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  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
    Bill Harrigan
    From the air St. Vincent looks like a giant emerald rising from the bluest water you’ve ever seen. Our first evening there we just relaxed and had dinner on the beach at Young Island. God, did we eat. The fruits and vegetables are nearly all grown on St. Vincent. And the seafood…like I said, God did we eat.
    The next morning, though, we burned off a lot of calories sightseeing, SVG-style. We hiked the Vermont Nature Trail first. Remote and pristine, it was like another planet. For nearly two miles we traipsed deep into a rain forest preserve of more than 10,000 acres, where the only sounds are the calls of exotic birds, including the indigenous St. Vincent parrot. Our guide pointed out interesting flora and fauna we would have otherwise missed, such as the baffle tree that sheds a downy material that was used to stuff mattresses and pillows in the old days.
    Our tour then took us through Fort Charlotte, which overlooks Kingstown. It was built at the end of the eighteenth century to protect the harbor. The fort houses a fascinating pictorial history of St. Vincent. From there we visited the Botanical Gardens, the oldest in the western hemisphere, established in 1765. My first thought was boring, but the guides bought the place alive.
    We finished up the tour with a mountain bike ride, starting on the outskirts of Kingstown and ending in the countryside. You should see the fruit trees growing along the roads—mangos, coconuts, breadfruit, bananas and plums are everywhere.
    After that, we caught the evening ferry to Bequia. The ferries in SVG are inexpensive and run on time, so they are a the best way to travel between islands. We had an easy trip and made it to Bequia in time for dinner.
    The next morning we headed to Pigeon Island for a dive. The dive operators really make it easy for you in SVG. They’re all smaller operations with personal service and knowledgeable divemasters, so we never dived with crowds. We never had any strong currents either, but about half of our dives were drift dives where we rode a gentle current while the boat trailed along behind us. On Pigeon Island, for instance, we started in the calm water behind the lee of the island and swam along a nice coral reef teeming with French Grunts, Blackbar Soldierfish, Brown Chromis and Mangrove Snapper. The current picked up slightly as we came to an unusual section where Finger Coral blanketed the bottom, alternating with red Finger Sponges that stood up like wheat in a field. As we drifted around the corner of the island, the landscape changed again, and the reef gave way to a dramatic vertical wall covered with Deep Water Seafans, black coral and encrusting sponges. The bottom here was about 80 feet deep, with huge boulders piled on the sand.
    It was only a short run out, so we came back to Bequia, had a cold drink on the beach and then loaded up for the second dive, this time to a spot called Cathedral. The reef here covers a rocky slope that angles down from 30 feet to about 75 feet. Azure Vase Sponges are exceptionally abundant at this spot, along with Star Corals and Deep Water Seafans.
    After breakfast the next morning, we took the ferry back to St. Vincent and flew to Canouan Island. Ten minutes later, we were on the ground. By 9:30 a.m. we were boarding for a dive at Petite Canouan, an uninhabited island nearby. The visibility was exceptional, about 100 feet in warm, blue water. We followed a slight current from the west side of the island around to the northwest corner, and our maximum depth was about 80 feet. Initially we were over a sloping reef composed mostly of Star Corals, but that changed to a rocky, coral- and sponge-encrusted reef with lots of swim-throughs. When we rounded the corner of the island, the current picked up and so did the fish life. Suddenly we were surrounded by schools of Chromis, snapper and jacks.
    The next day we took a catamaran to the Tobago Cays, a circle of small islands surrounded by shallow reefs and sandy beaches for snorkeling and a picnic. In the afternoon we dived the shallow side of a reef called Mayreaux Gardens. All of this area, including the Cays and the Gardens, are protected by a marine park, so the sea life is prolific. Mayreaux Gardens is a long reef that starts almost at the surface and drops steeply down to about 50 feet. At that point the slope flattens out and the reef ends around 70 feet in the sand. The coral is in excellent condition and the reef is packed with a variety of colorful sponges. At one point I came upon a four-foot Elephant Ear Sponge that was simultaneously being nibbled on by two Queen Angels, two Rock Beauties and a Princess Parrotfish. The most amazing thing we saw, though, was a migration of Creole Wrasse. They swam by us for at least 10 minutes, snaking among the coral heads like a train and always on the move. Fascinating!
    Even though there were other islands we would have liked to visit such as Union Island, Palm Island and Petite St. Vincent, we hadn’t been diving on St. Vincent yet so we flew back there for our last day. Our next dive took us to a spot called Emmontal Reef. It’s named for a brand of Swiss cheese, because the lush Finger Corals give it a yellowish look and there are lots of interesting holes to explore. We saw black corals growing as shallow as 27 feet here, too. After the dive we ran up the west side of St. Vincent to the Falls of Baleine, which are accessible only by boat. Swimming in the deep pool below the falls was très cool and jumping through the rush of water was a blast!
    By the end, I realized that St. Vincent and the Grenadines really are the quintessential Caribbean—unspoiled, quiet and beautiful. The trip took us a step back in time to simpler pleasures. Our days were without a care and our evenings were romantic with sunsets and sand still warm from the heat of day. It was something, really something.