31.01.2009 - 10.02.2009 29 °C
Flying over the island of St. Lucia, I starred intently out the airplane window as the turquoise waters crashed dramatically against the volcanic mountains, giving way to rolling hills that were covered in a lush green canopy.
At the international airport in Vieux Fort I joined the line of anxious tourists shuffling along, passports and customs cards in hand. Taxi drivers swarmed us but I soon spotted my name on a paper held up by a smiling driver prearranged by my guesthouse.
Along the road to Gros Islet, the driver pointed out the numerous resorts and high-end hotels distracting from the lovely landscape. I asked him what he thought of this and his answer would be echoed each time I chatted with another local. Tourist dollars were good for the economy and put food on the table, but the development projects had reached the intolerable tipping point.
St. Lucia achieved independence in 1979 after changing flags 14 times. Although the English slowly nudged out the French in the late 1800's, influence and customs linger with many towns on the map having French names & people speaking Patois, a thickly accented Creole dialect.
The population is about 165,000, with about a third living in the capital city of Castries. St. Lucians are generally laid-back and friendly. Everyone has a smile and greets you with good afternoons and al' rights. Towns here ooze culture, they pulsate with the sound of car horns, the smell of fresh rotis from the oven & reggae music blaring from speakers.
Untouched by the tourist traps of nearby Rodney Bay, the sleepy fishing village of Gros Islet is a great insight into a real St. Lucian community. I met up with Marie-Josee and Sophie (2 friends from Kuujjuaq) at the Tropical Breeze Guesthouse and with some fellow travelers we recruited along the way, we set out to explore the island.
In Castries, we wandered the local upbeat market, bargaining for souvenirs, fresh produce and the catch of the day for our supper.
At Pigeon Island National Landmark, we passed our most catatonic days between sunny patches of soft beige sand, warm Caribbean waters and my hammock-strung up in the shade between two swaying palm trees.
An afternoon in Marigot Bay gave us a glimpse of how the other half live. The beautiful, sheltered, narrow inlet has become over run by yachts, cruise ships and resort tour groups that climb out of their air conditioned buses, snapping photos and eating $10 ice-cream.
In Soufriere, we were treated to a demonstration of a community alight with spirit and warmth and a true sense of the people who life and breathe on the island. The scenery is striking here. The sky-scraping towers of rock known as the Pitons loom over the town (& on the label of the local beer). At the base are numerous waterfalls and mineral springs where one could spend the day hiking from one breathtaking view to another.
The southern part of the island is dotted with a number of small villages, each with its own unique characteristics-artful, inviting, mountainous and a pleasant place to spend the day.
Marie-Jo and Sophie have left me and so I continue my Caribbean adventure as an independent traveler, but never truly alone.