We’re heading down to Weymouth for a huge family get together at the weekend – so decided to have a couple of nights in Poole, en route, in order to fit in a day’s coastal walking .. and a ‘U’ for the parkrun alphabet!
Our original plan was to walk 14 miles today but at the last moment we replanned this to an 8 mile walk. To be honest, I am still feeling the after affects of the covid I had 4 weeks ago – can’t believe how long the general lack of energy lingers. This turned out to be a fabulous decision as we both said this had been one of our favourite walks to date. It had everything – hills, woodlands, cliffs, sun, sea and sand, blue skies, pleasant walking conditions, a gentle breeze … and a lovely boat to round it all off.
We left our airbnb at a reasonable time, rather than the crack of dawn, and caught the ‘Purbeck Breeze’ bus to Swanage. We sat upstairs to admire the amazing Dorset countryside views (there’s nothing like it) and we travelled through beautiful places like Wareham (my place of birth), Corfe Castle and Langton Matravers, finally reaching the beautiful seaside town of Swanage.
As we walked along the Swanage promenade we could see a vision of steepness ahead – oh goody! When we reached it there was an initial climbing of steps but after each phase of ascent there was an equal distance of flat. Turned out it was as the guide had suggested – ‘undulating’ … I love that word, I get great satisfaction out of saying it!! Having said that, the final uphill bit was a trifle gruelling but definitely mustn’t grumble as the rest of the day’s walk was a total breeze.
We followed the Purbeck Way along to the stunning spectacle of Old Harry Rocks – quite a crowd today, half-term walkers. One legend said that the devil (Old Harry) slept on these rocks! A bit dodgy getting near to the edge but we were oh so brave.
After a spot of picnic lunch we hit the Studland Woodland path which led us to the fabulous Studland Beach – a sheltered bay with golden sand and beach huts. We couldn’t believe it was the end of October – it could have been a summer’s day. Warm and sunny, so many children playing in the sand, plenty of swimmers – just generally busy. So wished I could have stopped for a swim.
On the way to the beach we had passed “The Pig at Studland” restaurant with rooms – looked fascinating. Would definitely like to try it out one day.
It was a long trek along Studland Beach, passing the notice which informed us of the Nudist section. Being a bit chilly it wasn’t heavily populated – but we did see amongst the sand dunes one chap in a cap, but nothing else, braving the elements.
And so we made it to South Haven Point where we caught the ferry over to Sandbanks which was, as usual, basking in its microclimate sunniness.
From there we hopped onto a ‘Purbeck Breezer’ back into the town of Poole, enjoying the luxury views of Sandbanks and Canford Cliffs on the way. Back to our humble Airbnb which has disco lighting, no heating and a list of rules as long as your arm!
We’ll be up early in the morning to tackle the Upton House parkrun – a ‘U’ for the collection – hopefully it’ll be a breeze.
We woke up on our last full day to find torrential rain and the loudest thunderstorm you’ve ever heard. Any thoughts of a boat trip today went out the window – the sea was unbelievably choppy. We met a hotel guest returning from a fishing trip – soaked to the skin – he didn’t recommend it. By late morning the rain still hadn’t cleared so we were delighted when Mark and Karen messaged to say that they had hired a car – did we want to have a drive around the island with them? Yes please was the answer – beats mooching round a hotel room.
The hire car didn’t have a GPS so we did the best we could with the old fashioned method of ‘map.’ We thought we were heading to Bottom Bay on the East Coast but somehow found ourselves going round in circles inland. Great to see some local Bajun life – plenty of rum bars but not a coffee or snack bar in sight. Finally came across a Chefette and so settled for chicken roti and chicken wings. And then we found a route up to a place called Bathsheba, on the Atlantic coast. The weather was still wild but the views were stunning. We enjoyed watching the young surfers in the huge waves and also a pair of pelicans. (On a recent tour in Bridgetown, we were told that there were no more pelicans in Barbados, even though it’s their National Bird … happy to say we found some)!
Drove on up to a local bar with fabulous views over Bathsheba – would be a perfect spot for a holiday home.
The hours drifted by and so we found we just about had enough time to get back to the SOCO hotel as Ben Waters was going to play at 5.30pm. I had my last night outfit ironed and ready but ended up going straight there in my walking clothes! When we arrived the guys were on the beach watching the baby turtles making their way to the sea. A conservationist lady rescued some to take to the turtle sanctuary as there is such a low rate of survival.
Ben did a fabulous set followed by Mike D’Abo – there was lots of dancing, cocktails, beer and chats with the lovely Rock and Roll crowd. Then it was time for goodbyes (again) and Steve and I caught a ‘packed to the rafters’ reggae bus back to our hotel.
And before we knew it, after two months of being away it was time to fly home. So bye-bye beach, bye-bye Barbados, bye-bye Caribbean – we’ve had the most magical time. I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll be back.
We spent the first few days in Barbados exploring our local area of Oistins Bay. The climate here is much more manageable for walking … and there’s the bonus of pavements. Having a kitchenette in our hotel room has meant that we can continue to self-cater for breakfast and lunch – so a trip to the local Massey Store was one of the first things on our agenda … this brought back wonderful memories of our supermarket shopping days in Choiseul, Saint Lucia (prices unfortunately still crazily high). Apparently Massey is a Trinidadian chain.
We’re only a short walk away from Oistins Bay Fish market with all the wonderful fish cafes and so many pretty beach areas to enjoy too – quite spoilt for choice.
On Thursday we got to meet up with our lovely friends Mark and Karen. Steve has known Mark for over 30 years, through business and they live not far from us in Turweston. We don’t get to meet up often as they run a hugely successful outside catering business and are the hardest workers we know. So it’s a brilliant coincidence that we’re getting to spend some time together in Barbados and hopefully they’ll be able to switch off and relax.
We met up in Bridgetown where we’d booked up to go on a walking tour with Kirsten. So after big hugs and ‘hellos’ (not Kirsten) we were taken on an extremely interesting and informative tour of the old city. We learnt so much about its history, about colonisation, plantations and slavery, various invasions, the Jewish settlers introducing the sugar plantations, British rule, their modern politics and new Republic status and right up to the fact that they have their first female Prime Minister, plus their first President is female too. Yes, come on ladies!! Would thoroughly recommend the tour and our guide, a young history and politics student, was a pure delight. We loved it despite the fact that there were frequent downpours of rain. Mark even had to nip into a shop to buy a dry T-shirt.
And then we tackled the bus station to get a bus back to our hotels. Took a fair bit of working out and waiting – but lots of chatting and banter with the local people helps. Have since got the hang of the transit van buses (or reggae buses) – amazing value, even though a little overcrowded and noisy at times)!!!!
Friday night in these parts means only one thing – the Oistins Bay Garden Fish Fry. Tourists and locals alike gather to feast on amazing fish dishes, listen to music and dance. Mark and Karen joined us as we mixed into the chaotic atmosphere, finally picking a place to eat (so much choice) and enjoying the food, atmosphere and plenty of beer. I had the marlin which was absolutely mouth watering, Steve and Mark had shrimps and Karen enjoyed a fabulous dish of lobster. There were some dance performances on the main stage and we sort of shuffled and swayed at the side .. but I still didn’t get to have a full on boogie (I’d put my sports bra on and everything, thinking I’d be jumping up and down)! I guess being oldies and leaving at 10.00pm it was probably just hotting up!
On Saturday we got to meet up with Ben Waters and his entourage. Ben is a friend from back home, Dorset born and bred – I met him through my brother Phil … and Steve and I are big fans of his music – he played at Steve’s 60th Birthday Party. Ben is one of Europe’s top Rock and Roll pianists and has worked with the Rolling Stones, Chuck Berry, Rod Steward and Jeff Beck. He is also a top bloke and the best of company. As well as performing Ben runs https://www.rocknrollholidays.com/ where he organises amazing holidays at home and abroad – his followers get to spend time with each other, and him, and he performs gigs with other musicians throughout the time they’re away. So we have been lucky enough to meet up with the gang over the last couple of days and listen to some fabulous performances from Jack Daniels and Micky Biggs and we’ve had the best of times in their beautiful hotel setting. We’ve also met Ben’s lovely wife Ruth for the first time. Mark and Karen are part of this group too – it is so funny that we both know Ben from different paths.
But a true highlight was listening to a session by Mike D’Abo who is out here with Ben. Mike was the lead singer for Manfred Mann in its latter format. He had a number one with Bob Dylan’s ‘Mighty Quinn.’ He also wrote ‘Build me up Buttercup’ and “Handbags and Glad Rags’ for Rod Stewart. As soon as he started he was absolutely captivating – a true professional – producing so much emotion in all of us. And we were literally sat on sun beds around the pool with the sun setting – pure magic. We were all up dancing at the end … and as we looked around we saw the kitchen and restaurant staff dancing away in their areas – that will be a very special memory. And he still has the Rocker twinkle in his eye – a lovely man and a real charmer.
On Sunday, we met up with them all for a fabulous lunch at ‘Jake’s’ followed by some beach bar drinks, including Tequila shots, before sensibly managing the beach walk back to their hotel (the SOCO Hotel) before the tide came in – got just a little wet! After a few rounds of cocktails and a set by Mickey Biggs, Steve and I headed off for a reggae bus ride back to our very pink Butterfly Beach Hotel.
So another fabulous few days. Time is running out now but we’ll make the most of every minute that’s left. Had planned to do boat trips and island tours but the weather and ‘rock and roll’ gigs have sort of nicely interfered. Still we’re happy with the great company we’ve had, the relaxation of walking, swimming and simply looking up at blue sky and palm trees. What more could you possibly want. And something tells me we’ll definitely be back – so it’s good to leave things for the next time.
Friday 30th September – Wednesday 5th October 2022
Our last few days in Martinique passed by in relaxation and continued partial confinement (just in case). The weather had taken quite a downward turn – more wind and rain than we’ve had up to now but it has meant that we’ve been able to walk without feeling so drained and scorched. And our spoken French is picking up – it takes a few days to get into the swing. So plenty of ‘bonjours’ as we’re out walking and a few short conversations with staff and other visitors. We are definitely the only English speaking guests here – as there are no direct flights from the UK it would seem that it’s not a popular destination for the Brits. It’s a shame as it’s very pretty, lovely people, fabulous clothes shops and delicious French foods available (still at a price however, although the wine’s more reasonable).
On Friday afternoon we decided to venture into the village for early beers and early dinner (outside only of course). Since our first wander into the fishing village we’ve discovered a whole new beauty about it and it seems a shame that we weren’t able to make full use of it (darned Covid)! But at least we didn’t leave not having appreciated it.
Over a few ‘Lorraine’ beers we got chatting to a German chap who is travelling to all the UN registered countries in the world. He has done 147 already and next on his list is Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan! Strangely enough he was a huge cricket fan, even though cricket is not played in his country, Steve and he naturally conversed on the subject in utter bliss!!
Turned out that the restaurants didn’t open till 7.00pm which meant drinking beer for 3 hours – such punishment. When we did finally eat we seemed to make an unlucky choice as the tuna was tough, bland and generally inedible. Luckily we had a little kitten with us all evening – he ate very well.
Although quiet during the week, at the weekends the beaches become party land for families and friends. Huge tables (posh with white tablecloths) are set up with food and drink and the locals gather to chill or ‘lime,’ On the Saturday we managed to find an uninhabited little stretch of beach and spent a couple of hours on what felt like our own little desert island, swimming, reading, snoozing … that was until a nearby house went into full reggae and 70s disco mode, at unbelievably loud volume, with some fabulous dancing in the garden (Steve edit: The music was loud enough that I was able to Shazam a couple of songs on the beach for future use in the kitchen!). We bobbed along to the rhythm but still didn’t get an invite! They had no idea what they were missing!
On Sunday we fancied some exercise so plumped for an early morning 6 mile walk – out and back on the coast trail. There was shade in parts but jolly hot where there wasn’t … felt so good to be up and out though and good to explore this part of the island that’s been home for the last week.
After the disappointment of the tuna, we enjoyed dining in the last couple of nights – sitting outside on the verandah to enjoy our amazing views and the night skies. It has been such a blessing to have the kitchen this week while I’ve been poorly, as well as my wonderful Chief Cook and bottle washer Steve (lucky I packed him)!
And then it was time to leave Martinique on Monday morning, so we said our ‘au revoirs.’
Woah, we’re going to Barbados, … Woah back to the palm trees
Flying high on Coconut Airways ….. Climbing high, Barbados Sky
Charlie drove us to the airport which turned out to be a more sophisticated operation than we’d imagined. In fact the whole journey from beginning to end was absolutely trouble-free. There were just 8 of us boarding the ‘Air Antilles’ flight to Barbados – thought we might be sitting with the pilot. Took off and landed 20 minutes early and then there was a slick taxi booking service in Barbados, unlike so many countries where you’re bombarded with drivers waiting to rip you off. Before we knew it we were completely unstressed in our Butterfly Beach Hotel in Oistins Bay – a very pink and heavily butterflied hotel on the beach – just as it says on the tin!
Barbados looks like it’s going to be fun. Within an hour of arriving, we’d had a terrific lunch with wine, got to know the restaurant staff, checked out the facilities, lost the hotel key in the sea (fell out of Steve’s pocket) and I got nipped on the ankle by a crab – scared the Bejesus out of Steve with my blood curdling scream! I think they knew we’d arrived.
I keep going to speak in French now so need to adapt back (just so cosmopolitan)! And just about all the guests are English including a touring Cricket Team from Bicester and Oxford. Our hotel is a small family run establishment renowned for its repeat customers – everyone seems so happy and friendly. Steve’s been out running, we’ve walked a fair bit and loads of swimming, both pool and sea. But largely chilling (our new way of life it seems).
Having a really bad weather day today – huge winds and rain, massive waves – so it’s a perfect time to blog.
We have some friends from England due out this week so it could get busy – we’re not bored with each other (honest) but looking forward to some company! Seven days to go before heading back to Blighty – let’s see what Bajun life is all about.
I guess it was absolutely inevitable that within 8 weeks of travelling there would be a few grim days – well they sort of landed on us this week. On Sunday I’d woken up with a sore throat and general grogginess (even put off going to the gym!) but by that night I had gone into full fever mode – shivering and freezing cold one minute, burning up the next. Steve and I hardly slept and unfortunately we had to be up at 4.15am to get the ferry to Martinique – not great timing!! But it had to be done so I just took the pills and managed the journey the very best I could, including a bumpy boat ride, long passport queues and an extremely loud French taxi driver. When we arrived at our hotel in Sainte-Luce we were 3 hours too early for check in (they were not for budging, but did allow us to leave our luggage) … and killing that time in the local village was the hardest bit ever, I was feeling progressively rotten.
I took the opportunity to go to a pharmacy to buy some covid test kits although I think I’d pretty much guessed that this was what I had. I paid the money thinking I was going to be given a box to takeaway but I was then ushered to a room at the back for the test to be done – within minutes it was conclusively positive. After a lecture from the pharmacist (in Franglais) about safe travel I was asked to wait outside the shop for my receipt. I noticed the other assistants had applied their masks now and clearly didn’t want me inside – I felt like a leper – and stood on the pavement in the heat, feeling very sorry for myself.
Steve managed to get some lunch and we were able to check out the local amenities. It’s a simple little fishing village – lots of fruit, fish and things made out of coconuts stalls, local shops, one ‘superette’ and a few restaurants. A lot of places were closed and we realised later that they have the 12-4pm siesta time here. It was an overcast day although still clammy – we definitely weren’t getting the wow factor.
Then finally at 2pm, after an horrendous night, 10 hours of travelling/killing time, whilst suffering my 1st day of Covid, we got to check into our room and I was able to sleep and sleep and sleep!! But not before that “oh what have we done’ feeling, as our accommodation turned out to be somewhat basic! One fortunate thing was that there was a spare sleeping area, curtained off from the main living space – because apparently we’d been given an upgraded ‘shack.’ It’s been perfect for my recovery though – my own little hospital ward!…. and a greater chance for Steve to avoid the lurgy!
The first couple of days continued in a sort of negative fashion. Having resigned ourselves to Covid confinement, I think each little detail about our rooms became a huge deal. After 4 days of bite-free bliss in Rodney Bay, we were back to being repellant-dependant. It turned out that the rooms weren’t due to be cleaned daily – think, after much discussion in our feeble French, we might have persuaded them round on this one!! The towels were threadbare and we had to ask for some beach towels. The only things supplied were one bin bag, one toilet roll, and a small jug of rum and orange – to last us the whole week! This meant that while I was laid up, Steve had to pay another £60 to get a taxi to the nearest big supermarket to stock up on bin bags, toilet rolls, tea bags and enough food to last us the week, as it’s doubtful that we’ll be able to go out to eat. Luckily we do have a kitchen area. What made it even more painful was that we’d just paid £80 for the same taxi driver to bring us here from the airport … he said to Steve “you should have said, we could have stopped on the way) – grrrr!! And, even though our views are to die for, it continued to be dark, cloudy and rainy … it was going to be a long week.
But things always brighten up don’t they, and we should know this from experience. So many times we’ve arrived in places and thought this is horrendous but they turn out to be brilliant. That’s the adventure of budget travelling – I think my being ill had magnified minor issues. It took waking up to blue sky and sunshine on Wednesday to discover that we were actually staying somewhere quite wonderful. We are literally 15 yards from being in the sea and our little stretch of beach is delightful. Steve had been out running (in the rain) over the last couple of days so had familiarised himself with the area a little and as I was feeling a little stronger by then we decided to try a walk. Turns out we are on a fabulous coastal path (trail) and yesterday and today we have been able to venture out on it – walking slowly, building up my strength – not touching anything or anyone!! We have Caribbean beauty at its absolute best – so many pretty secluded beaches, lush forest, magnificent bird life, beach bars and restaurants (desperately hoping I’m well enough for us to sample by the end of the week). We’ve managed 3 and a half miles so far – hoping to add a bit on each day. And swimming too – the sea is amazing.
So, as you can see, not really a whole load to complain about with this lot on our doorstep. I think we’ll manage!
And even though there’s still heavy rain on and off during the day, it’s not at all cold. One of the best things about being confined to barracks is that we have regular hummingbird visits – our verandah has a sweet water feeder designed for them. Some of the other birds try it out but their beaks aren’t long enough. The colour of the hummingbirds and their quick motion is such a spectacle (they are the only birds that can fly backwards) and each visit leaves us in awe.
And the two regular seabirds here seem to be the Frigate Bird which we’d seen in St. Lucia and a new one for us – the Pelican, both pretty prehistoric looking. And boy can they dive bomb where there’s fish involved!
Hopefully we’re over our grumbles now and each day I’m feeling brighter.
“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world … oh yeh.”
It turned out that Presley had brought his ‘friend’ along for our journey up to Rodney Bay – her name was Eunice and she sat in the back with me. I have a feeling that they were a little more than friends. It was Presley’s birthday and he seemed to want to celebrate as we went along …he was particularly chirpy. We’d only got down the road when he pulled up at a local seafood bar for some refreshment. Nothing like a bowl of Octopus Stew to set you on your way!!! Steve was very gallant in eating a bowl of it – I chickened out .. and declined the offer of a fish too – they didn’t look too appetising. A little reluctantly, we joined in the celebration with a beer though … but there was something slightly disconcerting about Presley driving along with a beer in one hand and the other hand on the wheel, going round steep and twisty corners!!!
We drove up the East Coast – this was a part of the island we’d not yet explored. The further north we got the lusher it became and we stopped at some spectacular viewing points, driving through banana plantations and rain forest – everything felt so fresh.
En route we stopped for some sustenance at a roadside stall, famous for its wood-fired oven baked bread and pizza. We were invited inside to watch the preparation and cooking – full credit to the young man – he had the hottest job ever! We feasted on hot bread and cheese, politely refusing the addition of herring.
After three hours of travelling we finally arrived at our destination – The Bay Gardens Resort. We said our goodbyes to Presley and Eunice and they set off to return to the south. What a fabulous choice – the resort is on the beach, the bedrooms are beautiful and have air-conditioning (after 5 weeks without I can’t tell you how amazing that feels) and the pool and poolside bars and restaurants all very fancy. It felt quite a culture shock to be staying somewhere so civilised … and completely devoid of chores!
Wasting no time, we quickly unpacked and headed to the pool and to the beach. At sunset we took up the offer of a complimentary rum punch sitting at the beachside bar. In the first few hours of arriving we’d bought a palm basket and some jewellery from hawkers (we’re rubbish at saying no!) and consumed a whole load of rum punch – all before changing for dinner.
And so the day progressed in that ‘first night of the holiday’ mode – stunning meal of shrimps, lobster, chicken and salad with chilled white wine – having lots of fun with the restaurant staff. An after dinner cocktail turned into three as we ended off the day dancing to a country singer, meeting lots of new friends and flopping into bed in the early hours. Who said we’d missed company!?
And the last few days we’ve really just taken the opportunity to relax. We decided not to do any trips or water sports (1) because we’re saving our pennies for the next islands (2) we just fancied being lazy!! Having said that, Steve has run the last two mornings and I did the hotel Pilates class yesterday, even though I was the only guest to turn up! Loads of swimming too, both in the sea and the pool. And earlier and more sober nights.
There’s plenty of restaurant choice for the evening – we walked along the beach to Spinnakers the 2nd night and enjoyed Red Snapper and Sweet Potato and Coconut Curry. Last night we walked into town for a pizza and there was quite a buzz going on.
Unfortunately I’m feeling under the weather today, sore throat etc. – hoping it won’t last. Plus it’s been heavy rain most of the day so thought I’d attempt to blog. Steve’s been filling the time by watching some cricket on TV … and there’s also a great selection of golden oldies to choose from including ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ , Benny Hill, ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ and ‘On the Buses!’ – what more could you possibly ask for!!!? We have to be up at 4.30am tomorrow to catch the ferry to Martinique … so, it’s packing and an early night for us … here we go again.
And just like that, the house-sitting assignment comes to an end and it’s time for us to move to pastures new. Although parts of the last 5 weeks have been tricky, that can’t be denied, our overall experience has been amazing and one to be remembered for a long long time – for all sorts of reasons!
Last Friday we took the mile wander up the road again, to Roses Bar, with the intention of saying our goodbyes. Turned into a fun session with Brad, Rose and all the chaps – they certainly like a drink and a chat. We introduced Brad to our blog and he loved it – he showed lots of the customers, feeling famous as he was so largely featured. We stayed longer than intended as we were being bought drinks and didn’t want to appear rude. But we tore ourselves away at 6.30pm as it was getting dark and we still had a supermarket shop to do … and that closed at 7.00pm. We did however get talked into going back up for a final beer and goodbye on our final evening here – Wednesday.
Masseys, the supermarket, is across the road from Roses Bar and even getting that far we got pretty wet as the rain had started. We’d just got inside though when the heavens opened and there was an almighty downpour. The metal roofs in these parts certainly alert you to the situation. Feeling a little ‘merry’ after a few beers we were still relaxed about the storm outside, the mile walk home in the dark and the heavy bags we were clearly going to have to carry … it’ll be fine!! Towards the end of our shop, and by miraculous coincidence, we came across a young English couple … these are the first non-local people we have met in the last 5 weeks. So of course we got chatting and exchanged our stories – they really were sweet. They have just moved to live in St. Lucia and are so excited about their adventure. It just happened to come up in conversation that we had no car so they very kindly offered us a lift down to nearer our accommodation – we accepted without hesitation. They dropped us at the top of our lane so we just had a 10 minute squelchy walk down the muddy overgrown path to the house – we were like drowned rats when we got home – I think we even scared the cats!! But we’d had a great couple of hours and now had enough supplies for the rest of our stay.
We’ve had so much rain, thunder and lightning this week – a real tropical storm. There’s always sunshine in between though and things dry up so quickly. We’re still swimming everyday and making sure we enjoy these last few days of having a swimming pool to ourselves – that really has been such a luxury. We’ve even swum in the rain this week – no time to waste! And a couple more after dinner skinny-dipping swims too. I can’t begin to explain the marvel of floating in the dark under the magnificent array of stars, there’s very little light pollution here – that memory will stay with me forever. And because, as many of you will know, we always have music playing, we’ve discovered that late night pool dancing is on another level to kitchen dancing – absolutely magical and hilarious. Thought of all our fellow kitchen-dancers, including Immy!
We had an early rise on Monday, 5.00am, to be able to watch the Queen’s funeral live. My goodness, what a send off, it just couldn’t have been any better, so appropriate and deserved. Thrilled that so many people turned out to show their respects and the pageantry was something else. We couldn’t believe how seven mesmerising hours slipped by … and we’d only had a cup of tea. Betyann was in cleaning that day and watched some of it with us – she was absolutely fascinated. We tried our best to explain who was who and why we did things in such an extraordinary way – like all of us, I don’t think she’ll ever forget the spectacle of how we said goodbye to our beloved Queen Elizabeth II.
On Tuesday we spent quite a few hours making sure everything was ship-shape for the Doc’s return on Wednesday afternoon. It’s been so disappointing for Steve not to have the lawn at its best, due to broken mower, after all the effort he put into it in the first couple of weeks. But inside and out we made sure everything looked marvellous for the homecoming – our job was done. We’ve even managed to keep the cats alive!!!
As the Doc arrived back after a 2 day journey from Upstate New York, we grabbed Presley to drive us up to the bar for our final night beers. Turns out Presley has his own bar just near Roses so we stopped in there for a couple first (there were a lot more females at that one). And then on to Roses. We were given such a lovely farewell – people we hadn’t met before turned up as they’d heard about us and wanted to meet us before we left. A fair few rounds of beers ensued and much much laughter – we will treasure that night always. Presley gave us a lift home and we had a lovely chat with the Doc over dinner and wine.
Oh my goodness, there is SO much we are going to miss about house-sitting in River Doree, Choiseul. The views of the Caribbean Sea at the bottom of the garden and the views of the Pitons as we walk up the road. Picking fresh fruit from the garden and enjoying local foods that are kindly donated by the villagers. The ready smiles and ‘hellos’ from everybody we see. Although we hated it at first, we’ve even grown fond of the night-time jungle noises – so atmospheric. We’ll miss our lovely furry chaps – Tabby and Bebe – they’ve been an absolute joy. The birds too – our increasing number of egrets, the magnificent frigate birds which soar above us each day and the stunning hummingbirds. We’ll certainly miss the swimming pool and the relaxation it’s brought us … and from our sun loungers waving to the British Airways flight as it comes into land around 3.00pm each afternoon. And it’s hard to say goodbye to our new friends – travelling is the best adventure but always brings the sadness of farewells – we will miss seeing Betyann, Paul, Presley, Ian and all the lovely folk at Roses Bar.
And then it was time to say goodbye to the Doc, the house, the pool (after a final swim in the rain) and the cats. Presley is driving us up the East Coast of the island today, stopping off at some sights, on our way to our new home for the next 4 days at Bay Gardens Resort in Rodney Bay. The rain has been pouring all morning – raining tears as we depart this little piece of Paradise.
As is typical of many a holiday, just as the house-sit draws to an end, so we begin to gather new friends and discover new places. This week we’ve been to a different local bar, eaten out, met some more local people, visited a beautiful beach and swam for the first time in the Caribbean Sea.
This all came about as a result of last Friday’s venture up to Roses Bar – there we met Roger (King Charles) who offered to cook a meal for us at his girlfriend’s bar. So this happened on Monday evening – he asked his friend Ian to come and pick us up and it was a short but very uphill drive to Delphia’s bar, which is a roadside hut opposite her family home. Delphia is lovely and it was great not to be the only female – naturally we chatted loads. She works at the local hospital during the day and opens up her bar, mostly for family and friends, on weekend evenings, or at special request like that evening. Roger cooked us the most delicious meal of pork in a sauce, chicken with potato, plantain, a root vegetable of some kind and salad. And there was wine! Ian is Delphia’s uncle and what a good chap he is – he drove us home afterwards, despite the beer consumed.
We’ve grown to know that there are no rules here … and indeed they find it hilarious that the UK has so many ‘dos and don’ts.’ Well, there are laws but they absolutely take no notice of them … even the Police turn a blind eye. Drink and driving being an obvious one. When we were at Roses Bar last weekend, numerous customers drove up in their cars to purchase blood sausages, fitting in a swift double rum before jumping back in their cars and speeding off. And then there’s the bar opening times – they simply open and stay open whenever and for how long as they please. They do have to have a liquor license though, surprisingly!! We mentioned how surprised we were at the lack of smokers … they giggled somewhat and explained that the St. Lucia population grow and smoke their own kind of narcotic … obviously have been hiding that from us – not for sharing!! And definitely not illegal.
It turned out that Ian was on leave from his job with the Electricity Board for a few days so he offered to drive us the following morning to a beach in the next town – Laborie. An incredibly kind offer – he wanted nothing for it … it was like he felt sorry for us being stuck in the house – didn’t like to explain to him how palatial it is, with swimming pool and lots to amuse us. Still, we weren’t going to turn down an offer to explore new places. He turned up in a beautiful Lexus – turns out as a sideline he imports cars from the UK, via Ebay, and he loves this car. He told us that Lucian people will spend all their money on a good car, even it means they can’t eat or afford to pay rent or buy a home. The car is priority apparently and certainly we can see that as we walk around. He said he would pick us up at 9.00am after he’d dropped his son at school.
As I’ve explained before, nothing happens on time here …. at 10.30am we’d given up hope and had just settled by the swimming pool when we hear a beep of the horn and Ian arrives. He was able to squeeze us in after dropping his Mother-in-Law at the hospital and picking her up again. And so we got to Laborie beach which we’d heard about and enjoyed immensely. The sea was incredibly warm and the three of us swam and floated around for an hour, just ‘liming’ as they say!
And as we bobbed around in the incredibly salty warm sea, we got onto the subject of ‘laws’ again … Ian mentioned that because he was busy that morning, he let his 14 year old son drive himself to school … and that wasn’t the first time! Apparently he learnt to drive when he was 7. Although the legal driving age is 18, this is not policed! Neither is the use of crash helmets on the high speed motor bikes and quad bikes being driven.
But the funniest of all was when we were discussing taxes. There apparently is a ‘house tax’ in St. Lucia but the common way around this is to not quite complete the building – this means you are not liable for payment. And so Ian explained that most Lucians will just leave one wall unpainted – priceless!!
On Wednesday we had a day at the house – catching up on chores and Royal News. Just as it was getting dark we had a power cut – all felt a bit scary. Luckily there was still enough light for us to scrabble around and find candles, matches and torches – we had no idea how long it would last. We were able to phone our new friend Ian who confirmed it was the area and not just our house. But, with no fans working, we sat down to a very sweaty dinner in the dark – at least we have a gas oven and the meal was already cooking when the power went.
It was getting pretty unbearable after a couple of hours so we relocated to the verandah and were contemplating a swim to cool down when the electricity suddenly returned. But it was another beautifully starry night and the trees by the pool were bustling with fireflies so we decided to take a dip anyway … and a skinny dip at that! What larks!! So we spent a fabulous hour floating in freedom and looking up at the constellations and fireflies … oh, and the bats that were increasingly dive bombing! It was magical.
And so, the last 5 days have passed with a lot more variety. We’ve had our regular wildlife visitors with a few new ones too …
It’s Friday afternoon and we’re about to take a wander up to Roses Bar for the last time – have a few beers and be home before dark (6.30pm). We have 6 more sleeps now before we head up North and we’re going to make the most of every day.
It will be an early rise for us on Monday in order to catch the Queen’s funeral live – but we would not miss it. Will be thinking of you all back home.
So, just off out to see if we can break a law or two … and feel like we’re really local.
Saturday 3rd September – Sunday 11th September 2022
Our whole world was rocked this week with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, on the afternoon of Thursday 8th September, peacefully in her Scottish residence in Balmoral. I have to start this blog with our small tribute to this absolutely remarkable woman, whose death has left us feeling bereft, like lost children. Thank you for your graciousness and inspirational commitment to your duty, your selflessness and humility always displayed for us all to see and to learn by. We loved you, we were so proud that you were our Queen and we will miss you. There will never be another like you and you will never ever be forgotten. R.I.P. Your Majesty x
So the first part of the week ticked by as usual, with our new little St. Lucian routine of chores and chilling starting to feel like normal life. Now that we have less than two weeks to go in the house, we’re trying to soak up all the amazing views the house and grounds have to offer, and its solitary peacefulness, and to appreciate this whole strange but true experience.
Last Sunday, we went to the Mission Church with Betyann and had a good old sing song. It started off with a rousing rendition of “We shall not be moved … we shall not, we shall not be moved …” etc. We didn’t know many of the other hymns but the words were boldly displayed and it was easy enough to get the gist of the tune, with a fair few “allelujahs” and “amens” thrown in. And we easily fell into the dancing and swaying with the rest of the congregation – loved it. There was a lot more besides – readings, prayers, testimonials and a long long sermon from the Pastor. We chose an appropriate moment to slip out after two and a half hours – we felt we had certainly done our bit.
On Monday, I took a walk down to the beach with Betyann. She goes there regularly for her lunch and to swim and she wanted to convince me that I would love to swim there too. It is pretty, and I loved the short walk but, being pebbly and seaweedy, it doesn’t entice me as much as our pool does.
On the way back, Betyann took me through our neighbouring farm – goats and pigs … it was interesting but not how we would like to see our farm animals kept.
Betyann’s cousin very kindly gave us a breadfruit from his garden. Betyann showed me how to cook it when we got back to the house – we were eating it for the next 4 days – it’s very similar to potato.
On Tuesday, Presley took us out on another drive – this time to Vieux Fort which is near the airport, still in the south of the island. We drove around the town, looking at schools, universities, the Heineken brewery and a race course that was built at great cost and only used once before covid hit, and has now been left to ruins. There is a huge sports stadium too which is currently being used as the hospital as the original hospital burnt down.
We stopped for a while by the beach and Presley introduced us to ‘sea grapes’ growing on the trees. They tasted similar to cherries but smaller and less sweet. Presley said that the children often come to pick them and then sell them in bags on the street to collect money to pay for their school uniform and books. I was wondering about British teenagers being asked to pick blackberries and sell them to contribute to their school costs – can you imagine!!!?
From this same spot, Presley pointed out the Maria islands that are not inhabited by humans but are home to two reptiles not found anywhere else in the world … (1) the St. Lucia racer snake and (2) the St. Lucia Whiptail reptile. That wouldn’t be a great trip for me!
We also made a stop to buy some Johnnycakes – so delicious – similar to doughnuts but less sugar. Ironically, after centuries of sugar plantations, it is currently almost impossible to buy sugar in St. Lucia. A little embarrassing discussing sugar plantations though!
Our last stop before the inevitable supermarket shop was to drive up a very long and incredibly steep hill to see the lighthouse, and the amazing views.
Another sad demise this week was the sit-on lawn mower! Steve had it out for another outing and it ceased to cut. He’s very sad not to have the two acres looking like a cricket field when the Doc returns! By the power of Whatsapp we managed to show the spare part required for the Doc to bring on his return.
Thursday came with the sad news of the Queen and since then we’ve been, with unyielding patience, tuning into BBCiPlayer to watch all the footage … with all sorts of interference and buffering. That and YouTube have helped us so much in feeling closer to home at such a momentous time in our history. Not only the sadness of the Queen but watching and listening to Charles as he ascends the throne.
At times this week, with the bewildering grief, we have felt quite alone – so on Friday late afternoon we thought we’d wander up into the village to see if there was any marking of Her Majesty’s passing. There was no obvious wailing or flag flying but we headed to a local bar we’d noticed called ‘Roses Bar.’ We had no idea what it would be like but we thought it would be a great photo opportunity if nothing else. Well, we made many new friends in that next couple of hours … and yes, they were all so sad about the Queen and fascinated with the thought of Charles for King. There was also lots of cricket and football talk naturally as the customers were predominantly men. This is a completely local bar, not an inch of tourism about it (and that goes for the whole region we’re in) … but they seemed to love us – especially Steve who had them laughing hysterically. “Rose” is the super-friendly lady who owns it and and her fabulously funny son, Brad, runs the bar. So, we met Rose and Brad Brett, Roger Charles (who we crowned King) and Thomson Anthony … we did suggest to them that they have a lot of Christian names for surnames. We met lots of others too, including one poor old chap who fell off his chair – well he had been drinking 80% white rum all afternoon! Very basic and only beer or rum to choose from but the best fun we’d had in ages.
We promised to return the next day as Saturday is their ‘Pork day!!’ Brad kills a pig in a hut by the bar in the morning and then during the day his customers pull up to buy fresh pork, and no doubt have a rum or two at the same time. He also makes ‘blood sausages’ which he raved about and said we would love. In the morning also he sells bowls of pig head soup which is made from the head of the pig from the week before, with vegetables added! We kept our promise and walked up again, in the heat, at about 4.30pm. Luckily all the pig head soup had gone but there were some blood sausages left which Steve bravely sampled … I cowardly declined … it was the name as much as anything!
We made sure we left the bar in time to walk down our lonely lane before dark … and we were rewarded with some stunning sunset views.
And today, Sunday, despite the fact that Steve had had one of those holiday upset tummies during the night, he medicated up and we headed up the lane for 9.30am mass at the Anglican Church – it felt important to pay our respects to Queen Elizabeth. It was a lady priest today and to be honest she was a bit fearsome. She was half an hour late turning up which didn’t get things off to a great start. She did say some words in tribute to the Queen plus a minute’s silence. Then we were asked to sing the National Anthem for the Queen for one last time!! It was slightly odd singing “Long live our noble Queen.” Steve and I boldly sang out … but came unstuck at the next two verses … so just had to listen along with the others. But then the sermon came and she took the opportunity to rant for over an hour about the lack of commitment and financial contributions from the parishioners – reading out all sorts of regulations. It was tedious and uncomfortable and completely irrelevant to us as visitors so we took an opportunity when her back was turned to make an exit. We’d been there for two hours at this point.
Now it’s Monday again which means we have 10 days left before we head up to the North of the island. We’re hoping to visit the local school sometime this week so it will be interesting to meet the children and find out about St.Lucian education.
I would definitely be there laying flowers and visiting the Queen lying in state if we were home – I feel sad not to be able to do that. We are with you all in this national grief, connected by the love of our beloved late Monarch – may she rest in peace.
A quiet week for us pensioner house-sitters – have not been out and about apart from shopping … oh and church on Sunday.
River Doree Grace Church is an Anglican Church in our village and easily walkable. Mass was at 9.30am and we had agreed to meet Betyann outside, so we got there for about 9.15am – it seems that ‘punctual’ is not a word here … most people, including Betyann, wandered in from 9.35am onwards! They were such a welcoming congregation, so much so that the priest at one point asked Steve and I to stand up and introduce ourselves and after some questions we received huge applause. I guess we did stand out a bit! The Anglican service seemed identical to the Catholic mass and so I wandered up to take communion … the priest afterwards confirmed that I was most welcome to receive communion but google seems to disagree! The hymns were all familiar although sung at the highest soprano pitch ever .. we still enjoyed warbling along. A couple of differences to back home (1) when they say ‘Jesus,’ rather than nod their head as we used to do in UK, they do this slight bend of the knee thing (it looks so funny en masse) and (2) t’s very high tech – the readings are done from their mobile phones!
This Sunday the mass starts at 7.00am (it alternates), so we’ve opted to join Betyann for a 10.00am service at the Mission Church. This promises lots of lively singing, dancing and whirling around – right up our street.
As I say, besides this there’s just been a couple of shopping trips. We’ve walked to our local supermarket a few times now – it’s a mile each way so between the heat and the precariousness of roadside walking we only go if essential i.e. milk, bread and wine! We did need more of a major stock up this week though so booked Presley to take us to the larger supermarket in Vieux Fort. Just the taxi fare alone came to £50, besides the substantial cost of the food shopping. Being budget travellers, we really have picked on the wrong part of the world here. I’m not exaggerating in saying that everything is at least double if not three times the prices back home. Which is the reason why, while we’re staying in this remote part of the island, we’re opting to stay home-based, live simply, forego the more active life temporarily (apart from Youtube workouts and aqua aerobics), learn to chill with a book and assume that learnt Lockdown state of spending 24/7 alone. Luckily we love each other’s company but we are social animals too and I think we’ll both admit to wishing we had some others to share this with. Especially in the evenings when we’ve had a glass of wine – there’s a massive kitchen/diner floor and a fabulous juke box and just the two of us to boogie. We’ve jived on the verandah after dinner, we’ve sipped wine at dusk watching the fireflies in the trees, we enjoy gorgeous meals which Steve creates out of local produce, we chat over dinner and play board games … and then it’s still only 7.30pm, so we feel forced into doing battle with the array of TV remote controls!
We do have some visitors. Betyann comes once a week to clean and we manage to pack in a whole load of chatting during that time. Paul the gardener comes twice a week and is lovely but quiet – he has a coffee and then trundles off with his wheelbarrow and machete. We also have Ethan the Egret who particularly loves to play ‘catch me’ games with Steve when he’s on the mower. Then’s there’s Glenda geko and all her many pals (who love to leave little parcels), teeny tiny ants too numerous to mention and the odd frog. Lots of visiting birds too, none of which we recognise, except the hummingbirds. There’s plenty of night wildlife – the fireflies are such a spectacle and there’s a continuous blanket of sound from dusk till dawn – it’s like being in a jungle. Ironically, just as I’m typing (and it’s mid-afternoon), a wild dog, resembling a hyena, has just run through the garden – he looked a bit scary but luckily he ran off when he saw Big Steve!
And of course, we have the two beautiful cats – Tabby and Bebe – to entertain us. Tabby is very old (and fat!), walks very slowly and is prone to coughing … desperately hoping she lasts for the next few weeks.
Steve’s had some England v South Africa cricket to keep him entertained and still manages to tune into the Wycombe football game every Saturday. Feeling so sad at the news of Bill Turnbull’s death this week at the young age of 66 – a wonderful BBC presenter and legendary Wycombe Wanderers’ supporter.
We’ve had a couple of family zooms this week too – so reminiscent of Covid times – maybe we’ll get to quizzing by the end of our stay here. As Alice said, we’ve got plenty of time on our hands to set some quiz questions!
As the days go by we begin to list the things we won’t miss but almost feel guilty suggesting it whilst living in such beauty and lavishness. So thought I’d do it in a praise sandwich, as we do in education and training!!
Things that are marvellous:
Our outdoor shower – absolute love washing in cold water with blue sky or stars overhead.
Fresh mangos for breakfast and fresh limes for my G&T in the evening.
The sit on lawn mower and the two acres of lawn to keep looking splendid.
A perfect temperature swimming pool from early morning.
Things that we won’t miss:
Struggling to dress because constantly sticky (no AC)!!
Lack of company (at times)!!
Expensive wine! … and expensive everything!!
Finishing off on a positive, of course:
Who wouldn’t want to hang out their washing with the view of the Caribbean Sea at the bottom of the garden?
Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by natural colour and beauty in abundance?
Who wouldn’t want sunshine to fill their day?
And a whole host of colour to admire each day, without leaving the garden:
So yes, we are glad we took this house-sitting assignment. Our retirement project was to experience living in different places and cultures and this is certainly one to embrace. Less than three weeks to go here before we move to the north of the island and then on to Martinique and Barbados. We’re pretty mellow right now – it’s 7.45pm, we’ve had dinner, we’ve had wine … I’ve finished the blog and Netflix here we come.
It’s Saturday tomorrow – do you think anyone will come knocking!?