Boasting a mix of English, French, African and Caribbean cultural influences St. Lucia has so much to offer for a comparably small Caribbean island, writes Terry Willey.
The island has a hot and humid climate, but it is moderated by north east trade winds. The high season runs from January to April. These months are warm and sunny and are contrasted by the rainy season between May and December with the peak hurricane risk activity between August and September.
On one of our visits to the island we were to witness the aftermath of hurricane Tomas which passed directly over St. Lucia. According to statistics only 14 hurricanes had moved closer than 60 miles to St. Lucia since 1850. This indeed was an exception with the storm passing directly over the island causing extensive damage and killing 14 people. Homes and schools were flattened and the road system extensively affected by mud slides. It was ‘touch and go’ whether our holiday was to proceed some three weeks after the storm but the local people and with the assistance of the UN, had worked hard to restore the access routes for tourism.
High winds and rain usually continue for several weeks after such a direct hurricane impact, while remaining hot and humid, all of which can seriously hamper the recovery process. We were completely overwhelmed by the positive and courageous spirit of the St. Lucians and despite their personal adversity they were keen to ensure that we enjoyed our stay. On the day of our departure we had no fewer than three taxi drivers attempt to return us to the main airport at the capital Castries without success owing to continuing mud slides. The determination to assist us in every way was demonstrated by a local boat crew who offered us, without charge, to return us to the airport by sea.
We finally arrived at the harbour 20 minutes before the scheduled departure and a small van was awaiting our arrival to take us to the airport. As we said farewell we noted our plane was awaiting our arrival with one gangplank down ready to depart. We were greeted by anxious stewardesses who told us only around 100 people had made the return to the plane out of a scheduled 400 passengers, who were stranded in various hotels and residences.
During our journey home we had time to reflect on this special island with so much natural beauty. The famous Piton mountain range provides the most wonderful backdrop from both land and sea. This is coupled with the opportunity to enjoy the most rugged terrains which continue off shore in a diving heaven of underwater mountains, caves and drop offs. Humpback whales regularly frequent the coastal waters and we were fortunate to see one during a sea trip. It was an experience to behold and although our boat was some half a mile from it, I will never forget the grace and enormity as it dived and re-appeared to take in air.
The island has several underground volcanos and on one of our guided tours we witnessed the sulpha springs bubbling mud emitting pungent gases from a volcano. The island’s main export is bananas, which is said to bring equal revenue to the island to that of tourism. However, this was seriously affected when many plantations were lost to the hurricane.
The small coastal fishing villages around the Island lead to both banana and coconut plantations which are situated in deep valleys topped by a rich and mountainous jungle. I found the St. Lucians generally less extrovert than those of their neighbouring Caribbean islands and have somehow quietly embraced various cultures.
For example, if you visit a Catholic cathedral in the capital you will find a real mixture of influences. Very often the building will be of French design with richly bright painted interiors from an African influence together with portraits of a black Madonna and child and surprisingly services conducted in English!
It is the very scenic and secluded backdrop that the island offers that has drawn many film directors to the island over the years including for the film Superman 2 and in 1967 the original Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison.
Like many of the Caribbean islands the food is very much of a West Indian influence coupled with Creole dishes found across the Caribbean, but more particularly the most wonderful variety of fruit throughout the seasons with bananas and coconuts appearing in a variety of local dishes.
The wildlife is spectacular, particularly watching the flight of the large frigate birds and herons as they fly across the island and nesting in the dense jungle areas around the Pitons. But watch out for the snakes as boa constrictors are plentiful!
It is an island certainly to be explored both by land and sea and nothing is better than to observe the spectacular sunsets over the sea in a local bar washed down with a glass of Piton beer brewed and produced in Vieux Fort on the island.