The Caribbean isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. Most of my money went on beer and bus tickets.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Three men waving a live lobster, barracuda pizza and and an Ugly Man competition.
A recent day typical of my stay in the Caribbean:
6.00am: I woke up on the deck of a yacht with the sun slowly rising over the blue water and green volcanic hills of Bequia island in the Caribbean. The day before, I got a lift with a group of people, going there for the Easter Regatta, on a Beneteau Oceanis 473. I was hoping to boat hop from Bequia to the British Virgin Islands. We sailed from the very fancy Port Saint Charles, Barbados, which took 16 hours. On the way across dolphin kept us company for a while, diving and jumping at the prow, which is quite a rare thing apparently. That was the highlight. Less exciting was the sunburn I got on my face. I never thought I’d be able to impersonate a radioactive raccoon but I guess every new skill learnt has it’s valuable.
7.00am: Had breakfast on the boat consisting of chocolate spread, bananas and crackers. Food is expensive in the Caribbean as they have to import most of it. The Regatta had generated an industry of men speeding around in dinghies, going from boat to boat, selling fresh bread, fish and lobster, offering laundry services, rubbish collection and water taxis.
9.00am: Trip to the customs office to get signed off the boat and into Bequia which is part of St.Vincent and the Grenadines.
10.00am: Caught a bus to The Bamboo Chute where I had arranged to do a bit of under-the-table work in return for food and a place to stay. I slung my hammock on their back porch, had an amazing view of Admiralty Bay, and a swimming pool all to myself.
11.00pm: Went for a wander along the harbour looking for Rawle who was the Boat Supervisor at the Barbados Yacht Club and one of the regatta organizers. He said he’d help me find a lift North from Bequia. I didn’t find him and instead was accosted by a man called Elvis whose chat up line was: “I want it. Give me some.” the charmer. I took in some sights typical in the Caribbean: fishermen grilling fish on small makeshift BBQ’s on the beach, vans blaring reggae, bright colours and lots of rich sailor-types.
13.00: Went back to The Bamboo Chute and did some emailing, organizing and writing while being attacked by mosquitoes. Called an American physicist who was on Couch Surfing offering a berth on his boat in St. Vincent. (I was planning to climb the volcano, La Soufriere, there.) Unexpectedly, he told me he was looking for crew to help get his yacht to Puerto Rico which is close to the British Virgin Islands or to Trinidad, in the wrong direction.
15.00pm: Went back down to the harbour to find Rawle and had a beer while soaking up the party atmosphere. I met a professional sailor called Shelton who gets paid to deliver yachts all over the world. He said he could possibly get me a lift to Antigua. There are more boats than crew, so if you can get some sailing experience as a volunteer or do a course, often you can sail for free. All some people ask is that you are willing to learn. You can find crewing opportunities on websites like Crewfinder, 7knotts and Sailing Networks. Here is a good page with advice on boat hitchhiking.
17.00am: I randomly asked a Rastafarian playing backgammon if he knew about ferry times to St.Vincent. When I mentioned I needed a lift North he said he could also get me to Antigua but asked me if I wouldn’t like to join him, an English novelist and four other crew on a sail across the Atlantic to Brighton, UK? All l would have to do was get to Saint Lucia.
19.00pm: Got back to the Bamboo Chute and ate the can of beans I had with me. Helped out around the bar for a bit. The owner asked me to go and see if I could bring people there so I headed back down to the harbour.
21:00pm: Bumped into Shelton and the Bajans I had gotten a lift with from Barbados. They were quite merry and looking forward to the race in the morning. Apart from those locals who had managed to get sailing qualifications or into the Merchant Marines the bars were crowded with tourists and sailors. There is a big divide in the Caribbean between the local people who are, in general, black and not so privileged and the affluent tourists and sailors who are, in general, white.
00.00am: Back to the Bamboo Chute which I realised was a bar where only locals went and also a sexy dancing hotspot. Tourists didn’t venture there as it was about eight minuets walk from the harbour. I had a blast serving behind the bar, meeting loads of people, dancing, drinking beer and working with Simone who was a fierce but lovely St. Vincent girl.
3.30am: Ate lobster and chips. Retreated to my hammock.
Describe an interesting conversation you had with a local:
I met a guy called Ferdinand who exports conch and lobster to neighboring islands and is a whaler. Bequia is one of the few places in the world where they are allowed to hunt whales. Four a year, though they rarely catch that many, with hand-held harpoons and small, wind-powered boats. He said that when they do catch a humpback, and they aren’t allowed to export the meat, it takes the islanders one or two days to consume a whole whale. The next day on the ferry to St.Vincent I saw a humpback and didn’t tell anyone.
What do you like about where you are? Dislike?
I love how friendly and helpful people are and how safe I felt on the island. I love how even the most arbitrary of conversations can turn into something extraordinary. The scenery isn’t bad either.
I don’t like the divide between local people and tourists and the tensions that creates. I’m really not keen on boat toilets. Though I understand whaling is regulated and part of the culture, I don’t like it.
Describe a challenge you faced:
I had to fudge things at customs as I didn’t have an exit ticket or know how I would get off the island. I made up the name of a boat which I said was coming to collect me.
What new lesson did you learn?
Other people are the key to your success when traveling adventurously. Also, it’s a joy to travel without any fixed plans. I ended up sailing to Trinidad with the American, physicist, Couch Surfer who gave me a ticket to Saint Lucia in return for crewing.
Sailing across the Atlantic. Then back to the Caribbean with perhaps a slight detour via … Senegal.
This is where you can find me and the full story:
My blog: The Absurd Traveler’s Guide
Until next time,
(I’m not a man.)