In 1967 – 68 getting to Carriacou from England was a three day journey involving two flights, three stops and a boat journey of 4 to 5 hours. Even today, as all returning Kayaks know, the journey still involves a stop-over in Grenada.
On September 1st 1967 I arrived in London at 06.00am and took a taxi to Victoria. I waited to meet my college friend Iain Henderson who was also en route to take up a teaching post with VSO in the Windward Islands. He arrived around 9.45am and we set off for the airport.
Our flight to Barbados with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) involved a refuelling stop in Bermuda. The jet we flew in was a Boeing 707 powered by 4 Roll-Royce Conway RCo12 engines (technical buffs take note). We flew over a cloud swept England and I remember being awed by the fact that once over the Atlantic we flew at 33,000 feet at 480mph. The experience was all very new.
We touched down in Bermuda at 2.00pm local time and we were allowed a few moments to wander out of the plane whilst it refuelled. On stepping out to the tarmac I was impressed by the heat at 84oF, the colours and the refreshing breeze. All the men seemed to wear Bermuda shorts with long cotton socks turned respectably over just below the knees. I remember thinking how they reminded me of the photos of my father in his 8th Army outfit in the Libyan Desert in WW2. The difference was these guys rode mopeds whilst dad was on a hefty Triumph Norton dispatch bike.
After 30 minutes we took off again for Barbados. We landed at 6.15pm local time and were met by the Overseas Arm of the Ministry for Overseas Development who escorted us to a hotel in Bridgetown. In our room there was Tony, Iain (Henderson), Chris and myself. Next door was Alastair and Richard. Kathrine, Sue (Dixon), Jean (Arthur) and Ivana (Cook) were in a separate building.
Refreshed by a meal of shrimp salad followed by rum and walnut ice cream we sat in the garden drinking tea. At some point in the evening Alastair suggested a drive around Bridgetown and so we hired a taxi for the evening.
The driver appeared to have a route already planned and it seemed to take in most of the bars of Bridgetown. We found ourselves being driven down Nelson Street and dropped outside Harry’s Bar. The driver informed us we would have to pay an entrance fee at the door. Two fine looking ladies lightened us of $3.00 each and escorted us up stairs to an empty room. We were then informed the club did not open for another 1 and ½ hours. Seemingly no refund was possible so our driver obliged by taking us to the Blue Moon Bar where we enjoyed a rum and coke and a dance.
Although we were all pretty well done in we decided not to lose our $3.00 worth of entertainment at Harry’s, so back we went. We were again escorted upstairs to the same bare room but this time benches and tables had been set out around the perimeter. Gradually the seats filled up, mostly men, including two US sailors in full uniform and one brave lady. Enter Harry who talked at great length about the great evening we were about to have.
The show itself consisted of a number of gorgeous ladies in various stages of undress. Each performance was interspersed by long tedious monologues delivered by Harry himself and the proffering of more drinks. Finally the show ended around 1.30am and we thankfully made our weary way back to the hotel.
I woke up at 6.00am still feeling tired from the previous journey and night time perambulations. The atmosphere was particularly humid. The cicades stopped their chirping and in an instance the rain poured down drenching the foliage and bouncing off the footpaths. After a hearty breakfast we all drove through the rain to the airport and boarded a Viscount twin engined passenger plane.
Our plane took off at 9.25am for the short hour long hop to Grenada. The cloud cleared just in time for us to catch glimpse of Carriacou and a few moments later Grenada appeared below us covered in lush green vegetation with hills rising from the sea. We lost altitude and caught sight of Pearls Airport; one strip of runway running at right angles from the coast. The far end of the runway seemed to almost disappear into the forest and it appeared hemmed in by densely wooded hills.
We circled once then landed with a couple of bumps and a scream of air brakes. After dragging our weary selves through customs we stood outside the small arrivals area waiting to be picked up.
Gradually each of my new friends departed and I found myself standing alone. A group of taxi drivers descended like locusts, each offering special rates for the journey into St Georges. I was just about to take one of the taxis when Sue and Jean returned in their car. They had realised I’d been ‘abandoned’ and returned to pick me up. Sue remarked what a nuisance I was and how she was dying for the loo. On such a basis lasting friendships are made.
Our driver dropped me off at the Archdeacon’s house. I was greeted by Eric the head servant and shown into the lounge. I got the feeling I wasn’t altogether expected but the Archdeacon went out of his way to make me feel at home. I was treated to a room with a balcony overlooking the Carinage. I found the scene utterly spectacular looking down, as I did, on the harbour with trading vessels berthed alongside, warehouses and timber yards, red roofed houses and verdant green hills on three sides. As the light faded the scene was transformed into a myriad glo-worms winking and sparkling in the dark. The lights were being reflected in the waters of the harbour. As I finally withdrew to my bed I knew I was going to enjoy my time in Grenada and I still had Carriacou to come.
Sunday Sept 3rd was a much clearer, brighter day. I went to communion at 7.00am followed by morning service. After breakfast I was driven to the harbour where I boarded the schooner ‘Miriam B’ for Carriacou. Sue and Jean had kindly made their way down to the dockside to wave goodbye. As we chugged out of the harbour past the Nurses Hostel and under the watchful gaze of Fort Royal I sat and reflected on the delights of my new surroundings.
Miriam B was a traditionally built schooner. It had a cabin, mainsail and jib, an inboard engine and benches round the deck. Most people seemed to prefer sitting atopside with the cabin occupied by domino players. It wasn’t particularly comfortable and the benches dug into your back with each wave. I took the opportunity to wander around the deck talking to passengers such as Mr Daniel and his daughter and taking in the magnificent Grenadian coastline.
Once we had gone beyond Grenada we ran into a squall which made things a bit uncomfortable for around half an hour. We passed Kick em Jenny, an impressive volcano still prone, I believe, to intermittent small eruptions, and on to Carriacou itself.
The water calmed as we turned between Mabouya and L’Esterre and entered Hillsborough Bay. Miriam B drew gently up alongside the wooden jetty at Hillsborough. I was met by Mr R.E. Noel who greeted me and took me to my new temporary home; a small guest house along Front Street about 100 yards from the jetty.
Bill Mott, an Englishman and his Carriacouan wife, Louise met me at the door and showed me my room. My first impression was one of surprise. The only furniture in the room was a bed. Later Bill added a small table to stand under the window and this seemed to make the room much more habitable. What felt more important, however, was the friendly way I was received and the warm family atmosphere that pervaded the house.
I soon discovered that Louise was originally from L’Esterre and had trained as a nurse in England. She was now Matron at the local hospital in Belair. Bill Mott was a Londoner. He had been a factory worker in England and now reared chickens on a smallholding further down the island. They both ran their little place as a guest House. As well as us three there also resided little Billy Mott aged 2 years and Bill Clack, a Canadian Geology student over doing research for his PHd from McGill University. The following week we were joined by George and Cathy Touchton from USA. They had been appointed as teachers to Bishops College by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference.
For my first proper Caribbean meal Louise had cooked spiced pork and breadfruit which I enjoyed immensely. It was later that Louise introduced a local delicacy, fish head broth with dumplings. I ate that dish with great relish and once I had learned how to suck the eyes I knew I had finally arrived.
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