Arriving at Petit St. Vincent aboard a 44-foot sailing catamaran, resort owner Lynn Richardson greets me and with a rum punch. Richardson's golden lab offers a wet nose and wags its tail until it threatens to fall off. It's late in the afternoon and the light plays golden on half a dozen islands including the legendary Tobago Cays.
The moke picks me up at the wharf. It's a robin's egg blue mini-car just slightly bigger than the ones Shriners used to drive in small town parades. They're the only transportation on the private island of Petit St. Vincent.
Picture a sensory deprivation tank open to the sky and filled by warm, clear waters and you've got a pretty good image of Petit St. Vincent. It's almost like Gilligan's legendary island except instead of castaways and huts; it's an ultimate luxury resort occupying the entire island. Like Robinson Crusoe with room service.
I'm installed in cottage number three ““ one of 22 similar accommodations ““ high on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Atlantic and Caribbean. It's definitely not your father's North Ontario cottage.
The stunning terrace looking out over the sea knocks me out. It would be demeaning to call it a patio. It's a place to sit and dream entire days away. A stone wall surrounds it, and an over-hanging roof offers a shady spot to sit, sip and read.
Built with island bluebitch stone, the cottage has the feel of an upscale crofter's hut. It is set back from the service road so there is no sound except the roll of the sea and the calls of the black-faced, Laughing Gulls hovering along the cliff.
Guests are greeted by an expansive living room where you can escape tropical sun. Its doors are open to the sea breeze as are the windows in the bedroom with its two king-sized beds and in the dressing room. It's all natural air conditioning.
There are a few novels left by other guests, which I am grateful for because I am almost finished the second novel I brought with me. There is no radio or television; just me, my imagination and the books.
I'm intrigued with the cottage's communications system because there is also no telephone to call the front desk. Internet connection is definitely out of the question, so you could deep-six the Blackberry and use the weight gain on your luggage allowance to bring an extra novel. A set of small signal flags on a short flagpole at the end of the driveway indicate whether you want to be left alone or if room service is required.
Staff drive the blue mokes past the cottages regularly checking on the flag status. A red flag means “Leave me alone” and the yellow flag means there is a written message for the service group in your mail tube.
Messages could be anything from a request for a massage, to your breakfast order or a request for a ride down to the beach or resort's dining room.
Privacy in the cottage is so complete clothes are unnecessary, if you're so inclined. You will be completely secluded except when staff members arrive with your meals. As they arrive, they warn guests by ringing a brass bell before coming in. You cannot see your neighbors and they cannot see you, so you don't get the feeling that this is even a resort.
For the ultimate in luxurious seclusion, you can arrange a picnic lunch on Petit St. Richardson, a sandbar a few hundred metres off the northwestern beach. An exquisite slash of brilliant white in a sapphire sea, the only thing on the islet is a palm frond cabana, a table and chairs, and ““ of course ““ the signal flags.
St. Vincent & The Grenadines (SVG) is situated in the heart of the eastern Caribbean, lying west of Barbados and north of Grenada. The main island ““ St. Vincent ““ is mountainous with four of its mountains climbing to more than 1,000 metres. One, La Soufriere, is an active volcano. You can trek in to La Soufriere with a guide, but you had better be in good shape.
St. Vincent covers 344 square kilometres and the population lives mostly along the coast. It is divided up into six parishes echoing the old French system. The island was one of those disputed Caribbean territories in the 18th century going back and forth between France and England. The results being a mélange and local names ranging from Kingstown to Anse Cayenne.
Kingstown is the leaping off point for inter-island ferry and air travel. The E.T. Joshua Airport handles the air traffic for the moment, but a massive project is under way to replace it in 2012 with the new Argyle International Airport capable of accommodating all but the largest commercial aircraft.
After a night in the historic Grenadine House, which was built in 1765 as the residence of the British Administrator, I was picked up by a van from Sailor's Tours and deposited on the wharf where the Bequia ferry was getting ready for the short run over to SVG's number two island.
Bequia, pronounced Beck-wee, is a treat for anyone who loves the old Caribbean ““ the Caribbean devoid of high-rise hotels that all look the same and chain restaurants. The Bequia Express lands you in the heart of Port Elizabeth on Admiralty Bay.
Despite being the second largest in the island nation, Bequia measures a scant seven square miles. Getting around by cab or minibus is easy and probably the farthest you'll go is the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary on Park Bay.
Ortin King, or Brother King as he likes to be called, is a turtle rescuer.
He cares passionately for the Hawksbill, Green and Loggerhead sea turtles and put his personal fortune and reputation on the line to defend and help them by creating The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary.
Brother Hegg is somewhere in his 70s and could even have slipped over the edge of 80. His dad was a whaler in one of the world's last small boat, whale fisheries. Much of his own life was spent as a fisherman through which he developed a familiarity and passion for the Hawksbill turtle.
Not the biggest of the sea turtles, the Hawksbill is one of the most alluring from an economic point of view. “Before you had plastic, you had turtle shell. They made everything from women's hair combs to eyeglass frames.”
By 1995 Brother King understood something had to be done to prevent extinction so he began building the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary to protect sea turtles. He finances the sanctuary from his own pocket and through the sale of T-shirts and souvenirs.
As King delivers a conservation lecture he begins to play with the turtles in the tank. His voice brightens and the turtles let him hoist them by their flippers and roll like a puppies when he scratches their shells.
This is a hands-on place, where not only King makes friends with the turtles, but kids from around the islands come to touch and learn.
Several days earlier, I missed a turtle when it swam behind me as I was diving along the coast of St. Vincent. I'd been invited to dive with Kay Wilson, the owner of Indigo Dive.
Scuba diving in St. Vincent is a no testosterone kind of diving.
Coral reefs and big fish aren't the drawing card. If anything it is a macro, almost microscopic environment that attracts scuba enthusiasts from around the world. Hard core divers call it muck diving, but it adopts the gentler name of critter diving.
Critter diving involves moving slowly over submarine pastures and looking for tiny sea creatures that often escape attention.
First things first. On the way to the dive site we cruised by the location that doubled as Port Royal in the Pirates Of The Caribbean series. Lots of local tales swirl around Johnny Depp and his time on the island. Everyone you meet has a Johnny story, but they appear to be more legend than fact.
After touring Hanging Rock, the Treasure Cave and what's left of Port Royal's wharf (a hurricane in 2003 did a lot of damage to the set), we made our first dive at Anchor Reef.
The water was tepid with no wetsuit needed. From the moment we hit bottom at 13 metres there were photo opportunities everywhere you looked, from twin-tailed Jackknife fish and an almost transluscent octopus to a sharp-tailed eel. We made two dives before heading back to the hotel beach, and the next day I was at it again.
If you go
Air Canada and Westjet offer non-stop service to Barbados where travellers to SVG can catch the LIAT flight to SVG.
Petit St. Vincent Resort
Bequia Tourism Assoc.
Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary