– visited October 2013 –
Budget accommodation is rare in Saint Lucia. I found a hostel in Gros Islet, the sun sets beautifully as I arrive. I came just in time; it’s Friday night and the famous street party is about to start. I go with a traveller from Latvia. Street party is meant literally here, food stalls have been set up and the music is playing. The food is delicious and the dancing a bit weird. Time and again we see something that can only be described as “playfucking”, a guy, and sometimes it seems a guy unknown to the girl, approaches from behind, she bends down and he moves as if he would, well… Strange manners around here. Sometime after midnight the party moves to a club a few kilometres away but loses its special flavour there.
In the morning, I take a bus all along the western coast to Soufrière (Sulphur). On my list are the Botanical Gardens, the Morne Coubaril Estate and the attempt to get some good views of the Petit and Gros Pitons, two volcanic spires that adorn the coastline. As you see, St. Lucia (formerly known as Sainte-Lucie) is another example of a former British colony (independent since 1979) full of French names. I won’t have time to attempt to climb the piton, I found a report online, it seems difficult and there is no suitable (that means cheap) accommodation in Soufrière. Morne Coubaril Estate gives me my first glance at how coffee is grown and processed, historically it gives an insight how the plantation economy worked in the Caribbean. This region has been transformed (one could also say destroyed) as no other in the world has been by colonialism. Just consider, the ancestors of the people living here today have been brought to these islands against their will, the people once living here have long disappeared from the island and the people living here nowadays speak neither the language common to these islands nor of their ancestors but the language of the oppressors of their ancestors. Globalisation at its worst. The story is simple, the Caribbean islands were the first lands to be reached on the common route from Europe, part of the year the winds (trade winds) are favourable to cross the Atlantic. Islands are easier to defend and control and in an age with no cars and lorries boats are cutting edge technology and the easiest way to move goods and people around. The local population, the Caribs, hence the name, was low in numbers and soon decimated by Western diseases. In 1660, France and Great Britain signed a treaty with the Caribs that they would evacuate all islands except Dominica and St. Vincent eventually transforming them into reserves (on both islands remnants of the indigenous population remain). A hundred years later Great Britain broke that treaty with impunity and annexed these islands as well. For the other islands that meant they were essentially devoid of indigenous people. It was obvious that things were growing well in these places and who would be better for the work of planting, caring and harvesting than slaves forcibly brought over from Africa. Working for nothing, with no rights and just the hope of survival. Hence grew the plantation economy, the islands had small military contingents to keep order, a small group of European settlers and plenty of black labourers. If the Europeans made it and set up the plantations successfully, they would go back to Europe and only visit occasionally as the Caribbean was considered unhealthy. With malaria prevalent (not anymore) for some it was.
I skip the botanical garden; I get decent views of the Petit Piton but the Gros Piton only comes into view when I start walking uphill away from the town. I reserved (and payed) a seat on the minivan back to Castries so they are going to pick me up wherever they find me along the road. I take a short walk around Castries, Saint Lucia’s capital and a short swim in Gros Islet.
The morning is a surprise, so far, I have only experienced sunshine (more) or rain (less) but now it is foggy. Fortunately, it soon clears up. I walk to nearby Pigeon Island, not an island anymore (development, development), it is the site of colonial Fort Rodney and of Signal Hill, once the best place to observe nearby (and French) Martinique.
I take a minivan to the far south of the island, as we cross over to the eastern coast the difference is glaring. I had read about it before but not yet seen it. It holds through for the whole chain of the Windward Islands, on the western side are tranquil beaches and the calm Caribbean Sea, on the eastern side the landscape is rough and the Atlantic slams wave after wave against the land. Walking around Vieux Fort (Old Fort) I enjoy the sunset. In the distance, I can see St. Vincent, the next island to the south, I’ll visit there on another trip.
I sleep in a small hut on a beautiful beach, behind that beach is a road, a fence and the runway of Hewanorra International Airport. Accommodation in walking distance. Unfortunately, the departure hall is on the other side of the runway. I enjoy the morning at the beach and strongly underestimate the time needed to walk around the airport, when I arrive, my plane (stopping over from London) is already there. As I enter the hall there is just no one, not in front of the counter and not behind. I make enough noise and a man comes out of an office. Me, plane, please. He looks surprised, he has already switched off the computer, he turns it on again. The stewardess waiting on top of the stairs looks super-exhausted. Even my bag still makes it onto the plane. Well done.