Travel

Why I Fell For The Charm of The Caribbean

I’m going to show my age a little here, but do you remember the Test Match Special theme tune on the BBC in the 70’s and 80’s? You know, the melody of steel pans with the backdrop of Viv Richards pummeling another six to the boundary?I’m sure it’s reverberating in your subconscious, so here’s a fact for you: that celebrated tune was recorded by Booker T.
& the M.Gs in 1968 on their album Soul Limbo, and some say it marked the start of an era when the West Indies came toprominence through the world of sporting greatness.

This rhythmic collection of notes was on repeat in my head while my soul was on its way to heaven listening to Stephen Almandoz, the curator at the Queens Park Oval in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Like the Great Wall to China, cricket belongs to the Caribbean, and it’s here I start my journey across several unique, stunning and colourful islands. Stephen’s recollections are as much a part of the institute as he is, recalling some of the greatest feats in cricketing history. His personal letter from the legendary Don Bradman was enough to tell me this guy has seen and lived the sport. Throughout our journey, I found the people of the Caribbean tobe just that, living personifications ofthe islands they proudly belong to, each revealing a fervent love for their home.

As we set sail on the immense MSC Poesia cruise ship, we headed north to the Spice Island of Grenada. The deep harbour in St George’s meant we could dock right in the town, stepping into a collection of brightly coloured houses and streets set on dizzying steep slopes. Fortuitously for us, the island was preparing to celebrate 43 years of independence from being a British colony and so the town was festoonedwith colour flags and decorations,lending a carnival-like atmosphere. Following the windy roads to the west of the island, we had a fascinating insight into the production of chocolate, very much in the style of Willy Wonka. Cocoa production is one of the island’s main exports, along with nutmeg, and the quality is second to none. I only wished we were here in May to partake the annual Chocolate Festival.Throughout our journey, I found the people of the Caribbean to be just that, livingpersonifications of the islands they proudly belong to, each revealing a fervent love for their home.

“Throughout our journey, I found the people of the Caribbean to be just that, living personifications of the islands they proudly belong to, each revealing a fervent love for their home”

The beauty of a trip on the seas is that sailing voids the drudgery of checking infor a flight, collecting luggage, waiting for
a taxi and so on. Like Lupe Fiasco, you fall asleep in Paris and wake up in Tokyo, but in this case it’s more like falling asleep in one paradise island and waking up in another. The next morning, we were in Guadeloupe, or what I like to call France in the sun.

There must be something in the water there, as the island has produced sporting legends including Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram and Teddy Riner. If the French know about this place, why aren’t they all living here? It’s lush, green and has wonderful beaches, yet the infrastructure and even road signs make you feel as though you’ve stepped into a Paris suburb.

By far one of the most developed islands in the Caribbean, Guadeloupe is an enclave of modernity. The roads are smooth, multi-national brands dot the city and everyone uses the Euro. As a UK citizen, I’m a little heartbroken I didn’t take advantage of my EU membership prior to the shambles of Brexit to move here myself. The two islands of Grande Terre and Basse Terre form abutterfly shape, with its abdomen ashort stretch of land connecting the two. From rainforests to volcanoes, Guadeloupe ranks alongside Martinique and Dominica for outstanding natural beauty. I just wish we had a little longer to explore with our dreadlocked friend, Ruddy.

Heading north, we spent the next few days docking in the diverse island
of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten (the French and Dutch sides respectively), St. Kitts and as La Romana in the Dominican Republic. I mentioned the Caribbean was visually memorable and our next stop proved to the most remarkable of all; the British Virgin Islands. With the four main islands of Virgin Gorda, Tortola, Jost Van Dykeand Anegada, as well as fifty smallerisles, the British Virgin Islands, or BVI for short, is one of the best places to drop anchor. Paradoxically, it’s best to raise anchor again, albeit on a much smaller vessel to speed around the islets to get under the surface, literally. The crystal clear waters were simply mesmerising and from the marine life just off Scrub Island to the white sandy beaches of Loblolly Bay,you could spend days just findinganother piece of isolated heaven on earth in BVI. If you’re lucky enough to visit, make sure you head under the water to take a peek at the seabed from the shallows near The Baths at Virgin Gorda or discover the 19thcentury wreck of the RMS Rhone.

Southeast of BVI, one of the Caribbean’s most frequented islands, alongside Barbados, is Antigua, a haven for sun seekers. With resorts lining the coast, the island itself is a neat 21km wide, and is home to 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. My favourite was probably Darkwood Beach (it’s a complete contrast to its name), as the cove invites the sea
to the lap against the white sandy beach. By this point, the end of my sailing adventure was over another

burnt orange horizon, and there was only island left before having to head home; St. Lucia. Home to the giant Pitons, the islands most dominating feature, St. Lucia felt different to the rest of the Caribbean. It has a beautiful coastline, like most of the islands, but offers more than just beaches. It may have been the hummingbirds at the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens which emphasised the stereotypes I had of the Caribbean, or maybe the home flavours of fried plantain and saltfish I’ve only ever enjoyed on acold day in Peckham market. Whatever it was, it was nostalgic. Just like Soul Limbo, the Caribbean leaves an indelible mark on you and I can’t wait to go back.

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