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.

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.