Beautiful Bequia

Time flies when you’re having fun! We’ve somehow spent a month in Admiralty Bay, Bequia in The Grenadines.

First, we enjoyed the holiday festivities. Then we hired Mr. Winfield Sargeant to do some varnish work on Sanitas. It takes a long time to build up a good coat of varnish when you allow 24-hours of dry time between coats! Especially when you’re applying ten coats, and when it rains every other day in the tropics!

Luckily, we’ve fallen in love with this beautiful small island and we’re in no real hurry to leave! The anchorage is well-protected from the Christmas winds (although it gets rolly at times) and there’s a lovely winding boardwalk that connects the beaches on the south side of the bay to town.

There are several short hikes to scenic overlooks, and when we get tired of these, we just pick a direction and walk to the end of the road! Once you get out of town, traffic is light, and you can only walk two or three miles in any direction until you run out of island!

Sometimes, the walks bring delightful surprises! Such as young Miguel who adopts and feeds the tortoises he finds in his garden…

Or the lovely Bequia Heritage Museum which preserves some of the wooden boats and simple tools that islanders have been using to hunt whales for hundreds of years. The UN has granted special permission for Bequia to hunt whales in order to maintain their history and culture. While I certainly have mixed feelings about hunting whale, throwing a harpoon at that ginormous creature from an 18-foot open wooden boat powered only by sail or oars means the whale has more than a fighting chance. Years go by between successful whale hunts but when they get one, the islanders use every last bit of the whale – meat, oil, skin, and bone.

On our most recent walk (to the end of the road in a northeasterly direction) we visited Mr. Orten King at the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary. 82 year old Mr. King has been working to preserve and protect hawksbill turtles for over 25 years. He maps and protects turtle hatching grounds, and raises baby turtles in his salt water tanks for three years before releasing them back into the wild. I’d certainly rather see a turtle in the wild rather than in a tank, but I hope this little project is successful in increasing the hawksbill population here in the Grenadines!

Christmas in the Islands

It wasn’t a white Christmas (unless you count the sand) but I truly think we’ve had as nice a holiday as we could manage while being stuck far from home in the days of coronavirus.

Within the sailing community, everyone talks about “Christmas in Bequia” in the country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. So as soon as we’d cleared into the country at Union Island, Capt. Mike and I started planning to sail about 55nm north to arrive in Bequia before bad weather moved in and to ensure we’d make it before the holiday. It was a brisk sail, with higher than expected seas, but Sanitas did great. We arrived and anchored just in front of the floating Bar One where friends from SV Jono and SV Maracudja cheered and jeered our anchoring attempts. Sometimes you watch the show, and sometimes you are the show!

It was a lovely welcome to this particularly welcoming island! Bequia is all about boats – they build boats by hand here, and fishing is a big part of the culture. Bequia is one of the few places remaining in the world where residents have approval to hunt whales. But they can only do so using small open sailboats (without motors) and using hand thrown harpoons. 😲 You can find any sort of marine service you might require here, such as canvas work, engine maintenance, or sail repair. And ferry boats run daily to the main island of St Vincent in case you can’t find a repair part here. It immediately felt like a place we could stay quite happily for a while. And the best part was that many of our sailing friends from Grenada and elsewhere had also gathered, so we could look forward to celebrations with friends to make us feel a little bit better about that fact that we were so far away from family.

St Vincentians have a unique Christmas tradition known as the “Nine Mornings.” For the nine days leading up to Christmas Eve, some folks attend early morning church services and then gather in the main square in town to listen to music, dance, and participate in contests like “longest earrings”, “best female dancer”, and “fastest juice drinker.” I have to admit, we didn’t participate very much – even hearing loud music from shore at 4:30 am isn’t enough of an enticement to get me out of bed before sunrise. And then…once the sun does come up, everybody heads to work or school and the party’s over. But we did enjoy the lights and decorations at a much more reasonable hour of the evening, lol!

On Christmas Eve, we were invited over to Andres and Elisbeth’s sailboat to join in a Norwegian tradition of sharing rice porridge (risgrøt) and mulled wine (gløgg) with friends and family. This tradition is new to me, but I love it! The “more the merrier” vibe felt so kind, and it was a great chance to meet new cruiser friends – several of who had just crossed the Atlantic in time for the holiday. Wow! Impressive! Our hosts were festively attired – those Santa hats are hot in the tropics!

We had Christmas lunch with some good friends at Coco’s Place. And while I *could* have ordered Turkey and the fixings, when in Bequia, you must celebrate Christmas with fresh fruit, right? And a cool rum punch 🍹Tourism is way, way down because of Covid, and it felt good to support a small local restaurant owner with our holiday business. And we’ll definitely be back for Coco’s famous fish chowder. Luckily, we have good cell phone signal here, so both the captain and I were able to call home on Christmas to speak to our families and to dream of the more traditional snowy, cozy Christmas we wish we could be spending with our loved ones.

Thanks to Cheryl on Leef Nu and Lindy on Holiday for the photos of Christmas lunch! I guess I was having too much fun to take pictures.

Speaking of difficulties due to Covid, The Fig Tree restaurant is an institution in Bequia- long a gathering place for cruisers, as well as a resource for local school children who attend Miss Johnson’s reading program in the afternoons. But the owners were contemplating closing down because of the lack of visitors in 2020. So a group of Fig Tree supporters, including the owners and crew of Sailing Yacht Ananda, planned a fundraiser party for New Year’s Eve. I’m thrilled to report that every single table sold out, and we enjoyed a wonderful evening of cocktails, local Caribbean food, and dancing knowing that we were helping Miss Johnson and her team stay in business through this unusually quiet “high” season.

You may be wondering about exactly HOW we can safely have these types of celebrations during Covid. St Vincent and the Grenadines has used closed borders, mandatory Covid testing, and mandatory quarantine to do a good job of keeping the number of cases imported into the island nation low. There are limits of the size of gatherings, and requirements for hand sanitizer and contact tracing, but otherwise things feel pretty relaxed. Except….at about 7:00 on New Years Eve, the government decided that the big street parties and all night celebrations that usually usher in the new year would be too risky this year. So at the last minute they prohibited “amplified music” and sent policemen around to share that message. It definitely meant things were quieter than expected! But the Fig Tree party was granted an exception, because our entertainment was provided by a violinist playing pop hits with great enthusiasm. The authorities said he could play during dinner…..so dinner went on for a very, very, long time – right up to midnight! 🤣 He did have backup music, and a supporting DJ, but I guess they figured a violinist couldn’t get in too much trouble!

I hope you and your families had a safe and peaceful Christmas, and that you were also to do the best you could to make new traditions in this crazy year. ❤️

Travel in the time of Coronavirus

Here we are in December of 2020 – are you longing to travel? Me too! We’ve been in the tiny island nation of Grenada for six months. That’s the longest we’ve been in any one country (including the US) since 2017. Hurricane season is over and Caribbean nations are starting to cautiously relax their coronavirus restrictions and to reopen for tourism. Hooray! But that sure doesn’t mean that it’s easy or cheap to travel yet. Follow along with me on the thrilling adventure of sailing twelve miles and overcoming infinite bureaucratic red tape to get from Grenada 🇬🇩 to St Vincent and the Grenadines 🇻🇨

First of all, the protocols for entering each country have been changing weekly – it’s hard to keep track! St Vincent has actually done a pretty good job of updating a web page with their requirements. In a nutshell, we have to pass a Covid test in Grenada, then travel to SVG and take a second test, quarantining while we wait for the results. If both tests are negative, we are free to clear in and explore the country. Sounds easy, right? 😜 Obviously, you are not familiar with the concept of island time. (Skip to the end if you just want to know how much it cost)

We’ve spent the past three weeks on the island of Carriacou, a pleasant day sail north of the big island of Grenada, and still part of the country of Grenada. From our anchorage, we could look northwest and see Clifton Harbor Union Island – the southernmost island in St Vincent, less than 12 miles away. But …. until last week, the only open port of entry for SVG was on the main island of St Vincent, over 50 miles further north. AND the only clinic in Carriacou that does Covid tests only performs the tests on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:00pm. Then they put the tests on a ferry and ship them back to Grenada for processing. Talk about adding time and complexity to the process! We waited until Union Island reopened to visitors (giving them a week to work out the kinks) and then Cheryl on SV LeefNu put together a spreadsheet of all of the steps in the process and we went to work!

Step 1: Request permission to travel to St Vincent

On Wednesday December 2, I sent an email to SVGARRIVALS requesting permission to travel from Carriacou to Union Island over a week later, on 10 December. I attached a “Request to quarantine aboard” form with lots of details about our boat, crew, travel history and health status.  I didn’t receive any sort of response until late Friday afternoon when I wrote back and asked politely whether I should cancel my PCR test appointment on Monday. That did it. I received an email stating we were approved!

Step 2: Pre-travel Covid PCR test

I can’t believe I made it all the way to December 2020 without a q-tip up the nose! Well, no longer. We dinghied ashore and joined a small parade of other sailors walking toward the L’esterre Health Clinic. The nurse looked a bit taken aback to see us all lined up at the front door. She muttered, “I hope I have enough swabs” and directed us one at a time to the office to pay. Then another long wait in the hot airless clinic until being called into the nurse’s office to get poked. She had exactly enough tests for the 16 people who showed up that day. The nurse was surprisingly gentle, and we were free again one hour and 820ecd ($300) later. Yikes! Now the clock is ticking. We need to make sure we can get to SVG within the 72 hours that this test is valid. I’d cry if we missed our chance and had to get a second test and shell out ANOTHER $300 bucks.

Step 3: Wait for test results. Stress out. Jump each time you get an email notification

There’s a long list of paperwork we need to submit to St Vincent 24-hours before we arrive. But the very first item on the list is our negative test results. So we hold our breath, cross our fingers, and hope the tests made it onto Monday night’s ferry to Grenada and hope that the General Hospital isn’t too overwhelmed to process our tests quickly. Did I mention that St Vincent only performs tests on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday? So if we miss our scheduled arrival on Thursday, we’ll have to go on Friday, wait on a quarantine mooring ball until Monday to get tested, and THEN stay in quarantine until we get the results. Or, they might not let us in at all because our Grenada test results would be older than 72 hours. Oh, the stress!

Step 4: Lots more paperwork – finalize permission to travel to SVG

On Wednesday morning at 8:30, our friends on SV Holiday and SV LeefNu received their negative test results via email. But nothing for Sanitas. I sent an email. I made a call. Nothing. We waited…and waited…and grew more and more nervous. Finally, around 11:00 we hopped in the dinghy and traveled back to the clinic. Apparently they spelled our name wrong when they wrote down our email addresses. That’s an easy fix! With the correct address, they sent the results and we were good to go. Negative, as expected, of course- there’s only one active Covid case in all of Grenada, and it was imported on a flight from the US 😞

I rushed to a picnic table outside the grocery store where I could get free wifi and started filling out the rest of the required paperwork. My goal was to get everything submitted before noon (island bureaucrats take long lunch breaks) and to meet the “submit 24 hours in advance” requirement. I barely made it!

Step 5: More waiting…for final approval from St Vincent

Now we needed to wait for St Vincent to reply to my paperwork with a “Stamped Approval Form.” If we show up without this approval, St Vincent can use their coast guard to turn us away from entering the country. However, we still need to clear out of Grenada, and the customs and immigration office is only open until 3:45pm. So more nervous waiting. Finally, I emailed St Vincent customs. They replied that they were waiting for my negative Covid test results. Aargh! That’s what I spent an hour at a supermarket picnic table working on! So…I sent all that paperwork in again. Finally, I received approval.

Step 6: Clear out of Grenada

Captain Mike took our passports and boat paperwork to customs and immigration, paid to catch up on our cruising permit fees, and successfully acquired our exit papers. Phew! We celebrated with burgers and gin & tonics at Big Citi grill 🍔🍸😎

Step 7: Travel to Union Island. ANOTHER Covid test

We woke at first light, as excited as if it were Christmas morning. It feels great to be moving again! Anchors up at first light, and we had a lovely sail to Clifton Harbor on Union Island. Upon arrival, a gentleman in a dinghy marked with a yellow flag met us and escorted us to a mooring ball in the quarantine area. More waiting. Eventually, we were paged via VHF radio “Sanitas, you are cleared to come ashore.” We donned clean clothes, masks, and actually remembered shoes. We dinghied to the Bougainvillea dock, also marked with a yellow flag. Only one boat was allowed ashore at a time and once there, we handed over our boat paperwork and passports (Gulp. I hate to give up our passports. But they are successfully ensuring we won’t skip out on quarantine). We got our second PCR test in less than a week, and boy this nurse really went after it! She didn’t just tickle my brain with the swab, she really twisted and turned it and ground it around – ouch! Back to our mooring ball to wait. Again…. Did I mention the test swabs in SVG also have to take a ferry ride north to St Vincent to be processed? 🙄

Our quarantine view…

Step 8: Another quarantine

We kept ourselves busy through yet another quarantine by cooking, studying French, doing our Christmas shopping, and doing boat projects. But after a few days with no update on our test results, we stayed to get antsy.

Haircut time!

Final Step: Clear into SVG. And hand over a bunch of cash.

Finally, around 4:30 on Monday afternoon, a dinghy with a yellow flag approached. “Do you have good news for us?” Capt. Mike asked. “Unfortunately, I have bad news,” he said “You failed your test and have to take another.” What?!? How is that possible? The man in the dinghy let out a big laugh. “I’m just messing with you!” he said, and handed back our passports and paperwork, as well as a bill for the tests and processing fees. I don’t think that’s very funny, do you?

How much did all this cost?

  • Covid test in Grenada (2 people) = 820ecd or $305US
  • Covid test in SVG (2 people) = 324ecd or $120US
  • Clearing agent fees = 205ecd or $76US
  • Quarantine mooring fees (4 nights) = 245ecd or $92US
  • Cruising permit (1 month)= 70ecd = $27US
  • Total in US dollars = $619
  • Stress and worry about missing a deadline, and all those swabs up the nose = priceless 🤣

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not really complaining about the cost or the process. I understand that we’re very lucky to be able to visit these beautiful countries. And, of course, I respect the desire to protect islanders from Covid-19. The hospitals here really couldn’t handle an outbreak. I’m not even upset about the cost – these islands have had their economy tank with the lack of tourism. But now that we’ve got a 6-month visa in SVG, I don’t anticipate moving around much this season!

Celebratory drinks at Happy Island 🏝️

Everybody’s favorite topic – medical care for nomads!

It’s been two years since Capt. Mike and I have had medical insurance in the USA. Part of our travel plan for 2020 was to fit in a little medical tourism trip to Cancun to get dental work, blood work, and recommended cancer screenings done. But…. it’s 2020….all plans are off! Instead, we spent 6 months in Grenada so we tried our best to find healthcare providers to take care of our needs here.

Although there’s a massive medical school on the island, training America’s future doctors, there’s not really a robust healthcare system or a modern public hospital. There is a small private clinic, St Augustine’s Medical Center, or SAMS, that’s a good option for emergencies. Our friend Cheryl on SV LeefNu had a good experience there treating broken ribs. But I don’t think I’d want to undergo a major surgery here if I had the option to go elsewhere. Many residents, who can afford it, also travel off island for significant medical care.

We started out with the easy stuff – a dental cleaning. Well, I THOUGHT it would be easy! Of the 5 or 6 dentists recommended in my local cruisers FaceBook group, most were taking appointments 4 months out! So I went with the only one I could see within two weeks. I found that the quality of the dental care was….ok. COVID precautions were in place (masks, hand sanitizer, chairs blocked off in the waiting room). A very pleasant young woman dentist, working out of a faded old fashioned office, gave us a thorough exam and a good cleaning. However, no X-rays, and no measurements for gum disease. She pretty much just poked at our typical American teeth and said “everything looks good.” There’s no lab to fabricate crowns on the island, so dentists must order such devices from the US and that takes another three months turnaround. I guess “Replace slowly failing crown” will stay on my to-do list for another year.

Cost for routine dental exam and cleaning = 165 ecd or $61US

Look at those pearly whites!

Up next, annual skin cancer screening. We are two very pale people, living outdoors in the Caribbean, so we make it a priority to get every spot checked out every year. There’s exactly one dermatologist in Grenada, Dr Jenny Issacs. The directions to find her office are “go to the downtown vegetable market, walk up the hill, look for the hand-written sign on the wall next to the used book store.” Again, covid precautions made us feel safe. We even had to bring our certificate from the health ministry stating that we’d passed a covid test and completed quarantine. Dr Issacs has been practicing in Grenada for over 30 years, and she’s licensed as a GP as well as a dermatologist. She’s very kind and thorough, and she listened to all of our concerns and requests for prescriptions to top up the boat first aid kit, writing us prescriptions for antibiotics and my thyroid pills. She examined Mike’s bald head and told him “you have so little melanin in your skin, you should be cruising in Scandinavia”, lol. She wrote him a prescription for Efudix, a cream used to treat pre-cancerous spots. We carefully followed the directions for a two-week treatment, and it seemed to work great! No more rough, red spots! She found one tiny irregular dark spot on my cheek and recommended a biopsy “Out of an abundance of caution”

  • Cost per person for dermatologist appointment = 150ecd or $55US
  • Cost for large tube of Efudix = 460ecd or $170US

Prescriptions are kind of expensive here… But so is everything imported, I suppose! It seems strange to me that prescription meds are priced by the pill, rather than by the month or by the dose. I take a very common generic thyroid medicine, but in the entire time I’ve been in Grenada, I could not find the dose I need in a single pill. Is there a conspiracy in all of Grenada’s pharmacies to make twice the money by selling twice the pills?

Cost of generic thyroid meds = about 55ecd or $20US per month

So that dermatologist appointment led to a biopsy appointment. Sheesh. The spot was so small, I had to point it out to the nurse. The surgeon was very nice – also a sailor who plans to retire and move into a boat in a few years (although he said his wife wouldn’t want to live in one as small as ours). I was nervous about the procedure (after all, it was on my face) but Capt. Mike was there to take care of me, and it really wasn’t bad at all. Three days later and I had the stitches out. Two weeks later, I got the biopsy results – negative – and I could pretend the whole thing never happened. Don’t forget your hat and sunscreen!

Cost for biopsy: including surgeon fees, lab fees, facility fees, initial consultation, and suture removal = 780ecd or $289US.

In addition to these doctors appointments in Grenada, I saw a doctor in Antigua to follow up on my shingles case, and to get routine bloodwork and a cervical cancer screening. So all in all, I got quite a bit of medical care outside the USA this year! If you are used to $20 co-pays and $10 generic prescriptions, these out-of-pocket expenses might sound like a lot. But, when you consider that the premiums alone on my high-deductable ACA plan were over $900 per month, and compare that to the emergency-only international plan that we currently have for about $2600 per year, we can pay for a lot of doctor’s appointments and prescriptions and still come out ahead! Maybe I’ll finally get around to that crown in 2021?

On On! Grenada Hash House Harriers

Every Saturday afternoon, a group of self-proclaimed “drinkers with a running problem” gather in a remote corner of Grenada to hike or run through the bush with a couple hundred of their closest friends. After the run, there’s always a fun party, with food, beer, and maybe even a DJ. Capt. Mike and I joined in as often as possible during our stay in Grenada, to see different parts of the island, meet locals, and get a bit of exercise. If you’re curious about the history and rituals of the Hash House Harriers around the globe, check out this Wikipedia link. Grenada supposedly has the largest HHH organization in the world!

Our first Hash was the first held since COVID-19 restrictions. It was a BLAST as everybody was able to finally get together again in the great outdoors. COVID protocols were definitely in place – masks required when you’re not eating, drinking, or running; social distancing with separation between groups; allowing extra time to register by spreading people out. But it didn’t dampen the fun one bit.

We finished our first Hash
Lots of masks!

The thing that came closest to dampening the fun was in fact the bus ride to this first Hash. It was so popular that local taxi driver Shademan ran two whole busses from the cruiser-popular areas in the south bays of Grenada to the event. Now, the “bus” is really just a van with 4 rows of bench seats. Our bus to the hash crammed in 22 people (and one dog) for a ride that took over an hour and a half in the late summer heat. We had to alternate who could sit back in the seats, versus who had to sit on the very edge to fit so many full sized adults and kids.

Luxury Transportation

But we made it! If you have any picture in your mind of trail running on flowing single track through an aspen grove in the mountains of Colorado…. that’s NOT what a Hash in Grenada is like 🤣 They call it a run through the bush, but to me, it’s a jungle! You push through greenery and vines grab at your ankles. You wade through mud, and sometimes streams. You pass avocado and mango trees, sometimes trampling rotting mangos underfoot, cacao bushes with their bright red pods, the trail (when there actually is a trail) is frequently crossed by lizards and spiders.

This is where chocolate comes from…

There are no switchbacks. The ups and downs are steep and slick, and your best bet is to grab the trees and vines to control the rate of your fall. This may or may not sound like fun to you, but I’ve gotta say, once you get over the fear of getting dirty, it’s a heck of a lot of challenging good time. On a later, even muddier Hash, I fell on my butt three separate times on the same long downhill stretch. Good thing there was a water tap for hosing down at the finish line of that one!

A Hash is more of a game or a puzzle than simply a run. Each week, a different member acts as the “Hare” and sets out the trail ahead of time. The rest of us are the hounds, essentially chasing down the hare. The trail is marked using small piles of shredded paper. When you see one of these paper markers, there’s a sense of relief – phew, we’re still on the trail. Except…when you’re not. A couple of times during each Hash, I’d be streaming along quite happily, huffing and puffing, following the trail, until suddenly, the dreaded X. When you come across an X made of paper, you’ve arrived at a dead end in the trail. At some point prior, maybe at an “O” of paper suggesting you’ve arrived at a crossroads, you’ve taken a wrong turn. Possibly even still following innocent looking paper trail markers. Until you realize the Hare outsmarted you again, and it’s time to turn around and start hunting the one real true trail. If you suspect you might very well be lost, you can shout out “Are you?!?” to ask whether other hashers within the sound of your voice are on the right trail. If so, hopefully someone will shout back, “On-On!” Or, if they’ve already found the dreaded X, they might respond “On back!” to let you know you should go no further; the pack is backtracking. Usually, this whole thing is part of the fun. But once, I took a wrong turn and got separated from the pack. I’d covered at least four miles, and was longing for the finish line and a cold beverage, but I couldn’t even hear the music blaring from the finish party yet. At that point, I’d had enough of tricks and false trails, thank you very much!

One of the best parts of hashing in Grenada is that it gets us outside the cruiser bubble and gives us the chance to meet real local Grenadians. One Saturday, Mike and I took the local bus to get to the Hash at the Westerhall Rum Distillery. Wearing our bright blue hash t-shirts, everybody knew exactly where we were going. Usually, the bus drivers ignore us, but this time the driver and conductor joked and chatted. At the Spice Island Mall stop, a young woman got on and said, “Hey, I didn’t know the Hashes were happening again!” Fun to get even the smallest chance to feel like a local!