THE CARIBBEAN is many islands, and any one of them could be right for your holiday. But, just as easily, any one of them could be wrong. It depends on whether you want a raucous, jumping holiday, or whether you’re after some sunlit peace and quiet. Here’s something to help you make the right choice: one man’s biased guide to the Caribbean islands — which are best for what, what to do, and what not to do.
How to get there: It’s easy, and probably cheaper than you think. Air Canada operates frequent flights from all major Canadian cities. Sample fares in season (December 16 to April 14): to Jamaica from Toronto, $199; from Winnipeg, $277; and from Vancouver, $349. It costs just a few dollars more — in most cases less than $25 extra — to go on to one of the other islands.
Once down there, you can fly on British West Indies Airways. BWIA operates inter-island service with new Boeing 727s and Avro prop-jets. It is a very safe airline (they’ve never had a fatality), but because it’s short on aircraft they’re often late. Locals call BWIA “But Will It Arrive?” So be sure to check and recheck flight times before leaving your hotel: BWIA once kept me waiting 17 hours, and even longer waits are not uncommon. Perhaps to compensate for its tardiness, though, BWIA offers exotic multiracial stewardesses. Another plus is the island hop: a ticket from, say, Antigua to Trinidad allows you to stop off in Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Barbados and Trinidad, all at no extra cost.
Nicholas Steed's island-hopping holiday guide to where the fun is
Where to go: Jamaica is where the Caribbean begins, and it’s got more of everything than any other island. Larger (148 miles long) and more populous (1,800,000) than the other islands, it has a greater variety of things to do, a vital consideration if you’re the type who finds himself yawning through the second day on the beach. Not that it hasn’t got beaches: Doctor’s Cave Beach at Montego Bay claims, with some justification, to be the world’s most beautiful, and others abound. Scenery is superb — lush tropical vegetation everywhere superimposed on a countryside at times almost English in its pastoral gentleness. And everywhere you go you're in sight of the Blue Mountains running down the island’s centre like a jagged spine.
If you decide on Jamaica, go directly to the north coast. Kingston, the capital, on the south coast, is a sprawling, densely populated city of nearly half a million. It has little to offer the tourist except an excellent chance of being mugged on a dark night.
The north coast is the tourist’s Jamaica, and it’s got just about everything. For the jet set, there are two of the world’s most exclusive hotels: Round Hill, at Montego Bay, and Frenchman’s Cove, owned by Canadian industrialist Garfield Weston, at Port Antonio. Both are in the $l,000-and-up-a-week-per-couple range, but there’s plenty of cheaper accommodation to choose from. Simple but perfectly adequate are Harmony House and Hacton House, both at Montego Bay, with rates in the $ 10-to-$ 15-a-day range. Booking ahead in season (December 16 to April 15) is vital; out of season, it’s stili a good idea.
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THE PLEASURES OF PARADISE continued from page 18
There’s no striptease at Harry’s —the girls walk on naked
In the more luxurious class, Montego Beach Hotel is recommended; about $30 a day per person but almost worth it just for the chance it gives you to meet Juicy Rose, the West Indies' most celebrated barman. Juicy tends the hotel’s beach bar, but in the evening he runs his own place on Harbour St.
At first I was somewhat alarmed at being the only white face there, but once my eyes adjusted to the almost total darkness I realized everyone was far too busy dancing to the appallingly loud jukebox even to notice me. Juicy recommended goat - belly soup followed by curried goal; washed down with lots of cooling beer, it was, well, hot but still delicious. This is the real Jamaica and you should try it at least once: who
knows, you might even go back for more (I did).
After Juicy’s, go to the Cellar on Union Street.
Ask Leon the barman for Tia Maria on the rocks, and dance the ska until dawn — the goat - belly soup will have given you the energy.
Things to do: Snorkeling is excellent everywhere, with no danger from sharks. Hotels advertise that they supply flippers and face masks free to guests; they do, but invariably their equipment is so worn it's useless. Better take your own.
Visit a plantation on a tour. Sounds mundane, but it's actually fascinating.
Worth it just to smell fresh limes and allspice. At Runaway Bay, near Ocho R i o s, plantation owner Jack Lewis will treat you to a drink and a discourse on Jamaican history (Spaniards, pirates, slaves, witchcraft and all) which alone is worth the four dollars you must pay for admission.
Above all, hire a car. Prices start at about $60 a week (no mileage charge) for a small British model, just fine for the twisting, narrow Jamaican roads. From Montego Bay drive to Mandeville or Ocho Rios; that way you’ll see Jamaica. Stop en route and buy shrimp sprinkled with fiery peppers, or Stamp’n Go, the staple native fried-fish fritters, costing just a few' cents, from any roadside vendor. Wash it down with a Red Stripe or two, the excellent local beer, ice-cold from even the most primitive grocery.
A THOUSAND MILES southeast of Jamaica are Trinidad and Tobago, the next most populous of the former British Caribbean islands. Now, these two islands, like Jamaica, are an independent Commonwealth nation.
Trinidad is just nine miles from the South American coast; the island is really just a onetime peninsula since cut off by a thin strip of water. Rather well industrialized, it's a bustling place. The capital. Port of Spain, has the atmosphere of an Indian bazaar; beggars squat along the main shopping streets and everyone is trying to sell something with the maximum amount of noisy bargaining. Beyond that. Trinidad has little to offer the tourist except the Caribbean's most racially mixed — and beautiful — women, and a somewhat raw nightlife.
If you must go far south, and you like dreamy, lush coconut-palm-dotted islands, skip Trinidad and try Tobago. It has lots of coconut trees and a good selection of medium-to-expensive places to stay. One ideal place for getting away from it ail is Arnos Vale, w'here the Beatles once hid out.
Next major island in line northward is Barbados, the first and most populous of the “Little Eight” islands stretching up from Trinidad. On the surface, Barbados is a soft and English type of place, very civilized compared to Trinidad—flat country with silvery beaches and field after field of rather monotonous sugarcane. But underneath its prosaic exterior, Barbados sw'ings.
Bridgetown, the capital, has the Caribbean’s naughtiest nightspot. Harry’s Nitery, The proprietor, Harry, is out more or less permanently on bail, appealing his various convictions for being too naughty. About the only thing the police can't charge him with is overdoing the striptease — the girls simply walk out naked to start with. Anything that happens after that is up to the audience’s whim.
Another jumping place nearby is the Pepperpot. No nudes here, but lots of loud singing, one of the world’s most vulgar emcees, and lots of noise and sw'eat. A regular performer here is Ernie Small, for my money easily the Caribbean’s best jazz and pop trumpet player. One word of warning though: neither show is
exactly what you’d call family entertainment.
Barbados has a good selection of hotels and guest houses covering all price ranges. Sandy Lane and Sam Lord’s Castle are in the superluxury class; more modest but still comfortable are the Ocean View and St. Lawrence, in the $30-a-day class. The Paradise Beach Club hotel and the Blue Waters Beach Hotel are usually packed with young people, mainly Canadian and mainly single girls.
Best place to eat in Barbados is Luigi’s. Naturally enough, it’s not Italian, but Canadian. It’s run with considerable flair by a young Ottawa couple, John and Elese McCuaig. Mrs. McCuaig does all the cooking; her filet mignon melts in your mouth. Highly recommended for local seafood is the Flying Fish, in downtown Bridgetown.
If Barbados is for the swingers, the smaller islands are for those who really want to get away from it all. There are eight of them—Antigua, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Kitt’s, Montserrat, St. Thomas, St. Vincent and Nevis — plus the almost totally undeveloped British Virgin Islands, a cluster of 36 tiny specks in the sea.
Of the “Little Eight,” Antigua is easiest to reach. You can fly there direct by Air Canada; the other islands have to be reached via BWIA. Antigua is a very dry sort of place — scrubby vegetation, parched hills and the world’s scruffiest nanny goats. The island’s greatest asset is its beaches: it is said there are 365 of them, one for every day of the year. All are completely unspoiled and the water brims with every type of exotic fish. There are a couple of nightclubs (which is more than you can say for the other small islands) : the Bucket of Blood, great for watching the locals dance, and the Fallen Angel, a discothèque.
And Antigua has a casino catering to “junkets” — planeloads of American mid-westerners out for a weekend ol excitement and anguish at the tables. The croupiers told me junket gamblers often play for 4<S hours straight, leaving at the last minute to catch the plane home without having seen anything of the island except the gaming room. Hatchet-faced American gangsters, complete with eyeshades and, I suspect, shoulder holsters. glide around the roulette wheels and crap table, while imported New York "party girls” pretend to be maidens in distress at the slot machines. All very colorful if you like that sort of thing.
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THE PLEASURES OF PARADISE continued
They call the bus “Jesus Loves Me”—and I soon learned why
St. John’s, Antigua's capital, has good shopping and the cheapest liquor anywhere. The government knocked the duty off to stop smuggling from nearby French Guadeloupe.
Nelson's Harbor, on the island's other side, is well worth a visit. Millionaires’ yachts now tie up where Nelson’s ships once sailed out to attack the French, but the admiral’s installations are still pretty well intact. Good places to stay: the Antigua Beach, around $20 a day, and the Blue Waters, which caters mainly to young people.
St. Lucia is unquestionably the most beautiful of the get-aw'ay-from-it-all islands. An abundant rainfall gives it a rich green look, and its two famous mountains stand out like an upturned bra amid the lush tropical vegetation. Castries, the capital, has the Caribbean's largest, most modern fire department. The city has burned down several times in the last few decades and they’re not taking any more chances.
It’s a sleepy sort of place; largescale tourism still hasn’t developed, and the whole island gave me the impression that it was still waiting to be discovered. Even today there are lew'er than 250 hotel beds on the w'hole island. An enterprising Cape Breton Island skipper, Walter Boudreau. has built a hotel called Yacht Haven at Marigot Bay, a spectacularly beautiful inlet owned by Montreal businessman Kenneth Patrick. Boudreau runs a yacht-charter service, but if you can’t afford to charter, the swimming and getting-away-from-it-all are still great. Also at Marigot Bay is another Canadian-run hotel, the Marigot des Roseaux, operated by Robert tie Jaeger, a former Montrealer. Highly recommended in Castries is St. Antoine’s, a fine old mansion overlooking the harbor, tastefully converted into a hotel by yet another Canadian couple, Ten and Pat Hedley. Rates here range from $15 a day with breakfast in winter, to less than $10 in the summer offseason.
If you can’t afford to rent a car on St. Lucia (about $60 a w'eck) take one of the native buses. Each has its own name emblazoned on the front; mostly they’re Biblical quotations such as “Our Daily Bread” or names of saints. After spending an afternoon careening around in one called “Jesus Loves Me,” I realized why the bus company feels obliged to invoke the blessing of the Lord. But still, for seeing the island at a cost of a few cents, you can’t complain.
The other small islands—Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat — arc, as yet, even less commercialized. Grenada has one highly rated hotel, the Spice Island Inn. St. Kitts is a Somerset Maugham sort of place where everything revolves around the sugar crop and there’s only one hotel worth the name, the Cockleshell. Nevis has several; the Nisbet Plantation Inn is a charming guest house in a converted old plantation mansion.
As for the British Virgins, they’re exactly that: virgin. Tortola, the main island, has the best hotel, the Long Bay Estate. The islands themselves are completely undeveloped; the roads are so bad that the only means of travel is by Jeep. If you’re prepared to rough it a bit and really want to get away from it all, perhaps the British Virgins will be just what you're looking for, but first try to find a travel agent who’s been there to get up-to-date advice.
One final tip for wherever you go in the Caribbean: change your money into U.S. funds before you leave home. Canadian money only confuses everyone. ★
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