So there I was, at the Sulphur Springs Mud Bath in St Lucia, being smeared with green mud all over my body. Two layers first to exfoliate. Then sprinkled with black mud, a guide creating designs in stripes and handprints as if my arms, face and chest were a canvas. I felt like I was in a pool full of zebras. Okay, zebras with black handprints all over dotting the mud masterpiece. Allegedly, the mineral waters in which we were submerged washed off 10 years along with the mud palette. I’m pretty sure my husband didn’t notice any difference…
Thus began our full-day adventure aboard the Carnival Sailing Castries to Soufriere Adventure outing. Next stop, a “refreshing” dip in the Toraille Waterfall — which is a euphemism for “Oh S**T!” The only reason to do this is for bragging rights — and you have to recover from the chill before loudly claiming, “I did it!” But oh yes, that felt good!The snorkeling we did later — after a lovely buffet and some more rum punch — had its own appeal. Colorful fish in much warmer waters. Although I did feel a tad guilty that I had just eaten a relative for lunch…
After the various exertions, just sailing back with the warm breeze and weary body, lazily gazing at the lengthy, looming twin peaks of the Pitons — the iconic symbols of St. Lucia majestically claiming their dominance of the horizon — I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” But this is St. Lucia, so of course it does.
Another island landmark occurs every Saturday — the Castries Market, full of bustling crowds and local color. Fruits, fish, flowers. Hats, handbags, hot sauce and housewares. People flooding the rows and rows of stalls inside a huge warehouse-type building and then street after street with volumes of vendors plying their trade. Bedding, bangles and baked goods. T-shirts, trinkets and toys. Loud music from multiple speakers all vying for attention. Clothes, condiments, crafts and candy. In other words, everything you could possibly ever consider buying — and a wide variety of items you never would. Not to mention the many items — mostly edibles — that are not even recognizable.
Mostly locals coming to shop for the week — or given the overwhelming variety, maybe the year. A symphony of sounds — patter of voices, ringing of bells, clacking of merchandise — pulsates with an energy force that is hard for any onlooker to resist. So many brightly colored umbrellas shield vendors from the sun that from above the view more resembles a beach scene than a marketplace.
When we stopped at a stall to buy some hot sauce, the owner offered us a taste of some spiced rum she makes. Of course, she was hoping to sell us a bottle but since after one sip, delicious as it was, I already was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other, we regretfully resisted. No easy task!
Many similar alcoholic options are available at yet another of St. Lucia’s must-do activities. Friday night Jump-Up in Gros Islet dishes out generous servings of drinking and dancing, jammin’ and jivin’ to tourists and local alike. But here I must digress for a little nostalgia. When I was last there in 1995, what had started as a local gathering some 25 years earlier had evolved into a rollicking street party with body-to-body guests enjoying congenial sensuality. Chubby tourists with cameras around their necks – now smart phones in hand – moved as freely as native vendors dispensing barbecue chicken and beer. Although visitors were welcome and made to feel an integral part of the celebration, it remained an authentic island happening that hadn’t deteriorated into a commercialized venture staged mainly for tourists — at least not yet. That was then.
Disappointingly, it was now a crowded mish-mosh of mostly tourists waiting in long lines at barbecue chicken stands. No one moved freely. Yes, it was still hard to walk around without moving to the music — a familiar plus — but we were advised to wait until close to 11 when all the tourists return to their all-inclusives and the locals who work at the same resorts leave to come to Jump Up and restore it to the memorable — and far more authentic — experience it once was.
But other things had not changed. A trip to the fishing village of Anse La Raye located between Castries and Soufriere exposes you to yet a different island lifestyle. Pastel bungalows of blue, green and pink dot the alley ways. The brightly painted fishing canoes which line the shore are built in much the same way as those of the Carib warriors 400 years ago. The beach is populated with men cleaning fresh-caught fish, mending fishing nets and hanging them on poles to dry. A few older gents sit nearby playing a surprisingly fierce game of dominos.
And many of the roads remain as challenging as ever. Just as the queasiness in my stomach from the continuous onslaught of curves and cutbacks along the narrow uphill road began to subside, we rounded yet another 180-degree bend. I smirked at the sign, “Hair-pin turn ahead,” thinking the announcement superfluous, before an immediate double hairpin turn attested to its validity.
Greenery, rich in color, content and texture, is everywhere, blanketing roadsides and ridges. You are engulfed in lushness: small, large, low, high and enormous, with leaves the size of surfboards that would be delightful diversions if looking at them were not itself a life-risking endeavor.
Still, traveling the steep windy roads that slither and slink through the mountainside provides a glorious view of the island. Well-kept, multihued huts mix with less-quaint, more run-down dwellings. Women balancing seemingly unmanageable loads on their heads wave as you pass by.
And you haven’t even hit your basic tourist attractions yet: a hike through the rainforest, a walk through the Botanical Gardens complete with yet another waterfall, a visit to bubbling springs lying within a dormant volcano. And oh yes, there are beaches. Lots of them.
They’re worth the time and the effort it takes to see them all. However, the real beauty of St. Lucia lies within the exquisite countryside, the warm welcome of its people, and the exposure to a way of life not usually seen from the swim-up bar at the hotel pool. For more information, visit stlucia.org.