St Lucia – Jewel of the Caribbean

The island of St Lucia is a country of lush rain forest, sunshine, showers, and creole cooking. It is in the Eastern Caribbean sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean, northwest of its more high profile cousin Barbados. One of the Windward islands, it was subject to an Anglo-French tussle over many years and was seven times ruled by the French and then seven times by the English. It’s been independent now for 35 years but still has a system of English law and is part of the commonwealth, recognising our Queen as head of state. If an island can be retro-chic then this is it. Kind of a bit stuck in the 70’s, the poor remain poor, the revenue from tourism is going largely to big hotel chains and the huge super yachts that pull into the picturesque Marigot Bay keep their tax free wealth as firmly off shore as their sleek sailing  vessels.
Marigot Bay is a hurricane port

And yet I found something about St Lucia quietly charming. It did rain an awful lot when I was there, even though it was supposed to be the dry season (climate change is affecting everywhere) but we were rewarded with some magnificent rainbows and as the island is nearly half rain forest, I guess a lot of rain is a bit of an essential.
Curtis, our taxi driver from the airport was very proud of his 16 year old Toyota which he obviously looked after with loving care. He seemed to be channelling a bit of a Beverly Hills Cop vibe and was keen to impart a positive first impression of the island.  He said ‘I have lived all my life in paradise and even when I am on vacation I stay right here!’

Cool dude Curtis

Everyone speaks English (always handy) but people speak French Creole at home which is a kind of pigeon African/French dialect. St Lucia is a volcanic Island, but the last time there was volcanic activity was 1766 and the lava from that eruption created two great lava plugs – the Pitons – which you can walk right to the top of – if you really want to. I stayed at Marigot bay which seems to be famous chiefly for featuring in the black and white 1967 film, Dr Doolittle. In one particular scene Rex Harrison rides into the bay on a rather badly constructed giant pink sea snail. This fact was mentioned by Curtis and in all the guide books I looked at. It is perhaps not the most impressive claim to fame, although another surprising fact is that St Lucia is home to the most Nobel prize winners (per head of population) of any sovereign countries in the world. Two that is. Marigot Bay is billed as one of the most picturesque in the Caribbean and I think it probably is. Fringed on three sides by steep rainforest and with a charming little port with pastel coloured cafes and shops. Especially handy if you fancy pulling in on the Fourjacks super yacht – (did someone win it in a card game?) registered in the tax haven of your choice. The Windward islands, the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, Malta, Cyprus, the Bikini Islands, the Isle of Man..

A winning hand?

The contrast between the super rich visitors gliding in for dinner at the (rather expensive) Rainforest Hideaway Restaurant- and the very poor locals provides a stark contrast. The eaterie is about as cool a location as you can get, built out on a jetty into the bay and selling top price designer cuisine. Selling a few grapefruits or setting up a roadside home cooking cafe is more how the locals pass the time. You can usually tell the level of the local economy by the bus fares. If you go in a taxi from the hotel to Castries it will cost you £20 ($40) If you go on the bus it will cost you 60p. The only problem with the bus is that you never know when it’s coming, if it’s coming, or where to get it from. Other than that, it’s a great way to get around!

Lush landscape

The main industry in St Lucia is Tourism followed by bananas and there are plantations all over the island. There used to be a reciprocal agreement with the UK to exclusively supply all our banana requirements but that trade agreement has now expired and we’ll have any body’s bananas now. It is a lush landscape with friendly people and a somewhat underdeveloped range of attractions. There’s a smelly volcanic crater, a cute Botanical gardens and a rather oversubscribed Sulphur mud pool (if you immerse yourself in it it will cure just about every ailment under the sun apparently)

 

There’s a lot of Rum and rum based cocktails are naturally the order of the day. Or you can try the local Piton beer (roughly translated, a Piton is a spike or peak) which tastes to me like every other bottle of beer in the universe, but you might like it.
Exciting beer brand

But despite the enthusiastic weather (I did actually wear a plastic poncho I bought in the Costa Rican rain forest at one point) and the somewhat unsophisticated range of activities – at least where I was – I liked St Lucia more than some of the other Caribbean Islands I’ve visited. If a local in a towering Rastafarian hat approaches you in Jamaica, you can be pretty sure he’s after your cash or trying to interest you in some illegal substance. The same thing happens in St Lucia, and he is more likely to want to discuss Somerset County Cricket or the time he lived in Reigate in Surrey for ten years. I liked that.