Day 23: Trouble in Paradise

Day 23: Trouble in Paradise

23.01.09:

Another early riser and onto the ferry ‘Barracuda’ up to St. Vincent, the big daddy of the Grenadines. It’s where they filmed most of Pirates of the Caribbean around here and it looks bloody marvellous. But no time for sightseeing – I’ve got to get to Barbados!

So I met with Kim from the Paradise Beach Hotel in Villa. Lorna Brookes had got in touch with her and had let her know I was interested in getting a speedboat over to Barbados. Now you have to understand that my budget for travelling around THE WHOLE OF THE AMERICAS was about £1500, max – that was based on sleeping on buses, only eating street food and cadging free rides around the Caribbean.

I was steeling myself to be told that it was going to cost me £500 to get to Barbados in a speedboat. I was going to put it on a credit card and forget about it until the end of this impossible mission. But no…a speedboat to Barbados (90 miles away) would cost me US$7000!

I nearly fell off my chair. I could buy my own ship for that! Yeah, but who’s gonna fly it kid? You? You bet I could. I’m not such a bad pilot. We don’t have to listen to this…

Maybe when I get to Barbados, it will have been destroyed by the Death Star and I can knock it off my list of places to visit. But maybe not.

I managed to get a much better price (just $3000!) but it’s not going to happen. The next cargo boat doesn’t leave until Monday and I’m trying to get a space on it. Until then, I’m stuck. Stuck stuck stuck stuck stuck.

Like Guybrush Threepwood on Monkey Island. In fact, I’m finding it quite difficult to get the Monkey Island tune out of my head right now. Oh look – a three-headed monkey.

So, I’ve got a weekend to explore St. Vincent. I’m massively behind schedule already, and this is just adding insult to injury. But why am I complaining? I’ll tell you why.

The Caribbean is WEIRD. Seriously weird. It’s like some hellish literal version of heaven – you’re in paradise but everyone else died old and they just want to play dominos and go to bed early. Which, if you really thought about it, is what heaven would actually be like. For a good few billion, trillion years. I’ve been here five days and I’m more than ready to leave, thank you very much.

I’m running about every night trying to find some life that exists after 7pm. But it doesn’t – the bars are empty, the restaurants are dead and the nightlife consists of a couple of street dogs running around in circles biting each other.

I was talking to the owner of the (utterly empty) Clifton Beach Hotel on Union Island. He blamed the credit crunch, but I suspect it has more to do with how IMPOSSIBLE it is to get around these islands independently. The cruise ships seem to have it all stitched up – visit island during the day, sleep on big, metal, floaty, fruit machine at night.

All they need is a cheap ferry that plies up and down the islands from Miami to Venezuela to take shoe-string backpackin’ stragglers like me from one island to another. And maybe cheap hammock-based accommodation on the islands.

Lovely cheap hammocks.

It may not bring in as much money as the hoards of visor-wearing, nearly-deads stepping off the cruise ships and buying porcelain figurines (or whatever it is they spend their money on) but by god it would inject some LIFE into this place. Yes, that’s right, I’m saying the Caribbean is boring. Sorry, but there it is. There is NOBODY here my age, I haven’t met a single independent traveller and the locals are even more bored than I am.

I’m going to try to prove myself wrong over the coming week, but until then, keep going to South East Asia instead my fellow travelling mooks, it’s much more fun.

Mmm… Thailand, Vietnam, Laos… come to me my pretty ones.



Day 24: The Ticking Clock

Day 24: The Ticking Clock

24.01.09:

If you can’t beat them, join them. Got on a minibus to Kingstown and had a great time meandering around the fish market and the fruit market before checking out the old churches (yes I did go all Dan Cruikshank and used the word ‘wonderful’ far too many times – I think I’ll edit that out of the video) and heading up to the Botanical Gardens (the oldest in the Western Hemisphere no less) for a moment of Will and Lyre-esque calm.

Not a single other tourist in sight. Seriously – when I finish this odyssey we’re all coming back here en mass and taking over this one-horse archipelago and freeing the people from the tyranny of the cruise ship companies!! Note to Leo – edit out that last sentence if a cruise ship gives me a lift sometime this trip.

Nothin’ doing tonight so I retired early and got on with editing Week 3. The stuff I had to edit out to get it down to ten minutes was heartbreaking – the impromptu barbecue with the crew of the MV Miriam, watching President Obama being inaugurated while stuffing our faces with Roti at Annette’s house, going out on the lash with Marcus “US MARINE!” in Port of Spain. I am having fun, you know – it’s just that there’s a ticking clock and that ticking is keeping me awake at night.



Day 25: That’s Not Very Christian!

Day 25: That’s Not Very Christian!

25.01.09:

Everything closes on Sunday on St. Vincent. I tried to get to (what’s left of) the Pirates of the Caribbean set on the other side of the island. I got a minibus to town, so far so good, but then the second minibus I got was good until I got to Layou, when a bunch of people came out of a frickin’ CHURCH and told me to get off the bus, there was no room for me!

Not very Christian of them.

So I started walking to the next town. Easy! Only about five miles. Ah – five miles uphill. D’oh. Flagged down every minibus that drove past, but they were all full of church folk doing whatever church folk do. Minibuses on St. Vincent move in mysterious ways.

But then – what’s this? A car slowed down, the driver leans across… you alwight mate? You need a lift? In a lovely broad cockney accent. Cisco had been raised in London, but his parents were from St. Lucia, which is where he has called home for the last three years. As luck would have it, he was on a tour of the island as well. So we checked out the Pirates set.

I have to confess, I went a little Guybrush Threepwood. I wanna be a mighty pirate!

Grabbed a bite to eat and then went on a drive up through the rolling green hills and mountains of St. Vincent. Nice! St. Vincent is (thankfully) quite ‘undeveloped’ – this means it isn’t covered in concrete shopping malls and cinemas. This is a good thing. Although it’s hard to convince the locals of that fact. Cisco dropped me off back at my hotel and I finished off editing the Week 3 video.

About 9pm, I thought I’d go and get a bite to eat. No, sorry Graham, not on St. Vincent. Not after nine. And DEFINITELY not on a Sunday. I walked for about an hour trying to find somewhere, anywhere that had food. No such luck.

Bah! Damn you St. Vincent!

Consoled myself with the fact that some nice people have posted the first two episodes of Season 5 of Lost on YouTube. Nighty night!



Day 26: 30,000 Pounds of Bananas

Day 26: 30,000 Pounds of Bananas

26.01.09:

Dragged myself out of bed and headed to the port. I was halfway there when I realised I had left my coat in my room, so returned, red faced, and headed to the port again.

Got to General Maritime, the shipping agents that Kim and her husband Earl Halbich had sorted me out with. I had to talk to a woman named Rochelle. Rochelle was on her lunch so I spoke to a lady who looked at me like I was something she had scraped off her shoe. She rang the captain of the cargo boat I was supposed to be getting a ride with and had a quick chat. She then smiled at me in a way that one would smile at a kitten before throwing it the oven. “The captain say he not takin’ no passengers today”.

My heart leapt into my mouth. WHAT? But… but… I… but…

I had already been on this damn island for four days. There were no cargo boats at all going to Barbados until next week at the earliest. I headed over to the dock to find this Captain Ainsley Adams and have it out with him. Well, more like plead and beg to him!

He was having none of it. Imagine James Earl Jones in a cap and shorts, that’s Captain Ainsley Adams. No he said, no.

I went back to the shipping agents – surely they could force him to take me? No dice. I tried to get in touch with Kim and with Earl. No answer. I emailed people back in England in a fit of panic, what the hell could I do?

I collapsed. The Odyssey, the whole project, the whole damn ride was hanging on a knife-edge. If I spent another week on this island I think my head would pop off.

The staff looked worried. They got Rochelle for me, but she said there was nothing she could do if the captain didn’t want to take me. He didn’t want to take me.

I went back to the dock. I explained to the (rather disinterested) captain, the whole project, and how much it would mess things up if I couldn’t get on the boat, the Melinda II. He said he had no bed for me. I told him I’d sleep on the floor. He said the sea would be too rough, I told him if I was sick he could throw me overboard. He said that the crew didn’t want me on board. I said I’d stay out of their way.

I bartered and begged in the blazing heat to get on this banana boat to Barbados. I was just about to give it up as a lost cause when Rochelle from the shipping company appeared on the dockside.

She took Captain Ainsley Adams to one side. I have no idea what she said to him, but she returned to the sullen, goggle-eyed, ginger lobster sweating his stupid, squinty moonface off and said four magic words, “You got your boat”.

I nearly leapt on her I was so damn grateful. Captain Ainsley Adams doesn’t look happy about it, he’s not happy about it, but to hell with it, I got my boat. You have to bring your own food, you have to take sea-sickness pills and you have to sleep on the floor okay?

Okay.

I headed for the chemist in double quick time. By 5pm we had set out into the wild Atlantic on a boat carrying forty thousand pounds of bananas and one very, very grateful Odysseus.