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Settling in to Bequia

A few dozen travelers linger around the information desk ready to board the delayed flight from Barbados to St. Vincent. Finally, a boarding announcement sparks movement in the room and a mob of impatient feet hurry to be the first in line. Around me, sighs of relief that we may actually make it to St. Vincent before dark.

“We are sorry, but please take a seat,” says a voice only five minutes later. “We are not ready to board and we don’t know how long it will be.”

The same eager feet now rush to claim an open seat. Not even two minutes after settling back into the uncomfortable airport chairs, another announcement.

“Ok, we are now ready,” says the voice, embarrassed after initiating the game of musical chairs.

This time, a violent dash to the departure gate.

Seatbelts fastened, luggage stowed, but no pilot. The flight attendant takes her seat and begins reading a novel she had tucked away in the overhead compartment. I keep thinking to myself, only twenty minutes to make the last ferry to Bequia.

The sun is setting in St. Vincent and I grab my backpack and look for Deborah’s taxi that I had arranged to pick me up at the airport. I finally find her.

Sweating from the nervous feeling of being stranded on the island overnight, I ask Deborah to drive as fast as possible and I take a few blurry photos through the open car window. She saves the day and I make the last ferry, ready to sit back, enjoy the cool sea breeze and taste a Hairoun, the award winning local beer.

The trek across the open waters of the Caribbean start to sway me from side to side, almost tossing me overboard and into the black waters of the night. No more beer for me, I assure myself.

An hour later, we dock in Bequia. The taxis, which are canopy covered trucks parked under the almond trees, offer to drive me up the mountain to my place in Spring and I jump into the back of the truck and hold on.

In perfect darkness, I can see the royal blue roofs and infinity pools of the Spring Estate houses reflect the moonlight back into the sky. I can just image what these houses would look like during the day.

My 6 bed, two kitchen rental property is palatial yet oddly comfortable and inviting, renting around $1400 US a week. My twenty-four hour journey had ended. I settled into the queen-sized bed and closed the mosquito net around me.

I’m not used to queen-sized beds and stainless steel juice makers. But I’m open to new experiences, so I thought, why not live like the ex-pats and wealthy foreigners do.  How bad could it be? 

The rooster-like sounds of the wild chachalacas interrupt my sleep around 6AM. I fall back asleep and awake at 8AM to the sound of hammers. The local men, as young as fifteen years old, were busy working on nearby houses. Shirtless and still dripping of sweat, they balanced on handmade ladders of scrap lumber and they sanded, painted and hammered away nonstop until noon.

I floated around the pool which overlooked much of the construction, and I watched the way the foreigners lived and the way the locals worked. I felt uncomfortable living like a queen and swimming in a pool while the locals got splashed as they stood underneath it fixing it. Not to mention the dollars a day wages. My heart and my conscience felt heavy and I craved the simplicity of a hammock on the beach.

I left the luxuries of the rental property a week later and settle into Keegan’s beachfront hotel. The family-run hotel boasts prime location, delicious Saturday night BBQ and rooms untouched since the sixties. The paper thin walls were decorated with crochet and paper artwork held up with scotch tape which threatened to fall down each time the fan was turned on. Keegan’s felt like a home away from home.

The thirty minute walk into town from Keegan’s was never more than ten minutes, because anyone with space in their car would stop and offer a lift. Once in town, the temptation of a flying fish sandwich and a cold Hairoun at The Salty Dog is only too much to handle. Owner Andre’s flying fish is a life changing experience, and is enjoyed best people-watching on the patio overlooking the harbor.

Locals and tourists mingle almost every night at ‘jump ups’ which are simply street parties or parties on the beach. Tourists are always safe and respected, and the music of steel drums makes you feel alive. The easygoing, party lifestyle makes Bequia a world apart. It’s never too early for a beer, and it’s never illegal to drive while drinking one or after a few too many.

With such a relaxed lifestyle, the importance of education is often forgotten. Growing up in North America, education is simply expected, not a privilege.

It always comes down to education.

The tourists and the foreigners who own property on Bequia are mostly from developed countries and they seem to display an inherent right to look down upon the local people. Not all foreigners act like this.

But many I observed did.

“I told the waitress it doesn’t take half an hour to serve a soup and sandwich,” I overheard an older man from somewhere in North America say. “I timed her and she brought it to me in ten minutes,” he told his friends.

I just sunk in my chair and shook my head. In the Caribbean, no one is ever in a rush, especially not this retired old man sipping his coffee. I guess it’s hard to shake old habits of living in a deadline driven, money hungry society.

The locals showed an open desire to help visitors, and in return, most visitors looked down on the local people and used their money and education as an excuse for their behavior.

I left Bequia the same way I came. By airplanes, taxis and ferry. But this time, I didn’t care about the delays, the lineups or missing connections. I felt calm and just a little wiser. Seeing such a social divide between the rich and the poor taught me that respect is universal. 

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