Hiking our little legs off on Bequia

One of our favorite things to do on Bequia is to go on long walks, ending in beautiful vistas. On this trip, it was particularly attractive to get off the boat and go for a walk to escape the sawdust, smell of varnish, and chaos in the cockpit as our big brightwork project progressed. About every other day, we’d eat breakfast, welcome Winfield to the boat and get him all set up for the day’s work, put a couple of Hairoun beers in a cooler for him, and off we’d go!

The easiest hike is a road walk to Fort Hamilton on the northwest side of Admiralty Bay. I can do this one in flip flops with only the tiniest blisters ensuing. But it’s lovely to sit in the shade and the breeze and watch the water from the ruins of the fort. One unique feature of Fort Hamilton shows the strange colonial history of the island. Two of the five cannons in place are French, while the other three are English!

View from Fort Hamilton
Waving goodby to Bequia

Alternatively, you’d better wear comfy shoes and bring a lot of water for the hike to North Head. The daytime temperatures are usually around 85deg Fahrenheit in December, so the first time Capt. Mike and I did this 9-mile walk it felt like a death march. But the views of the big island of St Vincent are so gorgeous, and the final couple of miles of dirt trail through the forest so lovely, we had to try it again a week later. As an added bonus, you get to check out the sea state on the rougher ocean side of the island from a safe distance – it made us really appreciate the protection of Admiralty Bay where Sanitas floated safe and sound. Be warned, the trails turn into a confusing tangle at one point, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out for the flip flop in a tree that marks the left turn 😜

St Vincent in the distance
We made it!

I mentioned the walk to Spring View park in my last post about a magical Sunday. The views from the park are almost as good as those from North Head and it’s much shorter. We did this hike three times and highly recommend it for beginners. The walk is mostly on paved road with about a mile of gravel road, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’ll be easy! Island roads aren’t built to contend with snow and ice, so they pretty much build ‘em straight up… and straight down!

I’ve saved the best for last. The climb to Peggy’s Rock is short and sweet with a huge reward at the top. I do this one by myself just for a bit of exercise when the Captain is too busy with boat projects to join me. Even though I did this hike five or six times in the month we stayed on Bequia, I couldn’t resist snapping a pic or two of the majestic rock and the view of the bay each time. It’s fun to assess how crowded the anchorage is from this vantage point. We definitely saw a swell in numbers between Christmas and New Years, and then the crowds thinned a bit as cruisers went their separate ways. Capt. Mike dipped his toe into a second career as a tour guide on this one. A British family wanted to know how to find the trail to Peggy’s Rock so Mike offered to guide them if they’d pay for the taxi. He had to admit, “I don’t know the history of this walk, or the names of any of the trees or cactus you’ll pass, but I’ll get you up and back safely and you’ll love the views.” He received only positive reviews! Next time, I think he should just make stuff up, don’t you?

Our new hiking friends, aged 8 years to 75 years
I didn’t want to bore you with Peggy’s Rock photos, so here’s a collage!

By the way, if you enjoy finding new hikes and walks while on vacation, I highly recommend an app named Wikiloc. It allows you to search for walks, bike rides, and even sails or kayak routes near you. When you find a route you like, you can follow it on your phone. The app vibrates and beeps to let you know when you’ve wandered off the trail, and lets out a celebratory “Ta-Da!” when you’ve retraced your steps and found it again. Also, maps.me is a great compliment to Google maps. It shows many more walking trails and paths than you’ll find on Google maps, and it’s easy to download the maps for the area that you’re visiting so you’ll have access even when you’re off line. I hope you enjoy these tips to help you get outside and explore wherever you travel. Have a nice walk!

Another day in paradise

Would you like to hear a story about a regular old day for Capt. Mike and I? Just a Sunday that started our perfectly normal, and ended up a little bit special? Well, here goes!

Sunday January 2nd started slowly on anchor in Admiralty Bay, Bequia. The holiday buzz was over, and our energy levels were a bit low. Capt. Mike eventually motivated to cook leftover lobster into a red pepper-onion-lobster omelette, and I perked up a bit after a cup of strong coffee. Friends on SV Camino messaged, asking if we’d like to go for a hike. Why, yes! Of course! So we left the dirty dishes in the sink, grabbed our backpacks, and hopped into our dinghy, Bug.

Capt. Mike as Chef Mike in the morning

Sunday roads are always light on traffic, so we enjoyed a peaceful walk away from Port Elizabeth, past several churches, ringing with hymns. Past the local pottery, and up, up, up the hill through the Springs community with its fabulous houses and colorful gardens.  Only one wrong turn before we found ourselves at Spring View Park with its stunning views of the rough white caps between Bequia and St Vincent, and of the busy and populated southern coast of the main island of St Vincent itself. We shared the mystery of the massive rock labeled “Ursula” (When the founder of this community cheated on his wife Ursula with their nanny, did she drive over the cliff on her own violation in a state of despair? Or did hubby put a rock on the gas pedal to help get her out of his way?) For the first time ever, we weren’t the only people visiting this lovely park. Mike got the phone number of Meakly who has the key to the grill and kitchen facilities. Maybe we’ll come back with lots of friends and have a picnic next time!

That’s St Vincent in the background
Ruins of the old sugar mill

Down, down, down a steep concrete road that has definitely never seen snow and ice, past the Firefly and the so called “Bequia Golf Club.” (You get to choose one club, and you go around the three-hole course twice. It’s pretty much cross country. Try not to lose your ball in the downed leaves, or in the thicket of dead palm fronds at the top of the tree on hole #2.) A quick ramble past an ornery mama cow on Spring Beach, and we were hot, tired, and thirsty and ready to finish the loop back to town. In search of a cold beverage and lunch, we climbed the steep wooden staircase to Coco’s restaurant where a party for a nine-year-old girl was going strong.

Unfortunately, the kitchen was closed except for this private party, but we were able to order cold rum punches and we all admired the little girl’s impressive blue dragon cake and sang Happy Birthday. Her grandfather, Mr Lulley came by to chat about his 30-year career in the US Merchant Marines, and his son who hoped to attend Maine Maritime College. What a coincidence! Our hiking buddies Shawn and Chantal’s sun graduated from Maine Maritime. And their best friend back home in Vermont went to the school with Mr. Lulley at maritime college back in Baltimore. We all exchanged cards and offers of “If you ever need anything…” and took selfies.

After the big party crowd cleared out, the owner of the restaurant, Coco, came out to chat about the business, the holidays, and COVID (we all can’t help but talk about COVID these days, right?) Then he said, “I’m going to offer you something, and I don’t want you to say no. I’m going to let you try my homemade West Indian food, and I don’t want any money for it. You can pay for the drinks, but the lunch is on me.” So, lo and behold, we’re now eating stewed chicken, rice and peas, green salad, and coleslaw, all on the house. Everything was delicious, the view from the patio was stunning as always, and of course we tipped very generously. I can’t wait to visit Coco on a regular business day to have another bowl of his fish chowder – the most delicious thing to eat on the island.

The view from Coco’s patio

So the day that started with no plan except for breakfast, ended with a lovely hike, a birthday party, meeting friends of friends, and a free lunch! You never know what the day will bring when you leave yourself open to whatever happens 😀

Christmas in the Islands

“I don’t want an icy Christmas, I’ve had enough. The only ice I wanna see must be in my cup.”

Shaggy: “No Icy Christmas” from the 2020 album Christmas in the Islands

Thank you Shaggy! My sentiments, exactly. While I sure miss my family desperately each festive holiday season, I don’t miss snow and ice one bit. I have fully embraced the sunny beach Christmas. And Bequia is a fabulous place to spend Christmas as a cruiser. The ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) finishes in St Lucia in December, so there are suddenly dozens of European boats that just crossed the Atlantic and over a hundred cruisers in a celebratory mood. And Bequia is so incredibly welcoming to boaters over the holidays, hosting potlucks and parties and events. This is our second year in a row celebrating Christmas and New Year’s here, and I can see why some cruisers return here year after year.

Of course, even this corner of paradise is not immune from Covid. This year, the Christmas light displays and fireworks were canceled. When I asked around to find out why, I received two answers: “The government wants to discourage large gatherings,” and “The community is really suffering economically due to the pandemic and the resulting loss of tourism. Electricity is the most expensive resource on the island and it feels wrong to light up the parks when so many families are struggling to pay their electric bills.” But the stores and restaurants are decorated, sometimes even in a nautical theme.

The nautical-themed Christmas tree at Dockside Marine

I tried to bring a bit of that Christmas spirit aboard Sanitas through baking festive treats. Now, I hate to bake. I get kind of tense and twitchy just looking at the ingredients and knowing I’ll have to measure accurately to get this thing to turn out properly. Plus, I’m a celiac and eat strictly gluten free and I try to stay healthy by limiting carbs. But it’s Christmas! So I whipped up a batch of gf chocolate chip cookies with red and green m&ms. (I had to buy two packets of m’s and dug through to pick out the red and green ones). I bought colorful dried fruit and peel in syrup from Knight’s Trading and baked it into a gf Irish soda bread. And I spread a thick layer of mince meat over an almond flour tart to approximate mince meat pies. I kind of think I nailed it. 😀

A holiday baking extravaganza

Now, every restaurant on the island was competing for our business for holiday dinners. But I accidentally wandered into the Porthole one afternoon and ordered a soda water and started chatting to the owner. The Porthole restaurant and mini mart is a Bequia institution, operated by Mr and Mrs T for 40 years and famous for its delicious rotis. The couple have gotten older and struggled to keep it up (not to mention Covid) so their son Gladwyn and his partner Linda moved back home from New York City to take over. They’ve put a ton of work into painting and modernizing and the place looks fantastic. Linda told me they were planning a grand opening party for Christmas Eve with lobster and Mrs T’s traditional recipes for salads and sides so I jumped at the chance! We shared a table with three other cruisers and had a lovely evening – Elvis played Christmas songs on the steel pan, the food was delicious and the wine flowed, and we finally experienced some Christmas cheer. Even if the dinner we were promised at 7:00 didn’t actually get served until 9:00. Island time, lol!

New and improved Porthole Restaurant
Poached lobster, breadfruit salad, stewed pigeon peas, cinnamon yams, green beans and christophene, green salad

The main event of a Bequia Christmas is without a doubt the Cruisers’ pot luck at the Fig Tree. The owners, Cheryl and Lafayette open the restaurant to sailors free of charge and light of the grills. And folks from all countries and all languages gather to grill meats, share sides and desserts, and drink festive cocktails. All within feet of the lapping waves against the Belmont Boardwalk. It’s a total blast, and I’m so grateful for the Fig Tree’s hospitality.

Last year on New Year’s Eve we partied like it was 1999….and then four out of the eight people at our table came down with COVID and had to isolate on their boats for weeks. This year, since we’re vaxed and boosted, we planned to go to the Frangipani for steel pan music and a DJ – we even bought tickets. But on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, two of the most popular tourist restaurants on the island shut down suddenly because staff tested positive for Covid. We hemmed and hawed and decided not to risk it. Instead, a friend invited us over to his catamaran and we had a lovely little 5-person party on the deck with charcuterie and champagne. We could hear the music just fine from the anchorage – we didn’t miss a thing. And as midnight struck, the boaters made their own firework show, lighting off expired flares in the harbor (Cap. Mike did not like firey things raining down near Sanitas at all)

I bought myself flowers for New Years!

All in all, it was a lovely holiday, spent with good friends, and I enjoyed every minute of it! I hope you and yours had a wonderful holiday also – maybe even with a little snow, if that’s your thing.

Grenada or bust! 🇬🇩 (aka more swabs up the nose)

Way back in March 2020, we said to ourselves, “Let’s just sit tight through this Covid-19 thing, and we’ll be able to cruise again next year.” Cue 2021, and we’re STILL sitting tight and waiting for the world to open up again and to let us travel freely again. I’ve seen a lot of friends recently posting warm weather travel pictures on Instagram – and you’re mostly visiting US states territories such as the USVI, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or the Florida Keys. So you get it! While travel is possible again these days, testing costs and quarantine requirements still make travel between countries tricky and expensive. Or maybe I’m just trying to convince myself that we made the right decision to spend five whole months in the Grenadines 😜

June 1st is the official start of hurricane season in the northern hemisphere so after our extended farewell party circuit of the Grenadines, we dug out our boat paperwork, To-Do lists, and links to government websites and started planning our trip back to Grenada. On May 1st, Grenada issued a new policy stating that fully vaccinated visitors could bypass most of quarantine. Hooray! Instead of the two-week quarantine we performed last year, vaccinated visitors just need to get a PCR test within 72 hours of arrival in Grenada, submit a bunch of health forms and documents, get tested again on arrival in Grenada, and quarantine on the boat until we get negative results from the arrival test – from 24-48 hours. This makes a lot of sense, and hopefully will allow the Caribbean islands to fully reopen to tourism in the fall. We used the two weeks after our second shot to say goodbye to all of our favorite places, as described in my last post, and then I went to work planning for a smooth transition between countries.

The swab up the nose doesn’t get any easier

Sunrise on Monday May 10 found the crew of Sanitas at the dinghy dock in Bequia, heading to the hospital for our “leaving SVG” Covid test. These tests must be processed manually in a lab on the main island. Test appointments are super early so that the nasal swabs can be put on a ferry and sent north to St Vincent. It sounds so logical but… island time! Capt. Mike and I sat on the ground in front of the tiny hospital from 6am until about 7:15 when we handed over 104ec per person (around $40) and finally were taken into an air conditioned shipping container and got the old swab up the nose. Our test didn’t make it on the first ferry, but they must have made it on the next one – we were thrilled to get our test results via email first thing Tuesday morning. By that time, we’d sailed back down to Union Island, the southernmost point available to clear out of SVG.

Negative test results in hand, I pestered the ports authority in Carriacou until they replied with an email granting us permission to sail to Tyrell Bay exactly five months to the day after we cleared in. How crazy is that? We cleared out on exactly the day our cruising permit expired and made the short nine-mile sail south. The travel gods continued to smile on us, as we passed our health assessment quickly, and before we even made it back to the boat, we got called back for our “arrival in Grenada” Covid test. Before noon on Wednesday, we settled in cheerfully on Sanitas, making the best of our 48-hour wait for results and freedom.

What do we do to occupy ourselves while confined to a teeny boat during quarantine? Well, I’m obviously catching up on blog posts 😀 We cooked up some comfort food treats, like homemade gluten free pizza, and a delicious steak dinner. We reviewed our To-Do list for prepping Sanitas for hurricane season, and started to check off a few items that could be performed in advance. We did more planning; booking our haul-out date and an apartment, and even booking flights back to the US. We binge watched a young adult fairy romance series on Netflix (don’t ask how the algorithm decided we’d enjoy that one) and rewatched both seasons of Derry Girls. We even (and this is a little pathetic in retrospect) packed go bags. So if we heard the Port Authority call us over the VHF radio, we could simply pull on our nicer “customs and immigration clothes”, grab backpacks stuffed with boat paperwork, wallets, and swim suits, and after clearing in we’d be all set to walk over to Paradise Beach to celebrate our freedom. But… Thursday crawled by. And Friday morning turned into Friday afternoon. And other boats in the quarantine anchorage started calling the ports authority asking when we could expect results. About 4:00 I got an e-mail addressed to “Dear Captains” stating that they hadn’t received our test results, so we’d have to stay in quarantine through the weekend. Say what? Our 48-hour quarantine just turned into five days. I didn’t bring enough Netflix or sweet and salty snacks for that much time!

Go bags at the ready!

Capt. Mike and I took turns being grouchy and then optimistic all weekend. We have a rule in our marriage that only one of us is allowed to be in a funk at a time. We polished stainless, wiped down closets with mildew killer, ate the rest of our cheese and crackers and chips and cookies, and somehow made it until Monday. Finally, at 10:30 we got the call on the radio to come in for our health clearance certificate. As I write this, it is 11:30 Monday morning, exactly 5 days or 120 hours after our supposedly 48-hour quarantine started. We brought our health certificate over to customs and immigration across town to FINALLY check in. The customs officer told us they are open from 1pm to 3pm. The officer must have seen my face, ’cause he said “ok, I know this is a stressful time. I can process you now” I gotta say, I’ve had my fill of Island Time for a while 🤣 We’re official now, and planning to sail to Grenada tomorrow. Phew!

The captain clearing us in… Finally!

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 🏝️