"Welcome to Bequia. Bequia sweet!" The customs agent greeted us as he stamped our paperwork upon our first entry into Bequia.
Every year when Easter comes around, we remember Regatta in Bequia. For those unfamiliar with the place, Bequia is a small island, part of
St. Vincent and the
Grenadines in the Eastern
Caribbean. It's a special
place to us, and to most cruising sailors who have spent time there.
Bequia is an old whaling port, with the remains of try works used for rendering whale oil on one of the tiny adjacent islands. It's only a few miles off the southwestern tip of the big
, but more than miles separate the
two. Agricultural exports are big
business on island of St.
Vincent St. Vincent, but there was never much
agriculture on Bequia. Fishing is still
a major activity, but it's small scale, one or two men-against-the-sea
fishing. Bequia's fishing fleet is made
up of small, outboard-powered boats, and they venture far in search of Tuna and
Dorado. Given the strength of the prevailing
tradewinds, an engine failure often results in what the local fishermen refer
to as "Takin' the long ride."
Not very many return. It's indeed
a long "ride" to Central America for a man
alone in a open boat with a bottle or two of water to drink and whatever he can
catch for sustenance.
Whaling is still an active occupation in Bequia. Under the international regulations, Bequia is allowed to take up to four whales per year. They do it the old-fashioned way -- the hard way. A few men in a small boat, a hand-thrown harpoon -- not a major threat to the population of whales -- they get one every so often. The four-whale limit is probably seldom reached. We were there once a few days after a successful hunt. Everybody shared in buckets of blubber, and whale meat featured prominently on menus in local restaurants. How long will a humpback whale feed a village of 5,000 people? Whatever you think about the ecological impact of whaling, you have to admire the courage and seamanship of people who will take boats like this and hunt animals the size of a city bus.
Visiting Bequia is a trip back in time; a visit to a more relaxed era when people had more time to get to know one another. There aren't a lot of people on the island -- just a few thousand, at most. They're a wonderful mix of Scottish, Irish, English, French, Carib, African, and East Indian stock, mingled for many generations. There are some truly beautiful people here, and not just in a physical sense.
We were in Bequia once when our bank back in the
was acquired. We found out about it when
our ATM cards quit working. In a cash
economy, that put us in a difficult situation.
A call to the bank resulted in an offer to wire us money until they
could get us new cards -- the replacements they had sent a few weeks before
were at our mail drop in Florida,
but we discovered this on the Friday morning preceding a four-day holiday.
There was no quick fix -- we went to the local bank before they closed to see about having the money wired, but they couldn't help us since we didn't have an account, and opening one for non-resident foreigners wasn't something that could be done quickly. We'll never forget what the lady at the bank told us.
"Don' worry. Nobody goes hungry in Bequia. You jus' pick up some coconut, some mango 'long the side of the road, an' we feed you. Nobody goes hungry here."
We thought that was a nice sentiment, but we went back to the boat and made a careful assessment of our stock of groceries. We certainly wouldn't starve for four days, but we would be eating "bilge food," as we call concoctions assembled from canned goods and rice. Later in the day, we were swimming around the boat cleaning the water line when two fishermen came by.
"You like some Tuna?" One man asked, holding a still-living ten-pounder up for our inspection.
We admired the fish and explained that if he came by next week, we'd buy from him -- that we were short of cash.
"We know that," he said. "Lady from the bank, she tell we. You need the fish, you take the fish. You pay us sometime. Plenty here. Nobody go hungry in Bequia."
Bequia sweet, ver' sweet.