One of the best things about cruising is stepping into a new place for a day. It’s a sampling; like tapas, a small plate. But still, a nice way to taste of a place before committing much time or money. The challenge — if you continue to cruise the same region and if you’re determined to accrue loyalty points and perks — is finding itineraries with ever new destinations.
It’s not a bad thing to return, to become increasingly familiar with a place. In some cases, we count on it. But this spring we were pleased for new tastes in both St. Croix and St. Lucia. Our initial plan in St. Lucia was to hike the Pitons, the twin conical seaside peaks which are her most notable feature. That is, until we were derailed by a zip lining misadventure. Then our back up plan became a land-and-sea group tour.
We weren’t expecting much, given the circumstances, and were greatly relieved it was a small group. The bus was small, too, and that was a good thing. We spent the better part of the morning traversing narrow, winding inclines, hugging hairpin turns. Several times the driver pulled off for dramatic overlook views and photo opportunities. At each stop, local vendors called from small tables covered with island bric-à-brac, sheltered by umbrellas, eager to sell.
As we journeyed on, through tiny towns and countryside, I was surprised by the number of small but inviting hand painted signs along the roadside. Many advertised a local seafood specialty, apparently prepared in a private home, on one night or another. Several recommended the party on the beach, a sort of fisherman’s potluck, Sunday afternoon. Another promoted a car wash with live dancers! Were they targeting tourists or serving as a community bulletin board? It was hard to tell.
We stopped in a quiet fishing village, the sun blazing high in the sky. Thin dogs lay in meager shade of small boats, disinterested in our arrival. Few fishermen lingered on the black sand beach, darkened by volcanic particles.
A lonely troubadour serenaded us on the small pier. “Looking for loooove, for youuuu,” he crooned. We chatted for a few minutes, or rather, he with the Hubs. He was also looking for ten dollars, five dollars? He proffered a weak pledge to paint his battered drum. It won’t impact his prospects and he won’t bother, as we both knew full well. Still, he had offered us something. We were happy to exchange a few dollars for the song and a memory.
We visited Diamond Falls and mineral springs, where a modest waterfall tumbles down a rock face stained and streaked gray and brown, resultant stream turned murky by minerals. Not the sort of place you are inclined to swim, in a gray flow. The island is blessed with restorative powers in this way and clear pools of mineral rich water were available for swimmers. Volcanic gurgling deep beneath the surface vent in some places, sending tell-tale wisps of steam skyward.
The surrounding botanical gardens were quite lovely, more lush and exotic than others we’ve toured in the tropics — and this was their dry season. Our guide was patient and thorough, maintaining a tireless commentary. Most notable was the ginger torch lily; fragile in flower, we were forbidden to touch. We took lunch there on the estate, a restored sugar plantation; an ample buffet arrayed with local fare. We were famished and it hit the spot. We didn’t hesitate to wash it down with a refreshing local brew, aptly named Piton.
After lunch, it was a short jaunt to Soufrière, where our catamaran was tied to a dock nearly shadowed by the majestic Pitons. (Jade Mountain and famous resort also nearby.) By this point, the effects of the zip line were quite evident. My knee had swelled with an extra large, angry egg. I was so thankful we hadn’t been hiking all day! We were happy to find a shady spot on the boat and relax with Pitons in view and in hand.
The final hours passed quickly as we bounced on the waves, a refreshing breeze off the bow. There was a swimming break, for those so inclined, in a shallow bay. This provided yet another opportunity for locals to sell. Here was a first: entrepreneurs descended upon us by kayak, launching from a skiff nearby. They brought birdhouses of coconut shell, conch shells and more. (This island collects conch shells like no other we’ve seen. Even the architecture is adorned with conch!) But they had little success and moved on to a neighboring catamaran rather quickly.
Swimming break complete, the journey continued with rum punch flowing and old men dancing to impress their ladies. The captain detoured to explore a couple of bays, our guide pointing out with pride the more affluent areas as we made out way back to Castries. All of the islanders we met along the way were friendly, warmly encouraging us to return. “Please come back for a week. A month. Buy a vacation home!” (Not every island is so eager for a foreign influx, I can assure you.) All in all, it was a good day. No complaints.
We’ve become familiar with more than twenty Caribbean islands. Some you know you’d like to return to for a week or a month or a retirement dream. Others you know you wouldn’t. St. Lucia is somewhere in the middle, I think. Mostly because of the friendly St Lucians, I would be happy to go back. There is just so much left to explore!
~ René Morley