Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Travel Blog Entry

Yesterday we were in Kingstown, St Vincent (as in St Vincent and the Grenadines)
– a small and surprisingly poor island (most people seem to live in tiny, falling-
down shacks) with a lot of fascinating history; theyʼre particularly proud of their
Botanic Garden, which is the oldest in the Western hemisphere (and who knows
where the Western hemisphere begins and ends? I certainly donʼt), founded in
1765. Itʼs located up a rather steep hill, like everything in Kingstown, and as we
were trudging up we met a very friendly chap coming down who announced that he
was the caretaker of the gardens, that he was just going to unlock them and would
show us up there. So he walked us the last ten minutes up the hill, giving detailed
descriptions of every plant we passed (and there were a lot) - St Vincent is
particularly lush (itʼs volcanic) and grows lots of spices and fruits – as well as most
of the worldʼs supply of arrowroot, apparently. He told us a lot about the medicinal
properties of everything – all these things are still so much part of common
knowledge, eating cassia pods to relieve stomach pains, boiling lime leaves in milk
for young children with colds… dropping nutmegs into rum punch at parties to get
high… Then when we got almost to the gate of the gardens, this chap handed us
over to another man who turned up, saying that heʼd give us the official tour, so we
could give them both tips. We suggested that weʼd rather wander around by
ourselves, so we gave them some money and got away – and at the gates of the
gardens were mobbed by a whole bunch of other men trying to offer us tours, all
waving ʻofficialʼ guide badges. So Iʼm not sure whether the keys around our
“guideʼs” belt really were to open the gardens, as he claimed, and Iʼm not sure if I
believe that he lives next door to the prime minister (who does indeed live in the
Gardens) in his curatorʼs hut… but at least we learned something. It was quite
funny, really. And I saw a hummingbird in the gardens of the Anglican church. This
church, incidentally, features a rather magnificent stained-glass window, very pre-
Raphaelite with a crimson angel at its centre. It was intended for St Paulʼs
Cathedral, but Queen Victoria refused to have it, since angels, as everybody
knows, are white, not red. So it ended up in St Vincent. Because it was Sunday
morning all the shops were shut and everybody was in one or other of the many
churches – the whole town was quiet except for the singing spilling enthusiastically
out of every door – beautifully sung hymns from the Anglicans, excessive-sounding
gospel from the Evangelicals and (Iʼm sorry to say) appalling Christian pop from the
Catholics. We walked up another hill and could hear these floating past by turns,
mixed with barking dogs, bleating goats and an astonishing number of roosters.
The goats were grazing in the churchyard and chasing each other over the graves,
which we thought was a little irreverent, especially on a Sunday… More soon but
Iʼm falling asleep, since my body hasnʼt quite yet worked out that itʼs 9pm and not