St. Lucia:  March 4-17, 2008

Click on the above thumbnail for a map during this time period


Vieux Fort and Approach to Pitons

We arrive at St. Lucia at about 12:45 PM, on March 4, and immediately find a spot to anchor along the lee shore between the commercial dock and Mathurin Point.  The entire time we are there, the wind gusts and swirls and causes us to swing every which way.  But there is plenty of room, and we just put out an enormous amount of anchor chain.  Barb dinghies in to clear customs, which is located right there at the commercial dock, and to clear immigration, which requires a taxi ride to the airport.  No charge for immigration or customs, but taxis are expensive in St. Lucia.  All fares are supposedly set by the government, and it is clear that they are designed to fleece the tourists.  While Barb is getting us signed in, I begin what will become a days-long series of maintenance jobs.  Replacing the John Deere alternator with the one recently rebuilt in Trinidad -- the "new" one was supposed to be identical, but the footprint is slightly different, and the difference apparently throws it sufficiently out of line to cause premature wearing of the bearing.  By the time we reached Vieux Fort it sounds like we have a banshee in the bilge.  (Actually, I have never heard a banshee, but you must admit that the description is alliterative.)  And the generator has been running just a trifle warm, and I've already changed the impellor, so it is time for stronger medicine.  Drain the coolant and remove the sea water hose attachment to the heat exchanger, and discover many many remnants of impellor blades.  Change the generator oil and filter while I have the cover off and it is extra easy to work with.  Top up the battery water for the starter batteries for the John Deere and genset.  And last, and certainly stinkiest, remove the rod that senses the level in the holding tank, and soak the end in vinegar to remove the crystals that have frozen the float. 

Finish that one just hours before Barb arrives back from the airport on March 7 with her sister Audrey in tow.  Besides her own luggage, she has a whole suitcase filled with goodies that we have ordered and had shipped to her so she could bring them to us.  The major items include a three-volume Rosetta Stone Latin-American Spanish set, and photographic equipment, including a stabilized lens and a flash outfit, and of course, our mail from our mailing service in Florida.

We decide to lollygag in Vieux Fort for the day, and depart for the Pitons area on March 8.

Audrey -- 1st pic taken w/ new lens and flash; see how soft the lighting is!

Pitons coming into view as we round the corner of south St. Lucia

... and later, when we are further around; Petit Piton in the back and Gros Piton to the closer right.

Mooring at Pitons

One of our very favorite spots to moor is between the Pitons.   There are few locations that are as spectacular.   While we are here, we have a number of days with clear skies to the west at sundown.  Audrey has seen our earlier accounts on the web about the green flash, and is anxious to join the club.   Amazingly, surprisingly, but absolutely unmistakably, we see the flash TWICE in the next several days.   We need to take her to Las Vegas!

Petit Piton as we approach mooring field

Tusen Takk II moored between the Pitons; (Gros Piton in the background)

Beach between the Pitons occupied by Jalousie Resort

Some guests arrive at the fancy resort by heliocoptor

Resort rents small cats for the tourists

Above Jalousie the Ladera Resort is visible on the rim on the saddle between the Pitons

Climb to top of Gros Piton

When we heard what the government-decreed taxi fare was ($60 US) from Jalousie to the small community of Fond Gens Libre ("Village of the Free People" -- founded by black freedom fighters known as "Brigands", who had been freed by the French and revolted when the English took over the island and were intent on re-establishing slavery), at the southeastern foot of Gros Piton, we decided to hike there instead, with the intention of then climbing the 2619 foot mountain.  Along the way, we spoke with several locals who told us that we must use a guide to climb the mountain.  Bad mistake to walk to the mountain.  The road to Fond Gens Libre was so steep and long that by the time we arrived the gals had decided they had had enough.  So they hung around the village for a time, and had what they later described as a delicious lunch at the little restaurant called "Peak's Palate".  Meanwhile I alone engaged a guide -- fixed fee of $25 US or $80 EC.  Silly to go that day, really.  We started the climb at 10:15 AM.  I had previously engaged the park service to do a dive with them at 2 PM.  The hike up the mountain is described as taking 4-5 hours round-trip.  And when I got back down, I would still have to climb back up and down over the saddle that separates Jalousie from Fond Gen Libre.  But, I am in shape, right?  Nope.  We made it up and down the mountain in 3 1/4 hours, and I made it over the saddle in another 45 minutes, but that still made me 15 minutes late.  And a very tired puppy to be going diving.  Fortunately, after Barb and Audrey found a great place to relax and have lunch, they returned to Tusen Takk II and succeeded in contacting the rangers, so that the dive did not actually start until about 4 PM.  By then I had rested and re-hydrated, and the dive was as exhilarating as I remembered from our June dives at this incredible location.

But I digress.  The views from the top were simply awesome.  There are two vantage points, about 20 minutes apart.  One opens to the southeast, and I shot the photos for a panorama there.  The other overlooks Petit Piton (2461' tall) to the northeast.  We spent at least one-half hour at the top, so our total hiking time was reasonably respectable.  But I found the hike very challenging.  My legs were getting very weak by the time we got to the top.  Fairly early in the hike there was an opening to the south, and from there we could look down on a settlement where some descendants of the original Arawak Indians now live.  My guide said that he used to know an old man there who could not speak a word of English or Creole -- he only knew the ancient Arawak language.

Gals on the arduous trek up the saddle to get to the bottom of the path up Gros Piton

Arawak village seen to the south from lower slope of Gros Piton

View of Petit Piton from part-way up Gros Piton

Panorama taken from southeast vantage at top of Gros Piton (2619')

At the northeast vantage point at top of Gros Piton

It's really (2461') not so tall...

...nor is it so heavy

Chuck's guide Raphael

View unrestricted by corn balls


One day we took a taxi from Jalousie to Ladera Resort, where we had an elegant and delicious lunch at the Dasheene Restaurant.  The views are spectacular too.  Afterwards, Barb and Audrey befriended resort guests from Wisconsin and were able to see the inside of one of the bungalows.

Barb and Audrey at Dasheene's w/ Gros Piton in background

Petit Piton in background

Infinity pool at Ladera Resort

Sulfur Springs

On the way back to our boat, we asked the taxi driver to stop at Sulfur Springs, which a sign proclaims to be the Caribbean's only drive-in volcano.  Forty thousand years ago the area was a volcano with a diameter of ten miles.  But then it erupted and collapsed in upon itself.  Today, it emits gas and sulfurous vapors rather than lava or hot ash.

Our guide at Sulfur Springs

Audrey at viewing stand overlooking steaming, bubbling, sulfurous "springs"

Thanks to Audrey we can both be in the picture!

A corner of the area containing hissing steam vents and over 20 bubbling pools w/ strong sulfur stench

Close-up of one of the boiling ponds

Marigot Bay

We left Jalousie Bay and the Pitons on 3/11/08, and headed further north.  On the way, we passed Grand Caille Point, and got a good look at the new "Jade Mountain" hotel we had previously noticed from a distance.  According to their web site, the fee for one night at the hotel is over $1900 (US)! 

So we decided not to stop, and instead continued on up to Marigot Bay, which the guide books all seem to love, but which at least one of us (Chuck) finds irritatingly crowded, busy, over commercialized, and infested with pushy local boat boys, each selling one or two of the following items:  T-shirts, palm hats, wood carvings, necklaces, bananas, oranges, stone carvings, etc.  The mooring buoys are placed far too close to each other, so the mooring field is jammed with boats that are in perpetual danger of swinging into each other.  Arriving vessels must dodge their way through the tight mass in order to get to the free buoys.  Huge motor yachts respond to the hoopla surrounding the Bay, and feel they must come in and tie up to the slips to the west.  When they come in, or move temporarily to the fuel dock, they not only completely occupy the freeway, they also require that the west-most moored sailboats untie and temporarily move lest they be crushed.  After we got settled, we counted SEVEN cats and monohulls that came in loaded with young attractive Norwegians.  One settled essentially in our lap, and we learned from them that they were all employees of the same company in Oslo, and that they get together "someplace" for spring vacation every year.  America spends its corporate money on its top executives; Norway spends hers on its employees.  It was great to speak a little Norwegian with our near neighbors.

New expensive hotel on Grand Caille Point

Anse Chastanet beach and the new hotel (up higher)

Marigot Bay is narrow, crowded, busy, and, oh yes, picturesque

Barb and Audrey head off to do some shopping on shore

Boat boys swarm around arriving Norwegians

There are FIVE sets of boat boys at two charter boats -- can you find them all?

Three of the seven vessels that were charted to Norwegians -- all from the same Oslo company

Norwegians from SEVEN boats congregated on THREE and had a very good party -- here you see them in an earlier two-boat configuration

Buoys are VERY close together

Tusen Takk II with a charter boat (filled w/ Norwegians) in her lap

Rodney Bay

/sarcasm on  One night at Marigot Bay was about all the fun I could stand.  /sarcasm off  So it was off to points further north.  We pulled into Port of Castries, where there were several huge cruise ships.  I felt nervous about leaving the boat where it might conceivably get in the way of the monsters, so Barb and Audrey went ashore while I stayed on board.  They looked over the sprawling market, with sub-areas of fruits and vegetables and meats and tourist junk, and found an "alley" filled with eateries all featuring local foods.  They had what Audrey described as a delicious lunch, loaded with local "provisions", and brought one back to me on the boat.  Since I was not comfortable with the location as a night-time anchorage, we then proceeded on to broad and roomy Rodney Bay, where we anchored in front of the Reduit beach.  Along the way, we met the "Brig Unicorn", 140' long, built in Finland in 1946, and used in the TV mini-series "Roots" and featured in the movie "Pirates of the Caribbean".  She takes tourists on trips starting at Rodney Bay and going on down to Soufriere, popping briefly into Marigot Bay along the way.  Clientele are dressed in "pirate" costumes, and visit several land sites, including the Sulfur Springs.  We encountered a number of the "pirates" on Pigeon Island, on the north end of Rodney Bay, as we hiked to the top of the historic "island" (since 1971 connected to the mainland by a causeway.)  Why historic?  Let me quote from Pavlidis (The Windward Islands):

In 1782, Colonial hero Admiral George Rodney established a fort atop the island ..., from which he was able to watch French activity on the island of Martinique.  In April of 1782, the French fleet under the command of Admiral Francois de Grasse sailed from Martinique to meet up with a Spanish fleet at Cap Francois, Haiti, and thence attack Fort Charles in Jamaica.  Rodney foiled this attempt by sailing his fleet to the Dominica Passage between Guadeloupe and Dominica where his ships engaged de Grasse's fleet in what has come to be known as the Battle of the Saints after the group of islands (Iles des Saintes) lying in that body of water.  After a three-day battle, Rodney emerged victorious capturing de Grasse and seven of his ships.  The victory sounded the death knell for French power in the Caribbean and earned Rodney a title bestowed by King George III...

Anyway, Barb, Audrey and I visited the fort, which has a nice visitor center, then climbed the easy path up to the stone fortification at the very top of the western peak.  Then, back down the saddle and over the more challenging path to the higher observation point on the eastern peak.

Brig Unicorn on way to Soufriere

Twin-peaked Pigeon Island

Gals in ruins of barracks at base of peaks

Gals on path to western peak

Audrey and Chuck in the fortification at top of western peak

Pulled by boat -- didn't jump off the cliff!

Fortification of western peak and musket redoubt in saddle

Our heros at top of eastern observation point

Gals as seen from observation point looking toward fortification

Brig Unicorn reloading "pirates" who visited the fort

Tusen Takk II (and others) way on other side of bay

Northeastern corner of anchorage -- note red roofs of resort

Zooming in on area in front of resort

Rodney Bay can get busy with tourists

Laundry service comes right to the boat (and only requires a beer for a tip)

No green flash but not bad

Big big ships visit the bay

Little sailboats race among the anchored vessels, playing nautical "chicken"

This one nearly hit us -- tacking at the last moment and almost capsizing from the sudden turn

Road Trip

We rented a small Toyota one day, and headed south along the western shore.  First stop was Castries, where we had a dickens of a time finding a parking place.  Got chased out of an unlabeled spot that was alleged to be for taxis only -- there were hundreds and hundreds of vans parked along the streets, presumably mostly servicing the teaming masses from the cruise ships.  But the fellow who chased us out suggested that we park in the opposite lot -- notwithstanding the prominent sign "NO PARKING BY ORDER of POLICE".  The lot belonged to some kind of governmental building, and the chaser (apparently the lot attendant) couldn't resist the opportunity to make a little money on the side.  "I'll watch the car.  Just give me something when you return," he said.  And so we trusted him, and he did, and we did.  We wasted a lot of time going from store to store looking for a replacement battery for my dive computer, and then gave up and visited the market.  I asked one little old lady with a very interesting face (read: wrinkled) -- dressed in a combination of plaids and stripes and polka dots -- attending a stand if I could take her picture.  "If you pay me," she scowled.  She wasn't happy with my pocket change, and I wasn't happy about giving her my smallest paper: a $100 EC bill (about $40 US), so we parted as we met:  me without a picture and she without my change.  Temporarily soured on people pictures, I contented myself mostly with bottles and spices and tourist schlock.  The girls showed me the lunch alley they had discovered, and we reprised our provision-loaded lunch of several days earlier.  Then, on down the road to search out and find the River Rock falls.  The last part of that side trip was up and down a gravel road that had me flashing back to my boyhood in South Dakota, expect that there we drove on the other side of the road.  Modest attendance fee at the falls, and the attendant/grounds keeper peeled a grapefruit plucked from the grounds, and husked a cocoa nut for us.  No extra charge.  Our eventual goal was to arrive at Anse Le Raye, where every Friday night there is a seafood festival.  Arriving far too early, we asked about the "Sugar Mill" mentioned in the guidebooks.  After the usual quota of wrong turns we found and visited the "La Sikwi" plantation.  "La Sikwi" is patois for "Sugar Mill".  Built in the 1860's in order to produce molasses that was shipped to England, the facility was later converted to produce lime oil and lime juice.  (The guide showed us the concave raspy "bowls" that were used to scrape the lime peels and make the lime oil BY HAND!)  The facility now houses a performance stage, a restaurant, and a museum.  While we were there, several tour groups were also hosted, and we were invited by the hosts to partake of the museum's snack and (one each) free rum drink.  On stage, performers singing in patois.  One of the tour groups was Italian, and some of their members found the patois quite amusing, in a sneering kind of way.

The seafood festival was good.  A lot like the festival in Grenada at Gouyave, but smaller.  All taking place along one street.  Just ONE bank of huge speakers.  A higher percentage of tourists - presumably from cruise ships.  More complete menus -- I could yet again get a meal loaded with provisions -- but also some really delicious and varied seafood dishes.

Audrey in Castries market -- and Barb; can you see her?

Carvings for the tourists

Spices and junk...

... and more spices ...

... and more junk

Back side of outdoor portion of market

Compare and contrast the two signs!

Food alley -- talking with a local photographer who admired Chuck's camera

Gals on path to River Rock Falls

Relaxing at the falls

Falls as seen from snack bar/observation point

Locals singing patois at La Sikwi

Large court between stage and mill building at La Sikwi

Guide explaining spices at La Sikwi

Fish on grill at Anse Le Raye "Seafood Friday"

Relaxing between seafood tastes

Cooks at one of the many stands

Interesting menu -- especially the fifth item

Totally stoned and standing right in front of blaring speakers

Performers at the seafood festival


guitar player


Audrey says goodbye

And then, all too soon, it is time for Audrey to go back to Kansas.  Taxi fare is outrageous, so she decides to take a maxi-taxi / bus back down to the southern part of the island, to the airport at Vieux Fort.  Barb goes with her, and they pay extra to compensate for the extra seat taken up by the luggage.  Turns out that the maxi only goes as far as Castries, which they knew, but that the drop-off from the north does not correspond to the get-on for the maxis heading south.  So they must wheel her luggage through the streets of Castries in order to start their second leg.  Fortunately, Barb knows downtown Castries well after our search for parking a few days earlier, so they have no problem.  They are pleased that the total cost for Audrey and her luggage is less than $11 US instead of $80 US for a taxi.  It is late afternoon before Barb returns since she stays and has lunch with Audrey at the airport.  Even after we are both back on board, the boat seems strangely empty.  Audrey is the perfect guest.  She knows to conserve water and electricity.  She knows when to help and when to stay out of the way.  She is congenial and pleasant (and laughs at my witticisms!).  She can come back any time.

Audrey is on vacation

Barb is retired