Geography Report: Bonaire

Basic Facts

Capital: Kralendijk
People/Customs: The population of Bonaire comes from a mixture of European and South American people, and their culture reflects this. They also have a lot of English-speaking tourists and expatriates. Holidays include New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Labour Day, Ascension Day, Whit Sunday, Emancipation Day, Sinterklaas’ birthday (December 5-6) Christmas Day, Boxing Day.
Language: Dutch is the official language but English and Spanish are commonly spoken. The locals use a dialect called Papiamento, a mixture of Dutch, English, French, and Spanish.
Climate: Average yearly temperature is 82°F. Average yearly rainfall is less than 22”, falling mostly between October and January.
Food/Farming: Salt is one of the main exports on Bonaire. The Cadushi cactus is edible and its juice is distilled to make alcohol. A kind of maize (corn) is grown in years with enough rainfall.
Government: Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, and as such, has a mayor, alderman, and municipal council.
Currency: The US Dollar is used here to accommodate incoming tourists.
Art/Music/Culture: Colonists from Africa, Portugal, Spain, England, and Holland have contributed to the culture, music, and poetry found on Bonaire.

History

In 1499 Amerigo Vespucci claimed Bonaire for Spain. In 1636 the Dutch took the island, and slaves were imported to work on the salt flats in the late 1600s. The Spanish, Dutch, and English fought over Bonaire but it was conquered by the Dutch in 1816. In 1834 slavery was abolished and the salt industry faltered while the newly freed people became accustomed to the new way of life. Many immigrated to Venezuela for jobs while the island settled into its stride. In the 20th century, telephones connected Bonaire to the outside world and cars and trucks made transportation and delivery possible. Oil refineries opened on Aruba, and gave people from Bonaire better paying jobs closer to family and home. The first airport was built on the island while American troops were stationed there during World War II. After the war, tourism was brought to Bonaire and the island began to thrive. Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten became the Netherlands Antilles in 1954, and in 2010 they became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, sometimes referred to as the Dutch Caribbean.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Bonaire is not volcanic, but has a coral limestone foundation, and there are several salt flats on the island. It is dry and rocky with desert scrub and cacti. Common trees seen here are Brazil Wood, Divi divi, and Mesquite Acacia. The Lora and Prikichi Parakeet can be seen here, and the wild flamingos like the salt pans. The Yellow-shouldered Amazon parrot is an endangered indigenous species. Underwater, the entire coastline is lined with coral reefs and has plentiful sea creatures, including tropical fish, turtles, and marine invertebrates.

Things to do

Diving, snorkeling, kiteboarding, and windsurfing are popular water sports and you can also visit the wild flamingos and donkey colonies on the island. Washington Slagbaai National Park has miles of trails and includes Mount Branderis, the highest point on the island at 785 feet.

Bibliography

“About Bonaire.” December 7, 2016, The Bonaire Official Site, www.tourismbonaire.com. Digital Marketing by Tambourine.

Mal de Mer

Here we have a sweet little expression that sounds so much nicer in French than English, and translates even better, as “Bad (or Sick) of Sea.” That about sums it up. It’s a subject you will not read much about in glossy cruising magazines, but a crucial one that must be addressed.

Sugar Seasick

What’s black and white and green all over? A seasick “Sugar” (2010)

People assume that if we live on a boat, we all love boating and feel comfortable with the motion of boats. It’s simply not true. Jay—the captain, for heaven’s sake—has only to look at waves the wrong way to feel queasy. Our littlest, who has lived on the boat her whole life, gets sick almost every time we set sail. Sarah and Sam frequently feel sick, though Sam seems to get over his queasiness after a day or so. Aaron gets motion sick riding his skateboard on the half-pipe, so he’s pretty much hopeless on the boat. Before they left for the happy hunting grounds, even our cats got seasick. Eli was lucky enough to get the genes for my stomach-of-steel, meaning that it takes pretty severe conditions to make us feel ill. I can be on watch, sitting at the helm, reading or writing, in 6-8 foot ocean swells, in the dark. No problem. Eli can use his flight simulator to fly airplanes while we sail.

Once, Sam asked me if he could play video games, too, and I thought it might be a way to fill a few dull hours on a passage, but he ended up at the rail. Jay asked what he was doing and was incredulous that I would let him sit in front of a screen. It never occurred to me that it would cause a problem, since the seas (in my opinion) were relatively calm. That means I am not very sensitive to the conditions that cause 70% of our crew discomfort.  Of course, I am aware of their misery, and often get the lovely job of holding hair, cleaning up, and fetching water and towels.

Over the years, we have found many ways to deal with this recurring problem. At first, we tried natural remedies, like Sea Bands, which use the secrets of accu-pressure to alleviate suffering. Supposedly. We have tried ginger everything—ginger pills, ginger tea, ginger ale, ginger drops, ginger snaps, crystallized ginger, and ginger-based “queasy pops” (that looked and worked a lot like dum-dums). We have specially-blended essential oil drops (branded as Motionease) to place behind the ears. We have the Cuban fisherman remedy: Coke and Snickers.

And then we have some things that actually work. Despite our desire not to drug our children, their reluctance to put to sea and repeated requests to sell the boat made us rethink our position. On board we now have chewable children’s Dramamine, once-a-day chewable Bonine, Stugeron, and, for the desperate situation, Scopolamine patches (just for fun, look up the side effects on that one). Jay medicates preventatively, as do Aaron and Sarah. We can’t have the captain incapacitated. The two younger children can sometimes be coerced into taking the chewables, although they now associate that flavor with throwing up, so good luck on that one. They usually hang out with a bucket for a day or two and then get their sea legs the old fashioned way. And Eli and I, as the only vertical members of the crew, fetch and carry for the others.

Keep in mind we are on a catamaran. My galley is in the main cabin, with a 360° view of the horizon through the windows. We are not heeled over at all and we don’t “roll”, though the movement is often jerky as the “righting moment” of a catamaran is faster than that of a mono-hull. Some prefer the smoother motion of a deep-keeled, traditional boat, but even with my strong stomach, going down into the hulls to clean something up or dig out supplies has me feeling a bit green, so I can’t really imagine the whole mono-hull-cave experience.

Occasionally, when the conditions are right (usually when someone near me is sick), I can succumb to mal de mer. And what I can say about the experience is that the psychological component cannot be overstated. As long as I go outside and stare at the horizon and get some fresh air, I can overcome the initial queasiness, but if I have to go below for some reason, or if I’m trying to cook in rough seas and can’t step away, or if I’m doing a particularly nasty clean-up job, I begin to wish that someone had invented teleportation so that I could just “beam” off of the boat. It is then that I recognize the hardships that we have imposed on our family, and feel empathy for my children (read “mother guilt”).

We have been sailing as a family for more than ten years (before Take Two we had a little day-sailer in Tampa Bay), and our recent passage to Bonaire marks the first time that no one felt sick. It wasn’t a particularly calm passage—though we tend to pick our weather windows to minimize discomfort rather than for fast sailing—but we did have one night in an uncomfortable anchorage to prepare us, and between acclimation and medication, we seem to have struck the right balance. That does not mean, of course, that we are “cured,” since there is no cure for wind and waves, but we will enjoy that success and cross the next sea when we come to it.

On the Road Again

It’s been almost a month since we left our summer refuge in Grenada. One last stock-up trip to the store in St. Georges, one last afternoon at the pool/bar, one last trip to the Lightship, and we were off. Most of our friends and acquaintances had already left for other lands, so it wasn’t as if we were leaving anyone behind, never to see them again (mom’s bartender friends excluded).

Le Phare Bleu Marina

The leg from our marina in the south of Grenada to Carriacou was our first day-long passage in a very long time. We sailed most of the way, and got there before dark. We spent the night at Sandy Island, and after a short swim the next morning, we left for the Tobago Cays. We spent two nights in the Tobago Cays looking at turtles, and then moved on to Bequia, where we spent two nights. From there, we went to Marigot Bay in St. Lucia. We stayed on a mooring ball owned by the Capella resort for a few days, so we got almost all the benefits of a resort guest, such as free internet, swimming pool (with swim-up bar), restaurants, exercise room, shops, etc. We stayed for a week, before moving on to Rodney Bay, a little further to the north.

Tobago Cays Squall

Marigot Bay

Pool Day, Marigot Bay

We spent almost two weeks in Rodney Bay, where it rained almost every day, but on the few sunny days we had, we went hiking on the laughably tiny mountains on nearby Pigeon island, or snorkeling in their shadow. There was also a large inflatable splash park anchored off the beach where we injured ourselves and had a great time.

Perch

Floating Playground

On the rainy days, we entertained ourselves with Legos, video games, and school; while Mom entertained herself by going to the nearby Rodney Bay Mall and the gourmet grocery store. When the moon was full and the weather was calm, we set out for Bonaire, the first stop on the next leg of our 2016-17 Caribbean Tour.

Lego War

Grocery Run

Catch of the Day: Fresh Tuna

 

Blackfin Tuna

We caught a barracuda on the way to Carriacou, but it was too small to keep so we had to throw it back. A few days later, we caught a blackfin tuna on the way to Bequia. I think he was about 12 pounds. He fed all 7 of us—tuna steak for lunch! We grilled it and served it with lemon and an Asian aioli that Mom made. In our fish-catching history, we have caught two Mahi, several barracuda, and now, finally, a tuna. It is almost as good as swordfish, in my opinion.

Tuna Steaks by Sam

Summer in Grenada

We have left Grenada after a memorable summer season. We checked out of the country in Carriacou and spent a week exploring the Grenadines. Characteristically, it took us at least two tries. We ran errands on the Monday ahead of Grenadian Thanksgiving (Tuesday October 25th) a day which commemorates the American invasion of Grenada in 1983 and on which everything is closed and buses do not run.

Grenadian Thank You

Tuesday morning, the house a wreck and provisions all over the place, we were unprepared mentally to leave. Wednesday, we got up, ready to go, only to find an endless line of squalls on the horizon. By Thursday, we had said good-bye to everyone at least twice, cleaned and provisioned the boat, and prepared easy meals for travel days, so when we awoke to blue skies and a fresh breeze, it was easy to shove off.

We have often commented on how hard it is to untie the lines and just go. While we enjoy the part of our life where we get to change scenery and meet new people, the other part is always saying goodbye to people and places that we have grown to love. Grenada is no exception. I have asked myself over the last couple of months why it is that people rave about Grenada. Is it different somehow from the other islands in the Caribbean? The answer is yes, and no. In some ways, it is very like the other islands in its scenery, the bus system, the ubiquitous Rastafarians, the goats and chickens, the roadside produce stands, the touristy places, and the local places.

One major difference is the amount of time visitors spend here. While there are some beach resorts and charter boats that leave out of St. Georges, most of the people who come to Grenada for hurricane season are cruisers who have worked their way south or crossed the Atlantic, not your typical tourists. They come here with a different mindset, stay long enough to participate in local life and culture, and are welcomed by Grenadians in a way that seems different from other islands. Take the Hash, for example. Hash House Harriers is an organization of hikers worldwide, part nature-loving athletes, part party animals. In Grenada, a Saturday afternoon will see a couple hundred people gather in one of the seven parishes for a group-hike, a convivial mixture of locals, university students, and visitors alike. We enjoyed several hashes while we summered on the island; we hiked through rain forest, ate local food, made new friends, and came home muddy and happy.

Hash Party

Hash Mistress in trouble…

Hash Party

The punishment: to drink from the pot using the sleeve.

Hashing Buddies

Pictureed, L-R: Ronan, Sam, Ryan, Aaron, Josh, and Eli. Photo by Theresa, m/v Pilot’s Discretion

What we have discovered in the Caribbean islands is that it is hard to make friends with locals—especially when they are paid to make you a drink, drive you around town, or sell you produce. On some islands, we were viewed as little more than tourists with money to spend. But in Grenada, our children played with local children, I swapped recipes with women at produce stands and taxi drivers, and felt welcomed like family at Le Phare Bleu, the marina where we lived for the past two months. The Grenadians have a reputation of being very friendly and welcoming, and I found this to be true.

Le Phare Bleu Crew

Pictured L-R: Eunicia, Lyndona, Crema, Allison and Linda from Le Phare Bleu

Among boaters, summer here is called “Camp Grenada.” Somewhat comically, I found this to be true as well. Once we left Port Louis in St. Georges and the hustle-bustle of the capital, we found a small and wonderful group of people at Le Phare Bleu (including the ever-present buddy boat Abby Singer), with whom we did all sorts of fun summer-camp activities: inner-tubing on the Balthazar River, Hobie-cat sailing, dock parties and pot-lucks, jumping in waterfalls, exercise classes every morning, music jam sessions, happy hour at the pool, group rides to restaurants and beaches, organized tours, and a farewell boat-crawl with appetizers, drinks, and trivia questions at each stop. And that was just our little corner of the island! In the other bays on the south side of Grenada, there were kids’ beach Olympics, movie nights, volleyball, dominoes and chess, yoga classes, concerts, and many other social activities which kept the radio and dinghy channels buzzing.

Grenada River Rafting

Seven Sisters Waterfalls

Boat Crawl via Nightingale Tune

Boat Crawl (Photo by Lauren from Nightingale Tune)

When we bought Take Two, we dreamed of taking her back to the Caribbean, where she had served as a private charter boat in the 1990s. We wanted to take the children to places where we could eat fruit right off the trees, meet new people from all over the world, experience local island culture and learn about history first-hand. This journey was, for us, the trip of a lifetime. It did not disappoint. Jay and I had a date night recently at Savvy’s—the path to the beach was torch-lit and the sounds of steel-drums and ocean surf were in the air. In the moonlight, we could see the silhouette of volcanic mountains and palm trees, and on the breeze, we could smell barbecue and night-blooming tropical flowers. I had to laugh—it was if we had stepped into an advertisement for a Caribbean vacation!

Much of our trip was less stereotypical (thankfully so), and we have decided to continue traveling west toward Central America to experience a completely different culture and language. For this reason, although we are sad to say goodbye to friends we met in Grenada, we are also excited to see what’s next. That’s what it’s like to live in a moving house—to wave goodbye while greeting a new horizon.

Boat Crawl via Nightingale Tune

Farewell Boat Crawl with the crews of Hedonism, MickBeth, Moorahme, Find Us, Abby Singer, Renaissance II, Nightingale Tune, Sea Squirrel, Take Two, and Corpse Pounder. Photo by Lauren on Nightingale Tune.

 

Tropical Depression

Let’s talk about storms for a minute. During our time on the boat, we have seen some varied and nasty weather (we have also seen some pretty good weather too, but I won’t waste your time on something so boring). We have seen towering water spouts come within less than a mile of us. We have had waves wash over our cabin top and flood the cockpit. We have endured torrential rain, hail, lightning storms (blue, white, and pink), 50-knot winds at sea, and 12-foot swells. Once, Dad slipped on ice that had formed on the deck during a record Florida winter. But so far, we have never faced a hurricane.

Waterspout

The monster that became hurricane Matthew started out as a tropical wave way out in the Atlantic Ocean. It was clear from early on that it was going to develop into a tropical storm, and it was headed straight for Grenada, our current place of residence. Hurricanes, or tropical storms for that matter, almost never swing this far south, so Grenada is considered outside the hurricane belt. This does not mean that Grenada doesn’t get whacked, it just doesn’t get whacked very often.

Hurricane Ivan in 2004 was the last major storm to hit Grenada. It killed 39 people, and devastated homes all over the island. The capital, St. Georges, suffered severe damage, and several notable buildings were damaged or destroyed. The entire island was left without electricity or running water, and it caused $1.1 billion in damage. The only good thing about Ivan (if you are a criminal, that is) was that the 17th century prison broke open during the storm, allowing many of the inmates to (briefly) escape.

Initial forecasts of tropical storm Matthew looked grim. It would either pass to the north of us, and hit the northern end of Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or it would swing to the south of us, hit Trinidad and Tobago, and flood our marina with sustained high winds. The worst case scenario, however, would be if it went directly overhead and we got the winds from the eye wall. That would be bad. In anticipation of this, we began to scout out places to hole up the boat, as marina policy forbids catamarans from staying at the dock in the event of a hurricane. The ten mooring balls just outside the marina were a viable option. Attached to two eight-foot screws hydraulically driven into the bottom, as well as chain through a giant concrete block, the moorings weren’t going anywhere.

We also found a nice spot in Egmont Bay, right next door. Tied up against a wall of mangroves, we would be safe from the anticipated high winds. However, this option looked less and less appetizing, as in the days preceding the storm we watched more and more boats cram themselves into the bay. This seemed extremely foolish to us. The main danger would not be the high winds, but the notoriously poor holding in Egmont Bay. If even one boat broke loose, it would pin-ball around the harbor, cause considerable damage, and potentially break other boats loose as well. When it comes to storms in crowded bays, “safety in numbers” is a myth.

As Matthew approached, he began to swing to the north of us. The marina allowed us to stay in our slip, so we stayed. On September 27th, Matthew officially missed us. Despite all of our preparation, the worst we had to endure were two days of rain and squalls. The highest wind speed that we recorded was a good stiff breeze of 40 knots. Not enough to damage anything, but enough to make it very uncomfortable in our slip. We got a break from school, and played dominoes all day up at the restaurant. So all in all, Matthew was a bit of an anti-climax for us in Grenada. However, the same cannot be said for the rest of the Caribbean.

Soon after Matthew passed us, he underwent a drastic transformation. In only two days’ time, he rapidly became a full-fledged hurricane, and then a category 5 monstrosity with 160 mile-an-hour wind speeds, and an appetite for destruction. We watched, over the course of the week, as he plowed northward through the Caribbean. On October 4th, he made landfall in Haiti, with predictable results. Entire towns were wiped off the map, and transport and communication was disrupted throughout the region. Somewhere between 546 and 1332 people were killed, and thousands more left homeless. Later the same day, he also made landfall in eastern Cuba, wreaking more havoc. Matthew then proceeded northward through the Bahamas, causing well over $200 million in damage, and wrecking hundreds of buildings.

As if he hadn’t caused enough destruction already, Matthew headed towards Florida the next day. He swept up the east coast of the United States, causing widespread flooding and power outages. Most of his energy spent, Matthew, now a category 1, made one last tour, brushing Virginia and the Carolinas, before disintegrating off of Cape Hatteras on October 9th. During his stay in the U.S., Matthew caused $4-6 billion in economic losses; as well as the death of 46 people, one of which was the result of a heart attack where emergency services had closed down. This is in stark contrast to the huge loss of life in Haiti, and comparatively low monetary loss (close to $1 billion). All told, Matthew was around for only 17 days, but in that time, he caused $6.9 billion in damage, and killed over 1380 people, while leaving hundreds of thousands more homeless. Matthew has been dissipated for over a week, but in his wake remains a “tropical depression.”

When in Rome

Jay’s parents came to Grenada for a few days recently to visit with our family and experience a little of what the island has to offer. One of the fun things we did was to go to the House of Chocolate in St. George’s, a lovely little shop with a mini-museum to explain how they grow and process cacao. And, of course, there were treats: homemade chocolate ice cream, gourmet chocolates, brownies, and other delicious confections. My personal favorite is traditional coco tea, a mixture of pure cacao (with the cocoa butter), hot water, and brown sugar. The first time I tasted coco tea was on the boiling lake hike in Dominica when our guide shared his thermos with us. I bought the ingredients to make some at home.

This has been one of my favorite parts of traveling: to eat and drink new things, and to meet locals and ask how they prepare their favorite foods and beverages. Whether it’s shrimp-and-grits in Charleston, Maryland crab-cakes in the Chesapeake, conch fritters in the Bahamas, fish tacos in Puerto Rico, painkillers in the BVIs, or fried breadfruit in the Windward Islands, I will eat, drink, cook, and mix just about anything.

Tropical Fruit

Our trip through the Caribbean has been wonderful for culinary experimentation. While we missed the summer fruit of the United States this year, peaches and plums were replaced by mangoes and papayas and new fruits we’d never even heard of. With rum distilleries on every island, we’ve also tried all sorts of new drink concoctions. I can make a mojito with just about anything—mango (BVIs), watermelon (St. Lucia), or fresh ginger and passionfruit (Nevis). I’ve had a traditional rum punch in Anguilla, and the Ti’Punch in Martinique.

Sometimes the experiments don’t end well—we didn’t really like the fire-roasted breadfruit I bought in a Bequia market, and the first bite of fresh cashew-apple given to me in Montserrat was the last. (I eventually figured out how to peel and make a jam out of French cashew apple.)

Cashew Apples

But other times, we have added new foods and drinks to our repertoire. A friend of ours here in Grenada told me to mix “five fingers” (a.k.a. starfruit or carambola) with lime to make a delicious juice—I added ice and blended it to make a fabulous smoothie. A farmer’s market in Union (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) yielded some Christophenes (a.k.a. chayote) and a conversation with two lovely ladies who argued good-naturedly about the “correct” way to prepare it. I have found over and over again that the fastest way to break down a cultural barrier is to ask a local in a market how to prepare something. You’ll get more than just a recipe—a little piece of history, some culture, and maybe even a new friend.

Caribbean Recipes

Sauteed Christophene
4 chistophenes
Olive oil
3 cloves garlic
4 stalks chopped scallions/green onions

Peel and julienne the Christophene. Place in a steamer basket over boiling water for no more than 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and scallions. Remove Christophene from steamer and place in hot oil. Sauté lightly for another 2-3 minutes. It should be crisp-tender and not mushy. Add salt to taste and serve.

Christophene

Cashew Apple Jam
A dozen freshly picked cashew apples
3 cups cane sugar (turbinado or demerara)
6 small limes
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Peel and chop the cashew apples, removing the pit. Place in medium pot with sugar and add the juice of six limes. Over medium heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 30 minutes, until cashew fruit is softened and mixture is bubbly. Use a potato masher or a blender to purée the fruit, and return to pot. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla, and stir. Cool in the pot for 30 minutes, then put in mason jars. Use boiling water canner to preserve, or store in fridge.

Cashew Apple Jam

Five Fingers and Lime Juice Drink
3 large “five fingers” fruits a.k.a. Star Fruit or Carambola
The juice of 6 fresh limes
1 cup water
3 tablespoons cane sugar (turbinado or demerara)
Ice

Remove ends of five fingers and chop into large chunks. Place in a large blender, adding water, sugar and lime juice. Purée the fruit on high, and add ice cubes until the juice becomes slushy. Serve immediately.

Mango Salsa
2 large, firm almost-ripe mangoes
½ cup chopped red pepper
1 tablespoon minced jalapeño, if you like spice
½ cup chopped red or sweet onion
¼ cup minced cilantro
Juice of 2 small limes
Salt to taste

Chop the mangoes, squeezing the juice from the seeds into a medium bowl. Add mango chunks, lime juice, chopped onion, cilantro, bell pepper and jalapeño, if desired. Add salt to taste and serve with fresh fish, grilled shrimp, or jerk chicken.

Basic Mojito (1 drink)
10 fresh mint leaves
Juice of 1 small lime (or half a large lime)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 oz. white rum
6 oz. club soda
Ice cubes

Muddle mint leaves, lime, sugar, and rum (and any add-ins) in the bottom of a glass. Add ice and club soda and stir gently.

Add ins:
1 teaspoon diced fresh ginger root and ¼ cup fresh passion fruit juice
¼ cup fresh mango puree
1 slice watermelon, seeds removed (about ¼ cup)

Geography Report: Grenada

GrenadaMapFlag

Basic Facts

Capital: St. George’s
People/Customs: There are around 100,000 people on Grenada, Carriacou, and Petit Martinique. Most are descended from African slaves.
Language: English
Climate: In the winter the high is around 81°, the low, 72°. In the summer, the high is 86°, the low, 77°. Hurricane Season is from June to November. This is also the rainy season.
Food/Farming: Grenada is the world’s second largest nutmeg producer, but the island also exports mace, cloves, cinnamon, cacao/chocolate, rum, and bananas. Other tropical fruits like citrus, mangoes, avocados, soursop, breadfruit, sugar apples, and passionfruit are grown for local consumption.
Government: Grenada is an independent nation inside the British Commonwealth.
Currency: The East Caribbean Dollar (EC) is used here.
Art/Music/Culture: Soca and Calypso music are popular here, especially during Carnival (the first week of August). Other holidays include New Year’s Day, Easter Monday, Labour Day, Whit Monday, Emancipation Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

History

Grenada was sighted by Columbus in 1498, but no colonizers landed until 1609 when English settlers planned to farm tobacco on the island. The native Caribs drove them off the island, but in 1650 a French governor bought Grenada from the natives for hatchets, beads, and brandy. In 1651 French soldiers attempted to enslave the Caribs, but rather than become captives and be taken to Europe, most jumped off of a huge cliff, now called Leaper’s Hill or Caribs’ Leap. The French imported African slaves and plantations of indigo, tobacco, coffee, cocoa, and sugar thrived in the fertile soil of Grenada. England and France fought over the island until 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed and Britain took over Grenada. After slavery was abolished in 1834, the plantation became obsolete and major production of sugar stopped.

In 1877 Grenada became a crown colony, and gained independence as a nation inside British Commonwealth in 1974. In 1979, Maurice Bishop, as part of the New Jewel Movement, led a coup against the government, which was perceived to be corrupt. He became prime minister of the People’s Revolutionary Government. He was popular because he tried to improve common people’s lives, starting schools, medical clinics, and farmer’s co-ops. Division within the party led to a military overthrow and he was placed under house arrest in 1983. There was public outcry and a large crowd of people stormed Fort George. The military fired into the crowd and Bishop was taken prisoner and executed with several of his followers. During the period of unrest that followed, the United States and several Caribbean nations got involved, invading Grenada and attempting to quell the violence and reinstate a democratic leadership. Elections were held again in 1985 and Herbert Blaize became prime minister. The people responsible for Maurice Bishop’s murder were sentenced to life in prison. To this day, Bishop is viewed as a national hero, and the United States is admired for its role in the conflict.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

Breadfruit, flamboyant, and palm are the most numerous trees, and Mona monkeys, 9-banded armadillos, opossums, hummingbirds, mongooses, and bats can be found on the island. The island is mountainous with tropical rainforest. Several smaller islands, the largest of which are Carriacou and Petit Martinique are also part of Grenada.

Things to do

Snorkel in Carriacou and Petit Martinique, as well as the underwater sculpture park in Dragon Bay, go to the Beach at Grande Anse, Morne Rouge, or La Sagesse, hike in the Grand Etang National Park, go on a nutmeg factory tour, chocolate tour, or rum distillery tour, and swim in Concord Falls or Seven Sisters Falls.

Bibliography

Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “Grenada.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.

Whaling in Bequia

I stare with mixed wonder and horror as Rudy, with his gap-toothed smile, explains what it’s like to stand on a whale. Stand on a whale. We are up on a hill in Bequia overlooking Friendship Bay and the Semples Cay whaling station. Rudy, a Bequian taxi driver, has grown up participating in the annual hunt for humpback whales. He is explaining the use of the tools on display at the Maritime Museum, a euphemistic title for a little open-air building with a wrap-around porch and lattice-work grill so you can see the artifacts and old boats, which are propped on whale-bone stands. I am nodding and making mental notes as if I am reporting for the local paper, a curious but unbiased listener.

Whaling Museum, Bequia

They’ve been hunting and killing humpback whales in this little island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines since 1875, when “Old Bill” Wallace, a Bequian of Scottish descent who had worked on North American whaling ships, returned to his plantation to train workers and open a commercial whaling station. More than 140 years later, the island is still granted a quota of 4 whales annually by the International Whaling Commission to be taken between January and April, which they grant to only a few countries who practice Aboriginal Substistence Whaling.

Now, I’ve read Moby Dick and have some concept of what a whale hunt entails historically. The double-ended boat Rudy is showing me now, with its loggerhead and tubs of line looks like a diagram in a notated copy of Melville’s famous work. The tools on the wall, harpoons and spades and lances are at least familiar to me, and I view them as one often views artifacts that have no bearing on one’s own daily life, with nonchalance.

But Rudy’s narrative is not a story out of the far-reaching past. As he begins to explain how the whaleboats separate the female humpback from her calf, how they keep her at the surface long enough to harpoon her, how they go for a “Nantucket sleigh ride” and eventually lance and kill her, sew up her mouth so she won’t fill with seawater and sink, then tow her, and her calf (which they also kill), back for flencing and butchering at Semples Cay, I am stunned into silence. The meat of a whale calf is a delicacy, he tells me. The whales are butchered mainly for food, since the export of whale oil ceased by the1970s. The meat is cooked in large chunks with the blubber, which melts and becomes a deep-fry. He assures me that although they took no whales this year, almost everyone still has some meat from the last hunt in their freezer. He says this with enthusiasm, and explains how the whole island turns out as for a party when a whale is killed, how the bay turns red, and how every part of the whale is used.

I find my tongue again, and ask about modern equipment—are they still using the traditional sail and row-boats, the old iron tools? He says the last harpooner, Athneal Olivierre, died in 2000. (I learn later that he was a descendant of Joseph Olivierre, who partnered with Wallace in the 1870s to open 6 whaling stations in Bequia, all but one of which closed down when whales became scarce in the 1940s.) Although Athneal Olivierre is gone, a new generation of men continues to hunt whales, using a “bomb lance” and “darting gun” which use explosive shells to shock and kill the whale. The traditional boat is still used, but is often towed close to the whale by a power boat, which is also used in the chase and for towing whales back to the station.

I ask how many whales are killed every year. Rudy explains that sometimes a whale is lost in the hunt, if it is injured but not caught, or if it sinks. Some years they take the quota, but in other years, they only get one whale, and this year, none. He says that environmentalists and animal rights activists are having an effect on their hunt. Agencies like Greenpeace, he insists, are disrupting their way of life. He informs me that two tactics are used—financial disincentives (paying whalers not to catch whales), and whale-warning systems which use sound to frighten whales away from hunting areas.

One of the kids asks about sharks stealing the meat. They are plentiful around the whale carcass, Rudy says, and fishermen in small boats catch the gorged sharks easily. Because of the influx of whale meat, the sharks are killed only for their livers, which are supposed to be very good for you. The kids ask Rudy’s 11-year-old grandson, who is riding along with his grandfather today, if he eats whale meat. He replies enthusiastically that it’s good, and tastes like fish. He’s never been on a hunt, but thinks he will go someday. Rudy tells us that the fishermen of St. Vincent also hunt smaller whales, “black fish,” and dolphins, and that the meat is good. All of this I take in, reserving judgement, just trying to understand this island’s culture. I thank Rudy for his time and he takes us back to Port Elizabeth.

The kids head to the dinghy, and I stop back by a street vendor to look at some scrimshaw I saw earlier in the day, but now I know where it came from. I ask who did the carving and the vendor tells me about his cousin, and about the bone on which a tiny humpback whale has been meticulously carved. I find it irresistible, and despite my own cultural bias, I buy the souvenir.

At dinner, we have a family discussion about whale hunting. We’re telling Jay, who was at the boat working while we were on our field trip, what we have learned. I ask the kids what they think about the hunt. Aaron, at 13, does not see anything wrong with the taking of whales for meat; because they have a quota, and use the animal to feed the island, it is no different than our hunting deer or wild boar to eat. It is not as if they are poaching, like elephant hunters, to take only tusks. I consider this statement, and realize that every culture has its own rules about what is sacred—Americans eat millions of hamburgers, but in India this would be considered sacrilege. Americans view their pet dogs almost like children, but there are places where dog is a delicacy. The intelligence of an animal doesn’t seem to carry a lot of weight—pigs and monkeys are intelligent—yet they are on the menu. Maybe this is part of a bigger question: is all meat-eating barbaric? Some have come to the conclusion that it is, and become vegetarians. Those who eat kosher limit their diet to certain domesticated quadrupeds and scaled fish. Others apply their own criteria to decide what is food and what is taboo. I did not intend to open a can of worms, but only to ask if there is something inherently wrong with killing whales for food.

In order to process an answer to this question, I decide to do a little research. I stumble across a 2012 report by the Animal Welfare Institute, which was making recommendations to the International Whaling Commission about the renewal of Bequia’s quota. I discover the other side of Rudy’s story.

The main objections seem to be that Bequians do not meet the requirements for Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling; they are not an indigenous people, they do not have a longstanding historical or cultural tie to whale hunting, nor do whales form the bulk of their diet. Because whaling started out in Bequia as a commercial enterprise, it is difficult to prove that the island is eligible for “subsistence” whaling, especially because some of the meat ends up for sale in fish markets in Kingstown, St. Vincent. Furthermore, though whalers once used traditional boats and harpoons, their use of high-speed powerboats and modern weapons changes the game. They are allowed to take up to four whales per year, but they do not document losses or prove that their killing methods are humane. And despite promises by the government to end the targeting of females accompanying their young and to eventually phase out whaling entirely, Bequia continues to illegally kill females and their calves. The Animal Welfare Institute report states that St. Vincent and the Grenadines regularly fails to report their kills, losses, and killing methods to the appropriate committees of the International Whaling Commission and that when they have provided information, it is often contradictory or false. For years, they refused to provide photographic or written evidence to the Scientific Committee, as they made an effort to determine the impact on whale populations.

According to the Animal Welfare Institute, the International Whaling Commission has failed to enforce its own regulations and should not renew Bequia’s quota, especially because St. Vincent and the Grenadines refuses to regulate the hunt or provide proper documentation. Whalers of Barrouallie, St. Vincent also take orca, pilot whales, and dolphins with little or no oversight. It is estimated that around 300-500 cetaceans are killed annually. Fishermen carry hand harpoons for taking dolphins and small whales when the opportunity arises.

Despite the fact that the taking of 3-4 humpback whales each year does not appear to reduce “stock” and poses no significant threat to the Atlantic humpback whale population at this time (according to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, only 35 whales have been taken in as many years), the taking of females and calves is illegal and inhumane. At the very least, it is irresponsible and shortsighted, typical of what we’ve seen of Caribbean fisheries management. The International Whaling Commission reconvenes in 2018 to decide whether St. Vincent and the Grenadines should continue to receive its quota of 4 humpback whales, and it seems at this time that the apathy of the agency will continue. Whether one concludes that hunting whales is barbaric or not does not change the fact that Bequia’s hunt does not comply with the law.

Where I normally frown upon the vigilante tactics of groups like Greenpeace, I can understand their frustration with the International Whaling Commission and the use of creative strategies to discourage the killing of whales around the world. (Incidentally, I was unable to substantiate Rudy’s specific claims about anti-whaling activism in Bequia.) Another creative solution was reported by the Sierra Club in 2014: Orson “Balaam” Olivierre of Bequia hung up his harpoon and decided to try using his boat for whale-watching tours instead of hunting. This seems like a wise way to line up economics with conservation. Why not change the paradigm and use the humpback whale migration to attract tourists instead of hunters? The entire species has been protected since 1978, and humpback whales, which were once hunted nearly to extinction are recovering as a species. Why should the mere enjoyment of whale meat and cultural pride constitute a justification for the continued hunting of a protected animal?

After reading the Animal Welfare Institute’s report, I found myself second-guessing the purchase of a scrimshaw souvenir. By buying the carving, I am implicitly supporting the killing of whales and perpetuating the practice. On the other hand, boycotting the purchase of whale-bone handcrafts alone will have virtually no impact on whale hunting in Bequia, since the animals are mainly killed for their meat, and the use of bone for carvings or household furnishings (which are common in Bequia) is only secondary. I cannot view the tiny, intricate whale that has joined the collection of keepsakes from our travels without mixed feelings. My wonder is undiminished, but it is tinged with great sadness. This small souvenir shall serve as a reminder to me to think very carefully about a what a casual purchase can represent. Merely refusing to buy scrimshaw will not induce Bequia to stop its whaling practices, but an increased awareness of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ infractions could put international pressure on the island nation to stop the inhumane killing of these protected creatures.

 

If you are interested in reading the Animal Welfare Institute’s 2012 report in full, it can be found at: https://www.awionline.org/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/SVGReport072012.pdf

The Squall

It breaks like a giant gray wave in the sky;
The wind and rain are the weapons it wields.
I stay inside and watch as it passes by–
It moves across the bay as over an open field.
The rain comes falling like a hail–
Sometimes it hammers, sometimes it pounds,
Falling sideways, driven by the gale.
Somewhere nearby a thunderclap resounds.
The wind: those invisible fingers of persistent strength
Whose touch is chilling and will is on mischief bent,
Whispering and howling until at length
The storm recedes with power drained and anger spent.
Such magnitude without body and without shape!
The creation of such a thing comprehension does escape.