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.

The Adopted Dog – Fort Charlotte

Our time there was coming to an end.  We’d slogged out the last few days finalizing the training course we were delivering, writing reports, following up on various bits of administration.  I realized that we had hardly had a chance to relax and enjoy the country.  One day we had managed to take a couple of hours off one afternoon and taken a walk up to Fort Charlotte.  Situated at the western end of the bay, it has commanding views over the Bequia Channel  and is typical of that early 19th century construction that you find in forts large and small all over the former British Empire domains.  The last time I had wandered up here, on my first ever visit to St Vincent, the fort had been derelict, but now the authorities had done a wonderful job of restoration, repointed the brick work, cleaned up the pathways, removed the weeds and painted the rocks.  One curious element of the fort is that although it has this wonderful vista over the Grenadines where any French ship trying to enter the harbour would be spotted hours before it could be a threat, most of the guns were pointing inland.  This fort was used as a redoubt, the fortified location that the colonists would retreat to if there was a threat to their wellbeing in Kingstown.  And the biggest threat in St Vincent was from the local Black Carib tribes in the north of the island.  These were the ferocious escaped slaves who hid in the jungles of the interior.  So the fort kept as much of a vigilant watch over the mountains to the north as the sea approaches from south, west and east.

Inside one of the fort’s many rooms was a series of paintings of one of the episodes in St Vincent’s history related to the Black Carib uprising.  The style was a mixture or naive and explicit – the colours were bold and light effects emphasised, but the detail was meticulous.  The murals show how in 1779 the Black Caribs, led by their chief, Chattoyér,  ransacked many of the plantations and settlements across the islands; the fort was commissioned soon after to stop a repeat of this episode and was completed in 1806.

We looked out at the view, both the distant islands of the Grenadines and the little details in the immediate environs.  Below the fort, nearly 600 ft below, was a outcrop of rocks. Cut in to the rock was a square shaped pool which I later learnt was used by lepers to bathe separately from the people of the nearby city.  To the north west of the fort were a couple of little valleys that contained the western suburbs of Kingstown.  I had only once before been down there, when I visited the Hairoun Brewery with a colleague of mine from BVI.  We’d had a fascinating tour of the brewery itself, but then were left alone in the executive bar with a free tap.  Hairoun lager is one of the more flavoursome of the Caribbean lagers, but draught fresh from the tap a few metres from where it was produced it was sublime.  I was merry that night.

The Adopted Dog – Welcome to the family

One welcome visitor to the house emerged from the bushes one evening after work.  A small tan puppy bounced across the concrete and rested his paws on the front step.  I, being naturally drawn into anything canine, clicked my tongue and put out my hand to invite him in.  Fatal mistake.  The dog came up to me, furiously wagging his tail and snuffling through his snout and proceeded to wash my hand and forearm with his tongue.  I reached down and scritched his neck and he fell over and submitted to whatever attention I could give him.

Scritched.  If you have ever had problems getting a dog’s affection it is because you have not scritched him.  I first came across the term in an old Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown was trying to scratch Snoopy’s head, but Snoopy was pushing away.  Schroeder says no, ,he likes to be Scritched.  And you see him doing it in the next frame and Snoopy loving it.  We always scritched our dog, and the term has now entered the urban slang; it is defined as gently scratching the back of someone’s neck.  The intention is to gently massage the skin (or fur on a pet) using fingertips or the softest touch of the fingernails.  What is the difference? Well try it on a dog.  If you find the dog moving away you are doing it too hard, if you do it just right then lean right into you, move their neck around so you can do it to different bits, and in the most extreme cases just collapse on the floor in ecstasy.  Once a dog discovers you can scritch, you have them for life.

Edsel, Eduardo and I had been working together for over a year, and had known each other for much longer, but the presence of this little bundle of energy brought us closer together over the coming days.  We would wake up in the morning and find it curled up on the veranda waiting for our attention.  He would stumble under our feet as we got ourselves ready to face the day.  When we returned at night, the scratching of claws scurrying across the concrete would greet us as we turned into our driveway.  And from then on one of us had to play with the dog no matter what else we had to do.  You had to type one hand on the computer as the other one scritched away at his neck.  Cooking took twice as long, and you had to budget for the scraps of meat to be thrown down to the dog.

The puppy was lean but by no means underfed.  He had a bright new collar around his neck.  this was the dog equivalent of a two timer.  He had a family home (although we knew it was not the landlord next door to our plot, we had suspicions it was his immediate neighbour), but obviously like many Caribbean dogs he was not getting the attention there that we were lavishing on him at our place.  Indeed Edsel, being the only native West Indian, behaved more like a typical Caribbean with the dog – pushing it away, ignoring it for long periods or calling it bad names.  But it was all a show, numerous times I would walk out on to the veranda and find the dog being tickled absent-mindedly by Edsel as he surfed the web on his laptop.

For Eduardo and myself it was like having a child around.  I was sad when he was not there, but could become annoyed when he was.  I was drafting reports towards the end of the trip, and had left a pile of papers on the sofa in the lounge while I went to the bathroom.  On my return there was no sign of the dog but a trail of chewed sheets crossed the carpet.  On other occasions we realised the puppy had not quite been house trained and little messages were left on the floor.  We found ourselves training the dog to sit and stay, and making sure he knew we were not pleased when these little mishaps occurred.

But you couldn’t stay mad at him for long.  He would do all those endearing things that puppies do to ingratiate themselves with you.  He would nuzzle in to your body or lick your hand when you ignored him; he would play with his tail, roll around on the veranda or start tugging at whatever piece of muck he could find.  Usually it would be a feather or a strand of grass.  Occasionally he would find an insect.  He would follow a beetle across the yard, sporadically getting a nasty nip from their pincers when he got too close.  Several times I found him swishing his tongue around his mouth where he was trying to remove the nasty taste of the moth he had attempted to devour.

The Adopted Dog – Noisy Neighbours

Not every loud sound in Kingstown was so welcome.  One reason I never picked a house in Road Town when I moved to the Virgin Islands was the thought of having a  neighbour with a boom box.  In the tropical warmth, windows have to be open most of the year but that means you cannot shut out the noise.  Now don’t get me wrong, it is OK to hear people chatting, children playing, the odd dog barking or a few minutes of DIY here or there, but when people play their music at full on volume so that not just the immediate neighbours can hear but most of the valley you live in, for hours at a time; I would go crazy.  As well as that, other noises can be off putting.  I once stayed on a small farm in St Lucia for a night.  The house was a large villa style, and I could put up with the smell of the pigs and the stew of supermarket leftovers they were fed on.  But the large chicken coop near the room I was sleeping in was the limit.  All through the night, the cockerels would call at each other, and responses would come from the whole neighbourhood.  It would build up over a few minutes; one would cock-a-doodle-do into the empty skies.  There would be a gap of a second and another would retaliate.  This would set off two or three others close by which would then trigger calls across the neighbourhood.  The initial caller would then try and call even louder – the strain on his voice apparent from the strangled “Doodle” part of the call.  This set off another round.  If I were lucky there would be a minute’s break, still not quiet as the clucking of the hens was constantly audible.  But the respite would be short lived; just as my eyelids had become heavy and the drowsiness was returning one or other of the feuding cockerels would set off another round of crowing.


The view left of Eduardo’s

In Kingstown the cockerels were scattered around the valley and not just outside the bedroom window so they quickly became background noise.  But one noise I could not avoid came from the road below the apartment.  Every day, and for an extended period on Sunday, I would hear the click of a loudspeaker come on and an old man’s voice lyrically telling me about the good word of God, how He would save our souls, and how He would punish sinners.  If he just said that I might have been happy for him to have free speech, but instead of those pithy three statements he would drone on and on and on and on down the microphone, rambling about how he was feeling that morning, quoting lengthy passages from every book of the bible, relating it to some story or parable or quote he must have picked up on one of the religious TV channels that day.  I’m reporting this as if I listened carefully to what he said, but it was only because I got this most days for two weeks, and it was all in a similar vein that I managed to string it together into something which now sounds moderately coherent.  The reality was a loud but still just an irritating background noise, punctuated with the odd Hallelujah or Amen.

At first I thought it was a church that I could hear, But Eduardo, now the local, had talked to his neighbours and found out it was just an old guy living alone who set up the tannoy at his lounge window and blasted the neighbourhood with these sacred ramblings.  At least he was a way down the valley and he had the good sense to give up by 10pm; maybe due to past experience of a neighbour threatening to brain him if he did not shut up.