Island Beat (November/December 1998)

What's hot and happening in the islands


Caring for the Caribbean

A new environmental initiative called The Caribbean Cares has been launched to conserve the water used in hotels throughout the Caribbean. In a region where thousands of people have to carry their water home in buckets, sometimes for many miles in the hot sun, it’s worth pausing for thought about the way those of us relaxing in the Caribbean’s countless hotels take this vital resource for granted.

It’s a fact that, on average, one hotel guest uses about 144 gallons of water a day. That’s tens of thousands of gallons per guest, per room, per year. Or, put another way, 144 round trips with a gallon bucket to the nearest standpipe — every day.

The major culprit is your dirty linen. Typically, a single guest room generates 10-12 pounds of laundry per day, requiring over 30 gallons of water to wash your sheets and dirty socks. A 100-room hotel with full occupancy uses 3,000 gallons for laundry alone; that’s over a million gallons a year.

Now, the Caribbean Cares programme is not suggesting you wear your socks till they get up and walk out by themselves, but it is asking that you forego a change of bed linen every day, or make your towels last more than a day. Of course, no hotel worth its salt is going to refuse washing your undies or changing your pillow case if you insist on it. But it’s up to you, the guest, to care enough to encourage hotels in conserving this resource by being more sparing with it.

The more water used by us, the less left in natural habitats. The more we wash our sheets, the more detergent we pour into the rivers and seas. The Caribbean tourism industry depends on these natural splendours for survival. Surveys show that 90% of hotel guests care about the environment. So, tell the maid you want to sleep in the same sheets tomorrow night, too.

Further information on The Caribbean Cares is available by phoning 800-527-1195.

ANTIGUA

Boating paradise

Antigua is rightly known as the sailing capital of the Caribbean. Among the many sailing-orientated events that take place throughout the year, the Nicholson Yacht Show and Marine Fair is one of the biggest, the Caribbean equivalent of the London Boat Show. The show, which runs from December 3 to 9, is primarily aimed at the trade, the yachting agents and brokers, and is the largest charter show in the world. This year, there will be over 145 of the planet’s finest charter yachts on display to over 400 press representatives, charter agents and marine suppliers. It’s tough doing business here: parties on large yachts moored under tropical skies, cocktails, dinners, dancing . . .

What’s up in Antigua . . .

Carib Cup Regatta at Jolly Harbour, November 5-9

Museum of Antigua & Barbuda Christmas Masquerades Exhibition, December  

BARBADOS

Staying a little longer . . .

There’s nothing like a cruise ship pulling into port to galvanise a town. Once quiet streets suddenly fill with noise and souvenir sellers; roads choke with taxi drivers and tour buses drawn to the docks and their fresh-faced cargo. For a few brief hours, disembarked passengers are given whirlwind guided tours; dizzying introductions to the island, local food, craft, clothes, culture. Dollar notes are bandied about as readily as casual conversations. Then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. Back over the gangplank the passengers pour, laden with mementos of their short visit, and away she sails. Normality returns. And that’s just the problem.

Well, it is in Barbados, anyway. The Barbados Tourism Authority (BTA) would like to see cruise ship passengers stay much longer — to become long-stay visitors, in fact. In a recent survey it was discovered that 86% of passengers take a cruise to weigh up the options presented by the various islands as future vacation destinations. But with so many ports of call, and the relatively short, confusing time spent in them, making that decision can be difficult. The longer they stay in one island, the more they’ll see, and the likelier it is they’ll return. At least that’s the idea.

The BTA, in conjunction with Caribbean Dynamics Inc, is to create a database of 50,000 cruise ship passengers from the USA, of whom half will be targeted with special offers and incentives to return to Barbados as long-stay visitors. Those passengers who respond to the questions asked on a red card get the chance to return to Barbados for free. By July this year over 20,000 cards had been collected, with those respondents receiving special-offer certificates and a travel package. The BTA says it is excited by the prospect of being able to gauge the rate of cruise ship passengers converting to long-stay visitors through thoroughly scientific research. Being a guinea pig can be fun then.

What’s up in Barbados. . .

Sir Garfield Sobers Cricket Festival, November

Independence Classic Surfing Championship, November 

United Insurance Barbados Open Golf Tournament, December

Look out for: 

The Barbados Jazz Festival. This year’s festival will pay tribute to those individuals and groups who contributed to the development and survival of the jazz idiom. World-renowned international acts include Kenny G, all time favourite George Benson and the elemental Earth, Wind and Fire. And of course, the top jazz names in the region will not miss this hot annual event. January 13 to 17

BRAZIL

Images of Steel at Bienal

If you’re an art lover, and in Sao Paulo anytime before December 13, you’ll have timed your visit well. The 24th Bienal de Sao Paulo takes place at the Cicillo Matarazzo Pavilion, an immense structure of steel and glass with over 30,000 square metres of exhibition space.

The Bienal is an enormous exhibition of contemporary art. Two years ago the Bienal sold nearly 400,000 tickets during its two-month run. Anyone who’s anybody has been featured at the Bienal de Sao Paulo sometime in the past: Bacon, Chagall, Mondrian, Magritte, Hepworth, Hockney, Pollock, Picasso, Van Gogh . . .

This year’s exhibition doesn’t have a general theme, but has three differing segments drawing on work from Brazil and around the world, including a section featuring Central America and the Caribbean. Some famous names on show include Van Gogh, Bacon, Matisse, Giacometti, Gauguin and Magritte. So you can imagine the delight that Trinidadian photographer Abigail Hadeed is experiencing right now: her work is up there with the best in the world. She was invited to exhibit her work in the Central American and Caribbean section, which is focusing on film and photography.

Hadeed’s passion is the steel pan, and her work on display at the Bienal is a record of the struggle and triumph of pan, its players, and its importance to Trinidadian culture. As she says, there’s much more to pan than poolside serenades and Hollywood movies, and her work exemplifies the spirit of this unique art form. As to her inclusion in the Bienal, Hadeed says she’s elated and tremendously proud to be representing Trinidad and Tobago at one of the world’s great art festivals.

Hadeed’s work, and that of other Caribbean and Central American artists in the Bienal, will also be on show at the Museum of Modern Art in San José, Costa Rica, from February 1999.

For a full rundown on what you can see at this year’s Bienal, try their website at http://www.uol.com.br/bienal/24bienal, or email them on: 24bienal@uol.com.br

CARACAS

The hills are alive

If you are spending any time in Caracas, be sure to check out the El Avila National Park. You can’t miss it: it looms over Caracas, a great spine of mountains separating the city from the sea. The park is criss-crossed by an extensive network of trails for hiking and dirt roads for driving, with ranger stations supplying first aid, refreshments and maps.

There’s a good deal of wildlife to be seen: mammals like the opossum, porcupine, armadillo, tapir, howler monkey and squirrel; reptiles and snakes, including several poisonous species; and over 200 species of birds. The vegetation of Avila National Park varies from exotic humid cloud forests of ferns, palms, orchids and bromeliads, to the dry season forests of hardwood trees like the sandbox whose seed pods are used to make unusual jewellery. In addition to the wildlife are the rivers, waterfalls, castles, coffee plantations, mountain biking, and a cableway to the Humboldt Hotel on the top of El Avila Peak.

The great thing about the park is its accessibility from the city: the entrances are marked at several points along the length of Cota Mil (Boyaca Avenue). If you want to stay in the park overnight you’ll need a permit issued at the INPARQUES office or at ranger stations. You should wear light clothes — dark clothes attract mosquitoes — and high boots if possible because of the danger of snake bites. Most snakes, however, are nocturnal and more frightened of you than you are of them. Happy hiking!

DOMINICA

World-class natural heritage

On August 4 this year, the “nature island” of Dominica joined an elite club. Its Morne Trois Pitons National Park was recognised by UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre as a World Heritage Site — as important a natural site as Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or the Great Barrier Reef.

In the words of Bernd Von Droste, Director of the World Heritage Centre, the inscription of Morne Trois Pitons National Park as a World Heritage Site is “a distinction on a world-wide scale”.

Dominica is only the second Caribbean country to receive such an accolade for a natural site — the other is Belize’s Barrier Reef Reserve. According to UNESCO, Morne Trois Pitons National Park represents an outstanding example of geological and biological diversity.

Morne Trois Pitons means “mountain of three peaks”, and is the remains of a 4,672 ft dormant volcano. The 17,000-acre National Park, a short drive from the capital of Roseau, has been described as “a priceless living laboratory”: it includes some of the tallest mountains in the Caribbean, taller than any in Scotland; lakes, tumbling waterfalls and foaming rivers; pristine rain forest and dazzling flora; and the world’s second largest boiling lake in an area called the Valley of Desolation.

To coincide with the inscription of Morne Trois Pitons as a World Heritage Site, the government of Dominica hosted a conference on UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, attended by delegates from most Caribbean states, the USA and Europe. The conference focused on the World Heritage Convention’s social, biological and economic relevance to the Caribbean, and how to preserve and achieve World Heritage listing for their proposed sites. By signing up to the World Heritage Convention, member countries are able to enlist financial and technical assistance through UNESCO in conserving and sustainably promoting their sites. The Convention advises and helps member countries secure their nominations for the World Heritage List.

If successful with the nomination process, these areas join an elite list of World Heritage Sites — including the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, the Pyramids, Victoria Falls, Venice, and many others not so well known — as being of “outstanding universal value”.

For Caribbean states diversifying into tourism through necessity, having an area declared a World Heritage Site is a tremendous asset. So far, all but six Caribbean states have joined the Convention and have, or are, in the process of submitting sites to the World Heritage List — from St Lucia’s Pitons to Jamaica’s historic Spanish Town.

Director Von Droste held up Dominica as a shining example of a World Heritage Site, praising the country’s foresight. He expressed the hope that all Caribbean countries would soon become signatories to the Convention, eventually joining Dominica on the World Heritage List, preserving humanity’s unique heritage forever.

GUYANA

Faraway twins

A remote Amerindian village school in the steaming heat of Guyana, and a village primary school in sleepy, windy Nottinghamshire in England; worlds apart, you’d think. And they are, of course. But soon they’re going to find out more about each other than they ever dreamed.

The children of Guyana’s Karasabai Primary School and Gamston’s village primary are to be linked together through the work of a non-profit-making British organisation. Led by Ian Chell, the Karasabai Education Project is an expedition to the northern Rupununi region of Guyana where they’ll carry on the work they started at Karasabai’s school during their previous expedition in 1997.

The result of this year’s expedition will be that the children of both schools will begin corresponding: exchanging letters, drawings, and simple artefacts which illustrate their respective lives. Ian Chell and his volunteers hope that it will help the children develop an awareness of different cultures through the building of relationships, rather than just dusty textbooks. Both schools are eagerly waiting for the project to begin.

One of the volunteers paying their own way back to Karasabai is Theresa Morrison from Sheffield. As part of the 42-strong 1997 expedition, she and nine others worked on installing a water-pipe distribution system in Karasabai village and renovating its water pump. They also brought teaching resources, art materials and sports equipment.

Theresa well remembers the children’s difficulties during her first art class in the village school:  “With a shortage of qualified teachers — only four teachers for six schools in the region — Karasabai Primary relies heavily on helpers who know little about teaching methods. The children lent towards learning parrot fashion, rather than developing their own ideas. I asked them to illustrate a poem we had discussed. It proved to be a big problem because the children weren’t used to using their imagination and looked at me blankly. It took a lot of time and patience before they had the confidence to start on their picture. But when I looked closer, I realised that each child was copying the person next to them. Each row had the same picture! Despite my slow start, the art classes proved a great success.

“I never thought I’d see Karasabai again — but now I’m going back again. We all hope that the relationships the children build will survive long after we have said our goodbyes to the people of Karasabai and their beautiful country.”

JAMAICA

Jazz on Bond’s beach

This year’s Jazz and Blues Festival takes place at a beach named after the man with a penchant for dry Martinis, shaken not stirred. James Bond Beach in Oracabessa was where Ian Fleming penned his books on the roguish secret agent, in his house called Goldeneye, 20 minutes from Ocho Rios.

Agent 007 had a licence to thrill, and so does this festival. The third Jazz and Blues Festival, sponsored by Air Jamaica, takes place from November 6 to 8. It features the usual strong line-up of contemporary jazz and blues artists, and this year a solid dose of Jamaican Ska from the Skatalites. Among the artists appearing are George Benson and George Duke — back by demand — and Chaka Khan, Roberta Flack, Earl Klugh, Kool and the Gang, Brian McKnight, and Della Manley from Jamaica.

The format of the festival has now expanded to include a beach party and a triathlon. The former sounds good, but how many of you would be up for the latter after a day on the Red Stripe? After the main stage performances the music continues into the night at various venues.

NEW YORK

Making the links

The issue of race in the Caribbean, especially in more multi-cultural islands, has been dominating much media discussion recently. And it hasn’t been very positive. So it’s something of a relief when race is highlighted favourably.

Caribbean Heritage Alliances (CHA), an organisation based in New York seeking to build cultural bridges, is holding its third Caribbean Heritage Awards under the theme of Race Relations: Towards Greater Understanding. The awards aim to bring people together across cultural divides while showcasing our Caribbean heritage.

Thirty people and organisations are being recognised for their outstanding contributions to society and personal achievements. Among the awards they’ll be receiving are those named after Toussaint L’Ouverture, José Marti, Dr Cheddi Jagan, Sir Learie Constantine, and Bob Marley.

Those nominated this year include businessmen, politicians, sports stars, writers and singers: among them Jamaica’s World Cup footballers, The Reggae Boyz; Haitian-born Wyclef Jean of the Grammy-winning US band, the Fugees; and Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister, Basdeo Panday. Honorary awards are proposed for two special South Africans: yes, Nelson Mandela, and the queen of African song, Miriam Makeba.

You can catch the Caribbean Heritage Awards at the Brooklyn Centre for Performing Arts, or on NBC TV, on December 16.

ST LUCIA

LOOK OUT FOR: 

International Food Fair, featuring the cuisine of all the peoples who settled in St Lucia. Sample African and Cuban food; Indian, Chinese and Syrian, too, at the National Cultural Centre, Castries. November

Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. Each December some 2,000 yachts cross the 2,700 miles of the Atlantic from Gran Canaria, Las Palmas, to St Lucia’s Rodney Bay Marina in Gros Islet. Lots of on-shore entertainment, as well. Quite a sight. Quite a welcome. December 8-19

TOBAGO

Come back Mr Jenyns

Visitors to Tobago who enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the forested Main Ridge should thank a man called Jenyns.

Tobago’s Main Ridge has the oldest legally protected forest reserve of its kind in the world, more than two centuries old. In Olde England, royal landowners were accustomed to reserving large areas of land and their wildlife for the purpose of hunting; but Tobago’s Forest Reserve was the first forest to be legally protected to preserve the watershed.

Soame Jenyns was the Member of Parliament for Cambridge in England and one of the Lord’s Commissioners for Trade and Plantations, the organisation responsible for settling Tobago after the French ceded the island to England in 1763. A scientist called Stephen Hales explained to him the intimate relationship between trees and rainfall. Jenyns was horrified by reports of the destruction of Tobago’s forest by planters who were replacing forest with sugarcane, and he declared all the area now known as the Main Ridge Reserve as Crown Reserve. It was originally 10,000 acres; another 4,000 acres were later added.

When Jenyns brought his legislation to parliament, he was strongly opposed by colleagues who were planters. He eventually persuaded them that if the forests disappeared, Tobago would become a desert. In 1776, 11 years after he first made his case, the ordinance was signed by the Governor, Sir William Young. It says in part: “Did also in pursuance of your said Instructions remove to Your Majesty a tract of Wood Land lying in the interior and most hilly parts of this island for the purpose of attracting frequent Showers of Rain upon which Fertility of Lands in these Climates doth entirely depend.”

TRINIDAD

Christmas in Spanish

Parang has been famous in Trinidad for two hundred years. It’s the country’s traditional Christmas music, introduced during the island’s days as a Spanish colony. Parang is often still sung in Spanish to the accompaniment of acoustic guitars, cuatros — like miniature guitars — and mandolins. There are no electric instruments; they’re just not needed. The Latin rhythms generated by the parang bands are stunning, spiced up by African-style call-and-response arrangements. Christmas songs with a difference. Unfortunately, the parang season only runs for the last two months of the year. For eight weeks you’ll come across parang bands everywhere, instantly drawing crowds wherever they set up. Then, as soon as the holiday season is over, they’re gone again, not be seen again till next November. Tradition overcoming commercialism, and at Christmas, too. That’s the magic of parang.

Among the most popular bands are the Lara Brothers, from the same town of Santa Cruz as their famous cricketing namesake, Brian. There are about 14 band members, usually crowded together on a tiny stage; a blur of strumming hands, picking fingers and energetic harmonies. Whatever their average age — there’s a lot of grey hair in this band — most of us would be more than happy to have half their energy, however old we are. You’ll find the Lara Brothers popping up all over the place this Christmas season, and many other good bands, too.

What’s up in Trinidad . . .

Annual Christmas Parade, November 

Pan Jazz Series, November 

Parang and Chutney Show, D’Triangle Entertainment Centre, Aranguez, November 

Gold Cup, Arima Race Club, December 19   

GRENADA

More parang

Parang is also very popular in the Grenadian dependencies of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. The annual Carriacou Parang Festival has become a major event on these two small islands, drawing performers from across the region. This year’s festival runs from December 18 to 20. If you are in Grenada this Christmas, check out the festival; it’s as lively and different a start to Christmas as you could wish for.

What’s up in Grenada . . .

Clarkes Courts Extempore Competition, November 7

End of Hurricane Season Yacht Race, November 29  

Homesick TV

JamRock Cultural Productions, a Jamaican television company, is bringing a programme to US television screens guaranteed to satisfy homesick West Indians. Called Lifestyles of the Caribbean, it started as a programme broadcasting to residents of South Florida, but has since gone national, bringing a taste of Caribbean living to over 70 million households.

The one-hour magazine programme portrays the people, places and culture of the Caribbean from a Caribbean perspective. It includes the arts, books, music, CD releases and special features. Possibly the only TV programme produced in the region for an overseas market, Lifestyles of the Caribbean can now be seen on the VH1 Cable Network every Saturday morning between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. in the continental USA and the Caribbean. In Canada, it follows the David Letterman show on Friday nights at 12.35 a.m. Check it out.