For your weekend reading pleasure we are sharing 25 facts you may or may not have known about the Caribbean. Next weekend we will share 25 more. Call it a down-island smorgasboard, full of appetizers for the September issue of Passagemaker dedicated to this fascinating region.
1. Scenes from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” were filmed in Dominica, which was depicted as “Cannibal Island.” Unfortunately, some of the film crew’s luggage went to the Dominican Republic, which is also in the Caribbean, but definitely not the same place.
2. To circumnavigate Cuba, a boat would have to travel about 1,650 nautical miles, about the distance from Newfoundland to Miami.
3. At 6,288 feet, Mount Washington in New Hampshire is the tallest U.S. mountain east of the Mississippi River. The Caribbean has seven peaks taller than Mount Washington, including Pico Duarte in the Dominican Republic, a whopping 9,843 feet in elevation.
4. The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos are not part of the Caribbean per se, as they are actually situated in the Southwest North Atlantic Ocean. They are considered part of the West Indies, however, along with the islands of the Greater and Lesser Antilles, which are part of the Caribbean.
5. George Washington insisted on a barrel of Barbados rum for his 1789 inauguration.
6. In the 20 years leading up to 1981, between 55,000 and 100,000 people fled from Haiti to the U.S. aboard wood sailing vessels whose design dates back to Medieval France. The total may now be as high as a quarter million.
7. Caribbean peoples love to play dominos, and they play their own way. The first thing that is required is a sturdy table because the players like to slam the pieces down. You can hear a game from quite a distance.
8. The great Mid-Century American writer Herman Wouk wrote “Don’t Stop the Carnival” about a New Yorker in mid-life crisis who escapes to a fictional Caribbean Island. Based on Wouk’s own experience as a hotelier on St. Thomas, the book was adapted into a Broadway musical and later a Jimmy Buffet album.
9. The Scotch Bonnet pepper, native to the Caribbean, is so named because of its resemblance to a tam o’ shanter hat. At up to 350,000 on the Scoville Scale, the Scotch Bonnet can be 35 times hotter than a Jalapeño.
10. Seventy-one brands of rum are produced in Caribbean distilleries.
11. The Greater Antilles comprise Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica.
12. The Lesser Antilles comprise 25 island entities, extending from the U.S. Virgin Islands in the north to Venezuelan islands in the south.
13. The great calypso artist Mighty Sparrow wrote one of musical history’s all-time greatest spoofs. “Congo Man” was banned from Caribbean radio for 25 years after it first aired in 1964, though the reasons shifted over time. Critics could not decide whether the double-entendre-laden work was racist, obscene or just too brutally honest for the times.
14. The biggest marina in the Caribbean—and bigger than any on the U.S. East Coast—is Marina Gaviota at Varadero in Cuba with berths for more than 1,200 boats.
15. Caribbean goat stew is the official dish of Monserrat.
16. The great U.K. pop singer Joan Armatrading was born in 1950 in Basseterre on St. Kitts.
17. In 1976 Jamaican authorities fired upon Jimmy Buffet as he taxied his seaplane in the waters off Negril. Bono of U2 was also aboard and was terrified. He compared the experience to being in a James Bond movie. Jamaica apologized and Buffet wrote a song based on the incident, “Jamaica Mistaica.”
18. The Caribbean takes its name from the indigenous Carib tribes that had migrated up the island chain from South America. They were fierce warriors and sea-raiders with a reputation for cannibalism. About 3,000 Caribs remain on Dominica today.
19. There are more than 7,000 islands in the Caribbean.
21. Cuba has the most brands of rum of any Caribbean nation—eleven. But actually they are all made by subsidiaries of a single company—the government.
22. All about the booty: Academic research suggests that the real pirates of the Caribbean were highly tolerant of homosexuality. Less so the bosses at Disney who were on the verge of firing Johnny Depp for portraying Captain Jack Sparrow as gay.
23. Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic fame rode out Hurricane Irma in the wine cellar of his estate on Necker Island, which he owns in its entirety. Branson and his retinue spent 14 hours in the reinforced cellar, sampling from his collection. "It didn't feel so bad when we came out. We were all in a good mood," Branson said.
24. Quite literally a melting pot: Caribbean cuisine is a fusion of African, Creole, Cajun, American Indian, European, Latin American, Indian, Middle Eastern and Chinese.
25. The word reggae comes from “rege-rege,” a Jamaican phrase meaning “rags or ragged clothing,” suggesting a raggedy style of music.