St. Vincent and the Grenadines is a stunning chain of islands that most call paradise and dream of getting to not escape from! Yet, a few months ago we needed to escape from paradise. You see, St. Vincent is a volcanic archipelago. Surprisingly, the volcano on the main island blew for the first time in over 40 years. Therefore, our escape from paradise was not an easy task.
The day that the volcano erupted we were enjoying our favorite beach on Canouan. But the news came quickly of the devastation on St. Vincent. People were being evacuated from the north. Meanwhile, due to the heavy ash, the airport was shut down. Obviously our hearts went out to the many people affected by this disaster. Given that the only helpful thing we could do was donate to the Red Cross , that is what we did.
Do Nothing - Why Escape Paradise?
Undoubtedly we had the privilege of being south of the main island. And our flight out was not for another 2 weeks. So at this point, an escape plan had not even crossed our minds. Moreover we still had not seen the major jewels of this exquisite archipelago. As a result of the heavy ash we wanted to continue as far south as we could. Thus we took the next ferry to glorious Union Island.
Union Island is the major most southern island of this nation. Although small, it offers amazing beaches and serves as a jumping off point to nearby Mayreau, Palm Island, Tobago Cays and Petit St. Vincent. Therefore we found ourselves in heaven. After all who cares about a quickly approaching flight from a closed airport when you are having this much fun?! Yet little did we know that we would need to find a way to escape from paradise.
A few days prior to our flight we noted that the airport was still closed. As a result, fear started to set in. We looked at our options. First we looked at taking a boat to Grenada or another island nation. However, due to COVID no boats were departing and no nearby island nations were accepting visitors. In light of this we continued searching.
Second, there was a group of stranded tourists departing on a small private plane to St. Lucia. Perhaps they had room? However, there was no guarantee that St. Lucia would accept us even if we were lucky enough to land there. Of course at this point panic was sharply setting in. Airport still closed. Oh oh….
Rob suggests that we take a look on Canadian and US government websites. Perhaps there is something to help us there. And voila, we find a rescue cruise ship set to depart from the port of St. Vincent the next day. Yay! However, within a few clicks we realize that the registration for the boat closed 1 minute ago.
Yikes! What to do?! Emphatically we try to contact the US and Canadian embassies (the cruise ship was chartered by the US, Canadian and UK governments). Concurrently we try to contact the cruise ship. Alas, it is too late to get our names on the manifest.
In the hope that somehow we would still be allowed on the vessel we take stock of what must be done. First we need to get a COVID test. Second we need to find a way to the port of St. Vincent. Meanwhile, we find out that the testing clinic will close in 15 minutes. So we grab our passports and run full sprint to get there in time. Cash only the nurse says. The ATM has a line.
Because of the eruption there have been cash shortages. And there is only 1 ATM on the whole island. So I stand anxiously awaiting my turn. Will there be enough money in the machine for the test? Will the tests be done in time?
Thankfully the ATM spits out the right amount of cash. We run to the trailer that doubles as the clinic. There is a line. The French kite surfing girl says that she is trying to get on the private plane out. To clarify she explains that she would not be allowed on the cruise ship, being French. Given that, we anxiously wait for the nurse to give us the paperwork so that we can briskly walk to the tiny hospital.
You see, a doctor needs to review the results and sign the piece of paper before it is considered legitimate. And the doctor is leaving within a few minutes. So if we don’t make it in time, then we have no test. No test means that we can’t even try to get on the cruise ship. Gulp!
In view of the situation the 3 of us should not have been laughing. Yet, we sat there on the concrete grounds of the “hospital”, awaiting our fate and laughing uncontrollably. We swapped travel tales and shared our future hopes and dreams. Finally, the nurse came out with the good news that the tests were negative and the doctor had a chance to sign off on them prior to his departure. Phew!
The Ferry - First Step to Escape from Paradise
With COVID tests in hand our next step was to figure out how to get to the rescue ship. We saw a ferry scheduled to depart Union Island at 6 a.m. However, due to the circumstances some of the ferries had not been arriving on time. Others not at all. Furthermore, we anticipated that a lot of people would be queued up to make this passage. We wondered will we make it? The rescue boat was scheduled to depart at 12:00 p.m. and we weren’t even listed on the manifest.
Undoubtedly, we did not get much sleep that night. At 4 am we started walking towards the ferry terminal. Not surprisingly there were people already waiting in line to get on. I said goodbye to one of my favorite dogs on the island and we got on. Here’s hoping, we both said smiling. The passage back was pleasantly smooth. As the ferry rounded the port we could see a large cruise ship . Obviously we hoped it was our ticket out.
Even though we loved our time on these islands, the prospect of being stuck here indefinitely was a scary thought. After all we are citizens of 2 of the 3 countries that chartered the ship! Surely, they can find a bit of space for us?!
Escape from Paradise
Evidently, the embassy was able to get our names on the manifest. After many hours of necessary process due to COVID protocols we were escorted to our balcony suite by a person in a full HAZMAT suit. Of course, we were not allowed out of our room for the length of the journey.
During the voyage, food was delivered to our door 3 times a day. What kind of food you ask? In essence every kind of animal product known to man. There was lobster, steak, chicken, pork etc., I was prepared and brought enough vegan food with me for the voyage. All things considered, we were so grateful to be rescued. We did not care where we were going or what food was being served.
Following a very pleasant 36 hours at sea we arrived at the cruise port of St. Maarten. Although this was not our planned destination we were eternally grateful to our governments for coming to our rescue. Indeed this was such a pleasant surprise. The skies were clear and blue and the air clean and breathable. All in all what else could we ask for?!
So What did we Learn from This?
As I have shown, we are happy go lucky people who like to leave decisions to the end. Ok, we are procrastinators! Pure and simple. However, we learned our lesson. When safety is of importance, we will secure exit plans in advance. To this end, we are now much more careful with our arrangements. In conclusion contingency planning has become key for us.
Guess how much we paid for this rescue (our escape from paradise)? Have you ever been saved while travelling? We would love to hear from you.