Island-Hop the Eastern Caribbean: Tales of Survivors, Migrants, Revolutionaries and Queens

Island-Hop the Eastern Caribbean: Tales of Survivors, Migrants, Revolutionaries and Queens
To most people, the volcanic islands of Eastern Caribbean are manifestations of paradise, which is the image local tourism boards promote. As one who is hardly interested in the sun and the sea, however, behind these images is a rich legacy of accidental survivors, enigmatic migrants, idealistic revolutionaries, unlikely queens and even Nobel Prize winners from unexpected places.
Since I last wrote from French Guiana, I have been island-hopping around the happy (and less happy) islands of the Eastern Caribbean. From Cayenne, French Guiana, I went to the French overseas departments of Martinique and Guadeloupe, then on to the English speaking independent island states of Dominica, St Lucia, Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada, and the island of Tobago which forms part of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. I shall describe my experiences and thoughts about each of the island.
Martinique and Guadeloupe are overseas departments of France, i.e., they are part of France proper, not mere colonies. They elect the French President and representatives to the French National Assembly. They use the Euro as currency and their maps are depicted on the reverse side of the Euro banknote. As a result of their continuing close association with France, the people of these islands, who are French citizens, enjoy the same social benefits as people in France do. Unlike the English speaking islands whose citizens often have to work abroad (and indeed have diasporas as large or larger than the population in the islands themselves), the only big diaspora of Martiniquais and Guadeloupians are in Paris itself. Both islands also have a much larger population – about 400,000 each compared to the 30,000 in St Kitts and Nevis, 70,000 in Dominica or 280,000 in Barbados. Perhaps an indication of the livability of these islands?
To the visitor, the French islands are also more expensive. Indeed, they are almost at Parisian levels. Not surprising as the French government tries to run these islands as they do in France itself, with similar salary scales and benefits. The roads, airports and general infrastructure of the French islands are also very good, with multiple-lane motorways and modern steel-and-glass airports that give the islanders an authentic taste of what life in modern metropolitan France is all about. In contrast, many of the independent English-speaking islands have narrow winding roads with potholes, or one-storey tin house-type airfields.
One may wonder why the French should support disparate remnants of their formerly much greater empire. For a glimpse of past and present glory so that France may still be a nation where the sun never sets; and that young French can choose to settle and have an adventure in exotic lands under the tricolour? Or is it a responsibility towards the descendants of slaves brought to these faraway lands by the old French plantation aristocracy on whose labour France had in the past prospered and built a great empire? Whatever it is, the burden of more than fifty million people in Metropolitan France supporting a million or so in faraway lands is not too heavy on a per capita basis. Whatever intangible benefits and national prestige so derived probably makes the burden worthwhile.
Unemployment and underemployment rates are high, however, as these are things that one cannot lie in modern capitalism. Many islanders work for the French state and those unemployed live on state provided benefits. Young people sit around with nothing to do, which is a recipe for crime. Indeed, I have been warned while in Martinique and Guadeloupe, not to wander off to certain areas, or if at all at night.
From Fort de France, the modern capital of Martinique, I took a local bus to St Pierre in the north of the island, under the shadows of the perpetually cloud-covered peaks of Mt Pelee. St Pierre was the economic and cultural capital of French West Indies until its destruction by the eruption of Mt Pelee in 1904. More than 30,000 people – most of its inhabitants and people from neighbouring villages who had taken refuge from the preliminary eruptions and volcanic activity - perished, including the Governor of Martinique and his wife, and the United States consul. Only one person present in St Pierre at the time of the massive final eruption survived. Louis-Auguste Sylbaris was a prisoner kept in the cell for drunkenness and was saved by the cell's thick walls. He spent the rest of his life travelling round the world with the Barnum and Bailey Circus as the "Survivor of St Pierre".
Michael looked like a typical blue-eye American boy next door that one saw in Hollywood movies, or alternatively, Eastern European twinky porn flick. His neat crew-cut, bright red Nautica t-shirt and crispy clear pitch English would draw anyone's attention in a quiet café in a sleepy Martinique town like St Pierre, with Mt Pelee the volcano looming in the skies above. Medium height with a slight muscular built gently revealed through the curves and bulges of his t-shirt, slightly sweaty from the humid dampness of the Caribbean sun.
"I may have an American passport but I no longer want it. In 3 years time, a French passport will be mine," he told the two Frenchmen at his table, who were listening to his life story with every attention. "Yes, every Foreign Legionnaire has a story."
So Michael belongs to that elite group of daredevil foreigners in the French Army who brave their lives for the French Republic's overseas adventures, in exotic places such as Chad, Djibouti, Gabon, Togo and le Moyen Congo. Some of them were formerly convicted felons in their home countries, or misfits, rebels and troublemakers of diverse descriptions. Call them mercenaries if you want but still they are a legendary elite group. Whatever their past might have been, once they have served the French state loyally, they became French and entitled to generous pensions after retirement. Based in Kourou, French Guiana, where they guard the Guiana Space Centre, he was now on a short break in Martinique.
Michael added, "My story? I came home early one day, and found my best friend in bed with my girlfriend – on our silky matrimonial bed. What would you have done? I gave him a few punches and – couldn't remember how I did it – but there he went, out of the balcony, three floors down. Half-paralyzed, served him right. I got in for five years, When I came out, I was alone, plus a credit card bill that has rolled over and ballooned to US$750,000 with all sorts of ridiculous penalties," as he told the bewildered audience, now grown to six including me: still the same two at his table, but four others sitting nearby pretending to admire the scenery but actually listening intensely to the most exciting tale in a boring small town.
"And so here I am, for the glory of France."
Just another day in a sleepy town in the Caribbean.
Martinique, they say, is the island of three queens: Josephine, first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte and first Empress of the French, who was born in Martinique; her cousin, Aimee Dubuc de Rivery, who was kidnapped on the sea while returning from studies in France, sold to the Turkish Ottoman sultan, became his favourite wife and mother of the succeeding sultan; and Madame de Maintenon who spent much of her youth in Martinique and later married King Louis XIV of France.
Josephine was, through her daughter, Hortense, the maternal grandmother of Napoleon III, as Hortense married Napoleon's brother, Louis Napoleon. According to Wikipedia, "through her son she was the great-grandmother of the current Swedish and Danish Kings and Queens as well as the last Greek Queen. Further the current reigning houses of Belgium, Norway and Luxemburg descend from her."
She was born in a wealthy family in Martinique, married a man who was meant to marry her sister (who died before a proposed marriage took place), became a widow when her first husband was guillotined during the French Revolution, became the mistress of many an important persons, and finally met and married Napoleon, the first Consul of the Republic. Her good fortune did not last long, for the marriage was stormy and both husband and wife had numerous affairs with others. Napoleon later divorced her because she could produce no heir for him. Even then, she remained his true love, for his last words on his deathbed in St Helena, South Atlantic, were "France, the Army, the Head of the Army, Josephine."
I flew to Guadeloupe from Martinique. I walked around its smallish largest city, Pointe-à-Pitre, also another city full of French cruiseship tourists and young Frenchmen seeking adventure and tropical sun-and-sea in the Republic's far-flung corners. I stayed at Hotel Saint John Perse, so named after the pseudonym of Alexis Léger, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1960, for his evocative poetry. I was less interested in the nearby museum of this great poet, and instead spent time observing the fishmongers of the city's quayside market.
I got onto a local bus across pretty country roads to Basse Terre, the political capital of Guadeloupe where the Regional Council and Palace of Justice stood as monuments to the French state, but not least, next to the riotous colours of the exotic local marche, with bubbly, huge black mamas peddling rhum, cassavas and cute Creole dolls.
I had earlier on come across many Chinese in Cayenne, French Guiana, where they seemed to run most of the shops and restaurants. I tried to find out more about how and why they got there but the few I approached were reluctant to reveal more. They were probably wondering if I was a spy of either the French or the Chinese Governments, or of the press which might end up writing something nasty about them.
In contrast to Guiana, I saw few Chinese in Martinique and Guadeloupe, whether in retail or the restaurant scene. I wondered if this was due to deliberate national or regional government policy, or developmental requirements of individual regions – for instance, French Guiana has a small population and hence desirable to have more foreign immigration.
In Guadeloupe, I spoke to a Chinese shopkeeper and a Chinese restaurant owner. Both were originally from Zhejiang Province, eastern China, which is renowned as one of the most entrepreneurial of the Chinese provinces and whose people are known to travel afar to seek for business opportunities. Both have spent some years in French Guiana before coming to Guadeloupe, and they said that most of the few hundred Chinese in Guadeloupe had also come via Guiana.
Basically, Chinese citizens do not need visas to visit Suriname. Many Chinese went to Suriname and then slipped illegally across Moroni River that forms the lightly patrolled Suriname-French Guiana border. (See my earlier story about the chaotic border scene and how I took trouble to cross that border legally). They ended up in Cayenne, Kourou and other Guiana towns, where they start and run businesses. My guess is that, since the French probably wanted more people to populate sparsely populated Guiana and so kept a blind eye to the growing number of an entrepreneurial race there,
But business has become very competitive in Guiana. After some of these originally illegal Chinese in Guiana eventually obtained French citizenship, they moved to Martinique and Guadeloupe – where there are more tourists and stronger local spending power.
Are Chinese popular locally? I was told that the people of Guadeloupe and Martinique are less welcoming to the Chinese than the people of Guiana. The few Chinese in these two islands are often robbed and spied on. In December 2007, as I was told, a few local youth broke into a newly set up Chinese shop. Failing to find valuables, the angry youth set fire to the Euro 600,000 shop. Not only was the shop burned down, the shop's owner and his family of seven were killed in the fire. Hence, local Chinese are always on guard. This is the life of these Chinese at a faraway, remote corner of the world.
The former British colony of Dominica was next. This small island state of 70,000 inhabitants and 751 sq km is often confused with the much larger Spanish-speaking Caribbean island nation of Dominican Republic. "We are a republic but we have to call ourselves the Commonwealth of Dominica as the word republic was already taken," said Lambert Charles, the eloquent and knowledgeable taxi-driver-guide who picked me up at Canefield Airfield. "The other entities that use the name Commonwealth, such as the British Commonwealth, Commonwealth of Australia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, are much larger federations of states." Nearby is a village called Massacre, after a murderous encounter between British troops and Carib Amerindians in which 80 Caribs were killed in 1674.
We drove along the seaside road to ramshackle but colourful Roseau, capital of Dominica. How tiny the city – actually a mere large village in Asian terms – looked with a large cruiseship moored in the harbor. Security at my hotel, The Garraway, was tight as a summit of the Organisation of Eastern Carribean States (OECS) was being held at Fort Young Hotel across the street, and many of the government leaders attending the conference also stayed at The Garraway. Nevertheless, as there were so few Asians around, the hotel security staff recognised me before long.
I did a half day taxi tour of Dominica with Lambert. I had decided to select him not only because of his encyclopedic knowledge of the island but also because I realized that most Dominican taxi drivers spoke with thick difficult-to-comprehend French-Creole accent which was absent in Lambert's case.
Dominica sells itself as Caribbean's "Nature Island", as the splendor of nature's pristine wonders abound here, be it volcanic peaks of lush greenery (- Dominica has twelve of over twenty Caribbean volcanoes), rare parrots (- the Sisserou parrot is Dominica's national bird and graces its national flag), lizards and snakes, or well conserved corals and "undiscovered" diving spots.
Dominica's tourism industry loves to boost that, if Christopher Columbus returns to the Caribbean today, Dominica would be the only island that he would recognized, for the other islands have all been spoilt by development, be it reckless tourist real estate, or by industrial projects scattered across larger islands such as Cuba and Trinidad. The not-so-positive reading of this slogan is that, Dominica has had so little developments over the years, and its poverty and lack of progress have preserved the island in almost the same state as before. Indeed, many more Dominicans live and work abroad, than in Dominica itself.
The 30% poverty rate, 23% unemployment rate and lack of general development aside, this is a pollution-free land with a most laidback way of life. According to Wikipedia, "Dominica has an incredibly high proportion of centenarians. As of March 2007, there are 22 centenarians out of the island's almost 70,000 inhabitants—three times the average incidence of centenarianism in developed countries."
We hugged narrow winding mountain roads into the interior, visited the Emerald Pool that forms part of the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, which was listed in 1998 as a World Heritage Site. We drove across to the wilder Atlantic side of Dominica, where huge waves beat the sandy shores and where trees are bent almost permanently to one side by the relentless winds.
Along the Atlantic coast, we entered the Carib Territory, a semi-autonomous community of eight villages across 3,700 acres where 3000 Carib Amerindians (Kalinago as they call themselves) live today. This is one of the last remnants of the once powerful tribe who lived across the islands of the Caribbean. Today, the Carib Territory has an elected chief who govern for a term of 5 years, with the aid of an elected council, and attend conferences of indigenous nations around the world.
What a picturesque land with the friendliest people I have encountered in the Caribbean! The Caribs, like other Amerindians of the North and South American Mainland, look almost oriental in facial features. They set up roadside stalls to sell their baskets, bark carvings and artifacts of different kinds, and welcome your browsing without excessive hard selling so common in this part of the world. I visited their main church at the hamlet of Salybia, where a traditional canoe forms the altar, and murals of Carib history and arrival of the Christopher Columbus – the historical reckoning - formed the star of the attraction.
We went northwards, past Melville Hall airfield where Hugo Chavez's Venezuelans were extending the runway, pouring stone and sand into the sea (and according to Lambert, recklessly and needlessly destroying the corals and the environment like Chavez was destroying his country); and then did an inland loop westwards and southwards, passing huge storage installations being built for Venezuela's Petrocaribe initiative, which involves storage of crude oil from Venezuela for distribution to other Caribbean islands. Prime Minister Skerrit, reportedly close to Chavez, has also joined the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, Venezuela's attempt to compete with the United States for international influence. We sped southwards back to Roseau, though not before a few good sunset shots in this country that was a major filming location for the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean" and its sequels. What a wonderful day!
Dominica has the world's youngest head of government. Roosevelt Skerrit was only 31 years old when he became prime minister in 2004 when the then prime minister, Pierre Charles, died in office. According to Wikipedia, "In April 2004 Skerrit established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, severing relations with the Republic of China (Taiwan). As part of the move Beijing agreed to give the country an aid package of over US$100,000,000."
But some grumbled that Skerrit had switched to the Chinese too soon, thus losing out on some cheques the Taiwanese were on the verge of giving the Dominicans. As a Dominican I met was heard complaining, "We hate the way the Chinese are now dictating our foreign policy, and how our government makes statements relating to international affairs. The Chinese are building a huge new National Stadium here thinking that they could get support from the youth but we shall see."
Whatever it is, according to Wikipedia, "a Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES) poll conducted between February 2nd and 5th 2007 found that Prime Minister Skerrit was the most popular leader in the country with 58% of respondents favoring his leadership."
From Dominica, I flew to St Lucia in, thanks to LIAT Airlines, what was a most farcical experience. LIAT, the main inter-island airline of the region, was terribly messed up. I was supposed to fly to St Lucia from Canefield Airport of Dominica at 8am – as indicated on my electronic ticket - but they changed that to departure from the faraway (more than 50km away across narrow winding mountain roads) Meville Hall Airfield at 12:15pm, without informing me. I not only wasted sleep getting up early and wasted time going to the wrong airport but wasted one whole morning of sightseeing time I was supposed to have in St Lucia.
I arrived in St Lucia after 1pm and so had very limited sightseeing time, especially given short operating time of Caribbean attractions. Rushed about and managed to see one of the wonders of the Caribbean, the Piton peaks rising like pyramids straight from the sea, beside the pretty though somewhat picturesquely ramshackle seaside town of Soufriere, which is surrounded by lush green peaks and an active volcano on three sides
One interesting fact about St Lucia was that this tiny island of about 160,000 inhabitants had produced two Nobel laureates, which makes the country one with the highest ratio of Nobel laureate relative to the population size. Sir Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979 for his work on terms of trade in developing economies and Derek Walcott for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. Sir Arthur Lewis was also the first black man to win the Nobel Prize for a category other than peace. Another amazing coincidence is that both were born on 23rd January though not in the same year. Singapore, for all its scholastic excellence and a much greater population, has not even produced a single Nobel laureate.
As I travelled through the Caribbean, I'm becoming fascinated with how the China-Taiwan tug-of-war is affecting politics in this region so faraway from Asia. In 1997, St Lucia switched recognition from Taiwan to China but reversed the decision in April 2007. The Taiwanese are back. I asked hotelier about the period when St Lucia had relations with China. "Instead of investing in value-added businesses here and taking part in our privatization programme, all China did was to bring in many petty businessmen who opened restaurants and mini-marts. The Taiwanese brought their agricultural experts who have introduced new crops that will help our farmers, and they have also sent their education advisors. I prefer them to the Chinese anytime."
Barbados was next. With only 279,000 inhabitants living on an island of 430 sq km, Barbados is a small but prosperous English-speaking island state. The streets of its capital, Bridgetown, were crowded with cruiseship tourists buying anything and everything at the duty free shops. Not far away in the fish market, hawkers were deboning flying fish, one of the nation's favourite staple meats.
Barbados was also one of Britain's earliest colonies in the New World and its black population are very English in their ways, hence the nickname "Little England" for Barbados. In fact, the suburban landscape of Barbados, at least on the stretch from the airport to my guesthouse, looked almost like that of suburban Surrey, with low modern one or two storey houses and small garden plots. The vegetation looked more subtropical than tropical.
Although Barbados has not produced any Nobel laureate like St Lucia did, the island state has succeeded in not only properly educating its population but provided a relatively high standard of living for its inhabitants. The nation is number one among all Latin American and Caribbean nations in the UN Development Programme's human-development index. Worldwide it is ranked 31st. It is also ranked by Transparency International, a corruption watchdog, as the second cleanest in the region, just behind Chile. Barbados also play host to foreign expatriate population. Many nationals of Guyana and other Caribbean nations work in Barbados.
Prosperity has not spared Barbados from the complications of China-Taiwan politics, which tended to involve poor countries where aid from China or Taiwan could sway support from local politicians. During the elections of 15 Jan 2008, a few days before my arrival, Barbados' ruling party of 15 years, the Barbados Labour Party, alleged that the opposition Democratic Labour Party (DLP) had received illicit Taiwanese money and was planning to switch recognition from China if they gained victory in the elections. Despite the allegations, DLP swept to victory, winning 20 out of 30 parliamentary seats. Election posters were still on the walls, and the radio was euphoric about the changes about to take place. It remains to be seen how this would affect Barbados' relations with China, but it is certain that the Caribbean remains a key battleground for both China and Taiwan.
I flew from Barbados to St Vincent, the main island of the independent country of St Vincent and the Grenadines. Joshua Airport of St Vincent is a very small airport typical of the small countries in the region. I left my suitcase at the airport and went downtown to Kingstown, the capital. The smallish capital of this country of 110,000 inhabitants and 389 sq km was completely dead. No shops, cafes or restaurants were open. It was a Sunday and I heard gospel music from many community churches in different corners of the city, which for its predominant downtown architectural style, is known as the "City of Arches".

I walked around the 12 blocks that made up Kingstown's centre. A number of Rastarfarians with long locks wandering around aimlessly, some asking for a dollar while others asked for bread. I didn't feel safe at all, although most of these people were half drunk and probably high from marijuana to do anything. There were some policemen around and they said I could go to KFC which opened at 11am. I went to the Anglican St Georges Cathedral where I chatted to the friendly security watchman for a while. "Nothing to fear about those people. We Vincentians harm nobody. Just ignore those who ask for money," he said.
I went to KFC when it opened and spent 2 hours there, having brunch and finished reading the wonderful book "The State of Africa" by Martin Meredith. A good introduction to part 3 of Odyssey2. Here I have a view of Fort Charlotte, a fortress built by the British on a hilltop. Its guns were pointed towards the interior of St Vincent instead of outwards like most fortresses in the Caribbean. The targeted enemies were the Caribs.
St Vincent was once inhabited by the Black and Yellow Caribs who fought vigorously against colonialisation. The Yellow Caribs were the original Amerindian tribes that once inhabited across the Caribbean. Later African slaves from European plantations who escaped to St Vincent or who were shipwrecked here intermarried with the local Caribs to become the so-called Black Caribs who had a mixture of African and Amerindian traditions. After three decades of courageous resistance, the Caribs were eventually defeated by the British in 1796, and the entire population exiled to the island of Roatan in what is today Honduras, where they formed the basis of the Garifuna race.
Just outside Kingstown central was the site of the new proposed National Library being built by the Taiwanese, or as noted on the huge billboard, "Republic of China on Taiwan". The Taiwanese are also building a huge new international airport to the east of the island. More than a few Vincentians have mentioned this to me, and how critical the new airport is to St Vincent's economic development. It will allow larger planes to land and bring more tourists to an island which has few other viable economic sectors. As the airport will only be completed in 2010, I guess St Vincent would not switch recognition for a few more years.
I took a local bus to the laidback suburb (if there is such a thing called suburb for so small a capital city) of Vila where yachtsmen from all over the world relax and have beer after arriving at its marina. St Vincent has many small islands collectively known as the Grenadines, a few of which are exclusive private resorts of Hollywood stars and the world's rich and famous.
Mustique is the most famous of them all. According to Wikipedia, "The island of Mustique is owned by the Mustique Company, which in turn is owned by the island's home owners. The island has approximately 90 private villas, many of which are available for weekly rentals through the Mustique Company. There are also two privately-owned hotels on the island (The Cotton House and Firefly). Because of its luxury and isolation, Mustique has over the years attracted a number of the rich and famous: Noel Gallagher, Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger, Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Kate Moss, Felix Dennis, James V. Kimsey, David Bowie, Tommy Hilfiger, Robert Worcester, Jonathan and Ryan Marks, Kasia Michalski from Moongate and Sophie Pappalardo Countess of Zembreski."
Here I had coffee at a marina-side café, while logging on wireless on my precious Kohjinsha laptop to upload my photos of St Vincent onto the Odyssey2 blog. Amazing how modern technology has changed the way people travel and write about their travels!
From St Vincent, I flew into Grenada's Point Salines International Airport. In 1983, United States forces, accompanied with token forces from the Eastern Caribbean states, landed here with the stated aim of maintaining law and order and expelling Cuban military forces following the murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and a number of cabinet ministers by a rival faction in government. At Point Salines, which at that time was still an airport under construction by Cuban workers (though financed by British interests), they faced strong resistance from Cuban workers and technicians but soon overcome them.
Grenada gained independence from the UK in 1974, as a constitutional monarchy with Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state, and her represented in Grenada by a local governor-general. Grenada's first prime minister was Sir Eric Gairy, who ruled with an iron arm and authoritarian methods. Externally, he behaved more like a rookie keen on bizarre causes such as the Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) and even gave a speech at the UN General Assembly on the topic.
In 1980, the Marxist-Leninist New Jewel Movement led by Maurice Bishop, a young (31 years old) and charismatic lawyer launched an armed revolution in which Eric Gairy was overthrown. The constitution was suspended but the monarchy and governor-general were retained. Bishop, a man with the gift of carrying the crowd with him, was popular and a natural leader in an era where socialist egalitarianism was popular among the young and idealistic.
To the West's distress, reforms were instituted to align Grenada with the Soviet Bloc and close ties cultivated with the USSR, Cuba and East Germany. Of particular concern to US President Reagan was the new enlarged airport being built by the Cubans at Point Salines, which the Grenadians said was to allow more tourists to visit Grenada, but which the US suspected was to be a future Cuban forward air base in the Atlantic.
In October 1983, Bishop was arrested during a coup by rival factional members of the New Jewel Movement, and following mass demonstrations in support of Bishop, was executed along with his girlfriend and several other members of the cabinet who supported him. The US and its Caribbean allies invaded, supposedly on the request of the imprisoned Governor-General, Sir Paul Scoon, who had not even consulted the Queen, nominally head of state, or Margaret Thatcher, then UK prime minister.
After brief but fierce resistance by Cuban workers, US forces quickly occupied Grenada and arrested the military clique which overthrew and executed Bishop. Although democracy was restored in Grenada within a year, the invasion was criticized as yet another unlawful interference by great powers in small states, in particular, Grenada which today has only 100,000 inhabitants living in an island with surface area 344 sq km.
Even then, the legacy of Bishop remains. "He was a good guy. Those who killed him should have been executed, or stay in prison forever, in line with their sentences," said Leonard, a Grenadian taxi driver, when I asked about the soon-to-be released murderers of Bishop, despite being initially sentenced to death and later had their sentences commuted to life.
I spent a nice day in St George's, capital of Grenada. This was perhaps the most picturesque capital in the Caribbean I have visited so far. Nice old buildings and clean streets on hill tops flanking a sheltered bay which is basically the submerged crater of a dormant volcano. The people were very friendly and cheerful too, despite frequent destructions by hurricanes (last in 2005 - damage still seen everywhere) and the 1983 invasion by the United States.
Interestingly, Grenadian stamps, which are all of denominations much higher than reasonable postal requirements and depicting topics having nothing to do with Grenada, have three combination of country names: Grenada, Grenada Grenadines and Grenada Carriacou and Petit Martinique – obviously an extremely reveneish and money-generating trick. I didn't buy any complete set but sent a few postcards with a combination of stamps with different country names.
Grenada is also the 148th country/polity and 118th UN member I have visited.
I flew into a Trinidad which was getting into Carnival fever, with decorative banners and exotic masqueraders' masks all over the airport. "The World's Greatest Show," the festival slogan read. From here, I flew to Tobago, the smaller of the twin-island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. Of T&T's 1.3 million people, only 50,000 people live in Tobago.
Whilst Trinidad is a mosaic of peoples of African, Indian, Chinese and European descent, each maintaining their original cultural traditions as well as selectively mixing them with aspects of other cultures, Tobago is 90% African. Whilst Trinidad has a hydrocarbon-based and industrialized economy, Tobago is predominantly tourism and agricultural-based. Tobagoians are also more laidback in lifestyle and in their attitude towards life. Their local government, known locally as the Tobago House of Assembly, is symbol of the island's uniqueness, and to some, perhaps a step towards eventual independence from the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
Since the first Europeans arrived in Tobago, the island has changed hands 31 times, sometimes through military conflict and sometimes the result of international treaties or territory exchanges. One of the earliest European nations to colonise Tobago was the Duchy of Courland, a dependency of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which is today's Latvia. (The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was an union of Poland and Lithuania and was once a regional superpower in Central and Eastern European geopolitics.) In other words, Tobago was the colony of a colony.
Courland, which had a population of only 200,000 at that time, ruled Tobago from 1654 to 1659, and on-and-off from 1660 to 1689. Duke Jacob of Courland, an ambitious and mercantile ruler, had tried repeatedly to build a colony with settlers from not only Latvia, but also the Netherlands, England and France, but eventually had to abandon the colony as its fortunes declined. I visited the old site of this colony at what is today known as the Great Courland Bay in Tobago, as well as the many forts built on the island by rival British, Dutch and French colonizers.
After Three weeks of island-hop, now I am, at Tokyo Narita International Airport, on my long journey back to Singapore. I shall stay around for 2 weeks, including day one of the Chinese New Year, after which I will begin the third phase of Odyssey2, to Africa and the Middle East. Till then, Happy Lunar New Year to all!
Best wishes and regards,
Wee Cheng


marlene said…
marlene said…
i was in grenada in 1983/ when the war was going on i was 6mths pregant at the time and i must say thank god that iam alive today and also my baby boy steve and my heart goes out too all the family who lost their love ones on that horrible day
Sam McAm said…
Thank you for taking the time to write! Found you on another site; we are debating between Trinidad and Tobago or Peru for Feb.-April 2013 and your writing is helping on both scores.
Sam in Canada