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Andy and Melissa are sailing around the world on their 48-foot sailboat, Spectacle.

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Archive for the ‘Conde Nast’ Category

St. Lucia

Posted by: melissa

One of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, St. Lucia is located midway down the Eastern Caribbean chain north of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, northwest of Barbados, and south of Martinique.  The island is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide and is generally shaped like an avocado.  Saint Lucia is named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse, patron saint of the blind, and one of only seven women commemorated by name in the Roman Canon of the Mass.

Volcanic in origin, St. Lucia is more mountainous than most other Caribbean islands.  The island’s highest point stands 3000 feet above sea level at Mount Gimie; however, St. Lucia’s number one claim to fame is definitely the Pitons, which are two volcanic plugs standing majestically on the southwestern coast overlooking the spectacular Soufriere Bay.  Also a World Heritage Site, the Pitons make every list of things to see before you die from Conde Nast to Oprah Winfrey.  Emerging from lush tropical rainforest complete with huge ferns and banana orchards on one side, and incredible sparkling blue ocean on the other, the Gros Piton soars to 2619 feet and is slightly south of the 2461-foot-tall Petit Piton.  It’s difficult to adequately communicate the beauty of this area.

Like most Caribbean islands, St. Lucia’s colorful character is largely derived from the struggles between ancient indigenous populations, the slave trade, and conquering European forces.  Settled by Arawak Indians, a culture later eclipsed by the Caribs, St. Lucia was called “Hewanorra,” meaning “Island of the Iguanas,” since 800 A.D.  Erroneously thought discovered by Columbus in 1502, St. Lucia was more likely discovered by lesser known explorer and former Columbus navigator, Juan de la Cosa, in either 1499 or 1504.  The island’s first official European presence was established by Peg-Leg le Clerc‘s enclave on Pigeon Island used to pillage treasure-laden Spanish galleons.

The first legitimate European settlement was founded by the Dutch around 1600 at Vieux Fort.  In 1605, an English ship bound for Guyana (ironically called the Olive Branch) blew off course and went aground off the coast of St. Lucia.  The sixty-seven passengers safely waded to shore and found coexistence with the Caribs to be impossible.  In less than five weeks, only 19 of the original party remained due to violence, disease, and exposure.  Another English colony was also wiped out by the Caribs in 1639.

During the 1700′s, St. Lucia played an interesting role in the political and economic processes of the eastern Caribbean.  With the French headquartered on Martinique and the British headquartered on Barbados, the centrally located St. Lucia looked quite attractive to both parties, and both frequently worked to exert influence on its future, particularly the extremely lucrative sugar cane industry established in 1765.  After many violent battles, the British won out.  France permanently ceded control in 1815, and slavery was abolished in 1834.  St. Lucia was incorporated to the central government of the British West Indies, eventually achieving full independence in 1979 following a Constitution in 1924 and universal suffrage in 1951.

St. Lucia’s population is overwhelmingly of African descent due to the huge slave trade; however, the French influence is palpable right down to the Creole language.  The capital city, Castries, was founded by the French in 1650.  Originally called Carenage (or Safe Anchorage), the city was renamed Castries in 1756 after the commander of a French expeditionary force to Corsica.

Local chefs frequently combine fish dishes with the island’s abundant tropical fruits including mangoes, papayas, pineapples, soursops, passionfruit, guavas, and coconuts.  Another typical dish is callaloo soup made from a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach which, if not cooked appropriately, can be poisonous.  Beyond cuisine, St. Lucia’s cultural influence includes two Nobel Prize Winners:  Sir W. Arthur Lewis (Economics in 1979), and poet Derek Walcott (Literature in 1992).

Thoughts on St. Lucia

Posted by: andy

Much like Martinique, St. Lucia is a place we were very excited to visit and very much predisposed to like.  With its famous Pitons and its abundance of high-end resorts (including the world’s #1 hotel in 2005 according to Conde Nast), we had high hopes.

We tied up at Rodney Bay Marina, which is the obvious choice.  Located on the northwest coast of the island, it’s well protected and reasonably organized.  It also has a decidedly better-than-adequate great (albeit quite pricey) marina bar, Scuttlebutt’s.

By now, you have probably surmised that we have become immersed in the Cricket World Cup.  Scuttlebutt’s had all the games on TV, as well as all the high-alcohol-low-flavor beer and fried seafood we’ve come to expect from the Caribbean.  This had a way of cutting into our sight-seeing.

Another thing that cut into the sight-seeing was the craziness involved in getting around the island.  The roads are very treacherous (think Positano) and the other drivers are the most reckless we have ever seen.  Indeed, throughout the Caribbean, the whole “island time” thing just doesn’t translate into the behavior of the drivers.  Everyone appears to be in quite a hurry to get somewhere and in absolutely no hurry to do anything once there.

St. Lucia’s Spectacular PitonsThe island is also deceptively large, which is to say that driving can be quite time-consuming.  Our only trip to the southern part of the island took fully an hour and was nerve-wreaking enough to deter us from a second attempt.  As a result, we never made it to the much-celebrated Ladera, although we did stop at Discovery at Marigot Bay, Ti Kaye, Anse Chastanet, Stonefield Estate, and, most importantly, Jalousie Plantation.

The Beautiful Sunset on the Beach Between the PitonsJalousie Plantation has what might be the most fantastic beach in the world, thanks to the setting — smack between the Pitons.  We managed to spend a sunset — with our mouths agape — standing on this one-of-a-kind beach.  The photos page has a few shots.

During our stay, we ran into Faye and Gary Hussion from Hullabaloo.

We had actually seen them for the first time at the Caicos Marina and Shipyard at the conclusion of the infamous Tale of the Twin Fiascoes.  They live part time in St. Lucia and part time in Virginia.  We ended up having two very fun dinners with this uproariously fun couple, and enjoyed cocktails over at their beautiful Rodney Bay home.

We also had the second truly outstanding meal since our departure.  Although not easy to find, The Coal Pot is quite well known and, for good reason, highly touted.  We went twice — the first time we ordered from the menu.  It was merely good.  At the end of our meal, we had the chance to sit and chat with the chef, Xavier Ribot, who, sensing our serious interest in food, invited us to come back and said he would just “cook for us.”  The second visit was tremendous – easily one of the best meals we’ve yet had in the Caribbean — and on the house.  Of course, it’s cheating just a little bit that we got such customized (and free) fare, but we’re not complaining.  It was outstanding in every way.

OK, — so far, so good.  Fun friends, beautiful scenery, even a downright great meal.  It sounds like St. Lucia is pretty great.

Sadly, that’s only part of the story.  Much like Martinique, St. Lucia has a palpable menace to it.  The racial tension is barely disguised, and the amount of violent crime is completely out of control.  There’s absolutely no way an island of 160,000 people should average about 40 murders per year — that’s a murder rate approaching that of notoriously violent places like Jamaica or Venezuela, and about six times the U.S. murder rate (or, to put it another way, about 60 times the Japanese murder rate).  Indeed, this first came to our attention when our googling of ”The Coal Pot” article this article first.

St. Lucia is a significant drug trafficking center, and certain areas of the east coast that are considered “no go” zones for visitors.  To be honest, we didn’t feel altogether comfortable walking the streets at night, and we had multiple “sketchy” situations in which the quick use of street smarts was required.

So, should you visit St. Lucia?  That depends what you are after.  Do you expect to spend your visit locked up behind the walls of a luxurious resort, content to sip umbrella drinks while slowly baking in the sun?  If so, then go for it.  But if you want to “get out” and go exploring, I can definitely think of better places.