Greetings from beautiful Santo Domingo after a month spent visiting many a cricket ground and rum shop in the English Caribbean, although Im slightly depressed at how quickly Ive lost my Spanish .
The most obvious thing I noticed getting off the boat in Trinidad from Venezuela was how much taller the population was.
After a year spent being the tallest person around in 80% of situations suddenly I found myself about average height amongst the
self styled "most cosmopolitan people in the world". Trinidad is definitely the closest I came to visiting a "proper" country with developed
manufacturing and financial industries and the many different communities (Black, Indian, Chinese, Syrian etc.) adding to the interesting cultural mix.
I didn't find the people overly friendly but my God the food was good after so long without curry. I much preferred Tobago where the people were some of the friendliest Ive ever met, always chatty and friendly and I never even had to take a bus as someone would always pick me up.
I then moved on and had some very active days in Grenada doing a 2 day hike and then cycling round the entire island in a day before some much lazier days on St Vincent where I drank many Hairouns, one of the best beers Ive ever had with some Aussie pilots I stayed with and getting to know the bonkers locals in the rum shops when I wasn't visiting the Pirates of the Caribbean set.
The main worries I had before starting to travel in the Caribbean was the possible costs and the difficulties of getting around but I
managed to drastically cut costs by staying with Peacecorps volunteers (kind of like Team America but in a peaceful way) in a few places and
also doing a lot of hitching which was in some places much easier than trying to get public transport. The region generally isn't cheap but predictably if you avoid taxis and other tourist related services it is just about manageable.
Somewhat surprisingly I found the islands I enjoyed the least were the most famous ones for going on holiday to. Whilst the people in both Barbados and Antigua were very friendly and the beaches were great, culturally you almost didn't feel you were in the Caribbean. Surrounded by English and American tourists, apart from the beach there was little to do in comparison to their less famous neighbors like Dominica and St Kitts which were studded with natural
sights and good hikes.
Culturally St Lucia and Dominica were much richer as not only do they speak another language (French Creole, though English is official) but because they've been less touched by tourism people are still pretty curious and don't know what to make of you, e.g. Ive been called "Redman", "Yellowman" and even "colored" on those islands! On the more touristy islands at times I also felt embarrassed to be white at the way people would spend money. To see people preferring to spend $80 on a private taxi than take a $2 bus and sit with the locals was pretty shameful and doesn't exactly help to ease some remaining racial tensions that exist in the region.
Perhaps the most memorable part of traveling in the region was observing the way that relationships are conducted amongst the people.
The promiscuity levels are in some places unbelievable and the whole nature of how people interact with each other I found very alien.
Its completely normal to have children by many different partners and marriage varies from being the exception to the norm (St Kitts, St Lucia etc) to being very rare indeed somewhere like Dominica for all but the very religious minority. People don't have any problem with potential partners who already have kids and you'll see couples cohabiting with kids of multiple different partners. e.g. on St Lucia I stayed with a lady whos Father had 22 kids by 9 different women and on Dominica with a woman whos mother had 9 different kids by 7 different fathers. The promiscuity is so accepted and just normal to the locals that I ended up not feeling able to make any moral judgements on it. Some put this culture down to the slavery legacy where the slavemasters aimed to keep families separated to keep their morale down; but having seen a similar culture in (admittedly heavily colonized)Africa the difference in cultures I think might go deeper into history. Predictably HIV/Aids is starting to become a major problem but as with Africa, despite being bombarded with education and information on the subject I felt the communities reluctance to change their way of life means that at least some of the responsibility for the crisis needs to rest with the people themselves.
I also found the politics of the region surprisingly interesting for such small countries, as a legacy to both the slave trade and the normal route to independence from the British through the trade union movement, in all the countries there is no right wing to speak of. Normally the dominant party is the Labour party and the main opposition is the workers party or similarly named and it creates different sounding debates to what you'll hear in the US or even the UK. The most extreme example of this is Grenada which in the late 70s became surely the strangest place communism was tried. It would have been interesting to see what Marx, Engels et al would have made of
their theories being applied in such a sleepy, laidback place. America had perhaps their finest moment of the Cold War where worried about the rise of Cuban and Soviet influence in the country they sent in the marines who stormed the beaches and sorted things out. I hear that those who went in the "first wave" still don't have to buy a drink in the US....
There is still a lot of poverty in the region and some areas like education levels are extremely lacking but I found it very interesting comparing it to the French colonies or modern deportements in the region. All the colonial powers came to the region to make a quick buck in agriculture or however they could and whilst England lost all but the very smallest islands they controlled (Bermuda, Anguilla, Turks and Caicos etc are still part of the UK) the French held on to theirs but its costing them a fortune.
Citizens of French Guyana, Martinique and Guadeloupe have a similar quality of living to mainland France (at huge cost to the French taxpayer) and has prompted some in the English Caribbean to wonder whether they should have stayed with England. However, whilst there are undoubted problems in the region the sheer happiness of the people, ease of the climate and lack of material stresses means things are really not all that bad. Like Argentina, Brazil and Colombia in South America before, the Caribbean is definitely a region whereby a top of the range DVD player just doesn't matter so much to the people so much when they have so many other positives aspects of life around them.
I finally ended up in the beautiful and tiny St Kitts which despite well off the tourist map was just great for things to do and a peaceful few days there was a great way to spend my last days in the Caribbean after a rewarding though obviously very different months traveling. Despite being on the road for over 13 months the tiredness and desensitisation that's supposed to occur just hasn't happened. I still find myself full of energy and constantly looking forward to what I'm doing in the 2 months I have left.
I now have 2 weeks on Hispanola loving being back in the Latin world before I go to Mexico and meet a Bavarian friend of mine Bar von Lunkenheimer for a couple of weeks jetting around there.
I do hope everyone is well and so for the ante-penultimate time,
From Santo Domingo,