I first met Nat and Betsy last year when they were vacationing on Bequia. Robin Coles, an author I promoted on my blog Reading Recommendation, had put us together on Facebook, so I invited Nat and Betsy to visit my house when they arrived on the island and we have been in contact since that time. Nat posts many photos to Facebook and that’s what led me to ask if he’d like to write about Bequia in this series of guest posts. Besides, he also brought a copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to reread – definitely an author serious about his writing!
Reflections on a Wednesday Morning in Downtown Bequia
As I wait patiently by the beach in the yellow Moke for Betsy to return from shopping this morning, I notice a couple of kids working hard down in the sand. I assume they are building a sand castle but when I move closer for a look I realize it is something else altogether.
“It’s a sand cake,” the boy tells me with a big smile.
“Looks good enough to eat,” I say.
He laughs then quite seriously responds, “It’s not for eating.”
I see another smaller round pile of sand with a hole in the middle next to the cake. “I was trying to make a doughnut,” the boy says.
“Or a bagel” I add.
His sister brings shells and bits of sea glass for cake decorating. I watch as she carefully plucks each piece from the water and balances them on her flip-flops which are floating gently nearby. When the flip-flops are fully loaded she transports them carefully to the cake building site to lay delicately on top.
“How come you’re not in school today?” I ask.
“It’s Easter vacation!” the boy responds. “Two weeks! We don’t go back to class again until April 13.”
“Do you live near here?” I ask.
“We live in Hamilton,” he answers, pointing across the harbor. “Are you from America?”
“Yes, I am. And it’s very cold, ice and snow now, where I come from.”
“Not so many,” I say. “Well, maybe a few.”
“We don’t have many hurricanes or tornadoes here in Bequia. When we do have them they are not as bad as they are in St. Vincent. Because the buildings are not so big.”
“Do you remember a hurricane landing here?” I ask.
“Yes. My sister went outside in it. She wasn’t supposed to but she did and she left the door open.”
“I was much younger then,” his sister adds. “My mother had to come out and get me.”
“All the people in Bequia are very nice. All the business people and the people who live here are nice,” the boy tells me. “My mother and father drive a taxi. My mother has the new one and my father has the old one.” He points toward the taxi lot full of waiting cabs and trucks. “There’s my mother sitting in the new taxi with my grandmother. They are having a little chat.”
“It is. You see that green boat?” he asks, pointing at the ferry boat backed-up to the pier nearby.
“Yup,” I say.
“They are fixing that one right now,” he says.
“When we come here we usually take the red one,” I say.
“That green one is a good stiff boat. It doesn’t roll around as much as the red one. The red ones belong to the Bequia Express and the green ones belong to the Admiral ferries. The green ones are more comfortable.
You see that boat there?” He points at the locally built blue and white schooner, Friendship Rose, anchored just off the beach. “That boat was the ferry before these red and green ones. Only she was lower in the water then. They added more height to her when she stopped being the ferry.”
“She’s a beautiful boat,” I say. “I sailed on her down to the Tobago Cays last week. We had a great sail.”
“Yes, she is a beautiful old boat,” the boy says with pride.
“Do you like to go sailing?” I ask.
“No, I don’t go sailing. But my grandfather did. He was a great fisherman. He is 93. He lives in Paget Farm. Do you know Paget Farm?”
“Yes,” I say. “Out near the airport.”
“Yes. Paget Farm is a good place to live. The people there take good care of each other. When my grandfather was fishing out near Petit Nevis once his boat sank and he had to swim to save his life. Everyone in Paget Farm went out to look for him. Finally they saw some smoke coming from behind Petit Nevis. They found him cooking a fish on the beach.”
“He must’ve been a good swimmer!”
“Yes, but now he is very old and he can’t see very well. He is shrunken. My auntie in America says he can come there to have an operation to make his eyes better but he is afraid to go because he is afraid he will lose his sight completely. He says he can only see the shadow of someone who he is looking at now. Sometimes I go to his house and sneak in while he is sitting there and sometimes he doesn’t hear me so I just sit until he asks, ‘Who’s there?’ Then I use another voice and he doesn’t know it’s me. Sometimes he hears the floors going squeaksqueaksqueak and then he guesses it’s me. My mother cooks him food to bring to his house everyday.”
“But you live in Hamilton?”
“Yes … and he lives in Paget Farm.”
“How old are you?”
“I am 12. My sister is 10.” The girl is bigger than the boy. “I go to school on St Vincent. She goes to school here on Bequia.”
“You take the ferry to St Vincent for school every day?”
“Do you ever get seasick?”
“Not unless my belly is too full from food but then I get accustomed to the rolling usually. Have you been to the volcano on St Vincent? It’s called Soufriere.”
“No,” I say. “But I saw another one on Montserrat that was exploding once.”
“My class took a field trip to see the Soufriere but I didn’t go.”
“My auntie said it might be slippery and I could get hurt.”
“Were other children hurt?”
“No, but some slipped.”
“And fell down the volcano?”
“No, just fell down! Do you know any other beaches here? You know Lower Bay?”
“Yes. That’s a nice beach too but I think I like Hope Bay the best.”
“You know Princess Margaret Beach? It was named Princess Margaret beach after the princess who went bathing there. Do you know this harbor was first called The Harbor? Then the queen came to visit and she named it for herself, Port Elizabeth.”
Suddenly a black cloud rolls over us from the east side of the island and it starts raining hard.
“It’s raining!” shouts the boy. “Goodbye! We’re going to sit in the van!” And they run away leaving me standing by the sand bakery which is quickly dissolving back into the beach. All I can think of is the Jimmy Webb song, MacArthur Park, and how happy I am to have met these two young Bequians on a Wednesday vacation morning on the beach in Port Elizabeth.
Nat Warren-White is an actor, drama therapist, writer, and executive coach who first fell in love with Bequia when he and his wife, Betsy, landed there in 2006 at the beginning of a circumnavigation aboard their 43′ South African-built cutter, BAHATI that you may read about here. In 2011, they stopped there again on their way home to Maine and, in fact, Bequia is the spot on earth where they “closed the loop/tied the knot” – joyfully completing their sailing journey round the world. Since then they have been returning every year and are learning to love and understand this special dot in the ocean more and more!