Letter 3 from Alex: “10 years for Gaia” in the Caribbean island of St. Vincent
St Vincent Update 2a
The Windward Side
This issue will be a short intermediate issue. It will be about the trip we took to the windward side of the island last week. There will be a longer issue coming soon about our food production.
Most of the life on the island is along the coast. Because of this, the island is divided into two sides. The school is on the west, or leeward side, as far north as the road goes. Last week we went to the east side, windward. We went to sign schools up for a tree planting competition called the treelympics, you can see about it at www.treelympics.org. It is very easy to sign the schools up, and we could have done it over the phone, but we used it as an excuse to go on a little vacation.
There is no road across the island, so we had to travel south into Kingstown then north again on the leeward side. We left on Monday morning; since other people from school needed to go to town we took a cab to Kingstown. There we met a friend of the school who drove us to the northern part of the island. Driving north I noticed differences right away. The ocean had actual waves; they don’t call it windward for no reason. Our side of the island is protected, so the ocean is like a large swimming pool. The windward side has beaches that look much more like beaches on the ocean. Also, there are some areas with flat land between the ocean and mountains. On the leeward side there are just mountains right next to the ocean. Finally it seemed as though the people on the windward side had more money. Maybe it was because we were in larger towns, but it seemed like the houses were larger, and people were employed in more than fishing and drinking.
To sign up the schools we split into teams and went to different schools. My partner, Berry, and I were dropped off in Sandy Bay. The other teams were dropped off farther north in Owia and Fancy. After we signed up the two schools in Sandy Bay we got a ride on a truck hauling dirt and went to Owia where we were to spend the night.
We camped that night at the Owia Salt Pond. This is an area on the ocean where a natural barrier of rocks has formed a calm pond, which is quite deep, 15 ft in some areas. As you walk down to the salt pond you first see a large wall of rocks about 75 ft out in the ocean. Along two sides running from the beach to the rock wall are shorter walls of rock, sticking out just above the water level. The ocean comes crashing into the rocks, and then trickles into the salt pond. It was great entertainment to sit and watch the fierce ocean batter the rocks, only to get stopped, and run slowly back into the ocean and pond. We sat there for a long time in the late afternoon and evening.
The next morning we headed back out to sign up schools. Because there isn’t much transportation that far north we had to hitch on the back of a pickup. The group that was inside the pickup didn’t let the driver know where we were going so we went too far; Berry and I had to hitch back the other way. The person who picked us up was very nice, he drove us 20 or 30 minutes out of his way; all the way up to the school in Tourama, near Orange Hill. This was one of the nicest schools we went to. It was up in the hills; a little ways away from the town. It had a large yard where the kids could go play. Many of the schools here have large open spaces, but they all have been filled in by concrete. I feel so sorry when I see the green on this lush island, and then watch the kids running around on concrete.
From Tourama we got rides past Georgetown to Colonarie, which is pronounced “connery”. The primary and secondary schools are next to each other, and share a large yard for the students. This made it easy to sign up both schools. Although we ran into another problem that some of these schools have: slow internet. At the primary school it took us about 30 minutes to fill in two short forms online. We actually gave up on the second form, because the internet was going on and off too much. We completed it once we got back to Richmond.
Then we headed up to the village of Byera to the Pamulus Burke Primary School. This was a picturesque village on the bank of a river. We got dropped off along the main road at the bottom of the village, and of course the school was at the top of the village. From Byera we rushed back to Georgetown to get to one last school on our day’s list, but it had already been done by another team. The schools, and many businesses, close at 3 pm, so there is a very short time to get things done.
As we got off the bus in Georgetown we ran into Esther; a member of the one month team we had worked with when we first arrived in St Vincent. Prior to our trip we tried to contact her, but were unable to, so it was destiny that we got off one bus and she got off the one that was coming just behind. We enjoyed catching up as we did some errands and made our way to the church we were to spend the night at.
Wednesday was a very long day; we only had three schools left, but they were all inland. St Vincent has a main road that runs along both coasts of the island. There are many public vans and ways to hitchhike along these main roads. The roads that go inland have fewer people travelling along them, and public transportation doesn’t reach all areas. Also, the towns are more rural, so many towns are larger in size than those on the coast, but less densely packed.
In the morning we took a van south from Georgetown, and then hitched to our first school, Lauders Primary. After getting them signed up we got a ride to our next school in Greggs. But we got dropped off at the old school which hadn’t been open for years, so we had to walk through the whole town to get to the new school, and of course the principal wasn’t there that morning so we had to make arrangements to come back. However we did find out how to get to the other school we had to visit, which sounded like, and was in fact, hard to get to.
We got a public van that took us up and over a hill and along the ridge of a valley. It dropped us off at a deserted intersection on the ridge. We were told to walk over a small hill and then down into another valley. It was a weird experience; there we were, tourists, on a tropical island, in the middle of nowhere searching for a school and town that may or may not be there. Well, we walked up the hill and immediately got tired when we saw how far down in the valley the town was, it was two or three miles by road. There wasn’t anything, no cars, no people, just an old house. Luckily, someone just happened to come by as we were hemming and hawing. He knew a short cut down to the town. It was a nice walk; it was off the road, on a trail. I felt a little like a missionary trying to reach some remote village in the amazon, not knowing if I will have a friendly welcome, or be eaten by the villagers (ok, so it wasn’t that bad). Actually our guide was very nice, and picked us some plums; which we enjoyed for lunch. We eventually made it to the village of Simon, and the school there. We had to wait thirty minutes or so. During this time we enjoyed relaxing, but were also fretting the long walk back up out of the valley. We looked for cars passing by, but only saw one going the wrong way. Indeed after we got the school signed up, and got more plums from the principal, we had to walk back up the valley. We saw a couple more cars going the wrong way. Finally, when we got near the top a car came by and gave us a lift the rest of the way to the top of the hill. It was only a short ride, but they were our heroes that day.
We had to walk along the main road on the ridge for a while before we got a ride. It wasn’t a bad walk though because it was flat and we looked down into a valley that was very lush and beautiful. This is the area of the island they call Mesopotamia because it is so fertile. We were also more relaxed because we only had one school left on our list for the week, and we knew where it was. One of the hardest parts of our project was finding the schools when we only know the name of the school, not the town it is in.
After signing up the final school we went back to Georgetown and met up with the rest of our team. We spent the afternoon at Esther’s house. She has a very nice home. Like most homes here it is smaller than most homes in the U.S., but it was plenty big enough to live in. She also a great garden; her whole yard was planted. She claimed that she didn’t know much about gardening when she was at Richmond Vale, but she obviously knew some. The garden was very healthy. And she had many fruits and vegetables growing in an area that probably wasn’t even 100 ft2.
Since all of the teams had finished signing up the schools we decided to go to the Falls of Baleine on Thursday. The falls are located at the north end of the island, and the easiest way to get there is by boat. We got rides up to Owia, and took a boat from there. The falls were beautiful; they fall about 60 ft. We were able to swim in the pool under the falls where we got great views of the water coming over the edge. This is probably the best waterfall on the island, and well worth the trip to get there.
When we got back to Owia we took a van all the way to the southern end of the island to Villa. There we camped in the garden of friends of the school, Empress and Yakob. They had the garden going very well, although much of it was still being set up. They are part of the local Rastafarian movement, and they want to use the garden as a teaching tool. Their plan is to create a well maintained garden and farm, and to have a building where they can teach the community about environmental issues. Villa is one of the two tourist areas on the island. It is crowded and very busy. The garden is very near the tourist area. I think it will be good for the community to have somewhere to learn about environmental issues, and to show the tourists that Vincentians are also thinking about these issues.
Our trip was long and tiring, but it was also very worthwhile. Along with getting the schools signed up for tree-planting, we were able to really explore many parts of the island. We also met many people and got a better understanding of how they live. Everyone we met was very friendly and many went out of their way to help us. (Except for the person in the truck who yelled, “Take a bus!” to us when we were trying to hitchhike).