Thursday, April 15, 2010


The St. Vincent Incident

We did not engage an “official” Princess-supported excursion on the island of St. Vincent because my wife has a cousin, Ben, who lives outside Toronto, Canada, and winters on the island for four months every year. He and his wife, Sheila, agreed to be our hosts and guides during our seven-hour stay. We met them as they drove through the dock gates in their little, red Toyota Ben bought on the Internet. They loaded us into the back seat, and we were off.

After a brief tour of Kingstown, the capital of St. Vincent, we headed toward the leeward side and to their home. Their home will be located (in 2011) on the other side of a massive new airport runway being built to accommodate the biggest jet liners. The many small mountains in the area are being leveled, homes in the way are being destroyed, roads are being diverted, and the geography and ecology of the area is being radically altered. Their home will sit near the end of the runway where jets are decelerating for their forthcoming landing.

After lunch at their home and additional sightseeing on the northern end of St. Vincent, we drove beyond the airport project to a small road that leads up to the volcano. St. Vincent is a volcanic island, and the still active volcano dominates the northern third of the island. It last erupted in 1973, and the destruction it caused is still evident in the small villages you pass along the main road on the northern end.

Ben and Sheila turned left onto the small road, looked into the back seat, and asked us if we wanted to go up. Without hesitation, we took their obvious lead and said, “Sure.”

The single-lane road was heavily rutted, full of pot holes, and rough. It went up through an active banana plantation where large bunches of bananas were wrapped in tubular poly vinylchloride (PVC), blue plastic to enhance fruit development, resist bad weather and sunburn, and avoid blemishes. Workers were evident on both sides of the car as we progressed up to a small parking lot where the trail to the volcano began.

Ben was surprised there were no vans carrying excursioners from our ship. The government was building a small picnic pavillion and restrooms, but they were far from finished and there were no workers present. A single, old picnic table sat where the trail into the lush growth began, and a native St. Vincensian was sitting there, his pack on the table’s seat and a large, well-worn machete showing from within it. We all engaged in informal chit-chat with him, and he not only suggested a place where we could take a better picture of the volcano, but he introduced me to the small pear-like fruit from the tree under which the table was located.

While we were talking, an old white car came up to the parking lot, turned around quickly and headed back down the mountain. We thought nothing about it nor about the fellow at the table walking down the road from the parking lot.

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, the fellow with whom we had been talking and a second native fellow (this time with no front teeth) came walking up the road to the parking lot. The new fellow carried a very heavy backpack on his head. Clearly the two native fellows knew one another, and we chatted with both of them as the fellow threw his backpack down onto the picnic table and unzipped it. Inside were large brick-like, rectangular blocks wrapped in heavy dark green plastic. My wife thought the fellows were especially concerned about keeping their clothes dry for in our talks with the two of them, they said they planned to hike the trail up and over the ridge to the other side.

Because we were in a hurry to get back to the ship by 4:30, we all got back into Ben’s car and headed down the mountain road only to find the white car that had come up and into the parking lot, had crashed off the left side of the road, blocking the road completely. Just beyond the car was a small police van, and five police officers were already out surveying the car. The female police officer had just found a cell phone and was waving it in the air.

Just as we could not proceed down the mountain, the police could not come up. Ben explained to the police that we needed to get by the car so we could get back to the cruise ship.

There was an additional dilemma as the officers tried to move the car. The steering column was locked, so when the police officers tried moving it, they could not get it out of the road. It was clear Ben and I needed to help. I ordered the police to get stones to put under the back tires, then it was decided we needed to lift the back of the car out farther onto the road. On the count of three by one of the police officers, all seven of us lifted the back of the car and moved it five inches. We did this about five times which improved the turning radius so the car could be pushed off the road. Expanding the turning radius worked, the car was pushed aside, the officers drove their van alongside the damaged car, and the road was clear for us to pass.

It turns out the police officers were part of the D.E.A. (Drug Enforcement Agency), and they told us they had been following this fellow. The fellow with the backpack was carrying bricks of marijuana worth, according to Ben, somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000 (street value), and knowing the police were blocked from coming up, they chatted leisurely with us.

We proceeded down the narrow access road to the highway to get back to the ship. People in St. Vincent drive poorly. The main road is a narrow highway with many hills and turns, and most of the road is marked by a solid white line, although cars pass randomly solid line or not. One black car passed us, and when we turned the corner ahead, he had just crashed into an oncoming car and, thus, blocked the main road. With no police there yet, and the accident still fresh, we crept around the crashed vehicle on the far left and soon after that encountered a car with an “L” on the back. Ben said the “L” meant “learner,” and, by law, could not go faster than 20 miles per hour. We were finally able to get around this car only to find ourselves behind a small bus full of older people. Determining that it was an excursion from the ship, we felt a bit relieved, even though the time for getting back to the ship was tight. We arrived at the dock at 4:25, just in time to wave goodbye to Ben and Sheila, show our identification, make it through the gates, and hurry up the gangway onto the ship.

In the end, we had to compliment our hosts for having “arranged” such an exciting incident. We were told, in retrospect, that the cultivation of marijuana in St. Vincent is a common phenomena, and its exportation helps support a very poor nation and needy farmers.


At id 21 insights, an essay by Axel Klein entitled, “Growing cannabis in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” explains the situation in St. Vincent far better than I could.

At the web site, Crime and Society, the essay there by Dr. Robert Winslow of San Diego State University, on St. Vincent and the Grenadines states, “St. Vincent and the Grenadines is the largest producer of marijuana in the Eastern Caribbean and the source for much of the marijuana used in the region. Extensive tracts are under intensive marijuana cultivation in the inaccessible northern half of St. Vincent. The illegal drug trade has infiltrated the economy of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and made some segments of the population dependent on marijuana production, trafficking and money laundering.”
Copyright April 2010 by And Then Some Publishing L.L.C.

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