Friday, May 12, 2006

Mahd's guide to the world, Part 10: The Caribbean

It's been a while, but we're back with the newest installment of the Guide. In this part, we'll be travelling to the lush, sunny coasts (at least when they're not being ravaged by hurricanes) of island paradises. Please note that, in the same way that Heaven might get boring after a few millenia, the lush, tropical paradises listed below are generally similar. In order to help alleviate this, I will be assigning each a Piracy Rank based on past, current and future piratical acts.


Here's how the Caribbean works: A foreign nation comes to the islands populated by native peoples, wipes them out, imports slave labor from Africa and raises sugar and tobacco. Every island pretty much followed this history up until around the mid 19th-century.

Anguilla is a collection of islands and cays that distinguishes itself by being one of the most expensive island chains in the region. In some ways, the only way to see the Caribbean is from your chaise lounge which is carried by your servants who are themselves carried by their servants.

Piracy Rank: 7 (Good potential for future)

Antigua and Barbuda

The more I read about all of these island nations, the more I'm coming to realize that there is a private island for every man, woman and child on earth. Antigua boasts that it has 365 islands in it's dominion, one for each day of the year. Each one a tropical paradise, blah blah blah. More interesting is that a few years ago the Prime Minister of the island was named Lester Bird, which may be the most unfortunate name ever.

Piracy Rank: 6 (Lots o places to hide loot)


Aruba managed to avoid the prototypical Caribbean fate in a strange way: the soil was not good for farming, so every nation that came here moved along real quietly. Spain and the British didn't want it, so the Netherlands finally took control. It turns out to have been a good choice, with gold discovered in the country in the 19th century and oil refining in the 20th.

Although the interior might be a desert-like wasteland, the tropical coastlines will always ensure that there will be plenty of pale Dutch and American tourists for years to come.

Piracy Rank: 4 (Gold's run out and oil's no good to a pirate)


Barbados is referred to as "Little England". This isn't so much because of unpalatable food and bad teeth as their penchant for English names and pasttimes. The British themselves love the little island, often choosing to come here rather than experience something unfamilar.

In spite of their love for things British, Barbados still retains some of it's Caribbean charm. Dark-skinned natives still listen to calypso music on the sandy beaches. Even if it does happen right before they go to the cricket match, it still counts.

Piracy Rank: 2 (Stay away from the British navy)


Aside from Bermuda, this series of islands (over 700) is probably the most popular in the Caribbean. The islands have some interesting history: these were the islands that Christopher Columbus first discovered for Spain (much to the surprise of the people who were living there- they had thought they had discovered them much sooner). Thousands of British loyalists were sent here after the American Revolution- they now have their revenge on Americans by charging $10 for a Pina Colada. It's not all a tourist wasteland- the outlying islands are more true to the original peoples, who we can only assume burn effigies of Columbus every day and twice on Mondays.

Piracy Rank: 9 (Once a Privateer's Republic, always a Privateer's Republic)

British Virgin Islands

Once a hunting ground for pirates, these islands have since become home to a small number of upscale resorts. Unlike the US Virgin Islands, there's little commercialism, which might be interpreted as a commentary on a larger scale. Yachts are common here, and the well-heeled crowd often derides anyone with a mere "50 footer".

The true reason these islands exist is for shady offshore banking firms to ply their trade. If you can't afford a Swiss bank account, a BVI one is the next best thing- after all, if you can't semi-legally launder your money, how are you ever going to be able to afford that bigger yacht?

Piracy Rank: 10 (Shady money practices combined with a history of buccaneers)

Cayman Islands

Everything that was said for the BVI goes double for the Cayman Islands. At least the money laundering part of it. Tourism is invariably here as well, especially for divers who enjoy the crystal clear waters. Combine this with a relatively common amount of shipwrecks from the old days and you can have a good time. Just don't buy anything here, because there's a massive tax on imports. If possible, bring a tent and daquiri machine with you to save some money.

Piracy Rating: 5 (Money laundering, but kind of far from everything)


Cuba- the Communist Paradise! Where Soviets came to play in the surf and sand. Where nearly everyone on the island has used every imaginable piece of equipment to escape, from rubber boats to 1950's trucks. Cuba is judiciously goberned by Fidel Castro, who in recent years has been discovered to be a cigar-smoking robot. Other highlights of Cuba include the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, where a number of people are currrently enjoying the fresh tropical air- whether they want to or not.

Piracy Rating: 1 (Communists dislike pirates - trust me)


Dominica may be one of the last unspoiled Caribbean nations- despite the efforts of its government. Tourists aren't interested in beaches that aren't covered in white sand, and a notable lack of shopping, dining and nightlife. Natural beauty abounds, and that sickens developers who could be using the land to create a luxury resort. It doesn't help that the country's leaders keep dying in office- according to the chain of succession, the new leader is the former Secretary for Very Small Cats Affairs. His reign promises to, if nothing else, be adorable.

Piracy Rating: 2 (Poor countries make for poor plunder)


Grenada might be most well-known as the country the United States invaded.

Okay, maybe I need to be more specific.

Grenada was invaded by the US in 1983 when the US thought the Cuba was trying to take over the island. The reason given was, of course, merely to rescue some U.S. students at a University there. The real reason- the US needed to secure vital supplies of nutmeg and cinnamon for their Christmas eggnog. And that's how the US saved Christmas.

Piracy Rating: 4 (unless those spices are going into rum, in which case make it an 8)


A French island that was repeatedly seized by the British, given to the Swedes who then gave it back to France, Guadeloupe has settled into a traditional Caribbean tourist destination. Yes, there have been strikes against the government, but the protesters generally give up to go nap in hammocks on the beach. Speaking with inhabitants is near impossible, since the language is a mish-mash of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese and perhaps shockingly, Aramaic. Don't worry, they'll get the picture when you raise your voice and shake your empty drink glass at them.

Piracy Ranking: 6 (A history of violence)

Dominican Republic/Haiti

These two nations are lumped together both geographically, but I also do it to contrast them. Where the Dominican Republic is a peaceable nation, Haiti is basically a 24-hour murderfest. The Dominican Republic boasts a number of all-inclusive resorts catering to your every need: Haiti boasts that you may not be lynched within 5 minutes of landing at the airport (which itself is probably on fire). The Dominican Republic is a stable democracy: Haiti has pretty much been in continuous rebellion since 1821.

If I had to choose between the two, I'd say go to the Dominican Republic- just a hunch that you'll have more fun there.

Piracy Rating: 10/ 2 (I'll let you guess which is which)


Jamaica- has there ever been a more stereotyped nation? Yes, we know they're all a bunch of pot-smoking rastafarians who have a penchant for bobsled racing. Sure, that stereotype might be dead-on, but what don't we know about these people? Well, not much- the people pride themselves on reggae; on their rum; and on the availability and legality of their pot. They seem to have learned that if you have music and mind-altering substances, then you don't really need or care about things like infrastructure or jobs. It's kind of like a music festival, except the water isn't $13 a bottle.

Piracy Rating: 7 (Rum! I wonder if they have reggae sea shanties?)


In every area of the world, there is one nation that seems to be relatively boring and stable. For the Caribbean, it's Martinique. Oh sure, the country is French-speaking, which is somewhat exotic to us Anglophiles, but otherwise it's had an almost eventless history for the past century. Frankly, it's irritating: without some interesting and bloody coup, what can I write here? Nothing- and that's why I'm done.

Piracy Rating: 1 (No fun to be had here!)


Do you enjoy the outdoors? Perhaps to the exclusion of any other activity? If so, Montserrat is the place for you. Their slogan is "The Caribbean the way it used to be". To translate, this means "The Caribbean without any exciting dining, casinos, indoor activities, ATMs, hotels, flush toilets or running water." If you are the outdoorsy type, you can go see the active volcano, or hike or kayak. And if you disappear, nobody will ever, ever find you. So this might be a good place to take someone you're planning to murder.

Piracy Rating: 2 (No loot or rum, however violence is possible)

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico! Home of the Pina Colada, which can be now lovingly dispensed from a high-tech Homemade Pina Colada Machine (tm). Puerto Rico is a U.S. Commonwealth, which means that they get all of the benefits of being citizens without the culpability of having voted for our elected members of Government.

It's not all icy alcoholic drinks and government subsidies, though. Puerto Rico faces a number of problems, from air pollution to water shortages. The nation is a great stopover for trafficking drugs into the U.S., so check that out too. Although, we really don't like it, so if you're bringing speedboats full of cocaine to our country, please stop.

Piracy Rating: 8 (Yo ho ho and a bottle of...)

St. Kitts and Nevis

Now we come to the "Saint" islands. The only reason that more of these islands aren't named for revered religious figures is that they ran out of sainted persons before they ran out of islands.

St. Kitts and Nevis are unique in the number of monkeys running around them. There are more monkeys than people, and you may find yourself in a bar ordering a drink and having it served to you by a friendly simian. They are piano players, innkeepers, DJs, and, shockingly, organ grinders that use smaller monkeys to collect coins.

Fortunately, many shops sell monkey repellent so that you can avoid these. The more common name for the repellent is "guns".

Piracy Rating: 7 (A monkey is a good pirate pet. A monkey with a parrot on it's shoulder- even better)

St. Lucia

Another semi-developed island, St. Lucia is smaller than New York. It's also less developed than New York, and you're less likely to be randomly urinated on than you would be in New York. Your chance of getting in for a taping of The David Letterman Show is about the same, though.

St. Lucia has interesting black-and-white sand beaches, rainforests and a sulphur volcano, the latter making any travel here a smelly proposition. More shocking, they decided to build a hog fat rendering plant on the island next to a chicken farm. Only half the population has complained, though- the other half were found dead in their houses.

Piracy Rating: 5 (Pirates don't mind the smell- they never shower anyways)

St. Vincent and the Grenadines

This is a group of 30 islands. There is excellent yachting and snorkeling thanks to the beautifully clear waters. The people are friendly and welcoming, and will cater to every need and whim. As the tropical sun darts low on the water, remember why you came to St. Vincent and the Grenadines- for the ultimate in relaxation and luxury*

Piracy Rating: 0 (There are no pirates here, just plenty of fantastic family activities)

*This guide paid for by Grenadine Island #23, which is the one with the money.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago created steel drum music. For this, I suggest a lengthy air campaign followed by an enveloping ground war. We must cleanse the earth of these people and their irritating music that is played at every faux Caribbean party that exists. Truly, they are an evil force and should be dealt with accordingly.

Piracy Rating: 0 (No self-respecting pirate would go within 20km of this place)

U.S. Virgin Islands

The U.S. Virgin Islands are a great place to finish up. Much like Pirates of the Caribbean shows us a false and idealized image of pirates, the USVI are something of an animatronic ride through the Caribbean. Oh look, there's the friendly black man with a brightly shining smile selling us fresh coconut milk! And over there is a brightly colored bar serving "fresh" cocktails. These beaded necklaces seem more Polynesian than Caribbean, but they're both islands, right? No, this is definitely the Caribbean; I can hear the spicy tunes of a steel drum cacaphony off in the distance. What, we have to go back on the cruise ship already? Well, now that I have experienced this island, I can make safe assumptions about every other Caribbean island...

This is a dangerous, dangerous place. Make sure that you remember it's not real, like Never-never land, Middle-Earth, or Los Angeles.

Piracy Rating: 10 (Hapless tourists will buy anything! And it's not even robbery- not in the traditional sense, anyways)


At 10:46 PM, Blogger ChickyBabe said...

This would have to be your best one to date! Something tells me you've put your soul in that one with all that piracy rating!

One day, I'll get to the Caribbean... in the meantime, I just dream!

At 11:21 PM, Blogger Scorpy said...

Brilliant as usual

At 10:18 AM, Blogger jackt said...

Prime Minister of Antigua: Would be great if the Lester were actually his middle name, and his first name were actually "Moe".


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