Time to thaw out in the sun

Coming events around the islands

Artist Jan Barwick was born in New Zealand, and trained at London’s Hornsey College of Art. She travelled widely in the Pacific and East Africa before coming to the Caribbean, where she lived for nearly 20 years in the Cayman Islands and the British Virgin Islands. Her work has a strong ecological bias, and has been used by clients ranging from the Cayman Islands Tourist Board to British Airways (for one of their tailplane designs). Photograph courtesy Jan BarwickBuccoo goat race, Tobago. Photograph by James QuashieCourtesy Jan Barwick

As dear, departed George Harrison would have sung: “Here comes the sun”, and  a blazing Caribbean welcome to all you frostbitten winter escapees. Time to thaw out, and then, as we say on this side of the water, you can do some “chilling”.

OK, you missed carnival in Trinidad (very early this year), the French Antilles and a few other places, but “Doh frighten” (remember to switch to relax mode). If you’re still in the islands come April, you can jump up carnival-style in Kingston, Jamaica; St Thomas in the USVI; and at Batabano in the Caymans. Or you can weave your way through the Congaline Festival in Barbados.

 

Festivals

If you prefer more elevated forms of entertainment, check out Holders Opera Season mid-March in Barbados. In the past, megastars like Luciano Pavarotti have performed at Holders, which is big on classical music, but also eclectic enough to include samba and salsa.

You can go rootsy at Grenada’s St Patrick’s Fiesta (12-18 March), Anguilla’s Moonsplash all-nighter, and Virgin Gorda’s Jambalaya. Come the end of the month, don’t miss getting colourfully wet at Trinidad’s Hindu Phagwa Festival.

In mid-April you can help bring the sugar cane harvest home in Puerto Rico and join the festival. If you’ve got this far, you could check out the 1940s festival in Cabo Rojo and carnivals in Mavi and Guayama. Then you still have time to fly south for Congaline and the Oistins Fish Festival in Barbados, and go laugh yourself silly at St Lucia’s Comedy Festival, before ensuring you’re in tiny Carriacou in the Grenadines for the second annual Maroon Festival (26-28 April). This is one of the region’s most authentic festivals, celebrating the island’s unique culture and lifestyle, much of it African-derived.

Also in the unique category is Trinidad’s Hosay (30 April). Originally a solemn Shi’ite Moslem occasion, it is now a vibrant street parade powered by tassa drums. If you fancy your cocktail-making skills, try Aruba’s bartenders’ competition.

 

Celebrations

Celebration is as much a part of Caribbean lifestyle as relaxation, and there are some truly unique ways of celebrating. If you’re in Haiti during the run-up to Easter, watch out for the noisy, colourful Rara bands that roam country and city alike hooting down their bamboo vaksins, blowing zinc trumpets and waving flags to the percussive accompaniment of coins on empty bottles.

For the Easter weekend at the end of March, try to head for the penultimate stop on the Antillean chain, tiny Tobago. Of course you’re familiar with horse racing, but what about goat and crab racing? Tobago’s Buccoo goat and crab races, held on Easter Tuesday, have become an international institution.

I remember my first visit when I turned up on the track one Good Friday evening, hoping to get some hot tips. I was still trying to figure out what kind of diminutive jockeys would dare to get on a goat’s back, when I was accosted by an unsteady figure lurching across the deserted racetrack.

Once it was established that I was indeed a goating devotee and he an unofficial commentator, for the inconsiderable price of a beer I was treated to a melodramatic commentary on an imaginary race, all the more thrilling because the favourite I’d picked came bounding in first.

After the excitement of Caribbean Colours winning by a horn from the Carnbee Streak, I noticed two barefoot trainers leading a couple of handsome shoulder-high goats onto the track. We discussed training (apparently sea bathing improves stamina) and diet (everything from malt to molasses), and then a practice run was held. I was still scanning the village horizon for the jockeys when goats and charges took off at a blistering, dust storm pace.

One of the goats veered off course midway, dragging his trainer with him, while the other thundered past the finishing post, his string trailing behind. No saddles for goats’ jockeys, it transpired, just a string to hold on to, and sprint class legs required.

The real races were splendid, with immaculately groomed goats outsprinting their silk-shirted jockeys, and some lively betting trackside. The crab races that followed were an exercise in the Caribbean Theatre of the Absurd, with wily crustaceans scampering for the nearby waves, refusing to budge, or doing the sidewise shuffle.

 

Sports

With so much water around us, you’re never short of a race or regatta. Try the Grenada Yacht Club Race (17 March). In April, the waves positively churn: in the British Virgin Islands for the Spring Regatta and Foxy’s Wooden Boat Race, St Martin’s Heineken Regatta, and for serious sailors, Antigua’s Classic Yacht Race and Sailing Week, now a major fixture on the international yacht racing calendar.

Sports fishermen can start March with Curaçao’s Blue Marlin Competition and Jamaica’s spring marlin event.

On land, in a much less strenuous mode, is Aruba’s dominoes tournament, which runs through March and April, and the thrills of Barbados’s Sandy Lane Gold Cup (2 March), one of the region’s premier horse races.

Feel like running? Try Aruba’s half marathon in March or Puerto Rico’s full Enrique Ramirez Marathon in April.

I’ll be taking my exercise learning the quadrille dance at the Carriacou Maroon Festival. Wet de ring!