St. Vincent Revisited
by Angelika Grüner
My son, Angelus, and I sailed from Charlotteville, Tobago, with rough seas and wind from the northeast, to the Grenadines. We found many boats in Mayreau and Bequia, but still isolated and lonely anchorages in Baliceaux, where it was quite rolly, and in Petit Byahaut on St. Vincent. Bypassing Wallilabou, which seemed a bit rolly, a short hop north along the leeward coast of St. Vincent brought us to Cumberland Bay.
I had sad memories of this place. While we were anchored here more than five years ago, my husband, Richard, died of a heart attack. (See Letter of the Month in the May 2012 issue of Caribbean Compass at www.caribbeancompass.com/online/may12compass_online.pdf.) I always wanted to come back to these wonderful people who had been so helpful at that time. Now, in company with our son, I took that step.
Just after entering the bay, at about 11:30AM, a small boat came along. The man cried, “Angelika!” I looked at him in astonishment. “You are Atneal?” “Yes, welcome back!” He helped us to put the anchor down and took our lines ashore to tie around a palm tree.
Shortly after, others came to give us a hearty welcome. Josef the Rasta said, “I knew you’d come back one time. It was just two weeks ago when we spoke about you. Nice to have you back in Cumberland.”
I was overwhelmed by our cordial reception. Within half an hour my baskets were overloaded with bananas, mangoes, passionfruits, avocados, eggplants, yams and carrots. Our friends were still here: Riki, who brings the best fruits; William, with bananas; Kiki, with two baskets full of nice passionfruits; Carlos, with handicrafts, and not to forget Josef, who does bush walks. Nothing changed! Except that Caroline, who made jewelry, had gone back to England. We had dinner at Mama Elma’s, which was quite good. The next day Carlos roasted a huge breadfruit for us, and brought it to the boat.
If you ever come to St. Vincent, do visit Cumberland Bay with its cordial and courteous people. If you want to do them a favor, please bring some polyester resin with hardener. Riki asked me to look around for a used rubber dinghy that he could use to better deliver his produce to the boats. I really like a place where you don’t have to run ashore for your veggies — they come to you by boat, and are much fresher and for better priced than in most other places. Don’t miss Cumberland Bay!
From Cumberland Bay we sailed around to Chateaubelair, where we anchored in the northern part of the bay in seven metres. It is very scenic here with palm trees lined up along the shore.
Our goal was to hike up the volcano. In the afternoon we explored the shore, and searched for the path to the top. We found a sign about the track, but noted that the path does not begin at the sign!
The next morning we left Angelos at 7:15AM, taking the dinghy farther north around the corner, and into a small and narrow river outlet. There we fixed the dinghy to the sticks provided. Then we walked along the beach for 30 minutes. At 13°19.044' N, 061°13.572' W we found ourselves at a river mouth, and turned right, up the dry river bed. We walked in the riverbed, following some footprints.
This walk along the dry river is worth doing, even without hiking up the volcano. The bed meanders in sharp, narrow curves; the walls on both sides reach high. On our way, Angelus discovered a hummingbird’s nest with two tiny eggs in it, mounted on a fern. We passed a palm tree growing into the riverbed horizontally, and then making an exact 90-degree angle to grow farther upward.
Shortly after that remarkable palm tree in the middle of the river comes a hill; the river passes on both sides. We saw footprints going up the hill, and followed them. At 13°19.045' N, 061°13.091' W we turned left, up into the forest. There is a nearly invisible sign in the bushes.
From here the path is easy to follow. It goes constantly up. Fortunately we walked in the shade. Sometimes we passed a sign; unfortunately they don‘t have numbers. At “Halfway Point” we took a break. There are some primitive benches made of bamboo to sit on. We should have started an hour earlier!
The path continued along a ridge, with sharp drops on both sides. But the bushes and trees are so high we hardly saw the ground below. Where it is very steep, logs are in place to act as steps.
After three hours we reached the end of the trees. Now we walked in the sun. Trees gave way to ferns and, farther up, to low, dense shrubs. I put one foot in front of another. I walked slowly. My heart was beating hard. I was gasping for air. I realized that I am not in condition any more! Several times I had to sit down and relax for a couple of minutes. Then I get back onto my feet again. The air is thinner up here.
I admired the wild pink orchids. Farther up grows Tibouchina cistoides, a species that grows only here on the volcanic soil. I step and step. “Where is the top? Does this ever end?” And again I sit down gasping for air. Sometimes the air smells sulfuric.
The view is amazing to the south, and to the west, where I can see Chateaubelair and the beach where we left our dinghy. I am alone. It is quiet. Angelus is already gone. There is no wind, no clouds. It is a fantastic day. “How far might it go?” So I get on my feet again, and up I go.
One step, and another, and — I am surprised. In front of me lies the crater. “Wow!” was all I could say. Angelus is sitting at the rim, looking down. The panorama in front of us is enormous. We have the complete mountain range around, and in the middle of the bottom is a volcanic dome. Since the last eruption, in 1979, the vegetation regrew, and all is green. We just sit and enjoy our sandwiches in the view of that panorama. All the strain to come up is forgotten. From leaving our dinghy we took exactly four hours. (Others, I am told, do it in nearly half that.)
After a while we follow the path eastward along the crater rim. Angelus wants to go into the crater. But it is very steep. Suddenly we see a rope to climb down. I quit; I am tired enough. Not so Angelus. He scales down. There is a little freshwater lake inside, and ferns knee deep that scrape his feet. Then he walks back towards the rope, crossing the dome of ashes in the center. But that was a challenge too, because the ash stones are soft, yet sharp as razor blades.
Meanwhile I start slowly back down. I take my time. In three hours I reach the dinghy again. What a day! I am totally exhausted. Tomorrow I will relax while sailing to St. Lucia.
Going up to the volcano, consider there is no water available on the way; the river is dry. However, do not go during or after a heavy rain; the path will be slippery and there is the possibility of flash floods. Angelus went up barefoot, I had sport sandals with a good grip. Although there are youngsters at Chateaubelair who will offer their services, we hiked up the volcano without a guide.
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