St Lucia
 
  "The ‘real’ St Lucia isn’t far, in distance, from the tourist beaches, city souvenirs tables and luxurious condominiums owned by winter-crazed northerners ... a visit to the ‘real’ St Lucia is a good ‘reality check’."    



 

Nov 24

Arriving on St Lucia from Martinique, we walked from the ferry terminal into St Lucia’s capital, Castries, in search of the bus station. We did not understand at the time that Castries does not have a single bus station, instead there are streets in town where privately owned mini-buses line up depending on their destination.

On one block buses marked 1A will be going north to Rodney Bay. Some blocks away another row of mini buses will be marked 3D going south to Anse La Raye. Another street, a different number/letter means a bus to another location. At each line of buses there is a person with a clipboard keeping track of which bus just left and which just arrived. It’s a system which is somewhat confusing at first (there doesn’t seem to be a map for where each bus can be found and where it is going), and admittedly through our stay we walked numerous city blocks in search of the correct bus, but it seems to work.

Most buses (14-16 passenger vans) are personalized with a name: ‘Magic Crown’, ‘Stranger’, ‘Born-to-Drive’, ‘Hold Your Tongue’, ‘Plastic’. Air-conditioning is not available on many buses but one thing they seem to have in common is music ... usually some form of rap ... and loud ... very loud. They are driven at breakneck speeds with driver and ‘conductor’ watching ahead and down side streets for potential customers. The quicker they can get rid of one passenger means another fare can be crammed on board. The number on the door which states how many passengers the vehicle can hold, seems to be taken as a suggestion only.

Taxis are a popular means for tourists to get around ... prices are suppose to be standard but before you hire, settle on price. All authorized taxis have powder blue licence plates starting with TX.

We prefer public buses to get a taste of local living as we travel from one place to another. To wave a bus down is not done in a high-handed way as North Americans tend to do. Instead it is a subtle extension of the arm, with a rather limp hand, showing a relaxed finger pointing to the spot on the ground where he/she would like the bus to stop.

Local passengers are usually thoughtful and friendly. "Good morning," they say to each other as each new person gets on. The regulars who know how much the ride will cost pass their coins to the driver. Those who don’t know the cost or need change will wait until they are off the bus and then pass the fare through the front passenger window. On average the bus fares are about 10% of what a taxi would cost.

Not finding "the" bus station we asked a lady for directions. "Where are you going?" she inquired.

 

"Rodney Bay."

"Follow me," she responded and away we went through the city square, up streets and down streets until we came to buses holding little tags in their windows reading 1A. We squeezed into the nearly full bus putting our backpacks on our laps. It didn’t take long to fill the rest of the seats and we were off.

 

Well before Europeans arrived on St Lucia the natives called their island ‘Hewanorra’ meaning ‘there where the iguana is found’. There were centuries of peace on the island until a warrior group, known as the Caribs, overpowered the residents, killed the males and kept the females as wives. With the arrival of Europeans, life changed dramatically. Along with pigs and plants, Europeans also brought disease which wiped out St Lucia’s Carib Indians.

Our bus stop was the Rodney Bay Mall. "Thinking about Christmas ..." the Mall sign began ... "No," we thought standing in the 25 degree Celsius heat, "not at all." It didn’t seem to us that we were remotely close to Christmas no matter how the stores were decorated. We must have looked a little lost for a gentleman asked if he could help us.

"We are looking for the Ginger Lily Hotel," we answered.

"I’m walking that way. I’ll show you." The folks on St Lucia sure are a friendly, hospitable lot.

We walked with him for about three blocks and expressed our concern that we might be taking him out of his way. "No," he said, "I’m going to turn here. If you continue straight down, the Ginger Lily is on your right near those flags." We glanced at the different restaurants lining the street as we progressed towards the hotel.

The Ginger Lily is a small boutique hotel boasting only eleven well appointed rooms. The welcome we received within the hotel matched the helpful friendliness we had experienced so far on St Lucia. Our ‘superior deluxe room’ (the lowest priced room style ) was on ground level just a few steps away from the pool. Through double french doors we stepped into a large room with a rattan/bamboo seating area, table, chairs, queen-size bed, a little kitchenette and a bathroom with walk-in shower large enough to host a party. Fresh flowers were arranged on the bed and tucked into towels.

The porch featured a hammock ready for lounging. Around the pool were tables and chairs as well as some lounges. The pool is small; ideal for taking cooling dips without feeling that laps are necessary. The gardens are beautiful and well tended. The half acre property lay-out was spacious yet intimate, tasteful yet relaxed. We were impressed.

Upon recommendations from reception, we went across the street and down a lane to Reduit Beach and a thatched fringed beach bar and restaurant called Spinnaker’s. The beach was relatively quiet, as was the restaurant. We occupied a table at the railing and watched gentle waves roll onto the golden sand of the beach and lap around the legs of lounge chairs under a multi-coloured umbrella. Spinnaker’s, a popular spot since 1993, has a friendly and easy going wait staff and well priced, tasty food.

We returned to the Ginger Lily and decided to spend the rest of the day 'limin' (a Caribbean word for doing nothing but hanging out).

You may have heard about swimming with the dolphins ... Sherrie went swimming with the frogs. Two tiny (3cm) tree frogs had found their way into the pool. Sherrie lifted them out onto the deck and showed them to Terry & Ted ... a frog just the right size for Ted.

After sunset we made our way down the road towards the mall and checked out the menus and atmosphere at different restaurants along the way. We both agreed on our first choice and back to Spinnaker’s we went. The evening menu is printed (lunch and breakfast selections are black-boarded). By the end of our meal we were still pleased with our restaurant selection ... having it so close to the Ginger Lily was bonus.

    

Nov 25

We weren’t impressed with the Ginger Lily breakfast nor with the breakfast service and made a mental note that for future breakfasts we would head to Spinnaker’s.

We caught a northward bound bus and got off at Gros Islet.

Sandwiched between the posh Rodney Bay Marina with its 232 moorage slips and 4.5 acre shipyard built around a lagoon and The Landing, a nineteen acre luxury ‘private yachting’ condominium development; Gros Islet is a tiny fishing village of humble wooden homes topped with rusting metal corrugated roofs.

At one time a person could walk the beach from Reduit Beach to the stretch of white sand that runs along a manmade causeway connecting St Lucia to Pigeon Island. When the causeway was built, in the 1970s, ferry service to and from the island ceased. Now with the Rodney Bay Marina, The Landing and Sandals Resort a walker has to go inland along the road or, for a negotiated price (around $35 US dollars round trip), a boatman can speed you over and pick you up at an agreed time. We preferred to walk and enjoyed the stroll through a beachside local park where a mare and foal nibbled on grass; along short expanses of beach where kayaks waited in line for tourist groups; pleasant vistas of sea and sky presented themselves on the other side of the causeway; and a motorcycle leaned against its kick-stand while the rider took an afternoon nap under a shade tree.

As we approached the Pigeon Island National Park’s entrance gate a very animated and jovial fellow greeted us, grabbed our hands and shook them. "Slow down," his said with a smile, "life is not to hurry."

After shaking Sherrie’s hand he hung onto it. "Ahh," he said, turning her hand over, "you will have a long life. You will live to the age of 101. You will never be in an accident."

"That’s good," Terry said, "because I travel with her".

The fellow then grabbed Terry’s hand. "And you sir, will live until you are 102. Here, I want to give you this," he continued holding Terry with one hand while he reached into his pocket with the other, "a magic bead; it will keep you safe. And one for you," he put a second in Sherrie’s hand and rolled her fingers closed over it. "Now that I’ve given you something, perhaps you can give me a tip."

"Thank you for the greeting," we said taking his hand and returning the beads to his palm. His face flashed a moment of frustration but quickly back into a pleasant smile. He turned, bidding us a good day and returned to his beer waiting nearby.

The first European to settle on St Lucia, was a notorious French pirate with a wooden leg named Francois Le Clerc (aka Peg Leg). By 1554 this Frenchman had already left his mark in the English Channel, attacked many ships off Puerto Rico, sacked the port of Santiago de Cuba, and had become the scourge of the Caribbean amassing seven pirate ships, three royal vessels and a scurvy band of 330 seamen. He set up headquarters on Pigeon Island and from there attacked passing treasure-laden Spanish galleons.

A testament to St Lucia’s richness and beauty is found in her history ... 14 times the island changed hands between the British and the French. The British, appreciating the strategic position of Pigeon Island established, in 1778, a naval base from which lookouts could monitor the movements of the French at Fort Royal on Martinique.

Today for $5 US visitors may enter Pigeon Island National Park, hike to the fortress on Fort Rodney Hill and from there up to Signal Peak for views of Rodney Bay in one direction and Martinique in the other. As well there is an interpretive centre telling the story of Pigeon Island, two restaurants and a couple of small beaches.

In the heat of the day, we left the Park to others and took refuge in the shade of Agnes’s beer stand which stands on stilts (a good plan so close to the water) with a narrow porch with seats and tables large enough to hold a few beer. From this vantage point we watched as Pigeon Island’s unofficial jovial greeter with his magic beads engaged in conversation with newcomers ... and their ensuing responses.

In an old badly-in-need-of-service 1960-something taxi shared with a local artist, we shuttered and chugged back to Gros Islet ... the elderly driver, who may not outlast his car, explained that between Pigeon Island and Gros Islet (about 2km) was as far as he ventured.

We walked into the centre of Gros Islet and caught a bus back to Rodney Bay.

After checking out the well stocked grocery store in the mall we decided to return to Spinnaker’s.

The meal was delicious and the sunset cast a rosy, golden glow which reflected our feelings.

Nov 26

Things were different this morning. We enjoyed our Spinnaker’s breakfast but the quiet beach had been overtaken with rows of lounges, umbrellas and arguing vendors vying for positions and territories from which to sell seats, souvenirs and sodas for dollars and Euros. Cruise ships ... two of them ... were in port and had disgorged their thousands of Xerox-bright, paper-white passengers, some of who were now making their way to Reduit Beach in the stream of taxis and tour buses arriving in the laneway next to Spinnakers.

It was a good day to get out of town.

To get out, we first had to go into Castries and find the street with buses heading south to Anse La Raye.

 
 
 

The ‘real’ St Lucia isn’t far, in distance, from the tourist beaches, city souvenirs tables and luxurious condominiums owned by winter-crazed northerners ... but ... the ‘real’ St Lucia is a refreshing distance away from the overindulgent-spendthrift lifestyle of non-islanders. A visit to the ‘real’ St Lucia is a good ‘reality check’.

The bus stopped by the Health Centre and the ball court on the outskirts of Anse La Raye. Like Gros Islet, Anse La Raye is a fishing village of tiny wooden homes, some over 100 years old, some with peeling paint and rusting roofs, some leaning into each other with front steps protruding onto the sidewalk. A resident greeted us with welcoming words and a warm smile; we thought of the Pigeon Island greeter, but soon realized this fellow was just being friendly.

   
"So what do you think of our little village," he asked.

"We love it!" came our quick and sincere response ... a reaction which seemed to surprise him.

"Really?" he asked in wonderment.

"Yes, really.  This is just the kind of place where we like to be when we travel.  It has a beauty all its own."  He smiled and bid us a good day.  We continued down to the beach where fishing boats were pulled up on shore.  
 

Once a week Front Street, which parallels the beach, is closed to traffic as Anse La Raye hosts a Friday Fish Fry (the equivalent of a Caribbean ‘jump-up’). The Fish Fry has brought much needed income to this small fishing village and seems a natural for these warm, uninhabited villagers.

The street is furnished with tables, chairs and barbeques as the village’s numerous hosts make and sell a selection of boiled and barbecued favourites including local lobster, catch of the day, accras [fish cakes], conch and floats [Creole ice cream floating on Guinness].

Reggae and calypso fills the air as locals and visitors mingle and local police look after security. Alas, it was Wednesday.

 
 
 
 
At one end of Front Street, just as it butts a school gate, there is a public laundry; eight bulky adjoining concrete sinks (four per side) with their front sides ridged into slanted washboards. All the sinks were being used and two women were scrubbing clothes. We didn’t envy their hard work and were once more appreciative of our luxurious-modern-appliance lifestyle.
 
 
 

The villagers are proud of their Roman Catholic church. Previous churches on this site had been destroyed by hurricanes or invaders; the people of Anse La Raye raised the funds and provided the stone and labour to build the present church. On the outside of the church’s fence there is a 46 metre long mural, painted by a local family, depicting scenes from village life through the centuries.

Across the street at one end of the mural is a café with ‘Lucky 3' painted across its bright yellow side and front - L&S Snack Restaurant & Bar. The ‘L’ stands for Lucy, a delightful woman with a caring manner and a winning smile.

As Lucy cheerfully went about her work and we sat at one of the few tables, the radio played in the background. The broadcast was in Kwéy l [Creole]. Creole developed in the seventeenth century when pidgin French was used as communication between masters and slaves (who had a diverse number of African languages). Like all living languages, picked up in childhood, Creole evolved and differences can be heard from one island to the next. In the 1950s and ‘60s, the emerging middle class deemed Creole as ‘the language of servants’ and ‘vulgar’; today, however, the language has gained a new respectability and a movement is underway to preserve it along with local traditions.

The comings and goings of people picking up take-out orders was a sure bet that Lucy’s place makes good grub. A popular dish, ready to serve, is ‘chicken and bake’. We had heard of ‘bake’ but had never had one. This seemed like a good place to taste test, so we bought one to share. Bake is doughnut like and tasty if you can ignore its heart-clogging attributes. We ordered a second along with a another Piton.

 
 
 
 

The Pitons, for which the beer takes its name, are two forest-clad volcanic lava domes rising abruptly from the sea ... Gros Piton (771 m) and Petit Piton (743m). The area in which the Pitons stand, as well as the ridge which joins them, are part of a 2,909 ha World Heritage Site. There are sulfur springs and hot mud pools, remnants of former volcanic activity, along with many species of marine life, plants and rare trees. The Pitons are a dominant feature of St Lucia and a distinctive landmark for seamen.

We walked the village enjoying glimpses of everyday life going on around us. We thought about the many visitors who come here for the Friday Night Fish Fry. Although that would be fun, for us, Anse la Raye is just as enjoyable for it’s ‘realism’ during daylight hours the other six days of the week.

 
 

The bus ride back to Castries took us by banana plantations. Although tourism is what drives St Lucia’s economy, bananas are still an important export. The move from sugar production to bananas in the early 1960s brought new hope to St Lucia farmers. Banana cultivation gave large and small farmers confidence in their abilities to take charge of their own lives through economic gain. So profitable were banana crops then, particularly for the smaller producers who were mainly women, the crop was referred to as ‘green gold’, however, globalization and European market demands have had a negative impact on St Lucia’s small banana producers and therefore smaller farmers and their families have experienced a return to subsistence living.

 

We walked through Castries to the northbound bus street stopping to pick up a fresh lime from a tiny stand selling lemons, limes and yams.

Even though it was late afternoon and the last cruise ship was on its way out of harbour, school children were just making their way home. They use the public buses for transportation and the driver knows where to stop for each one.

It had been a good day. Our flight out tomorrow is in the afternoon so we intend to have a lazy morning.

 Nov 27

After a lazy Caribbean morning, we left in plenty of time to walk to the Mall and take a bus to the airport.  Our mistake was: there are no buses to the airport. 
We asked the bus driver to drop us off as close as possible and we would walk ... we knew the runway was on the outskirts of Castries so the walk would be short.  We were right, the airstrip is very close to town ... what we didn't know was that the airport terminal is on the opposite side of the fenced runway.  The bus let us off at the far end of the runway.  
We were grateful that we pack as light as we do.  We passed a graveyard with an ocean view next to a park where a couple and a grandmother aged woman were having wedding photos taken.  Just beyond that was St. Lucia's George F.L Charles Airport terminal. 

We were on our way to Barbados.
 
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