ABOARD ROYAL CLIPPER-Dinner aboard the Royal Clipper is a white tablecloth affair with fresh, tropical flower centerpieces. At buffet breakfasts and lunches, towers of fresh fruit share the stage with salads and hot dishes of fish, meat and veggies. For one passenger on a very restricted diet, the kitchen crew created colorful fruit plates with a touch of whimsy.
For a look at where these foods and flowers come from, I took a pair of shore excursions one on St. Vincent, the other on Martinique.
The Garden of Eden tour (47 euros) began with a scenic drive through the Mesopotamia Valley, or Marriaqua Valley, of St. Vincent, often called the island’s breadbasket. Banana plantations, nutmeg, cocoa, breadfruit, coconut and a variety of root crops have thrived here for generations.
Near the highest point of the island, at about 3,000 feet, stands one man’s dream, Montreal Gardens. As Ingrid, our guide, lead us through the lush tropical foliage owner Timothy Vaughan, in work clothes and boots, stepped onto our path to say hello. The Welshman told me he came to St. Vincent on holiday and was so taken with the terrain and the lifestyle that he bought an old fruit plantation and has spent the last 20 years transforming 7.5 acres into a show garden. He sells flowers to offset his costs.
We passed beds of bright red anthurium like those gracing dinner tables on the Royal Clipper. Paths were lined with variegated coleus and stands of wild ginger. An African tulip tree and nutmeg tree prompted several in our group to pull out cell-phone cameras. Ingrid held up the leaf of a trumpet tree and explained its medicinal properties. Good for sufferers of diabetes and high blood pressure, she said.
On the way back to port, Ingrid continued her lecture on the health benefits of St. Vincent’s fruits holding up photos of each. Mangoes, high in fiber, good for the colon and beneficial to men with prostate cancer. Pineapple, good for eyes. Road apple (also called plum rose) for digestion. Star fruit to lower cholesterol and cure hangovers and prickly heat. All appear on the Royal Clipper’s buffet, but I never thought of them as natural pharmaceuticals.
On the French island of Martinique, known as the “Island of Flowers,” guide Rafael led us on the Botanical Gardens of Balata tour (42 euros). After a quick stop at Sacre Coeur de Balata, a one-fifth scale replica of the famous Sacre Coeur of Montmartre in Paris, we continued on to the gardens. Landscape gardener Jean Philippe Thoze began collecting plants as a hobby before opening his garden to the public in 1986. It’s now the second largest botanical garden in the Caribbean and the most visited attraction in Martinique.
Those arranged his plants according to the continents they come from, laying them out around the 18th-century Creole cottage that was his grandmother’s home. Some of 42 varieties of palm trees are represented along with a bed of bromeliads, water lilies and the heavy porcelain roses geishas wear in their hair. Everyone chuckles when the group stops at a plant called Governor’s Secret, named for the island’s last governor who was just a little insecure about a certain part of his male anatomy. The plant’s waxy red flowers, five or six inches long, stand erect on cluster of leaves.
Farther along the garden path Rafael points out a series of rope and cable bridges suspended between trees and encourages us to climb up for a walk through a canopy of leaves. Two persons at a time on each bridge, please.
It reminded me of the rigging on the Royal Clipper that passengers climb to reach the crow’s nest. But instead of a sea of green, the view is a sea of blue.