The movie magic of swaggering pirates, the thrill of the high seas, the mystique of souls of the deep and a swashbuckling whodunnit drama, all contribute to the box office success of the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. A success that is tangible to the tune of US$ 2.68 billion. Some of the destinations in the movie were born out of Hollywood’s imagination, such as Shipwreck Cove and the Island of Crosses (aka. Isla Cruces), but even fictional destinations have to be filmed in real life places.
I’m not one to allow movie sets determine my holiday choices, but you can’t argue with Hollywood’s choice of scenery. What’s more, everyone loves a good back story to anything, destinations included. It was therefore easy to tweak the schedule to accommodate a quick trip to St. Vincent and the Grenadines during our year-end Caribbean tour. When I’m not traveling, I live in a capital city, and have always wondered why most big cities are considered a stop-over to change flights rather than a destination in themselves. Granted, concrete creations don’t photograph nearly as well as an island-dotted seascape, but the hum of the city’s happening vibe can be as inspiring as mother nature herself. If we’re talking about a numbers game, a big city should be home to enough attractions and activities to accommodate the number of people living there. So while the Grenadines seem the move obvious choice for the type of island scenery that the Caribbean has come to symbolize, we made it a point to spend some time exploring St. Vincent and the capital Kingstown.
The plane started its descent into E.T. Joshua on Saint Vincent, an airport I would later learn was named after Ebenezer Theodore, the first chief minister of the islands. The airport was as I imagined (despite efforts to void myself of any image preconceptions during travels, I always fail to banish them) – small and unassuming, with close proximity to the nearby hills and the enticing Caribbean waters. Passing swiftly through immigration, we meet up with our tour guide, Pierre. He told us French names are still common amongst the locals, a legacy from the French colonial era. We asked him to wait while we dumped our luggage off at the villa, wanting to hit the ground running with the sightseeing. St. Vincent is a mountainous island, and Kingstown is a small capital, where the buildings lining the main streets are no more than 3 stories high, many of them boasting exteriors painted in bright colors. Pierre was full of anecdotes, telling us about when the cameras were rolling on the island, even where hat Mr.Jack Sparrow and Ms. Elizabeth Swann stayed along with rest of the stars during filming (Young Island Resort, for all you movie buffs and stalkers). He dropped us off, and we reconfirmed a pick up time for the sightseeing tour the day after.
King George III’s Queen
Ten in the morning sounds like a rather civilized time to set out, until of course it’s 8am and the alarm suggests you get out of bed. I love food, don’t get me wrong, but given the choice to either sleep in or roll out of bed to drowsily gorge on eggs and bacon, the additional minutes of shut eye always win hands down. So we snoozed some more, and woke up shortly past 9am, trying to shake off the jet lag that seemed to lurk in the background ever so sneakily.
Pierre was waiting for us, bubbly as usual and laughing at our evident heavy eyes. First order of business was Fort Charlotte. Hong Kong has The Peak, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, but for St. Vincent, this historical hilltop barracks was the place to go for a vista and get oriented with the surroundings. It was a long but scenic drive in the car, passing through hilly terrain. We were told that earlier in the morning was a better time to visit, as the afternoons can get a bit hectic with the hoards of cruise-goers blocking the frame wherever you point your camera. Part of the two century-old building has been converted into a museum, depicting the history of the Black Caribs.
After a tour and a wonder around, we sat down with the light lunch that was packed for us, absorbing the atmosphere and the story of the land, and looking out over the view, humbly pondering how hundreds of men used to be stationed there, lightyears from the luxury cruising grounds that now surround these famous islands.
We left the museum and went on to Black Point Tunnel, where a passage was drilled into the side of the mountain – literally cutting corners – to ease the transportation of sugar from the mills to the boats awaiting at the seaside. The 360 or so foot long tunnel was peppered with holes on the sides, once excavated for storage of the sugarcane. When we met the light at the end, we discovered more excavated holes in the ground filled with pooled water, which we eagerly took the chance to cool off in before heading to the nearby Owia Bay.
The salt ponds at this bay are dramatic, formed by volcanic rock formations. The beaches on this island, in fact, are black volcanic sand, which glitter in the sand and contrast sharply against the clear blue seas. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Rawacou, a recreational park with full facilities (including changing rooms), and took in the tropical sun walking down the two separate beaches and cooling off in the pool (man made) as we were advised not to swim in the strong seas.
Visitors to the Caribbean are there for the sea, sand, and sun, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But as we discovered, by scratching the surface a bit more, a destination’s facets increase exponentially with more understanding of the history of a place. Just remember to leave plenty of time to swim, sail, and sunbathe.
Pirates of the Caribbean movie set trivia
- St. Vincent was the primary shooting location for the series.
- Additional piers and a backlot were purposely built on the Haitian island of Tortuga, and Port Royal in Jamaica.
- The fictional island of Isla Cruces was actually filmed in Dominica and in the Bahamian island of Great Exuma.
- Also filmed on Dominica is Pelegosto, another fictional island.
- Port Royal was featured in all Pirates’ installations other than On Stranger Tides.