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.


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.


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)

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


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.


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.


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:

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.

Geography Report: St. Vincent and the Grenadines


Basic Facts

Capital: Kingstown, St. Vincent
People/Customs: St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a population of 112,000, mostly descended from African slaves, with some Scottish, English, Irish, French, Asian, and Caribs.
Language: English, with locals speaking a French Patois.
Climate: In January the daily high temperature is 81°, and the low is around 72°. In July the average daily high is 86°, while the low averages 76°. Hurricane (rainy) season is June to November.
Food/Farming: Bananas, Arrowroot, Coconut, Cocoa, and Spices.
Government: St. Vincent and the Grenadines is an independent nation within the British Commonwealth.
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar
Art/Music/Culture: Reggae, Calypso, and Steel Band music is popular in St. Vincent, and common sports are cricket and football (soccer).


Spanish explorers discovered St. Vincent in the 1500s, and in the early 1700s French settlers established plantations on the island. The British and French fought over St. Vincent and the Grenadines and in 1783 the Treaty of Paris gave the islands to Britain. In 1812 the Soufrière volcano erupted and wiped out cocoa, coffee, and sugar plantations. Most plantations were abandoned after slavery was abolished in 1834, but those that had remained in use were further diminished by a hurricane in 1898 and another volcano eruption in 1902. Small farmers then continued to use the plantations as farmland. In 1969 St. Vincent and the Grenadines became a self-governing state of Britain, and gained full independence as a nation inside British Commonwealth in 1979.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

St. Vincent has an elevation of 4048 feet. St. Vincent is around 133 square miles, and the Grenadines, consisting of several islands, (the main ones being Bequia, Canouan, Mustique, Mayreau and the Tobago Cays, and Union),  are around 17 square miles in all. The St. Vincent Parrot is the national bird and it is endangered. There are also protected coral reefs with many species of fish and sea turtles.

Things to Do

There are botanical gardens on St. Vincent, a whaling museum on Bequia, and the Tobago Cays have a Sea Turtle Sanctuary. Union Island is known for kiteboarding.


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

Geography Report: St. Lucia


Basic Facts

Capital: Castries
People/Customs: approximately 150,000 people live on St. Lucia, mostly descendants of slaves or people who immigrated from other Caribbean nations to work in the hospitality industry.
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 (rainy season) is from June to November.
Food/Farming: Bananas, Coconuts, and Cocoa are the most productive crops on St. Lucia. They also export rum made from sugar cane.
Government: St. Lucia is an independent state within the British Commonwealth, represented by a Prime Minister.
Currency: The East Caribbean Dollar (EC) is used here.
Art/Music/Culture: English, French, African, and Caribbean cultures influence St. Lucia. Carnival is celebrated in July.


The Spanish discovered St. Lucia in the 1500s and the British later attempted to settle the island, but after 2 years of attacks from the Carib tribes living on the island, the effort was abandoned. The French took interest in St. Lucia and struck an agreement with the Caribs. The first town, Soufrière, was settled in 1746 by the French and plantations were established on the island. Then for the next 150 years the British and French traded control of the island until 1814 when the Treaty of Paris ceded St. Lucia to the British. African slaves worked sugar plantations until they were emancipated in 1834. French influences can still be seen in the music, food, and city names. English became the official language in 1842, and locals speak a French-based Patois. Tourism is now the main industry in St. Lucia, though agriculture still accounts for about a third of the economy.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

St. Lucia is 27 miles long, 14 miles wide, and has roughly 238 square miles. The highest peak is Mt. Gimie, the second highest is Gros Piton, and the third is Petit Piton. Much of St. Lucia is covered in rainforest, complete with tropical fruit trees and animals like birds, insects, and frogs. The Jacquot Parrot is the island’s national bird and almost went extinct.

Things to do

Visit fort ruins on Pigeon Island, Castries Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the beach at Rodney Bay; scuba dive or snorkel near Soufriere and the Pitons; spend the day at Marigot Bay (Capella Resort or Doolittle’s on the beach); rent sailboats (Rodney Bay, Marigot Bay or Sugar Beach); hike Gros Piton or climb Petit Piton, hike to the waterfalls or sulfur springs; or go to the “drive thru volcano” and mud baths.


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

Twilight Drive in Grenada

You are standing in front of a large yellow van parked on a high mountain road. You are tired and muddy from a four-mile hike through the jungle. It is past seven o’clock, and the sun is beginning to sink below the horizon. You and the other hikers pile into the van, and you take a window seat on the left side. The driver, aptly named Yellow Man, gets into the driver’s seat on the right side. He is wearing a yellow shirt, yellow pants, yellow socks and shoes, and a yellow rubber band in his long beard. He starts the engine and the van begins to roll down the slope. For no particular reason, you slide back the window and stick your head out in to the evening air.

The wind is warm on your face, carrying with it the smell of damp vegetation and, occasionally, goats. You also catch a faint whiff of rotting mangoes. Over the rushing air, you hear the almost-electronic peeping of thousands of tiny frogs in the jungle. The road winds through the mountains, looping back and forth through the valleys and slopes. Sometimes your view is blocked by a wall of volcanic stone, and sometimes the rainforest drops away, revealing the whole island spread out before you like a wrinkled green quilt.

You pass through a small town. The houses are painted all manner of colors: powder blue, bright pink, mango orange, and banana yellow. Reggae music blasts from a small pub where local men talk and play pool. Occasionally, a car rushes past in the opposite direction. Because you are seated on the left side of the van, you do not have to worry about your head being forcibly removed by on-coming traffic, but you do have watch out for branches sticking out into the road.

At one point, you pass a landfill. You smell it long before you see it in the fading light: the stench of burning rubber. The huge piles of garbage have been burning for years, rendering this beautiful valley entirely uninhabitable. You are very relieved as the van drives away, and start to breathe from your nose again.

The van gradually makes its way out of the mountains and into the capital, St. George’s. It is well past eight o’clock and the sun is long gone. The only light comes from the orange street lamps, and the van’s own headlights. By this time, your neck is very sore from holding it outside the window for over an hour. You briefly pull your head back into the vehicle, but you just can’t stand the inanity of the conversation from the back seat.

You are beginning to feel sleepy by the time the van drives through the marina gate. You hear the sound of tires crunching over gravel as the vehicle comes to a halt, and draw your head back through the window for the last time. Yellow Man kills the engine, hops out, and opens all the doors. The seventeen occupants of the fifteen-passenger van all tumble out. You gather up the bag of muddy shoes, and say good night to the other weary hikers. As you walk down the dock toward home, calypso music drifts across the water from faraway hills.

Asking Directions in French

I remember quite clearly the first time I asked for directions in French. I was a sophomore in high school, visiting Quebec with some friends of my parents, Peter and Linda. Linda is French Canadian, and we had struck up a bilingual friendship the previous year when they had come to visit us in Florida. I had taken one year of high school French in a part of the country where a large segment of the population speaks Spanish. As is often the case, one small decision—like which language class to take—leads one down a long and surprising path.

We were in a restaurant in the old city, and I asked for directions to the ladies’ room. Evidently, my ability to ask basic questions surpassed my ability to comprehend the answers, as the hostess responded with a long and very fast explanation involving only a few words of which I caught—something about “stairs” and “to the right.” Too proud to admit my ignorance, I smiled and thanked her and went looking for some “escaliers.” (I eventually found les toilettes.)

Peter and Linda lived in a rural village 20 minutes south of Middlebury, Vermont and that summer visit whetted my appetite for both language immersion and, coincidentally, Middlebury College. Two years later, I found myself conversing awkwardly at the French table in the Middlebury Chateau Language Café, out of my league with students who had had four years of French in prep school and a score of 5 on the French AP exam. Beyond French I and II with my Egyptian teacher, Madame Assaad, at my public high school, the only speaking practice I had had was with the Quebecois on my summer trip and Haitian refugees in my hometown. But after 2 years and a semester abroad at Middlebury’s Paris campus as well as many fun weekends in Montreal, I had even begun to dream in French—the holy grail of language-learners.

After Middlebury, my opportunities for language practice were only occasional, but often essential. I worked for several years as a teacher in an Atlanta-area public school where my training at Middlebury and my ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification were quite helpful. The school was about 80% non-native-English-speakers. Translators for parent-teacher interactions were hard to come by, especially for the Vietnamese students, but lucky for me, and thanks to French colonialism, many of the Vietnamese parents had grown up speaking French in school, so I was able to help find common ground with a group of people who often felt alienated in their new country.

Twenty years have passed since I first asked for directions in French, and though I don’t get many chances to practice, the French language is deeply embedded in my memory. After sailing from Dominica, we anchored near the village of Saint Pierre in Martinique. Jay and I had to locate the café in which to fill out the customs paperwork, the Digicel store to buy a SIM card so we could have internet access, and a bank to withdraw some cash in Euros. A few days later, we took Le Petit Train Tour, which runs all over Saint Pierre, describing its former opulence and showing its devastation by Mt. Pelée; because the tour was in French, I had to act as real-time tour translator for the kids. Somehow, despite twenty years of vocabulary loss and imperfect grammar, I navigated all of these tasks in French, and also found the three things I’d been looking forward to in Martinique: le vin, le pain and le fromage! We even made friends with a French family anchored in Fort-de-France. These experiences make me feel so grateful for Middlebury’s immersion program and the gift of a second tongue. I hope the exposure to French and Spanish in the Caribbean will do for our kids what a visit to Quebec once did for me.

St Pierre, Martinique

Grenada Taxi Tour 

Last week we went on a taxi tour of Grenada. The first stop was Concord Falls. It was a waterfall about 55 feet high. There were stepping stones across the pool below, and then there was another waterfall below that. I am looking forward to swimming there another time.

Concord Falls

Then we went to the nutmeg factory. They process and prepare nutmeg for shipping all over the world.

Nutmeg Processing Plant

Next, we went to the Jouvay Chocolate company. We saw how they sort, roast, grind, melt, and mix chocolate. We got free samples; my favorite was the 60% dark chocolate. We also stopped at Carib’s Leap where the natives jumped off a cliff rather than becoming captives of the French.

Carib's Leap

Last, we saw how they make rum the traditional way at Rivers Rum Distillery. The vats of fermenting cane juice were disgusting!

Antique Equipment

Vats of Fermenting Cane Juice

Rivers Rum Distillery

Finally, we drove back to St. George’s through the Grand Etang Rain Forest, but we did not see any of the Mona Monkeys that live there. It was a long day!