A Very Vinci Christmas

St Vincent is a happening place. These people really make entertainment a priority, and Christmas is no exception. The first big event is called Nine Mornings, when for nine days in a row (as described), people gather in downtown Kingstown (and other places) at four am, for four-ish hours of locally-flavored entertainment. We found out about this from our friend Kimmy, who brought us along when she heard we were out of quarantine. And it was pretty glorious. A mix of locally-famous performers, student groups, and a constant stream of aggressively-solicited volunteers from the audience asked to sing, cry on cue, or peel an orange behind their back.

To Kimmy’s amusement, we decided to take the ride on the double-decker Christmas bus with the full steel band playing on the bottom floor. It took a loop around a roughly four-block area, checking out the lights in all the closed buisnesses. They had a guy up top in charge of moving the power lines out of everyone’s way as the bus passed perilously close below them.

Of course, we’re some of the only white people there, I’m tall and Jazz is blonde, so we’re pretty easy to pick out of the audience. So by the third time they asked for a “visitor or returning national” to come up to the stage, while making pointed eye contact, Jazz finally took the hit and walked up to the stage, expecting some kind of moderately embarrassing torture.

Instead, she was asked to deliver the standard line (“Good Morning, it’s nine mornings!”), introduce herself and me, and accept a basket of local fruits. And that was it! Very kind of them, though maybe they saw her shaking. (Jazz: “I don’t mind public speaking, but I’m not a big fan of doing purposely humiliating tasks while being filmed for local TV.”)

When we’d had enough (apparently long before it was over, Vinci parties have stamina), we found ourselves downtown in the still-early morning, and figured we’d check out the Saturday vegetable market. We’d visited the market before, but it had been mostly empty in the late afternoon. This time we got the full morning market experience.

And it turns out that that’s a mix of vegetables and assorted household items. I don’t really understand the mechanics of these markets. I mean, if you’ve got a farm, or a friend with a farm, sure, sell direct to the consumer. And maybe “buy 50lb bags of potatoes and repackage them at a markup” makes sense. But I don’t get how you make a profit reselling random stuff, or being one of the four ladies in a row selling assorted basic body products out of the back of a mini-van. No matter how artful your arrangement, there are like 13 little stores within three blocks with a wider selection, all presumably buying in bigger bulk. It just seems like one of those poverty traps where when there’s no other work, you Start a Business. Nice flags though.

So speaking of poverty, let’s blindly charge on and talk about scuba diving. We were still on a mooring ball near an easily-accessible reef we’d snorkeled before, and we figured we’d take the opportunity to practice diving off our boat. So I’m setting up our gear, and go to check my BCD, only to find that it won’t hold air. Well that’s not good. A cursory check revealed that the side had split open, so it was definitely out of commission.

This was super frustrating, because not only can you not buy BCDs here, but shipping it back for the company to tell me whether it’s even repairable involves navigating a tangle of customs, brokers, and shipping agents. With the ~50% import taxes here… we figured we’d wait until we found a better jurisdiction. So until that happens, I’m stuck borrowing gear.

And that’s what we decided to do. As luck would have it, Indigo Dive had just opened, and was offering a half-price special on dives. So we jumped at that offer, and dove with them for a few days. They’re a lovely Swiss couple who bring their kid out on the boat and alternate who stays with him and who goes diving. And the reef life continued to astound, though we only have pictures of the oddly contented-looking birds we met at the top of the wall right outside Kingstown.

Since dives took just a couple of hours in the morning, that left plenty of time to mess with the water catchers, and to go out to dinner with Kimmy.

Did I mention that this was Christmas season? So the counterpart to Nine Mornings is called Nine Nights, which happen on the same days but in different locations. So after taking a crowded bus (no COVID here yet!) to Kingstown, and walking by some really excellent fashion choices…

… we found our way to the botanical gardens, which were lit up with wild abandon. (Maybe reckless abandon, given some of the wiring). The theme is similar to Nine Mornings: a enthusiastic host, and a parade of performers drawn from local student musicians and dancers. Plus the odd stall selling popcorn or Hairoun. It’s worth nothing that neither of these events, and really none of the events we’ve seen in SVG, is particularly tourist-oriented.

Eventually, though, we had to leave the mainland, because we had friends in Bequia who wanted to get together for Christmas dinner, and a favorite restaurant that had posted an enticing menu. So we sailed down to Port Elizabeth on Christmas Eve and anchored in the back of a huge crowd of boats. Apparently this would be The Place To Be for the holidays. So we celebrated with a big Christmas breakfast, and a walk up the hill past an amusingly steampunked house, before making it back to the boat to do the obligatory family Christmas-day phone calls.

And we made it to Laura’s in time for a lovely Christmas dinner with our friends from Dorothy Rose, and some other festive sailors.

Boxing day is apparently also something of a big deal here, and we met up with some of the same crew for a late lunch at the mostly-deserted Sugar Reef. Which proved to be a lovely spot, with excellent food and unexpected live music.

We made it back to the town dock after dark, and were greeted with Bequia’s not-yet-torn-down the Nine Nights stage. So we got to say goodbye to the Christmas season with some unexpected Christmas lights.

It’s always a little sad not to be home for the holidays. But we both got to talk to our families, and at least on one side, we were there in slightly-more-than-spirit. (If you’re asking, did we send life-size cardboard cutouts of ourselves? … yes. Yes we did.)

So we at least sort-of got to participate in the Hink family card tradition.