Soufriere by Boat: Malgretoute, Jalousie, Anse Chastanet

We’ve been on Bushman’s radar since we got to St Lucia; he wanted Ty and I to take his water taxi, or buy some fish, or purchase the best Bob Marley (code for weed, which neither of us took him up on), or …

But we hadn’t connected with him until today, when, as we were walking to the local beach with our snorkelling gear in tow, he appeared in front of us.

Since he gave us a good price for the trip, we decided to take his water taxi tour of the bay, cruising past Malgretoute, Jalousie, Anse Chastanet, and the bat cave near Soufriere Harbour.

After untying the boat with a little help from his friends, Bushman and we hopped abroad and headed south.

Our first stop was to pull up alongside a gigantic private yacht, the Starfire, for Bushman to see if he could sell some fish or other merchandise to the sailors aboard.

No takers for the goodies but they did contract him to come back later to take ashore their garbage. This huge yacht had another smaller motor vessel attached for use as a launch, as well as a couple of diving submersibles … mucho dinero!

From there, we motored along the cliff face at the bottom of Petit Piton over to Jalousie Plantation resort, a complex which occupies the beach between the two Pitons. South of Jalousie sits the villa of pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, just above the middle of the beach.

After checking with several motor and sailing yachts to see if Bushman could unload any merchandise (no takers this day), we zoomed back along the Marine Reserve area and across the bay to Anse Chastanet.

We arranged for BM to pick us up later and jumped out onto the hot sand, setting up our stuff under a couple of palm trees. Unlike the previous time we’d been here, there were few daytrippers – I don’t think the cruise ships come in to St Lucia on the weekend – and the beach was quite quiet.

We snorkelled along the cliffs between Anse Chastanet and Soufriere, seeing quite a few gorgeous dark purple fish, as well as a small swarm of torpedo fish. Although there’s very little live coral here, it’s nice to see that fan coral and brain coral are making a bit of a comeback. As I was swimming along, I was stung by an unseen jellyfish … bastard!

On the way back to Soufriere, we stopped at the Bat Cave, a long gash in the cliff near the harbour in which thousands of bats make their home; we could hear them all tweeting from the water. Before heading back to the ranch, we visited our favourite coffee shop, Christine’s place above the Image Tree, for a coffee and a piece of freshly home-baked chocolate cake.

Christine has just opened her place; it’s kitty-corner to the Downtown Hotel and right next to the church and main square – a perfect location – and we are delighted. Sitting on her second floor veranda sipping a coffee, chatting, and watching the action is one of Soufriere’s gentle pleasures.

See more pics here.

Walkin’, Walkin’, Walkin’ III: Hummingbird, Malgretoute, and Anse Mamin

A couple of days ago, we walked over to the end of the bay at Soufriere and checked out the Hummingbird Resort. It sits right at the water’s edge on a not very nice beach with exceptionally clear water. Local guys hang around here and dive off cliffs for money.

Dressed in red shorts so they can be seen from the boats which arrive, two people dive, while several others swim out to the boats for tips.

Meanwhile, back at Malgretoute, our favourite local beach, many sailboats and catamarans were moored and fishermen waited for a bite.

I tried to feed my favourite little beast a piece of apple; he sniffed it but was too shy to take a piece.

We’d been planning to head up to the next bay north around the corner from Anse Chastanet for a while, and today, being a beautiful breezy sunny day, was the day.

Packing up the bags, we headed out and up the steep road early in the morning, trying to avoid the midday heat.

This time the walk seemed less onerous than the first time and before we knew it, we were heading down the hill to Anse Chastanet, along the beach and onto the road leading along the water and below the cliffs towards Anse Mamin.

Anse Mamin is a small black sand bay which is also a part of the Anse Chastanet resort.

When we arrived, there were only a couple of others there; the beach started to fill up around noon, just as the grill was getting going – this place is famous for its great grilled food at lunch.

The water was clear and fresh, the sun was hot, and we enjoyed a lazy St Lucian day. After a beer at the Anse Chastanet bar on the way back, we inquired about a water taxi, only to be told by the bartender, who’d phoned someone, that it would cost $150 US, an outrageous ripoff. I suppose that the boatman thought we were staying at the resort and reasoned that, if we could afford $500 – $1,000 a night, we could afford his ridiculous price … not. We snorted and walked back instead.

The view out over the bay to the Petit and Gros Pitons is gorgeous from this road; down below we could see a convoy of French catamarans making a stately progress through the water along the cliff face.

The view from our balcony at sunset is gorgeous; we love to drag out the chairs and sit watching the action in the streets below and the clouds blow across the blue sky towards the west.

Soufriere has its share of lost souls, some of whom can be seen sitting on the sidewalks below us every day.

See more pics here.

 

Soufriere Day Tour: Drive-in Volcano, Piton Waterfall and Diamond Botanical Garden

[Warning: This is a bit of a Grumpy Old Lady post] We wouldn’t want to leave Soufriere without seeing everything there is to see in this part of the world. So yesterday we decided to spring for a taxi ride around the area, visiting the drive-in volcano, the Piton Waterfall, and the Diamond Botanical Garden and Waterfall. Charles picked us up at 11 and off we zoomed to the first stop, the volcano.

Billed as the world’s only drive-in volcano, this place looks more like a small strip mine, a white and orange bald patch on a hill in which small pools of grayish-black water bubble and steam. It’s the only venting area in what is a gigantic caldera encompassing the town of Soufriere and the surrounding area.

Coming off the main highway, the stench of rotten eggs filled the air as we approached. At the entrance were several guys selling rasta paraphernalia and gigantic conch shells; before we even get got to the gate, they were on us to buy something. Rolling down the road a few hundred meters we stopped at another shopping area and were immediately greeted by a guide who will “show us around and give us information about the area”.

In this country every site, whether rain forest, garden, or waterfall, has an entrance fee and it is almost impossible to go anywhere without a guide; one cannot hike in the forests or on the hills without a local person guiding. We can’t enter into a garden or, indeed, go almost anywhere without someone there to guide us, even when it is not at all necessary or wanted. And, of course, it’s made clear by large signs that each of these guides expects a tip (and not a small tip, either, something substantial). [Even downtown, people approach us in the street, ask where we’re going, say they will take us there, even when we can see the place 20 feet down the road, and then expect a tip - we are walking wallets and almost every interaction is about money]. In the various sites I have no objection to someone guiding me, if there’s a reason for it (like telling me something about the place that I don’t know or can’t figure out for myself). But, at the volcano, there’s no reason to have a guide because the area is completely self-explanatory and the path to the edge of the sulphur ponds is only a hundred meters or so. Anyway, to me the volcano seemed much ado about nothing …

Back in the car, we cruised past Malgretoute Beach and turned off on the way to Jalousie to the Piton Warm-Hot Waterfall, where, this time guideless, we walked a few hundred meters into the rainforest and down a set of steep stairs to a concrete viewing platform with two smallish mineral water pools from where we could see the waterfall and, behind, out across the water to Anse Chastanet.

It was very pleasant to sit here in this green and shady space and watch the water spill down the hill into the pools below.

On the way to our final stop, we paused at the top of the hill to look out over the town, purchase some more souvenirs, and drove through Soufriere to the Diamond Garden.

Here, once again, a guide scooped us up as soon as we emerged from the car and led us, way more quickly than I’d like, on a whirl wind tour through part of the garden, then waited somewhat impatiently for a tip, before hustling back to the entrance to pick up more tourists – we were not very happy.

Anyway, while inside the garden we saw some interesting plants, especially a gorgeous Red Torch Ginger, and the usual tropical flowers, birds of paradise, crab claws in different colours, and tropical plants such as Bromeliads. The garden is also a bird sanctuary and Ty was lucky enough to see a parrot.

By the time the tour was finished two and a half hours later, we felt as if we’d been metaphorically hoisted by our ankles and shaken to extract every last coin from our pockets; we’d spent 400EC$ (about $160), way too much for the “Soufriere Experience”, in my opinion. [While the Tet Paul tour was worth the money spent, (and we wanted to support this excellent project), I can’t really say the same about this day’s visits]. The thing about this town is that everyone wants a piece of us; of course, it’s been the same everywhere, but the people are particularly persistent about it here. They will not let us be; every day the same people want us to pay them for something, whether necklaces, weed, home brew, boat trips, taxis, or walks down the road. The relentlessness of it gets tiresome. I understand and agree that the local people should benefit from the tourists who come here and, unfortunately, most of the visitors who arrive on boats are loaded onto minibuses and driven around without being given time to walk around the town and spread the wealth. This, I think, is really the shits; however, that said, the constant hassle is also off-putting. But we still like the place.

See more pics here.

Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ II: Tet Paul Nature Trail, Soufriere, St Lucia

St Lucia is a “soft adventure” travel paradise, which means that there are hiking, walking, and biking opportunities galore here. We decided to check out the newish two year old Tet Paul Nature Trail, located in the farming community of Chateau Belair, since visitors had described it as having the most amazing views of the two pitons (peaks).

Most people take a tour bus to get to this place but, since we’re on a shoe string here, we decided to take local minibus transport; after all, a fleet of them are parked right outside our hotel every single day. After a filling cooked breakfast at the new coffee shop kitty corner to the hotel, we hopped on the old red van headed down to Vieux Forte in the south; after it filled up with 15 people, all crammed into a claustrophobia-inducing tight space, we were off down the incredibly winding main highway.

After a ride of about 15 minutes, we were deposited at the entrance to Fond Doux Holiday Plantation, and followed the signs all the way up a long, winding road to the top on which we found the Tet Paul entrance hut. Along the way we passed a couple of munching cows who lowed at us plaintively. Before entering into the site, we had a cup of coffee to cool down from the 2 mile trudge up the road.

Our guide Pascal, a young local guy, took us through the six acre site, pointing out all the local vegetation and explaining how they work the plantation. An “antique house” – small wooden two room hut – and a cassava flour-making area also give an idea of local life back in the day.

From the trail are some of the most spectacular views of the South of the island, the Jalousie Bay, Petit Piton and Gros Piton, as well as Martinique and St. Vincent on clear days.

The gentle ascent features a variety of exotic fruit trees, (e.g. guava, soursop, avocado, pineapple, okra) as well as medicinal plants and trees. Work on the plantation is done by local rastas, one of whom was lounging in the shade as we passed by.

Two viewpoints in particular give fabulous views, one out over Gros Piton and the panorama of green to the Maria Islands offshore from Vieux forte and the other over the Jalousie Plantation and Petit Piton.

From the top of the “Stairway to Heaven” we could see the great Russian pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy’s villa right below us, its huge blue pool glinting in the sun like a jewel.

The local community, with the help of landowners in the area and the Soufriere Foundation, worked for six years to get the funding for this nature walk and it provides employment for local youth who are trained in hospitality and tourism and given the necessary background to be able to conduct tours of the area.

After a tour of about an hour or so, we headed back down the hill to the main highway, intending to wait for a returning minibus. While there, I chatted to a guy also waiting; when a friend in a pickup truck stopped to pick him up, we also were offered a ride. Sitting in the back of the speeding pickup truck as it careened around the sharp switch backs almost did me in but we reached the turnoff to Jalousie Beach without incident. Just as we were clambering out of the back, another van rolled up whose occupants were kind enough to offer us a ride part-way down to the beach – huzzah! We didn’t make it to Jalousie, though, but back to Malgretoute and into the refreshing pounding surf. On our way back, we saw not just the usual mom and baby goat, but also another mom and two tinier babies, born not very long ago. The two very little ones, hearing us coming, tried to hide in a crack in the rock cliff but as we approached closer, were frightened into running back to mom.

A huge five masted sailing ship, dwarfing all the other anchored sailboats and catamarans, cruised into the harbour and anchored for the afternoon, which meant that the town was much busier than usual with both locals and tourists milling around the downtown area.

See more pictures here.

 

Walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ … in Soufriere, Saint Lucia, West Indies

We love it here! The day comes early in Soufriere: about 3 am, we hear the dogs start to bark; next, at 5, come the roosters with their strangled cries; then, about 5:30, the men yelling at one another across the plaza beneath our windows. By 5:30 all the fruit and vegetable vendors have their wares laid out on the sidewalks.

Needless to say, we are up at 6. Every day the weather has been the same, dark clouds atop the hills behind the town and a brisk wind blowing them seaward, where, just as they float above our hotel, they break up into tiny whisps and disappear over a cloudless ocean. Occasional rain bursts of a few minutes at a time freshen the air – wonderful! The temperature ranges from about 20 in the morning to 25 or so midday.

Soufriere is a poor town; quite a few folks hang out on the streets trying to sell transport or trips to various places. But these are very expensive. We’d heard that the water taxis stop right near the hotel and were imagining taking them daily to various places … Well, the reality is that we can’t afford them. A trip to one of the two most famous beach areas near here is EC$150. return for two people (that’s about $60). Paying $60 a day for water taxis is just not in the cards for us. So … walkin’, walkin’, walkin’ …

The second day here we saddled up the backpacks and headed off north in the direction of Anse Chastanet, one of the two good beach and resort areas around here. Along the way, we passed the town cemetery, in which a gravedigger was whistling while he worked, surrounded by holes in the ground and mounds of dirt.

Just past the cemetery, the road becomes a semi-paved, pitted, rutted one lane track that heads precipitously up into the hills that surround the town. It is steep!

As we walked uphill, a few cars and vans passed us, loaded down with tourists headed for the resort, the undercarriages of the vehicles just barely clearing the rough ground. Along the top of the ridge, several expensive villas sit, some with their grand walls, vases, and flowers reminding us very much of Fiesole, Italy. We could see Malgretoute Beach at the foot of the Petit Piton from the road. After about an hour, we arrived at Anse Chastanet resort, a four-star property on the small bay.

This place is extremely expensive; one night here will run you from $600 to $1,000 a night. And within this resort is another called Jade Mountain, a concrete bunker on the side of the hill that looms over the bungalows below.

We had a beer at the beachside bar and then rented a couple of loungers beneath a palapa on the public side of the beach (the larger beach area north of the restaurant is reserved for house guests of the resort).

Apparently there is pretty good snorkelling and diving here and all day long boats of various sizes came and went, depositing people from visiting cruise ships on the beach.

On this trip, we have seen hardly any Americans anywhere; now we know where they all are, on cruise ships in the Caribbean. It was actually strange to hear so many American accents in one place.

After several hours of fun in the sun, we packed up our gear and headed back up the road from which we’d come. Luckily, after walking not too far, a van stopped and offered us a ride back to town – huzzah!

Yesterday, our destination was once again Malgretoute beach, just south of town along what used to be a road and is now pretty much a goat track (literally!). We think that perhaps the road was destroyed in the last hurricane that ripped through here in October 2010. We enjoyed a quiet day of beach combing and snorkelling – lots of sea urchins here – a great lunch of creole chicken at the restaurant, and a chat with a visiting French couple.

Walking back, we purchased a small carved calabash pot from a local rastaman.

Goats, cows, pigs, and chickens roam freely here, running in between the playing kids and working adults.

Back at the Downtown ranch, we pulled our chairs onto our balcony and enjoyed a drink while listening to the sounds of the town below us and gazing out over the Petit Piton and the sea.

In the downtown area, there are three or four restaurants and a couple of bars. Mostly, tourists do not stay in Soufriere itself; they come on cruise ships to Saint Lucia for the day or they stay in expensive resorts out of town. Other than us, there may be 4 or 5 others staying here.

See more pics here.

From Barbados to Soufriere, Saint Lucia, West Indies

We’d arranged for a taxi to pick us up at the Coconut Grove Hotel at 3:50 am for our 6:30 flight to Saint Lucia and set our alarm for 3:20. All was ready to go as we drifted off to sleep (well, Ty drifted, I listened to him snore …) Then, merciful oblivion … when I woke with a start to a blank-faced alarm clock and, checking the watch, realised it was 3:50 and we’d almost slept through our taxi ride. After 5 minutes of throwing on clothes and dragging the bags to the van we were out the door at 4:00 and on the LIAT prop plane to Saint Lucia, where we landed some 45 minutes later.

Marcus picked us up and transported us down the very windy up and down coast road to the old capital of Saint Lucia, Soufriere, in the south west. Soufriere is French for “sulphur in the air”, a reference to the island’s “drive-in” volcano and its sulphur hot springs. Although we can’t smell them, apparently there are no snakes in this area because they hate the sulphur fumes. Set in a narrow valley backed with tall palm tree carpeted hills, this town was designated as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2004. Just south of town are the two Pitons (peaks), Petit Piton and Gros Piton, narrow, steep spikes of rock jutting skyward on the edge of the coast.

The town itself has narrow streets lined with colonial shop houses, a small central park in which the cathedral sits, and a bustling waterfront, from which water taxis ferry people back and forth to farther away beaches. Soufriere reminds me quite a bit of Levuka, the old colonial capital of Fiji, although this place is much older and busier.

We’re hanging out at the Downtown Hotel, one of a very few hotels in town, and we have a very sweet large room with a wrap-around deck on the fourth floor, offering a view of both the water and the downtown area. We’re right across the street from the cathedral and from the minibuses that travel north and south up and down the coast. Many vendors on the streets downtown sell fresh fruit and vegetables, especially bananas – there are several banana plantations here and, as a result, no wild monkeys. We can see chickens crossing the road all day long here and a few dogs trying to steal food. Bob Marley lives on here, in the dreadlocks, colours, and music of reggaeland Caribbean.

After dropping off our bags, we grabbed a coffee and pastry at the nearby bakery and headed off along the waterfront in the direction of Petit Piton. As we walked, many locals wanted to chat and, of course, sell us merchandise and taxi rides. Walking south out of town, we passed many fishermen’s houses, their boats anchored and nets hung up to dry. I’m not sure what the fishing is like here but seafood is expensive. Once at the end of town, the paved road became a dirt track and led us along the edge of the tall coastline cliffs to Matgretoute Beach.

Coming down towards the beach, we passed a ruined structure with many, many rusting wheelchairs stacked up outside; we later found out that it used to be an old folk’s home and was closed just last year. It’s going to be torn down one of these days to make way for a resort.

The beach was virtually deserted; only a couple of tourists and one local guy were about, and the restaurant/bar was closed.

We were told that it couldn’t be done, but we decided that we’d try to walk all the way along the coast to Jalousie Beach, a beautiful area that lies in between the two pitons. Scrambling over rocks large and small and trying to avoid the pounding surf, we made it perhaps half-way around the base of Petit Piton before being stopped by sheer cliffs over which we couldn’t see a way. The walk was beautiful and we could see the water taxis zooming by as they deposited more visitors on the far off beaches. After making our way back again, luckily the restaurant was open for business and we were able to down a pint and some food just as we were feeling quite bedraggled.

For you history buffs, here’s a few tidbits: Like Barbados, the first peoples here were Amerindian; Spaniards arrived first in the 15th century but didn’t bother colonising the island because it had no gold. The English first landed in 1605, and the French in 1651. The two countries fought over Saint Lucia for 150 years, the country changing hands between them 14 times; as a result the country is often referred to as the “Helen of the West Indies”, a nod to Helen of Troy’s role in igniting the Trojan War. In the 18th century Saint Lucia was a slave-holding society, slaves beings used mainly as agricultural labour in the sugar industry. Slavery was abolished finally in 1834. In 1842 English became the country’s official language, but almost all the place names here are French and the locals speak a Franco-Creole patois. Saint Lucia became an independent nation in 1979 and its population is 172,000.

As usual, Ty’s everyone’s friend here; the guys call him the Hell’s Angel or Mr Pirate.

See more pics here.