We’d decided to spend some time island hopping in the Caribbean before returning to Florida. On Thursday 8th January we got up early and took a direct flight from Gatwick to St Lucia, and then a taxi to the town of Soufrière.
Our accommodation in Soufrière.was cramped (they had obviously attempted to change a smallish room into an apartment) but conveniently located close to the town. We stayed there two nights, so had a full day to explore places of interest nearby.
Our hosts gave us a lift to the so-called ‘drive-in volcano’ (you cannot drive in, even if you do have a car). This was moderately interesting, though not on a par with Yellowstone or Rotorua. We walked back into the town, enjoying great views of the Pitons (classic symbol of St Lucia) and the harbour en route. Next stop was the Diamond Falls Botanic Gardens: some beautiful flowers and a waterfall which spills over yellow ochre rocks.
After a drink at the small Hummingbird resort on the north side of town, we walked a further two miles to Anse Chastanet Beach. We tried out the sea and Ian had a go at snorkelling. As the price quoted for a taxi was horribly expensive, we walked back over the hill while it was still light, and benefited from magnificent views of the Pitons, and a large cruise ship which had entered the harbour.
On to Castries
We decided to use a local bus for the journey to Castries, the island’s capital. St Lucian ‘buses’ are actually minivans, reminiscent of Ghanaian tro-tros, but a hundred times smarter. They leave when they are full. We had to purchase an extra seat for our luggage, but it was still extremely cheap.
We asked to be dropped by the ferry terminal, as our accommodation was nearby. It was up a steep hill, but there was no sign of a taxi, so we started to walk. We were stopped by a lady who kindly enquired where we were going, fearing that we might be lost. She’d never heard of the Harbour Vista Inn, but a man from a shop came and pointed it out, high on the hill above. Seeing our luggage, he started calling a taxi, but seeing a car pull up opposite, he hailed it and asked the driver to take us to the Inn. The driver was unsure how to get there, so the man came with us to give directions. We only realised when we arrived and asked the fare that this was not an official taxi! But the incident demonstrated how friendly and helpful people are on St Lucia.
In and around Castries
We were pleased to find that our new accommodation was about three times the size of the place in Soufrière. We had plenty of space, which was good as we were staying five nights. However, we were disappointed by the town. It did not take us long to exhaust the delights of Castries! Moreover, we found that there were very few restaurants in the centre, and none that stayed open for dinner! We had to buy some food and cook at the apartment. However, we did find a tiny bar close by, where we could have a drink and chat to some of the locals.
After our initial exploration, we had four full days based in Castries, travelling around on foot or by local buses. The weather was disappointing. St Lucia is lush, and lush = green = rain; nevertheless, we had not expected rain every day! Luckily it was not continuous rain, but showers, some light, some quite heavy, but all usually short and sharp. Between the showers (and sometimes coinciding with them!) there were blue skies and sunshine. And even when wet and windy, it was never cold. The temperature was constantly around 28°C, and did not drop much, even at night. Rain in the Caribbean is described as ‘liquid sunshine’.
On the first day, we took a bus to Gros Islet and walked from there (via a causeway) to Pigeon Island. This is a ‘national landmark’, and we really enjoyed our visit. We explored the remains of the 18th century British fort, climbed Signal Hill for magnificent views of the bay, and had a great lunch at a beachside restaurant. The evening back at our apartment was less successful. We tried to revisit the local bar, but it was closed. Faced with several hours indoors, we thought of trying Caribbean TV, but Ian plugged it into the wrong socket and the set exploded!
Next day we decided to head for Marigot Bay, reportedly the most picturesque in St Lucia. There is no central bus station in Castries: you need to know the street where buses for your chosen destination will park. We enquired for buses to Marigot, and a lady who overheard said she was going that way and would show us. In the relevant street the driver of a taxi minivan (not to be confused with a minivan bus) offered to take us to Marigot Bay for US$20. Our guide told him very firmly (before we had a chance to do so) that a public bus to Marigot (cost about US$1 each) was all we needed, and we could easily walk down to the bay!
Marigot Bay lived up to its reputation and was certainly beautiful. The weather was good most of the time we were there, so we were able to swim and sunbathe. In the evening we tried the local bar, but once again it was shut. However, just a few minutes after we returned to our apartment there was a knock on the door to inform us that the bar was now open, so down we went. It had evidently been opened just for our benefit, being (we now know) mainly a weekend institution. So (to make it worthwhile) we felt obliged to have more than one drink…. . And we enjoyed the time spent ‘liming’, a Caribbean term for relaxing, chatting – and drinking, of course.
On Tuesday we got a bus to Barre de l’Isle, in the centre of the island. We walked a forest trail there, which reminded us of New Zealand: a few lookout points, but otherwise just trees! It did not take very long, so afterwards we continued by bus to Dennery, on the east (Atlantic) coast. The scenery was rugged and wild, quite different from the Caribbean west coast. We had a drink there before taking the bus back to Castries. Later we went on a sunset (booze) cruise, with the crew dressed as pirates. Great fun!
On our last day in Castries we finally got to look inside the cathedral (it had been shut every other time we’d looked). Then we took a bus to Rodney Bay, and spent some time on Reduit Beach, considered to be the finest on the island. When we returned it was time to get cracking with the packing, because next day we were off again!