By Felicia Persaud
CaribWorldNews, GROS ISLET, St. Lucia, Dec. 28, 2009: It’s Friday night, December 4th, in Gros Islet, St. Lucia and the weekly street party is underway, with many tourists – noticeable enough because they are largely the only Caucasians in the crowd – jamming with many locals to the live music emanating from huge speakers on a street corner.
All around us, small stores are open, selling the local Piton beer, along with other brands, while make shift stoves are everywhere – half drums really, cut out and used to either grill or fry the many local delicacies, whose scent now permeate the air, mixing in with the sweat of the many dancers and the cool mountain air.
Standing in a corner with a few media colleagues, I observe a Rastafarian local trying to show a Caucasian woman the real way to `wine` or do the Soca dance, just as a local boy, who should have been in bed at his age, tries to sell me a twisted palm frond that he convinces me is really his artistic interpretation of my `angel face.`
The scene is somewhat reminiscent of Labor Day carnival in Brooklyn, New York, and so beyond the sun, sand and sea of the ads that tout St. Lucia as one of a Caribbean tourism paradise.
This is what should be part of the promotional packages of St. Lucia I think, standing there sipping my beer and trying hard not to break away from the group and get on `wassi` by following the infectious sounds of the music now blasting from the huge speakers.
Welcome to the real St. Lucia – which I quickly found out is so much more than sun, sand and sea. In fact, in a nutshell, I would say it is more eco-cultural tourism – a facet of tourism that to me is more appealing than simply wading around in blue water all day or vegging on a beach being scorched darker by the blazing sun.
Thanks to the 2009 Caribbean Media Exchange conference, which took place in St. Lucia from December 3rd to the 7th, I was able to get a different view of the island.
The adventure actually began as soon as we touched down at the St. Lucia Hewanorra International Airport in Vieux Forte, the southern part of the island, and we began making our way along winding roads that were lined on both sides by banana trees, their fruit encased in shiny blue plastic bags.
The scenes were a far cry from the blue water lapping against white sand that I expected. But it is indeed surprisingly pleasant as it offered a rare glimpse at the lush foliage of this tiny almond shaped island of 238 square miles.
Located approximately 1,300 miles southeast of Florida, in the Lesser Antilles and some four-and-a-half hours by direct flight from New York, this `Helen of the West,` reminded me of an eco-tourist’s dream than simply a beach bummer’s escape.
Some two hours later we arrive at the first drop off point on our trip – Calabash Cove Resort. Located off a tiny dirt road, the trip down is at first off putting, until you come to a clearing that offers a spectacular view of this amazing resort overlooking the Caribbean Sea and Bonaire Bay at Mason Point on the northwest coast.
Such shockers take some getting used to here in St. Lucia, since it seems that at the end of every winding, tiny road – that seems more like a track to me, gives way to more lush surprises.
Sandals St. Lucia offers its own beautiful flora on its grounds along with of course its legendary hospitality and all inclusive service that leaves this resort still in a class of its own.
But it at Sandals that I am quickly able to get a taste of the sun, sand and sea that makes the Caribbean and St. Lucia so much more appealing to North American tourists seeking a respite from the cold winters.
The same thrill is offered at Cap Maison and Rendezvous resorts, where the sea lapping at the front of the hotel is a therapeutic and melodic stress relief.
Yet, as much as being in the waters on the beach is appealing, there is nothing better to open your pores and put you in a meditative lull than a trip on the water.
The Carnival Sailing Catamaran offers visitors a great day trip along the clear yet choppy waters to the town of Soufrière – home to the majestic Pitons that is St. Lucian to the bone.
The sheer size and magnitude of these majestic peaks that loom up as the boat gets closer is both exhilarating and a tad scary. Scary because on the one hand there is an instant thought of the ship looming into these mountains and exciting since for an instant in your head, you get to experience your own Titanic bow moment as you stand on the front of the boat – wind in your hair, sea spray in your face – and the captain continues it straight course towards the giant Pitons.
But all too soon the boat must bow to the majestic mountains, turning away to enter the dock at the town of Soufrière. The town is a little one that offers the typical amenities of a small town – church, shopping area, court, park etc. The area’s real beauty is beyond this small neighborhood on the water and in the lushness of its vegetation and trees that line a winding road into the mountains that hold it proud Pitons. The variety of flora and trees is mind-boggling and the freshness of the air – mixed in with the sea and the blossoms of the varied trees, tantalizes the senses.
`A doorway to heaven,` is how one guide described the virgin-like, tropical woodland that is home to an abundance of coconut, breadfruit, banana and cocoa trees.
Here the tranquility of the island washes over you and along with it a peace and calmness that dissipates briefly as your vehicle begins the long trek back down dangerously winding roads to the jetty.
But not before a quick stop to experience a working cocoa plantation and the fascinating yet rotten egged smell of the sulphuric volcano of Soufrière.
An early morning bath in this bubbling cauldron is good for your skin, my new friend and St. Lucian journalist says, even as I gaze with amazement at the vast expanse of this art of nature while trying hard to breathe despite the rancid stench.
A quick ride back to the jetty and across to Anse Chastanet lands us in another spectacular destination that is undoubtedly an eco-lover’s dream. Anse Chastanet’s Jade Mountain is undeniably the most mind-blowing of St. Lucia’s resort attraction. And it helps that the resort seems to compete with the Pitons for majesty over this thriving Garden of Eden like sanctuary as Jade Mountain looms above the 600 acre beach front resort of Anse Chastanet.
Architect owner, Nick Troubetzkoy’s bold design that features an infinity pool sanctuary and rugged stoned-faced columns that rise up out of the ground towards the sky, makes Jade Mountain an incomparable experience. It is undoubtedly a sanctuary to seekers of solace or lovers needing to blot out the world and feast on each other. The rooms – minus a fourth wall, give the impression that a skinny dip in the room’s own infinity pool allows for the feeling of swimming between the Pitons.
It is where St. Lucia’s true beauty is most displayed and visitors are truly thrilled to discover that beyond the white sand, 80 degrees weather and blue waters, St. Lucia is an eco-tourist’s dream come true.
PLACES TO STAY
• Sandals St. Lucia
• Coco Palm Resorts
• Anse Chastanet
• Calabash Cove
• Cap Maison
• Rendezvous St Lucia – (Couples only) – http://www.theromanticholiday.com/
• Bay Gardens Hotel
THINGS TO DO/PLACES TO SEE
• Visit to the Soufrière: Drive through the quaint town of Soufriere to the world’s only drive-in volcano with its bubbling holes of sulphuric waters.
• View of the Pitons – View the majestic Pitons in the town of Soufrière. Get there via the Carnival Sailing Catamaran.
• Tour of the town of Soufriere.
• Tropical Island Rainforest Walks – several companies offer walking tours of the lush and beautifully virginal rainforests of St. Lucia.
• Beaches – there are several across the island that offers a great dip in the Caribbean sea and sun bathing options.
• Tour of the town of Gros Islet – Friday nights party.
• Jade Mountain – http://www.jademountain.com/
• Shopping in Castries or Rodney Bay Village.
• Hotel Chocolat’s coca – Tour of this working cocoa plantation.
• For a taste of St. Lucia check out the The Ti Bananne Caribbean Bistro and Bar at the Coco Palm Resort in Rodney Bay Village.
For more on St. Lucia visit http://www.stlucia.org/. For more on the Caribbean Media Exchange, log on to http://www.caribbeanmediaexchange.com/Default.aspx?tabid=94.