Picking plums with cousins in Friendship, Bequia

Unlike the lush tropical forests fed by the mineral-rich volcanic soils of St. Vincent, Bequia’s ecology is more spartan. Bequia is mainly covered with smaller trees and shrubs and brush. However, many families cultivated tropical trees brought centuries ago from Indonesia, India, and other parts of South East Asia, as well as fruit plants native to the Americas such as cashew, almonds, sugar apple (cherimoya), and soursop.

One of my favourite native fruits is the Bequia plum. Mom’s younger sister, Mary, had a lot of plum trees in her steeply sloped front yard. Whenever we visited my grandmother in Bequia, we would walk over to see my cousins. Part of the excitement of the trip was picking plums and filling our little bellies.

The thin edible skin of the plum has a waxy appearance, and the pulp is yellow when ripe and sweet. In the centre of the fruit is a large pit, or stone, which is inedible. Peeling the plums is time-consuming. I usually popped the whole fruit into my mouth and transferred it from cheek to cheek, nibbling my way around the plum and then sucking on the seed until the flesh was gone and only the pit was left.

Bequia people love their plums! I never saw plims rotting on the ground because they are picked before they can fall from the trees. As children, we watched the red fruit ripen, sometimes impatiently eating the partially ripe fruit. We often got bellyaches from eating them too soon. My aunt had a lot of plum trees, and when she had a bounty of fruit, she often made stewed plums with cashew fruit. It’s super sweet and sticky.

So what are Bequia plums? I did my best Google-Fu and found the following on Wikipedia. Bequia plums are Spondias purpurea.

Spondias purpura is a species of flowering plant in the cashew family, Anacardiaceae, that is native to tropical regions of the Americas, from Mexico to Brazil. It is also very common in most of the Caribbean islands. It is commonly known as jocote, which derives from the Nahuatl word xocotl, meaning any kind of sour or acidic fruit. Other common names include red mombin, plum, purple mombin, hog plum, ciriguela, ceriguela, seriguela, siriguela (Brazil) cocota, ciruela huesito (Colombia), ciruela, ciruela traqueadora (Panama), ciriguela, cirigüela, cirguela, cirguelo (Ecuador), makapruim (ABC_islands_(Leeward_Antilles)), and siniguelas (Philippines). It is a popular fruit throughout Central America, particularly in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras and in Costa Rica.

The plums come in two colours, red and yellow. The fleshy red ones are the only ones that grow on Bequia, but the yellow ones can be found all over St. Vincent. Bequia plums do not grow well on the mainland. They require dryer weather, and the more arid ecology of Bequia is ideal for growing them. It’s for this reason the red ones are called Bequia plums.

Mom doesn’t remember when or who took this photograph or what camera was used, or what film stock.

Mary Victoria McLaren

My grandmother is no longer with us. She passed on 28 July 2006. Today marks the 106th anniversary of her birth.

My grandmother is no longer with us. She passed on 28 July 2006. Today marks the 106th anniversary of her birth.

Ollivierre (maternal) Family in Bequia at Grand Parent Home in LaPompe.
Left to Right
Back: Aunty Mary Wallace, Aunty “Bird” Cyvia Ollivierre, Aunty Jeanie MacDonald, Papa (Grandfather) Louis George Ollivierre, Mama (Grandmother) Mary Marguerite Ollivierre (nee McLaren), My mom Helena Williams (ne Ollivierre)
Middle: Cousin Bronte Wallace, my brother Shane, unknown, Khürt, unknown, Cousin Jacinta Wallace
Front: Cousin Patmore Wallace, Cousin Carlisle Wallace Jr., my brother Richard (Bruce).
NOTE: The two girls on either side of me are not family. They were visiting from Canada. I do not remember their names.
Mary Victoria McLaren

Bequia, August 1998

NOTE: Last year, after I bought a scanner to digitise my 35mm film negatives and old prints, I discovered a box full of developed Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200 canisters. I was excited when I found a roll containing images from the last time I visited the land of my birth. I quickly sent off the rolls to be scanned by ScanSafe in their Noritsu Koki EZ scanner. I apologise for the quality of the images. I was technologically ignorant of photography then and bought into the hype behind APS (compact and easy) without understanding the downsides (low quality, expensive). The APS canister was in poor condition in my basement and didn't age well. I was also an inexperienced photographer, and whatever point-n-shoot thingy I put these rolls through was probably cheap. Here are the images and as much as I can remember about our trip.

Decades ago, in August 1998, Bhavna were in Antigua for my younger brother’s wedding. A few days after the wedding, we hopped on a charter flight to visit St. Vincent to visit Dad and then to Bequia to visit my grandmother. Bhavna had her first chance to experience the islands where I was born and raised.

Leaving Kingstown Harbour | 6 August 1998
In the Bequia Channel | 13 August 1998

Dad was still working as a Kingstown branch manager for Barclays Bank, PLC. Bhavna and I stayed with Dad and Mom at the bunkhouse. Barclays always provided housing for senior staff. My parents had rented out the family home on Dorsetshire Hill. We took a few days to explore St. Vincent, but I was excited to get to Bequia. Bhavna had heard so much about this magical island that was lost in time, and I wanted her to meet Mom’s mother, whom I affectionately called “Mama”.

My cousin, Cashena "Suzie" Wallace and her husband, Elvis Gooding, operate Admiralty Transport Company Ltd, one of two ferry services between St. Vincent and Bequia. Around 9 AM, we took the ferry leaving from Kingstown Harbour. Bequia and St.Vincent's are about nine miles apart; depending on the weather, it takes about one hour from port to port.

Arriving at Admiralty Bay, Port Elizabeth | 5 August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | SMC Pentax-A 50mm f/2 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Mom, her cousin Emmanuel Corea, and me | 6 August 1998

Admiralty Bay is on the sheltered west side of Bequia and is known locally in Bequia as "de Harbour". The horseshoe bay offers good protection from the weather for visiting yachts & local ferries, which run between the Grenadine islands regularly. The capital village of Port Elizabeth is tucked safely in the heart of Admiralty Bay, with a selection of shops clustered along the front street.

As we arrived at the dock at Port Elizabeth, memories of summers long past flooded my mind. The noise level in the ferry increased with the chatter of passengers readying their belongings for departure. Mom's cousin, Emmanuel Corea, who runs a taxi service around Bequia, greeted us at the dock. In Bequia, a taxi is any vehicle that can seat six or more passengers, typically a Kei sized van or minibus imported from Japan. These vans tend to be smaller than the vans in the USA. In between fares, most taxi drivers sit while cooling under "The Almond Tree" near the dock in Port Elizabeth.

"Mama" Celena | 6 August 1998
The last time we were together | 6 August 1998

After a 20-minute drive, we arrived at my grandmother's home on the hill near Friendship Bay. Friendship Bay is located on the south side of Bequia with a horseshoe of fine white sand. It is suitable for snorkelling, diving and sailing. The gentle trade winds swept over me. It was great to be home.

I spent most of that week hanging out with my grandmother. Bhavna and I took vigorous hikes to the ancestral home near the mid-section of Monkey Hill. I followed my grandmother around as she tended to her chickens and goats. It was like old times. It's always windy at the top of the hill.

The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998
The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998

I'm not sure if it was the next day or later that week, but two of Mom's cousins had spent several hours crossing the Caribbean Sea in a speed boat from Grenada (or maybe it was Carriacou) to dive for lobster near Petit Nevis. Carriacou is 60 kilometres (37 miles) from Bequia. I think my ass would be in pain. The next day, Mom's cousins took us to Petit Nevis, a private island my Mom and her family own.

Bhavna enjoyed the cool breezes of the Trade Winds while we hiked around Petit Nevis island. I showed Bhavna where the whalers pulled ashore captured whales for slaughter. She didn't like learning about this part of her family history. I explained that all the family whalers had retired and were focused on nature conservation efforts.

The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998
The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998

Mom's cousins were successful with their lobster dive, and later that night, I dined on fresh lobster meat while Mom's cousins regaled us with tales of their recent adventures.

Later that week, we visited my great uncle, Athneal Ollivierre (my grandfather's brother), at his home, a part of which is a whaling museum. When I was a lad, Athneal was the most heralded of the Yankee-style whalers in Bequia. He died several years ago, and though my family is no longer involved in whaling, the other whalers have continued the tradition.

Sometime during the week, Bhavna and I visited Spring. Spring Bay is on the Eastern side of the island. It is the quieter and more remote Atlantic side of Bequia, where you will find a few rental villas, former sugar plantations and nothing else apart from the spectacular scenery.

The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998
The Friendship Bay House | 6 August 1998

When I was a child living a the Bequia bank house (atop the bank), Mom’s brother, Uncle Errol, would go out crabbing near the northern end of Bequia in an area known as Spring Bay. Spring Bay is on the Eastern side of the island. This is the quieter and more remote Atlantic side of Bequia, where one will find former sugar plantations and palm tree-lined scenery. My mom would wake me up just before dusk, make sure I had some breakfast (bakes and saltfish), and get me up into the rear of my uncle’s Land Rover, the back already filled with other people and kids. We would spend the morning chasing crabs in the mangrove at Spring Bay, stuffing them into large "coco sacks" made of coconut coir. Later in the morning, after we returned to the bank house, Mom would spend the morning cooking up crab. I enjoyed those moments, stuffing my face with delicious crab meat.

View of Friendship Bay | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
View of Friendship Bay from Monkey Hill | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
The old outdoor shower | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Moving the goat at Monkey Hill | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis in the distance | 5 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Getting ready to go lobster diving on Petit Nevis | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis in the distance | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis | 5 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis is a private island | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Petit Nevis | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Bhavna enjoyed Petit Nevis | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Visiting Uncle Athneal | 5 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200
Bhavna enjoying the beaches at Spring | 6 August 1998 | Fujicolor Nexia Smart APS ISO 200