Tuesday, December 13, 2011: Castries, St. Lucia
Today’s shore excursion of St. Lucia takes us along the west coast of the island, from our arrival port and captial city of Castries, down to the gateway of the Pitons in Soufriere, and everywhere in between.
Disembarking our ship in the capital city of Castries, we met up with our tour provider just outside of the pier and our group of 10 was introduced to superguide, Benedict (or “Bumpy” for short), who would share his island home with all of us during the course of the day. As we were one of 5 vans in today’s group, we would be seeing some of the sights individually as a group of 10, and others as part of the larger group of 53. This was a bit different from what we had done in the past, so we were interested in how this dynamic would present itself as we went through the day’s activities.
As we began to head south on the main highway, we stopped at a lookout over the capital, where we could see our cruise ship and the harbor, presented against a beautiful blue tropical sky. We continued with a few short stops where Bumpy provided us with an introduction to some of the tropical plants and fruits of the island, sharing samples with us as we continued our travels.
We continued along the road to the beautiful coastal town of Anse La Raye, with its horsehoe shaped bay and colorful homes stretching from the beach all the way back into the valley. As this is a volcanic island, there is not much flat land, so when it is present (mostly in the larger towns), every available inch is taken advantage of with homes, gardens, businesses, schools, and shops interlocking like a puzzle, leaving minimal room for cars and folks to get around.
As we continued south from Anse La Raye, all of the vans came to a stop at Canaries, where all 53 of us piled out of our respective vans to enjoy a feast of local specialities at a buffet of epic proportions. There was fish, chicken, plantains, johnny cakes, coconut cakes, fresh fruit, banana ketchup (really good!), and all the drinks you could handle, including rum punch, beer, soft drinks, and water. The only rule here was that everything had to be eaten before we could leave, and though the crowd was completely stuffed with the amazing food, they somehow complied with the request. We thanked our cooks and headed back out on the road, full and ready to see more of the island.
A little while later, we began to make our way down the winding hills and towards the town of Soufriere, the gateway of the Pitons. Before entering the town, we enjoyed a stop at a scenic overlook taking pictures and browsing some of the numerous souvenir stands at every stop. Before heading down into the town, we took a detour and headed to Sulphur Springs, the only volcano in the region that you can actually drive into!
Sulphur Springs is very much like Mount St. Helens in Washington State, where a portion of the volcano blew off, allowing people to actually travel into the crater of the massive site. We drove into the visitors center, where our group of 50 was paired up with a guide and we enjoyed a short walk into the park where we could see the clouds of sulphur steam rise from the ground and the boiling hot pools from the superheated water coming to the surface. Though the guide at the park did the best he could, the group was very large and at this stop, it was tough to really appreciate the place as we were herded from stop to stop in such a large group.
From here, we arrived into the port of Soufriere, where the group of 50 split up into a couple of water taxis to make the 10 minute trip from the port into Pitons Bay and to Jalousie Beach. The beach, located in between the Pitons is a beautiful place, but unfortunately is heavily monopolized by a hotel and resort, leaving an extermely small section “for the public” that was not equipped for all of us in the group to spend an hour here without the ocassional squabble for a beach chair or a spot on the sand. The scenery was breathtaking, and we had somewhat hoped that we could just stay out on the water to view this amazing coastline, but made the most of our “beach time” and then returned back to Soufriere via the water taxis.
We began to make our way back up the coast towards Castries, but made a few stops along the way. One of them, Maranatha Botanic Gardens was an enjoyable, albeit short stop, where we got to see a number of beautiful tropical flowers, including the Heleconia (Lobster Claw), Ixora, and the beautiful Pink Torch Ginger. Again, for some reason, we needed to visit this site with all 53 people, causing a number of chokepoints along the paths. If we could have visited with just our van of 10 and our guide would have been a much better scenario, but alas, we headed back to the van when all of the groups were called and we continued north towards our final destination.
Our final stop before returning to the ship was to stop at a bakery where we were presented with huge loaves of piping hot bread and cheese to munch on as we make the final leg back to the ship. Overall, it was a great day on the island of St. Lucia. Hopefully, the focus can return to the smaller, more intimate touring experiences of a van of 8-10, versus the cattle herding experienced at some points in the day as a supergroup of 50+, but the opportunity to experience the culture, music, food, and sights of St. Lucia will be remembered long after we leave this place.
Next up on the itinerary is the island of Antigua!