Sunday, 29 November 2009

Saturday 28th November

Saturday 28th November

Safely back in the UK. Brrrrr. It's damned cold in this country.

Managed to get parents upgraded to Premium Economy, but Caroline and I had the joy of Economy seats. At least in this direction we had the updated entertainment system...

Did I mention it's really really cold here?

Quick trip to Cambridge for a few bits and pieces followed by a couple of days to wash kit, pack and prepare for the big adventure. :-)

Friday 27th November

After a rather leisurely breakfast we began packing (reluctantly) for home. Starting to pack was way too much effort though, so we jumped in the Nissan-thingy and headed to Labourie for a nice stroll along the beach and a swim.

Back to the Estate where Uta gave us a guided tour of the house at Balenbouche. And lunch followed by another walk out through the jungle and down to the coast.

At which point we really had to pack or we weren't going to manage to get to the airport on time for the overnight flight back to the UK.

Bye bye St Lucia.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Thursday 26th November

Our last full day in the Caribbean!!

We started the day by singing Happy Birthday to Caroline (again...).

We visited Tet Paul trail - very interesting local trail through subsistence farmland with some spectacular views of the Pitons. As little mountains go they are pretty cute.

Carried on to Anse L'Ivrogne, was adopted by several flea-ridden mutts so vacated to our old favourite Anse Chastenet.

On the way, Caroline decided it was definitely Birthday Ice-cream time. Lesson for the week...don't off-road while eating choc-ices. The results are not pretty! Particularly if the driver is also trying to eat his choc-ice.

From Anse Chastenet we walked around the slightly rocky headland to the next cove over: Anse Mamin. Whilst a little rockier than Chastenet it was less populated so we enjoyed several hours of sun, sea and sand & even Caroline managed to relax for a few hours, collapsed on a towel underneath a coconut tree. See the piccies for proof!

In the evening, following a very tasty lamb curry, we found that Uta and Verena had cooked Caroline a birthday cake - heavy on the chocolate and rum. My FAVOURITE... We all went to bed rather more than replete.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thursday 26th November

Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday dear Caroline! Happy Birthday to you!


Wednesday 25th November

Left early to get to 9.00 mountain biking place. This being the Caribbean everything is just a bit late - so they eventually got going about 10.30. Think Caroline would be driven crazy living here all the time! Mountain biking was great; loads of custom trails through the forest, not sure we will give up our road bikes, but still good fun, legs felt like jelly after 3 hours.

Snorkelled and swan in the afternoon, fewer fish than before but did spot more coral in deeper water and black sea urchins.

Dinner back at Balenbouche followed by cockroach coffee...yes you did read that right. A couple of the things got in the cafetiere prior to being plunged and were parboiled. Yum ...yum...yum.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Monday 23rd November

Quite a slow day, we pottered up the east coast of St Lucia trying to find some of the landmarks noted on the map. There isn't much activity yet on the tourism front, so not much effort has been made to spruce things up yet. Or maybe that's just the general approach!

We walked part of the Des Cartiers trail - a pair of old roads built by the French and British at various points in the past. The drive up to the trail is a single-track road into the interior of the island; surrounded by banana plantations with blue plastic coated fruit hanging from the trees, dodging oncoming pick-up trucks, the occasional stray dog or banana picker. The walk itself is nice for the opportunity to stretch legs, but a little monotonous from a scenery perspective. We don't see any parrots, but do hear a number of suspicious sounds.

The Daih-shit-su is sounding even worse than previously and refused to go into gear at one point (bear in mind it's an automatic). Since it's on the way back to Balenbouche, we stop off at the Hire Center where we are assured after some discussion that they will bring a replacement 4x4 pick-up out to Balenbouche for us. And will then provide a waterproof cover for it later on. Why do I suspect they won't manage to hit their own deadline time of 9:30am?

After walking along Anse des Sables, a long beach with incredibly fine-grained white sand, we head back to Balenbouche to do a little more high intensity reading and relaxing before cooking dinner.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Sunday 22nd November

We've found a decent internet connection, so should be able to catch up today! Lots of stuff for you to read.

Started off with showing O's parents our explorations of the previous day.

Then off to Diamond botanic gardens - good, well labelled display of local plants, mineral springs (courtesy of the volcanic sulphury stuff we saw yesterday), a waterfall, and some c. 19th century bathing pools.

Spent most of the afternoon snorkelling at Anse Chastenet. Amazing proliferation of fish life very close to shore: squid, zebra fish, parrot fish, moray eels, pipe fish, some coral, urchins, and loads of other fish we could not name. Beautiful colours, bright yellows and blues, every variation of spots and stripes. Unfortunately no underwater camera to hand.

Daihatsu-thingy, now re-christened Daih-shit-su, has been returned to us, has a slow puncture, rear brake calliper is dragging along road, wheel bearing quite possibly seizing. Only grounded it once today which has not assisted its plight. If it survives the next 4 days it will be a miracle.

Caroline is now sat eating numerous varieties of ice cream, so is very happy.

Saturday 21st November

In the morning we signed up for tour of Labourie, the small fishing community nearest to Balenbouche. The tour was led by a dreadlocked local man - Rowan - and he confessed before starting that we were guinea pigs, this being the first tour he had run. It was brilliant:
As we walked round he explained the history of Labourie, founded as a plantation in 1750. We visited the church, where there were boisterous confirmation classes. Ate fresh bread from the creole bakery as the two bakers sweated to roll and bake several thousand small loaves in a wood heated bread oven. We watched the fishermen empty their catch onto the fishmarket basins just off the beach: octopus, eel, rainbow parrot fish, box fish, and a huge barracuda - all still wriggling! We looked at all the carved wooden houses, and Rowan explained how everyone contributes labour to help their neighbours with building work in return for food and lots of rum. He proudly showed us the local sewage project where all the foul-water drains off into a pit planted over with lush (i.e. well fertilised) trees, this prevents it contaminating the sea. All in all the best example of grass roots tourism I have seen in a while. Tourists are introduced to the local community, and the facilities available and in return they are a) more likely to buy local, b) have a positive experience and respect local mores.

In the afternoon we head up to Soufriere - sulphur springs, an area of geothermal activity in an an old volcanic caldera. Sorry, but after Iceland and New Zealand, this small patch of smelly mud does not cut it!

Later that evening before the 6pm mozzie onslaught we explored Balenbouche estate ....check out the piccies.

Friday 20th November

Our first full day on the Balenbouche Estate and the first order of the day is to explore. The area around the house and four cottages is dominated by an enormous Banyan tree with column-like roots descending from the branches to form a maze around the central trunk. Everything is colourful - scattered against a background of every green imaginable are a whole rainbow of flowers, fruits and wildlife. We wander through the grounds - it's nearly impossible to spot things until you are almost on top of them. A pond is filled with water lilies that raise white and pink flowers well clear of the surface. Numerous old farm buildings in various states of repair are dotted around.

Following a tasty breakfast Uta's daughter, Verena, takes us on a rather more thorough tour of the grounds. Including the old sugar and rum works, complete with 25 foot water wheel, which we had managed to miss on our first round. Having been pointed in the correct general direction we set out along a path which promises to take us to Balenbouche beach. Very different from the calm L'anse aux Epines beach in Grenada, this feels the full force of the Atlantic, huge breakers crashing up the black sand beach. A few days later we try swimming ....even waist deep you can hardly stand up the under-tow is so strong.

Most of the morning was spent waiting for the luggage, touring the estate and getting provisions. In the afternoon we explored a couple of the local villages, managed to kill the car and persuaded the hire company to bring out a replacement.

Thursday 19th November

The journey to St Lucia. Well in theory this should be a piece of cake. It can't be more than a couple of hundred miles north from Grenada to St Lucia, but there are ways to make it far far more difficult...

Your initial step is to decide that the airline hub should be in Barbados. Now at first glance this isn't necessarily a bad idea. Barbados is fairly famous so surely it's a sensible place to have a hub. Then you look at the geography of the area. Barbados is pretty much as far to the south east as it's possible to get and still be a Caribbean island, so no matter where else you're flying from and to it's going to be in the wrong direction.

Your second step is to be late. Everywhere. All the time. To the point where your pilots are getting fed up of waiting for the plane they're meant to be flying.

The third step is to ensure that your passengers and their luggage are on different planes.

So what started out as a couple of 45 minute hops Grenada - Barbados - St Lucia, ended up being a Grenada - Barbados - St Vincent - St Lucia without luggage marathon that took rather longer than it should have and we arrived on St Lucia not long before sun down.

Leaving Leysa and Caroline at the airport trying to track down the all important suitcases (contents included the uber-important rum), the boys headed off to the hire car place. The first vehicle on offer was a Nissan pick-up truck. Apart from the fact that Caroline and Leysa would both need double amputations at the knees to fit into the back seats, it had no cover over the pick-up bed. Now when one considers that it is just at the end of the rainy season, whilst beautifully sunny during the day, it invariably tips it down in the evening and overnight. Soaked cases wasn't high on our agenda for improved fun. The second and last vehicle on offer was a rather ropey-looking Daihatsu 4x4. By "ropey-looking" I mean that the front bumper pivots suspiciously along its top edge and there are a couple of impressively substantial holes through the radiator. Despite some trepidation we set out in our Daihatsu-thingy to see how the girls have got on at the airport. On the way there we see our first accident, which is conveniently right on the entrance to the airport. Following some impressive chicane driving from Olly, we manage to get onto the airport road. The girls have managed to persuade someone from LIAT that we would quite like some clothes and we are assured that they are likely to maybe turn up later in the evening on one of the two flights that should probably if we're lucky be arriving at some point. Oh good.

Having taken a couple of photos of the worst of the visible damage on the Daihatsu-thingy we set out sans-luggage to the Balenbouche Estate where we will be staying for the next week. The local airport is right at the north of St Lucia. Balenbouche is right at the south of the island. Despite it being obvious from the map that heading down the west coast is a far shorter journey than heading down the east coast, we are assured by several locals that the east road is much easier and better. This proves to be good advice as we get underway on some very good roads and make good time down the coast as darkness and the rain descend. The Daihatsu-thingy however is not sounding so good and as we hit less well finished roads there are some very strange noises coming from the front of the vehicle - which stop when the brakes are applied. Hmmm; nasty clankings associated with braking. Why am I not feeling particularly reassured?

We arrive at Balenbouche after about two hours on the road. We're lucky that most of the roads were so good. Now that there's an opportunity to get under the Daihatsu-thingy (which I wasn't going to do at the side of the road - you've got to see some of the driving here to believe it) it's rather obvious that the front right brake caliper isn't quite as well attached as it should be.

We are greeted at Balenbouche by the owner; Uta Lawaetz, who came to St Lucia from Germany 28 years ago. Having managed to telephone her from the airport to say we would be late, Uta has prepared a Chow Mein dinner for us which is not only welcome, but very good as well.

The cottage we're going to be staying in is very different to the one on Grenada. Thoroughly surrounded by lush greenery, it's very open plan - the kitchen and front room area could almost be called a veranda with no glass or shutters between the uprights supporting the roof. The bedrooms are airy and rely on through drafts to keep cool. Mosquito nets will be the order of the night. One of the bathrooms is quite literally outside. It's great!

Just before retiring to bed, some good news: the luggage has been found and will be on its way to us tomorrow after it has been cleared through customs. We go to bed to an incredible cacophony of animal noises - frogs, insects and lizards all competing to be heard.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Wednesday 18th November

This morning we went up to Quarantine Point and walked along the cliff tops. Whilst it's been cleared up substantially there are still a number of old building foundations around - yet more evidence of hurricanes. The views are spectacular and there was a nice catamaran doing a good speed across the bay. We walked the length of Grand Anse beach before lunch, a couple of miles of golden sand. A large cruise ship had docked in St Georges overnight so there were loads of people enjoying the dry land. In the afternoon we took out a kayak round the bay looking at all the moored yachts and fishes around the rocky headland. After a bout of packing we finished up our stay in Grenada with dinner at Gary Rhodes restaurant - !!!yum!!! - and walked back along the sand.

Off to Saint Lucia tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Tuesday 17th November

Today got off to a slightly lazier start than ususal. After what is becoming our routine swim and workout on the beach, we took rather longer over breakfast and then spent some time getting washing organised and reading.

Mid-morning we set off in the Suzuki-thingy, heading East along the southern part of the island. First stop was (another) rum distillary. This was a far more impressive set up than the previous visit we had made, though much of the complex had been destroyed by fire in the 1970s. The old water wheels, crushing equipment and boilers were all out of use. The company now imports raw alcohol (sugar based) and either casks it and stores it, or flavours it with local spices. Some of the results are really rather good. :-)

After the distillary we went to a local restaurant for lunch, having read a number of good reviews. It is apparent that the place was hit hard by the hurricane that came through in 2005 - and is still struggling to recover. The food was superb. We all opted for the lobster salad. The lobster itself was seriously tasty, and the salad actually consisted of a series of small servings of differently prepared veggies around the plate all of which went down very well. All in all definitely worth the visit.

The final stop of the day was at the Laura Herb and Spice Garden. The tour round was really well done, it was interesting to see a number of the ingredients that you frequently only come across in dried or powdered format still part of the plant. It's also amazing just how strongly some of the leaves smell when they're picked straight off the plant. Cocoa just looks plain odd.

We trundled back to the cottage for a bit more time in the sun and a swim before the sun went down and a supper consisting of leftovers from the fridge!

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Monday 16th November

Another beautiful morning that started with a swim - we're getting a little fitter because we can now do a whole round of the boats moored nearest to shore. After breakfast we headed north towards the middle of the island, then west out to Gouvaye. I think we forgot to mention in Saturday's blog some of the interesting features of driving in Grenada. First is the distinct lack of signposts. It's a little bit like Lincolnshire, but rather than just not putting them back up after the war I'm not sure they were ever up in the first place. Second is the glaring difference between roads on the ground and roads on the map. It's more a case of spot the similarity than spot the difference. And third is the fantastic driving style that abounds - where everything else is undertaken with a distinct lack of haste, behind the wheel everyone appears to aspire to be the next Ayrton Senna. And no, I'm not just talking about before the crash.

First stop on the journey was lake Grand Etang, a fresh water lake in a volcano crater, high up in the interior of the island. Then onto Gouyave, a tiny strip town hugging the shore. Visited the local fish market, a tiled shed; one end open to the sea, the other to the main street, locals were hosing out the fish waste and hanging up their 2 foot long gutting knives, waiting for the next boats to put in that evening. Further along the main street was one of the three nutmeg processing plants on the island. It is now a cooperative, but has the nineteenth century architecture of an old plantation building. Inside are rows upon rows of low wooden shelves, all full of drying nutmeg. A guide explains the process; after drying the shells are cracked and the nuts sorted from the hand... before being packed for export. The rate is piece work and c. 130lbs (3 days work) earns 35 EC dollars (7GBP). Level of automation is pre-industrial revolution, and the work would be mind-numbingly dull.

Back home, after a long and tedious detour, a rock fall (self induced via incompetence with explosives apparently) has closed one of the three major roads on the island. Rumor has it that due to lack of cash the government has hired the lowest cost and least capable company to clear it, locals think it will take weeks....explains why following Hurricane Ivan (5 yrs ago) there are still so many ongoing reconstruction projects for schools and hospitals.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sunday 15th November


What a way to spend a Sunday. :-)

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Saturday 14th November

There was quite a considerable amount of rain last night - it's fairly obvious why they need three-foot deep storm drains at either side of the road! After our morning swim we set about breakfast and decided that we would go and see a few of the local sights.

We drove up to the North of the Island, only about 30 miles but averaging 10 mph. Road winds up and down the steep volcanic hills. Moving North the candy-coloured villas and hotels give way to one room wooden shacks roofed in rusting corrugated iron. Chickens and occassionally a goat scratch in the dirt. Each village has its store/rum shop where the local unemployed hang out, foot tappin' samba blaring. Chromed minibuses zip around; each with a slogan plastered across the back windscreen: "Girlz and Bling", "Only God Delivers", "Life, Love & Rum". Not sure whether this represents the driver's philosophy or is more of a statement of intent?!

On the way north we managed to find a wildlife park, based at a very pretty white sand beach. It's always nice when yours are the only footprints!

We stopped off at Hellvellyn House, old (relatively speaking for an island with frequent hurricanes) plantation family dwelling, and were shown round the garden by the owner. Amazing view both out to sea to the Grenadines and back to the rain forest which covers the centre of the island, still wreathed in cloud even at noon.

Next stop the old Antoine River Rum distillery, which still produces rum using an old waterwheel to crush the sugar-cane and copper stills heated by wood burning furnaces. The place is pretty decrepit, like most non-hotel complex buildings in Grenada. The muddy coloured sap is heated in vats and then fermented for 2 weeks before being heated to drive off the alcohol which is boiled & condensed. The end result at 70+% proof (and I can testify to this) nearly blows your head off....refined it is not! Strictly for local consumption I am guessing. On the return jouney now that we know what to look for we spot 3 more ruined rum distilleries, distinctive large open windowed fermentation sheds and furnace foundations.

In the evening, a BBQ on the beach and a short swim in the sea. Never promised not to rub it in did I....?

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Friday 13th November

After a reasonably long flight which involved a planned (but unexpected) stop off in Tobago, we landed in Grenada at about 4pm yesterday (Thursday 12th). It was a little surreal - there were a sum total of four aircraft on the ground, three of which probably had a total capacity of 30 people. And a Boeing 747. Immigration was a nice relaxed affair, with the emphasis on "relaxed".

Picking up the hire car was trouble free if somewhat slow, one might almost say relaxed again. I have a suspicion that we'll be using that word rather frequently over the next couple of weeks. We were shown the vehicle, some sort of Suzuki, and given a summary of the bodywork scratches. Essentially this consisted of one of the standard hire-sheets with scribbling all over it. As long as we keep any accidents below 20mph I don't think they'll notice. We picked our way somewhat gingerly through the local traffic system, via a supermarket to pick up some food, and on to the accommodation: a little cottage at Lance aux Epines. Where we all promptly collapsed into bed not long after the sun went down abruptly at about 6:30pm.

This morning everyone woke early and got the first proper daylight look at the area. It's a fantastic location, looking out over a natural harbour where there are a number of yachts moored. The sea is about 6 feet below and a good thirty yard walk from the front door step, with scarcely any waves. There are humming birds visiting the flowers around the veranda. The little buggers won't hold still for a photograph however.
First order of the day was a swim - the water temperature is just on the chilly side of body heat, not far off perfect.
After breakfast we drove up to St George's (the capital of Grenada) which is about eight miles from the cottage. I'm not entirely sure how you manage to make a traffic jam on an island this size, but they succeeded. Having found somewhere to park the Suzuki-thingy we walked up to Fort George, back down to the center of town and round the market and then had a bit more of a wander around. Other than a quite incredible number of taxis, there isn't anything particularly noteworthy about St Georges. The view from the Fort is impressive and the colour of the sea is quite awesome.
After a lunch of savouries bought this morning, the afternoon consisted of reading, dozing and swimming. I think you can safely refer to this as winding down.

Off to Dinner and then go for another swim before bed! It may be a little too easy to get used to this!
If the photo loads successfully it's one we've just taken of the sunset over the far side of the harbour. :-)

Hope you're all well. More to follow...