Friday 12/15/06 - Rodney Bay, Castries, Rehearsal Dinner

We woke up at 7:30 am and made coffee in the single-cup coffee maker. The coffee was called "Buzz", and we definitely needed the caffeine. We took showers which were quite refreshing, and there was a rain shower head. However, although the shower looked very cool and modern (tile and glass block) The lack of a shower curtain or door caused water to puddle up on the bathroom floor. At 9:30, we headed down to Ti Bananne for breakfast. Continental breakfast was included in our stay, and we had coffee, pineapple juice, bananas, toast, watermelon, Rice Crispies and yoghurt, and some delectable fresh banana bread. The restaurant was very nice. It had a roof but otherwise was open air, and sections were separated by linen curtains. There were murals of the island on the walls, and it overlooked the pool. It was a nice relaxing breakfast.

We walked through Rodney Bay Village, scoping out the restaurants, bars, and shops. We weren't quite sure where the beach was, but we had heard there was a shortcut that made the walk shorter than following the road. But we ended up just wandering. We saw a very nice looking guest house. We passed some construction on a new hotel property. The locals mixing and setting cement were very friendly, and everyone had a smile and said good morning. We passed by Villa Zandoli, a really cute little guest house.

We then walked along a main road past the mall and a supermarket. A localman came up to us and shook our hands, telling us he wanted to give us something for Christmas. He handed me a carved stick that we at first thought was a cigar. He said that it symbolized eternal sunshine (of the spotless mind?) and handed me two more, saying that they would make great Christmas presents for people back home. "All he asked" was for a monetary donation to help his family at Christmas. I was feeling rather generous and happy and decided to buy them. I was thinking a couple of bucks might be appropriate, but he wanted $20 Eastern Caribbean. We settled on $5 US, but as I handed him the money, he took one of the three carved sticks back. Whatever. There was a big yellow vehicle parked across the street from the mall. It had a sign which said "Chicken Hut." A woman inside was cooking some chicken. St Lucians sure like their fried chicken. There seemed to be more KFC's than any other fast food franchise on the island, and all of them were packed with locals. There was a vehicle called an "Escudo" in the parking lot. This made us laugh, as we remembered the Escudo beer that Craig drank in Chile.

We browsed around in a local CD store called Vibes. Signs were posted saying that they did not sell pirated CD's. There was a very weird collection of CD's. The booklets were all bleached by the sun and hung up on the wall. It was interesting to browse, but we didn't find anything to buy. We then turned around and started walking back. We passed some pretty purple flowers growing entwined in barbed wire. It was quite a juxtaposition. A family was selling green coconuts out of the back of their rusty, dented tan pickup truck, which was pulled over to the side of the road in a drainage ditch. The entire truck bed was full of coconuts, and makeshift tables displayed other fruits. Women were sitting in lawn chairs in the shade behind the pickup, and children sat on a bench. We bought a coconut for $1 US. The seller chopped it open with a machete and stuck a straw in it. In the heat it was very refreshing and tasty, and we sipped it as we walked back towards town. It started to rain, and we took the opportunity to walk around the small indoor shopping mall (JQ's Mall). Some enterprising folks had set up a table near the mall entrance and were wrapping Christmas presents. There were a lot of locals doing their holiday shopping, and we enjoyed window shopping. When the shower had passed, we went back outside.

We passed by a taxi stand and chatted with Vince, owner of Vince's Taxi Service. We chatted quite a bit about what we hoped to see and do on our trip to the island. We talked about wanting to meet locals and try local foods. He asked if we had tried the banana ketchup, and said that it was a must. We were intrigued. He gave us his card and said that if we wanted to do a day trip around the island, he would be happy to be our guide. If we hadn't been renting a car, I'm sure we would have taken him up on the offer.

Our main mission for today was to rent a car. We hadn't booked a car ahead of time, because our flight arrived after the car rental kiosks closed for the night. We wanted to rent from a locally owned operation rather than a chain. We went into a little hole in the wall office called "Cost Less". At first the woman thought that they just had a manual transmission, which Craig wasn't too keen on. Cars here drive on the left, but the steering wheels are at least on the right (unlike St Thomas). After doing some checking, the woman was able to offer us an automatic Suzuki Swift. It was an adorable little red 4 door with air conditioning.

Craig was filling out the paper work when the pen died. The woman went rummaging to find another. She ran our credit card, and we discovered that we had never called our credit card company to tell them that we would be traveling to St Lucia. Our card was declined (fraud protection and all that). We are usually good about calling prior to an international trip, but this trip came upon us so quickly that we didn't think of it. Plus, we are used to St Thomas, which, as a US territory, does not require special credit card authorization. There was no way to call a US 800-number from this office, so a colleague of the woman working there drove us to their other office, around the corner at the Harmony Suites. They have public internet there, and we were able to make a $4 Skype call to the US to get our credit card authorized. Craig filled out the remainder of the paper work and the pen died on him again. All this while I had been lugging around an empty coconut, which was heavier than I had expected. The woman from the other office drove our car to this office, and we were on our way. The car was a little pricey (plus there were all kinds of taxes and a fee for a driving permit) but it would make our stay on the island much easier.

By now it was only shortly after noon, so we had had a productive morning. We drove back to the hotel, discarded of the coconut husk, and walked next door to the ScotiaBank to get some Eastern Caribbean cash. My ATM card worked without incident (phew!). We then got into the car and decided to try to get the lay of the land. We wanted to explore the northern part of the island. Tonight would be the "jump up" block party in Gros Islet. Depending what time we were back from the rehearsal dinner, we might want to stop in. So we wanted to scope it out. It turned out that Gros Islet and Rodney Bay Village are very close. We had practically walked into Gros Islet this morning when we went to that CD store. We continued driving north, not sure exactly what we were looking for, but enjoying the drive nonetheless. The roads were narrow and had deep draininge ditches on either side, so the driving was a bit tricky. We went past Smuggler's Cove to Pointe du Cap at the northern tip of the island, and then turned around. We came upon a tourist on a rented motorbike who had apparently been hit by a truck. He seemed to be unhurt, but the bike looked like it might have been damaged. He was yelling at the local who had been driving the truck. I commented that there's no way I would want to be on a motorcycle or scooter on these roads. Way too dangerous.

As we passed the Rodney Bay Marina, we saw the Brig Unicorn, a tall ship replica which was used in the filming of "Roots" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." We had read about this ship, and that it is possible to go on day sails (some of which are geared toward children and are pirate-themed) as well as sunset cruises. It looked like a neat thing to do, but it was so touristy. It's probably a popular day excursion for cruise ship passengers. All of those activities have their place, but we probably weren't going to have time to do such a thing on this trip. We drove through Rodney Bay and continued south towards Castries. We were hoping to get some lunch at a nice local place, and to do a dry run to the Sandals Regency. Once it got dark, it would be difficult to navigate, so we wanted to do it once in the daylight. We stopped at a full service Texaco station. Women were sitting in resin lawn chairs beside the pumps and pumped our gas for us. The tank had been 1/4 full when we rented the car, and we were told to bring it back with the same amount. We had no idea how much driving we would be doing, nor how many gas stations we would find, so we just filled the tank. There was road construction on the road to Castries, and it resulted in a traffic jam. We were on the lookout for somewhere to eat lunch, but didn't see any appropriate place. We tried to imprint the route into our brains so that we could retrace our path tonight to get to the rehearsal dinner...take a right at the crane (the mechanical kind, not the avian kind)....

We passed the airport and noticed a pretty cemetery on the far side of it. Then we arrived at the bay where a cruise ship was docked. We knoew that the Sandals Regency was just south of Castries, and we had anticipated driving straight through town. However, this isn't really possible. There is no direct road through Castries, and you are forced onto small one-way streets. We had no idea where we were going, but Craig has a good instinct for directions and we made it through the center of town after being stuck in traffic. There was plenty to look at while we waited, including the craft market, post office, bank, lots of restaurants (St Lucia seems to like the name "Plus", We had seen "Tiles Plus," "Burgers Plus<" etc. Plus what? We don't know), and even something called the China Town Food Court. By now we were quite hungry, but there was nowhere apparent to park, and we got the impression that most of these restaurants were frequented by cruise ship tourists. We emerged on the other side of Castries, near a shipping port. There was a container ship that was apparently in water which was way too shallow, and it was leaning to one side. In this more industrial looking area, there were a bunch of small local restaurants and bars on the side of the road. Many of them were no more than shacks with corrugated metal roofs. This was more like it.

We passed one such restaurant on a corner. It was made of 2x4's painted green, and said "Heineken" all over it. Heineken promotional metal chairs and tables were set up beneath the corrugated metal roof, and there were holes in the roof to accommodate some trees. A couple of locals were eating what appeared to be plate-lunches. This was what we were looking for, and we parked behind the restaurant. We walked in and looked at the chalk board with the day's meals. A woman in a hair net was standing behind the counter and cheerfully (if maybe a little surprisedly) took our order. We were both eyeing the goat curry with rice and beans. But there was just one serving left. I asked what the beef roti was, and she said that it was like a beef stew inside of a flour shell. Sounded good to me. Craig ordered a Piton. I asked what the had for local juices. She had canned juices as well as fresh tamarind juice. I opted for the latter. We sat down at a table and discussed our luck at finding the place. There were big speakers on the perimeter and soca music was playing. The song had lyrics about "whinin" (a term that refers to some of the dance moves at Carnival). This was exactly what we had been looking for. The woman came out from behind the counter and erased the goat curry and beef roti from the menu, leaving saltfish. We seemed to have arrived at just the right time. I knew I wanted to write this place up on the web site, but I didn't know if it even had a name. I decided to go exploring. I walked out to the front, past the interior bar room which had a large screen TV. I looked at the place from the front. Across the green 2x4's was painted "Heineken - Hardest Hard - Heineken - Hardest Hard." Hardest hard? That couldn't be the name of the place, could it? Maybe it was a local Heineken slogan? Then I turned around and saw a (Heineken) sign proclaiming "Hardest Hard - Best local catering" and a phone number. So, Hardest Hard it was. (We later learned that this was Caribbean slang for "The Best"). How perfect. The woman delivered our food. Mine was on a plate. It was a flour tortilla filled with a curried beef stew with onions and potatoes. It was absolutely delicious. It was served with a local cole slaw. She gave me a plastic cup full of tamarind juice, which was incredibly sweet and tasty. Craig's goat curry with rice and beans was served in a styrofoam to-go container. He had a ton of food, and it was also delicious. It was a little bit more difficult to manage because the meat was very bony. But we both enjoyed our meals very much, and thanked the woman profusely. She seemed to be genuinely happy that we had enjoyed it, and when I asked if I could take a photo of her she smiled and said "It's not a problem."

Our bellies were so full of the delicious food that we couldn't even imagine eating a rehearsal dinner a few hours from now. Speaking of the rehearsal dinner, we still needed to locate the Sandals Regency. One of the roads had a sign that said La Toc (which is the name of the bay where Sandals was supposed to be) so we turned that way. We were headed up a big hill and had some gorgeous views of Castries below. But we suspected we might be going in the wrong direction. Sandals was on the beach, and we were heading into the mountains. Just as we were starting to doubt our direction, we saw a Sandals gate with two security guards posted there. It didn't say which Sandals this was (there are three in the Castries area) so I got out and asked. This was indeed the Regency. Everything seemed to be falling into place. We drove back through Castries to Rodney Bay and our hotel. By now we were getting our bearings. On the way we saw the same tourist on a motorbike who had been hit by the truck earlier. He was now driving like a maniac, driving down the middle of the road between the two lanes of cars. Gee, I wonder whose fault the accident was? We assumed he was rushing to get his bike back before the rental shop closed, and didn't want to get into any more trouble than he was already in.

Once back at the hotel, we bought a doll, a painting of the Pitons, and a purse made of a small gourd from a woman at the hotel gazebo. We put the things into our room, and then decided to at least get a glimpse of nearby Reduit Beach before heading to the rehearsal dinner. We were still looking for the shortcut but didn't know exactly where to go, so we went by the road instead. It started to rain, but once again it felt refreshing. We saw a rainbow behind the Barbecue Barn. We passed Rodney Bay Village Green, where some Rastas were selling wood and coconut carvings. There was a hand-painted sign for the "official Pigeon Island Ferry", though it didn't look especially official. As we passed by, the Rastas said hello and asked where we were off to. We told them we were going to the beach. The road was lined with resorts (Rex Papillon and Rex St Lucian) but there didn't seem to be a way to get in without cutting through the gated property. We eventually reached a British pub, and the official beach parking lot/entrance. The beach was very narrow but nice, and despite the rain there were a lot of people there enjoying various watersports. We saw a couple of kids having a footrace, a little boy digging a big hole, etc. A family was riding on a banana-shaped boat, being towed behind a power boat. We walked the length of the beach and ended up at the Rex Papillon, which was under construction. It looked like it had definitely seen better days. At the edge of the property was the shortcut, and we were surprised to pop out directly acropss the street from our hotel. If you're looking for the cut-through, look for the Virgin Atlantic sign across from the Coco Palm. Take a left there and you can walk straight to the beach.

Back at the hotel, we stopped at Ti Bananne for a quick drink. We saw Sanjay and he greeted us by name. As we headed back to the room, he said "It's 5 of 5! You should be drinking! It's happy hour!" We told him that the rehersal dinner was in two hours, and that we had to get ready, Back at the room, we showered and changed. We noticed that we no longer had a bath mat since they had cleaned the room. This would be a problem, as so much water spills out of the shower. I called the front desk and asked for a bathmat. They said they would send housekeeping up with one, but it never arrived. So we made due with two facecloths. We left the hotel at 5:45. There was less traffic than earlier in the day. We saw a tourist in a big SUV trying to take a left turn coming down from a steep hill. He tried to pass the guy in front of him (who was going right) and ended up with one wheel completely sunken in a deep ditch.

We arrived at Sandals at 6:28. We went through the gate and drove down a long hilly road to the resort. We were stopped at the security booth and we told them our name and that we were there for Tom and Karen's wedding. He checked the list and said that we were onb the list for 6:30. He said something unintelligible about where to park (he repeated it 4 times but we just didn't know what word he was sayng) and waved us through. We didn't find any obvious parking lots. We asked an employee who directed us to the manager's lot, which would be less busy. It was a small lot. We realized the place doesn't really have parking lots. Most guests are shuttled to and from the airport by Sandals buses, and most employees take public transportation to work. We parked and went into the lobby. We asked at the front desk about the rehearsal dinner. The lobby overlooked a restaurant which was right on the ocean. The waves were huge, and we could see the spray crashing up on the beach.

The woman at the desk made a phone call and told us that we needed to go to Armando's. When she saw the confusion in our face she explained "The Italian restaurant. There will be a shuttle to take you up there." Couldn't we just walk? But since we had no idea where we were going we stood at the front of the lobby waiting for the shuttle. Various shuttles came and went and we had no idea which one was for us. An employee came over after a while and directed us to the right shuttle. We (and another couple) were driven a short distance up the hill. The driver wasn't particularly forthcoming about where we would need to get off. All in all the hospitality at this place left something to be desired, as we had suspected. We were dropped off in front of Armando's. We walked up the stairs and were greeted by Tom at the door. Tom told us that they were freaking out because Andrea, Mike, and Nick hadn't arrived on the island yet. It had been over 24 hours since we saw them in San Juan! Apparently, they had been sent back to Miami, had spent the night on the floor in the airport, and had been flown from Miami to the airport in Viex Fort (Southern St Lucia). While we were talking to Tom he got a phone call. It was them. They had just landed, without luggage. They would still need to drive all the way to Rodney Bay, check in to their hotel, and then catch a cab to Sandals. It was a total drag that they would be late for the dinner, but everyone was relieved that they had at least made it, and would be there for the wedding. We said hello and congratulations to Karen, and met her parents, Susan and Martin. We saw Tom's parents, Kathleen and Bill, and met Tom and Karen's friends Dean and John, as well as Mary Anne and her husband Tom. There were also some family friends whom we would meet later.

We were taken into one of the dining rooms. It was not a private function room, and it didn't work extremely well as a venue for a rehearsal dinner. There were two very long tables running parallel to one another. One side of the table was a booth-style bench, and the other had heavy armed wooden chairs. They were packed in next to one another and once you were seated, it was difficult to get up. There were other patrons sitting at tables around the perimeter of the room. This was apparently the only non-buffet restaurant at Sandals Regency. It was a good choice, but I think Sandals could have been a little more accommodating to them in regards to setting the room up since this was such a special event. But I guess when a place hosts up to 10 weddings per day, the occasion isn't as "special" to the hotel staff as it is to the wedding party. We were all chatting and having fun. Craig went to the restromm, which was downstairs. Th erest room was very nice, but it had cloth hand towels, and Craig took the very last one.

Upstairs, the waitstaff was trying to encourage us to go to the antipasto bar. Since everyone had just arrived, we were in no big rush. Soon the waitstaff was a little more forceful in their encouragement. We took the hint and all headed over to the antipasto bar. However, the antipasto bar was set up in the foyer of the restaurant. There was no great place for the 21 of us to queue up, so we wound up accidentally blocking the entrance to the other dining room. Waitstaff carrying drinks and food into that other room were obviously annoyed, and kept brushing past us with an impatient "Excuse me!" We felt like we were really in their way, when they were the ones who had forced us to all go up for salad at once. The antipasto was very nice, and we took bread, salad, cheese, and cold cuts.

We went back and sat at the table. We were at what we called "the kid's table". We were seated right across from Karen and Tom, and to our left were Dean and John and Mary Anne and Tom. Empty seats at the far end of the table reminded us that Andrea, Mike, and Nick were on their way, running on zero sleep and without their change of clothes. At each place setting there was a printed piece of paper with Tom and Karen's name on it. It listed the evening's menu. We all drank wine (there was a choice of white or red), and gave toasts to Tom and Karen, their families, and the first night of Hanukkah. The first course was minestrone soup, which was quite good. Next came a grilled tomato and artichoke salad in pine nut and basil dressing. The pasta course was Caribbean lobster ravioli with caviar cream. It was absolutely delicious. Craig and I had never tried caviar before, so we relished the opportunity. It was red caviar and we enjoyed it. For the main course, we had a choice of filet mignon with goat cheese and prosciutto in a chianti sauce or grilled swordfish and Caribbean shrimp. Craig and I opted for the filet.

Just as the main course was about to arrive, Andrea, Mike, and Nick showed up. They had stopped on the way to buy some clothes for the rehearsal dinner. Andrea was wearing a nice white dress. There had only been one option for collared shirts at the store, so Nick and Mike were both wearing identical striped polo shirts. We were all so glad that they had made it. They handled themselves very well for having gone through such an ordeal. They had no idea when their luggage might arrive, and the wedding was at 11 am the next morning. Dean was commiserating with them, as his and John's luggage was still among the missing and they had been on the island for two days already. Craig and I realized how lucky we were that our checked bag had made it. This seemed to be a common theme with American Airlines in St Lucia. The main course arrived. It was very tasty; the goat cheese really gave it a wonderful flavor. It was a bit tough though, for filet mignon. We were not given steak knives, so it was a bit difficult. For dessert we had a rich cheesecake with Frangelico Creme Anglaise. It was a delicious dinner and we were absoluetly stuffed.

By around 10:00, the restaurant was deserted, and the waitstaff was clearly ready for us to leave. We took some group photos and said our goodnights. The decor of the restaurant was pretty tasteful (there were interesting mosaics on the floor, etc) with the exception of these pearlized off-white swirly columns. I had been looking at them all night and wondering if they were plastic. Before we left, I tapped on one and sure enough, hollow plastic. Classy. Tom and Karen invited us back to their suite, which was right near the restaurant. We headed back there with them.As we walked up the hill we pointed out the sign which said "No naked flame." We all got a good laugh. Dean came running down from his room, very excited to announce that their luggage had finally arrived. Tom and Karen's room was quite nice, with a sitting room with two couches, a bedroom with whirlpool tub, and a bathroom. There was a fully stocked bar of hard liquor, beer, and soft drinks. There was a nice balcony overlooking the ocean that was accessible from both the sitting room and the bedroom. Tom and Karen modeled some palm hats that a bartender had made for them. They had little palm fishies hanging off the side. Very cute. Tom and Karen presented us with our wedding favors: a wedding mix CD and a cute photo of the two of them. Tom's folks were two floors below them. They arrived with Andrea, Mike, and Nick.

Tom gave us some beverages for the road, and we headed out to catch the shuttle bus back to the lobby. We stopped into the concierge office and asked for a shuttle. They said it would be up momentarily. We waited and waited. The place was absolutely deserted and it wasn't even 11 pm. We could have just walked down to the lobby. Eventually the shuttle arrived and took us down. We wished we could have given Andrea, Mike, and Nick a ride back to Rodney Bay Village, but our car was just too small. We drove back (by now very familiar with the roads, even though we had only had possession of the car for about 11 hours at this point.

It was 11:11 when we reached the car.. It was still "early" enough that we could theoretically have gone to the Gros Islet Jump-up (it goes well into the wee hours of the morning). We hadn't spoken about it since arriving at Sandals. We were each extremely tired and kind of feared that the other would want to go. When Craig brought up the subject I said that I really wasn't up for it and he was relieved. It had been a long, fun day, but embarking on a whole new adventure at 11:35 pm was too much, especially with a wedding at 11 am the next morning. As we walked from the parking lot to the hotel, we could hear music in the distance. We weren't sure whether it was from the jump up or from the bars in Rodney Bay. It was Friday night after all, and people were partying. I wrote in the journal while Craig watched a program about the Neville Brothers on the Ovations channel on TV. Those guys really used to be cool before Aaron picked up that unceasing vibrato. We went to sleep at 12:30.
Coco Palm

Breakfast, Ti Bannane

Chicken Hut

Cement wall

Flowers and barbed wire

Coconuts for sale

Coconuts for sale

Brig Unicorn

Craig eating goat curry at the Hardest Hard

Steph eating beef roti at the Hardest Hard

Hardest Hard

Rainbow, Rodney Bay

Reduit Beach

Craig and Steph at the rehearsal dinner

Tom, Karen, Tom, MaryAnne

Tom, Karen, Dean

Craig, Steph, Karen, Tom

Michael, William, Andrea, Karen, Tom, Kathleen, Nicholas

Karen and Tom in their 'fish hats'

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