Saint Lucia, the most authentic of the Caribbean islands

Saint Lucia is rightly considered the most authentic of all the Caribbean islands. Thanks to its population, climate, location and history it has preserved a particular character. Even though it is not the most isolated island and gets its share of visitors, most of it is nevertheless difficult to access and its population 174 thousand is sufficiently large to withstand the sea of tourists.

Saint Lucia was nicknamed the Helen of West Indies due to the fact that no other island changed hands so many times – no less than 14 times it was traded back and forth between the French and the British. Paradoxically, the last military conflict here was won by the French – and yet it was the Brits who stuck with Saint Lucia, thanks to a peace deal signed in faraway Europe. Today Saint Lucia is part of the Commonwealth and the head of state here is the British queen. And yet many of the local names in Saint Lucia are French, starting with the capital, Castries, which is named a French marquess. The locals pronounce it in English manner though, with the stress on the first syllable and without omitting the final “s” as you would in French.

Saint Lucia is remarkable for the fact that it happens to have the most Nobel prize winners per capita! As many as TWO islanders have won the prize – writer Derek Walcott and economist Arthur Lewis. By a strange coincidence both were born on the same day, 23 January.

As for me, it was particularly sweet to visit Saint Lucia as it was my 100th independent country. To reach 100 visited countries was one of my goals for 2015. Done!

Exceptionally, we decided to take an organised tour of Saint Lucia as we had heard there were things worth seeing on this island. So right from the ship we board a minivan and off we go to explore Saint Lucia. Our guide Bernadette keeps making jokes, but first thing she tells us is that she’s about to get married!

We start in a vintage point of the capital, Castries. Our ship (to the left) dominates the scene.

The road South passes through endless jungle with some foothill villages here and there.

The most exclusive area on the island is the bay of Marigot – it’s the one on the first image in this post. We stopped there on the way South. There we had a chance to sample the local produce. The banana ketchup was particularly in vogue – I tried it and it tasted just like the regular tomato ketchup to me! I don’t particularly fancy either though. Banana ketchup goes 5 dollars for a small bottle. We later tried another, extremely hot local sauce. All alone it destroys your palette, but when added to various dishes, it suddenly opens them up from an unexpected side. It’s sold in the same small bottles.

On our way we pass by the banana plantations. When the bananas reach the stage of ripeness, they are packed in these blue bags to prevent birds and other animals from consuming them. Bernadette bought some fresh bananas and gave each of us one – honestly, they tasted utterly unique, pure and tasty. Nothing like the supermarket bananas which of course are transported over half the world.

Finally we reach the village of Anse-la-Raye – one of the local tourist magnets. Known primarily for its local goods fare and night feasts.

A very atmospheric village!

On this beach I was approached by a rather decrepit looking homeless man. First he introduced himself at length, shaking my hand. Then he offered to make photos of him or with him. I politely declined, seeing that it’s likely a pretext to ask me for money.

The beach.

Picturesque church is full of – not doves, not swallows, but small white herons.

We continue our path through the jungle.

The snake charmers try to catch the tourists.

This one seems like an avatar of the hero on his T-shirt.

Finally we are at the viewpoint where we can see the most famous site of Saint Lucia. The Pythons are two oddly shaped mountains, so unique in terms of geology that they are listed as UNESCO World Heritage.

The richest town on the island is Soufrière at the foot of the Pythons. We stopped over for a lunch. It is possible to climb either of the Pythons – the Big Python has a pathway and it’s possible to trek up. The Little Python requires a lot more work as it’s a technical climb.

Myself with the Pythons, proud of my 100 visited countries milestone.

Passing through Soufrière. The weather in Saint Lucia is quite particular – it changes literally every five minutes from rain to sunshine to rain again. The explanation is the geography of the island: the mountains keep condensing the clouds, but it passes quickly as the island is small.

We got to see the crater of the local volcano, with the requisite smoke. Obviously after visiting endless volcanoes in New Zealand and Central America I don’t find it that much of a novelty. I was more interested in the mud baths that apparently could be taken right nearby – but we had no time to take one.

Because the botanical garden still had to be visited!

Bernadette would speak in unbelievable detail about multitudes of local plants. You could see this topic was her passion.

For a fee, you can take medical baths in the botanical garden. These were created by the French during the reign of Louis XVI. It was said that their effect was comparable to the best waters in France and Germany. (I doubt though that many tourists would cross the Atlantic for this reason alone in those days!)

The garden’s delights:

Crowned by a waterfall:

This was the last point of our organised tour. We decided to take a quick walk on our own around Castries – I was craving coffee. Coffee was nowhere to be found, but the town seemed to live its own life, quite unaware of the tourists – quite a contrast to a place like Charlotte-Amalie, for instance.

The Castries’ cathedral on the main square:

With fascinating interior:

A little park on the main square devoted to the Nobel prize winner Derek Walcott:

Colonial buildings surround the main square. Not many have been preserved in Castries due to frequent fires.

A local:

And finally – the last look in the direction of Saint Lucia. Farewell, Pythons!

All the posts about the cruise in the Caribbean:
Puerto Rico: Strange Spanish-speaking United States
A Denmark in the Antilles: Charlotte-Amalie of the US Virgin Islands
Blotch of Antigua with its 365 beaches of eternal sun
Colourful decay of overseas France: Martinique
Saint Lucia, the most authentic of the Caribbean islands
The last island of the Antilles: Grenada

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