the West Indians have been looking for.

But for now, having delivered their report to the powers that be, all the Caribbean countries can do is wait and hope. They’re not in the mood for giving up – there’s simply too much at stake.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hurricane Tomas, a unique insight from Brigitte Maronie at Villa Caribbean Dream

Here we publish an email from one of our friends on St Lucia, Brigitte Maronie, owner of Villa Caribbean Dream - 'a fascinating insight illustrating how everyone was caught out by Tomas - and the chaos it caused', Sara Macefield, travel journalist.

For those of you who did not know:

Hurricane "Tomas" hit us very hard on Saturday October 31st. It was very stressful, because we were completely unprepared. On Friday it was said that it would be a tropical storm and it would be heading out to the open Atlantic. But then in no time it suddenly came straight toward us and changed into a hurricane category 1 and later category 2. The eye passed through St Lucia and St Vincent with a wind speed of 150 km/h but the forward speed was only 10 km/h. That is why it took sooooo long (24 hrs.). It was pouring down rain all this time and everywhere was flooded. I was very stressed out and completely exhausted afterwards. We did not have electricity for 4 days and everything in my fridges and freezer was spoilt! Our telephone lines were not working and after 4 days we could use cell phones, but the internet only came back after 6 days.

Last Friday I had to work my German airline CONDOR - not expecting any arrivals. But they still brought 65 passengers who did not know what had happened here!! More stress again for me, because most of the hotels were closed and the roads were not accessible between Vieux-Fort and Castries and also Vieux-Fort to Soufriere. A lot of bridges were broken. So we had to organize little aircrafts for those people in the night and shuttle most of them to the north, where the damage was not so great. Anyway, we tried to handle it the best we could.

The island is devastated - especially the area around Soufriere. We have NO water in most areas up to now. But people are working feverishly to get things back to normal. We get quite a lot of aid from overseas and also have a lot of international volunteers helping with bringing in goods and fresh water as well as helping with the clean up. The roads are in a deplorable state, but also that is tackled speedily and hopefully things are running much more smoothly by next week. The country will be receiving tourists from November 12th again. Hopefully we have a good high season!!! We need it!

Anyway, just for you to know... I am ok, Noelita and Louis as well as To-To and Lu-Lu are also fine. Our house had only little damage (thanks God!!), but the garden looked like a mine field! We are still cleaning up and do repair works. My next guests will be arriving on November 16th. Until then everything hopefully will be alright.

My heart goes out to the relatives of people who lost their lives and to them who lost all their belongings! It was a very frightening experience for me after living here 31 years and I never had seen something like this. Thanks god, we are still alive. All my friends are ok too. It could have been worse.

I now look forward to welcoming new guests for the high season and hope that we do not get any bad weather within the next few weeks again. It would be great to see some of you again soon too!!! (Editor's note - We believe the best way to support Brigitte and her fellow islanders is to book a holiday now! Please see a review of her property - Villa Caribbean Dream!)

P.S. If you would like to look at some videos check on Youtube. There are lots. Here's a link to one by Mr Arnold Henry - The Aftermath of Hurricane Tomas in St Lucia:

Love to you all .... and let's stay in touch!

Very sunny greetings from St.Lucia!


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hurricane Tomas - St Lucia and Haiti Fight On...

It’s the time of year when the Caribbean islands breathe a collective sigh of relief as the hurricane season draws to a close. But this year, it has come back to bite them with devastating results.

Tomas emerged with little warning on the cusp of Halloween to rampage through the Caribbean, causing death and destruction just as islanders started to relax. However, what few outsiders will appreciate is that most islands will have been left unscathed as Tomas concentrated its force on those in its path – namely St Lucia and Haiti. Islands on the periphery of the storm course – notably Barbados, Jamaica and Cuba - also felt its affects, but thankfully to a lesser extent.

Even on St Lucia, it was a trail of two halves with the northern part of the island taking less of a battering while the southern section – around Soufriere – took the full force of the hurricane winds and lashing rain, with roads and houses swept away in the ensuing landslides. Tomas has been declared the worst storm in the island’s history, destroying its lucrative banana crop, and putting the country’s main dam, which supplies the population with fresh water, out of action. Properties such as Ladera have temporarily closed and the race is on to mop up and get back to normal in time for the peak Christmas/New Year holiday season.

As for Haiti – how much more can this poverty-stricken nation take? Earthquakes, cholera and now Tomas but, and you have to take comfort from this glimmer of hope, it could have been so much worse. Tomas is the sort of natural disaster that spares no-one in its path and West Indians are resigned to the fact that such devastation is the price they pay for living in one of the most beautiful corners of the world.

Yet few communities are more adept at recovering from such setbacks. The clear-up operation begins instantly, swinging into action and often resulting in the destinations emerging phoenix-like with a new lease of life.

You only have to look at Grenada, Jamaica and Antigua and others which have emerged refreshed and reinvigorated after such tumultuous events. In these circumstances, many in the tourism industry turn adversity to their advantage by taking the opportunity to upgrade and renew. And it’s with this in mind that those worst affected by Tomas can look ahead and realise that no matter how tough things seem, the strength of the Caribbean islands and their people will shine through.

*Anyone wishing to donate to the ongoing relief effort in Haiti should go to

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Breadfruit and Bligh - The Captain's Artocarpus Incise

Anyone who ever stepped ashore in the Caribbean has seen them and marvelled, hung with their trademark large green globes, not quite football sized usually but certainly heavier, and big enough to satisfy several appetites at one sitting. Widespread and prolific, you’ll spot them in backyards and boulevards and most places in between, and never confuse them with the cannonball tree. They seem such a part of island landscapes as to have been around forever but that’s far from the case. So whither did it come this island staple, the solidly reassuring breadfruit? And therein lies a story, a gloriously improbable one, writ large in the annals of seamen, tall tales and naval history.

In the late 18th Century plantations in Jamaica and St Vincent struggled to feed their slaves at times while elsewhere in the Pacific British botanist Joseph Banks, who was accompanying Captain Cook, had noted breadfruit as a major food source amongst the South Sea islanders. Plans for transhipment were made and on April 4th 1789 HMS Bounty under Captain William Bligh set sail from Tahiti with 1,085 of the precious seedlings bound for St Vincent. Every schoolchild, and some grown ups, know what happened next. Come on, you should, it’s been immortalized in film and word a few times too.

The Mutiny three weeks into the voyage on April 28th was led by Fletcher Christian and resulted in Bligh and nineteen loyalists being set adrift in an open 23foot launch, effectively a rowing boat in the Pacific. A year later, Bligh was back in England a hero having somehow navigated 3,600 miles of Southern Pacific ocean to Timor, an epic journey in any era and now considered as the greatest act of courage and open boat seamanship in history. By 1793 he was back in Tahiti and delivering the inaugural consignment to Kingstown, St Vincent where his diligence is duly recorded on a suitably impressive tree specimen in the Botanical Gardens: “Breadfruit Artocarpus Incise - a sucker from one of the original plants introduced by Captain Bligh in 1793 on HMS Providence” it proudly proclaims.

A year later they were growing around the Caribbean, and nourishing generations of West Indians ever since. It came as quite a surprise a couple of years ago to learn that Jonathan Agnew, BBC Radio’s Cricket Correspondent, an erudite and worldly man and veteran of several full tours of the Caribbean, had neither heard of nor set eyes upon the self same arboreal wonder. Remarkable. After all, the glossy green foliage, rent into long leaved yellow veined fingers, is as distinctive as the fruit itself, especially when glistening in the rain. It’s not to everyone’s taste of course, and an overcooked breadfruit is dry and starchy. Rosemary Parkinson however, the Caribbean’s First Lady of Food and all things thereof, has a few ideas on how to maximise this most singular of fruit—firstly, like all locals, regard it as a vegetable, "It’s dense and heavy and don’t try and carry more than a handful or you’ll do yourself a mischief."

Some people swear that roasting is best, over coals for about an hour, the skin peeled off later and buttermelt poured over the fleshy white interior, avoiding the pithy core (breadfruit cou-cou in Barbados has herbs and spices added to the mash); it’s used in soups, for pickling, in oil downs and is excellent when sliced, baked or fried too (don’t over indulge though, it’s filling, and that from someone who likes to nyam). The blossom can be made into jams, the flour into porridge or dumplings, and all manner of medicinal benefits are attributed from a chewing gum pain reliever made from the sap to bush tea from the leaves to counteract headaches, asthma and high blood pressure. Young buds are also chewed for mouth and throat ailments.

Whatever its benefits, the tree looks here to stay, West Indian to its Pacific roots. If “breadfruit” hadn’t stuck, then “lifefruit” could have worked.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Elizabeth "Ma Pampo" Israel - Dominica's Oldest Woman

Time waits for no man, but for dear old ladies in distant Dominica defying the ravages of age is all part of the natural process. Elizabeth Israel became the world’s oldest woman on authentic record when celebrating her 125th birthday on Jan 27th 2000 and, while agelessness is often misconstrued, in her case it seemed entirely appropriate. She never did enter the Guinness Book of Records though, the authorities decreeing that the lack of a birth certificate, which disappeared in a hurricane, precluded it despite a clear account in the local baptismal register. I know - I once spent three days sourcing it before spotting the original entry.

“Even the old people here knew her as an old woman”, said Lucien Da Silva, a long time neighbour in the Glanvillia tenantry near Portsmouth, “and I always felt she was a very special lady”. The register at St John and St Lewis Catholic Church also identified Louisia Frager as godmother and the date of birth as January 27th 1875 but many people in the village actually thought her much older. She was probably one of the last direct descendants of a slave, her mother Magdelaine Israel, a tall “redskin” from Antigua speaking Kokoy dialect, was brought to work on the Morne Talin plantation near Colihaut on the west coast. The terrible 1838 hurricane required a switch to the Picard estate near Portsmouth where she lived to more than a hundred herself. Something in the genes then, or are there other reasons?

When I met Ma Pampo, as she was known to one and all, she was blind but her recollection for times past still sharply acute. On the eve of her 125th I asked what had been the secret. “Well”, she chortled, “I ate callalloo, dumpling, meat, lots of fish and crab”. Sitting straight backed, upright in bed, cuddling a toy Dalmatian, she was listening to the radio in her humble two roomed chattel house. “An doan forget de coconut milk an dasheen either!” Finally, she advised “never eat a heavy meal after 6pm, then drink a bush tea. Fertilizers are making people weak”.

Raised with four siblings, she got up early, drank pure water and went to work at Picard aged 25, picking peas for 2/6d per month. A penny for a nine hour day. Rough trails were the only means of communication, no electricity, no telephone, and Roseau could have been another country, but she recalled her only trip to the capital 20 miles to the south. “My wedding day, and we went by the estate boat”. She bore a son Burleigh Codrington who died at 30 though a grandson Charlesworth lives in England. Pampo was known as Minetta George for a while after marrying Ernest, and remembered “walking to work and being turned back if you weren’t over dat bridge when bell rang at 7am.” Graduating to supervisor, she directed ox carts and the grinding mill, and organised lime, vanilla and coconut processing. “I danced the cacao too,” referring to the now rarely practised cocoa polishing with the feet manoeuvre. She avoided alcohol as a girl, and smoked tobacco in a clay pipe instead. Pampo preached simplicity, honesty, good faith and health care, with humour, patience and kindness never far behind.

In 1979, still strong and agile at 104, she took redundancy from Picard, lived alone and was revered throughout the neighbourhood, a classic case of care in the community, her life led at one with the soil, sustained by diligence, diet and an unfettered environment. “She was a sharing, kindly person”, Martha Martin said, “and the only lady who was never called witch by the children”. Suddenly the old radio crackled into life, a gruff voice from Roseau exhorting “we want Pampo down here to talk!” “Me gwan nowhere”, laughed Pampo, “dem haffa come to here”. Tributes poured in later from far and wide, and there was banter around 25 missing telegrams from the Queen.

People like Pampo are not unusual in Dominica. Just round the corner, I was introduced to Ms Rose Peters, a mere stripling at 117, who had sorted cacao with Pampo, still walked down the lane, chatted to everyone and prayed twice a day. A further four of her close associates were also centenarians, (there are currently over twenty others, three times the ratio of western developed countries), testament to the strength of its motto: After God, the Earth. Israel embodied Dominican toil and spirit from another era, sadly passing away in 2003 aged 128 after complications arising from a pedicure.

Monday, September 20, 2010

High in the Blue Mountains, Jamaican Flowers and Gardens

Flowers and gardens are part of the rich tapestry of everyday life in the Caribbean, startling in their variety, vibrancy and colour for the first time visitor, but an element of the landscape it’s easy to become blasé about. Run of the mill even, and often overlooked. Every major city will usually have somewhere to while away time amongst unusual trees and plant life, a welcome oasis of tranquillity and calm amid the clamour of urban living. In Kingston Jamaica, the 200 acre Hope Gardens which were officially designated by the Queen in 1953 serve the purpose well and there are other long established havens beyond the city at Bath, Castleton and Cranbrook.

It’s probably true to say though that most of the populace will be oblivious to that holy grail of gardens due east, the stunning sanctuary at 5500 feet in the beguiling Blue Mountains and only 2.5 miles as the crow flies from the central ridge line. It’s impossible to know everywhere in the Caribbean of course and Jamaica casts a veil over its secret places better than most, but Cinchona Gardens has a definite other worldly feel, an ethereal ambience of swirling mists and strange new aromas. The stairway to heaven is never easy to locate either, it’s not the sort of spot you come across by savour the spirit of Cinchona you have to be committed to going...and be prepared for the rigours of the ascent and the occasional landslip.

Deep in coffee country, past Pine Grove, Guava Ridge and Mavis Bank and on towards the mystical heights of Clydesdale, a rough road suddenly veers upwards for two miles to the aptly named Top Mountain junction, from where an even steeper incline, riven with crevasse like gullies and channels to hinder weary hikers, leads to Cinchona, which commands an utterly spellbinding location on a remote bluff above the Yallahs and Green river valleys. It’s quite probably the highest botanical garden in the world (if anyone knows of another at a higher elevation let us know)

Its history and development is equally fascinating; European settlers encountered malaria on the first incursions along the coasts of Africa and Asia in the sixteenth century but it wasn’t until the wife of a Spanish nobleman, the Viceroy of Peru, was miraculously cured by a tea prepared from the bark of a cinchon tree, a native of the High Andes, by the Inca descended Quechua Indians that quinine was taken seriously as an extract. In 1868 seeds were brought from Kew Gardens in London and planted in conjunction with Assam tea but the dual project failed due to competition in India and the site slowly changed from a scientific arboretum to English country garden. By 1874 it was more a centre for orchid propagation under Kew’s William Nock and subsequently botanists arrived from all over the world to view night flowering shrubs and other magical visions in his glass palm-houses.

Sadly it fell into disrepair over many years, severely damaged as well by hurricanes, vandalism and general neglect. I was fortunate to discover this place almost thirty years ago when I was brought for an audience with Andreas Oberli, a Swiss botanist who had just been engaged as project manager to restore the gardens to their Victorian grandeur. Lloyd Stamp, keeper of the estate, has been here even longer and both are dedicated to the cause though Andreas lives in Kingston now. The uninhabited central Great House contained a large fireplace with a ton of dried wood, my first indication that it could get cold in the Caribbean and, though I came for an hour, I finished up staying three days such was the power of the experience.

That spirit still exists today, much of it down to these two latter day guardians. In the early 1980s Oberli dissuaded then Prime Minister Edward Seaga from developing it as his helicopter accessed private mountain club, and even observed another PNP politician Ronald Thwaites ordering his henchmen to dig up rare plants and bulbs to cart off to his own garden. Through all this, Cinchona has somehow survived, not intact, but forever changing; the 150 feet high Masson pines remain, a landmark even in the murkiest of light from as far away as Lime Tree Farm (a stupendous site in its own right several miles away, a working coffee farm and one of the best places to stay in the mountains) the Panorama walk too with its wonderful vistas of the Blue Mountain ridge and main peaks.

There are well tended lawns and flower beds and a lattice work of paths and walkways, interspersed with extraordinary tree specimens like eucalyptus, juniper, Japanese cedar, Chinese cypress, rubber trees, cork oak, incredible gold washed ferns and banks of hydrangea and azalea. At every turn, something new draws your eye. Nowhere is the term splendid isolation more fitting—for a new perspective on Kingston far below, here is somewhere to head for.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hurricane Allen and other pleasant Caribbean Hurricanes!

We’re half way through the hurricane season and so far so good, for the most part anyway. Despite projections of a greater incidence than usual in this era of changing global weather and climate, the anticipated flurry of storms has not transpired despite the battering of the northern Leewards and Virgin Gorda last week by Hurricane Earl. Antigua and St Maarten had trees flattened and power outages, parts of the Virgins suffered substantial damage and restaurants and other buildings on Frigate Bay in St Kitts were lashed by heavy rain and high winds. It could have been worse, so let’s hope the status quo continues.

The period is one of fear and loathing for many in the Caribbean, the several thousands who live in less sturdy accommodation, though satellite tracking systems now give ample early warning and time for safety measures which the old time West Indian simply did not have. Seeing out a powerful hurricane then was a matter of experience, good fortune and trusting in the shelter as much as anything else. As an ingénue in Barbados in 1979, I awoke one morning to find everywhere covered in a thick red dust, blown over from the erupting Soufriere volcano in St Vincent. It was a startling revelation, something quite out of the ordinary, disturbing to the status quo. Not long afterwards something far more traumatic and personal assailed Little England, the first indication and realisation that perhaps all was not sweetness and fine light in these balmy isles.

Sundays then were reserved for beach cricket, and that alone, and Bathsheba on the east coast the chosen destination once a month. This one morning, someone rang advising against it, mentioning a brewing storm which the dogs accepted but not the mad Englishmen relishing the noonday sun. Beautiful day, over Farley Hill we drove, past Morgan Lewis mill and down to that glorious foreshore on the most atmospheric part of the island. Things were blissful till around mid-afternoon when suddenly the wind whipped up and the sea got angry. Even then, as someone used to rough weather in the Pennines, often for months on end, I wasn’t unduly concerned. The game continued, though one or two of the more enlightened decided to head back to Bridgetown and the south coast.

A hardy Irishman Mr David O’Flynn lingered with me, but eventually we too were forced to repair to the Edgewater Inn for sustenance. Soon after, we were about to set off for the west coast when the proprietor hailed us, obviously worried: “no one can leave now, you’ll die” were his words of admonishment, spoken in all seriousness and registering like no other. “It’s a hurricane now, and heading our way fast”. We were forced to bed down for the night along with a score of others on mattresses scattered on the floor. It was humourous at first, until we heard a St Lucia radio broadcast echoing through the bar area “Ok Barbados, signing off here, the Caribbean is with you, the Lord God too, we trust there’ll be minimal damage”. By now it was dusk, doors and windows were barricaded and taped, the wind howling like a banshee, the rain driving horizontally.

The Edgewater was built of solid coral stone blocks on a cliff edge high above the roaring ocean, seemingly exposed to the raw elements but in defiance of all the weather could muster and probably one of the safest structures on the island. As darkness fell I took one last glimpse of the world beyond through a chink in one of the thick porthole glass windows. The vision that appeared shocked me to the core - Hurricane Allen was upon us, in all its fury. As far as the eye could see out to the horizon, gigantic lines of white topped breakers tumbled shoreward, immense battalions of them, twice the size of houses. To the right down the coast road, coconut trees were bent at ninety degrees, snapping amidships when the force became too great and scattering their cargo like bouncing bombs, chattel houses had their corrugated roofs peeled back like sardine tins, then torn asunder and flung to the heavens.

A sleepless night ensued, followed by a long, surreal journey back to the west coast later the next day, clearing roads of debris, matchwood trees and people’s belongings. I was dropped off at my place on Gibbs Beach, incredulous at the scene that awaited - a palm tree had toppled right across the car, a write off, the gently sloping beach had all but disappeared, replaced by a 20 feet high cliff, and my cottage awash with smashed cutlery, broken trees and foliage forced through open louvres stupidly left open. My cat clung on terrified at the top of what remained of some flimsy curtains. Twas a salutary sight, an awakening to the awesome power of nature. It was deemed a glancing blow, not even the full impact. In Dominica, people still talk of “David”, in Jamaica of “Gilbert”, reverentially in a way, out of respect. Hurricanes. Don’t underestimate them and ignore them at your peril. Heed any warnings and batten the hatches.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Farewell to Lord Glenconner by Stephen Thorpe

The Caribbean lost one of its great characters last week. Not a sportsman, statesman, comedian nor entertainer, but someone who defied formal categorisation and remained rather indefinable - an eccentric indubitably, and a true Brit born not just of the silver spoon but with the whole tea set intact. Yes, Colin Tennant, aka Lord Glenconner was one on his own for sure, the last of a breed in the West Indies who bestrode Mustique, south west St Lucia and a few other places besides for nigh on half a century. In 1959 he acquired that Grenadine backwater, a scrub covered, mosquito ridden Mustique for a song, then spent years and half a fortune developing its infrastructure having given Princess Margaret a few prime acres for her wedding present.

After Royalty, the new aristocracy followed - rock stars, media moguls and socialites, in search of escape and hedonism alike which Colin was more than happy to facilitate over the next twenty years. After various management and financial wrangles he decamped to another gilded piece of paradise between the Pitons in St Lucia, importing Bupa, a pet elephant, for company. More trouble ensued over land development and Colin eventually settled for a relatively quiet life running his small estate centred on the Bang bar and latterly selling off plots of subdivided land. I first became familiar with him in Barbados in the 1970’s through his son Charlie who enjoyed bejewelled teenage years in Mustique before sadly dying young; family calamity became a theme but Colin somehow maintained a stiff upper lip throughout.

His trademark outfit of white cotton pants, white cotton shirt and hat never seemingly changed, and I can truthfully aver that I never saw him in anything else throughout our acquaintance. Sometimes he’d misplace the hat and get cross. He was a patriarch, with a loyal staff and following in rural St Lucia and prone to the occasional tantrum when things went awry. Once, in some down at heel shop in Soufriere, he overheard me mention I had to go to Castries the next day and kindly offered a lift (this in the days before a properly surfaced west coast road existed); he collected me in the morning in a battered jeep and we set off on a journey scheduled to take two hours. It lasted eight. At every wayside halt, for every fruit seller, fisherman or higgler in Anse La Raye or Canaries he had a friendly word, or they for him. Chats turned into discussions, long ones; at one stage, just as I thought we were getting somewhere, he drove into a deep drainage gully, almost writing off the vehicle. Four Rastas hauled us out, and we repaired to a rum shop to thank them. The Laird of Lucia I called him, which he quite liked.

Another time I found myself in some smart hostelry, which was unusual in itself, when suddenly Princess Margaret walked in unannounced, clutching her customary bottle of Famous Grouse (half empty as I recall), followed close behind by Colin and his wife Lady Anne, the Princess’s Lady in Waiting. We were introduced, and chatted briefly. A while later I felt a light touch on my forearm. It was Colin, whispering over my shoulder: “Stephen, Her Royal Highness has requested you accompany us to supper”. Lawd God Almighty, I was dumbstruck for a moment. What could a poor boy do? I’d never had the Royal Command before (then or since), me dear ol’ monarchist Mum back in Rochdale would have been proud. As a vehemently (dis)loyal subject of the Crown, I suppose I had no choice, and dutifully accepted. Besides, I was bloody hungry. Later in a memorable evening Colin lifted an eyebrow disdainfully when I failed to rise as Marj briefly excused herself from the table for a fag. As I told him later - I wasn’t going anywhere, so why bother getting up. He despaired.

Only last Christmas, he learnt that a London psychotherapist Joshua Bowler was his illegitimate son from more than fifty years ago by Henrietta Moraes and, true to form, gladly accepted him into the family fold. I bumped into Colin a year ago in late afternoon on an isolated beach at unfashionable Laborie on St Lucia’s south coast. He was taking his evening stroll miles from home, alone in his thoughts at 83, a ghostly figure in the gloaming, in the twilight of a life well spent. We shared a pot of tea. He seemed tired, something in his pale blue eyes said this would be the last time I’d see him. And it was. Many will miss him.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pelican Bar Jamaica and other scenes to try

Bars. Love em or hate em, you’ll sure as eggs find yourself in one if you visit the Caribbean for even the shortest layover. You may not know you’re in one, it may look like a shop, a grocery store or a post office, and sell all manner of unwanted items until you spy those tell-tale bottles of dark stuff tucked away on a dusty shelf. Rum to you and I, often it’s clear, or “white” but don’t let that wholesome innocence fool you. Oh no, always treat the white one with the utmost respect in fact, otherwise you’ll wake up later, wondering why. Yes, the rum shop is ubiquitous, multi-facetted, more plentiful than churches some would opine, and there are lots of those to admire.

A bar on a beach people like the sound of too. Sort of double your money, two for the price of one. I once lived close to Mullins beach bar in St Peter, Barbados, the only 24 hour bar in its earliest incarnation and accessible from the south in the days before traffic, not that I was a regular, though it was nice to know it was there, a neighbourly comfort as it were. Bang on a great roadside beach a well, it’s changed over the years, things do, more restaurant than bar for a spell, but the essence of a great place to relax remains. Location is all.

The Owl Bar commands another timeless spot and is aptly named, in one of Grenada’s finest, the Flamboyant hotel, overlooking the southern end of Grande Anse beach and prides itself on convivial late night opening. I knew a chap once who moored a boat bar offshore at Mullins in a failed venture to add the maritime perspective to Bim’s bar scene, but perhaps only in Jamaica, to repeat a well worn phrase, would they ever consider going one step beyond. Let alone actually doing it.

Riding the swell down Jamaica south west, no surfboard just outboard, I was reminded not long back of that other Jamaican maxim “the Jamaica you find depends on the company you keep”. Someone had mentioned “a bar with a difference”, so I thought why not, seen a few already, what’s one more? Far offshore from Black River did seem a bit extreme, I mused, scanning a foam flecked horizon for signs of life, then suddenly a bizarre spindly edifice of driftwood, flotsam and bamboo loomed afore. More a rustic vision of a seaborne “wicker man”, it’s an extraordinary piece of construction, nailed and pieced together on stilts atop a narrow rock shoal in a matter of weeks--- the result of the fertile, some would say damaged, imagination of Floyd a local fisherman.

The Pelican Bar he’s called it, owing to its most regular customer so far out at sea. Colleagues advised him against, exhorting that “him lost him mind” but Sally Henzell at Jakes hotel actively encouraged him. Yep, this place was definitely different. No sign of a barman for a start, least of all a beer on a scorching morning, as we clambered up some rickety ladder. “Jussa small hinconvenience sah, no problem”, whispered the boatman., he’s right though, this is Jamaica, chill out capital, miles from land, blazing sun, no drinks, something will turn up. Incredibly they did, quite a while later.

It was hard to leave, not least because you couldn’t, the sort of place where you never know you may be gurgling your last, should a rogue wave come rolling in. Someone suggested we should stay overnight, and not entirely in jest. I glanced inland at a storm billowing in over the Santa Cruz Mountains and nay..........terra firma’s best.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hiking in the Caribbean - Take a Local Guide!

AAAaaah..... wonderful. Stretched out on a comfy lounger, gentle waves lapping by your toes, cocktail bar not too far distant. Dreamy days, languid nights, palm trees whispering in the breeze--everyone’s idea of Caribbean bliss, the stereotype plugged in a traveller’s memory bank. And why not, it’s an image which has sold the region to countless millions of prospective visitors. But wait, look over at them thar hills, that hazy mountain range, what mysteries and delights therein to discover? Thankfully, over the last decade or so Tourism Authorities have come to realise this too and hiking has become a far more high profile diversion, an actively encouraged pastime that adds so much to the participant’s appreciation of a country, the land, its people and wildlife. Get that gear on then, stretch the sinews......... and feel the difference. Most of the islands lend themselves to hiking in some degree, even Barbados and Antigua, the flatter ones, have great coastal walking but it’s the mountainous interiors of the Windwards and Jamaica which are really rewarding, that set the heart and mind a pumping.

The flagship hikes around the Antilles are pretty self evident—if not easily achieved---- the trek to the Boiling Lake via the Valley of Desolation in the fastness of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica has a singular allure that the adventurer finds irresistible, if only for the place names, the ascent of Gros Piton in south western St Lucia looks fairly straightforward from distance then is ever more daunting as the true scale of the pyramidal massif becomes evident at its scrub covered base. The twin apex peak of El Tucuche in Trinidad’s Northern Range is quite challenging, Mount St Catherine at 2756 feet in Grenada equally so while St Lucia’s Mount Gimie is no cakewalk either. And then there’s Jamaica, specifically the Blue Mountains. The Danish philosopher Kierkegarde said he’d often walked himself into his best thoughts, which was a nice way of putting it. If hiking nurtures peace and contemplation, even upliftment, there can be no greater theatre than this place, the midnight hike to Blue Mountain peak its apotheosis.

Theoretically you can hike in the Caribbean at any time of year of course, but it’s sensible to temper things on occasion and the rainy season causes all manner of complications. Mountain walking is hazardous if not downright lethal after heavy rainfall and the optimum period is always going to be the relatively dry period between November and April, outside the hurricane season. Daytime temperatures hover around 85 degrees tempered by cooling trade winds but at higher elevations it becomes significantly cooler; no specialist equipment is usually necessary, water being the sole essential requirement with lightweight cotton clothing, rainwear and a solid pair of trainers perfectly adequate for most terrain. Climate is changing around the islands like everywhere else though, and it’s wise to keep a weather eye open at all times. Many years ago I had cause to climb Mount Liamuiga, the volcano in St Kitts, and all seemed set fair as a wispy wreath of cloud encircled the summit on a bright sunny morning.

My guide advised against it however, shaking his head doubtfully, sensing something in the air I hadn’t but, fearing an editor’s wrath, an hour later after much discussion I decided to strike out alone. Ah the folly of youth, a gross error of judgment. I reached the top without too much trouble but commencing the descent the heavens opened without warning, water, water everywhere, in biblical proportions, the steep track quickly becoming a raging torrent, carrying with it mud and tree debris, and nearly myself. It was deafeningly noisy in the thick confines of the forest, disorientating, terrifying briefly till I gained a grip. Six hours later in pitch black I somehow staggered into a canefield miles below, cut to ribbons, safe, but definitely unsound. A rescue team was about to set forth. It was a salutary lesson, never to be forgotten---always, ALWAYS heed local advice.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Caribbean Facts About Sea Turtles - Protect Them!

Everyone should do it. Wander down a dark beach at midnight or later that is, preferably in the pitch black and definitely without flashlight or camera. A sliver of moonlight on a silvery sea can help but this is no romantic interlude, not for the voyeur at any rate. It is though a heartrending experience with something of the primeval about it, and not to be forgotten in a hurry, to be a privileged witness to the egg laying ritual of the giant leatherback turtle, the largest living marine reptile and known to have existed for 100 million years. Children in particular are wide eyed in amazement, most adults too in truth. It really is that extraordinary to see these great ocean wanderers, leviathans of the deep as big as coffee tables, hauling themselves from the surf on some remote shoreline at dead of night. The males are entirely pelagic with the females only coming ashore to lay eggs after six years of age.

Grande Riviere in North Trinidad is the second most important nesting ground in the world after the beaches of French Guyana, and it’s easy to see why in the period from March to August when 300 have been known to lumber up the beach on a single evening close to the Mt. Plaisir Estate Hotel which is a prime observation post. Dozens of people are bussed in nightly from Port Of Spain three hours away now, it’s that much of a spectacle. It’s strenuous work over 1.5 hours for the poor beast, with a three feet deep hole excavated with its hind flippers initially, then 60-80 eggs deposited in a trance-like state when the inert beast can actually be stroked without distraction. It actually appears to be weeping when a viscous film develops over the eyes but it’s merely a protective measure against sand which is flung around violently in the covering over process, or the removal of excess salt.

The eggs, and the turtles themselves, are highly vulnerable of course - they’re persecuted by egg stealers like the “Cobo” vultures, packs of wild dogs, and not least, dumb humans who also slaughter turtles for meat despite widespread educational and awareness programmes. Green turtles and the Hawksbill suffer the same fate. Things have changed in recent years but it’s still a problem on the more inaccessible north coast beaches like Madamas further west and in other countries like Dominica and Grenadines outposts.

Sterling work is undertaken in St.Kitts by the sea Turtle Monitoring Network coordinated by Kimberley Clark who also arranges constant clean up campaigns on sensitive beaches like Cayon and Keys, favoured grounds of all three species. In Carriacou in the southern Grenadines the Kido Ecological Research Station run by Marina Fastigi and Dario Sandrini actually pays fishermen for turtles caught accidentally, or otherwise, in their nets before tagging and release. The Rosti project (Rosalie Sea Turtle Initiative) in eastern Dominica is another laudable effort to preserve these remarkable creatures and the soon to be opened Rosalie Bay Nature Resort, like Mt.Plaisir, has also set up hatchling nurseries to improve baby turtles’ chances of making it back to the sea. For turtles to survive and flourish in the Caribbean spreading the word is the key, so everyone - do your bit quickly before 100 million years of evolution disappears.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Veni Mange, Bars in Trinidad and Carnival

They reckon they like a good knees up in Brazil. A Carnival there too apparently, lots of dancing, loud music, dressing up in even louder outfits, that sort of thing. Been there, done that you might say.........and then you come to Trinidad......... and realise those samba groovy South Americans are only playing at having fun. Assuredly, no nation on earth likes to party more than the Trinidadian, “Trinis” to one and all.

An old journalist pal, a carouser, wit and night owl of international repute, now sadly departed, was embraced by strangers like a long lost friend when first encountering hospitality Port of Spain style. “I feel at home here”, he mused within the hour, and shortly afterwards I watched in awe as he brought the house down with an impromptu dance routine during an incendiary, full-on soca night where only foolhardy foreigners dared to tread. Oh yes, “Crash” Lander was a true Trinny in truth.

Any well laid plan for a night out with a Trinidadian is only ever a starter for ten though.....or a dozen..... or a score of other options. Just as you think everything’s fixed and you know what you’re doing, where and when, you’re propelled into a tangential scenario... with a totally different time frame. Zany, capricious and prone to flights of fancy, the Trinny reveller is dangerous to know and hard to categorise. The basic rule is then.... plan nothing. Go with the flow, and watch your step.

The city has spectacular mega clubs like Zen and 51 degrees with dress codes, VIP rope offs and all the trappings but the street culture is just as entertaining... and costs far less. For years, the myriad bars of the Western Main Road in St.James were the favoured haunts, culminating in raucous bonhomie at Smokey & Bunty’s bar around 4am, but now the scene has changed and the Avenue is the hipster’s boulevard of choice. Ariapita Avenue to be exact, home to Rosemary and Allyson’s legendary bar and eaterie, Veni Mange, and newcomers on the block like Coco’s, More Vino, Shakers and lots more.

A fortnight back, I was sat minding my own business, supping a Carib in this neck of the woods when I witnessed something you might only glimpse in Harlem or the Bronx, and possibly not even there nowadays---an extraordinary half hour demonstration of pavement gymnastics by a group of young blokes, who were not really showing off, and definitely weren’t drunk, as though engaged in some wildly exuberant private competition. Olympic coaches would have been proud, patrons in adjacent bars put aside their drinks and gazed in admiration, mesmerised. As did I. It was that good. Not even Lander could have pulled off some of those moves.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dominica Traffic - Caribbean Norm or Witches Curse?

It’s everywhere you go. Even the Caribbean has more than its share nowadays, though Anguilla is never overburdened and several of the smaller islands beyond the capital cities are usually untrammelled. We’re talking traffic, lots of it. Kingston Jamaica, Port of Spain Trinidad, Bridgetown Barbados, Castries St Lucia are increasingly clogged with cars as journey to work times continue to expand.

Last week I experienced a strange variation on the theme. The narrow one way systems of Dominica’s main town of Roseau are rarely congested, unless one of the giant cruise liners just happens to have docked at the waterfront, but this was not one of those days. I’d pootled into town from Goodwill in the north, clattered over the river bridge into Queen Mary Street and was quietly minding my own business when the light traffic in front inexplicably ground to a halt.

There was no obvious obstruction ahead, no breakdown, no minor collision or stray dog, just some sort of impasse. It happens all the time of course around the islands, drivers passing the time of day with each other, handing parcels over etc., just as you want to get somewhere fast. I could see passengers gazing sideways where people were thronging the porticoed sidewalk in steadily growing numbers so I turned off the engine, sat awhile because there was no option, and strained to see what the fuss was about.

Eventually, with time ticking on, I leaned out and inquired of a sensible looking citizen “whappen down de road, sir?” His response was immediate, and throwaway; “Nuttin’ much sah, a witch jussa block de footpath” ! Whhaaaaaat?? Apparently then, if a pedestrian comes face to face with a witch, black or white, it’s common courtesy to pass to her right so you won’t be affected by any spell. If she doesn’t allow it, a stand-off ensues and a blockade develops. This had just happened, effectively bringing the whole of downtown Roseau to a halt as drivers stopped to await the outcome.

They may still be there, it wouldn’t surprise me; nobody was budging so I somehow manoeuvred a nifty reverse and made my getaway down a sidestreet. You’d think stories like this were apocryphal but here they’re commonplace. In Elma Napier’s wonderful evocation of a 1930’s bohemian colonial life here in “Black and White Sands” published by Papillote press last year, she muses “it has never been easy to analyse, to define the mysterious charm that has lured some people to stay in Dominica forever, and from which others have fled without even taking time to unpack”. Incidents like this at least give us a clue. Yes, Dominica’s different, very different.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Standpipe - Caribbean Newsletter - July 2010

Did you know that we publish a quarterly newsletter? We aim to feature each season's happening events and what's new and exciting around the Caribbean. We feature interviews with leading personalities throughout the islands and recipes from our favourite chefs!

Why not have a look at the topics we cover below and click through to read it?

Editor's Note - We have moved to a new website, with a new newsletter -

Old articles refered to below will be loaded onto the new site shortly...

In this edition Stephen Thorpe talks to Colin Hunte, GM at Villa Beach Cottages, we have a look at Diving in Dominica, Boat Building in Carriacou and give advice on where to go for that special Caribbean family holiday.

Our recipe this month is Roasted Plantain wrapped Snapper Fillet with Virgin Salsa and Tomato Coulis, a Signature Dish from the AAA Four Diamond-rated Great House at Nisbet Beach Plantation and Spa, Nevis.

Happy Travels!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dominica Accommodation - Geotourism on the Nature Island

It strikes every visitor at once on arrival---a place where humanity and its impact come a poor second to the all consuming power of the natural world. The sheer profundity of the vegetation is hard to assimilate at first, such is the overwhelming effect as narrow strips of tarmac road vie for a presence amid the greenery. Pavements are non existent in rural areas and not for nothing is Dominica the self styled “nature island”. Even Columbus and his crew were taken aback one fair Sunday morn in November 1493 when their ship hoved to through a misty dawn on the eastern seaboard. Landfall was impossible on this rugged coastline and the seamen gazed in awe at the prospect before them. Not much has changed in over 500 years. Only rarely does an island stand alone in the magisterial grandeur of its landscape, and Dominica can lay claim to the most arresting mountain panoramas in the eastern Caribbean. The Morne Trois Pitons National Park was rightly accorded World Heritage Site status by Unesco in 1997.

Topography has defined its singular stance in modern day tourism too, with beach life and the regulation holidaymaker a rare commodity indeed. Instead, the hiker, whalewatcher and birder rule the roost with world class diving another major draw. Recently, community based tourism has gained strength in the wake of native New Yorker Anne Baptiste’s laudable ethos from half a century ago when setting up the Papillote Wilderness Retreat. Her seven rooms sit in two hectares of lovingly tended gardens replete with hot springs, waterfalls and a top class creole restaurant where she’s employed generations of villagers from Trafalgar in the Roseau Valley. Perhaps they should call her the Godmother of Geotourism, the buzzword that defines tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place—its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture and the wellbeing of its residents.

Fae and Atherton Martin of Exotica Cottages on a ridge 1400 feet above the capital Roseau have developed the theme in latter years, combining health and wellness, local agriculture, flower growing, traditional music and cooking demonstrations in their hugely successful Community Gardens Culinary Tour which embraces the skills of local villagers from Giraudel and Eggleston. Fourth in National Geographic’s Geotourism Awards in 2008, they’re now hoping to enlist Greenpeace in marketing the concept while Dominica is also set to host the inaugural Green Investment Conference in early October. The location for this is the remarkable wild forested mountainside development at Jungle Bay in the far south east near Delices, the brainchild of environmental activist and visionary Sam Raphael. Dominica is in the vanguard of forward thinking, sustainable development in the Caribbean and this major gathering of concerned individuals will hopefully drive the necessary implementation programme.

For more information, please see the Definitive Caribbean Guide to Accommodation on Dominica.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Carriacou Regatta 2010, 25th July – 2nd August

No island in the region can cherish its links to the sea more than Carriacou, the southernmost of the Grenadine chain twenty miles north of Grenada. Known as the Land of Reefs by the original Amerindians, it has a strong Scottish and Irish heritage and seafaring is in the blood. The building of traditional timber sloops is undergoing something of a renaissance too and Carriacou’s hugely anticipated Regatta is due to celebrate its 45th anniversary from July 31st over the Emancipation holiday weekend.

It’s developed into a popular event drawing sailors and visitors alike from Grenada, Tobago, Canouan, Union, Martinique, St Vincent and from as far north as Antigua in a raucous festival of seamanship and good natured bonhomie. Inaugurated by Jamaican John Linton Riggs, to help stimulate the boat building trade, his large workboat the Mermaid, constructed by master shipwright Zepherine McLauren, once won seven regattas on the trot. These sturdy workboats remain the focal point today and are raced in four different classes up to 35 feet in length.

Other sporting and cultural events take place on land and fierce competition is the order of the day. There may even be the odd flagon of Jack Iron rum consumed. For more information do call 443 7930 or 7948 or email on

Monday, June 21, 2010

Help Us Update Our Guides to Trinidad and Dominica

Our roving reporter, Stephen Thorpe, is currently winging his way around Trinidad and Dominica in search of the best places to stay, Dominica activities and details about Trinidad.

We would love you to comment on what you think we should be looking at. Where are the coolest hang outs? Where should we go for Trinidad birding? Who offers the best sailing, scuba and spa services on the islands?

Steve has a knack for finding hidden gems and is very keen on ecotourism in Dominica and responsible travel…do you have any recommendations?

Leave us your thoughts below and we’ll check them out!

Dominica Island Guide

Thank you!
The Definitive Caribbean Travel Guide

Monday, June 14, 2010

Cricket - Lovely Cricket in the Caribbean

Ah, Cricket lovely cricket. West Indies are embroiled in a three Test series against a strong South African side at present and nothing so far suggests they’re about to upset the form book. Time was, and it’s not that long ago, when a home Caribbean Test series was really something to relish, a time for rejoicing with a battery of truly great players on view, the stands packed to overflowing and rocking to the sweet sounds of pan, soca and conch as the Windies coasted to yet another resounding victory.

No more though, O dear, whatever happened to those halcyon days of yore. It’s a long story, and too complicated to relate here, but suffice it to say the men in maroon have been in apparently terminal decline now for well over a decade now. Just when it seems things cannot get any worse.... they do. This just concluded opening Test in Port of Spain was actually switched from Kingston after the social unrest there, a reminder, if any were needed, that matters beyond the boundary are no bed of roses either.

Before this last game, West Indies had won and lost 152 matches in their history so defeat by 163 runs means their win-loss ratio dips below 1 for the first time since 1976. It’s a measure certainly of how far they’ve sunk and, with cricket still seen as the region’s main unifying force, the lack of success is felt far and wide. The greatest of games is still a passion, nay a religion among the older brethren around the islands, and the pain runs deep. This latest reverse comes hard on a 5-0 whitewash in the preceding one day internationals where tiny Dominica at least enhanced its growing reputation on the world stage by successfully hosting its first ever back to back internationals in the recently constructed stadium in Roseau.

There were decent turn-outs too, and Dominica’s profile was raised further when their 26 year old offspinner Shane Shillingford made his Test debut in Port Of Spain. Miracles do sometimes happen so if you fancy watching West Indies turning this series around then venture along to the wonderful Warner Park ground in Basseterre, St Kitts on 18th June then to the “Mecca” of Kensington Oval Barbados from June 26th for the third and final Test. Just don’t bank on any change of fortune.

For more information, please see the Definitive Caribbean Guide to Cricket.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Barbados and Grenada Win Gold at The Chelsea Flower Show 2010

Bloomin marvellous! Barbados and Grenada’s twin gold medals at the recently concluded Chelsea Flower Show were testimony to the rich horticultural heritage in both countries and the dedicated individuals who have nurtured its growth. Barbados’ winning exhibit “Sugar Factory Ruins Reclaimed by Nature” which was designed by acclaimed artist Arthur Atkinson, was its 14th gold in the last twenty one years and was achieved amid 600 competitors from every corner of the globe.

For over half a century Iris Bannochie’s Andromeda Gardens was the flagship destination on any east coast island tour but horticulture is now a boom industry in Bim with COW Williams’ Canefield Plantation site in St. Thomas supplying anthuriums, ginger lilies and heliconias on a commercial scale, many of which were on display at Chelsea. Orchid World in St. George has over 20,000 specimens on view too while Hunte’s gardens, a former sugar plantation, and Flower Forest in St. Joseph are also well worth a visit.

Grenada is no less arresting for the flower enthusiast, and driving around you cannot fail to be assailed by the aromatic whiff of spices at every turn, from nutmeg to pimento, which only thrives in Jamaica elsewhere in the Caribbean. If that isn’t enough of a sensory overload then try some of the fruit of the cocoa tree which is rapidly establishing itself on a far wider scale here. From a small cottage industry started just over a decade ago using ancient machinery deep in the country, the Grenada Chocolate Company has suddenly gained a burgeoning international reputation. It’s purely organic for one thing, and fair trade, only problem is the demand often outstrips supply. And why not, it’s smooth, utterly divine, unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, guaranteed....... and usually unobtainable. Americans purchase it by the suitcase (big ones), damn them, and on my last visit there was none to be had at the airport either.

Like the flowers, shrubs and spices, it reflects the wonderful growing conditions of the rich volcanic soil. Oils, organic soap and cosmetics are another valuable by-product and for the green fingered Grenada is truly a place to savour. Caribbean Horizons run dedicated garden tours to places like Sunnyside, Bay Gardens, The Tower, Joydon and Balthazar estate. Take time out there if you can. Oh...... and some advice for the Chocolate Company...... set up a stall at the Flower Show next year lads you could sell us a few bars there for sure. Unless the Yanks got there first.

For advice on other things to do around Barbados and Grenada and where to stay, please see:
The Definitive Caribbean Guide to Barbados and
The Definitive Caribbean Guide to Grenada.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Coke, Golding and ‘Politricks’ in Kingston, Jamaica ain’t all bad!

Something topical this week – the news from Kingston, Jamaica is alarming but would you have a clue it was happening if you were in the Blue Mountains, Negril or Montego Bay? We read the views of specialist Caribbean writer Stephen Thorpe, who has been writing about the Caribbean in the UK national press, magazines and international publications for over 25 years.

It’s certainly unusual these days for the Caribbean to feature on primetime and international news bulletins—so when it does, we sit up and take notice. The news out of Jamaica recently however has not made for good reading, or watching for that matter, but it’s important we retain some perspective on the matter. The problems besetting the downtown areas of the capital Kingston are multi-facetted, socially complex and rooted in political machination and corruption spanning more than four decades, a long term cancer at the heart of society. Jamaica is arguably the most arresting, visually inspiring and creative country in the entire region with 99% of its population warm and welcoming, and a sporting pedigree globally unparalleled for its size yet since Independence in 1962 it has been seriously under served by its politicians.

Last week’s horrendous scenes emanating from Tivoli Gardens have scarred Jamaica’s international image once again but this time, whisper it, there may be some sort of positive repercussions. It never rains but it pours—the hurricane season starts on June 2 with a forecast, as ever, for more frequent storm passages too. Ah, Tivoli Gardens. Sounds like some Italianate Eden, replete with fountains and blooming bougainvillea. Er...... no, far from it, it’s a sweltering concrete slum and shanty area housing thousands, abutting nearby Trenchtown, Jones Town and Rema where conditions are no less harsh. No need to rake over the grizzly details, but large swathes of west Kingston are controlled as lawless fiefdoms by drug barons and gun runners, the garrison “dons”, one of whom Christopher “Dudus” Coke, was summoned for extradition by the US back in October.

Prime Minister Bruce Golding of the Jamaica Labour Party and constituent member for Tivoli resisted it, but finally relented unleashing a street war when the residents blockaded the area against government forces and police seeking Coke. He has still not been located. If history repeats itself (and let’s hope it doesn’t) standby for more inevitable unrest. In 1992 Coke’s father, Lester, aka Jim Brown, died in a mysterious fire in prison the day before he was due to be extradited. Your correspondent witnessed the funeral: at the head of the cortege was Edward Seaga, one of Golding’s JLP predecessors as Prime Minister. Draw your own conclusions.

In the 1970’s Seaga opposed Michael Manley’s Peoples National Party which was supposedly aligned with Marxism and Castro’s Cuba and not to the liking of the United States. Guns flooded in from the north setting the tone for present day street culture; even now there are downtown walls smeared with old graffiti from that time: “CIAga Land, Keep Out”. Got to hand it to Jamaicans for retaining their sense of humour in parlous times. The common man refers to “politricks” and “politricians”, and not without good cause. As a former long term Kingston resident I trod carefully in those downtown enclaves, meeting remarkable people like Pastor Bobby Wilmot and Lorna Stanley who gave up a successful 30 year career in Washington journalism to return and offer succour and advice to the “sufferahs” of Trenchtown. These and other brave people like them are undeniably the true warriors of social conscience, not those now supposedly leading the country.

So, what does the future hold for the benighted Land Of Jah ? For the first time in years the police have a presence in Tivoli, so that’s a departure of sorts. And what about prospective travellers, the two million visitors per year, the lifeblood of the tourist industry? Kingston and St.Andrew is still under a state of emergency but at Moondance, Rockhouse and Tensing Pen in sultry Negril, the vibe is unaffected; indeed in every coastal resort, from Jake's and the unspoiled rural backwater of St.Elizabeth in the south to Strawberry Hill and the dreamy Blue Mountains life goes on as normal. The word must still be: go, and savour the upliftment.

For information about where to stay and what to do in Jamaica, have a look at The Definitive Caribbean Guide to Jamaica.

Definitive Caribbean says, fly into Montego Bay and from there choose from a number of other worthy places to stay, where the troubles in Kingston will seem a world away: Coyaba Beach Resort, Country Beach Cottages, Half Moon Club, Jackie's on the Reef, Round Hill Hotel and Villas, Moon Dance Cliffs Resort and Spa, The Caves and villas through Linda Smith Villas and Villa Vacation.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Land of the Living - Nevis Animals and Sea Life

Here is the sixth installment of articles in memory of Jim Johnson ( who died tragically on Nevis recently. We are re-publishing a series of his articles over the coming weeks. Each one gives a fascinating insight into the man, his love of Nevis and his infinite knowledge of natural life on this beautiful Caribbean island.

While Nevis is quiet and relaxed, with our gentle breezes and calm waters, we are very much alive and could be easily referred to as the Land of the Living! Nevis is packed and full of life, it is just not of a really loud and vocal nature!

Those long sandy beaches and rolling waves have a wide range of coastal and sea life. Ghost crabs hide in the sand and scurry into the waves to lay their eggs. Cockles bury themselves in the tidal zone. Coral reefs harbour thousands of types of fish, shell creatures, sponges, and sea fans as well as crabs, lobsters, octipi and baby turtles.

Overhead, quietly soaring around is a wide variety of coastal birds. Terns don’t fuss as much as gulls and you will rarely hear a squawk for our pelicans. The magnificent Frigatebirds look like small Pterodactyls, but say little.

Inland there are hummingbirds, banana quits, flycatchers and much more, but mostly active at dawn and dusk and even then not too loud. Also fluttering around with the birdlife are brightly coloured butterflies, moths, and beetles, none of which make a sound. They help our beautiful flowers and plants reproduce another wide category of life on Nevis.

Our noisy neighbours? Check out the frogs at night, that is the mating call of the males saying “Honey, I’m available”. Egrets and monkeys can sometimes be heard making guttural noises as the look for food and argue who is in charge. And then there are donkeys, scare a donkey and you will hear about it for at least five minutes (so just don’t scare them)!

Nevis is very much alive, just quietly going about it.

For more information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Nevis.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Talking Tiny - The National Flower of Nevis

Here is the fifth installment of articles in memory of Jim Johnson ( who died tragically on Nevis recently. We are re-publishing a series of his articles over the coming weeks. Each one gives a fascinating insight into the man, his love of Nevis and his infinite knowledge of natural life on this beautiful Caribbean island.

The hotels and private homes have some really beautiful flowers that are big and showy. The “National Flower” of the Federation is a large spreading tree that towers 30 feet tall! One of our wild flowers has a single bud that is over 12 inches (30 cm) tall. But the bulk of flora and fauna is not quite so big and showy, look closely and see the small!

Look at the wild areas alongside our roads, it is filled with numerous tiny white, yellow, red and even blue flowers! Blue Rain Eyes peep out after an afternoon shower. Pink Paint Brushes hide in the weeds (they often are the weeds) and mix with multicoloured lantanas.

Then there are the flowers that try to look big, but aren’t. Bougainvillea flowers form shrubs and Poinsettias tower like trees at Golden Rock, but those bright colours aren’t the flowers, they are modified leaf-bracts! The flowers are in the center and tiny, less than ¼ of an inch across!

Then there are the native animals. Some giant moths are found, but tiny brilliant butterflies are the most frequently seen. The “large noise” at night is a small tree frog with a backbone just over 1/3 inch (9 mm). The most delicate lizard species is also one of the smallest now, check out the tiny geckos! Our Hummingbirds dart all around and most count them as small, but for hummers they are actually quite big.

Take some time to appreciate the wonders of Nevis, but look closely to see it all!

For more information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Nevis.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Natural Spread on Nevis, Birds, Bats and Beetles.

Here is the fourth installment of articles in memory of Jim Johnson ( who died tragically on Nevis recently. We are re-publishing a series of his articles over the coming weeks. Each one gives a fascinating insight into the man, his love of Nevis and his infinite knowledge of natural life on this beautiful Caribbean island.

Nevis is home to many strange and fascinating creatures of all shapes and sizes. Flowers and ferns abound, Bats, butterflies and birds fly overhead during the day and at night. How did they get here? Where did they come from? Where are most of the mammals?

What we are referring to is Nevis’ natural spread. This means the thousands of different plant species, hundreds of brightly coloured moths, butterflies, and beetles, all the birds, and even the bats.

First is getting here, they didn’t take a plane and we don’t think they were teleported by aliens from Outer Space (though we reserve this as an option). If you were to go back in time 20,000 years, the islands were bigger and easier to get between. This was during the last Ice Age and the sea levels were at least 300 feet lower. St. Kitts and Nevis were truly one, as were many places now separated. The plants and animals floated, swam, or flew from one place to the next. Thus most of our natural species are similar to South America (this is the direction most currents or winds go).

We didn’t get everything as many plants and animals have symbiotic relationships with each other. If you got one without the other, it couldn’t survive!

As for many of the animals, including the large mammals, when the oceans started to rise, they died off. Not only massive storms, but smaller territories and restricted food supplies (One jaguar requires 20,000 acres, 2 need more than all of Nevis). The larger predators probably ate all their prey, then died off themselves, the bones would have dissolved into our volcanic soil!

Many later evolved into unique species. So go out and enjoy our natural spread!

For more information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Nevis.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Searching for Sulphur on Nevis - Yellow Butterflies!

Here is the third installment of articles in memory of Jim Johnson ( who died tragically on Nevis recently. We are re-publishing a series of his articles over the coming weeks. Each one gives a fascinating insight into the man, his love of Nevis and his infinite knowledge of natural life on this beautiful Caribbean island.

This doesn’t mean searching for sulphur, that yellow compound used for making gunpowder and skin creams, but rather looking at all those little yellow butterflies that seem so prominent on Nevis. And they are Sulphurs, Sulphur butterflies!

Sulphurs are by far the most common butterfly found on Nevis and probably in the entire Caribbean Region. They are not just one species, but a whole family and, like families, have a wide range of sizes and colours. There are over 20 estimated types of Sulphurs found on Nevis.

Most are yellow with some type of black markings. Orange-barred Sulphers (three types) are generally larger in size and mostly yellow, but have orange spots or stripes. The smaller yellows seem to mainly be Hall’s Sulphur with a black lining around the outside of the wing.

But then there are White Sulphers, Great White Sulphers, and Florida White Sulphurs! These again are often hard to sort out by a “nonspecialist”, and should not be confused with “White Peacocks”. Some Sulphurs are green!

Sulphur caterpillars are green with yellow stripes and feed on a wide range of plants. They like water and adults can actually drink salt water, so are sometimes found out at sea migrating from one island to the other!

So why not go search for some sulphur!?

For more information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Nevis.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Counting Creatures, Cretaceans, Avians and Arthropods

Here is the second installment of articles in memory of Jim Johnson ( who died tragically on Nevis recently. We are re-publishing a series of his articles over the coming weeks. Each one gives a fascinating insight into the man, his love of Nevis and his infinite knowledge of natural life on this beautiful Caribbean island.

One of the questions that visitors have been asking lately is “How many different creatures are there on Nevis”. To be truthful, nobody really knows a total count or even all the different species and sub-species.

Over thirty Cretaceans (that’s Whales and Dolphins for those non-scientists) are found in the waters around Nevis, but many are only for a month or so in the Fall and then again in the Spring. There are at least four species of sea turtles, three of which nest on our beaches. No one has ever done a complete tabulation of our sea life!

Then there is the avian population (this is birds, not all those people flying planes and relaxing at the airport), which is constantly changing. In surveys done in the 1980’s, only 72 species of birds were found on or around Nevis. With less farming and a wider variety of plants now being found around the hotels, numbers are currently over 149. Many species are now year-round that were previously listed as “accidentals”.

Then we cannot overlook our Arthopods. At least 60 different types of butterflies are seen along the roadsides of Nevis. There are also listed over 389 types of moths, which can be just as lovely! Also brightly coloured beetles, honeybees and those industrious ants!

There are also several types of bats, lizards, frogs and toads. Plus introduced species such as monkeys, mongooses, cats, dogs, goats and donkeys.

Nevis is a good healthy, natural place for just about everything, so why not come and take part!

For more information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Nevis.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Fruits of Nevis - Are They All Native?

In memory of Jim Johnson ( who died tragically on Nevis last week we are re-publishing a series of his articles over the coming weeks. Each one gives a fascinating insight into the man, his love of Nevis and his infinite knowledge of natural life on this beautiful Caribbean island.

'The Fruits of Nevis' by Jim Johnson
Many people come to Nevis and often ask about the many fruits that they see! Questions include : Are they native? What are they? Are they really fruit? How do you eat them? The answers vary...

Some are native and some are not, some we are not sure! Mangos (over 50 varieties), papayas (at least 20 types), and oranges are not. They are primarily “Old World” fruits, originating in Asia or Africa or Europe. Sour Sop, Sugar Apples, and Custard Apples are all originally from the Caribbean (so is Passion Fruit which is technically a vegetable)! Guavas and Bananas grow wild and while some varieties are native, most are not.

Most of the fruit can be eaten straight off the tree, but some cannot. Many people are sensitive to the skin of Mangos, so the fruit must be washed before they can handle them. Mangos are also cooked in a variety of ways. Sour Sop (that strange thorny fruit on the roadside) can be eaten plain or made into soups and sorbets. Plantains and green bananas are mainly fried. Sugar and Custard Apples you eat straight from the tree and as fast as possible before some child comes and steals them from you!

It should be noted that regular apples, peaches and pears all require cold weather to bear, so are imported rather than grown locally. The same applies to oranges, tangerines and citrus, the local ones are always green, but grapefruits are originally from Barbados!

So come, relax, and enjoy some local fruits (or the drinks and wines made from them)!

For more information please see our Definitive Caribbean Guide to Nevis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Helicopter Tour Around Volcanic Montserrat

Out of the flying pan into the fire!

When I was offered the chance to go on a nice relaxing helicopter trip around Antigua I was delighted. I didn’t have any fear of flying ... until I learnt I would be flying towards an active volcano that had blown up just a few weeks before!

Being a seasoned flyer I have to confess I don’t pay much attention to flight safety demonstrations. However with the prospect of flying at a volcano I can assure you I was glued to the 15 minute safety DVD at Caribbean Helicopters. They explained that the helicopter we were to travel in was statistically the safest single engine aircraft in the world .... and what better way of tempting fate that flying straight at an active volcano I thought. We were handed our yellow life jackets (I would have preferred asbestos underpants) and headed to the helicopter.

We departed from Caribbean Helicopter’s helipad near Fort James. You can see the take off video above. We started by buzzing the cruise liners moored at Heritage Quay and then flew out to sea over the crystal clear seas which surround Antigua. We were at around 2,000 feet but the water and sky was so clear we could see the reef and even sea turtles below. From February until April you can be lucky enough to see whales.

The flight takes about 15 minutes but you see Montserrat as soon as you leave Antigua. It’s hard to miss an island with a 10,000 foot high column of steam and ash spewing out of it!

The volcano had been dormant for millions of years and then a couple of thousand years ago it woke up…. with a bad case of indigestion. We arrived and swept around the volcano trying not to become its next meal.

As we arrived it was almost too much for my senses to take in. There was the size of the volcano to absorb and the brilliant contrast between its light, brown dusty appearance and the lush green mountains that surround it. It’s ironic that the ash that has caused so much destruction over the years actually gives life to the rest of the island as a super fertiliser. It wasn’t just the sights that assaulted the sense as all the time we had that distinctive sulphur smell fill our nostrils. It was incredible.

On the other side of the island I saw a sight that I had never seen before and will probably never again.

It was the former capital of Plymouth which had been destroyed by an eruption in 1997. We flew low over houses that had been overcome by mud, lava and ash. It was as if mother nature had decided to put a facial mud pack on the whole town!

We spent around 20 minutes touring the island, all the time we were being updated with interesting facts about the island’s history including the options to leave that the British had given the residents after the last major eruption. Half decided to leave and the other half decided to gamble and stay!

We had an amazing trip and as a postscript, a few days after we visited the volcano it erupted again. This time engulfing the former airport! I can only imagine the departure board “Sorry – flight delayed by volcano!”

If you are lucky enough to visit Antigua while Montserrat is still active then this trip has to be on your list of things to do. It is simply stunning. Just remember to pack those flame proof pants!

Charles Duncombe is an Antigua Holidays expert at UK travel company, Holidaysplease. He flew with Caribbean Helicopters.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Lounge by FBO 2000, Antigua Airport

You could begin to feel a bit like James Bond doing this. After arriving at the mysterious Gate 10 somewhere at the rear of Antigua airport, we speed across the runway in the middle of the night, hazard lights flashing. We draw up next to a large private jet.

‘Will you go straight on board, sir?’

‘Er, I’m not sure that’s such a good idea, given that it’s not our jet.’ I ponder where we might end up. Wichita? …El Salvador? …Afghanistan?

Instead we are taken into a white creole building to the side. It is the Lounge by FBO 2000. The company generally offers airport services (clearing private jets in and out, meet and greet for the smarter hotels etc), but as Antigua airport is due for a fair bit more renovation over the next few years, they have also decided to offer a lounge as a more comfortable alternative to the main departure hall.

It was a little empty when we were there, with just one other family, who, curiously lived just a few miles from us (fly 4000 miles to meet the neighbours…), but then you probably wouldn’t want it to be crowded. So we settled in (actually turned in, in the case of my two children, who spread themselves across two benches), ordered a drink and enjoyed the wait.

The Lounge has sitting areas, a snooze room, wireless coverage, internet access and magazines to keep you distracted, finger food, drinks on request and a couple of shower rooms. There is an outside deck surrounded by bananas if you wish to catch the evening warmth on your last day in the islands. There is even what they call a VVIP room if you want additional privacy, with a recliner and your own television.

It is certainly more comfortable than the regular terminal, which although it has improved a bit recently is still mayhem. And the Lounge would be particularly good if you had to transit in Antigua from one of the other islands, and therefore have five or six hours to kill before your trans-Atlantic flight home.

Our flight was delayed a little and so it was the dead of night by the time we were called to the plane. Our passports were returned and we were taken to the small departure area with its x-ray machine. And again, we loaded up into a 4x4 and, hazards on, we sped across the airfield.

Squawk. ‘Permission to cross Runway 7… Granted.’ We scooted off. The acid lights of the main terminal came into view and we drew up beneath the BA flight bound for London.

The Lounge by FBO 2000 costs US$95 per person (13 and up, children under 12 free). The Lounge is currently restricted to passengers flying on British Airways. Contact +1268 562 7056,

For more information about the island itself, please see The Definitive Caribbean Guide to Antigua.
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