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Caribbean Log – Powered by British Airways. My first helicopter flight!

This was a special day… not because I left the island of St. Lucia, but because I flew for the first time by a helicopter ! And, boy, I really love to fly !

Day 6. Star date: September 14, 2011

Unfortunately, dreams almost always come to an end at a certain point, so September 14 was our last day in the Caribbean… Surprisingly enough, I still managed to wake up at around 6 a.m. and enjoy the landscape around my hotel while everything was still peaceful, quiet and not at all crowded… I was lucky because Cristina Bazavan wakes up even earlier, and keeps pounding on the keys of her laptop, in the wi-fi area of the lounge .

Loads of sunshine, bright blue sky, not a single trace of a cloud… What a perfect day for a flight – even a helicopter flight! I read the tour offer from the tourist agencies in our hotel: you can have a half-hour helicopter tour of the island… I talk to the agent, she makes a phone call. You need to have a group of four for this flight, but I am all alone… Hmm, what a pity!

However, upon sharing this idea with the rest of the group, their enthusiasm is instantaneous! We also get another upgrade: instead of the regular transfer by bus to the intercontinental airport located on the southern end of the island (as we were on the exact opposite side), we’ll get a spectacular transfer by helicopter!!!

Time went by rather slowly and lazily… Swimming in the pool, packing our bags, eating lunch and then browsing on the web… until 3.15 p.m., when our car arrived to take us to the George Charles Airport… Although St. Lucia is a rather small island, it has no less than two airports. The great southern airport is Hewanorra International, where big airplanes such as Boeing 747 or 777 (the model used by British Airways) or Airbus 330 can land; this is the operational airport for major transatlantic airlines that bring travelers over from Europe or North America. As for George Charles, it is the small airport located right into the capital city of Castries, on the sea coast; only small airplanes (like ATR 72) can land here, connecting various Caribbean islands… Well, we were going to take off from George Charles, fly over the capital city of Castries, then over the western coast, fly past the two iconic peaks of the island – ”The Pythons” – and then head for the international airport.

We are sorry to leave the hotel, but the dream of flying on board of a helicopter is much too strong… I’ve never tried a helicopter flight before. I had two unsuccessful attempts in New York and Hong Kong, but the cloudy sky made me gave up this idea in New York, while in Hong Kong all the helicopters were packed, and I couldn’t get a seat. I could have tried the HK – Macao flight, but this was not the point, because I simply wanted to fly over the spectacular Chinese metropolis.

Although the sky had been unbelievably blue all morning long, as soon as we went past Rodney Bay (where we cast one last glance at Jack Sparrow’s ship from “Pirates of the Caribbean”), clouds started gathering to the south… Ooops… As we reached the suburbs of the capital city Castries, close to the take-off runaway of the George Charles Airport, clouds seemed to gather menacingly towards us…

The small airport was rather quiet. Only one airplane of Air Caraibes was getting ready for take-off towards who knows what destination… We got to the end of the runway and took some pictures with the first cruise ship I had ever seen in Castries since our arrival on the island, and then we were introduced to the helicopter provided by St. Lucia Helicopters ! The pilot had not arrived yet; he was coming with some clients from the airport, so we fooled around and took lots of photos with that little French jewel. In the meantime, Air Caraibes took off, and it started to rain… Oops! Were we still going to fly? I hardly managed to express my fears out loud, when a small helicopter appeared out of the blue and landed under the pounding tropical rain. Aha! So one could still fly!

Finally our pilot arrived – a merry Englishman who invited us on board. We ran all the way to the helicopter and got in rather soaked. Rain can be heavy in the Caribbean! After a small briefing, similar to the one presented by flight attendants on planes – our destination, what to do in case of an emergency, sea landing and so on – we took off, wearing our headsets. We were on a helicopter! Hurray!

Honestly, I didn’t even feel the take-off. I was expecting more of a rough fly, but I hardly realized when we had got ‘up there’. We flew speedily over the huge cruise ship and the biggest hotel in the “Sandals” chain on the island (one out of three!) and finally got above the green paradise of the island… We left the rain behind in Castries, as the sun was once again shining here… The blue sea on the right, the banana tree plantations underneath and on the left, and waves rolling in front of us… Waves of green hills frozen by the volcanic activity that created this island. The pilot was in the mood for jokes… We flew over the gorgeous Marigot Bay, and the pilot confused me once again, as he confirmed that Mick Jagger owns a house there. So there you are – we have 2 to 1 votes that Jagger has a house in St. Lucia, after all! Then we flew over the virgin rainforest… Stormy Norman had been telling me the day before that about 20% of the island is covered in virgin rainforests, but up there, the pilot added that the rainforest was not so virgin after all, as it still had its sins… Here and there, on some remote peaks, you could see ‘squares’ of deforested land, apparently cultivated… What could that be? Could that possibly be cannabis?! Well, yes, our pilot confirmed that people cultivated cannabis here and there – the stuff used to manufacture marijuana. The US Guards come now and then, and take a tour over the island, but as soon as the old cultures are destroyed, new ones pop up someplace else in the jungle…

We fly over the villages on the sea coast. The scenic view is completed by several waterfalls. We even fly over the sulfurous volcano we saw two days ago. However, we are approaching the big moment now. The helicopter is flying directly towards a mountain. The captain says that if we go past that mountain, we’ll have a super-spectacular moment, but if we don’t, we’ll have a different kind of spectacular. The mountain is rushing towards us, the helicopter goes higher, adrenaline is rushing, and here we are, shooting away a few meters over the palm trees… Right in front of us, we have the two “Pythons”, the spectacular peaks on the sea shore that have become genuine icons of this island… Underneath we have the city of Soufriere, the beach, the sea, the jungle and especially the ‘pythons’. A splendid view and a sight to remember!

The pilot goes straight to the ‘Pythons’, we rush in between the two peaks and then fly over the white beach where Captain Typhoon let us bathe three days ago. It’s gorgeous! Unfortunately, this is probably the climax of our helicopter ride… We fly around the two peaks for a while, and then head towards the flat end of the St. Lucia island!

We fly over several other villages and banana plantations (no trace of marijuana this time), and eventually get close to the international airport… Our landing is just as smooth as the take-off… We get off the helicopter, greeted by a lady in a microbus. She seems to be the pilot’s wife. The pilot doesn’t waste his time anymore; he thanks us and takes off again, waving his ‘tail’ as a good bye to us. “Please don’t encourage him into doing anything silly!” says the smiling lady. The couple have been living on the island for about 16 years, and the pilot told us that he probably flew between Castries and the International Airport for about 36,000 times . He might have exaggerated a bit, but probably not too much.

We go past a barrier guarded by a rather bored soldier, and the lady ‘delivers’ us right in front of our check-in point… (I have no idea how, but our luggage has also arrived here, sent by car from the hotel to the airport, as the bags were too heavy to fly on board of that small helicopter)… Everything went so smoothly! If traveling means unforgettable memories, our helicopter trip over St. Lucia was a truly memorable experience! What next? A transatlantic flight, several hours in London, and then the London-Bucharest flight… Some more surprises yet in store, but all of them really nice . However I shall tell you more about this tomorrow.

 

1. Smugglers Cove.JPG

Morning in Smugglers Cove

2. salata fructe Caraibe.JPG

A light breakfast

3. hotel all inclusive.JPG

Our final morning in the Caribbean – swimming pool, swimming pool, swimming pool!

4. all inclusive Caraibe.JPG

5. in piscina.JPG

6. Smuggles Cove.JPG

No more bathing for now! Time to pack our bags!

7. receptie hotel.JPG

The reception lounge… Our luggage shall get to the airport by car, but we shall take…

8. elicopter.JPG

A little jewel from St. Lucia Helicopters

9. gata de imbarcare.JPG

All ready to get on board… Except the pilot is not here yet!

10. incepe ploaia.JPG

But we get a tropical downpour instead.

11. gata de decolare.JPG

Our pilot is here, we are ready for take-off

12. Ruxi Bitu in elicopter.JPG

… and off we go!

13. decolare la Castries.JPG

Take-off – a cruise ship in the port of Castries

14. ploaia si elicopterul.JPG

The first minutes of our trip in the rain

15. Marigot Bay.JPG

The rain stopped by Marigot Bay, and our helicopter got all nice and dry

16. survolam St. Lucia.JPG

Flying over St. Lucia

17. plantatie canabis.JPG

Including a plantation of cannabis

18. pe langa deal.JPG

Flying really close to a hill… and from behind we can see the two …

19. doi pitoni.JPG

“Pythons” – the iconic mountains of the St. Lucia island

20. piton.JPG

21. piton.JPG

22. bord elicopter.JPG

On board of the helicopter

23. spre sud St Lucia.JPG

Flying towards the south end of St. Lucia

24. aterizare.JPG

Landing two steps away from the airport

25. debarcare elicopter.JPG

We have just landed

26. decolare elicopter.JPG

… and the helicopter takes off again

27. turn control aeroport St. Lucia.JPG

And we head for the airport

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