Go­ing lo­cal in the South­ern Caribbean

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - TRAVEL - By Phil Reimer

ONCE I de­cided on a Christ­mas cruise, I was de­ter­mined to soak up the “lo­cal” ex­pe­ri­ence on the ports I’d be vis­it­ing.

Long be­fore leav­ing, I was deep into re­search­ing the right cruise. I hit the jack­pot — Celebrity Cruises’ 14day South­ern Caribbean itin­er­ary on the Eclipse, from Fort Laud­erdale, Fla., to Oran­jes­tad, Aruba, with stops in Cu­raçao, Gre­nada, Bar­ba­dos, St. Lu­cia, An­tigua, St. Maarten and Haiti. Here are some of the high­lights.

Willem­stad, both Cu­raçao’s cap­i­tal and main port, is easy to nav­i­gate on foot. The ar­chi­tec­ture is smaller, pas­tel-coloured build­ings that pro­vide a warmth to the city. Leg­end has it the build­ings were white but that gave the gov­er­nor mi­graines, so he or­dered the pal­ette of colours… it’s un­clear if he owned the is­land’s only paint store.

Gre­nada is the “spice is­land” and I met a most in­ter­est­ing driver, Ezekiel Jones. Known sim­ply as Eze, he drove me around the is­land for five hours, miss­ing pedes­tri­ans and ve­hi­cles by inches while brief­ing me on Gre­nada’s his­tory — nut­meg and co­coa are the big­gest crops. Grand Anse Beach, about two kilo­me­tres of beau­ti­ful white sand, was on his list and close to the port. Also on Eze’s list was driv­ing by his house and meet­ing two of his seven chil­dren.

From the port at St. Ge­orge’s, the land­scape climbs quickly and soon we were at the River An­toine Rum Dis­tillery, a his­toric old mill pow­ered by a wa­ter wheel that made pure or­ganic rum, boiled by gi­ant fur­naces like you might find in an old steel mill.

A jig­ger of the guide’s pri­vate stash trick­led from my throat to my shoes for an hour, as adrenalin and pain flooded my face. Eze just laughed. Don’t look for the brand in a liquor store at home — all they make is sold on the is­land.

At Gre­nada’s Bel­mont Es­tate co­coa plan­ta­tion, I was walked through the process of turn­ing co­coa pods into a prod­uct ready for choco­late. That in­cluded a bare­foot walk to spread the beans dry­ing in the hot sun.

In St. Maarten, ships dock in Philips­burg, the cap­i­tal of the Dutch side of this is­land. So to avoid the crowds, I made a bee­line to Marigot, the cap­i­tal of the French side of the is­land, Saint Martin.

In Marigot, my guide — so to speak — was au­thor and TV per­son­al­ity An­thony Bour­dain. Nine years ago, he wrote about a small out­door fam­ily restau­rant called Rose­mary’s, lo­cated close to the out­door mar­ket. He loved the food (and I did too) and you’ll find his re­view in­side the menu. The Cre­ole chicken and ribs with plan­tain and spicy rice were su­perb.

My Bar­ba­dos itin­er­ary was or­ga­nized by Mar­i­lyn Soper, for­mer man­ager of the Hil­ton Bar­ba­dos who is now re­tired in Van­cou­ver. Top­ping her list was the Bridgetown fish mar­ket, where I lis­tened to Ba­jan chat­ter and ad­mired the skills re­quired to pre­pare ev­ery con­ceiv­able kind of fish.

While many restau­rants make “pud­ding and souse” on Satur­days, Mar­i­lyn claimed the best one was an hour away in Le­mon Ar­bour, a sub­ur­ban restau­rant and bar. Pud­ding is made from sea­soned sweet po­tato and the souse is lime-pick­led pig, tra­di­tion­ally from parts such as the feet, tail and ears, but Le­mon Ar­bour of­fers a lean souse made from lean pieces of pork.

Noth­ing fancy at this eatery: plas­tic con­tainer with match­ing fork, and a view of hills and fields. One pic­nic ta­ble was marked “re­served” — for lo­cals I as­sume. But the ve­hi­cles lined up to take away any­where from two to a dozen con­tain­ers told the tail, uh, tale.

Mar­i­lyn’s fi­nal rec­om­men­da­tion was Bush Bar — not far from where the Eclipse docked — a hang­out for lo­cal busi­ness­men, politi­cians and work­ers who come to drink and de­bate ev­ery con­ceiv­able topic, start­ing with pol­i­tics.

In all, it was just another “lo­cals” day on the cruise.

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