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Caribbean Log – Powered by British Airways. St. Lucia, the Drive-In Paradise

St. Lucia: Soufriere

After a whole day of sensational sightseeing on St. Lucia, with views where the land and the water of the Caribbean got together, what could we possibly have next? Nothing came more natural than a visit on dry land, with the occasional glance to the water… And what could have been easier for that than renting a car, driver included?

Day 4. Star date: September 12, 2011:

A clear quiet morning on St Lucia… Promises made by weathermen the evening before turned into yet another incredibly beautiful day, considering this is the height of the hurricane season… Maria went further to the north, but it is still hovering over the north of the Antilles, close to Puerto Rico, while another tropical storm died out even before catching its breath. And I really don’t feel sorry for that!

Once again, I got up at 6 am… Although I went to bed around midnight, busy with my blog, jet lag is still affecting me… Or perhaps it’s the adrenaline of being on a splendid island in the Caribbean, as I don’t think I should be wasting too much time in bed…

In the hotel, they have no Wi-Fi connection in my room, but only in the reception area and at the bar, so I sneak in between the cleaning staff and Cristina Bazavan, who was even more of an ‘early bird’, and I hit people with e-mails until 7:30, when I inaugurate breakfast once again, just like yesterday…

The breakfast menu was the same as yesterday, so probably starting tomorrow I’ll be able to find my way around here with my eyes closed. So this was another problem quickly eliminated… I look at the sky and make a quick decision. I have to see the island, I simply cannot stay by the swimming pool. Of course, I have some logistics problems there, as the all-inclusive resort where we stay is located at the far end of the island, with the closest bus route going about 5-6 kilometers away from us. Moreover, I think this island needs to be enjoyed to the full, so you need to be able to stop here and there… I wouldn’t even dream of renting a car, as I don’t like driving and anyway they drive ‘on the wrong side’, as they do in almost all the former British colonies. Plus I should be buying a driving license for St Lucia, as this is the only way you are allowed to drive here. Therefore, the easiest solution seems to be a taxi. I make enquiries at the front desk, and one short phone call and 2 minutes later, a nice old guy pops in and asks me for 160 dollars… What kind of dollars? “East Caribbean”, I suggest. No way, US dollars… This is the downside of staying at this all-inclusive resort with Americans: prices get all pumped up and you can hardly negotiate anything. It would have probably been a lot cheaper, had I been in Castries, but anyway… After all, I got this totally un-hoped for and unplanned trip, courtesy of British Airways. After all, I am in the Caribbean, and prices are higher for tourists… Luckily, I find someone to share the drive with, and suddenly 80 dollars seem much more reasonable. Actually, I would have paid 80 dollars if I had joined an organized group, too. At least there shall be just the two of us and we can go wherever we like.

We rush out of the resort. Glancing towards the golf course next to it, I can see nobody is awake at 9 a.m… The heat and humidity are already getting higher. Just like yesterday, we have 30C degrees and 80% humidity, which make my clothes instantaneously stick to my body.

The northern area is the richest, says the driver. It is full of resorts and villas for smart boys and girls. Lots of foreigners. I don’t know how, but wherever I go, northern areas seem to always be ‘chic’, no matter if you are in Bucharest, Teheran or St. Lucia! Almaty in Kazakhstan is the only place where the southern area is cool. We speed by a shopping mall, a hypermarket, a Do-it-Yourself Store, and finally reach the crown of commerce in St Lucia: a KFC restaurant… They even got down here… I was also about to see a Burger King, but – surprisingly enough – no McDonald’s. Anyway, most of the tourists and people who buy condos or houses in St Lucia are not Americans, one short flight away from home, but British people… A huge British Airways Boeing 777 lands every day on this small Island, but Virgin also brings Brits looking for sunshine.

We get to Castries, the capital city… About one third of the island population lives in this city (i.e. about 50,000 souls out of the 150-160,000 living on St. Lucia), but Castries still looks like a small provincial town. Buildings of 4 or 5 stories at the most, pompously called “business centers”, a central boulevard – luckily for me, somebody did point out that was “the one”, because otherwise I wouldn’t have guessed it – and many buildings that have nothing special. If capital cities on other islands can boast a few handsome buildings since their colonial times, unfortunately for Castries, it survived about three major fires which left almost nothing behind… The only pretty buildings are the City Library and the Catholic Cathedral, built back in 1897…

St Lucia is a small anomaly. It was colonized by the French, and eventually captured by the British. It switched one colonial ruler for another countless times, until 1815 when, following the defeat of Napoleon, France was forced to surrender a number of colonies to England – St. Lucia included.  Although the British reigned here for almost 200 years (St. Lucia only proclaimed its independence in 1979), they did not change some of the essential elements: most towns still have their French names (Castries or Soufriere: one of the rivers is called “Cul de Sac”), and the vast majority of the island inhabitants are Catholic! True, English is the official language, but everybody speaks creole, a combination of (mostly) French with English and African languages. 85% of the population is of 100% African origins, about 10% are ‘mixed’ and 5% are white people or Indians…  The head of the state is still Queen Elisabeth of Great Britain, but probably last time she ever came here was a long time ago, because her face on the local banknotes looks like she’d be in her early thirties! On the other hand, the driver bitterly comments he has no need for a queen (represented by the “General Governor” reigning from his palace above the city of Castries) if he cannot travel to Great Britain without a visa. Just think of it! The poor man probably wants to see his supreme boss, the Quenn, but he cannot go there…

Speeding through Castries, we go up a hill dominating the city, to get the appropriate view. We stop for a scenic view, right across the street from the palace of the General Governor (actually, the governor is a woman). Castries is hugging the side of a large bay that could accommodate huge ships (including cruise ships, but I haven’t seen any in the three days since I arrived), with the French island of Martinique distantly visible in the background…

This area also hosts the ‘educational’ space, i.e. the University campus and a few high schools… We drive among kids wearing their uniforms. I ask the driver if he had traveled abroad. Although this island is extremely small, many locals never set foot on another shore, although both Martinique and St Vincent & Grenadines are in plain sight. Our guy, Eric a.k.a. Rico, went to the States in the 1960s. Back then, St. Lucia used to send about 1,000 people to the States, for ‘hard labor’. Eric also went to Barbados and Martinique, where prices are cheaper than in St. Lucia. The island that used to be a major sugar cane manufacturer gave up harvesting this plant and picked banana trees instead, and now its banana exports rank second in the top industries generating hard currency, after tourism. I tell Rio about how good the sugar cane juice is. I tried it in Cuba, with a dash of lime… I can see his mouth is watering… “We only have that here in October, when it has become a genuine event, with old people showing youngsters what they used to have back in the old days…” Back then, there were only two high schools and no university on the island, but now they have lots of high schools and Castries has a huge campus, rather well kept, in the area where the British Army barracks used to be and where the French and the British fought for the domination of this island.

After the inevitable photos, we follow a serpentine road, crossing a fairy tale landscape. Everything around is green, with palm trees, coconut trees and banana trees contributing to the tropical spice. Everything is covered in green and flowers; the road is winding from one hilltop to the next one. Of course, since this is the rainy season at the tropics, a huge downpour starts suddenly, but it ends in 10 minutes and we have sunshine again… How could you not be happy in St. Lucia, with all this sunshine?

However, leaving the capital city behind and going from one village to another, you realize this is a rather poor Paradise. Small houses made of cheap timber, just perfect to be taken away by the next hurricane… Washing lines hanging from the windows, many people going around barefoot, and many others dozing around in the shadow of some tree… The air is hot and humid, so bananas grow spontaneously… Or maybe there are other reasons, as well.

We go through various towns, some bigger villages – Canaries, Anse la Raye  – to finally get to Soufriere, the city that is the heart and soul of St. Lucia, the first city founded by French colonists. No trace of the splendor of the northern villas, no sign of the decent buildings of the capital city here. This is the working class living in a city where the 21st century has not started yet. However, this does not prevent its inhabitants from smiling to passers-by. Moreover, although I stroll around and even get to the church area, nobody comes to beg money from me.

The natural landscape around Soufriere is splendid… It lies at the foot of the Pythons, the imposing mountain peaks dominating the city from their more than 1,000 meters. Next to the Pythons, the green mountains all around persuade you to save some space on your camera for them. The name “Soufriere” comes from the sulfur springs next to this place, one of the several tourist attractions that bring full buses into town.

We climb one of these mountain peaks and get to the only drive-in volcano in the world (at least according to Lonely Planet)… This is still an active volcano, but its most recent eruption took place in the 18th century, when its caldera got broken… But next to the road you can admire (and also inhale) a bubbling moon-like landscape. Even if these are not the cauldrons of Hell, water is boiling with sulfur, iron, magnesium and a few other minerals… You pay 8 US dollars (or just 4, if you manage to convince them you are a kid, which I didn’t), and then accompanied by a rather bored guide (she eventually became somewhat more lively upon seeing the poster with ‘Gratuities accepted’), you follow the path around this lunar and somewhat smelly landscape. (We found out we could get in trouble in case we fell into the boiling water of around 100C. Apparently, one of the guides actually fell in and “only” got away with some 2nd degree burns. After this accident, he had a change of heart and switched to a career as a fisherman, opting for the more reasonable temperature of the Caribbean Sea).

Further down the path, you can take some mud baths, but since I never liked the ones in Techirghiol back home, I don’t find the sulfur here particularly inspiring either, and so we take the customary photos with this lunar-slash-devilish landscape and run away to more heavenly lands… So if St. Lucia is “simply beautiful”, according to their tourist slogan, you can only imagine how the Botanical Garden looked like.

The Diamond Botanical Garden is located on a hilltop, above Soufriere… This domain was provided by King Louis XVI in 1784, but the current owners are British. French troops stationed in the Caribbean had some baths built here. Their most famous client must have been Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s wife: she spent her childhood here, as her parents were high-ranking ‘bosses’ in the colonial administration. The baths had been destroyed during the French Revolution, but they were recently restored and opened for bath-lovers, although frankly they do not inspire you very much… On the other hand, the garden was a real inspiration in itself, especially if you are fond of flowers, because it’s a whole madness of colors, hues and beauty… Red banana blossoms, cocoa and mango trees, bamboo trees (on which you are not allowed to write, according to a poster), ginger and many other flowers I have never seen before, all leading to a splendid view suddenly popping out of the jungle: the waterfall where Superman himself picked an orchid and gave it to Lois Lane in Superman 2 (I guess Superman exaggerated a bit with his special powers, because I didn’t see a single orchid there… He must have taken them all).

After more than an hour of walking around in the botanical garden of Paradise, a black cloud chased us away. We got in the car and the short but violent rain that followed persuaded us it was time to get back home, so we started on the long way back – a road full of potholes, but surrounded by beauty. And because people also have to suffer in Paradise, I have to say that less than one year ago, in October 2010, Hurricane Tomas hit St. Lucia and destroyed many houses and roads (they are still working to restore their infrastructure there), also claiming several human lives. Both Captain Typhoon yesterday and Rico today told us (although Rico also showed us the place) about the family whose house was buried in the landslide, with their bodies never being recovered….

Underlining the fact that hurricanes are a very serious business here, on our way back we stopped in a supermarket in Castries where they had a special sign for products labeled as “Hurricane Essentials”…

Tomorrow is my last ‘full’ day in St. Lucia. I still don’t know what I am going to do, but I’m going to find out pretty soon I hope… However I shall tell you more about this tomorrow .

St. Lucia: The Library of Castries

The Library of Castries – the representative building of the capital city

St. Lucia: Castries

Castries in the background

St. Lucia: Castries

Castries, the capital city of St. Lucia

St. Lucia: The University of Castries

The University of Castries

St. Lucia: The village of Canaries

The village of Canaries

St. Lucia

In the aftermath of Tomas… a house was buried here

St. Lucia: Soufriere

The town of Soufriere and the Pythons

St. Lucia: Soufriere

Soufriere – View from above

St. Lucia: Soufriere

St. Lucia: Soufriere

St. Lucia: Soufriere

On the streets of Soufriere

St. Lucia:  Soufriere church

The church – the focusing point of the community

St. Lucia: Soufriere church

St. Lucia: The main road

The Main Road in St. Lucia

St. Lucia: Sulfur springs

Sulfur springs

St. Lucia: Sulfur springs

(Half) barefoot among minerals

St. Lucia: Sulfur emissions

Sulfur emissions

St. Lucia: Sulfur springs

Some hot boiling soup…

St. Lucia: Soufriere

Ingredients: sulfur, magnesium, iron, obsidian and other elements

St. Lucia: Soufriere

On the streets of Soufriere

St. Lucia: Soufriere

Once again, Soufriere

St. Lucia: The Diamond Botanical Garden

The Paradise inside the Paradise – The Diamond Botanical Garden

St. Lucia: Banana blossoms

Banana blossoms

St. Lucia: Pink Torch Ginger

Pink Torch Ginger

St. Lucia: Diamond botanical garden

Lianas waiting for Jane

St. Lucia: Diamond botanical garden

The cocoa tree – chocolate is made of these fruits

St. Lucia: The botanical garden

The Botanical Garden

St. Lucia: The botanical garden

St. Lucia

Heading to “Superman’s Waterfall”

St. Lucia: Superman waterfall


St. Lucia

St. Lucia

And now let’s get back with our feet on the ground

Până acum există "2 comentarii" la acest articol:

  1. Elma Philip says:

    Great post and what a wonderful experience in St. Lucia.

  2. Dejan Jeep says:

    Hello Cezar,
    Thank you for good inside. St. Lucia is definitely one of Caribbean jewels, like Aruba, St. Martinique and my favorite Dominica.

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