The Art of Doing Nothing
In the Caribbean
There’s a wooden chair at the Frangipani Hotel in Bequia where there’s a lot of nothing to do. It is situated directly under a coconut tree whose palm fronds rattle like shaka-shakas in the trade winds.
The chair is positioned so your back is to the Frangipani’s open-air bar, where a blender roars like a power tool. At the tip of your toes is Admiralty Bay, the prettiest harbor in the southern Caribbean. Across the bay is a mountainous landscape, into which the village of Hamilton is folded. Scars of brown zigzag the mountain: well-worn walking paths. At night, porch lights twinkle. Between the chair and Hamilton, dozens of yachts bob in the bay.
If you’ve been to Bequia – either by flying to the Grenadine island on a twin-engine plane from Barbados or by ferry from the mainland of St. Vincent, you’ll know exactly which chair I’m talking about. It’s the one that is hardly ever empty, the one near the cannon, a relic from the days of the English.
On Thursday nights, in particular, the chair is prime real estate. That’s when yachties sail from other Grenadine islands and as far away as St. Lucia to hear steel drums peal into the tropical night and to eat breadfruit salad, spiny lobster and coconut pie.
If this Caribbean community wanted to raise money for social services, they could probably sell tickets to sit in this chair on Thursdays.
It is the chair where I learned the art of doing nothing, a skill I started practicing from this spot back in 1991. I can tell you from experience of the challenges you will face.
First, a fair amount of pedestrian traffic walks the seaside footpath, of which this chair has a front-row seat, so to speak. The well-worn path begins near Mrs. Taylor’s restaurant, the Porthole, in Port Elizabeth, and winds along the sea (passing the chair) a half mile or so, seemingly ending in front of the now-defunct Plantation House Hotel. Really, the path turns to dirt and continues sharply uphill and then quad-buildingly downhill, dead-ending on the powdery sands of Princess Margaret beach.
If you’ve been in Bequia longer than four hours, chances are you’ll see someone you know on the footpath. That’ll lead to a conversation and impromptu plans. Rather than practicing mindfulness, you’ll find yourself catching a dollar bus to the South Side, where “the greatest whalerman who ever lived” lived, when he lived. He died in 2000. On this side of Bequia, which faces the island of Mustique, fishermen hand-saw small wooden boats near shore, and Friendship Bay Hotel has swings in place of bar stools. This is just one example of how a day when you planned on doing nothing gets filled with something.
Second distraction. Within shouting distance of the chair is a jetty where Bequia’s water-taxi drivers tie up, their VHF radios abuzz. For $10 EC (or $3), you can board African Pride, Black Run or interestingly, Phat Shag. In five minutes, you’ll be at Lower Bay, where there’s a beach, music, sometimes bonfires, but always food and drink. Da Reef offers thirst quenchers such as Hairoun beer and Caribbean dishes such as tuna and chicken salad sandwiches. That may not sound local, but tuna salad made from fresh tuna on home-baked bread is a different sandwich entirely.
The third distraction is the island clock, a k a the ferry whistle. At 7:30 a.m., the throaty deep-sea-style horn will blow through Admiralty Bay, signifying its departure for the mainland. This may remind you, briefly, of St. Vincent and its natural resources: La Soufriere, Owia Salt Ponds, Trinity Falls and Wallilabou Bay (where “Pirates of the Caribbean” was filmed). The horn will blow at several intervals during the day – at 9:30, 1, 2, 4:30 and 5; you can set your watch by it – reminding you that perhaps you should sightsee. And, just before noon twice a week, the mailboat will sound off, sailing south to Canouan, Mayreau and Union Island. Unlike rugged and lush St. Vincent, with its black-sand beaches and jungle, the southern Grenadines are laid-back and blue. You may be tempted to do what others come to the Caribbean to do: snorkel at Horseshoe Reef in the Tobago Cays; or island-hop, bargaining for fresh fish, lobster and jewelry from boat vendors.
Take it from me, the tree frogs may chirp, the palm fronds may rustle, a plane may rumble overhead, but as my meditation instructor in Grenada once said, “Put it all in the background … Nature tightly guards the secret of quiet, but you have to find quiet in order to find the answers.” I’d say the chair in Bequia is a good start.