Bequia’s Gifts

Bequia, the island is so small, that to yachtie’s the main town is widely known as just Bequia. I guess that’s like calling Borth, ‘Wales’. And like other Caribbean islands, the first thing that comes at you on land are dogs. Friendly-looking ones; wagging their tails and smiling, but hungry. Some are mangier than others true, some look quite well-fed. They are all your unofficial tour guides, only they’re happily following you around.

Since we’ve been in Bequia, about four cruise ships have anchored out of the bay. They aren’t the enormous ships; these seem more the bespoke-type of cruise. This is enough to bring out the stalls of crafts lining the town’s main road. Calabash shells, wooden turtle and whale carvings, jewellery. And something else too, unique to Bequia.

Scrimshaw. I do love this word. It’s the weirdest word, no? Scrimshaw is the art of carving onto whale bone. I just looked it up. Scrimshaw the word was first recorded in 1825 and is thought to derive from the English scrimshank, which is to shirk one’s duty. Ha! This word is officially joining Quest. ‘Hey, Lulu stop being a scrimshank!’ ‘Delph! You’re scrimshanking again.’

Sorry, I’m digressing. Bequia was, and still is in fact, a whaling island. This is why carved whale bone still appears for sale in Bequia’s craft stalls.

Whaling is still permitted in Bequia on indigenous grounds. I think the quota at the moment is about four whales a year – mostly humpbacks who come down to calve in the the Caribbean waters. The whales are hand-caught under guidelines for indigenous whaling – with a small boat and harpoon. The islanders aren’t allowed to take calves either, or lactating females.

Not my island. I’ve done a little reading around the matter though and the only thing I’ve discovered is that the term ‘indigenous’ probably doesn’t apply to Bequia since there is no recorded history of the actual indigenous people – the Caribs and the Arawaks, taking whales. Whaling was in fact started by a settler’s family as recently as 1875.

Genetically-speaking, Bequia is definitely distinct. Because of its early, harsh-living conditions (Edward Teach aka Blackbeard reportedly used Admiralty Bay as his favoured base), it’s a mix of Scottish settlers, African and Carib blood. Strong, tough people – with pirates thrown in. The town, officially called Port Elizabeth (I think) is like many small Caribbean towns we’ve seen so far. Except for the added scrimshaw.

Doing all this diving, we haven’t lingered on land unfortunately. For us, it’s been jobs. First stop: the bank. Like other islands, the ATM is a tiny room with amazingly powerful air-conditioning.

After we’ve checked emails and thought of every other possible excuse to stay a little longer, we’ve left the cool air to go food shopping. This is also as suspect as other English-speaking Caribbean island. I’m not saying the food isn’t delicious in Bequia, but the main supermarket for buying it is no temple to your appetite. Saying that, Doris’ s deli, run from her ultra-varnished wooden house, is the craziest Aladdin’s cave exception.

I think the influence of the old-school English approach to food still exists on the whole. We don’t have fancy on show, guys. We’re not French. We did buy steak from a man cutting them on a makeshift table set up outside on the pavement. They were delicious. And the fruit and veg – they’re out of this world. Passion fruit is Caribbean sunshine.

Got to go – no scrimshanking today. Ha! Off to St. Lucia tomorrow. Apparently it’s the only country in the world named after a woman. ❤️ Funnily enough, it’s Lulu’s Island. 

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