The Helen of the West Indies
Saint Lucians will tell you that their small island country, in the Eastern Caribbean sea, is the most fought over land in history. It exchanged hands fourteen times between the French and British from the 1650s till it was won by the British in 1814. The island’s irrefutable beauty and the long squabble over it have elicited the apt nickname, “Helen of the West Indies”. This is the land that launched a thousand ships, and the prize was St Lucia’s deep harbours and fertile, volcanic soil.
Today there are fresh reasons to visit the island’s shores. Saint Lucia’s jazz festival is legendary, as is the carnival in July, and there are cricket matches all year around. The lively and numerous bars, clubs and restaurants in the north along Rodney Bay pack a punch for party-goers. I was captivated by the picturesque southwest, and particularly enjoyed the varied views of Saint Lucia’s famous twin mountains called the Pitons which happened to pop up everywhere. The Pitons or peaks are extinct volcanoes that rise straight up from the water’s edge, and dominate the scenery for miles. A befitting Unesco World Heritage site, their presence permeates the island.
A cocktail of British, French and Caribbean influences Although everyone speaks English in Saint Lucia, the locals chat with each other in Patois, which is a blend of African-Caribbean language, heavily laden with French.
While the influence of the British reigns in language, cricket and trade with the mother country (Saint Lucia became independent in 1979), the names of many places such as the charming town Soufriere (named after the sulphur springs nearby), Val de Piton (valley of the peaks) and Grande Anse (big bay) remain French. French architectural style abounds in the wooden houses and French bakeries are in abundance. The main religion is Catholicism. The African- Caribbean influence comes alive in the houses and churches painted in bright colours as well as the music and dancing.
Lucians wake up to fresh coconut water as they prepare for the day. No matter where they live, the forests, mountains or the ocean are next to them. Banana and palm trees, fruits and vegetables and tropical flowers grow effortlessly given the ample sunshine and moisture. As long as tourists visit and bananas grow, the naturally warm and generous people are happy. They get together to “lime” or chill with family and friends in the evenings over rum, beer and perhaps some grilled fish, beans, rice and roti. The country is only 238 square miles and Lucians tot up to a mere 170,000. Yet they have much to be proud of, including two Nobel laureates, Arthur Miller, the father of Development Economics and Derek Walcott, the poet. However, the most admirable thing is their indomitable spirit. Despite suffering the ravages of the devastating Hurricane Thomas in 2010, Lucians did not put a hand out for international funds in favour of saving their image for future tourism. They’ve worked tirelessly at rebuilding their infrastructure. Given their spectacular geology, they hope to see Saint Lucia dubbed “The Isle of Romance.”
Capital city - Castries is the capital city of Saint Lucia.
Currency - Eastern Caribbean Dollar or XCD (1 XCD=R16.76)
Best time to visit - December to April are the cooler and drier months.
How to get there - Direct flights from many international locations land in Hewanorra airport in the south and connecting flights from other islands land in the smaller GF Charles airport in the north.
Where to stay: Stay at the high end Jade Mountain —www.jademountainstlucia.com, The Jalousie Plantation or Ladera Resort. Anse Chastanet Resort is more reasonably priced. Backpackers can find rooms anywhere in the charming village of Soufriere.
Eat at - Dasheen Restaurant at Ladera has spectacular views of the Pitons as does Hotel Chocolate opposite Ladera. Head for the Canaries Creole Pot celebration on the last Saturday of every month at Canaries village and try the local cuisines like green fig and salt fish.
Explore - The Edmond Forest Reserve and Tet Paul walking trail.