Sunday, July 13, 2008

Day 12 (Wednesday)

Unable to sleep well, I woke earlier than normal on our last day on Carriacou. It was sufficiently early to enjoy watching the sunrise over the hills above Hillsborough. The sun was briefly interrupted by a rain shower, only to return brighter and stronger to warm the day. The family got moving a little later and after getting cleaned-up, we were able to pack the last of the bags.

After resting for just a few minutes, it was soon 10:00 a.m. and Philip had his bus, “Patience”, parked outside the door waiting to take us to the airport. On our way, we returned the rental jeep to Barba’s and said goodbye to some of our friends in L’Esterre. Arriving at the airport, we were happy to see that the SVG charter had already arrived and was waiting for us. After working our way through the departure process, it was 11:00 a.m. and time for us to leave Carriacou for Barbados. It was a great day for flying, with clear skies and calm winds. After take-off, we had a great aerial view of Windward and the east side of Carriacou, as well as Petite Martinique, Petite Saint Vincent, Union Island and many of the minor Grenadine cays.

The SVG charter landed in Barbados at 12:00 p.m. with the ground crew waiting to assist us. They promptly carried our baggage through customs and to the American Airlines ticket counter so that we could check in for our next flight. By 1:00 p.m. we were through customs and security, and inside the comfortable Barbados departure terminal. The international airport at Bridgetown has undergone an extensive renovation over the last several years. We believe that it is one of the best airports in the Caribbean at this time. It is well designed and conveniently arranged. The terminal includes a lot of dining and shopping options, and it is very comfortable for the weary traveler. Oh yes, Cable & Wireless provides free WiFi throughout the airport too!

The American Airlines flight left Barbados just before 3:00 p.m. and landed in Miami about three and one-half hours later. The most stressful part of the trip back to the States is being part of the throng of international travelers who need to be processed by immigration. Miami in particular has a lot of international arrivals; mostly from South American countries, but also quite a few Caribbean locations. The queues are usually long and the wait can try your patience. I am always grateful to still be rather relaxed from our holiday when reaching this point, because I’d really be stressed if this process was at the beginning of our trip.

Dining at the Miami airport was a reminder that we were not in Carriacou any longer. The modest sandwich for EC$25 and the EC$10 soda didn’t taste as good, nor was it as economical as a fresh meal from the Lazy Turtle in Tyrrel Bay. The view was not nearly as good either.

The time between our flights in Miami was almost entirely consumed by the immigration process, so our wait for the last leg of our trip was rather short. By 9:30 p.m., we had boarded our plane and we were on our way to Washington, DC. Thunderstorms earlier in the day had passed by and left just a few clouds for the two and one-half hour flight up the East Coast of the United States. When we landed at Reagan National Airport at 12:00 a.m., the terminal was nearly empty and we were able to collect our bags and make our way home in short order. Our holiday was officially over, but the fond memories of our return to Carriacou would last forever.

Day 11 (Tuesday)

The entire island of Carriacou was very quiet on election day. The music had stopped; the speeches were done; there were no more campaign messages being broadcast from loudspeakers attached to roaming vehicles. Many of the local businesses were closed or had shortened their hours to accommodate the voters. It was strange in a way, as we had gotten accustomed to hearing so much about the election during the previous ten days we had been on the island.

The morning temperatures promised another hot day. There was a gentle breeze to help keep everyone cool. The weather for our holiday was so much better than it was for our last visit to Carriacou, when it was much more windy and rainy. That is part of the crap-shoot of visiting the Caribbean in mid-summer. It is the end of the dry season and the start of the rainy season. You just don’t know for certain which of the seasons you will experience during the time that you are there. We do know that we prefer the low-season when there are fewer tourists. The more peaceful setting in the islands is worth the potential risk of experiencing less favorable weather.

Since this was the day before we were scheduled to leave, we had already planned to spend some time gathering our belongings, sorting through it all, and packing our bags for the trip back to the States. However, we were still on holiday, so we made certain that we spent some time playing in the water and visiting friends. Godfrey Calliste and his son Adrian stopped by. The brought with them a new broadband modem from Cable & Wireless for installation at the villa. Between the three of us, we had the modem and all of the phones connected and working in short order. It’s somewhat amazing to be on a small island in the middle of the Caribbean Sea, surfing the web at 100 Mbps.

Godfrey and Adrian proudly showed us their ink stained fingers. As part of the voting process, each person had to dip the tip of a finger into a well of ink to ‘mark them’ as having had voted and to avoid any malicious attempts to vote more than once. Many of the local residents we saw that day were quite proud to display the ink stain and the fact that they had voted. The word in the villages was that voter turn-out was very strong, and everyone was anxious to hear the results.

With most of our bags packed, the family got cleaned-up and traveled to Tyrrel Bay for an early evening visit with Mike and Nan Hatch on their boat, the Cynara. Mike and Nan invited us to join them for beverages and snacks. It was a perfect evening to be on Tyrrel Bay as the wind was very light, the sky had only a few clouds and temperatures were quite comfortable. While Anthony threw treats to the seagulls, Courtney enjoyed the view from the fore deck and the adults lounged in the cabin. Mike and Nan have a lifetime of experience sailing the Windward Islands. With family in Trinidad and Barbados, and their villa on Carriacou, they have sailed the passages between these locations dozens of times. As you might suspect, such experience has given them many interesting stories of their adventures. Nan is also quite the amateur poet, and we all enjoyed hearing her recite some of her favorite pieces. It was a wonderful evening spent with some of our best friends.

Our evening was unexpectedly disrupted with the sound of fireworks and possibly gunshots (which was alarming since firearms are illegal in Grenada). Initially, we were not certain what the occasion was, and then we recalled that it was election day! Marine radio traffic soon confirmed that the election’s preliminary results were beginning to come in, and at least some of the people felt confident enough to celebrate the news. There were reports of fireworks and gunshots from several locations around Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Once we said our goodbyes to Mike and Nan, we departed the Cynara and returned to the villa. We turned on the radio to learn more about the election results. About that time, more fireworks could be heard and a parade of vehicles sounding their horns made their way about the island. The NDC had won the majority of seats and the party’s supporters could be heard chanting “Yellow! Yellow! Yellow!”, signifying the official color of the NDC campaign. Fortunately, the NNP supporters were gracious in their loss and we did not hear any reports of violence or trouble on Carriacou.

As the election day came to a close, the island again grew quiet and we enjoyed the last night of our holiday by viewing a clear and beautiful starlit sky. The children spotted the Southern Cross, Big Dipper and Northern Star amongst other constellations in the sky. We will certainly miss having such a sight overhead once we return to the States.

Day 10 (Monday)

It was hot and humid early this morning, a preview of what the weather was going to be like later-on this day. With daily high temperatures about 90 degrees and the ever-present humidity, you would think that the local climate would be uncomfortable. However, we find that the ocean breeze helps to keep everyone relatively cool. In our part of the States, this kind of weather drives everyone indoors to seek the comfort provided by modern air conditioning. On Carriacou, we simply open all of the doors and windows to let the ocean breeze carry throughout the villa.

The lack of nagging insects in the Caribbean always amazes us. Yes, you can always find mosquitoes if you wander through the mangroves; ants, beetles and roaches roam the undergrowth; and there are periods during the year when certain flies hatch to swarm for a few days. However, we could never dream of completely opening our home’s doors and windows back in the States. We prefer to use bed netting while in Carriacou, but we have had few experiences where it was absolutely necessary.

By late morning, everyone had finished their breakfast and was ready to get going. We decided to run to Hillsborough for one last trip for provisions before our holiday came to an end. As was our custom, we began our day trek with a stop at Henrietta’s Bakery in L’Esterre for a cool drink and some fresh baked goods, including a few treats to eat along the way. Once in town, we made a quick stop at the Shell gasoline station to top-off the fuel in the rental jeep and then to Kim’s Plaza for some basic provisions. After ten days of being in the area, our family had become familiar to some people in Hillsborough, and we were often greeted with genuine warmth and friendship. This is one of the reasons we like Carriacou so much. On many other Caribbean islands that we have visited, we have often felt like intruders who were only tolerated because we had money to spend. It is so much different here.

Being election day eve, the campaigns were in full force. Every utility pole held a sign or banner, vehicles of all types displayed posters supporting candidates and even the road surface was sporadically painted with campaign slogans and messages. The local radio stations continued to include campaign speeches and commentary, but we were glad to hear them also provide detailed instructions on where and how residents could cast their ballots. To simplify the voting process, the political parties had adopted symbols for representation. The National Democratic Congress (“NDC”) uses a heart shape, while the New National Party (“NNP”) uses a house shape. The ballots would include these symbols, so even those people who could not read would be able to identify which party they were voting for.

Upon returning to the villa, we enjoyed a leisurely lunch and conversation about the highlights of our holiday. The mid-day heat was bearing on us, which made the kids appreciate the convenience of the swimming pool. Our son, Anthony, greatly improved his swimming skills on this trip. He became much more confident in the water and joined his sister as a literal fish. Both of them are adept with the snorkel and mask and are able to dive to moderate depths in the ocean without weights or other assistance.

We watched with interest as the local fishermen returned to Paradise Beach from their morning’s work. We grabbed our snorkel gear and ventured down to the beach to investigate. Many of the fishermen we observed used a simple fishing line rig, although the majority of the fish appeared to be caught with large, gathering nets operated by a group of men using two or more boats. The nets are rather indiscriminate to what they catch, but apparently the fishermen must place them skillfully, as the number of non-target fish caught seems to be minimal. Entire families joined-in on processing the day’s catch. While the men cleaned and organized their boats and fishing equipment with the ‘help’ of the children, the women began sorting and cleaning the fish. It all looked to be very efficient.

Snorkeling conditions were marginal, as a light wind helped to stir-up the sandy bottom of the bay. We were able to observe several starfish, including a few that were easily more than 12 inches in diameter. The real joy of snorkeling on this day was to enjoy the cool waters. There were quite a few local residents at the beach on this day to escape the heat. We were amused to watch some of the local dogs who also joined in the fun for a romp in the surf. Apparently, they like to play in the cool ocean too!

As evening approached, the final election campaign rallies kicked-off. Both parties seemed to have saved the best for last, as large gatherings featuring enthusiastic speeches and live bands broadcasting through powerful amplifiers competed for the resident’s attention. From our vantage point on the hillside, we could hear much of it, although it was difficult to make out the details of the speeches. Election day could prove to be interesting from our independent view.

Laura and I played a couple of games of Scrabble while the children watched a movie on the notebook computer. Once the lights were out, we enjoyed a magnificent view of the night sky. I experimented a bit with the camera, trying to capture a photo of the stars. However, any picture that I could take would not do justice to the immense beauty. Standing on the veranda enjoying the view, we also noticed the sounds of the waves breaking on the beach and the clean ocean smell of the island. If there were only a way to capture these experiences to take them all home with us.

Day 9 (Sunday)

After more than a week of active days, the whole family was a bit wore out and we decided to enjoy this Sunday as a day of rest. I spent my usual early morning admiring the scene from the veranda. I found the WiFi signal from Hotel Laurena to check email and the news. I though it was important to catch-up on the current path of Hurricane Bertha. Although it was a bit early to tell with certainty, it looked like the storm was setting a course directly for Bermuda and would not affect our travel back to the States. Laura and I talked about the impact the storm could have on an island like Bermuda, and said a prayer that the people living there would be spared from any serious trouble.

Mike Hatch phoned and he mentioned that he and his son, Paul, would be sailing the Cynara to the Paradise Beach bay to work on moorings they had placed near the villa several years ago. By mid-morning, the wind had picked up a bit and there was a small chop to the water. We watched the men for a while and were impressed at how well they were able to work off the boat deck, the dinghy and in the water as the small waves kept everything inconveniently in-motion.

With election day quickly approaching, the local radio stations were broadcasting little except for campaign speeches and commentary. Since the three-island nation of Grenada is not densely populated (~100,000 people), the two political parties seem to often pit brother against brother. We were not surprised to learn that the two opposing representatives from Carriacou were, in fact, cousins. However, one must remember that just about everyone on the small island of Carriacou can probably rightfully claim to be related!

Being the weekend, the only noise to break the silence this morning was the distant sound of crowing roosters and barking dogs. Our children have always been quick to spot the various dogs and cats living on Carriacou. On our last visit they were introduced to a dog named ‘Shadow’. Shadow looked like just about every other dog on Carriacou and it was difficult to tell him apart from the others. Most of the dogs we have seen are a mongrel mix, mid-sized (18 to 24 inches at the shoulder), short-haired and tan in color. There are exceptions, but this description seems to fit most of the dogs on the island. The joke amongst our family was to name every other dog we spotted some form of the name Shadow, since they were all obviously related. We even resorted to numbering them; Shadow Number 236, Shadow Number 237, etc.

Fortunately, the slight wind and waves did not affect the sunshine, and the family enjoyed an afternoon and evening of pure relaxation. Cool beverages, a wonderful dinner of leftovers from the Roundhouse Restaurant and fun and games with the children, all placed in an idyllic Caribbean setting; we could not ask for anything more.

Day 8 (Saturday)

The late Friday night resulted in the rest of the family sleeping-in on this morning. I still woke early as usual and enjoyed some quiet time alone on the veranda working on this blog and getting our digital photos in order. The children had made several creative videos with their cameras the day before, so I had some fun viewing them for the first time too.

The weather early this morning was delightful. The air was quite calm and the water as far as you could see was smooth as glass. It was almost eerie to see the ocean so quiet. By 8:00 a.m., a slight breeze had picked-up and provided some reassuring ripples in the bay.

Everyone finally crawled from their beds and got around to getting their day started. Late in the morning, we had a visit from Mike Hatch, Paul’s father and co-owner of the Las Tortugas Villa. Mike and his wife Nan had arrived in Carriacou the day before, sailing from their home in Trinidad aboard their beautiful 41 foot yacht, the Cynara. Although Mike and Nan make their home in Trinidad, they spend a significant amount of time living on Carriacou and sailing about on the Cynara. They have done this for many years and have established themselves as relatively well known local residents. The Hatch family has become great friends of ours, and it was great to see Mike and Nan again. Mike invited us to Tyrrel Bay that evening to join the crowd in greeting the tournament competitors as they returned from the first day of the bill fishing contest.

Our friend Godfrey Calliste also stopped by to visit, and Laura invited him to stay and have lunch with us. We enjoyed a light meal and solved all of the world’s problems during a lively discussion. Spending any amount of time talking to the native residents of Carriacou gives you a very unique perspective on the island and its culture. In some ways it is very different from our life back in the States and in other ways we are quite similar and share many things in common. We have always tried to make friends with local residents wherever we have traveled. The residents of Carriacou in particular, have always been very interested and open to meeting us.

By early evening, we had all cleaned-up and made our way to Tyrrel Bay. The bill fishing competition was sponsored by the families who are constructing the new marina in Tyrrel Bay. The project has come a long way with a significant, 40 foot deep, channel dredged through the bay up to the new concrete jetty. We understand that the next big task associated with the project is a new breakwater / seawall to quiet the waters near the marina. Even on this relatively calm day, we could see that a breakwater was necessary as the large boats moved around quite a bit while being so close to the concrete walls. Rough seas could really cause some expensive damage to these ships.

While at the marina, we met many people, some local residents, some ex-patriots and some visitors who had all gathered to celebrate the first day of the tournament. The dozen or so boats ranged in size and style. Some were dedicated fishing machines, while others were simply magnificent multifunction ships. There were no trophy or record catches on this day, but stories of some good-sized fish (well over 100 pounds) that were caught, weighed, photographed and then released. A few smaller, common fish were kept for a cook-out for all who had assembled. A wonderful Dorado was the featured catch. While the designated cooks were busy preparing the meal, we said our good-byes. We had already made plans to eat out that evening and needed to get moving along.

Before our dinner at the Roundhouse Restaurant in Bogles, we needed to stop by the ATM in Hillsborough. This was not to be an easy task on this evening! The streets of Hillsborough are normally full of life on weekend nights, but with the election just a few days away, the island was also alive with enthusiastic campaigners. We had some difficulty finding a parking spot along the main street anywhere close to the ATM, and when we finally did, we were confronted by some opposition party supporters who had obviously begun their weekend celebrations quite a bit earlier in the day. It was the first time that I had ever felt any discomfort interacting with a local resident, which is unfortunate, but I suppose inevitable. After a lengthy conversation with the inebriated young man, we decided that this particular parking spot was not for us and drove around to find a better location on an adjacent side street. Once the ATM transaction was complete we were off to Bogles.

One has to be careful navigating to the Roundhouse Restaurant in the evening, as the gated entrance can be easily missed along the dark and winding roads. Laura absolutely loves everything about the Roundhouse, from its creative architecture, landscaping and interior design, to the refreshing drinks and prompt service provided by Phil, to the wonderful menu of delicious food expertly prepared by Roxanne. This night’s dining experience was no exception as everything was perfect. Even after stuffing ourselves, we were left with enough food to bring back to our villa for another meal. Laura had a tasty tomato soup appetizer, then her and Anthony both had a generous cut of beef sirloin for their entree. Courtney also had the tomato soup, but a beautifully prepared mahi mahi filet for her main course. I started off with a fresh tomato and avocado salad and then feasted on an expertly-prepared rack of lamb. The children had Roxi’s hand-made ice cream for dessert, while Laura was treated to banoffi pie (a concoction of banana custard, toffee and more) and I had a chocolate roulade. The three course meal, including beverages, was about EC$150 each, and well worth it!

Once back at the villa, I continued some work on a jigsaw puzzle started the evening before while Laura and the children watched a movie that we had on the notebook computer (Apple’s iTunes Store has really changed our travel entertainment options). I also spent some more time this evening stargazing from the veranda. With only a few days left of our return visit to Carriacou, I wanted to take-in as much of this view as possible.

Day 7 (Friday)

It was another wonderful morning to enjoy the sunrise from the veranda. I felt ambitious this morning, so I took to the swimming pool and swam several laps to start my day off right. After the entire family was ready to go, we took off to run a few errands and see some sights.

Our first stop was at Henrietta’s Bakery. Yes, we stopped here often! Today it was to buy a few snacks and cold drinks to satisfy our late morning hunger. I really like to drink Lemon Lime & Bitters made by Angostura (about EC$3 for 333 ml). It is a very refreshing beverage, especially when ice cold. The children enjoy the several types of carbonated fruit juices, something that we have not seen for sale in our area of the States.

Once in Hillsborough, we stopped by Kim’s Plaza for a few provisions. With the end of our stay in sight, we were trying to plan our meals to leave with no left-overs or waste. Today’s purchase was mainly for milk and some pasta.

The news in Hillsborough this morning was that someone had purchased the old Lime Plantation near Bogles. The property had been for sale for some time, with several acres that include about one-quarter mile of ocean frontage and a high-capacity fresh water well. The listed price for the property was at US$6 million; unfortunately, a bit high for our budget. Laura and I would often daydream about owning the land and preserving it as a way to maintain a historical part of this island from being developed. Not knowing who has purchased the land made us wonder what we will see happen to it. I know that I cringe at the thought of a resort hotel being located here.

After retuning plates and bowls from our take away dinner from the Green Roof Inn, we meandered up the hillside to visit the Carriacou Hospital. We believe that this is one stop that every visitor to the island should try to make. From this vantage point, one can see virtually around the island, with a map-like perspective of the streets of Hillsborough and a great view of Grenada in the distance and all of the small islands in between. The hospital grounds include two authentic large cannons positioned in a manner to fein protection of the Hillsborough harbor. In reality, the cannons were never actually used from this location, but were brought to this vantage point for the benefit of the tourists. They do provide a great photo opportunity and the kids loved them.

From the hospital, we ventured south along the ridges to Top Hill, and the location of the Cable & Wireless relay station. The view along the way was spectacular, with a particularly clear vantage of Petite Martinique, Petite Saint Vincent and Carriacou’s eastern coastline. Once again we noticed the large number of new homes that had been built since our last visit, or those currently under construction. Satisfied with our adventure, we traveled back to Hillsborough and then south to L’Esterre.

The afternoon winds were relatively calm, and while enjoying a hillside view of the bay off Paradise Beach, we noticed that we could see some larger fish near the surface, schools of baitfish moving to and fro and appearing as a large ‘cloud’ in the water, and even some rays as they patrolled the coastline. What a view! Intrigued by the sight of the marine life, we all grabbed our snorkel gear and hit the water at the south end of Paradise Beach where there is less grass and a little bit of coral. This area is chock full of different varieties of sea urchins, starfish and an occasional conch. The coral has not yet become well established since being cleared-out by the storm surge from Hurricane Lenny, but there is enough to attract a few interesting fish. Laura worked the grass-line in hopes of spotting a turtle, but no luck this time either. She has decided that she is a turtle jinx, and regardless of her love for the animal, she may just never see one in the ocean. Worn-out from the sun and fun, we slowly made our way back to the villa for a late afternoon rest.

We were startled when greeted by a visitor outside the door. It was our friend, Paul Hatch, one of the owners of the villa. Paul happened to be visiting Carriacou from his home in Trinidad and stopped by to say hello. He had come up to the island a day earlier by boat with a friend to take part in a weekend bill fishing competition. That explained the number of large power boats in Tyrrel Bay! We enjoyed a good visit with Paul and wished him well in the contest when he left for the tournament rules briefing.

As evening came, we were greeted to beautifully clear skies that displayed nearly every star imaginable in the night sky. The children were only slightly interested, but my wife and I were caught breathless. I remember seeing skies like this forty years ago when I was quite young and living on a rural farm in Indiana. However, it had been a very long time since I had been in a location with such little light pollution that you could see so many stars with the naked eye. It was certainly awe inspiring.

Our eyes were not alone in receiving a treat as the Friday night parties entertained us with the happy sounds of the Caribbean. The clear tones of steel drums and the get-up-and-dance rhythms from many of our favorite reggae tunes filled the air. The nearby “Off The Hook” beachside club provided us with a concert that lasted well past midnight.

Day 6 (Thursday)

I again woke early and spent some quiet time on the veranda. At 7:00 a.m., there was already boat traffic in and out of Hillsborough and the local beaches. I gathered the digital camera memory cards and off-loaded them to the computer hard drive to free-up space for more photos. Digital photography gives us the freedom to snap away and not worry about film or developing expense, which has greatly improved my creative photography. I am much more likely to experiment with lens and lighting settings, as there is no real incremental costs for consumables. On this morning, I wound up deleting a couple dozen of my ‘creative’ mistakes.

The aroma from a fresh pot of coffee got Laura out of bed, and she treated the family to a big breakfast of ham and eggs, toast with nutmeg jelly, and juice. The weather looked questionable, and while we ate, we discussed our plans for this day. I was leaning toward a hike to Anse La Roche, but Laura and the kids all said that they had a bit too much sun the previous day and would prefer a quiet and restful day at the villa. These plans turned out to be perfect as a pattern of rain showers treated the island to a good watering all day long. A few of the showers were accompanied by some pretty strong winds, creating conditions that made me glad we had not trekked down a muddy trail to Anse La Roche!

While browsing the Internet to catch-up with all of the news happening in the rest of the world, we noted that Hurricane Bertha had formed off the coast of Africa. The strength and direction of the storm was still uncertain, but we knew we would need to monitor it in the event that its path across the ocean would affect our travel plans back to the States.

During a break in the weather early in the afternoon, Laura and Courtney decided to stroll along Paradise Beach. As they were returning to the villa a rather heavy rain shower hit the area. The two ran back to the villa trying to avoid the rain, but still wound-up getting drenched. We shared a laugh at their predicament.

The evening quickly arrived and we prepared for a small dinner party that we had planned with a local couple and their children. We phoned the Lazy Turtle Pizzeria located adjacent to Lumba Dive in Tyrrel Bay, and ordered four large pizzas for take-away; two plain cheese (EC$24 each) and two with pepperoni (EC$32 each). On the way to the Lazy Turtle, I noticed a good crowd had already assembled at the Lambi Queen to enjoy their favorite beverage. There also appeared to be a few more large and impressive motor yachts in Tyrrel Bay than what we had seen earlier in the week. I got to the Lazy Turtle a little early and enjoyed the use of their free WiFi while waiting for the pizzas to be prepared. They were soon done and I was on my way back to L’Esterre.

We had a great evening visiting with our friends from Carriacou, sharing lively conversation while enjoying the wonderful pizza from the Lazy Turtle. I can’t figure out if it is the pizza ingredients or the fact that we were eating it on a Caribbean island, but my wife and I think that the Lazy Turtle makes some of the best pizza that we have ever eaten.

We wrapped-up the evening by presenting our guests with gifts that we had brought with us from the States. There are many wonderful people on Carriacou, and we have made good friends with a few of them. The gifts were simply a way to share our own good fortune. Their school-aged children were thrilled to receive a notebook computer that we no longer needed. With a fresh installation of Windows XP, anti-virus and firewall software, productivity applications from OpenOffice and the FireFox web browser, the children should have something useful to assist them with their school work and entertainment. We also gave the parents a few sets of new kitchen and bathroom towels. Everyone was sincerely gracious and thankful, and we felt fortunate to share time with such good friends.

The children on Carriacou have such a bright future. The island is known to be one of the more literate in the Grenadines, and it shows through the solid academic performance by many of the children. Although some of the people leave the island to seek their fortune in the UK or the States, others make a point of developing a career that gives something back to Carriacou. That is very encouraging to see.

Day 5 (Wednesday)

I awoke early on Wednesday morning, and as is my habit while on holiday, I went out onto the veranda to have a look at the island in the first light of the day. After inspecting the coastline and horizon and satisfying myself that paradise was still intact, I lounged in a chair and enjoyed the view. The skies looked promisingly clear with only a few scattered clouds, and the winds were significantly calmer than the previous day. If the weather held out, this could be our day dedicated to playing on that sliver of sand known as Sandy Island. As I daydreamed about the day’s plans, I fell back asleep in the chair. There’s nothing like an early morning nap on the veranda.

About 8:30 a.m. I woke Laura and excitedly told her how the weather had improved. She agreed that we needed to go to Sandy Island, especially since we did not know what the weather would be like for the remainder of our trip. I suppose that one could go to Sandy Island regardless of the weather conditions. However, our plan was for the whole family to snorkel the day away. Our children are still a bit younger and none of us are anything more than an advanced novice with a mask and snorkel, so we do not want the weather to make the effort any more challenging than what it may be already.

We arranged for a boat to take us from Paradise Beach to Sandy Island. ‘Dee-vis’ (Davis?) had a good-sized boat with outboard engine that was more than sufficient to do the job. His cost was EC$150 for a round trip for the four of us and all our gear. That may seem like a high price, but we considered it reasonable in terms of costs from the States, especially since Davis came highly recommended as a trustworthy service. By 10:00 a.m., we had our snorkel gear loaded on the boat and we were on our way for the short ride to Sandy Island.

The distance between Paradise Beach and Sandy Island is about one-half mile, with water depths no greater than 40 feet and more typically at 10 to 15 feet. On a calm day, there are some who enjoy covering this distance with a brisk swim. We were not up to that challenge, regardless of how calm the water was. About half way to the island, we were surprised to rather suddenly meet-up with a middle-aged couple swimming back to Carriacou. This encounter highlighted one of our main concerns with swimming between the two locations; safety. There is a fair amount of boat traffic through this area, and some of the boats are quite fast with powerful engines (such as the large inter-island ferries). The ‘bobbing heads’ of the swimmers were rather difficult to see in the small waves and they easily could have become the victims of a serious boat versus swimmer accident.

By 10:30 a.m. we were on the island and preparing our snorkel gear. We were thrilled to see that Sandy Island was the new home to several small trees and other native plants. The west side of Sandy is now very well protected by a natural seawall made of broken coral that was washed-up by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Apparently, the coral cap is actually a bit longer in length than what the island was before it was devastated by Hurricane Lenny in 1999. This natural breakwater helps to protect the island from strong seas from the west and has made the island slightly longer. If the young trees continue to grow and the visitors respect and care for the site, Sandy Island may come back stronger than it was before.

The marine life around Sandy Island has certainly made a come back. The ocean floor in the shallows to the east of the island have begun to host many small sections of live coral, and the fish that live about them. With a wind-aided current that was moving north to south, we were able to easily drift along the coastline and walk back along the beach to make the trip again and again. It was an astounding snorkeling adventure, as we saw many types of fish, both large and small; some in absolutely huge schools that must have held hundreds if not thousands of fish. We also spotted a couple of rays, but no turtles as Laura had hoped to see. It was an amazing experience and it left a great impression upon the children.

Davis arrived with his boat right at the agreed-upon time, and we returned back to Paradise Beach in the early afternoon. We spent the next few hours resting from the morning activity and talking about the sites that we had seen. We also discussed dinner plans and got out our trusty reference, Chris Doyle’s “Sailors Guide to the Windward Islands”, to locate the correct phone numbers.

Our first call was to the Roundhouse Restaurant in Bogles; a very favorite of ours, but since it is priced at the high end of our dining budget, we limit ourselves to visiting here only once during our holiday. After a couple of attempts, we received an answer on Phil and Roxanne’s mobile phone and learned that they have limited their hours during the low-season and are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. Our next selection was the Green Roof Inn. They were excited to accept our reservation for dinner and we made plans to be there at 7:00 p.m.

Everyone got cleaned-up and dressed in some nicer than normal clothes. That prompted Laura to get out the camera and exclaim “It is time to take photos!” We all took turns posing for the camera to help record some memories of our visit to Carriacou. The family is a bit camera-fanatic, but not to the extent that it rules our vacation. With everyone equipped with some sort of camera, the family winds-up taking a lot of candid pictures throughout our holiday. It is entertaining to see what each family member considers photo-worthy, and the kids in particular bring an interesting and creative perspective to the lens.

We left early for the Green Roof Inn to run some errands in Hillsborough. First was a stop at the ATM for some more cash. Then the Shell gasoline station. Gasoline prices are high in the States, and here too on Carriacou. Regular unleaded gasoline was selling for slightly more than EC$13 per imperial gallon, and our EC$60 barely put the Geo Tracker’s small tank at three-quarters full. After fueling-up, we stopped by the Hotel Laurena and spoke with Honor Newton to strike a deal for WiFi access for the duration of our stay on Carriacou. Although there is quite a bit of free WiFi service available at certain locations throughout the island, none others were conveniently accessible from our villa, so this type of deal made sense for us. Finally, we were ready for dinner at the Green Roof.

The Green Roof Inn has guest rooms, restaurant and lounge. It is a fine dining establishment on the upscale side of restaurants on Carriacou. It is in a great location, conveniently about one-half mile north of Hillsborough on the main road, definitely within walking distance if you are staying in town. The dining area overlooks the Hillsborough harbor and south along the island’s coast. On this night the air was warm and humid with absolutely no breeze whatsoever. The fueling barge and work boats on the smooth-as-glass harbor water offered a wonderful silhouette against the setting sun. Unfortunately, the lack of wind also made it easy for the no-seeums, called rain flies by the local residents, to wander-up from the adjacent beach. The bugs became rather thick, so we requested our dinner to-go and enjoyed a delightful meal back at the villa. The meal was only about EC$30 each, with drinks adding a bit more to the total cost.

The evening weather was a bit unusual based on our experience on the island. It was the first time in our memory that the wind was virtually non-existent so early in the evening. The lack of a sea breeze made it a rather uncomfortable night as the humidity and flying insects both seemed to hang on you. Thank goodness our bedrooms were equipped with ceiling fans and bed nets.

Day 4 (Tuesday)

Morning came quickly. The skies were rather dull and gray, and the wind possibly worse than it was on the previous day. All was not lost however, as the kids got a little too much sun the previous day anyway. A break from being directly in the sun’s rays is probably a good thing for this morning.

We enjoyed our breakfast on the veranda, and saw that the mysterious boat anchored off Sandy Island had now disappeared. Our friend Godfrey stopped by to check on us this morning and we asked him about the boat. He explained that it is a dive excursion operated out of Grenada. The main boat, accompanied by two smaller boats, tours the Grenadines, stopping at all of the premier dive locations and includes night dives. That explained everything that we had observed the day and night before and our curiosity was now satisfied.

While sitting on the veranda typing this blog, we noticed a rather consistent WiFi signal originating from the Hotel Laurena. We are not familiar with this local business, so Godfrey described to us its location in Hillsborough. I am surprised that we can receive its WiFi signal all of the way in L’Esterre! As we make our list for places to visit in Hillsborough, we add the hotel to it. Maybe we could talk the manager into selling us WiFi access for the duration of our visit.

By late morning, we were off to Hillsborough. We planned on playing tourist for a bit, seeing what was happening in the big city. And ‘big city’ it was on this day. We had never seen Hillsborough so busy on a weekday. There were actually quite a few tourists, mostly European we believe (and likely so considering the current strength of the Euro to the Eastern Caribbean dollar). It was not certain if they had arrived by ferry from Grenada or if they were yachties from the Hillsborough harbor. There were also many local residents on the sidewalks and in the streets, and we had to drive with caution to avoid the heavy pedestrian and vehicle traffic. We finally figured out that being the first weekday of the month, everyone was ‘in town’ to take care of their financial matters. We need to make a mental note to try and avoid Hillsborough on those days in the future.

The first stop was at the Cable & Wireless shop (in the old Hillsborough Bakery, on the main street just off the jetty). There was quite a line at the cashier to pay that first-of-the-month bill, but we were able to find help at a service desk after only a short wait. Our intention was to purchase a SIM card to give our mobile phone from the States local service on the island. The staff tried their best to assist us, but our Verizon Wireless Blackberry 8830 phone would not accept the Cable & Wireless SIM cards. I found it somewhat amusing, as Verizon Wireless sells the 8830 as their global phone solution. However, they apparently have the phone locked-down to only accept their own SIM cards purchased while still in the States. I did not anticipate that being a problem, but the lesson was learned about having a locked phone; we didn’t plan ahead very well on that matter.

A couple of doors to the southeast is the Carriacou Museum. We stopped by to look through the various exhibits. We never fail to learn something new about the island; it has a rather interesting history and has really seen little change until the last fifty years or so. The museum is expertly staffed by Clemencia Alexander; daughter of the famous local artist, Canute Calliste. She is very personable and we enjoyed a good discussion about her deceased father and his various artistic works. She was pleased to hear that we were familiar with him and already owned books featuring his paintings and audio recordings of his violin performances. We purchased a few reproduction, vintage Caribbean maps, paid the modest museum fee and signed the guest book before departing to continue our walking tour of Hillsborough.

We did some window shopping along the main street and stopped-in here and there. The variety of stores and their wares is pretty astounding for such a small town. You can buy literally anything imaginable. Unfortunately, the Rasta produce stand is closed again. We hoped that they were still in business and made a note to stop by later in the week. Patty’s Deli is a nice addition to Hillsborough. The store offers many hard-to-find premium delicatessen items that may make your stay on Carriacou more enjoyable. They had quite a selection of fresh lunch meat, frozen cut-meat (steaks and chops), several types of cheese and yogurt, biscuits, coffee, jams and jellies. Our daughter Courtney, a Nutella fanatic, was quite excited to find a jar of the spreadable treat to satisfy her obsession. We also made a quick stop at Matheson’s grocery for a few more basic provisions that we forgot on our first stop to town and also purchased some cold drinks to enjoy on the drive back to L’Esterre.

Passing by Callaloo By The Sea, a favorite local restaurant, we were disappointed to see that it was closed. Glenna, the owner, has been known to close down for an extended period during the low-season while she herself takes a holiday to visit family and friends in the States. However, that was normally in September before the busy high-season begins. We were surprised to see the restaurant closed in late June, early July. We hoped that it was not a bad sign for the business as we always thought that the restaurant was pretty good and that the location was perfect and very convenient.

While in Hillsborough, we also scoped-out another favorite restaurant in hopes of making reservations for later in the evening. The Garden Restaurant was situated at the north end of the main street in Hillsborough at the edge of the town. We were disappointed to see that it was apparently closed for business. When we later asked some friends about the demise of the restaurant, we were deeply saddened to learn that Jenson, the young man who had owned and operated The Garden Restaurant had passed away. We met Jenson during our last stay on Carriacou and found him to be a delightful young man with great ambitions and a rather successful little restaurant. How unfortunate that he was taken from this earth while having such a great opportunity for the future.

Before leaving Hillsborough, we stopped by the Hotel Laurena to ask about obtaining WiFi access. The hotel is just a block or two northeast of the jetty and then another couple of blocks to the southeast. Although the hotel has been in business on Carriacou for the last six years, it appeared to us to be very recently remodeled. The spacious lobby and entertainment area was very well maintained, clean and inviting. The outdoor sign even included a large, scrolling, color LED display. Pretty impressive for Hillsborough! Unfortunately, we missed seeing the manager as they had just stepped-out for lunch, and the staff there was not able to help us with our request. We would have to stop by and try again some other time.

It was near the noon hour and on the drive back to the villa in L’Esterre, we decided to stop by the Hard Wood to get a chicken lunch to-go for Laura and I to share. While waiting for lunch to be prepared, we shared a Ting soda (one of our very favorite brands) and shopped at Sandra’s Fidel Productions shipping container store on Paradise Beach. We found some great, locally designed t-shirts and jewelry to purchase as mementos of our holiday. Some of our favorite items from this store are the hand-painted calabash bowls and ceramic tiles. Georgina, a local artist, paints fabulous designs that range from Caribbean-styled flora and fauna to detailed scenes, all done-up in a very tasteful folk art style. On this day, some bowls that feature a local beach scene caught our eye. Once we settled on our purchases, we picked-up our chicken snack (EC$24 for the dinner and a Ting soda) and moved along.

It’s difficult for us to pass by Henrietta’s Bakery without stopping. The kids really like their little ‘pigs-in-a-blanket’ rolls. They decided that would fit the bill for their lunch, so we picked-up a few things from the bakery and headed back to the villa for our meal. There we enjoyed a relaxing lunch while looking out over the Caribbean wondering where else in the world could be more wonderful than this.

When evening came, Anthony and I took to the swimming pool for a little night swim while Laura and Courtney played a game of table tennis in the villa. After everyone got cleaned-up, we played a couple of games of Scrabble and picked-up where we left off with our holiday reading. As we said our good nights, the winds began to blow-in some rather heavy rain. We all hoped that the night storms would clear the skies for a sunny tomorrow with only a slight breeze to contend with.

Day 3 (Monday)

We woke on this Monday to some pretty stiff winds, so any plans for a serious snorkeling excursion were quickly scuttled. The kids took a swim in the pool while my wife and I tried to organize our things in the villa a bit. We spent part of this morning talking to some of the local residents on a whole range of issues. Politics and the upcoming elections have really captured everyone’s attention. The nightly rallies and speeches are apparently well-attended and everyone has an opinion on what the speakers had to say. We are surprised to learn that some of the speakers are Carriacou natives who have left the island for the States or the UK, only to return to lobby for their preferred candidate. These folks take their politics seriously! Health care and standard of living seem high on the list of concerns, although everyone has a different view on how to fix what they believe is broken.

There is a lot of talk about extending the airport runway and building a new terminal, both with the capacity to accept flights from the region’s large turboprop, Dash-8, planes. Many believe that bringing more tourists to the island is the answer, and compare Carriacou to other similarly sized islands, such as Canaoun, who have embraced tourism as an industry. Everyone is quick to point out the relative wealth of these other islands, but what nobody seems to be talking about is what kind of financial and social difficulties occur when the local economy relies so heavily on tourism. The people do recognize that there are problems on neighboring islands that have a negative influence on Carriacou, such as drug and alcohol addiction, teen pregnancy and organized gang activity. They are also familiar with the similar problems that the native population has in countries like Jamaica and the Bahamas. However, many residents on the island seem to believe that somehow, Carriacou would be immune to such trouble.

We decided that we have had enough talk of politics and round-up the kids to make a quick trip to Henrietta’s Bakery in L’Esterre. The enticing aroma of expertly baked goods greets us upon arrival, and we are warmly welcomed as we enter the store. Our family must have appeared to be starved, or just gluttons (which I guess we are in some respects), as we selected several items from just about everything that the bakery had to offer on this day. The absence of ‘real’ bakeries back in the States makes us miss this experience that we fondly remember from our childhood. We leave with bags full of different kinds of fresh bread, coconut drops, mini meat pies, and more. Some of it will never make the trip back to the villa. Yum!

The Caribbean’s variety of beautiful plants always capture our attention. There are several species that we are not familiar with, which makes for another item to place on the to-do list; learn the different plant species of the Caribbean. The flowering plants in particular are quite stunning as the brightly colored blooms contrast with the various shades of green and blue provided by the plants and sea. There is a large flowering tree in the school yard in Harvey Vale that we particularly enjoy visiting. Its size and beauty is difficult to match. We decided that a detour to Harvey Vale was in order to check on this tree, to help reassure us that everything was right with the world. We spotted the tree from some distance away and stopped in the school yard to take photos and admire its beauty.

Our tour extends past Harvey Vale to continue along the coast road to see what all is new along the southeast side of Carriacou. We saw several new homes and more being built in this area; some looming quite magnificent in size. The local residents explained that many of the new homes are being constructed by Carriacou natives who left the island for the UK just before open emigration ended with the island’s independence. These people are now reaching retirement age and are investing some of their lifetime earnings into a home for their own use on family-owned land. Apparently, most use their homes while on holiday and few are available for rent to the pubic.

We also get answers to a couple of questions from the prior day. The stadium has made such progress because the project has a new manager. It seems that the first manager “Didant know a ting bout buildin no stadium!”, and that the Chinese financiers sent their own project manager and construction crew from China about a year ago to finish the work (which explains the Chinese-made heavy equipment at the construction site). They apparently work with little rest, putting in seven-day weeks to get the job completed. However, the cases of Heineken beer stacked near their bunk house suggest that they also enjoy their down time too. We also learned that the property with the very tall security wall between L’Esterre and Tyrrel Bay is a gravel yard. Different grades of stone are imported to the island and stored at this location for use in various construction projects. The tall security wall helps to make certain that none of the stone leaves the facility unnoticed.

The afternoon was quite sunny, but still windy. We lounged on the veranda and enjoyed the sun’s warmth and the beautiful scenery. We noticed a large boat (about 60 to 70 feet long) arrive in the area between Sandy Island and Paradise Beach, accompanied by two smaller boats (about 15 feet long). At first we are uncertain what the function of the boat was, as the smaller boats would come and go from their mother ship. We had never seen this type of vessel before, so our curiosity was piqued.

As the day wound down, we took a stroll along Paradise Beach and visited with some of the local residents. In the distance we heard the start of the various political rallies, and we noticed many people working their way to the events to hear the evening’s speeches. We stayed on the beach and watched the birds, boats and waves. There were two kite surfers working the wind off Sandy Island. It looked like great fun, but a little too much action for me. After finding a few interesting shells before the sun set, we trekked back to the villa for the night.

Once it was dark, we noticed that the large boat anchored between Sandy Island and Paradise Beach had turned on very large work lights and the smaller boats continued to come to and fro. Maybe fishing boats? We would have to ask someone tomorrow. For now there was a large jigsaw puzzle waiting for our attention. I just can’t go to sleep knowing that a jigsaw puzzle has been started and is not complete. I needed to get to work.

Day 2 (Sunday)

The family was exhausted from our day of travel, so our first day in Carriacou included a substantial amount of sleeping-in. Nobody seemed to complain about that at all. After a late morning dip in the pool, we all got cleaned-up for a trip to Hillsborough to pick up some provisions.

We were much more attentive on the drive to Hillsborough than we were during the trip to the villa the day before. Today we noticed several changes since our last visit that were worth noting. The new rum shop on the north end of Paradise Beach looks like a significant investment compared to some others we have seen in the past. We hope it will be there, in good repair, for years to come. There was also a substantial amount of progress on the stadium between L’Esterre and Hillsborough, although we were surprised to see what appeared to be several Asian men working on the construction.

The bulk of the work being done on this day was by the supporters of the competing political parties. With the Grenada elections just a little more than one week away (Tuesday, July 8), we seemed to have timed our visit to be in the heat of the campaign. Cars with loudspeakers mounted on their roofs, and pick-up trucks overflowing with supporters wearing matching t-shirts and shouting campaign slogans crowded the roads surrounding Hillsborough. The roadsides and utility poles were littered with signs and posters promising change for the people. In our discussions with some of the local residents, none seemed very confident than anyone of the candidates were capable of making any meaningful change. They all seemed to be prepared to vote against somebody as opposed to voting for somebody.

It was a Sunday, so our choice of stores that were open was limited. Henrietta’s, the bakery in L’Esterre was closed, as was the Rasta grocer (produce stand) on the north end of the main street in Hillsborough. The ATM was open, so we stopped to get some Eastern Caribbean cash. There were a couple of men sleeping-off their Saturday night binge on the sidewalks of downtown. Apparently the concrete is not that uncomfortable after all.

Our next stop was Kim’s Plaza, one of the local grocery stores. We stocked-up on ‘American’ essentials; breakfast cereals, cookies and snacks. Okay, we also got some real food like eggs, pasta, peanut butter and canned ham. All convenient things to have on-hand for our economical plan to eat most of our breakfast and lunch meals in the villa. Leaving Kim’s we stopped by the roadside produce stand just to the southeast to buy a few bananas, They looked great and were a bargain as we got a very large bunch for EC$2.50, with one to eat on the way home thrown in for free.

On the way back to L’Esterre, we stopped by the Hard Wood Bar and Snackette at Paradise Beach for a wonderful lunch. We each received a large dinner plate overflowing with fish or chicken, boiled potatoes, mashed pumpkin, rice, macaroni, cole slaw, lettuce, tomato, dasheen and more, plus a soft drink for about EC$25 each (or US$10). An incredible bargain compared to meals we are used to buying in the Washington, DC area.

While enjoying our delicious meal, we were entertained by the island’s ubiquitous dogs and cats, and more so by one of the wait staff’s infant daughter playing in a playpen set-up in the dining area. She was a beautiful baby! The Hard Wood was not very busy on this Sunday afternoon. Some of the local residents there on this day were enjoying the televised cricket match. The game featured the West Indies team versus Australia. Apparently it was quite an exciting contest (based on the local resident’s reaction). However, we know little about the game of cricket. We did our best to pay attention in hopes of learning something about it. We need to put that on the to-do list; learn more about the game of cricket.

After lunch we took a quick drive through the Tyrrel Bay area to discover what had changed there. The new marina area continues to progress and there is a lot of heavy equipment on-hand to do the work, but there is still much to do before they are prepared to service boats and provide land-side services. There is still no sign of hotel or condominium development as was described in the original plans. There were a few larger ‘work’ boats docked there on this day, so maybe there is some level of local shipping business already being transacted there. The harbor had its fair share of sailing vessels, and many of the yachties were socializing at the various establishments along the waterfront. We drove as far as the Tyrrel Bay Yacht Club before turning around and returning to the villa. It was a fun sight-seeing trip. One observation was some construction on the beach-side of the road between L’Esterre and Tyrrel Bay. There is on-going work that includes a rather tall concrete security wall; and I mean rather TALL. We wondered why the extra security was necessary.

Once back at the villa, we unpacked the provisions and then cooled-off with some time in the swimming pool. We all decided that the beach looked inviting, so we strolled along Paradise Beach, enjoying a romp in the surf and searching for magical sea shells. It was great fun.

The skies began to look a bit threatening, and we were all pretty wore out, so we headed back to the villa just in time for a brief afternoon rain shower. After some more fun in the pool, we all had a bite to eat (leftovers from the Hard Wood) and played some games in the villa while a small squall provided the landscape with some much needed moisture. A great way to start our holiday in the ‘real’ Caribbean.

Day 1 (Saturday)

It’s 8:20 in the evening and I find myself relaxing on the veranda of a lovely villa, a slight cool breeze keeps me comfortable while I sit listening to the rhythms of the ocean waves on the beach and the soulful Reggae tunes coming from the beachside rum shop. Yes, I am back in Carriacou.

The day started early for my wife, Laura, daughter, Courtney and son, Anthony (our oldest daughter, Chelsie, was away on a tour of Europe with schoolmates and not part of this trip). The alarm clock shook us from our slumber at 2:30 a.m., well before our usual waking hour. After a quick bite to eat, everyone was eager to wash the sleep from their eyes and gather their last-minute belongings to pack with their other bags.

The drive from our home in Northern Virginia to Reagan National Airport near Washington, DC, takes just about an hour, even when the trek begins at a relatively traffic-less 3:30 a.m. The airport parking garage was sparsely filled, providing us with a very convenient space. Surprisingly, the airport ticket counters were quite busy for such an early hour, although our wait for an available ticketing kiosk was only about ten minutes. We were grateful for arriving a little early as we watched the queue of anxious travelers grow quickly behind us.

With tickets in-hand and baggage checked, we breezed through security. Our family has been traveling together for many years, and the children have become fairly seasoned air travelers. They know the routine and no longer need to be coached through the process; we are very proud of their independence and confidence. They were certainly more patient travelers than many of the adults that we observed at the airport. For people who were obviously leaving on holiday, they all seemed much too stressed and uptight.

We boarded our flight from Washington, DC to Miami around 5:45 a.m., just as the sun was rising. The flight was smooth, and being that all four of us were rather tired, we slept at least part of the way there. The flight landed in hot and humid south Florida at 8:30 a.m. As we made our way to the next flight’s departure gate, we found muffins and croissants to satisfy our morning hunger.

We really enjoyed the short walk between gates at the Miami International Airport. The newly remodeled terminal features creative brass inlays in the aggregate stone floor; each inlay shaped as the outline of some tropical plant or sea creature. The walls are decorated with sculptures of sea life. Each art piece features one species, with several specimens arranged in some geometric design. Some of these pieces had to be tens of feet in diameter. They were absolutely wonderful to view.

The flight from Miami to Barbados was nearly full with only a couple of empty seats. The plane departed the United States around 10:00 a.m. and landed at the international airport in Bridgetown about 1:30 p.m. The Barbados airport has been undergoing a remodeling project for several years, and it is really quite nice. We decided that we like it much, much better than another Caribbean hub that we have often used, the airport in St. Thomas, USVI.

The SVG Air staff greeted us at the Barbados arrivals building and quickly processed our paperwork for departure to the Grenadines. We were surprised when some of the staff recalled us from our previous visit to Barbados and they warmly welcomed us back to the Caribbean. They gathered our baggage and loaded our private air charter as the pilot led us from the departure gate to the waiting plane. The weather had been a little stormy in Barbados earlier in the day, but the skies only had a few clouds for the trip from Bridgetown to Carriacou. New regulations prohibit all airlines except for the Barbados-based West Indies Executive Air to fly directly to any part of Grenada, including Carriacou. The plan was for SVG to take us from Barbados to Union Island (part of St Vincent) and then to Carriacou. However, the pilot was kind enough to just simply pass over Union Island (we all waved ‘hello’) and then proceeded to land the plane directly at Carriacou. Upon landing, he greeting us by exclaiming “Welcome to Union Island!”. We all shared a laugh and were grateful for his abbreviated flight plan.

Soon after gathering our bags and starting the process of clearing Grenada customs on Carriacou, we were greeted at the airport by our good friend, Godfrey Calliste. Godfrey and his wife Leslie-Ann work for the Hatch family, owners of the Las Tortugas Villa. He was very excited to see us and we quickly caught up on all that was new with our respective families.

Once the customs process was complete, Godfrey helped to take our baggage to the island taxi operated by Philip (a silver-colored, Nissan mini van named ‘Patience’), part of the local brigade of mini vans that offers the local bus service. We had used Philip on our previous trip to Carriacou, so it was a delight to see him again. Philip took us from the airport adjacent to Hillsborough into town for a stop a the Police Station to obtain a driving permit (EC$30). Philip reminded us that the permit is good for six months, so it would be okay for us to extend our stay. Oh how we wished we could! The Police Station is housed in temporary quarters as the newly remodeled station is being finished. It looks to be complete soon.

On our way to the villa, Philip dropped Godfrey and me off at Barba’s Store in L’Esterre to arrange for the jeep that comes with the villa rental. The staff was prepared for our arrival and had most all of the paperwork already complete. The ‘jeep’ was actually a recent model, Geo Tracker; a compact sports utility vehicle like most of the other private automobiles on the island. These types of vehicles are perfect for island travel, as often times the nice, concrete-paved road you are driving on turns into a dirt-surfaced, rain eroded path. After completing the car rental details, Godfrey and I arrived at the villa to join Laura, Courtney and Anthony who had arrived with Philip a little bit earlier.

What a great surprise awaited us at Las Tortugas! There to greet us was Leslie-Ann and her three children, Adrian (18), Callista (15) and Godson (9). All three children had grown so much since we had seen them last, and each of them was very proper and polite, all dressed-up for the occasion. After a round of hugs and kisses, Leslie-Ann presented us with a delicious meal of chicken and rice, and a beautiful cake that she had prepared with Callista’s help. The treat was expertly decorated with the greeting “Welcome Back Home”. We were touched by the Calliste family’s sincere friendship and heartfelt welcome. We had made good friends with them during our last visit to Carriacou and had stayed in touch with sporadic correspondence. It was very nice to renew our friendship in-person.

After a long visit with the Calliste family, it was early evening. The views of Paradise Beach from the veranda of the villa were inviting, so Courtney and I decided to take a stroll along the sand. With the cooling breezes from the mid-day storms still slightly blowing, the water felt almost cool. However, that could not keep us from having an enjoyable stroll through the surf. We were joined by one of the local dogs who Courtney promptly named Shadette (to be explained later). A few local couples and several young men were lounging at points along the beach. Some of the boys were rather smitten with our 14 year-old daughter who has become quite a beautiful young woman. A few of them expressed their fondness for her, but all were respectful. One jokingly asked me for her hand in marriage, I told him that he would have to get in line behind all of the other young men who were interested in her.

Returning to the villa, Courtney joined Anthony for some fun time in the swimming pool. After an hour or so of playing in the refreshing water, the sun was almost completely gone for the day, We all retired to the house to enjoy the delicious meal Leslie-Ann had prepared for us. With our hunger satisfied and a long day of travel behind us, we all retired to our bedrooms to wrap-up the day. The children played games; Laura caught-up on her reading; and I finished-up this first day’s entry.

We're Back!

Our family has returned from our 12 days and 11 nights on Carriacou, and we miss the island already.

It was a great trip made during an interesting and historic time, as the National Democratic Congress won the election to lead Grenada while we were there.

I kept a blog of our trip and will publish each day as a separate entry after this post. The blog is a mix of entertaining trip report, useful travel information, and minor commentary. You may or may not agree with my point of view, but being able to publish these comments is one of the benefits of being the author.

We hope that you enjoy reading these posts and that in some way it helps you make a trip to our favorite Caribbean destination... Carriacou!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Currency Exchange

Carriacou, uses the East Caribbean Dollar ("XCD" or "EC") as their official currency, as does the rest of Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The XCD is presently on a fixed exchange rate with the United States Dollar ("USD"), where one USD = 2.7 XCD. However, the actual trading rate on any given day seems to float slightly above or below that value.

Major credit cards companies will automatically convert the currency for you, which is very convenient. However, on Carriacou, there is a limited number of merchants who have the capability to accept credit cards (including many of the restaurants). Therefore, we must be prepared with sufficient cash.

Visitors can use USD at many locations, however the exchange rate is usually worse, more along the lines of one USD = 2.50 to 2.60 XCD. The use of XCD is obviously more economical.

We believe it is wise to limit the total amount of cash we hold at any given time when traveling abroad. A great way to manage this is to use the convenience of the Automated Teller Machine ("ATM"). There are ATMs located in Hillsborough that accept major credit and debit cards, dispensing XCD currency at the prevailing exchange rate.

Just as is often the case in the United States, Carriacou's ATMs are sometimes out of order or inaccesible, so we like to have some XCD cash on-hand when we first get to the island. to pay for our taxi fare, driver's permit, lunch, provisions, etc. The difficulty that we have had is locating a currency exchange in the United States that will transact XCD for USD. In our experience, we have had less than a 50 percent success rate in finding XCD available at airport currency exchanges (for an immediate transaction). Because of this, we make the effort to exchange a limited amount of funds well in advance of our trip, instead of waiting for the day of departure.

Some local banks in the United States will accept an order for the currency exchange for a small fee and with several business days notice. Since I travel quite a bit for business, I just stop at various airport currency exchanges to check on XCD availability. Airport currency exchange rates and fees are never in the customer's favor (they have to make money somehow). However, when transacting a couple of hundred USD, the fee is a very small percentage and the convenience of completing the transaction immediately has certain benefits.

It is very important to make certain that you retain enough cash to pay the Grenada Departure Tax. It is presently $50 XCD per person ages 12 and older, and $25 XCD for children ages 5 to 11. Children under 5 years old are exempt from the tax. This tax is payable when you leave the island.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Packing Our Bags

With the official departure date coming up quick, it's time to start packing bags for the family's Carriacou holiday. Here's what and how we pack for the trip.

We begin packing weeks before our departure. After having made numerous trips with way too many things we just didn't need, we have learned to start packing early. Well, we don't actually 'pack' early, but we start the process by sacrificing our living room floor to everything we think we need to take. Everything.

Clothing has always been our biggest mistake. The weather in the Caribbean is moderate, with average temperatures between 80 and 85 degrees (F) year around. The dress code on Carriacou is island casual, yet still quaintly conservative (watch how much skin you show in public). We know this, as does anyone else who has researched a Caribbean vacation. So why do we always wind up taking way too many clothes? Ha!

Having access to laundry facilities is a huge help with this issue. You really only need clothes for a few days if you will be able to wash them once or twice during your stay. If you don't have access to laundry, consider packing clothing made of light material that you can simply wash in the sink and dry on the back of a chair in the sunlight.

Regardless of what clothes we pack, we usually live in our swimsuits and other light wear (t-shirts and shorts). Since we do enjoy dining out at a 'nice" place once in a while, we try to take one outfit that is a little nicer (cotton slacks and short-sleeved polo for men, skirt and blouse for women). Shoes are heavy and take a lot of space in luggage. Do your best to limit yourself in this regard. Flip-flops and swim / boat shoes can be sufficient unless you plan on doing a lot of hiking or running.

The family is snorkel crazy, so we pack our own preferred gear. This adds some weight, but we are much happier using our own stuff rather than rental equipment.

Toiletries are available on-island as-needed. However, packing a little shampoo and soap doesn't add that much to the total load and is sometimes necessary for travelers with allergies or other problems.

Having young children can make packing a challenge. They tend to believe that they need to bring a lot of 'stuff' to entertain themselves, when in fact once they get to the island they never touch any of it. This is where laying out all of your items in advance can be very helpful. It at least gives you the opportunity to bargain and barter with your family on what they plan to take. It gets easier as the children get older; then they decide that a good book and an iPod are sufficient.

One thing we do not sacrifice on is camera gear. It's a hobby that the whole family enjoys, so a large camera bag with all of the extras gets packed. This includes a small, notebook computer to offload and store digital images from the cameras. We have never regretted it once we get back home and look through all of the photographs. Those are the memories that help us get by until our next Caribbean holiday.

The plan is for everyone in the travel party to have one carry-on and one checked bag (less if consolidation is possible). Duffle bags are a must! Hard-sided luggage does not travel well when in comes to the Caribbean's light planes and ferry boats. To comply with airline restrictions and our own physical capabilities, we keep the bags to 40 pounds or less each.

So here's the living room floor...
  • Clothes including swimsuits and one 'nice' outfit, including shoes
  • Snorkel gear (fins, mask and snorkel)
  • Toiletries (shampoo, soap, razor, prescription medication, etc.)
  • Entertainment (books, magazines, iPods, etc.)
  • Cameras, notebook computer and accessories
We lay this all out, and then the fun begins. Each day until we leave, we all survey the floor and select something we can do without. Our goal is to take only the essentials. Amazingly, the pile gets considerably smaller by the time we actually pack it all up (the night before departure). This beats starting the process the night before departure, which would have had us taking EVERYTHING that was on the floor to begin with!

The carry-on bags get the entertainment items (for easy access on the airplane), the camera and computer gear and a few clothes items in case of flight delays or lost luggage. Prescription drugs all go in carry-on bags in their original, labeled containers. The checked bags get the rest. With TSA rules regarding carry-on liquids, we try to pack them all in checked luggage for ease of travel.

This may sound like a lot of stuff, but amazingly it is not once you go through the weeks long 'thinning process'. I hope that this idea helps you have a lighter-weight and more enjoyable trip to the Caribbean.

Getting There

The Eastern Caribbean is a wonderful holiday destination. Our family prefers it to any other place available to us. In fact, for us the further east in the Caribbean island chain the better. However, the further east you go, the more difficult it can be to arrange travel from the United States. That's not to suggest that it's impossibly hard. It's just challenging for most novice Caribbean travelers.

One option is to call your local travel agent. Unfortunately, we have learned that when it comes to the Eastern Caribbean, our own travel experience is usually more extensive than that of the affordable travel agent.

Since this blog is all about our family's return trip to Carriacou, we will concentrate on that destination. However, some of these travel points apply just as well to other Caribbean locations.

Another important point regarding this particular post is that our family's travel begins in the United States. Travel to the Eastern Caribbean starting from other locations such as Europe and South America may require drastically different plans.

There are many travel options if Carriacou is your final destination. The challenge is finding a balance between travel time and cost, as they are directly related. Typically, the faster you want to get there, the higher the cost!

Let's start with travel time. If your holiday is luxuriously long and you are in no hurry to reach Carriacou, you can have a wonderfully adventurous and economic trip to the island through a number of great locales. For example, start with a direct flight from the eastern United States to the island of Dominica and meander your way south on passenger ferries and mail boats through the Grenadines until you reach Carriacou. Ah! I only wish that I had that much time.

For those with less time to travel, you can catch a flight to Grenada through Puerto Rico or other popular Caribbean destination, and then ride a passenger ferry to Carriacou. A greatly affordable option. However, it can be very difficult to arrange this travel to fit within a one-day schedule. The flights do not get to Grenada in time to catch the last ferry to Carriacou, which means that this option requires you to have an overnight stay in Grenada. That's not all bad. Grenada is a wonderful island and a joy to visit. Many travelers with Carriacou as a final destination purposely spend a few days on Grenada on both ends of their trip.

For some travelers, one challenge with this option is the ferry ride to Carriacou. There is a fast ferry and a slow ferry. In reality they both require a pretty long ride across some bumpy seas. If you are one of those who does not do well on a long boat ride, think twice.

You can catch a small, inter-island plane from Grenada to Carriacou. A great option for those who like to avoid the long ferry ride. Again, commercial flight schedules to Grenada make it very difficult to get to Carriacou in one day from the United States mainland using this option.

Our family greatly values our holiday time on Carriacou. Therefore, we would really rather get there in one day (no offense to our friends on Grenada!). One way to get to Carriacou from the United States in one day is through Barbados. Of course this somewhat depends on where in the United States you are starting from. This option works for most starting locations east of the Mississippi River.

There are direct flights to Barbados from several East Coast airports, including New York and Miami. If you can get to one of these airports by mid-morning, you can catch a flight to Barbados that will get you there just a little after lunch time.

Okay. It's now the early afternoon and you are in Barbados. How do you get to Carriacou before the day is over? Look for commercial inter-island flights. If your group has four or more travelers, you may find it economical to charter your own plane for the trip. This option can find you on Carriacou before 3:00 p.m. That's early enough to catch some serious beach time before sunset.

With the introduction of a Barbados-based inter-island airline, West Indies Executive Air (westindiesexecutiveair.com) is the only official option for private air charters from Barbados to Carriacou. There are other ways to introduce some competition in the mix though. SVG Air (svgair.com) and Mustique Airways (mustique.com) offer private air charters from Barbados to the Grenadines and other Eastern Caribbean destinations. These two airlines cannot fly directly from Barbados to Carriacou, but there doesn't appear to be anything stopping them from taking your party from Barbados to say... Union Island... then to Carriacou. If you shop carefully, you may be able to piece together a flight plan that is timely and economical. The lesson here is to think creatively!

Are we there yet?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Where You Gonna Sleep?

So you're headed to Carriacou. Great! Now where are you going to stay?

Some factors to consider: How many are in your travel party? How many nights are you staying? What location characteristics are important to you? What are your plans for dining? How much are you willing to pay to be pampered?

We'll stop at that, as most other factors are simply a derivative of those already in this list.

The fewer in your travel party, the greater the options; it's that simple. The more people you add to your travel party, the fewer locations on the island that can accommodate you all as one group. There are many options across the island for those of you traveling alone or as a couple.

The longer you plan on staying, the better sense it makes to find a more 'permanent' lodging option; a place to make home camp while you enjoy the adventure of the island. Some lodging options require a stay of five nights or more to justify the work of accommodating guests.

Location becomes an issue depending upon your on-island travel options (i.e. on-foot, 'bus' or rental car) and what kind of entertainment you seek (i.e. are you a party animal or limin' fool?).

Some people like to go on holiday to avoid the kitchen, while others don't mind doing a little housekeeping to create a fun group activity.

Finally, are you willing to pay for room service or does your budget limit you to a sleeping bag and a tent? Ha!

Here's the situation for our family, your travel party may or may not resemble us.

We are a family of five, although this year our oldest teen daughter will be on a school trip to Europe and unable to join us in Carriacou. So we needed a lodging option that could accommodate two adults and two young teen children. Young teens. You know. "I need my privacy" kind of age, so no chance of them sharing a room with Mom and Dad. We are not aware of hotels on Carriacou that have adjoining rooms, so our lodging hunt jumps directly to villas (houses).

Although we would love to have a long stay on the island, we are limited to ten days. That is sufficiently long for villa rentals. Most villas require at least a one-week stay with the start or end landing on a Saturday in order to accommodate other potential renters. A ten-day stay can test your vacation budget if your lodging choice is on the expensive side. Unfortunately, money is a factor for this family, so the villa's features must be carefully considered.

Location is one of the most critical components for us. Our family is not into wild night life (hence, our selection of Carriacou for a destination). We prefer quiet nights with few lights to disturb our view of the starlit skies. We rent a car (easier and more affordable with a group of four), so distance from Hillsborough is not critical. The rental car also allows us to easily visit beaches and sites around the island, as well as for making trips to town for provisions.

Our family is a pretty typical American bunch. Dad works a lot of hours and travels on business often. Mom is busy with a job of her own and well as taxi duty with the children. The kids are involved in a lot of school and extra-curricular activities. That means that most nights, dinners are disjointed and very un-family-like. With this in mind, you may understand how our family actually enjoys time together in the kitchen! The whole process of shopping for provisions on the island ("What's THAT?" "Is this edible?" "Coke Light?") has made many memories for us, and we all have a blast pitching-in to make a meal to share. Therefore, having to provide our own housekeeping is actually a benefit we seek.

That leaves us with the final consideration: cost. As we have all learned a long time ago, 'you get what you pay for', so we shop carefully. It is not always easy to place the lodging options on a comparable basis; one can have a better location, while another has a pool, while another is less expensive. We actually create a table that lists the features, the pros and the cons. For this year's vacation, we have decided on a villa in the L'Esterre region; Las Tortugas (www.lastortugasvilla.com). It meets our needs as well as some of our Caribbean living dreams (it is our holiday after all, so we are allowed to splurge a little). Our family would rather spend a bit more on accommodations and be thrifty on our dining options. Maybe more on that in a later post...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Research Sources

My wife and I are often asked what our favorite sources are for researching Caribbean islands. It would be virtually impossible for me to attempt to identify all of the possible resources available. However, I will provide you with a short list of what has worked and what hasn't worked for us.

With no offense to the publishers, editors and contributors... we've come to the conclusion that guidebooks such as those published by Fodor's, Frommer's and Lonely Planet are pretty useless once you select a destination that is not frequently traveled. We got great use from such guides when visiting Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but the information they provide for the leeward and windward islands of the Caribbean is sadly lacking.

An interesting type of resource that may be considered a bit unconventional, are non-fiction books related to travel and life in the Caribbean. Examples of such books that we found to offer an astoundingly accurate representation of life on various islands include "An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude" (Ann Vanderhoof, 1952, Random House, New York) and "A Trip to the Beach: Living on Island Time in the Caribbean" (Melinda Blanchard, 2000, Random House, New York). Although published as entertainment and not necessarily intended as travel guides, books like these helped to provide our family with wonderful insights of the Caribbean most likely not possible without actually visiting each of the islands.

Another type of resource comes from a group of Caribbean travelers who live a life many of us envy. I am referring to cruisers... yachties... modern-day recreational sailors. These are the people who brave the seas to sail from one exotic locale to another. For some, their boats are their year-around homes. For others, their boats offer a respite from the real world for the short time that they are living on-the-hook. We found cruisers to be an invaluable resource for up-to-date information for every island in the Caribbean, no matter how big or small. They divulge many important travel details including local knowledge on lodging, dining, shopping, entertainment, political matters, cultural issues, crime concerns and much more. Start with excellent cruiser guides like those offered by Chris Doyle of Grenada (DoyleGuides.com).

Finally, we suggest that you spend some time browsing the Internet. We purposely did not place this resource first, as the information on the Internet is only as good as the source. Unfortunately, there are just as many (if not more) bad resources on the Internet as there are reputable ones. You can always find someone who has had a bad experience in the Caribbean, but we have learned that the problem often has more to do with the visitor then their accused. One example of a trustworthy source of Caribbean traveler information on the Internet is the Grenada Travel Forum. Here, island natives, ex patriots and frequent visitors offer their advice free for the asking. Similar forums can also be found for other Caribbean destinations.

Why Carriacou?

Ever since our family began visiting island destinations, we have been drawn to locations that have fewer tourists, less shopping, no cruise ships and a whole lot more peace and quiet. Holidays in Hawaii and the Western Caribbean were adventuresome and exciting, but they always included an element of "stress" that should not be associated with what would otherwise be considered a restful vacation.

As we read more about the Caribbean, we found ourselves being drawn further east; to locations that have remained off the beaten path and much less developed. We yearned to find the "old Caribbean" described in books such as "Escape to the Tropics" (Desmond Holdridge, 1937, Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York). Could such a destination still exist?

Introducing Carriacou.

Carriacou is officially part of the three-island nation of Grenada (which includes: Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique), although it's location places it at the southernmost reaches of the Grenadines.

It is difficult to say with all certainty what attracts us to Carriacou, but it is probably best described as a combination of the wonderful native people (and most of the ex patriots who now live there), the natural beauty of the island's features, and the lack of commercial development. The island is one of the last remaining Caribbean locations that has not been completely spoiled by man. We hope that in some way, we can help it remain that way for future generations to enjoy.

Choose Your Island

There are lots of reasons people travel to the Caribbean. Some like to frequent the casinos made available in select countries; some like to partake in the all-inclusive pampering offered at various resorts; some like to party like a rock star until daybreak; some like to build their skills are various water activities.

So why do we travel to the Caribbean? We like limin' (a.k.a. resting and relaxing on island time).

The Caribbean offers something for everyone mentioned above, and most all of the others too. The culture and environment, whether native or introduced, varies widely across the island chain. It is difficult to find someone who cannot enjoy a holiday at one of the islands across the region.

To make an initial assessment of the variety offered throughout the Caribbean, we suggest that you spend some time reading an informative periodical, such as "Caribbean Travel and Life" or "Islands" magazine. These magazines do a great job of introducing the reader to many different aspects of various islands. From there, the reader can narrow down their list of potential destinations.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What's the Purpose?

My wife and I have some experience traveling the Caribbean having made several trips to the islands with our three young children.

We have made some mistakes and learned a thing or two along the way, but let there be no doubt, the whole family has always had a great time.

In an attempt to help make your own travels easier, we have decided to share the planning process for our next holiday; a return trip to Carriacou.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive study on all of the ways one could travel from the United States to the Grenadines. If you disagree with any of our plans or our process, that is fine. You are welcome to publish your own advice.

If nothing else, we hope that this blog may offer some entertaining reading.

Enjoy.