Independent trips for Independent minds. Part 1
By Florin R Ferrs.
St Lucia is not normally considered an off the beaten path destination, but if you avoid the super sized cruises and the large five star hotels, you can still uncover the “real’ St Lucia, local style, this 4th of July.
I will never forget that afternoon in Castries, St Lucia. We had arrived by small sailboat from Martinique and the outdoor market by the port was at full swing. Locals milled around noisily, selling and buying colorful peppers, root vegetables, tropical fruits and live chickens. I wondered around the market stalls, admiring the colorful tropical fish and the vats of bright yellow turmeric powder. The hustle and bustle of the market was peppered with local patois, a fast paced French Creole delivered in the cadence of west African dialects.
The rapid patois was a reminder that this tiny island changed hands many times between France and England after been ripped from its native Carib culture. Subsequent waves of European colonizers and west African slaves during the five hundred years of the colonial period created a vibrant Creole culture (language, music, cuisine, art) and culminated with English as the official language. But as far as I could tell, the locals all spoke patois to each other and only switched over to English to communicate with me.
South to Soufrière
I hopped in a local bus (Japanese micro-bus) south towards Soufrière, a sleepy colonial town on the west coast of the island. Soufrière is nestled in lush green forest and is framed on one side by the blue waters of the Caribbean sea. Outside town, rise twin pyramidal rock mountains called pitons. The pitons are reminiscent of the iconic Pao de Azucar in Rio de Janeiro. The Pitons of Soufrière emerge wrapped in lush green shrubbery from the beach and top out at over 700 meters of pointy conical natural rock. The name of the town gives you a hint of the volcanic forces that carved such beauty, as the twin pitons are technically volcanic plugs. The black sand of the beach near the Pitons is made out of pure ocean pounded lava and is frequented mostly by locals.
The last volcano to explode on the island is still smoldering in the hills behind Soufrière. I hiked up there from the town’s central plaza and found the locals cooking eggs for their next supper on hot steam vents on the side of the mountain. The view of the twin pitons looming behind Soufrière was quite a marvel and the promise of a waterfall and a beach lured me to hike downhill into what the locals called “Piton Valley”, a lush bundle of tropical forest caught between the twin rock formations. There were a couple of huts on the side of the road selling local beer, making the hike a breeze. I could hear waterfalls above the road, hidden by greenery and when I finally waded into its cooling waters with a cold beer in my hand and the twin pitons rising against the blue sky above me, I suddenly realized that I was standing on the best location in the whole island and was grateful for that, and for not being at the all you can eat buffet and lame limbo show at some big five star hotel. I let the waterfall pound against my back and just sat back to suck in the moment. There I was, wading in a tropical pond, under a waterfall, over a still smoldering volcano, near a black sand beach and with the twin rock pitons above it all.
Maybe the best things in life are free after all.
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