Posts Tagged ‘St. Lucia’

ST. LUCIA…LOOKING BACK

Posted: April 25, 2019 in Uncategorized
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Now that I’m home from my trip to St. Lucia, I’ve had a chance to think about the wonderful people I’ve met, and the unique experiences I’ve had.

My driver, Anthony, and I having one last sip of spiced rum before I headed to the airport to go home.

 

One of the smartest things I did was to hire a knowledgeable driver, Anthony, take me just about everywhere. Though I did rent a car for one day and took the winding, volcanic St. Lucian roads into my own hands, I stayed on the main drag, and I didn’t get out to mingle with the locals like I did when Anthony was by my side. Like many Caribbean islands I’ve been to, there’s quite a bit of poverty on this island. And people make a living any way they can. Sometimes it’s less than friendly. But for the most part, the people I met were grateful that I was there to appreciate their island and learn about their way of life.

I bought a conch shell from this fellow.

 

St. Lucia’s big crop and major export is bananas, most of which goes to the United Kingdom. You see huge banana plantations everywhere as you travel the main roads of the island. Their beer, Piton, stays on St. Lucia, which is too bad, because it tasted pretty good on those very hot days. And the big money, of course, comes from tourism.

Piton Gold has more alcohol than their regular beer. Works for me!

 

Chairman’s Reserve rum…the good stuff.

 

Bounty was good for mixing.

 

In some ways, St. Lucia is a few steps ahead in the tourism game. I’ve been to my share of tiny island airports, and some are dirty, hot, and completely disorganized. St. Lucia’s international airport is clean, air-conditioned, and the boarding of passengers was done in an orderly fashion.

The waiting area at the airport. There’s also a food court upstairs.

 

As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how great the vacation was. If leaving the island becomes a nightmare at the airport, I will never return, and I won’t recommend it to anyone else, either. St. Lucia gets a big thumbs-up for that.

 

The island is large, and most of the roads are well-paved, though they wind up, down and around the island’s mountainous terrain. It took 90 minutes to get from the airport to the property I was renting in Marigot Bay, and that’s only halfway up the island. If all you’re doing is going to one of the three Sandals resorts (all in the northwest part of the island, just past Castries…about 2 hours from the airport), then maybe that’s fine. But if you’re like me, and you want to get out and explore a bit, transportation, whether by car or water taxi, is a large cash-only cost, especially if you’re traveling solo with no one to share the ride.

A map of St. Lucia I brought from home. The orange highlighted roads were all the ones I traveled on my trip! A lot of driving! The pink highlight at the bottom is the international airport…the pink highlight on the left is Anse Chastanet…and the black writing further up on the left is Marigot Bay, where I stayed.

 

Eastern Caribbean coins, or EC, are used here. One US dollar = 2.7 EC dollars.

 

Most established restaurants and bars will have a good selection of booze to choose from. But unfortunately, they measure their shots here (a pet peeve of mine), so if you want a “real” drink, you’ll need to ask for a double. Sometimes, if you’ve befriended the bartender, they’ll start pouring more generously toward the end of the night. A good tip never hurts!

Driving is on the left-hand side of the road, with the steering wheel on the right. Concentrate! Don’t drink and drive!

 

The local restaurants often have some liquor to offer as well, but what they have varies greatly. Still, you can’t go wrong with rum. (Mt. Gay, one of my favorites, is available almost everywhere.) If you’re an adventurer when it comes to drinking, ask for “spiced,” which is a house-made spiced rum. They take a gallon jug, fill it with overproof rum, add some local sticks and twigs (probably cinnamon and other stuff), add some spices, and then something like grenadine to make it red and sweet. They pour it in a small cup for you to enjoy. It’s very strong, very sweet, and it burns all the way down…not that that’s a bad thing!

Local spiced rum!

 

The Rum Cave at the Marigot Bay Resort and Marina, a more luxurious choice for dinner and drinks, offered tapas and a nice choice of rums…even rum tasting sessions.

 

Drinking and driving, though discouraged with billboard ads, is not strictly regulated, and it’s not unusual for a driver to have a beer in one hand while steering with the other.

Another way to earn money: making charcoal to sell to hotels for barbecuing.

 

Many St. Lucians, like my friend, Anthony, see tourism as their way to make a living, so they welcome it. But in the beginning, as we were driving from the airport to my rental cottage, we passed many poor towns, with beat up old shacks on the side of the road. Trash was everywhere, including stripped cars and old trucks overgrown with grass, showing they’ve been there–and will be–for some time. It reminded me of Anguilla and a few other islands I’ve been to. Seeing some of these things was a bit disturbing in the beginning, but it’s also amazing how quickly I got used to it and almost ignored it after a while. Maybe that’s typical…or maybe that says something about us as human beings.

On the northern part of the island: the set-up for baking bread on the side of the road…a large drum, sheet metal, a wheel rim, and a few cinder blocks.

 

The roadside bakeries that I explored in the north and the south, were a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

That’s my buddy, Anthony, being served!

 

Bread baking on the southern part of the island: a homemade concrete stove.

 

A delicious Caribbean lunch from an out-of-the-way restaurant where only the locals go.

 

This lovely lady serves fresh-caught grilled conch in Gros Islet on Wednesdays and Fridays…and she sells out quickly. It was delicious!

 

The grilled conch, with rice and an onion-garlic sauce.

 

It’s good to visit some of these shacks–preferably with a local guide (like my friend, Anthony) who knows what he’s doing, and knows the people. They’re hard-working, and aren’t looking for a handout.

A voltage converter is mandatory. Most electrical outlets are 220 volts. (American flag optional.)

 

I passed dozens of small stands on the side of the road selling bananas, pumpkins, tomatoes, ginger, and other local produce. There were small food trucks, souvenir stands, and tiny little shacks that could barely hold 3 bar stools with signs that exclaimed: “Come in. Refresh Yourself!” Local spiced rum and other beverages were served inside.

One of the Pitons.

 

The very northern tip of St. Lucia. It’s a 90-minute ferry ride from here to Martinique.

 

Marigot Bay at sunset, from the balcony of Julietta’s restaurant. I had an excellent grilled mahi dinner here.

 

A little morning drizzle brings rainbows.

 

Although the beaches on St. Lucia are open to the public, even those that belong to the fancy resorts, they often make access difficult for the regular folk that just want to spend the day there and go for a swim. At Anse Chastanet, one of the most luxurious resorts on the island, you can throw your blanket on the sand in a designated area for free. But a chair is $24 a day, and it’s positioned away from the hotel guests who are paying a pretty penny to be separated from the “riff-raff.” I also got approached by a local trying to sell me a variety of hiking and sailing packages, something that’s pretty common everywhere.

Anse Chastanet: visitors stay on this side of the bar. Still, could be worse, right?

 

Red snapper coconut ceviche at Anse Chastanet.

 

I’m not a cruise guy. I’m not an all-inclusive resort guy. I think most people who have been to St. Lucia have done one or the other. It’s a very limited experience. If you’re staying in a resort surrounded by barbed wire and you never leave, what difference does it make where you go?–St. Lucia, Jamaica, Cancun…it’s all the same. You don’t meet the people, apart from those selling souvenirs and duty-free liquor. And you don’t sample real St. Lucian food, a wonderful mix of French, East Indian, and British dishes, mixed with local mangoes, plantains, oranges, and root vegetables.

Enjoying a freshly opened coconut on the side of the road. First you drink the coconut water, then scoop out the soft meat inside.

 

Banana ketchup, which tastes more like banana mustard. I got hooked.

 

St. Lucia has many luxurious resorts where the rich and famous come to hide. But for me, the real St. Lucia is a get-out-of-your-comfort-zone island. That’s where the genuine island experience is.

 

 

ST. LUCIA…Day 5

Posted: April 10, 2019 in Uncategorized
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My driver and newest best friend, Anthony, was telling me about this woman who cooks the most amazing grilled conch. But she only serves it on Wednesdays and Fridays. And considering today is Wednesday, and my last full day on the island, it was imperative that I go and check it out.

 

 

He told me it would be unlike any conch I’ve ever had before… And he was right!

 

I think she marinated and then grilled it, but didn’t overcook it, so it was absolutely delicious with a little bit of a bite.

 

 

She served it with rice on the side, And then poured this amazing sauce made of sautéed onions and garlic over everything. It was fantastic!

 

It was a long ride from my comfortable little hut, but it was absolutely worth it.

 

On the way back, we stopped at another roadside bakery, where a woman was baking amazing bread.

That’s my buddy, Anthony, being served!

 

 

Flour, water, yeast, salt.  The natural warmth and humidity of the air was perfect for proofing the bread before baking.

The sheer ingenuity of the people on this island… Utilizing anything they can get their hands on. Really amazing.

 

And the bread was absolutely delicious!

ST. LUCIA…Day 4

Posted: April 9, 2019 in Uncategorized
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When I’m asked for my best advice for traveling, my top reply is: make friends with a local.  Nobody knows like someone who’s lived there all their life.

In the case of my driver, Anthony, he knew all the back roads to avoid traffic in the bigger city. He knew all the food places where the locals, not the tourists, eat.

And I noticed how the locals looked at me, giving me a thumbs up, when they saw that I was supporting one of their own.

Today’s island tour covered mostly the northern part of the country. We had lunch at a simple Caribbean restaurant, where I had delicious grilled chicken with salad, rice, potato salad, and noodles.

 

 

I grabbed myself another bottle of St. Lucian rum, this time a little less fancy than what I have been drinking before. But it totally works with a mixer.

 

I discovered something called banana ketchup, which I have to take home!

 

And in the heat of the day, I enjoyed fresh coconut water.  Afterwards, with a couple of swift moves of his machete, the gentleman split the coconut in half and made a makeshift spoon that let me scoop out all the soft interior meat. Delicious!

 

( Anthony is a great driver… But not the best photographer! )