Our good friends Tom and Karen planned their wedding in St. Lucia. We really wanted to be there for their special day, and we love to travel. It was scheduled for mid-December. This made things a little bit tricky in terms of planning. It is our tradition to visit our friend Marty in St. Thomas over Thanksgiving. And it always seemed like as soon as we got back from St. Thomas, Christmas arrived. Scheduling another trip to the Caribbean in the middle of it all would be difficult logistically. But we couldn't miss the wedding, so we did our Christmas shopping early and booked the trip. We were able to get free flights with our frequent flyer miles, so it worked out very well.

The wedding was going to be held at the Sandals Regency in Castries. It was an all-inclusive place, and pretty much all of the guests would be staying there. But it turned out that Tom's sister Andrea couldn't stay there, because she would be bringing her teenaged son Nicholas. (Sandals is adults-only, couples-only. And only in the past few years has it allowed same-sex couples.) So they booked a separate hotel. Craig and I didn't want to stay at Sandals. We don't really agree with their politics, and we don't like the all-inclusive concept. We don't like to spend our entire vacation on the grounds of a resort. We like to interact with the locals, eat the local food, and spread our tourist dollars out among local businesses. So we decided that we would go to the wedding, but that we would find our own lodging, so that we could stay in an atmosphere which would make us more comfortable. We chose the Coco Palm, a locally owned and operated hotel in Rodney Bay Village. It was not all-inclusive, and seemed to be within walking distance to the beach, restaurants, etc. We didn't book a car rental ahead of time. We couldn't really anticipate whether we would want it for our entire stay. We would need to see the lay of the land first. We decided to play that by ear when we arrived.

Having just returned from our St. Thomas trip, we found the St. Lucia trip to be upon us before we knew it.As we were packing, Brownie sensed that we would be going away again. Multiple trips don't usually happen within such a short time period, and we laughed when we found her sleeping in our suitcase Maybe she was hoping to stow away.

Thursday 12/14/06 - Arrival in St. Lucia

We woke up at 5 am, did some last minute preparations, and left the house at 6:30. It was unseasonably warm - in the 50's and very foggy. We hit a little bit of traffic but it wasn't too bad, and we arrived at the airport at a little past 7. We waited in line for check-in for over an hour behind some very interesting characters. One woman was clipping dead skin off of her knuckles with fingernail clippers. The skin was piling up on her hip pack - it was gross. There was another woman who was sausaged into a sweat suit (with seams on the outside). There were appliqued letters across the butt which said "Be Right Back." Classy. After checking in, we went through security and ate breakfast at Burger King. We sat at the gate for a few minutes, and then before we knew it it was time to board.

We were seated in an aisle and a window on the right-hand side of the plane, and I ended up switching with the guy who was assigned the middle seat. I was excited to see that the movie was The DaVinci Code, which we hadn't seen yet. We had even remembered to bring our own headphones. They played a bunch of CBS commercials and sitcoms (is there really any difference these days?) Our flight attendant was very weird. She was giving the guy in front of us a hard time because he hadn't told her how he takes his coffee. Craig smiled and then she turned to us and said "You're bad. I see you smiling." Hey, don't drag us into it! We started watching the Da Vinci Code. The plane hit some turbulence and dipped suddenly. The women across the aisle from us screamed bloody murder. At the most expository point in the film, they cut in over the PA. They didn't pause the movie, and proceeded to go through all of the connecting gates in the entire San Juan airport. They then gave the disclaimer that this info might not be reliable. Great, thanks for interrupting the movie for that. Then, just when you thought there couldn't possibly be any more that they could possibly say, they launched into the same entire speech, this time in Spanish. By the time the PA was silent, the expository portion of the film was over, and we had missed the big revelation. Now Tom Hanks was running through Paris to a soundtrack. Why couldn't they have waited until now for the announcement? I was very annoyed. And then, to top it all off, there wasn't even time for the movie to finish before we had landed. The final scenes were taking place as people took their luggage down from the overhead bins. Maybe they should have cut short the commercials so that there was actually time for the movie. Needless to say. The whole ordeal left me cranky. Luckily, Craig's mom got the DVD for Christmas, so we will get to see it again. A bunch of people clapped when the plane landed, a phenomenon which seems more prevalent in the Caribbean.

We landed in San Juan at around 2:30. We went downstairs to the American Eagle gates. We did a double-take when we saw a woman who looked exactly like our friend Karmilla from Mobile. Airport employees walked around the gate handing out "USVisit" handbills. These said that if you were a "foreign visitor" entering the US, your passport needed to be run before you could leave the airport, and fingerprinting may or may not be required. Very welcoming! I went up to the Domino's kiosk to get a pizza. I got in line just at the right time...30 seconds later and I would have been behind the entire Ottawa University women's basketball team. We ate the deep dish pizza at the gate and people-watched.

At around 5:55, I saw someone who looked a lot like Tom's sister Andrea. I pointed her out to Craig and we noticed that it was indeed her, with her son Nick and brother Mike. We were confused, as they weren't supposed to be flying through San Juan. We went over to them and Craig said "You're not supposed to be here!" They told us we have no idea. Andrea and Mike had flown from Boston to Miami, where they were going to meet Nick. The three of them would then fly direct from Miami to St Lucia. Well, Nick and his dad got stuck in horrendous traffic and missed the plane by 10 minutes. Andrea and Mike were taken off the flight, and the three of them were re-routed to San Juan. They were supposed to take the same flight to St Lucia that we were booked on. However, there weren't enough empty seats, so they couldn't get tickets. Oh man! That was the last flight from San Juan to St Lucia until the next day.

Our flight began to board and we said a sad farewell, wishing them good luck. It was absolutely pouring and we were bussed out to the plane. We talked to another woman on the bus who had came from Miami. She said that her normal 45 minute drive to the airport took 3 hours this morning. She was lucky that she was just one person and could get onto the flight. We got onto the small plane (a 2-2 configuration). Takeoff was delayed by half an hour because the flight was overweight and they needed to remove some luggage. Oh great. Please don't let it be ours. We never check luggage if we can help it. But because we needed dressy clothes for the wedding, we checked one small suitcase between the two of us. The flight took off at 7:00. Whether our suitcase was onboard, we were not sure. We were served mango juice and sour cream and cheddar Ruffles potato chips. As we passed over St Thomas, we waved to Marty. As we approached the Castries airport, the only thing we could see in the darkness was a brightly lit Sandals sign. We landed in Castries at 8:45.

Brownie wants to stow away

Room 316, Coco Palm

Entertainment at the bar

Steph and Craig at Ti Bannane

It was a very small airport. We were 2nd in the customs line, but the people in front of us took quite a while. After getting our passports stamped, we went over to the luggage carousel. Our bag was there! We weren't aware at the time of exactly how fortunate we were. We got a cab (Toyota HiLux with tinted windows) for the 15 minute drive to the Coco Palm. There were lots of people out and about, walking around town and waiting for minibuses. As we got out of the car, a tourist ran over to our driver and said "Did you come from the airport? Do you have any extra luggage? Did they send luggage with you?" This poor guy had arrived yesterday and his luggage was nowhere to be found. He was told it would make it onto another flight and be delivered to the hotel. He was disappointed that we didn't come bearing his luggage, and he seemed a little bit envious that we had ours. He was wearing his wife's T-shirt. We met Raulun, who checked us in. The Coco Palm does not have a traditional check-in desk. It was designed this way to try to not distance the staff from the guests. However, in actuality, it's a little bit impractical. You tell the staff who you are and then they go into a back room and do all your paperwork. Once we were all checked in, Raulun took us to our room (316). It had two double beds, a glass block rain shower, and a small balcony which overlooked the pool, which was nicely lit up. Directly below our room, there were stepsleading from the first floor room below us directly into the pool. These were the "swim-up rooms." In the distance you could see the lights of Gros Islet's bay. Raulun acquainted us with the amenities of the room (including the all-important coffee maker) and then we got settled in.

We opened the door to our balcony and could hear a bluesy band which was playing at the hotel restaurant. They were playing some great stuff, such as "Little Wing" and"Ain't No Sunshine". We headed downstairs to Ti Bannane, the restaurant. We met Sanjay, a waiter who was very friendly and called us by name immediately. I got a rum punch and Craig got a Piton, St. Lucian beer. We were each hungry. Craig ordered seafood chowder. It was more of a bisque than traditional chowder. He really enjoyed it. I had a piece of passionfruit cheesecake, which was delicious. We people-watched and enjoyed the music. We watched a drunk guy trying to impress two sisters by pole dancing around one of the ceiling supports. The sisters laughed and apologized for us having to see such a sight while trying to eat. It was funny. The band stopped at 11, and the bar stopped serving at 12. After enjoying a few rounds, we headed back to the room at 12:20. I wrote in the journal and we were asleep by 12:40.

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