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Published: February 18th 2019
St Lucia 20 January – 6 February
The journey from when we left the ship in Puerto Rico on the 17 January until reaching St Lucia on the 20th
was unhurried but long. We had first to return to Miami before flying to Port of Spain in Trinidad and then on to St Lucia. It sounds a weird way of trying to reach St Lucia but the reason being that by doing it this way it meant we booked two return flights, from Miami to Trinidad and Trinidad to St Lucia which was by far the cheapest strategy to get us where we wanted to go, and back again.
Finally we arrived in Castries, the capital of St Lucia, by plane and waited to be collected. Eventually Jason arrived from Sea Wind Cottages and took us to Gros Islet, the location of S. W. Cs but stopping at the supermarket en route so we could stock up and also giving us a quick tour of Rodney Bay and Pigeon Island. St Lucia has an area of 238 square miles and a population of 180,000.
All accommodation in the Caribbean is expensive (as
is everything else!) but to try and manage the budget as best I could I had booked Sea Wind which was the cheapest I could find. So our expectations were limited. We arrived to find our cottage was rustic or 'authentic' as described online but perfectly adequate with two bedrooms, bathroom, sitting room, kitchen and large covered patio. Outside was a large neat grassed garden which was home to chickens and quite a large herd of goats. They did all go to their own homes at night behind the main house but worked hard all day making sure the grass lawn remained short and tidy.
Shal, the owner, his teenage son Jacob, and colleague Jason worked together to make our stay enjoyable. The first afternoon we decided to walk the mile up and over the hill to Plantation beach. About a quarter of the way there three large and loud dogs came out from a house and barked ferociously, making it quite clear that it was their job to make us turn back, so we did. When Shal saw us back so soon he asked why and immediately sent Jacob with us to see us safely past
the dogs. Of course, that time the dogs knew better than to show themselves so we passed without hindrance. We saw another couple of dogs but they gave a friendly hello to Jacob and went on their way. So we both felt like wimps but Jacob accompanied us to the beach and back whilst giving us lots of useful local information.
The cottages are just outside Gros Islet where the island narrows and they are half way between the east and west beaches, right next to Rodney Bay which is the largest resort, modern with a marina. Having said that it is tiny compared to most marinas and only has a few shops and restaurants as well as a large resort hotel, one of the Sandals chain.
Gros Islet is the original village, little changed, and is a welcome contrast to Rodney. On Friday nights they have their 'jump up' which is a street party with the local bars and restaurants open. We wanted to go and have a meal so Shal delegated the task of accompanying us to Jason, as he wanted us to have a lift there and back, and I think
wanted to make sure we were safe. Then unexpectedly Jason's wife came too, as he thought he would give her a treat and she would not have to cook. We went early as we wanted to eat before it was too crowded and avoid the late night revelries which have a wild reputation. Even at 6pm the queue was beginning to lengthen at the most popular eating place. It was like an outdoor canteen with the queue winding towards the main serving area where three ladies, just like in a school canteen, dished out the food. There was a choice of three different types of fish, tuna, barramundi or marlin and rice with a choice of two salads. I chose the green fig salad. I still don't have a clue what was in that but it was one of the most delicious meals ever with a huge portion of fresh tuna covering my plate. This was all washed down with a beer and then we discovered a little more about Jason's wife. She does not drink, so she had water, she does not work, and according to Jason she spends all her time reading the bible. By this time Jason,
Jim and I were really enjoying ourselves but his wife wanted to go back home as the sight of all the bars was upsetting her. Jason suddenly realised his mistake and you could see he was wishing he had left her at home so he could stay out awhile. But by then we were happy to go home too.
The next morning when Jim climbed out of bed I was hoping he would be quiet as I was not ready to wake up. I could hear him mumbling then suddenly he said, 'my feet are wet'! We both thought it was condensation from the air conditioning as we had left it on all night for the first time. So I said sleepily, oh no, you sort it, I am going back to sleep. But then I heard waves lapping against the wall as he walked and decided perhaps I should get up. We had had a leak in the night in the bathroom and the water had flowed from there into our bedroom, the sitting room and kitchen. We had our own four room indoor pool. Luckily where we had left our devices, two phones and iPad,
charging on the floor, it was slightly uphill so the water had not yet reached them. Shal soon came to the rescue, switched off the water, brought a mop and bucket which I operated while he used towels to quickly soak up the deep water. In half an hour calm was restored and we sat down to breakfast. In an hour all was dry. The heat makes that sort of problem so much easier to deal with.
Another day we went snorkelling on Pigeon Island where there are also remains of a fort and lookout point.
One of the things I love about our lifestyle is the constant contrast. From the rather basic and 'wild west' style of Sea Wind Cottages we moved to Piton Vista Villa south of Soufriere, a very different experience. The south of St Lucia is mountainous. The villa is perched on the side of a hill overlooking Grand Piton and the sea, with a wonderful view. The apartment was perfect, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, full kitchen, sitting room with a corner set out as a study for working on PCs and a wrap around veranda but at twice the
cost of Sea Wind Cottage. We went by bus a couple of days to the local beaches and then Anse Chastenet beach which required a water taxi to take us out from Soufriere. The snorkelling was good but the reef near the surface shows the same damage we have seen on other islands from the recent hurricanes. The view of the pitons from the boat on our return was lovely.
Soufriere is a typical Caribbean small town with a pretty seafront and colourful wooden buildings. We travelled by bus along the coast to Vieux Fort in the very south stopping at different beaches. Other days we were happy to stay at home, reading or working on the computer. It was such a comfortable place to be, with stunning views, that we didn't need to go out. Martin, our host, said he was worried that we would be bored as most visitors have cars and go out every day. We had to keep reassuring him that we were perfectly happy.
However we did have one unusual day. To get onto our verandah and access the apartment it is necessary to go through a high fenced
trellis gate which had bolts on both sides. When we were home we locked it on the inside and then on the outside when we went out. That way, Johanna, Martin's wife knew we were out and could pop on to the verandah and take away any rubbish. One morning we decided we were going to stay at home that day as we wanted to do some work on the computer.
About 10am the wifi signal disappeared. We thought perhaps someone was cleaning in Martin's house above us and had pulled the wrong plug out of a socket, so we said we would wait half an hour then go and check with them if it did not come back on. It didn't and I was about to go up the drive when Jim noticed a bright security light on near the bathroom. He could not switch it off. So I had two questions to ask. Off I went only to find I could not get out as the fence door was bolted on the outside. I tried shouting but no-one heard. Then we realised the electricity and water was off which meant we could not flush the
lavatory. Jim fiddled with the bolt and a cable until he managed to open the fence door but still there was no-one upstairs. It really made no difference as we had planned to stay in but I had to use the gas hob to boil water for tea and coffee.
Eventually Johanna returned and explained that she had been informed by the electricity company in the morning that they would be switching off the power for the day. She had come down to tell us but could not make us hear as I think I was in the shower and so she had left but, on automatic pilot, had bolted the door on the outside without realising. She was very embarrassed but it really did not matter. We were just pleased there was a simple explanation and not long afterwards the power supply resumed.
My favourite moments sitting on the verandah were experiencing the frequent showers. We could have five or six in an afternoon or evening but they are beautiful. I am not sure if it is a phenomenon created by the neighbouring pitons but a shower would arrive from nowhere out of
blue skies and would announce itself with a long sigh. Then you may spot moisture droplets in the air but more usually you might just see what appeared to be fine cobwebs being carried horizontally in the breeze. Thirty seconds to a minute later they disappeared and the sun continued to shine. It almost felt as if you had imagined the whole thing, it is magical.
Guadeloupe 6-14 February
The ferry from Castries, St Lucia to Guadeloupe left at 7am so we were meant to check in at 5am. We could not reach Castries by that time from Piton Vista so we had to go into Castries the day before and spend the night there. I booked accommodation close to the ferry and Martin very kindly dropped us off there on his way to work, a journey of 1 ¼ hours from Soufriere. During the ride to Castries Martin told us more about his background. His family left St Lucia for the UK when he was four, (he is now about to retire at 65), and he grew up there. At seventeen he joined the army and trained in Winchester, then visited
many different countries as a soldier. About ten years ago he returned to St Lucia as he was tired of the weather in the UK and now he is a Driving Inspector in Castries. He was complaining about the standard of driving on the Island and the number of accidents. We had already noticed the way the bus drivers (actually 14 seater vans rather than buses) speed around and overtake on blind bends. I spent most journeys with my eyes closed while Jim gasped in horror every few seconds.
There is a small hospital in Castries a minute's walk from our 'villa' which was a large room and terrace in an old house with no cooking facilities. Martin had told us that if we wanted a meal to go into the hospital restaurant which we did and had a lovely Caribbean version of fish and chips on the hospital terrace right by the beach. I don't think many tourists find their way in there.
Bright and early the next morning, and after rather a lot of queueing, we set sail for Guadeloupe, passing along the east coast of Martinique before making two stops there
and then carried on to Dominica and finally Pointe a Pitre, in Guadeloupe. It was a very enjoyable journey in a catamaran.
Guadeloupe is a French Departement so requires Euros. It is about 629 square miles in area with a population of 400,000. It feels very different from St Lucia partly because it is an archipelago comprising seven islands including the butterfly shaped two main islands, Grand Terre and Basse Terre which are joined by a road bridge, Marie Galante, Les Saintes and Desirade amongst others. Some are tiny islands. They also suffered hurricane damage and still have water shortages so every night a quarter of the population are without mains water. Every fourth night from 6pm until 10am the following day the mains water is off where we stayed. Anny is well organised and has large bottles filled ready for use during this period.
As soon as we entered the small supermarket we realised with relief that the variety of food available is much greater here than on St Lucia. As much as we enjoyed St Lucia no-one can say the food is exciting except for a few dishes like the one we
had at the 'jump up'. There is very little in the shops there and a scarcity of good fresh fruit and vegetables. That doesn't seem to be the case here in Guadeloupe, everything is available but at a high price.
Our accommodation in Le Gosier on Grande Terre was different again. We had a room with ensuite bathroom in Anny's two storey apartment, and shared her kitchen facilities and sitting area. But the most wonderful part of her home, Cazanny, is the terrace, with amazing views across to an offshore island called Le Gosier, then with distant views of Les Saintes, Marie Galante and the southern coast of Basse Terre. That was our favourite place: to sit on the terrace with a beer or wine as we ate and look over the view as the sun set was wonderful. The front of the apartment consisting of the terrace across the width of the property was completely open and the shutter is only closed if there is a storm approaching. It seemed strange to go out or go to bed with one whole side of the room missing.
The archipelago is part of the EU
and in many places looks like the south of France with tropical vegetation. Around Pointe a Pitre and across to Basse Terre it is densely populated with heavy traffic, commercial activities and residential communities. Once you go further out the towns are tiny and all different.
Our first day we pottered around Le Gosier but on the Saturday a Carnival fair was planned by the port so off we went, not really knowing what to expect. It was fascinating, a 'fair' or outdoor exhibition about preparation for Carnival with workshops explaining how to make the costumes, make drums, get the make-up just right and everything else you need to know to get ready as well as food stands where you could try local dishes. It was fun and we enjoyed it despite the frequent showers, much heavier than experienced on St Lucia. Here it was truly tropical but short lived downpours. Then we sat in a tent to catch our breath between showers when Jim decided he would pop along to the free banana stall a couple of tents from where we were sitting as he was getting peckish. I stayed on the seat .
As soon as he left the showers intensified. After five minutes he did not return so I assumed he was sheltering from the rain or eating lots of bananas. I sat another five minutes then heard my name announced over the loud speaker and asking me to go to the First Aid tent. Oh dear, I wondered what had happened to Jim but reassured myself that if they knew my name he must be conscious. So I ran out into the downpour but could not find the First Aid tent. Four more times they called for me and I thought that they must have decided that I had abandoned Jim but no-one could tell me where the tent was and no-one could speak English. And it was really bucketing down as only tropical rain can do. I had a couple of very frustrating minutes racing about. Even the security guards did not know where the First Aid tent was. Then a young lady who had been acting as interpreter for Jim spotted me and raced me under cover by the First Aiders. There Jim sat, smiling nervously, but not able to see anything as he did not have his
glasses on, and surrounded by four enthusiastic first aiders. He had bent to pick a banana off the stand and cracked his head on the edge of the wooden roof. Luckily he had been wearing a cap but he had a small gash that was bleeding profusely and according to Jim had looked even worse when the heavy rain had washed the blood down and diluted it.
The helpers were trying their best but I think they were volunteers. They only took two tries to manage to put a dressing on, forgetting to clean the wound on their first attempt. Then they took his blood pressure but put the cuff on upside down and inside out before taking a reading without first inflating the cuff. Eventually the senior person intervened and took it correctly. However they were all lovely and very caring but there was blood everywhere.
Once bandaged and with blood pressure back to normal (not sure it had ever been anything else) we were allowed to go. Jim was looking rather scary with a large dressing on his head with blood seeping through but when he put his slightly bloody cap back
on we were ready to go to our next venue the Memorial Acte museum.
This is a new building especially designed to provide a venue for a history and analysis of slavery. An audio guide in English was provided and is triggered by each display. It is totally absorbing. It does not just look at slavery in relation to the Caribbean but at all civilisations throughout history, finishing with the present day and presenting a list of the number of slaves in every country of the world. In 2016 it was estimated that there were 46 million slaves worldwide. It is truly mind blowing and very depressing. The use of technology in the displays helped convey the information in an interesting way but the main power in the message came across because it was so factual and objective rather than emotional.
Of course there was plenty about the Caribbean and especially the back to Africa movement of the 1920s and the creation of Rastafarianism. This fascinated me. Marcus Garvey, a black American, advocated that black people in the States should return to their homelands and he prophesied in 1920 that a great African leader
would rise up and unite Africa. Then Haile Selassi came to power in 1930 and was seen by some people in the USA as the fulfilment of that prophesy. His name was Ras Tafari Makonnen. Ras meaning leader or prince in Ethiopian. That was the start of the Rastafarian movement when a group of people decided to follow Haile Selassie and use the Bible, especially the Book of Revelations, as their source of inspiration. They believe in the Old Testament, but it is difficult to generalise about their beliefs as there tends to be a high level of personal interpretation. There are conflicting opinions about the reign of Haile Selassie. Some think he was a very effective leader who created the pan African unity movement whereas others consider him a dictator who failed his people especially during the dreadful famines experienced in Ethiopia.
More information was presented about Carnival. I had just assumed it had arisen from the activities of the Catholic Church thoughout Central and South America. What I had not appreciated was that slaves were not allowed to gather together to celebrate their own cultures, music or dance but they were allowed to participate in
Catholic ceremonies. So they used that opportunity to share and maintain some of their culture under the guise of Christianity. That is why it developed into such a big part of life in so many countries. Altogether the Memorial Acte was a fascinating experience.
Then we decided to explore the islands of Grand and Basse Terre by bus much to the surprise of our host Anny as most of her visitors rent cars. Grand Terre is the island to the east and is flat whereas Basse Terre to the west is mountainous with an active volcano, Soufriere. It was not as easy as we expected or as simple as it had been on St Lucia. The scheduled buses work well but in more rural areas there are unscheduled buses which are a nightmare. We optimistically set out to visit the centre of Basse Terre and reached the Rainforest National Park very easily and had a lovely walk through the forest. Then we went to wait at the bus stop for a bus to the other side of the island at Pointe Noire. After half an hour a bus (fourteen seater) came but was full. So we continued
to wait, and wait and wait. Then we decided if a bus came returning to Pointe a Pitre we would just take that and go back home. The Park Ranger was very friendly but concerned that we might not be able to get on a bus. An hour later we were still waiting when I heard someone speaking English and I asked if they had space in their vehicle and could they give us a lift in any direction. They were happy to help but were picnicking first. They said if we were still waiting when they had eaten they would happily take us back to Point a Pitre.
So we continued standing at the bus stop and suddenly a bus came heading to Pointe Noire. We signalled it to stop and raced across the road at the exact moment a bus came from the opposite direction and also stopped. What is the chance of that happening after two hours? We tried to get on the PN bus but it was full, so we turned to get on the other to PaP and it had already shot off down the road. So we were left standing there
again! At least we could see the funny side of it especially as we knew that we had a plan B.
The next day we braved the buses again and headed around the north coast of Basse Terre to Deshaies. As we were taking a real bus on a regular route we felt there was a strong probability we could get back without too much difficulty. If you get on the bus at the start it is easier as there is space but with the 14 seater you have to wait until they are full before they leave. We saw the attractive little town of St Rose and then stopped for lunch in Deshaies where they film the programme Death in Paradise. That is a very tiny fishing village with a handful of shops and bars. That journey was easy so it seems it is the more rural routes that are difficult where if the drivers think there might not be enough passengers to fill a bus they don't turn up.
Dominica 14-21 February
Our third ferry hop was across to Dominica, where English is the main language. Most
of the islands have similar histories of belonging to one European country, then another and sometimes even a third and most of the previously British islands gained independence and became part of the Commonwealth whereas those belonging to France and the Netherlands stayed part of those countries so are now part of the EU, all very confusing. This ferry ride was much bumpier than our first as the wind was strong. I had not realised that catamarans could roll so much.
We were met by a lady, Kendra, who drove us over the mountains in the dark to Marigot. It is very confusing as many of the islands have the same names so Soufriere can be found on numerous islands as can Marigot. However the pronunciation varies depending upon the language. So in Guadeloupe they refer to St Lucie and La Dominique, whereas in the English speaking islands it is St Lucia and Dominica.
Our second evening was a belated St Valentine's meal held in aid of the local Methodist church rebuilding fund. Purely voluntary of course, it was possible to buy a ticket, go down to a little restaurant in the village where
they packed a meal into a box and presented a lovely little decorative bag of chocolates which then had to be taken back to the hotel to eat. Our hotel is strange. Very well designed with pleasant rooms attractively laid out and a bar but food has to be requested in advance and then they will cook whatever you want but without the aid of any menu or price list. When we tried to gather more information about this, Mervin said of course, being a hotel, it is more expensive to eat in than in the village, but it is quite acceptable to bring cooked food back.
The next day we took a bus, another 14 seater, to Portsmouth, the second largest town on the island and visited the Cabrits National Park which contains the restored Fort Shirley and provides good lookouts across the town and out to sea. We had a relaxing lunch there and then reluctantly set off for the 40 minute walk back to the bus in the heat (33 degrees approx). We had only walked a few yards when a car stopped and offered us a lift. It was a young man who
had been waiting at the ferry terminal alongside Kendra when we arrived. We were so pleased we were saved the walk back.
Dominica is 290 square miles of totally hilly and mountainous land with a population just below 70,000. It was slightly higher before the storms but many people left after the damage and loss of food and jobs. Even the birds numbers are dramatically reduced in the islands because of the damage to trees and the lack of food for them. It is different again from St Lucia, its close neighbour. Because it does not have an international airport tourism is limited to visits from smaller cruise ships and it is not a common destination on cruise line itineraries. Neither does it have big resort hotels and many of the local hotels were damaged and have not been rebuilt so even independent travellers are few and far between. The roads are in poor condition and frightening in places. Its main source of income is from bananas which is almost a monoculture here. Despite, or because, of all that it is our favourite island. It has a lot to see, is unspoilt and people are very friendly
We arranged for Kendra to take us around some sights in the south where it is difficult to visit by bus and we had a really fascinating day. Starting at Emerald Pool, where I saw a small lizard inflating its throat, we then went to Freshwater Lake, which is dammed to produce hydro-electricity, on to Trafalgar Falls where we saw land crabs fighting by the path, stopping briefly at a hot sulphur spring and finishing with a stop on the beach south of the capital Roseau to visit Champagne Reef.
They also have cold sulphur springs but we did not have time to visit those. We were out nearly nine hours as although the distances are not great the roads are slow. We loved being driven by Kendra as she was steady and did not take risks unlike the St Lucia drivers.
I wanted to see Champagne Reef but it was the last stop and we had seen so much I was afraid it was going to be an anticlimax. Jim could still not snorkel as his gash is only just healing. So I went in after getting rough
Flowers for sale in Guadeloupe
Only island we have see so much for sale
directions from someone who had just been snorkelling. I was lucky as otherwise I might have missed the 'Champagne' bubbles from the underwater hot springs. By the time I snorkelled out I was the only person in the sea. I saw a few bubbles rising from the bottom and thought, quite pleasant but not spectacular. Then I moved on and I am not sure if it was a slight change of area or a change in my position relative to the sunlight from above but suddenly I was in the middle of a spectacular sight. Hundreds of lines of tiny bubbles were coming up from the sea floor, out of sand and rock, and moving in straight lines to the surface. With the sun behind them they looked more like diamonds than bubbles. Or where they were slightly larger bubbles they created an effect a little like silver tinsel being stretched between the sea floor and the surface. I have never seen anything like it before and could have stayed for hours. However, I thought of Jim sitting on the beach, put my head up to see if I could see him and realised it was pouring down. Hard to
know that when you have your head underwater! So I started to return but I did pass over a couple of small eel beds and enjoyed watching the eels disappear under the sand when they felt the vibration of my movement, then pop out again when I stayed still on the surface. Jim and managed to keep everything dry in my absence for which I was very grateful.
As we are not planning to do much more here in Dominica, other than perhaps try to reach the Indian River by bus one day, I am going to try and post this blog and will add anything else that happens to the next blog.
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