St. Lucia, how we barely knew thee...

Wow, what an amazing trip. If you didn’t know, I was out of town the last week, soaking up some sun and fun down in the Caribbean, specifically the wonderful island of St. Lucia. Having been to several islands in that region, I had a general idea of what to expect, and this trip was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. (Pictures here.)

Jaime and I started out on Saturday the 8th, by driving from Lexington up to Cincinnati to catch our flight out. Despite the very early hour we had to leave, it wasn’t really all that big of a deal, or at least it shouldn’t have been. As with anything in which I am involved, a little bit of drama ensued. Due to that very early hour of departure, Jaime had a slight mixup with her medication and ended up taking half an Ambien. About 20 minutes after taking it, she started getting woozy and starting to pass out. Not the best way to start the trip, but she got through it with a trip to Starbucks to jumpstart her system.

But day 1 didn’t end there! The flights were uneventful, if long, as we made stops in Miami, San Juan and finally, 12 hours after we took off on the first leg, the last leg landed at our destination in St. Lucia. It was 10:30 pm, so the first night didn’t bring us any spectacular views of the beach, but our hotel and its awaiting bed were close at hand for our weary bodies.

When picking up my luggage, I noticed that my brand new suitcase, purchased especially for this trip, wasn’t in quite the condition it was when I had placed it in the car that morning. It had obviously been dropped and the extending handle barely extended due to the large bend in it. Even better, the bottom of it had been sheered off, so when it was placed in an upright position, it leaned worse than the tower at Pisa. The real irony here is that the suitcase this one replaced had also been broken on its first trip. Medium sized suitcases and I obviously do not mix.

So, busted suitcase in tow, Jaime and I reached our hotel. We were in a hotel for that first night only as the resort room was unavailable until the next evening. We had decided on going down a day early to get in extra time at the beach. A hotel room had been procured for that first evening and when we arrived, we wondered if anything could be as nice as that hotel. While there was no beach view, the place was in phenomenal condition and our room had a balcony which looked out over the gorgeous pool.

It is at this point I have to point out a bit of silliness, just because. As we ascended the stairs to the second floor, where our room was to be found, the landing between the flights of stairs had a surprise for Jaime. A frog had made its perch in the middle of the landing, right in the walkway. Given the dim lighting and her tired state, Jaime didn’t quite know if it was real until it jumped away from her, causing her to utter a startled yelp. Yes, I laughed a lot at that one.

As we’re shown into our room, we realize that there is a wedding reception happening on the grounds. Congrats to the newlyweds there onsite… I just wish they had picked the other end of the hotel to party. By this time it was 11:30 and the music was loud and insistent. It didn’t end till nearly 1:30 am. By that point, I had had all of the techno I could stand.

There was one amusing point during the whole 2 hours of music. Jaime leans up out of bed and says, “Its just that the beats never stop,” at which point the beats pause for about 10 seconds, before starting right back up again. It was so funny as it felt like someone had been waiting for her to say the words, just to prove her wrong. Yet again, I had quite a bit of fun out of that.

But the music did end and sleep did eventually find me. We even slept in till 9 am. The next morning was bright and shining, with the view from the balcony and all the hotel’s colors simply breathtaking. We packed quickly, ditched our luggage at the front desk, and took the shuttle to the beach to play around for a few hours until our villa was ready for us to move in.

The beach was nice. Since it was Sunday, several locals were out and about. A few families brought their children out to play. One man spent a long time reading before stretching and then swimming out far beyond where we could see him, before returning back to the beach and reading some more. It was a seemingly idyllic day, minus one little item we had left at the hotel… sunscreen.

Knowing how white we both were, we spent all but maybe an hour at the beach hidden beneath the towering palm trees. Surely they, with their large fronds, would shelter our alabaster skin from the harsh rays of the beating sun.

Wrong.

To make matters worse, we took a taxi to our resort only to find out that our villa was not yet ready for occupancy, so we relequished our bags to the staff and headed out to the private beach at the resort. You can probably guess this, but we once again neglected to grab the sunscreen prior to our bags disappearing into the luggage room.

No matter! This beach, too, had majestic palm trees! We splashed in the ocean for a few minutes before once again retiring to the shelter of our frond friends. Our fair skin would surely withstand just an hour or two more without sunscreen!

Wrong again.

While the burn would end up being only mild, it was still annoying. By the end of day 3 putting a brush through my hair was like having an acid bath running across my scalp. I ended up investing in a hat to match the sunglasses I had purchased as my regular glasses were in my car, back at the airport. Darn receding hairline.

But finally we were checked into our villa and all those problems were quickly forgotten. I must say that in all the vacations I’ve had in my life, to so many different locations, I have never had accommodations like this. We were greeted by the staff with glasses of champagne. Since the resort occupied 40+ acres of land, all of which was on a steep hillside down to the beach, it had a 24 hour a day shuttle service to take you anywhere on the resort. Every villa in the resort was unique, and of the 40 or so there, ours was one of the best.

Our villa was a the top of the hill and looked out over the ocean. It had its own private infinity plunge pool, the edge of which cascaded over in a waterfall to a small catch pond which would recycle the water back up to the main pool. The waterfall itself was at the outer edge of the villa and when resting on the edge of the waterfall, all you could see was the ocean stretching out to the horizon. I have never seen a view so spectacular in all my life.

The rest of the villa was equally as nice. A moderately comfortable bed, a bathroom with a shower and a deep tub, cable TV (which was never used) and air conditioning for when it got really hot. A full kitchen and dining room, maid service daily and a nightly turndown service. We had more people waiting on us than we knew what to do with.

The resort had 5 restaurants and we ate at 4 of them. While not the most spectacular dining establishments, they were far from ordinary and we enjoyed all the ones we tried. The one we skipped served pizza and fried food on the beach, so it was something that none of us felt gypped in skipping. I know I get more than enough pizza than to want it on vacation.

The ocean at the resort’s beach was a bit cloudy compared to other beaches I have visited, but having a private beach, one away from all the locals hawking their wares to you all day added to the relaxation factor of the trip.

It wasn’t until the morning of our second day in paradise that the final surprise of our first day was revealed… a destroyed camera. That view over the ocean was amazing. So amazing, we spent the evening playing around in the pool. It had grown dark as we basked in our wonderful retreat and I had decided to use the fabulous night shot ability of my camera and snap some shots of the place at night.

The next morning, after a few rain showers had moved through the area, I realized my camera was sitting out on the patio and had been infiltrated with an insidious soaking of water. Once the batteries were replaced, the camera powered on but had a few quirky issues. First, the screen had gray horizontal lines that flickered across it. Second, when powered off, it would flicker into view mode for half a second and then power down again. Lastly, the focus when taking pics did not work exactly right. So, camera dead.

The same night the camera was ruined, our friends, Nhu and Andrea arrived. As all flights into the island seem to be, they came in late in the evening, long past when Jaime and I had passed out for the night. Our friends had called us from the hotel lobby several times, none of which resulted in either of us waking up. They then talked the hotel staff into giving them keys and shuttling them up to the villa. The two of them walked around the cabin for 15 minutes or so, exploring, before opening up our bedroom door and finally getting a response from we two sleeping beauties. Still, they arrived and we all settled in for a long evening sleep… or somewhat.

See, besides being further south, St. Lucia is also considerably further east than is Kentucky. The combination of these two directional changes would be that sun rise comes a LOT earlier. Like, an hour and a half earlier. So, every morning about 5:30am the very thin curtains illuminated with the wonderful Caribbean daylight. I was waking up earlier on vacation than I do during the work week, which is a distinct change from my normal vacations that see me up till well past midnight and awakening around noon. Still, daylight was wasting, so if I’m awake, I might as well get up and do stuff.

Namely, go play on the beach! That was exactly what we did all day Monday. Just relaxed and caught some rays. That evening we went into town and ate at a place called the Red Snapper, with dessert at a gelato place. The ice cream was by far the best part of the evening. Phenomenal. They imported all their ingredients from Italy (or so they said) and it was made right there on site. Some of the best I have ever had.

Tuesday dawned and we found ourselves, on a catamaran, sailing down the western side of the island, viewing some majestic scenery. Besides the ride, we also got to take a tour through a few small villages and towns, visit a waterfall and see a sulfur volcano. Neat stuff. On the return journey, we stopped off at a black sand beach and did the first bit of snorkeling for the week. We only had about 30 minutes of time to swim with the fishes, so while it could have been longer, it at least gave us a good taste of what was to come later in the week.

One other stop on Tuesday I must mention is the coca plantation. We got to see the process by which the coca plant is made into a coca log, which can then be sent to be processed into chocolate. Sampling the coca log tasted like dry coffee grounds, but I could see how, if enough sugar was added, it would taste much better once processed. I also pondered exactly where the machinery which really did the processing of the beans was located, as it surely wasn’t all done out of the very small, dilapidated building the tour showed us.

We met some interesting people on the catamaran trip, too. One couple, from New Orleans, had just gotten engaged earlier in the week, while they were snorkeling. He had planned all of it out, although I missed hearing the story in full. The interesting thing about this couple was hearing about the bride-to-be. First thing that was very noticeable was her makeup. We’re talking Tammie Fay Bakker on a messy day. Second item, was her career as an actress. She stared in a few ‘independent films’ which, when you combine that with the makeup, really started me wondering about exactly what she did in those films. Creepy.

Wednesday was another relaxing day at the beach, with an afternoon spent snorkeling at a northern reef. This second underwater trip was a bit longer than the last, clocking in at around an hour. While this seems short, an hour swimming around is actually a pretty long time. Sadly, the view at this underwater bed of life was hampered by a lot of silt and murky water. The colors were not nearly as vivid as at our first location for snorkeling. No matter, our day of scuba diving would see reverse the visibility trend, but I’m getting a bit ahead of myself with that story.

Thursday saw us up early again for another tour, this time a jeep safari of the island’s interior. We had registered for the trip the prior evening and were told to arrive at the resort lobby at 8:30am. At around 7:45am, as we’re all getting ready for the day, we receive a phone call, asking why exactly we were not down in the lobby to meet our tour guide. Enter panic mode. A shuttle was on its way to pick us up and we scrambled around for a few minutes, packing up last minute items to take with us. Once again, that really early sunrise was our unexpected friend in that we were mostly ready to go as it was, since we had been up at least an hour by that point.

The tour started off with a drive through different parts of the island, letting us see much of the history of the land. The French and English had traded possession of the land a total of 14 times. The islanders say that all the French ever gave them was names for many of the landmarks and towns. They credit the English with their system of government, their educational system and many of the other cultural aspects of the country. Two things the English did not give them was universal healthcare or social security, and we were told about that by more than one person during our weeks stay.

Seeing the different types of schools, from primary to college, was interesting. They generally looked like motels, albeit motels with phenomenal views. The schools were generally outside of the main towns, up on hillsides overlooking the towns. I think this allowed the schools not only to be out of the main hustle and bustle, but would also allow them to be used as shelters in the case of hurricanes. Given that most towns had houses that were thrown together, the solid concrete structures of the schools seemed luxurious.

And that brings me to the point of poverty, something you could not help but see a lot of on the island. Most of the tourist places are well outside of the main towns, but to reach those resorts and their beauty, you must travel through the downtrodden and the desperate. The unemployment rate on the island is at 40%, although no one I spoke with could really explain how the figure was calculated. There was an obvious drug trade on the island and one of our guides candidly told us that while drugs are illegal there, a large portion of the population are at least occasional users.

There is a large tension in the island between the desire for development, and thus jobs, and the desire to keep the island as pure as possible. It is common to find families with six to eight children, so the island population is growing steadily, yet the jobs just are not there. Any company willing to invest is welcomed, with only a small thought given to the environmental effects of those investing companies. No one is more torn by this than the people who make their living in the tourism trade. Most all of them have family that work in construction or some other industrial market, and those family members make their living by cutting down the livelihood of those in tourism. The people in the country are very much torn.

The rainforest itself was interesting, although we didn’t spend much time in it. Our guide told us the one sure way to tell you’re moving from regular forest to rainforest is the different composition of plants, namely the large increase in ferns. There were also large clumps of bamboo there, which had been imported from Asian immigrants in the last few hundred years. We got to see a wide but short waterfall and learned how this particular stream provided drinking water for the people who lived further down the mountain from it. One guide was pointing out land crabs and explained how they mated. It seemed tricky, what with all those pincers! As we were finishing the tour, we saw a man and his pet boa constrictor. Of course, the tip jar was set out for us, a very normal thing on the island, and he offered to let all of us try on his snake. Funny, we all declined. Can’t imagine why…

Friday, our last full day on the island started off with another boat ride, this time to scuba dive. Jaime had really really really (did I mention really?) wanting to go scuba diving as she had read prior to our leaving that it was a great place to do so. Our snorkeling instructor on Wednesday had painted it with a very fine brush, so that sealed the deal, and we went snorkeling. Me, I was just content to play on the beach the last day, but was willing to go along.

I must now say that I was glad I went. We did two dives that day, the first 15 minutes of the first dive were spent learning how to use our equipment and to follow our guide’s hand gestures, and the remaining time, about an hour and fifteen minutes, were spent exploring the reefs.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing. Sea cucumbers, eels, rays, dozens of types of fish and coral beyond description. I just can’t say how much fun it was to do this. Jaime is now addicted and would probably get her certification if we actually lived anywhere near an ocean. Going diving in Kentucky just is not the same. I can’t stress enough that if you ever get the chance to scuba dive that you should not pass it by.

Friday afternoon was spent relaxing on the beach and packing our bags to head home. Not much to say about it, although it was quite sad to realize our week was almost over. It just goes to show how much that morning of scuba diving overshadowed the entire rest of that day.

Saturday came early as we had a 6am shuttle to leave our villa and head back to the airport. Not much to comment about our 18+ hour day of travel. The 6 hour layover in Miami was by far the worst part, namely for lack of anything to do but read, but I did finish a book that day (to add to the two I finished on the previous Saturday’s travel) and it was a very good book. We arrived back in Cincinnati after 11pm and then drove back to Lexington where we collapsed into bed, with sweet dreams of our ocean paradise.

St. Lucia, how we barely knew thee...
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