Island hopper (March/April 2006)

What’s happening in the Caribbean in March and April, and where — from sailing to music to cricket to turtle-watching

Illustration by Marlon Griffith

As March begins, the Carnival season ends in Trinidad. At the stroke of midnight on the first of the month — give or take a few hours — Las’ Lap winds down and a populace exhausted by weeks of partying staggers home to bed. Many will attend church services for Ash Wednesday (1 March), the start of the Christian season of Lent, to have a small cross of ashes drawn on their foreheads, indicating repentance for past sins. Many others will head to one of the cool-down fetes held on beaches around the island, a last chance to savour the mad spirit of Carnival (until next year), and take in a nice sea bath at the same time.

March and April are good months for sea lovers, in fact. Boaty types can head to the St Maarten Heineken Regatta (3 to 5 March), hosted by the Sint Maarten Yacht Club. In 2005, the regatta celebrated its 25th anniversary with 255 yachts and thousands of participants. Next, yachties head south to Grenada, for the Round-the-Island Easter Regatta (13 to 17 April). Circumnavigating the Spice Island is an excellent way to take in its magnificent scenery, and the Grenadines are a quick detour away. It’s back north afterwards for Antigua Sailing Week (30 April to 6 May): tall ships, the sun to steer them by, and a reputed 365 beaches to anchor off.

Or maybe you’d like to take in some music. This year the St John Blues Festival (22 to 26 March) in the US Virgin Islands features James Cotton and the James Cotton Blues Band. Strange how the blues don’t sound so sad when you’re sitting feet away from warm turquoise water. You might be swimming in that same water if you find yourself in Nevis that weekend: the annual Nevis to St Kitts cross-channel swim (26 March) is a chance to show off your strokes. It’s about three miles across the Narrows that separate the sister islands.

Easter weekend is celebrated and commemorated in different ways across the Caribbean. Christians attend services on Holy Thursday (13 April), Good Friday (14 April), and Easter Sunday (16 April). In some places kite-flying is traditional at this time of year, because of the strong breezes and clear weather (Easter falls in the dry season for most Caribbean territories): two popular places are the Sea Wall in Georgetown, Guyana, and the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In Tobago, Easter Monday (17 April) is the day for traditional goat-races. Unlike horse-racing, the jockeys don’t ride their (sometimes beribboned) steeds, but run after them. A different kind of sport will be happening at the Cayman Islands International Fishing Tournament (13 to 17 April).

The week after Easter, the thoughts of Caribbean cinephiles will turn to Cuba, where the Festival Internacional del Cine Pobre, or International Non-Budget Film Festival (17 to 23 April) screens dozens of independent and “alternative” films, many made in countries of the developing world, in order to prove that “low budget does not mean films devoid of ideas or artistic quality”.

And April is the start of the cricket season in the Caribbean. With just a year to go before the West Indies hosts the 2007 Cricket World Cup, the world’s eyes will be not just on the games but on the grounds and pitches where the matches will be played, some of which are being refurbished or rebuilt in time for the big event. Cricket fans have two series to look forward to this year. First vistors: Zimbabwe. The first Test starts at the historic Bourda ground in Guyana on 20 April, followed by the second Test at the Queen’s Park Oval in Trinidad from 28 April. Five one day internationals are scheduled for 6 and 7 May in Trinidad, 10 May in St Lucia, and 13 and 14 May in Antigua. India arrives later in the month — see the May/June issue of Caribbean Beat for a full schedule.

Finally, the turtle-nesting season in most of the Caribbean starts in March and runs till September, and in many islands there are conservation groups that help protect the gentle creatures by patrolling beaches and organising turtle-watching tours to raise awareness — like Nature Seekers in Trinidad. Contact the local tourist board for information, and spend a night out under the stars, listening to crashing waves, and witnessing the cycle of life as it turns.