The Adopted Dog – The ups and downs of a small island

This was the last time I went to St Vincent to date.  I had spent so much time there over the previous seven years, it had become one of the most familiar destinations for my work, and pleasure.  That I still could find new interests here in this tiny country is a testament to how diverse and wonderful small island nations can be.  It has changed somewhat since – the new airport in Argyle is now close to completion.  The disastrous cricket ground for the World Cup sits as a sore reminder of bad planning in Arnos Vale.  I am sure more hillsides are being covered in houses, squats or not, and the number of resorts, villas, marinas are increasing, particularly in the Grenadines.  I wonder what happened to the little dog we adopted.

I just hope the character of St Vincent and the Grenadines is preserved as they continue to strive to develop and it does not become just yet another Caribbean island emulating the USA and capitulating to the tourist dollar at the expense of a more diverse island.  To increase diversity away from the banana industry was a prime objective of the work we were doing.  The more I explored St Vincent the more I saw it was already very diverse; maybe there is a way of capturing that for the good of its whole population




The Adopted Dog – Spice

After lunch we had time for one more stop at a waterfall.  I’ve seen some impressive falls in the Windward Islands and was hoping it was a trek up in to the forest amongst the parrots and agouti to see a Bounty advert type scene.  But these falls were in a small maintained parkland right next to the Leeward Highway.  We dropped down to the river, well stream, and saw a cascade with barely a three metre drop.  We made the best of it, took a couple of photos of it, Edsel sat on one of the large rocks but you could tell by his expression he was completely underwhelmed.  It was a bit of an anticlimax to our trip up the leeward coast.

Fortunately it was redeemed on the way back to the car.  Edsel spotted a tree right on the roadside and started foraging about on the floor.  He held up a small nut, covered in a red lattice like coating.  It was a nutmeg surrounded in mace.  There were more covering the ground and they were all huge.  And there were hundreds on the tree above our heads.  The sight of a whole nutmeg is beautiful, even when it has been drying in a larder in the UK for six months.  To see the fresh fruits packaged up in this vibrant rubbery mace coat, is incredible.  We took to rubbing the mace in our fingers and scratching the nutmeg against the rocks to release the most wonderful rich aromas into the atmosphere.  That is smelt so much of Christmas reminding you of snow, crackling fires and hot food and drink was such a juxtaposition here on a tropical July day in the Caribbean was no matter.

We foraged for as much as we could carry home – it would keep me in nutmeg spice for over a year.  And reluctantly got back in the car and headed back to Kingstown.

The Adopted Dog – Walking on the set

Wallilabou was in the bay beyond,.  As we drove into a small car park, I noticed these huge warehouses, and out in the bay a massive jetty and two  tall derricks sitting on a solid stone base.  This was like a major harbour, although you could see that it was not currently used.  Of course I knew what it really was, but I’ve kept up the illusion for you as the view was so realistic it could easily pass for an old dockyard.  In reality it was the leftover scenery from the first couple of “Pirates of the Caribbean” film.  And everything I was looking at was less reality, more fake.  The “stone” building behind was  made of plywood, as was the small bridge crossing the river, and the stone base to the derricks.  Look closely and you could see that the cobblestones that were so solid and tactile in the houses of Kingstown were painted on here at Wallilabou Bay.

If you have seen the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films the bay was used as the main centre of Port Royal.  Most of the town was taken away but these three or four artefacts have been a huge tourist trap for the west coast of St Vincent.  The later films did not the same location it though so now both the set and the tourist trade is decaying back into the undergrowth.

We took a tour around before lunch.  You could not get far onto the jetty as the boards had collapsed into the sea, but up close you could see the painted facades lacking or peeling away to reveal the plywood underneath.  You could walk across the bridge but you could feel it creaking under you to remind you that this was not a solid structure.  And we wandered round the sole remaining building of the town; this had been carefully maintained and the central space could be used for weddings and parties.  We lunched on the beach and had a couple of beers in this bizarre location.

The Adopted Dog – St Vincent passes by

But we were only heading up here for a day.  Considering how small St Vincent is, I was amazed how long it took to drive up this leeward highway.  Yes the road twisted and turned and had a few patches where the potholes impeded your progress, but also the detail of the countryside demanded it be examined.  Each little valley, beach and headland had character, and the human footprint was a lively tapestry of smallholder life, easy liming and bustling commerce all rolled together.  I knew by this stage I would not reach the top end of the island, to Richmond and the Wallilabou River where the road gave out.  It had been an ambition – as it would be as close as you could get to Fancy – the most northerly point on St Vincent, which I had reached once before but only by driving up the Windward Highway.  It seemed amazing that the only way to drive from Richmond to Fancy, barely five miles apart, would be to head down to Kingstown and back up the other side – over 50 miles.

But we were not out to break any records, just have a nice day out, and our late lunch time spot was to be one of the most bizarre locations in the whole of the Caribbean – Wallilabou Bay.  We passed through more settlements, the largest being Barrouallie.  I tried not to hark back to work that day but I did notice the new estates of modest houses being built on a hillside on the approaches to the town.  This was similar to Bequia, where old plantation land was being subdivided, but in this case the government were building the houses and renting them out.  Partly an effort to regularise the development of the island, but also to help put life back in to the smaller towns at the northern end of the island and take pressure off Kingstown and its suburbs.

The Adopted Dog – Ancient markings

So it all makes perfect sense.   But back to the Caribbean.  Layou like many St Vincent towns, had a pleasant waterfront on a narrow beach; a small river flowing out in to the bay divides the town; the main road turns inland less than half way along the beach.  Like most of St Vincent’s beaches, the sand is black here.

So many of the main settlements in St Vincent are on the coast, and with the work I had done previously looking at coastal resources, I was sensitised to many of the concerns about sea level rise and climate change that could affect such settlements.  By the time this project had started, the implementation of more coastal defences were being carried out.  Although leeward sides of islands are not usually so badly affected by hurricanes as their leeward counterparts, when they do hit this side the lack of preparation and the higher density population concentrations often cause more devastation.  But also people were learning that not only general sea level rise could cause noticeable differences in the amount of sea flooding that can occur, but it exacerbates other events such as storm surge.  The results of all this thinking was starting to manifest itself in structures on the shorelines.  Here in Layou the road had been reinforced with concrete defences, but not a sea wall in the traditional sense, but a gently graded ramp with many carefully calculated holes and rough edges, all designed to take the energy out of any waves cheeky enough to come right up close to the town.



We stopped at the back of the town and took a look at the Layou Petroglyph Park.  The running theme in this story is the mixture of new perspectives and familiar sights.  Petroglyphs came under the latter category.  They appear throughout the Caribbean and I had hunted for them in St John in the US Virgin Islands, been shown them by Edsel in St Kitts on a stone next to a village school, and even helped out with excavations of a Taino village on BVI’s West End.  So the presence of these stones in St Vincent were hardly a revelation, but they were some of the better ones I had seen.  The best were set on a large stone deep in the forest; faces etched into the rock surrounded by triangular shapes, large circles and swirls.  All very primitive and appearing more like haphazard graffiti than anything formal or deep and meaningful.  If they were ancient in any way, they would be representative of our human species development of culture and crafting, but since they have been put at no more than 1800 years old, we know many other civilisations were  at the same time drawing, writing and creating much more intricate artwork than these.  But it does show the last vestiges of a pre-Columbus civilisation that existed in these islands.  Which particular tribe these carvings relate to is still up for debate – one which will probably never resolved.  Not only is there the simple question of whether they are the stereotypically  ferocious Carib or the passive Arawak who drew these, but a more complicated question as to whether those two extremes were fuzzied by many interactions – rape, enslaving, intermarriage being three of the most obvious.  It is not certain what the characteristics of populations that lived in St Vincent were.  Although a few people with Carib blood do still live in St Vincent, mainly in the north eastern quadrant,  even these are mixed with post-Colombian immigrants from Africa and Europe.  So be the difficulties of history in the new world – the written documentation, verbal histories and evidence on the ground, used so meticulously in the old world, is scant in the Americas up to the 1700s, and what evidence there might have been was so often destroyed before any archaeologist or historian could get their hands on it.

As much as the petroglyphs, the parkland in which they were situated grabbed my attention.  Again there was nothing unfamiliar in it, but having been stuck in the concrete and bustle of Kingstown for most of the last two weeks, it was a joy to be wandering in the cool under the canopy, a gentle breeze blowing down the valley, further cooled by the small stream that tinkled between the rounded volcanic rocks.  From those rocks and the assortment of leaf litter on the forest floor grew all manner of plants – big rubbery leaved ones, huge trees with buttresses, plenty of mosses and lower plants like mosses, lichens and ferns.  It was now late morning so the bird and animal life was limited, it is true, but the atmosphere in here was so relaxing.

The Adopted Dog -Tangled Titling

I then remembered I was having a day off and decided to look for cheerier things; and was immediately rewarded by the sight of three young guys – possibly a young father and his two sons, playing cricket on the strand.  The waves lapping against the bowlers legs, the wickets a couple of sticks of bamboo, it was about as rudimentary a sports arena you could imagine.  But they were taking it as seriously as if it were Lords.


Cricket on the beach

We drove on, but not far, for at the top of the next ridge we got a vista down into the next valley; Layou.  I remembered I had once spent time in the village of Layou in Dominica.  I wondered why the same names cropped up so regularly in the Caribbean.  Some were fairly easy to understand.  Soufriere is a French word for “something which carries sulphur” like a volcano or hot spring.  But I cannot find what Layou is.  Anse is a French word for cove, Arnos Vale crops up a couple of times, including St Vincent’s old airport, which is derived from a district near Bristol city centre, noted for an old cemetery.  And other English and French placenames abound on all the islands.  In St Vincent we have a Richmond, Argyle and Pembroke.  It is often difficult to disentangle whether the location is named after the equivalent one in the UK, or if some titled gentleman.



As an aside, I find the UK’s titles perplexing, especially as a geographer.  They never seem to live in the county or area from which they draw their title.  For example, The Duke of Rutland Lives in Leicestershire; the Earl of Leicester lives in Norfolk;  The Duke of Norfolk  live in Sussex (where the Earls of Dorset live too); The Duke of Sussex will be the Prince whose  father  is also Earl of Chester, Prince of Wales and  Duke of Cornwall but he actually lives mainly in Gloucestershire.  The Duke of Gloucester lives in Northamptonshire (but note for once this is also where the Earl of Northampton actually lives too!). The Earl of Huntingdon lives in Berkshire; The Duke of Devonshire lives in Derbyshire; Earl of Derby lives in Lancashire; The Duke of Lancaster is the Queen and she lives in Buckingham Palace, which is in Westminster, not Buckinghamshire. The Duke of Westminster lives in Cheshire, which as we know leads us  back to the Prince of Wales who lives in Gloucestershire.  The Earl of Carlisle, in Cumbria, formerly Cumberland, lives in Yorkshire;  The  Duke of York lives in Berkshire; The Marquess of Reading , which is in Berkshire, also lives in Gloucestershire! The Duke of Bedford lives in Buckinghamshire and the  Earl of Lincoln apparently  lives in Australia.

The Earl of Essex lives in Hertfordshire; The Marquess of Hertfordshire lives in Warwickshire; The Earl of Coventry, formerly in Warwickshire, lives in Worcestershire; and The Marquis of Bath, which is in Somerset , lives in Wiltshire

The Adopted Dog – Heading up the Leeward side

But as I looked up beyond the little industrial estate in Campden Park where the brewery sat, I realised that, in all the years I had been visiting St Vincent, I had never been any further up the leeward side of the island.  With a bit of persuading , I managed to convince Eduardo and Edsel that we needed a day off, and using one of Eduardo’s usual drivers, it was with some excitement that we managed to take one Saturday to visit a few sights.


Campden Park


The leeward highway cuts inland from Kingstown – the hill at Fort Charlotte is too commanding a promontory to have a through route.  So the highway goes up behind the Botanic Gardens and then wiggles its way over the next ridge, then the next and the next before being able to get anywhere near the sea again.  Two or three narrow valleys, including Campden Park, descend from the highway, packed full of houses and industrial units; indeed much of St Vincent’s industry is packed into this area.  The small port here is probably busier than the one in Kingstown itself, and the oil terminal is tucked away one of these coves.  Like many islands, while the image is of a paradise, the usual needs of life cannot be magically spirited away – you still need places to generate electricity, obtain water, get rid of sewage, store fuel and bring commodities ashore and they rarely look pretty.  Volcanic islands like St Vincent have some convenient little valleys where all this can be hidden away nicely.  The urban sprawl of Kingstown only gradually fades away, even through the side hills became less populated the roadside of the leeward highway is littered with buildings right into the next village, Buccament.

The village runs down one side of the valley along the highway; the major part of the valley was until recently open.  The Buccament River being one of the major catchments for St Vincent, there was a fear of flooding at the valley foot.  But when we got out the minibus to look over the beach, we saw the pristine new resort of Buccament Bay – a small town of chalets to give people that secluded, special, paradise field.  All the photos show the room you stay in with a sea view, the reality of course being than less than 20 % of the chalets available have the full sea view.  I don’t blame Buccament for this marketing – it is a ploy executed by every hotelier in the Caribbean and worldwide.  Show the images of your best features only and then charge four times the amount to actually get views, but by the time people realise that you have brought them into your dream and they will compromise on the view just to get a flavour of the ideal.


New development at Buccament

What concerned me, with my ever increasingly wary eye on the stupid siting of developments in risk areas, was what would happen the next time the Buccament Valley flooded.  Maybe the hotel itself had spent enough money to put flood defences up around its own property, but the area that was a natural flood plain would have soaked up a lot of water, and now it needed to go somewhere else.  Was that somewhere else the small village houses on the other side of the valley?  Once they were built high enough above the flood level to escape any disaster, but the volume of water needing a new place to go could now swamp them.