Kit for Travelling to the Caribbean – Basic Living

Spot the boat.. out here you really are on your own!

So, what does one pack when heading to an unknown island for months on end?

COFFEE. Bags of coffee. Despite the proximity to South America, coffee is disproportionately expensive to obtain here! Of course, as with many trips, once you have visited once you would have a much better idea of targeted collection of useful things to bring (the lucky toy llama still firmly at the top, of course…), but coffee is essential.

The biggest area that we wanted to focus on, especially being in an area where you will only be drinking tank-stored rainwater, was a way to ensure water was safe. Nobody likes sitting at 30 degrees in the midday sun next to a tank full of water and no way to drink it!

A few options were considered. Water purification tablets were on the list, and come in a host of varieties. However, this is fine if needing them for a few days, or even a week. But we didn’t much fancy dissolving chlorine-based tablets into every glass of water for 4 months. So we looked at filter options.

There were two main options on the market that appeared to hold consistently good reviews, and these were ‘LifeStraws’ (https://www.lifestraw.com/) and ‘Water-To-Go’ (https://watertogo.eu/).

Coming in bottle form, and with generally water-tight (sorry!!) reviews, the Water-To-Go bottles were chosen (with fact that it claims to use ‘technology developed by NASA’ having no bearing at all…). And they have proved to be a worthy investment! Without Petri dishes and growth mediums to test the water sanitisation, the only two points we have to go off is that a) it tastes great and clear, and b) we haven’t fallen over sideways yet. Both of which are good news! They are easy to use, refill, and are also very rugged and durable. Something I would highly recommend!

The next point to address, is the intermittent electricity. Although power cuts are far from daily, they are relatively frequent; any high winds, stormy weather, heavy rain.. Which, this time of year, are a at least a weekly event. So reliable power has to be available. And what is reliable here (well, at least when there isn’t a storm blowing through..)? Solar energy!

The daily routine is first thing in the morning, as the sun hits the balcony, to place out all of the light units that then gather and store energy through the day via the sun, to then utilise in the evening. Alongside this, we have been using an ‘Anker PowerPort Solar’ (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anker-PowerPort-2-Port-Charger-iPhone/dp/B012VL20GW).

This AWESOME piece of kit boasts 2 USB charging ports. Although it is simply a charger (and unable to retain charge), for the entirety of daylight hours it works incredibly well.

For this reason, it definitely paid to ensure as much kit as possible that we brought (2 way radios, head torch, normal torch, iPhones..) were able to charge directly off USB.

When there is no need to charge anything directly, the Belkin power bank (there are a million different types of power bank available) gets plugged in to soak up charge so ensure that it doesn’t go to waste. Then any USB items requiring charging overnight can be.

With those being the main two ‘savours,’ of course there are countless other gems that would be too numerous to go through. Mosquito repellent, good knives (including a Leatherman multitool) and a knife sharpener have all proved beyond valuable.

When you’re stuck on an island such as this, you are only as good as your kit! And when you do your research, consider that you do get what you pay for. And when you are going to be somewhere that means sending something back for repair, or even replacing it, is impossible, it pays to get the kit you can depend on.

Wildlife of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Antillian Crested Hummingbird – an island favourite

Despite being a modest chain of islands, the Grenadines boast a vast array of wildlife; from parrots to pufferfish, and tuna to turtles. However, as with many remote islands, the wildlife in the Grenadines has taken its fair share of persecution over the years. This is due to a host of reasons, ranging from habitat loss for building and agriculture (albeit modest on the rocky slopes), as well as superstition and fear. The snakes are a good example of this, where all three species (Barbour’s Tropical Racer [Mastigodryas bruesi], Saint Vincent Blacksnake [Chironius vincenti] and Cook’s Tree Boa [Corallus cookii]) are not venomous, but feared by many not aware of their innocence. Of course, being small islands, it has to be remembered that above all other risks – everything is on the menu as far as meat is concerned.

The array of wildlife below the water is as abundant and beautiful as above

However, as times change, shifts in opinion slowly try to knock on the door of materialising the recognition for the need to protect these species.

The Union Island Gecko (Gonatodes daudini), as an example, only came on to the scientific radar as a species in 2005. Very sadly, some of the initial published data on this incredibly unique and rare lizard (classed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List) was utilised by poachers to facilitate successful capture of many individuals for the illegal pet trade. As the entire habitat of this species spans only 0.5 square kilometres,

As of March this year, the government of Saint Vincent has applied to the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) to formally list the Union Island Gecko as a protected species, and banning international trade.

So, slowly, things are changing. But with recognition of the Union Island Gecko in 2005, how has it taken 14 years to get this far? And will it be too late? Time is running out for this species, as well as those such as the Blacksnake, who is also considered ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List.

The islands boast some incredible species, including this lovely Red-Footed Tortoise (Chelonoidis carbonarius) that we have observed in the wild here in Mayreau. But even this species is classified as ‘Vulnerable’ by the IUCN Red List; meaning they too fall into the endangered umbrella category.

A wild Red-Footed Tortoise enjoying his supper

So where does this leave us? As vets, we undoubtably have the privilege of being well educated in the appreciation of our natural world, and it’s finite toleration to our abuse of it. For those of us that have worked/work in zoo and conservation medicine there are daily reminders of the urgent need to safe-guard our planet, and the all species; especially those most imminently at risk of extinction.

Interestingly, here, as with the case around the world, it isn’t us big-headed vets saving species… it’s tourism. And money talks. It is the only way to accelerate protection of natural habitat and those animals that reside in it. To educate and promote care for the environment having a positive effect on tourism. Where people see there is the opportunity to make more money from living examples rather than persecuting them to extinction, it has the potential to be win-win.

And for this part we can all do our bit – visiting areas that are conservation-conscious, and ensuring that travelling spends are spent on projects with a positive impact as opposed to those just out to make money (as sadly some of them are), are all ways that we can help.

The Gretas of the world are speaking out with a loud, commanding voice for our planet. But we can all vote without saying a word; with how we choose to spend our money, especially when travelling.

Weekend in Mayreau

The weather here today is changeable, and despite our best efforts in getting out with the dogs first thing, the heavens opened and within two minutes we were soaked through. So all bedraggled and tails firmly between legs, we arrived back at the house to dry off! The dogs all seem grateful to be out of the weather..

This afternoon we will head out on rounds to see the animals, and hopefully other than that, everyone can relax and enjoy the weekend!

Handover Complete!

It has been a whirlwind of a first 5 days on Mayreau – storm warning, getting introduced to as many animals on the island as possible, and now the previous volunteers Callum and Katie have set off heading back to the UK!

Mayreau Animal Welfare Team 2k19

And it has been a week of firsts – first emergency, first hummingbird seen (and Grey Kingbird for that matter), first snorkelling session, and first shower with a snake!

It has also been a first for ordering the week’s shopping to come in on the ferry from Saint Vincent. All-in-all, what a week (with the only real failing being the over-order on the carrots..)

Storm Karen

So we began yesterday morning by walking the dogs down towards the beach, only to be met by the island’s policeman who informed us that there was a tropical wave (one down from hurricane grade) was on the way, and we were on the red zone.

Time for tea

Having been warned that we should consider making our way to one of the secure locations such as the school or clinic.

Storm Karen on the approach

Getting back to the house the wind was definitely picking up, and me, Sophie and the other two volunteers handing over to us Katie and Callum packed emergency bags and made a cup of tea.

Having trawled the internet and examined various weather reports, it certainly looked like we could be in for a long day. However, with the house dogs being needed to be left behind if we left (and the house being designed and built to withstand fairly enthusiastic storms we decided to keep packed ready to go, but hang back and ensure we kept the animals as dry and safe as possible.

Luckily, she passed without much more than some strong winds and heavy driving rain, so back to dog walks today!

Arrived!!

Having caught the ferry from St Vincent to Mayreau, we were relieved and grateful to finally make it to a bed and shower! Albeit if the shower consists of a bucket and cup. Still beats the intermittent tap at an airport toilet…

The island itself is another world; a beautiful combination of stunning scenery, incredible wildlife and wonderful people.

Having begun to just about get our heads around all the house dog’s names, we set off at 6:30 this morning for our first dog walk to the beach. En route, we stopped to pick up a couple of the dogs that then joined us for the early morning walk.

Being sat here, finally, writing the blog feels very surreal; so much planning and preparation going into this trip it feels an honour to finally be here. Soon it will be the time to begin the heartworm med programme for the dogs on a routine, followed by a bit of fishing..

The Long Haul

Sat writing this at 00:39 local time in Toronto, having fashioned a make-shift bed from the available benches in the airport awaiting the transfer.

There is something eerily comforting about the quiet echo of a near-empty airport; drifting in and out of consciousness clinging on to one’s prized possessions.

Having had a kind offer to stay with a vet friend just outside Toronto, the flight and baggage collection took so long it all ended up a little late to descend on a friend, and the hotels were full, so a bench and Peaky Blinders is it! But good stories are never made from wise, well-timed and well-executed plans, are they. They’re made from crushing your back in half with your feet in the air in essentially a big draughty warehouse.

Needless to say, very much already missing the daft little Vizsla back home, as well as the rest of the menagerie!

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining us!

On the 18th September, we will be flying out via Toronto to Saint Vincent, where we will be catching a boat the following morning to the little island that shall be home for the following four months – Mayreau!

We will be uploading regular updates to this blog, so please stay tuned to follow the adventure as it unfolds on this little Caribbean island!

– Elliott and Sophie

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