Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tales of the Caribbean - Part 2

After working our way northwards from Barbados to the British Virgin Isles, visiting four former British colonies and two French overseas d├ępartements, our ship headed west towards three much larger islands – two former Spanish territories and one former British.

The first of these was the island of Hispaniola, the eastern two-thirds of which comprises the Dominican Republic while Haiti occupies the western part. The capital of the Dominican Republic is the city of Santo Domingo which proudly claims to have been the first permanent city established by European settlers in the Americas. Christopher Columbus visited Hispaniola on his first visit to the Western hemisphere in 1492 and established a small community in what is now Haiti, followed by one further east on the north coast the following year.  But it was his brother Bartholomew who founded what is now called Santo Domingo in 1496 when he led 1300 Spanish settlers to establish a permanent settlement on the south coast. Today Santo Domingo is a vibrant city of approaching 2.5 million people – the largest city in the Caribbean.

Christopher Columbus' statue dominates the main square

Like most Caribbean islands, the Dominican Republic is not a wealthy nation and the contrast between the well-kept squares and buildings in the heart of the old city and the crumbling buildings only a few blocks away is quite dramatic.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Tales of the Caribbean

It's been quite a long time since my last post, but the main reason is that my wife and I have been on a most enjoyable cruise in the Caribbean.

A beach in Barbados
Our cruise started in Barbados, where we spent our first day cruising by catamaran along the coast near Bridgetown, snorkelling with the sea turtles and sting rays (which were harmless) and tiny jellyfish (which were not!) and exploring sunken wrecks. It was a great way to acclimatise!

The mark of the (tiny) jellyfish!
Fortunately the guys on the catamaran had an extremely effective spray which took away all the pain from the jellyfish stings – although the marks remained for almost two weeks!

After leaving Barbados that evening we worked our way northwards through the Windward Isles, stopping at St Vincent, Martinique, Guadaloupe, Montserrat and Tortola (in the British Virgin Isles).

It is sometimes said that once you've been to one Caribbean Island then you've been to them all, but believe me, that could not be further from the truth.

Barbados is, I know from a previous visit, a beautiful and lush island – as is St Vincent.  But whereas Barbados is reputedly the 3rd most developed nation in the Western hemisphere (after the USA and Canada) St Vincent is desperately poor.  Barbados has a stable democratic parliamentary system which, as one Barbadian told me, operates like the British government in that after an election there is an orderly transfer of power to the party gaining the most seats.  In St Vincent, on the other hand, the result of the recent General Election, which was narrowly won by the ruling Unity Labour Party (whose funding comes mainly from Venezuela, Cuba, Libya and Iran!), has been challenged by the opposition New Democratic Party who claim massive vote-rigging was all that enabled the ULP to cling on to power. The new government then passed a law banning such challenges, although that has not stopped the NDP from appealing to higher authority and promising, if necessary, to go all the way to the Privy Council in Britain. It will be interesting to see how it all turns out – although such problems are hardly likely to encourage the investment that the country so desperately needs.