March 18, 2006

Brain Drain
Sandy Bay (St. Vincent), St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Much brain power has been used this past week trying to figure out what my next moves are going to be after St. Vincent.

Much brain power has been used this past week trying to figure out what my next moves are going to be after St. Vincent.

The Internet café that I've been accustomed to using has been closed all week; their connection is temporarily dead. Every time that I've needed to research onward travel possibilities or do other tasks online, I've had to catch minibuses for 1.5–2 hours into the capital city of Kingstown—most annoying. I definitely learned (the hard way) to be mindful of the time when I'm in town though. The unscheduled minibuses tend to stop running up the windward coast at sunset, which can leave you stranded in the city overnight if you're not careful.

On one of the occasions when I let too much time slide by, I ended up procuring a ride home from a minibus that had been converted into hospital ambulance. For over an hour I felt like a medic, sitting on a single-seat bench in the back of the vehicle, the breeze and bumps jostling blood-stained sheets wadded up on the stretcher in front of me. As far as unique rides go, I would say it's right up there with hitching a ride on a banana truck, flying down potholed roads, dodging low-hanging branches while standing upright in the truck bed. Truly some great experiences for the mental scrapbook.

So Many Paths

From the highest level, my choices appear simple: go north or go south. It's the where, when, how, and why that seems to clutter things up.

My brother, Glenn

With my brother thinking strongly about a trip into South America this June (before starting up med school in the fall), positioning myself to join him weighed heavily on my mind. I was really close to picking up a US$300 flight to Venezuela, but the thought of an overnight stay in the Trinidad airport coupled with another AeroPostal experience—Lord how I despise that airline—was enough to detour me. Flights into Colombia (and neighboring countries) were pushing in excess of $750. South America was out.

The more I tried to assess which other regional islands I was interested in, the more I realized how tired I'm getting of the Caribbean scene. I look at my atlas and feel pleasurably overwhelmed—I can tell it's time get to another part of the world.

St. Vincent is not an easy island to travel north from. It lacks an airport that can support anything but the tiniest of prop planes (although plans are in the works for a larger international facility). Flights are noticeably expensive to about any location but Barbados (just $40), and ferries only travel between the islands to the south.

I spent a good deal of time trying to engineer passage on Easy Cruise to the nearby French controlled island of Martinique, which is apparently a popular shopping destination for many Vincentians. With a larger international airport and regular ferries, I thought it would be easier to travel onward from there as well.

Easy Cruise turned out to be a bust. Rumors of low $20/night rates are plentiful, but all I could seem to come up with were $240/night fares. Not a single person I spoke with could tell me how to cheaply get to the island—I guess I didn't use the secret island-shopper handshake properly.

Speaking of handshakes, when doing a fist-to-fist tap with an friendly islander or Rastafarian, these are some of the phrases you might use to accompany the gesture:

  • Yeah mann / Yuh monn
  • Alll-riiight
  • Respect
  • Love
  • Bless

The Search Continues

With Martinique out of the picture, I focused on the countless number of flight permutations available, searching and sifting for a happy balance between culture and cost.

The three big carriers that I was dealing with were Liat, Caribbean Star/Sun, and American Airlines. Only serving to complicate matters, Caribbean Star's Web site doesn't list fares or take reservations, this has to be done with an agent.

I found a Caribbean Star branch office in town, and ultimately bought a low-fare ticket to St. Maarten for only $60 (be sure to ask about their "specials"). Sadly, my other tickets won't be so affordable.

Research shows me that flights to Central America from the Caribbean connect through Puerto Rico (and then a big U.S. hub like Miami), regardless of the originating island. It would seem flights to Belize from San Juan are also several hundred dollars more expensive than flights into Mexico, which has prompted me to turn this country into my new point of entry.

An Exciting Path

I'll be catching a Caribbean Star flight from St. Vincent to St. Maarten on the 24th of March. I plan on spending 13 nights there, splitting my time between southern Sint Maarten (Netherlands territory), northern Saint Martin (French territory), and the nearby island of Anguilla (U.K. territory) via ferry.

Jess from Puerto Rico

On April 6, I'll be jumping on an American Airlines flight (for $160) to Puerto Rico, where I'll be staying with my (beautiful) friend Jess, as well as catching up with my buddy Marcos. I'm enjoying the thought of being in PR to celebrate my birthday on the 12th, followed by Easter festivities the following weekend—sure to be a great time.

I haven't bought the $260 plane ticket yet, but about two weeks later (around the 18th) I'll be heading off to Cancún. Babak, one of my oldest friends, will hopefully be flying down from Arizona to join me for a long weekend shortly thereafter.

From Cancún I'll make my way south through the Yucatán Peninsula, and into Belize (just in time for the start of the rainy season). Exciting times!

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