Sunday 12/17/06 - Touring the Island with Ania, Double Happiness

We woke up at 8 am, showered (still no bath mat), had a cup of coffee, and then went down to Ti Bananne for a light continental breakfast. We then hopped in the car and made the two minute drive to Rodney Bay Village Green, arriving at around 10. There was a young woman chatting with Ania and looking at his carvings. He waved to us and we sat in the car until he was ready, hoping he was going to make a sale. The young woman came to my car window and smiled. Ania said that she wanted to introduce herself before asking if she could join us on the day tour. Her name was Caroline, she was from French Guyana, and she didn't speak English. She was in the tourism industry and was interested to see the island, and Ania had invited her to join us. We were quite happy to have her, the more the merrier. The two of them hopped into the backseat and we took off. Ania asked Craig to turn the air conditioning off and open the windows instead. It turned out to be a good idea, as there was no way the AC could have kept up going up all of those hills with four people in the car. Ania immediately charged his cell phone in the car, plugging it into the lighter. He said he was kind of surprised that we showed up. we told him we always keep our promises. He said that it isn't a matter of intent to keep promises; sometimes the body can't keep promises that the mind makes. He's such a philosopher. We said that there was no way we would miss getting to see the island from a local's point of view.

We drove south and pulled over near where an acquaintance of Ania's was working on his car. We got out and had a very nice view of Castries. There were lots of little houses on the hillside, and one Rasta man was on a ladder painting the trim of his house yellow. After enjoying the view for a while, we drove on. Every once in a while Ania would just say "stop" when he thought we'd have a good view. There was really no good place to pull over on the windy mountainous roads, and you could never really pull off the road because of the ditches on either side. But we found a relatively safe spot and pulled over. We walked a ways back up the hill and had a gorgeous view of the cruise ship port in Castries.

It was at times hard to tell whom Ania was addressing while we were in the car. He was pretty soft-spoken and laid back anyway, and he spoke with the local patois. His French to Caroline was laced with English, and his English to us was laced with French, so we were always listening carefully in order to tell if he was giving us directions or just shooting the breeze with Caroline.

We drove up Morne Fortune, a hill which was one of the most contested areas of the Caribbean during the numerous power struggles between the French and English in the 18th and 19th centuries. We saw the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College Division of Technical Education and Management Studies here. Sir Arthur Lewis was a St. Lucian who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 1979. He was the first black person to win a Nobel Prize for anything other than peace. (As a side note, St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott would win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, making St. Lucia the country with the most per capita Nobel Prize winners). We noted that one of the campus buildings was named the "T.R. Theobalds Building", as Theobald is a name from Craig's family tree. We have seen it in several countries, such as England and Chile. Next to this modern building is a very old building which we first thought to be some kind of church, except for the strange fact that it had no windows. It appeared to be made of stone, and had two old-fashioned wooden doors. Moss and grass were growing from the cracks in the stone. It was very picturesque. We learned that it was the "Old Powder Magazine" which had been Used by colonial invaders to store gunpowder.

Ania asked about putting some music on, but the radio didn't have a scan or seek functionality, and after flipping through various stations I gave up. Ania cheerfully said that they could sing instead. He launched into a reggae song, shaking a matchbox for percussion. It was brilliant, so spontaneous and pure. We were driving through this goregous countryside with the wind blowing through our hair, listening to Ania sing. Caroline would chime in with harmonies at times and it was just a beautiful, relaxing time. This is exactly what we had wanted, an authentic local experience where we got to spend quality time with actual St. Lucians. One of his songs was about being a "Rasta in a strange land." Another included lyrics about the River Jordan and Zion. I took some short video clips of him singing, and he always had a big smile on his face. We passed through banana plantations and some folks on the side of the road shouted "Bananas" and held up their fresh crops as we drove by. Craig was tempted to stop but we were enjoying the current vibe so much that we didn't want to change anything, and we kept driving.

We drove into Anse La Raye, and parked on a small side street. Anse La Raye is a quaint fishing village, which hosts fish fries for locals and tourists alike on Saturday nights. We bought fresh coconuts from a guy on the sidewalk. The guy cut them open for us and we enjoyed drinking the milk. A woman was selling baked goods at a little stand. Caroline bought a baguette and a small dried fish. Ania picked out some baked goods to share with us, including coconut cake, a turnover, a sort of small jelly roll type of thing with honey filling, and a doughnut. We shared the food in the car while we drove to our next destination.

About fifteen minutes later, we passed a couple of Rastas on the side of the road. Two were selling small souvenirs, and the other was shirtless and had a snake wrapped around his neck. A mini-bus was pulled over and folks were taking pictures of him. He was kind of crazy-looking and wild-eyed. After the bus drove away, he came over to us. I asked what kind of snake it was and he said it was a boa. Ok, not poisonous anyway. He asked if Craig wanted to hold it. Ania caught Craig's eye (unbeknownst to me) and shook his head no. Craig declined, thinking that Ania might not trust this man. Totally unaware of this exchange, I immediately decided that I wanted to do it. How many chances would I get to hold a boa belonging to some random guy on the side of the road? Snakes have always creeped me out, and much like bungy jumping, I wanted to confront the fear. Carpe diem.

The boa guy seemed a little hesitant, and made sure we took pictures of him holding the boa first. I insisted on holding it and he put it around my neck. He was concerned that I would "squeeze it to death." Wasn't the greater possibility that it would squeeze me to death? "Don't drop it!" he warned. I held it quite gently (but firmly enough not to drop it) while Craig took a picture. The snake was very lethargic. At one point it moved just a little bit and I could feel its muscular slithering motion, but it wasn't trying to strangle me or anything. It sure was creepy, though. I gave the snake back to his handler, happy that I had conquered my fear. The guy asked for a "donation". Craig found $2 EC in change in his pocket. The boa man looked at us with contempt. I found $2 US and offered it to him. He demanded the $2 US plus the $2 EC. Whatever. It amounted to less than $3 US. Craig bought some little turtles made out of volcanic rocks from one of the other Rastas. A third man tried to sell me some wooden beaded necklaces, but I thought we had spent enough at this particular stop. The boa guy coiled up his snake and rested it on a long stick leaned up against the rocks on the side of the road. The snake just sat there, totally complacent.

We got back into the car and headed toward Canaries. Ania explained when we were in the car that the reason he had warned against holding the boa was that he himself is afraid of boas as a friend of his had been squeezed by one. But he didn't mind that I had held it, he was just glad that it had turned out alright. The boa had seemed to be as low-key as most of the Rastas, so it was all good.

As we were driving south, we got our first glimpse of one of the Pitons peeking out of the vegetation. We turned inland at one point and Ania had us pull over and park on a small dirt road near a river. He led us toward the river. We saw some figures in the shadows of the trees on the other side of the river, and as they saw us they scurried away. What was going on? Where were we? Were we about to get mugged? It turned out that Ania had brought us to a Rasta compound, and these sentinels had been making sure that we were cool. When they saw that we were accompanied by Ania, they were satisfied. We crossed the river using stepping stones and emerged in a little Rasta compound. There were three men and one woman, and they were very welcoming. They were sitting on wooden benches beneath a little shelter made from tree trunks, branches, and a corrugated metal roof. Clothes were drying on a clothes line, and food was cooking in a clay pot over a fire.They had a few plastic buckets and glass bottles, but most of the items were natural. There were fields where they grew their crops, and there were bee hives on the hill overlooking the compound. It started to lightly rain and one of the men brought a bench under the roof so that Craig and I could sit and stay dry. The woman was fixing her hair into tight little cornrows. They had a small gray and white cat which reminded us of Steve's cat, Piglet. I asked what it ate and they laughed and said whatever it can catch (geckos, snakes, rodents, etc). They seemed to be very fond of their pet.

Ania picked a fruit from a nearby tree, peeled it, and put some on a stick. He then toasted it over the fire. He gave us each a piece. Caroline helped herself to some more and toasted it herself. As the rain died down we said our goodbyes to our gracious hosts. We crossed the river and went back to the car. This was definitely off the beaten path. We were so glad that we had chosen to take Ania up on his offer to be our guide. He seemed to be having a good time as well, getting to visit friends and acquaintances all the while showing off his culture and homeland. Ania wanted to show us a waterfall but one of the Rastas had told Ania that the road was really rough and he didn't think we could make it with our small car. So we went down a smaller road, but even that proved to be too much for the little Suzuki Swift. We were off-roading it and Ania said we had better pull over. We walked over to another section of the river and Caroline and Ania fed some of their leftover pastries to the fish.

We drove toward Soufriere and it started to rain. The road was very windy. Ania wanted to hear a reggae program on the radio, but he didn't know the station. He kept telling me to turn the radio up, but with every corner we turned we got more and more static. All of a sudden a song came in very clear. Caroline got all excited and started belting out the words. She had a very pretty voice. It was cute because although she doesn't speak English, she approximated the English lyrics. It reminded me of when my grandmother had tried to teach me French songs when I was very young. Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the song was gone and there was more static. Ania kept telling me to flip the station and turn it up. It was very distracting. I know how much Craig hates static, and figured that it must be driving him crazy. Not to mention that Ania was giving directions on which way to drive that we could barely hear over the static. I eventually found a song that was kind of coming in, and I left it on there. After a few minutes I couldn't stand it any more and turned the radio off. "Thank you" Ania said, as if I had been the one who had been pushing for it all along.

We pulled over at a scenic vista called Soufriere View. There were a bunch of locals there selling souvenirs. As we approached, a woman named Francisca laid claim to us. I was trying to take some photos of the gorgeous view of the Pitons in the mist, but she told us we could take pictures afterwards. She gave us a brief history of the area and then showed us her wares. I liked the necklaces of volcanic stone that she had, and I chose one with heart shaped beads to represent One Love and our Rasta adventure. Craig bought a beaded necklace with Rasta red, green, and yellow accents. Francisca then took a photo of us in front of the view, and then I took some additional photos. The Pitons looked gorgeous in the distance, and Soufriere town looked very pretty below.

Next we drove into Soufriere town. Ania had us park on the side of the road while he and Caroline ran into his sister's house. While we were waiting in the car, his nephew Peter introduced himself. He said that his Rasta name was "Patience." While we sat there he carved us two tiny birds out of a coconut husk.

Next we drove to Sulphur Springs, billed as the "world's only drive-in volcano." From the slogan, I had sort of pictured a lava tube with a car tunnel through it or something of the like, but it was not as dramatic as all that. Instead, it is a crater which the road passes through. We paid $7 EC each for admission and parked in the parking lot. By now I was happy to see a restroom. As I approached it, it smelled pretty foul, but I didn't really have a choice. I entered the bathroom and found it to be squeaky clean. I guess it had been a long time since I had been near a live volcano. The smell had been sulphur, and I laughed at my initial misinterpretation. We met Sedley, who would be our guide. He took us on a very short walk to a viewing platform and gave us some facts about the volcano. The landscape was dotted with yellowish sulphur particles, and steam rose from vents in the earth. Puddles of mud were at a raging, rolling boil. It was very cool and looked other-worldy. I got a kick out of a "no smoking" sign, which was positioned directly in front of a steam vent.

We then drove for about 10 minutes until we arrived at the Ladera Resort, situated right between the two Pitons. We went into their bar, which had a gorgeous open-air view of the mountains. There were comfortable chairs and tables overlooking the beautiful view. There was a band consisting of a fiddle player, a banjo player, and a bongo player. There was another percussion player who was shaking maracas home-made out of tin cans. We sat at the bar next to them and listened to their lively playing and singing. Craig and Caroline had Piton beer, Ania had a Guinness, and I had rum punch. Caroline and Ania sang along at times, and Caroline drummed on the bar. I took some photos of the Pitons. In between songs a family with a young daughter went up to talk to the band. The bongo player gave her a hug. It was really cute. We stayed for a little over half an hour, and then got back on the road. The resort looked very nice, and rooms only have three walls. The fourth is open so that guests can truly enjoy the gorgeous views. There was a small, picturesque swimming pool near the bar, with a mosaic which said "11 September 01".

Next, we stopped at the Pitons Warm Mineral Waterfall and Pools. We paid $2 US to enter. We walked down a nice path through a forest filled with fruit trees. Ania pointed out the spiny sour sop. We saw a small snail on the stalk of a plant. Ania picked something off a tree that he would use as shampoo. We popped out at an area with some pools fed by a waterfall. There were some tourists swimming. Ania stripped to his underwear and got into the river below the pools to bathe and wash his hair. There were a few tourists in the pools, and we wanted to take a dip. We changed into our bathing suits as discreetly as we could, but we weren't too worried about it. Unfortunately, Caroline had not known to bring a bathing suit, so she became our official photographer.

Craig and I got into the pools and the water was quite warm and comfortable. The waterfall was very pretty, and the rock behind it was made of limestone and had some interesting formations. We stood under the waterfall, which was even warmer than the pool water. It drummed on our heads and shoulders and felt like a nice, relaxing, hot shower. Ania finished his bath and then came into the pool with us. By now the other tourists had gone, and some locals had arrived. EVeryone was having a lot of fun in the water. We stayed for about half an hour, and then got out and got dressed. We felt bad that Caroline couldn't go in. Craig handed her his shorts, joking that she could borrow them if she wanted to go for a swim. She held them up to herself and became aware that she could wear them as a dress. It was really funny. We asked one of the locals to take a photo of the four of us. Then we walked back to the car. A small gray cat was in the parking lot as we drove away.

We drove toward Jalousie Plantation, and then turned North to go into the outskirts of Soufriere town. We were once again on a small dirt road. There were mud puddles, and tree branches were hanging low. We might have mistaken it for a walking path had there not clearly been tire ruts in the mud. We hoped that the little car would make it. All of a sudden we rounded a corner and the brush cleared. We were entering a small neighborhood right on the coast, where Ania was brought up. On one side of the road was the rocky shore, and on the other side were houses, a small bar, etc. There was a crowd of people intently playing a board game which resembled Parcheesi. A group of people were also seated at the small bar, watching what appeared to be a soap opera on TV. Chickens were running around, and a small orange and white cat was resting under one of the tables. Ania and Caroline disappeared up the hill toward some houses, and Craig and I ordered drinks. Craig got a Piton beer and I had a can of Fruta cranberry raspberry juice. We sat petting the cat and enjoying the atmosphere. The atmosphere was very relaxed and the locals seemed to take our presence for granted and pretty much went about their business without paying much attention.

After a while, Caroline and Ania returned. Ania handed us a styrofoam container of food that his sister had made for us - chicken, potatoes, and bananas. He suggested that we cross the street and sit on the rocks to eat it. As the sun grew low in the sky, we watched a cruise ship with decorative sails pass by. Clotheslines were hung over the rocks. A group of small boys were casting fishing lines and nets from the rocks, and brightly colored wooden boats (with names such as "Equal Rights" and "Free Bird") were moored. As if the scene wasn't picturesque enough, I got all excited to see a rainbow over the town, but Ania was matter-of-fact about it. "There's always a rainbow in Soufriere." It stretched right across the sky, and was absolutely beautiful.

After about an hour in the outskirts of Soufriere (it was now shortly after 5 pm), we headed off. We never made it into the actual touristy section of Soufriere, where the cruise ship was headed, but that was fine with us. The area we had seen had been very authentic. Ania said that we may as well circle the island, so we got back onto the main road and retraced our path up past Sulphur Springs, the Ladera, and the Mineral Waterfall and Pools. We got some excellent photos of the Pitons in the late afternoon light. They were absolutely glowing, with palm trees in the foreground. We continued to drive to the southernmost point of the island, Vieux Fort. Everyone was very quiet on the ride back. We had seen and done so much, and we were all just reflecting on the day's events. The roads were a bit tricky in the dark, but Craig navigated them well. Ania offered to drive since he was familiar with the roads, but we figured that the rental car company probably wouldn't like that idea very much. It was slow going, and a lot of the locals would pass several cars at a time on blind corners or hilltops. We turned north and headed up the east coast.

As we neared Dennery, we were caught in a lot of traffic. Elections had just occurred, and the "yellow party" (United Workers Party) had won. Many people (including Ania and his Rasta friends) were quite happy about this. They thought that it heralded a new era of opportunity for the common man in St. Lucia. Tonight there was a celebratory rally in Dennery. People in yellow T-shirts filled the streets. People were pulling up in cars and looking for places to park along the side of the road. People were playing music and congregating. This hindered our progress a bit, but it was interesting to see, and we were happy for the people.

After a long drive, we finally popped out in Castries near the Hardest Hard. Craig immediately felt more comfortable driving, as he could find his own way home from here. Ania was hungry and asked us to pull over near where the container ships were docked. He hopped out and crossed the street while Craig, Caroline, and I waited in the car. He appeared a few minutes later bearing food. He offered Caroline some tuna fish pizza. She declined, which I didn't quite understand, seeing as how she had eaten that dried fish on a baguette earlier. As a Rasta, Ania is a vegetarian, so he couldn't eat it and offered it to us. It looked kind of oily and to be honest the thought of fish on a pizza was not an appetizing one. But we graciously accepted and took tentative bites. It was amazingly delicious, and we instantly wished we had an entire tuna fish pizza. He gave us a fresh cup of passion fruit juice as well. He was eating some sort of vegetarian roti type of thing, and let us have the last third of it while we were driving back to Rodney Bay Village. It was funny how the day had turned out. We hadn't really planned any meals or anything; we had just gone with the flow and it had all just worked out. It was a lesson that you can't always overplan - spontaneity can provide for some of the best experiences.

We arrived back in Rodney Bay Village at around 9 pm. We parked across the street from the village green. Before we had even shut off the car, we looked up and saw Andrea, Mike, and Nick pointing at us. Andrea was literally in mid-sentence saying that they should walk over to our hotel to find us when we pulled up right in front of them. We hung out with the the gang at Double Happiness: Ania, Ronny, Lawrence, and the other Lawrence. Ronny said "I know I asked you last night about the CD's and you weren't interested. But I am a Rasta man and music is very important to me. I'd like to give you a CD to remember me by." I told him that would be nice, and that he should pick out a good one and we would get it from him tomorrow. He also started to talk about Ania's carvings, saying that they would make a good gift for my mother. Then he lamented "We haven't even talked about your mother. We haven't really gotten to know each other!" Ronny was wearing his St Lucia waste management shirt and said that he used to be a farmer. He used to deliver bananas.

Ronny drank Red Bulls. Andrea and I had rum punches. Lawrence had Pitons and Ania had Guiness. Craig got a Piton and a high performance non-alcoholic Piton Malta for Nick. Ronny and Mike were talking about local food, and Mike said he had never tried plantains. Ronny said that he would take Mike for some local food the next day. Andrea told us that she had signed us up for the scuba trip tomorrow, and that we would be picked up at the hotel at 7:45. Because of the early pick-up, the party broke up a little bit earlier tonight. We said our goodbyes and then drove back to the hotel. We realized that Ania's cell phone charger was still in the car, and made a mental note to return it tomorrow night.
Craig and Ania overlooking Castries

Watch Ania singing Reggae in the back seat Watch Ania singing Reggae in the back seat

Ania singing Reggae in the back seat

Watch Ania and Caroline singing Reggae in the back seat Watch Ania and Caroline singing Reggae in the back seat

Watch Ania singing Reggae in the back seat Watch Ania singing Reggae in the back seat

Narrow Streets of Anse La Raye

Craig and the wold-eyed boa constrictor Rasta man

Steph holding the boa constrictor

Rasta compound

Soufriere View

Band at the Ladera

Watch the band at the Ladera Watch the band at the Ladera

Watch the band at the Ladera Watch the band at the Ladera

View from Ladera bar

Bar at the Ladera

Steph and Craig soaking in the Mineral Pools

Steph, Craig, Caroline, and Ania at the Mineral Pools

Young boys fishing

Ania and the rainbow

Cruise ship approaching Soufriere

Piton in the late afternoon light

Double Happiness - Andrea, Nick, Craig, Steph, Lawrence, Mike

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