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 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

Dad was still 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”.

In the Bequia Channel | 13 August 1998

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 and 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

Monkey Hill, LaPompe, Bequia

My mother took this photo during one of her recent trips to the LaPompe section of Bequia where her parents lived where I spent the first two years of my life; before there were siblings; I had my grandparents attention all to myself. The house is located at the top middle level of one of the highest hills on the island. The locals have nicknamed the area Monkey Hill. There are no monkeys on the island. I am uncertain as to the origin of the name.

Maternal grandmother, Mary Ollivierre (né McClaren) at Monkey Hill home | August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | APS Film NORITSU KOKI Scan

The house has no sewage, no running water, and no electricity. But it has lots of memories. Memories of a carefree childhood spent under the doting and watchful eye of my grandparents, Louis and "Celina" Ollivierre. Some of the memories are not pleasant to Americans used to municipal running water etc. Still, the experience is no more rustic or strange than living in the bayou of Louisianna.

Left to right: Louis George Ollivierre, Mary Marguerite Ollivierre (né McClaren)

I remember needing to complete a bowel movement while sitting in an outhouse in the high heat of summer. Ugh! Stinky. However, I enjoyed taking outdoor showers after helping my grandfather fill the tank atop the outdoor shower. Outhouse or not, I love my grandparents, and I would not have traded my early childhood with them for anything in the world.

My grandparents kept a few chickens, goats and sheep on the property behind the house. I often helped my grandmother move the sheep and goats, staked to a feeding spot with a long rope and a metal spike. Sometimes I would help her milk a goat or sheep. Have you ever drank fresh goat milk straight from the animal? It's so rich and creamy.

Grand Parents Home, La Pompe, Monkey Hill, Bequia
Helpoing move the goats, Monkey Hill, Bequia | August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | APS Film NORITSU KOKI Scan

The house looks a bit worse for wear in this photo. The wood has probably rotted, and critters have most likely taken up residence. The upstairs area has three bedrooms and a living room. I remember lazy evenings with my grandfather sitting on the steps looking out and over at the Caribbean Sea. The bottom of the house is where my grandparents kept their ground provisions and other foodstuff including cured whale meat, fish, farine etc.

I spent a lot of time with my grandparents during the summer days of my youth. My father once held a position as branch manager at Barclays Bank in the Port Elizabeth area on Bequia. We lived on the building's top floor for a few years when I was about five years old. Every weekend was an opportunity to hang out with my grandparents.

Me, Monkey Hill, Bequia | August 1998 | Noritsu Koki EZ Controller | APS Film NORITSU KOKI Scan
The house looks a lot smaller than I remember, but it has three bedrooms and a living room. The home is cooled by the constant but gentle Windward Caribbean breezes that blow salty-sweet air over the hills.

The building to the left in the photo is the original kitchen. It had no gas and no electricity. It had a coal-fired stove and oven. Yes, coal-fired. My grandmother cooked fish and fungi for breakfast and sometimes "bakes". Sometimes she would bake bread. This was my treat—freshly baked bread with generous amounts of salted butter. And to wash it all down, a large white enamel mug filled with coffee and mostly milk or maybe a mug of bush tea. I guess my grandmother impressed me early in childhood with the delicious flavours of a homemade cafe-au-lait.

My grandparent passed away decades ago. I miss them.

Image from Kevin Downes on Facebook.

Beaches that are Somewhere Else Entirely

In response to The Daily Post's writing prompt: "Places." Beach, mountain, forest, or somewhere else entirely?

When Americans talk about paradise they often mention Hawaii or Bali or some other place in the Pacific ocean. They mention the beautiful beaches, the lush landscape and scenic views that delight the eye. They mention the exotic fruits and fish and other foods that excite the palate. All those things are available without a long and expensive plane trip. They can be found south of the Florida Keys, south of Cuba, Jamaica and Barbados in the islands of the Grenadines.

I didn't live all my life in the Grenadines. My parents moved around a lot. Our moves often followed the trajectory of my father's career with Barclay's Bank. But my early years and the years just before my immigration to the United States were spent in the paradise of the Grenadines.

Those early years were spent on the beach at Port Elizabeth, shirtless and shoeless, playing with my brothers or any other boy I could find. We spent a lot of our time mostly on the beach or in a tree of some sort. I fondly remember moments, early in the morning, trying to catch the tiny fish that swam along the shore. They were easy to catch if you had the right tools ( a piece of a branch from a coconut tree) and some patience. The branch was held just beneath the water, horizontally and about a foot from the sand. You had to hold still until the fish swam near. Then quick as he could, one of us would swerve one end of the branch toward the shore. If we were quick enough we could get the fish to jump out of the water and onto the sand. We would catch them in our hands, observing the fish, gasping for breath, before popping them into some sort of container full of seawater. I think we killed most of our catch from ignorance.

Petit Tabac by _dChris, on Flickr

If we had the morning we would put together a beach game of tennis ball cricket. The wide end of the dried branch of a coconut tree served as a bat, once the dried leaves had been stripped. Depending on the size of the "team", a conch shell or two served as markers for the wickets. Or we would get creative and build wickets from large pieces of dead coral that had washed up on shore, having been ripped by a storm from the nearby seabed.

Simplicity Beach, Mustique by Jason Pratt, on Flickr

In the afternoon we might go visit my grandparents in La Pompe. The drive itself was a real treat. It was still early in my father's career but the bank has given him a stipend for a car. I don't know if it was the fashion at the time or because my Dad was being frugal but he had bought a Mini Cooper. Not the large modern BMW engineered thing that you see on some of the roads today. The Mini back then was a cramped vehicle with just a radio. I don't think it had air conditioning. But it was the perfect car for the narrow and mostly unpaved roads. It felt like we were in a rally race with my Dad scooting around tight corners barely staying to one side of the road. It was fun. And scary. Becky is beautiful but its roads are carved out of the side of island with many steep drops along the road. Sometimes if I looked out the window of the car it would seem that we were flying; flying in a car that looked out onto the beautiful blue-green waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Macaroni Bay, Mustique by Jason Pratt, on Flickr

It's incredible how my sense of time changed when I got older. The drive to Papa and Mama's house -- that's what we called my grandparents -- seemed long, both in distance and time. Perhaps it was the friends and family we slowed down to wave hello to along the way. The people of Bequia are curious and friendly people. I took my wife for a visit in 1998. One of my mother's cousins gave us a ride to our restaurant but after dinner, we walked home as the sun was setting. My wife was amazed at the many peaceful and friendly people who called out "Good night" as we walked along in the moonlight.

Sometimes my parents would let us run down to the pebbly shore of the beach near my grandparent’s house. I could easily spend three hours riding the surf in the shallow shore. If we were lucky we might get to see the local fishermen bring in a catch. My grandfather would amble his way downhill to the beach and bargain for the price of dinner. My grandmother cleaned the fish and cook it into a stew with some green plantains, carrots and potatoes. Oh, life was simple and grand at the same time.