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The Grenadine Islands

Most of St. Vincent is shockingly pristine. Except for a resort or two and a few business hotels near the port, it's more like Naipaul's Trinidad than, say, Bermuda.

As we skirted the wild coastline, we got to know our retired friends. Ray had been a clay modeler at the Jaguar factory in the north of England. Mrs. Ray (okay, so we didn't know each other that well) had been a bookkeeper. When we reached the falls, Ray watched Ilene dive in and swim up under the waterfall and pronounced her a "daredevil." I tiptoed in to stomach-freezing level.

After about 10 minutes, I realized I couldn't wimp out in front of old people. I swam as close to the crashing water as any sane person would and kissed Ilene because she made me.

On the way back, the rain came, right around the time Hal decided we had to see dolphins. As shower turned to downpour, he made for the deep water. Ilene rejected the plastic ponchos from the hold as too smelly, but Ray put one on and stared grimly at the horizon. I imagined him, with the same grim visage, sitting in one of those deadly landing craft that unloaded the boys onto the beach at Normandy. Hal had become Ahab, deaf to our assurances that we'd be happy to go home without the dolphins. And then we saw them! Little black ones in the distance, frolicking away. It was worth it, if only to get us back to dry land.

At the Byahaut, I clutched a cup of tea like a gulag prisoner and began to wonder whether nature wasn't overrated. In these primitive surroundings, the life-and-death struggle on our table between a moth and a tiny frog seemed a little too close to home. It was time to exit the biosphere.

The Charm of St. Vincent is that it has not been quaintified. This is also a reason not to linger. Kingstown is a commercial port whose open-air market is rivaled in unsightliness only by the very bad brick edifice going up to replace it. Bequia (pronounced "beck-wee"(, an hour's ferry ride away, is the opposite: a picture-postcard harbor filled with enviable yachts. We hired one of the cheerfully painted water taxis to take us to the Gingerbread Hotel, a waterfront spot I'd chosen for its name. Built in the scalloped, fairy­tale style of the Grenadines, it lived up to its billing. Our third­floor room was large and airy, with a four­poster bed in the middle and a balcony overlooking the harbor. The proprietor, Pat Mitchell, another transplanted Canadian, gave us a brusque rundown of the amenities, focusing heavily on antimosquito weaponry.

We ventured into the noonday sun, along the main street that hugs the harbor, past the souvenir shops to Daphne Cooks It, a little roti stand we'd read about. I ordered a curried beef, which was probably goat. When we asked after Daphne, the girl serving us waved her hand and said, "Upstairs."

The heat was making somebody kind of cranky.

Behind Bequia's beaches, its hilly green interior rises sharply. You can see some of the villas (many of them built by yachters who fell in love with the island) poking out from their lush landscaping. At a restaurant called Da Reef, we ordered shrimp-and-lobster salad and a couple of Hairouns, the local beer. We watched a man with a machete hacking up a fish on the beach. Ilene went to investigate. When his sister started yelling at him for "f­­­ing too many women," Ilene excused herself. Bequia is a little rough around its quaintly scalloped edges. In a well­publicized case in 1997, two hard-partying Americans were charged with the murder of a water­taxi driver. They were released after spending 10 months in local jails.

One Bequia tourist trap worth falling into is the model-boat-building trade. In the back room of Sargeant's, at the edge of town, men sit whittling amazingly detailed replicas that range in scale from one to five feet, and in price from a hundred bucks to four grand. Worth every penny if you've got the pennies.

But, back to the mosquitoes. After a night of hunting the evil insects that had made it past the bed's netting, I woke up with a huge welt of poison on my forehead, right on the hairline. We tried an early game of tennis, but the Gingerbread's cracked, weedy court looked as if it hadn't been used since the colonists left.

Surely, We would not experience such hardships at our next destination, the famously opulent and manicured Mustique­a place for pashas, rumored to make St. Bart's look like Club Med. Colin Tennant, aka Lord Glenconner, founded this elite colony in 1958 as a place where his wealthy and titled friends, notably Princess Margaret, could winter. In the seventies, David Bowie and Mick Jagger showed up. Bowie sold his villa; Mick still has his even if he doesn't use it much.

One of the most beautiful women I have ever seen greeted us at the dock and took us in a white minivan up to the Cotton House, the island's only real hotel. As we were checking in, Yves, the manager, chastised us for not telling them when we were coming or how many people we were, a strange complaint considering that they had our confirmed reservation. He asked where we'd been. I mentioned the Byahaut.

"How did you end up there?" he sniffed, as if we'd been trapped in a homeless shelter.


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