Saturday, August 25, 2012

Lazy days and Corned Fish

Many West Indians can lay claim to a feeling of belonging to another Caribbean island by virtue of parents who would have immigrated. In my case my father came to Trinidad from Canouan. Going back to this place that I call my second home over the holidays was amazing.  In many ways this island and the people there helped shaped the person I am today.

View from the back of the house
Growing up, I spent my July/August holidays in Canouan. Every year I was filled with  the excited anticipation of meeting my cousins. No toys necessary. Just a bunch of us cousins having the run of an entire 3 1/2  x  1  1/4 mile wide island. We were like modern day Crusoes, gone from morning until night, reappearing only at mealtimes to be fed.
View from the front of the house
Once refueled we were off again to continue our explorations unfettered by grown ups. It was not uncommon for us to 'steal' out grandfather's boat and row out to distant beaches. It was on one of these jaunts that my cousin P and I took the boat and left the main group on Whaling Bay. Some ways from the shore we discovered that the moray eel caught earlier that morning was still very much alive and thrashing about at our feet in the water pooled at the bottom of the boat. Suffice to say, we hastily abandoned 'ship' and swam to shore to the annoyance of the boy cousins who unkindly pointed out that we had just set adrift our only means of getting home!

And that was one of our tamer adventures. Indeed when I think back on the times we had, I am amazed that we are all survived childhood.  Even some thirty something years later there is still the same excited anticipation of hanging with my cousins who now have children of their own. Seeing our children playing together, continuing childhood traditions is  awesome. It is beyond moving to share experiences of my childhood in the spaces that they occurred with my own children.

Google Canuoan and most links will tell about the fairly recent, super exclusive, private,  development that occupies a good portion of the northern part of the island. There is of course another face to this island. Here the beaches aren't swept free of seaweed, buildings aren't glamoured to look like the cookie cutter visions of  tourism. Village life is simple, reflecting the resourcefulness of a people used to getting by with little.

Beach bar, Mayreau

Canuoan's development was slower than it's larger Caribbean neighbours. In the 70's  there were only about 500 people living on the island with no pipe born water or electricity. Back then, my grandmother was still baking bread on an outdoor earth oven. Electricity only came to the came to the island in the 80's.  There were no shops or supermarkets so households had to be self sufficient. Basically you caught or grew what food was placed on the table. Everyone kept a kitchen garden and reared animals.  My grandparents kept chickens, goats, sheep, a pig and a donkey.

I will admit that initially it was upsetting for a child used to purchasing meat from supermakets to see animals being butchered for the table. Today, I am happy to say that my experiences have afforded me a  practical and not too romanticized view of food.  In those days if you wanted to eat you either grew it or caught and then butchered it. Too bad if you were squeamish about anything you just did not eat until the next meal. This sort of 'old fashioned lifestyle' was unimaginable to many of my friends but  I was delighted to be part of these seemingly magical rituals that were once an essential part of daily life.  One such ritual that continues today is that of corned fish.

Corned Fish

Of course today you can pick up salted cod in the supermarket but back when there were no refrigerators or even imported Alaskan cod, you salted and preserved your own fish by adding loads of salt and drying it in the sun. This process is called corning for reasons mentioned in my previous post on corned beef. Corned fish will keep for months and it is not unusual to see salted  fish on roof tops or strung out on fences to be preserved.. In Union Island I noticed that my Aunt used sea salt that she had harvested herself from the salt pond. Mostly I was surprised that the Grenadine islands have not yet seen the potential for marketing their salt to the world. Many of the islands have naturally occurring salt ponds, yet the sea salt I buy comes from France - go figure. Upon my return I noticed a 2 ounce container of sea salt for  $15.00 US at a local gourmet shop. Hello! Aunty Alice send salt, stat!.

Fisherman cleaning conch for dinner
The culinary highlight of any trip to the Grenadines is always freshly caught sea food. My memories are of my grandfather fishing and setting his lobster trap. Fresh fish, conch, turtle's eggs, eel, kelp and just about anything from the sea were regular items on the table.

Glossy Beach, Canouan
Canuoan does not cater to mass tourism so that means it isn't too hard to find yourself a deserted stretch of beach to call your own for the day. Seriously no one here but us and the pelicans

My husband had a hard time trying to decide which was the best beach. Glossy Beach reigned supreme in his estimation at least until the following day when we took him to another beach where he exclaimed anew, "Now this is the best beach on the island." Hmmm, let's just say that I heard that phrase a lot from him. 

Soon enough it was time to leave Canouan and hop across to the neighboring Union Island to spend a short visit with my Aunt.

You'd think by now we'd be sick of fabulous beaches. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sunshine, cool breezes and a kaleidoscope of ever changing aquamarine and turquoise water- nope that never gets old!
Big Sand Beach, Union Island
From Union we made arrangements for a sailing tour to the Tobago Keys.  First stop was the private island resort on Palm Island.

Palm Island

Our next stop was at Salt Whistle Bay on the island of Mayreau. 

Salt Whistle Bay, Mayreau

Tired of one beach, well then, walk about ten steps across a narrow strip of land and you'll find yourself on another.
Once in the Tobago Keys, it was a full day of snorkeling on the reefs. Anchored close by was the boat Scaramouche, better known as the Black Pearl in the movie Pirates of The Caribbean.

In the distance is Petit Tabac, the island where Jack Sparrow was stranded with loads of rum.

Petit Tabac, Tobago Keys
As much as I might have wished to remain stranded in the Grenadines it seemed that all too soon the time was upon us to return home. In fact the rainy and very gloomy weather that day matched my mood and reflected my feelings about having to say goodbye.  Huge hugs to my Canouan, Union Island and Carriacou family who made sure we were properly spoiled. Never fear we'll be back!
A gloomy goodbye


  1. WOW - what an amazing vacation for you all. And breathtaking photos!

  2. I have never heard of corned fish before? how cool is that! the vacation looks amazing

  3. That looks wonderful! And I agree, having a romanticised idea of the end of an animal's life doesn't help anyone :)

  4. what a scene. i don't usually get excited about the beach--sand is my nemesis--but those images have drawn me in!

  5. Your pics are stunning and beyond!!Can your auntie send me some sea salt too??? XOXO

  6. These pics are breathtaking and I feel whisked away to paradise, even if only for a moment--thank you so much for sharing these =D

  7. Grace sand is not an issue when you go sailing on a catamaran;-)

  8. O my god! What a beautiful and gorgeous place!! You're right I have never heard of canouan before but have now firmly locked the name in my mind to remember for whenever I'm in need of a tropical holiday location that is just so stunning. I've just got to start saving.... Thanks for sharing and how awesome it must have been to grow up there..

  9. Beautiful photos, remind me of times when I worked on the cruise ship.
    My husband came from island of Dominica but his father is from Montserrat, they moved to Dominica after the volcano eruption. Today (as usual on Sunday) we had curried, fried with onions flaked salt fish, boiled eggs and cucumber salad for breakfast ;)

  10. Who can ever get sick of gorgeous beaches? These pictures look like paradise! It's getting colder up north here already, and I wish I could just jump a jet and fly down there.

  11. Lovely post, lovely memories and lovely islands. We adore the Caribbean.
    I smiled when you said it was amazing you survived childhood. Recently my sister and I were talking about the same thing.

  12. What a fun read, and what amazing photos, thanks for a bit of sunshine on a foggy day.

  13. Estas vacaciones son para recordar toda la vida es un paraiso hermosas fotos,abrazos hugs,hugs.