We woke up as late as we could get away with, got ready for a day of scuba, and were in the lobby by 7:40 am. Craig told the employees that we were supposed to be picked up, but that we were going to try to grab a quick continental breakfast first. They said that they would come to get us in the restaurant if the shuttle arrived. We ate a very light breakfast of juice, toast, and coconut bread. At a little after 8, the driver showed up. Andrea, Mike, and Nick were in the van. There was also another couple from their resort who also happened to be from Boston. We drove down to Castries and took a right near the airport down the road which led to the Coal Pot restaurant. We boarded a boat and waited for a couple of other minibuses to arrive. We filled out all of our paperwork. Once the other passengers arrived, we took off on a nice ride to Soufriere. We were seated on the wrong side of the boat to get a good view of the shore, but I was able to move around a bit and get some photos. We passed Sandals and symbolically waved to Tom and Karen, wishing that they could have joined us for this excursion. It was much faster than the drive to Soufriere, that's for sure.
At around 10 we landed at Anse Chastanet Resort (not affiliated with the Allen Chastanet who owns Coco Resorts). We checked in and were greeted by the manager of Scuba St. Lucia. He gave us vouchers for lunch and a soft drink, and split us up into groups depending on whether people were beginners, certified, etc. We were signed up for a "resort course", which includes instruction and practice with the equipment followed by an actual shore dive. We rented a locker for $5 US and stored our possessions. We put on wetsuits (which were optional). We then got into a small group and met our dive instructor, Victor, who has been diving for 40 years. He sat us down with our equipment and familiarized us with it. It seemed like a lot of information but I tried not to be intimidated and just absorbed as much as I could. We practiced breathing with the regulator, how to recover a dropped regulator and clear it out, how to inflate and deflate our buoyancy vests, etc. We learned hand signals for "OK", "Something is wrong," "Out of Oxygen", etc. Then it was time to hit the water.
We were split up into smaller groups. Our group was just the five of us, along with Victor and one other instructor. We were each given weight belts, and the instructors helped to put our equipment on. We walked down to the water (the scuba tank was surprisingly heavy). When we got into the water, we put our fins on. I should have tried mine on beforehand. I discovered now that they were too small. I had a very difficult time jamming my feet into them in the water, but eventualy got them on. They felt precarious, though, as though if I kicked my feet too forcefully they would fly off. Victor asked us to descend in the shallow water. I let all of the air out of my buoyancy vest and descended a little, but wound up bobbing back up to the surface. I was just too buoyant. Victor pulled me under and kept tapping my legs. This was not a signal I knew and I didn't know what he was getting at. I started to panic and subconsciously held my breath (never a good thing). I popped up at the surface and asked Victor what I should do. He said that I was kicking my legs, and that I should just try to remain still. I tried, but still couldn't stay down. I started to get nervous because everyone else seemed to be able to stay down except me. I didn't know what was going wrong. Victor eventually adjusted my equipment and got me to descend. We practiced taking out our regulators,clearing them out, and reinserting them. We also practiced getting water out of our masks, and how to breathe with a buddy if you run out of air.
All went well with the practicing and we swam around a little outcropping of rocks to the reef. I was very conscious of my breathing, and any time I would try to concentrate on something (be it equalizing my ear pressure, taking a photo, etc) I would instinctively hold my breath. I couldn't judge depth perception and had a hard time keeping track of the location of my body. I didn't want to inadvertently bump into coral, etc. I was still too buoyant and could float upwards at any point if I wasn't careful. Eventually I learned that if I exhaled fully and stood stone still, I would descend. I think I would have benefitted from a little more weight on my weight belt. I never seemed to be neutrally buoyant; I was either floating to the top or sinking to the bottom. But eventually I became more comfortable and was able to focus less on the mechanics of diving and more on my surroundings. There was some very interesting tubular yellow and green coral, brain coral, parrot fish, etc. Mike had a small hole in the butt of his wetsuit which was good for a lot of laughs. It was very peaceful once I stopped overthinking things. The light was filtering through the water, I was face to face with fish, etc. There was a really cool piece of coral that looked like a tree. The way it was lit by the sunlight was gorgeous. Unfortunately our photos didn't really capture the scenery. In fact, none of the photos from my camera even came out whatsoever.
I kept checking my depth guage to see how deep we were going. I got to a max of 35 ft. I had to equalize my ear pressure often, but it was always easy to do and I wasn't ever uncomfortable. There was a drop off in the reef, and in the open water Craig saw some fish that he thought were small tuna. When our oxygen was at a little less than 1000 psi, we swam back to shore. I found it very difficult to walk out of the water onto the beach with my sea legs and the awkward weight of the tank on my back, the weight belt around my waist, etc. We got out of our equipment and were looking forward to lunch.
We had the option of doing a boat dive in the early afternoon for an additional $50. It was tempting, but the first dive had really tired us out. We feared that a second dive so soon afterwards might be pushing it. We had had a really good experience thus far and didn't want to spoil it. So we decided instead to have a leisurely lunch and then hang out on the beach until it was time to return to Castries. We returned our equipment and then watched a beautiful sapphire and emerald jewel-toned hummingbird flitting around in the bushes. He even stopped to alight on a branch now and then.
We handed in our vouchers and were seated at a table in the beachside restaurant. All of the tables were equipped with squirt guns, and Nicholas clued into this right away. The servers brought us complimentary soft drinks. The women were dressed in plaid, which we had learned was the traditional style for married St Lucian women. We attacked the buffet, and enjoyed the delicious spread, including pumpkin sweet potato soup, creole aubergine, cheesy bananas, braised goat, cooked-to-order fusilli w/ mushroom and onion cream sauce, creole bread, rice with spinach, and chicken. There were interesting condiments as well, such as spicy banana sauce, the devil's hot hot sauce, and fresh roasted garlic. The food was really delicious, and we couldn't help but go back for seconds. We were stuffed by the time we were through, and were quite glad we hadn't opted for that second dive.
We headed over to the beach and procured lounge chairs. We set up under the shade of a thatched umbrella (Andrea opting for the sun instead). There was a sign hung on the tree trunk which supported the thatched umbrella: "Beach Butler Flag: For food and beverage service, please stand your flag in the sand in front of your 'Cous Cous Hut'" There was a yellow triangular flag on a stick. We could all use a drink, so Michael planted the flag in the sand in front of us. We chatted and had a lot of laughs, and then were joined by a friendly dad and his teenaged son from San Francisco. We were discussing "Family Guy" and trying to explain it to Andrea, who had never seen it. We told her about all of the pop culture references from our childhood, including Cavity Creeps and the Electric Company show. That spawned the topic of children's TV shows from our childhoods, such as the Banana Splits and Zoom. Zoom was a PBS show which was created for WGBH TV in Boston. Although at the time we thought of it as a local show, it was broadcast nationwide. As evidence of this fact, the dad from San Francisco broke into the end credit music "Boston, Mass 02134". It's funny that an adult with a grown child of his own from across the country still has one of Boston's zip code embedded in his memory from a television show that he watched as a child.
After a while with no "beach butler" response, Andrea picked up the flag and started waving it around. It was pretty funny, but it still didn't attract staff attention. We just relaxed and enjoyed the beach and the company. About 15 minutes later, a waiter arrived. He apologized for not seeing our flag (which was not a problem whatsoever, we were just impressed with the novelty of the flag system and wanted to use it). He took our drink orders. Craig and I ordered vanilla milkshakes, which the others had had with their lunch. The milkshake was very refreshing and good. It contained a flavor that we couldn't quite put our fingers on. It had a hint of spice (cloves, maybe) and possibly coconut milk. Regardless of what was in it, it was delicious. We finished our drinks and were about to embark on a walk down the beach when people started boarding our boat. We had thought that we had until 3:45, but they were loading up at 3.
We scrambled to get our stuff together. We had thought that we had had more time, and Andrea had wanted to buy a T-shirt from the dive shop. We all boarded the boat while she quickly ran to pick up a T-shirt. The boat seemed to be waiting just for her, and we kept telling the crew that we were waiting on someone. Other passengers realized they probably had a few extra minutes, and ran over to the bar to get some beers to go. Andrea ran back, having bought a shirt. It turned out that we were also waiting for a crew member, so she needn't have worried. The crew member got onboard and we set off. Andrea pulled out her T shirt to show us. It was a nice dive shirt, but she had picked it out in such a hurry that she hadn't realized that it didn't actually say "St. Lucia" anywhere on it. She was disappointed.
They positioned the boat so that we got a good angle for photos of the Pitons. It was rather overcast so the light wasn't fantastic, but it was still a nice view. We made sure to sit on the shore-side of the boat this time so that we got better views along the way. There were some spectacular cliffs. We passed the oil tanks which really sort of spoil the natural beauty of the landscape. We passed Sandals Regency and could see Tom and Karen's building. We got a good view of a cruise ship as we docked in Castries.
We got into our mini bus and were driven back to Rodney Bay. Andrea, Mike, and Nick came to the Coco Palm with us. We showed them our room. It was really cute, because when the housekeeper had made up the room, she had positioned some of our souvenirs into a shrine for Tom and Karen. She positioned my "one love" volcanic stone necklace in a heart shape. Inside were the two stone turtles, propping up a photo of Tom and Karen. I had to get a photo of it; it was so adorable. Andrea left her stuff in our room and we headed out to get some gelato.
We stopped at the bank and then walked to Elena's. We heard a cheerful "Hey guys, how you doing?" and turned around to find the proprietor of Double Happiness behind us. He was carrying a grocery bag which contained orange juice. Obviously stocking up for another night of Andrea's special rum punch! We told him we had gone diving and that we would see him later in the night. I got a small cup of ginger ice cream and Craig got crispy rum crunch. Andrea and Mike had a capuccino. After the ice cream, I was very thirsty and thought I would buy some water or soda. But when I got up to the counter I saw that they had slushies, which would certainly quench my thirst. I bought lemon for myself and cherry for Craig. We sat at the table and enjoyed the sugary syrupy goodness.
Andrea wanted to hit the mall, and we wanted to check in with Ania and friends, so we split up with a plan to meet back at the room at 6:30. We walked to the village green and chatted with Ania. We told him that we had had a good day scuba diving. Ania said that he had slept most of the day away. We hung out with him on the dock until it was time to meet Andrea. We told him that we would see him later that night, and that Tom and Karen ("the bride and groom" as he knew them) would be joining us. He was excited to be able to meet them. Ronny was excited to take Mike out for some local food. Mike had expected a snack, but Ronny was planning an entire meal. Mike explained that he had misunderstood and that he had to eat dinner at his all-inclusive resort. Ronny seemed disappointed. We told him that we had no dinner plans, and that we would love for him to show us where to get some good local food. We made plans to meet up with him later at the village green.
We walked back to the Coco Palm. We got back to the room and sat in the cold air conditioning. Andrea met us there, they collected their stuff, and headed nback to their hotel for dinner. Craig and I took showers and then headed back down to the village green. There were some Rastas in the shadows, but no one that we recognized. One of them called out to us rather suspiciously, "Can we help you?" We responded, "We're looking for Ronny." There was some scrambling and Ronny emerged from the shadows. Soon Ania appeared as well. We asked him if he wanted to join us for dinner as well. He did, but as a vegetarian he wanted to get some pizza instead. We went to one local restaurant, but they weren't serving. So we crossed the street to the Triangle Pub. A taxi slowed down to let us cross the street. Ronny noticed that the passenger was signaling wildly. It turned out to be Tom. His parents were in the back. He rolled down the window and said "Steph!!" I ran over and gave him a hug. They were headed to Andrea and Mike's resort, and we said we were grabbing a bite to eat and would meet them at Double Happiness.
We got "small" plate lunches at the Triangle Pub. Macaroni pie, plantains,beans, rice etc. Craig and I got it with meat (very boney) and Ronny just got extra side dishes in lieu of meat. Ronny asked if I could buy him a soda, which I did. He came back with an orange soda, though his favorite was cream soda. Ania went over to get his pizza, and asked if we would like something. He recommended their juice, so we said that would be great. Ania returned with fresh lime juice for each of us and a pizza for himself. There was a cute dog named Whiskey (whom Ania kept calling Benji) hanging around our table. When I was done with my food (there was too much to eat) Ronny gave some of the leftovers to Whiskey. At this point the staff started setting up large speakers. We knew what was coming next: Karaoke. We took this as our cue to head further down the street to Double Happiness.
When we arrived there, a Rasta came over and introduced himself to us. He said that he hadn't met us, but he had seen us hanging out with his friends. His name was Judah. "That's Judah, not Judas the Betrayer." I asked Ronny if he had picked out a good CD for me. He said he had just been thinking about that, and gave me a CD by Richie Spice from Jamaica. Ania offered us some of his pizza, but we were absolutely stuffed. After a while, Andrea, Nick, Tom, and Bill and Kath arrived. Unfortunately, Karen had been sick and hadn't come along with them. Mike was back at their room at the Rex St Lucian. His silver chain had disappeared from the room during the day and he needed to fill out a report and search the room with the security staff.
We introduced Tom and his folks to everyone, and we all got some drinks. Ronny gave Andrea a CD, and got out his discman and let us all listen to it. He noticed that one of the foam earpieces from his headphones was missing. Nick realized that he had seen it on the ground between the Village Green and Double Happiness, and ran off to rescue it. Andrea took Kath over to Elena's, and they soon returned with gelato. Mike arrived and the party was complete. Ania presented Tom with a gift - one of his carvings. The one that he had really wanted to give Tom (that he had shown us the first night we met him) had been sold by the other Rastas while Ania was taking us around the island the previous day but this was a very nice second choice. Tom was totally blown away by the gift. Ania explained the significance of the images in the carving. We all posed for a group picture with Ania. Lawrence (the musician) took the photo.
Kath and Bill took a cab back to the nearby Sandals, so that they could then catch the shuttle back to the Regency. Tom decided to stay another hour, and that he would catch the next shuttle. We continued to drink and chat. We took Tom down to the village green to see Ania's "market", Ania gave us each a capful of the "spice" rum. Andrea bought the rest of the bottle from him. He said that in the morning he would get her some local honey and more rum to add to it. We wondered whether she would have any trouble getting a jug full of sticks and spices into the country (she didn't). Tom left at around 11. We all said our goodbyes and then sat back down at Double Happiness for some more drinks.
Andrea and Nick left after a while. Lawrence (the musician, who spends part of each year in Germany) took pictures of all of us on his cell phone. He was pleased to hear that Craig and I weren't leaving just yet. We exchanged contact information with everyone and reflected upon the good times of the past few days. Lawrence said that maybe the next time we came to visit we could all rent a house. Ronny was suggesting camping, saying that we could bring a tent and camp on Reduit Beach and cook Rasta meals. We told them how special their friendship had made the trip for us. Ronny said, "Thank you for accepting us," which was really sweet. We felt that THEY had been the ones to accept US.
As much fun as we were having, I was starting to fade. It was now past 1:00. Ania was talking to me and I felt awful because I could just feel my eyes starting to close. I was trying so hard to stay awake, but eventually he laughed and said that Craig should take me home to bed. We got some final group photos and then said our goodbyes. This time we got hugs as well as the traditional Rasta handpunch and hand over heart. After a hug, Ronny shyly came back over to me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek. We promised that we would stop by the Village Green in the morning before we departed. We left at 1:30 and walked back to the hotel. I was too tired to even properly write in the journal, so I jotted down a few quick notes and then went to sleep.