Another early morning and we're on to our next island. So invigorated I am as I peeled myself away from bed after sleeping 8 hours straight. The gentle rocking and rolling of a megaship like Carnival Valor was worth all the melatonins I've taken to relieve jet lag. Now I'm ready to see St. Lucia, our next port of call, for a whole day.
What's amazing to see so early in the morning was how the big boat slowly made its way past a very narrow inlet before making a full 360 degree-turn to dock at La Place Carenage - one of the two cruise piers in the hilly island nation's capital in Castries. It must have taken a great deal of hand-eye coordination to maneuver a behemoth to a precise movement. Bravo to the captain!
|While a pilot boat stays close by, another megaship further away awaits its turn to dock in Castries|
|The pier as seen from Morne Fortune Overlook|
Up on Lido Deck, the breakfast buffet was swarmed with cruisers fueling themselves up. My mother even thought of brown-bagging some fruits and pastries just in case one of us go hungry between 8 AM and 5 PM - or those nine hours we will spend on the island. Had to remind her not to worry, our "Land and Sea Tour" booked locally with Spencer Ambrose promised food and drinks along with sightseeing.
After wading through a gauntlet of shops and drivers/guides waiting for their guests, we found Frances, the driver who was holding just the signage I was expecting. A trio of other guests showed up but some others apparently didn't make it on time (despite a 20-minute grace period) so we all left on a van and drove into the early morning traffic of downtown Castries.
|Basilica of the Immaculate Conception|
|Derek Walcott Square|
"Don't be surprised to find English and French names all over the island", Frances said after parking the van next to Derek Walcott Square. Just like many of its Caribbean neighbors, St. Lucia has had its share of warring colonizers, in this case the British and the French who both played a costly tug-of-war 14 times - all because of this 622 square km island paradise.
Right at the heart of Castries, this square has been named at various times as Place d'Armes and Columbus Square, only to be changed in 1993 after the St. Lucian poet/playwright who won the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature. Standing next to this historic rendezvous is the imposing Basilica of the Immaculate Conception with its colorful interiors. Despite being under British rule prior to independence, the island has a major Catholic presence thanks to the French.
|@ Anse La Raye|
Hilly as St. Lucia is, the roads do start snaking to dizzying level shortly after downtown area. Anyone with motion sickness might really want to pop some Dramamine or else take the risk of seeing one's vomit instead of spectacular vistas - like the view of our ship at Morne Fortune Overlook. It was for this reason that I opted for us to return later to the ship by speedboat instead.
Rural scenes played out through the window as the van negotiated tight curves. Down the hill, we stopped by a banana plantation. Banana used to be St. Lucia's major industry until tourism took over. Having grown up in Davao where banana plantations abound, I wasn't as interested as the three Canadians in our group who saw a banana tree for the first time. At least, I was able to tell them there's more to a banana than just plainly eating it.
|@ Anse La Raye|
After more hills and more curvy roads, and after passing by the fishing villages of Anse La Raye and Canaries, we came upon this viewpoint with a heart-pounding view of Soufrière - St. Lucia's original capital city founded by the French. It couldn't have been sited more gorgeously.
Jutting out nearby is the UNESCO World Heritage site of The Pitons, a collective name for two volcanic plugs called Gros Piton and Petit Piton. Together, these two conical mountains are to St. Lucia what the Pyramids are to Egypt. Visitors will always remember The Pitons, or in my case, I got excited about the island because of them.
|Soufrière and the Pitons|
At a height of 2,619 feet, Gros Piton is an enticing yet challenging day climb. Guided treks are available, something which I'd have done in a heartbeat if it was just me traveling. Since I couldn't make it to the top, my consolation was at least being able to visit on sea level at the Jalousie Beach wedged between the two mountains.
Before heading there, Frances drove us to nearby Sulphur Springs, touted as the Caribbean's only drive-in volcano. It was exactly as described: a paved road goes through a collapsed volcanic caldera with views of vents where sulfuric gases come out and spring water gets heated. Mud baths and its supposed medicinal benefits lure day-trippers on safer grounds downstream.
|Church of the Assumption in Soufrière|
We passed by Toraille Waterfall which is nothing really but a trickle compared to all the ones I've seen elsewhere - too disappointing in fact I thought my bathroom shower might have more water coming off it. Still, Frances was seemingly all excited for us, offering himself to take our photos despite so many other visitors elbowing each other out for a better angle.
At the Soufrière pier, we finally met Spencer Ambrose, the owner himself. We boarded his speedboat for the 6-minute ride to Jalousie Beach. From afar, it looked inviting despite having been told it's an originally black beach now filled with white sand. It was only after arrival I realized it wasn't exactly what I was hoping for. It was crowded.
|On approach to Jalousie Beach|
|Jalousie Beach with Gros Piton in the background|
Since Spencer is merely using the facilities of a private resort, we were relegated to one small side with tables and umbrellas that have all been occupied. Snorkeling equipment was available for rent but after talking to other guests who didn't really saw much underwater, I decided to skip it. A boxed "Creole" lunch was offered which didn't excite us. Feasting on fruits my mother brought from ship was way better.
With nothing else to do (I wasn't even in the mood to swim anymore), I merely took a walk around the beach. While Jalousie beach is beautifully located, what ruined the day's experience is Spencer's lack of organization there. He booked more guests at various times of the day than he can effectively handle.
|On the speedboat back to ship|
His two speedboats scurried guests back and forth. When it was our turn at 3:00 PM for the journey back to Carnival Valor, we found out the first batch of guests were still waiting under the heat of the sun. Once the two boats came back, there was complete chaos. Everyone wanted to be on the boat. In other words, both speedboats left with more passengers than it's supposed to carry.
Despite such setback, the one-hour trip back to ship was actually a scenic "coastal tour". Spencer himself ran a commentary as we passed different parts of St. Lucia's coastline, pointing sites where a movie was filmed or where European celebrities own winter retreats. We took a little detour, sailing slowly into beautiful Marigot Bay and admiring this part of the island even without actually stepping on it.
The two speedboats cranked up speed, arriving back into pier where our ship was waiting. An hour later, up on Lido Deck where our hungry stomachs got filled, we see St. Lucia slowly fading away. Another long day still too short.