Windward Islands of Lesser Antilles – Part 1: Barbados and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines

Hello Friends! I’m back. This time I will write of a 3-week journey in the “Windward Islands” of the Lesser Antilles. Namely: Barbados, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, Martinique and Dominica.

I divide it in two different posts, this time you will see Barbados and St. Vincent & the Grenadines and in a few days the other three islands. I put the Map of the Caribbean Sea (from www.arcgis.com/), so you can see where exactly are the islands:


So, the Lesser Antilles are those forming as an arc to the east, toward the Atlantic. The first island I visited was Barbados, the easternmost. From there I went to the archipelago of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and up to Dominica (not Dominican Republic) passing by Saint Lucia and Martinique.

Despite the proximity, each island-nation has its own story, and also from the naturalistic point of view are quite different.

Originally these islands were inhabited by the Arawak. At the turn of the first and second millennium the Caribs replaced them almost completely, making them flee towards north-west. The indigenous were later decimated or completely annihilated by the barbarian European invaders, which anyway for about a century after their arrival did not take in great consideration these islands, being more interested in places with precious metals.

In the 1600s it was instead realized their potential as ideal locations for plantations, especially sugar. They went then under the domination of the European powers, especially Britain and France, with islands bouncing several times under the control of one or the other as a result of battles on site or wars and treaties in the Old Continent. As workforce were brought slaves from Africa.

The history of these islands is also linked to the Piracy in the Caribbean , which developed during the 1600s, when the Spanish had a monopoly on trade with their own colonies in the New World. Being on the route of the Spanish ships returning to Spain from Panama, and being full of bays and coves to hide and escape, were the perfect place for pirates.

The pirates were mostly former British, French and Dutch sailors who escaped in this tropical paradise by the terrible living conditions on their ships and the economic hardship on earth.
Since in the Old Continent their nations were often at war with the Spaniards, they were at beginning tolerated or appreciated at homeland, if not authorized, as the corsairs, that had a “lettre de course” to loot legally. But when even British, French and Dutch developed business interests in these areas, the pirates had no longer any support. So, they became pirates in the real sense, against the whole world.
They began to expand in West Africa, in Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean. In 1700, off of Cape Verde, in Africa, is reported for the first time a pirate flag, the Jolly Roger, which will become a symbol of identity for this sort of trans-national libertarian community.

In 1720, in the heyday, there are about 2,000 pirates who roam the seas of the world, but soon they could not compete with the chilling monotone efficiency of the rising State-nations. In 1723 the pirates are already reduced to a thousand. A few years later are less than two hundred and almost all of the famous pirate captains have been killed in battle or hanged.
A fate well known to the pirates, who were aware were channeled into a dead end. And in fact, more than battles and loots, the undeniable charm of the pirates, then as now, comes from this extreme quest for freedom, from the extraordinary courage of the choice to escape from narrow economic and moral impositions toward the drift of a rebellious and self-destructive existence that mocked all authority, all conventions, and even death.

 

First stop: Barbados, the easternmost island, and for this reason more isolated respect to the others. It is almost 35 km in length and 23 km in width. All around the island runs almost uninterrupted a belt of amazing beaches. The beaches on the west side, toward the Atlantic, are wildest, with a dark blue sea and big waves, popular with surfers. On the south-eastern side, by the Caribbean Sea, the beaches are white and idyllic, with the classic turquoise Caribbean sea.

It was occupied by the British in 1625, and at time, unlike the neighbor islands, there were already not residual populations of indigenous Amerindian people, the few survivors of the incredible ferocity of Europeans had probably escaped elsewhere.
In a few decades the forest that covered the entire island was destroyed to make way for plantations, especially sugar. In recent decades however, as global demand for sugar has declined, the forest is reforming again in the inland areas.
The plantation workers were slaves from West Africa. The integration between the white and black population came fairly quickly, even before the abolition of slavery, thanks especially to several parish schools that from the 1780′s on were accepting the children of the slaves. Already in the first decade of 1800s there were mixed schools, unlike for example the United States, where racial segregation in schools was outlawed only in 1954 (but, you know, that is the country of freedom).
It became independent from the United Kingdom in 1966.

 

As you can see, the bus stops don’t need panels with pictures of palm trees and the sea, such as the ones used to relieve depression in our gray metropolis. They can just leave empty.

 

Orange barber.

 

Barbadians.

 

House.

 

Little girl.

 

Sea Turtle.

 

Mother and daughter.

 

In Kingstown, the capital of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, an archipelago of 32 islands, plus one hundred islets and atolls. Only 7 islands are inhabited. Saint Vincent is the largest island, with about 100,000 inhabitants, of which 25,000 in the capital. The second largest island is Bequia, with about 4000 inhabitants.

The European powers did not immediately conquered the archipelago, both for a certain lack of interest and for the high hostility of the Caribs.
In 1675 a ship of African slaves shipwrecked near Bequia. The survivors intermarried with the local populations of Arawaks and Caribs, creating a new mixed race, the Black Carib, also called ‘Garifuna’. These islands will be also the preferred choice of runaway slaves from neighboring islands.
In 1719 the French were able to settle, and in 1763 came under British rule. In addition to the wars with the French, who managed for some years to regain power, the British had to fight several battles with the indomitable local population that was however defeated definitively in the late 1700s. Most of them were deported as slaves on Roatan, an island off Honduras.
It became independent from the United Kingdom in 1979.

 

People in St.Vincent. As in Jamaica, the Rasta culture is very strong. The official language is English, but the spoken language is a sort of English dialect with Spanish, French, Portuguese, Indigenous and African influences.

 

Young mother.

 

Schoolboys.

 

Several scenes of the film “Pirates of the Caribbean” were filmed at Wallylabu bay of Saint Vincent, as for example the first appearance of Johnny Depp, sinking directly on the pier.

 

The main port of Bequia, the largest island of the archipelago after St. Vincent.

 

A Bequia beach.

 

This bar is the meeting place of the last whalers in the world. In fact, the community of Bequia is one of the 4 communities in the world still allowed to catch whales by the International Whaling Commission. The other three are around the Arctic Circle. It is instead completely illegal the one carried out on a large scale by Japan, with hyper-technological tools and weapons.
It is likely that next year the permit will be revoked forever, since the community does not really need it anymore, being now able to survive by other means, for example tourism. In this moment the hunting is permitted from 1 February to 1 April. They can not catch more than 3 whales for year and can not use technological tools.

 

This fisherman caught the last whale, two years ago.

 

The boat used for hunting is not very big. The crew consists of 7 fishermen. Wen they spot a whale from a hill top, they run to the boat and try to reach it using the sail. To catch the whale, they use an harpoon attached to a long rope that is after twisted around a pylon in the rear of the boat. After an exhausting struggle, they approach the animal and and kill it using another harpoon.

 

Once killed, the whale is brought on that little island and is torn to pieces.

 

These fishermen have caught a shark instead.

 

A Bequia bay.

 

Ok, end of the first part. In one or two weeks I will write about Saint Lucia, Martinique and Dominica. See you soon! :-)

Former Yugoslavia

Hello friends! This time I will tell you a short trip in former Yugoslavia.

The initial plan included also Albania, where I had to arrive by sea from Italy a Friday 17 (June). For Italians that date is the equivalent of the Friday 13, a day of bad luck. And in fact some friends told me that was not the most auspicious day to start a journey, but imagine… a man with a cultural background of enlightenment and rationalism type could only smile with a hint of superiority in front of similar superstitions. Aeeee … happened everything … first of all I did not start my trip that day because I was not able to reach Italy from Malta, where I live since almost three years, for an Italian flight controllers strike announced when some passengers where already sit inside the airplane! OK. Then I took a flight for the next day to Dubrovnik, changing a little bit the initial plan. No more Albania, and from Dubrovnik to Montenegro and then towards Bosnia.

So the next day I flew to Dubrovnik but my backpack didn’t arrive. At the airport assured me that the next morning would come for sure. But it did not. It was spotted in Valencia. So, I had to wait another day. Ok, one more day in Dubrovnik, no problem. The following day the luggage was in Vienna, ready to embark on the Vienna – Dubrovnik and arrive in the early afternoon. In the evening still no news. Marko, the hostel manager of Dubrovnik, a very kind person that from the beginning was helping me with great commitment to track it, after a few phone calls found it again. Now it was in Frankfurt. But for sure, the day after would arrive… At that point, almost like a Buddhist enlightenment I finally realized that at the end in that backpack there were just some shabby shirts, boxer shorts, socks and buying few more in the meanwhile was not so dramatic. So I finally went in Montenegro, but I had to go back after to Dubrovnik just to retrieve my errant backpack, with which I finally reunited after more than six days.
And then, in the return flight… did not arrive! Lost again!!

However, things that can happen. Let’s talk about the journey.
Very very in short, Yugoslavia formed after World War II with the spontaneous union of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, that were before under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to the kingdom of Serbia. Soon after joined also Montenegro. After World War II the kingdom became a socialist republic led by Marshal Tito, who anyway always maintained a strong independence from the Soviet sphere. With the death of Tito’s charismatic figure, in 1980, the problems related to the differences between the various ethnic groups began to grow, together with nationalist sentiments. Eventually, in 1991, Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia declared independence. In 1992, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Shortly after Serbia and Montenegro renamed themselves ‘Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’.
However, within the newly formed nations there were ethnic groups with conflicting interests, in particular the Bosnian Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croats, plus the conflicts between Macedonians and Albanians in Kosovo. So, just few months after, the war broke out, with atrocious crimes carried out by all the parties, including the NATO with the infamous bombing of the civilians of Belgrade on 1999. An action that later the Independent International Commissions sentenced as “illegal but justified”, in the typical schizophrenic and Orwellian language of the Western powers.

 

The splendid Dubrovnik in Croatia, also called Ragusa. It was for many years an independent maritime republic.

 

The port by night.

 

It is possible to walk on the walls that completely encircle the old town.

 

A little bay by night.

 

The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro. It is compared to the Norwegian fjords for the bays enveloped by mountains.

 

Kotor, an amazing town sheltered behind an overhanging rock and surrounded by walls. It was part of the Venetian Republic.

 

Church in Kotor.

 

Little street in Kotor.

 

Perast. It was a loyal city of the Republic of Venice.

 

In the Bay of Kotor there are two churches built on artificial islands.

 

The Mostar bridge, in Herzegovina. The original one was a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture of the sixteenth century and was blown up by Croats during the war. Since it was not on the front line there was no strategic need to destroy it, but it was seen a symbol of the enemy’s culture. It was later rebuilt identically, but being a copy has lost some of its charm.

 

Mostar.

 

A guy fishing by a bridge in Sarajevo, Bosnia.

 

Sarajevo is also called the Jerusalem of Europe because in its center there are side by side mosques, Orthodox churches, Catholic churches and a synagogue. Even in difficult times, such as during the Second World War or the recent war in the 90s, the citizens of Sarajevo remained always in solidarity between them, regardless of the religion professed.

 

Still today many Sarajevo buildings have traces of the bombs thrown from the hills around the city during the siege by the Serbs. At the beginning of the siege the citizens thought it would last a couple of weeks. It lasted nearly four years, from April 1992 to February 1996. The population remained very compact and very few left the city. The food, pretty shoddy, was provided by the UN, which controlled the airport. The water was taken from an underground stream that passes under the town brewery. For the rest it was necessary to make do in all possible ways, but life nonetheless continued and even pubs and theaters were often open.

The main source for these info was Neno, that during the Free Sarajevo Walking Tour told us his childhood memories of the siege.

 

In that corner at the end of the bridge, under the pink building that is now a museum, it was assassinated the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, which led to the First World War. The killer was a Bosnian, Gavrilo Princip, who had joined a Serbian nationalist group pointing to the independence of Bosnia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its annexation to the Kingdom of Serbia (then in a sense, although by devious and unpredictable ways, the attack achieved its purpose). To punish Serbia, where the assassination was planned, Austria declared them war. But Serbia was an ally of Russia, which entered the war causing in turn the intervention of Germany… and so on… fifteen million dead.

 

For the Sarajevo citizens is the ugliest building in the city. It was built when the communist architects thought they had to give some colors to their gray buildings, but without altering the ‘barrack’ structure.

 

In Belgrade, Serbia. The city is full of beautiful wall paintings.

On the bus from Sarajevo to Belgrade I met an Italian guy, Vieri, who is traveling to Thailand doing many traits with his folding bike! You can follow him here: www.facebook.com/BiCicladi/

 

Inside the museum of Tesla, the Serbian genius whose discoveries in the field of electromagnetism had an extraordinary influence that continues today.
This is the radio controlled boat. The experiment was performed in the US in 1898, and people did not believe it. For some it was a kind of magician trick, for others, on opposite, it was Tesla that was moving the boat thanks to telepathic powers. So, anything except that the strange mechanism handled by Tesla was sending invisible rays read by boat on the lake.
 

 The first T-shirt I bought due the lost backpack has the Latin motto of Dubrovnik, in which I also recognize: “Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro”, freedom is not for sale for all the gold in the world.

 

And finally, a little advice: whatever your trusted scientist may say, do not start a journey on Friday 17th! (or Friday 13th in your case).