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Marina, Naomi, and I decided last April to book a trip to St Lucia. When we were deciding where to go, we didn't know we wanted to visit St Lucia specifically, but we did know we wanted a Caribbean vacation. After doing a bit of internet research (e.g. googling "how to select a caribbean island") as well as looking at flight times to each, St Lucia came out on top for us -- it's a very nature-oriented country and is not terribly difficult to get to. It ended up being a great decision.
We flew on a redeye from SFO to Miami with a short stopover then the flight to St Lucia. I had been preparing myself for months for the expected poor quality of day after the redeye flight, as well as prepping the girls for what to expect from me on that day. I'm a sensitive snowflake when it comes to sleep quantity and quality, and I have never been able to sleep on a plane. This level of foresight really helped once we were on the ground. Thanks to M&N for being understanding and accepting lovelies.
Getting off the plane was a wonderfully familiar experience. Exiting into the gusting, hot, and very humid wind with the smell of burning jet fuel and the hustle and bustle of the ramp, unloading luggage, replenishing supplies, adding fuel, draining waste. The realization that vacation starts now, starting with a mini-adventure of navigating a new tropical airport.
Everything went very smoothly from fetching our luggage to connecting with the company that organized our taxi ride to the hotel. After a short wait, we were off, expertly driven by Patrick the cab driver. He was by far the smoothest and most patient and polite driver of any cabbie we rode with on the trip. Thank you Patrick for the nice ride!
Arriving at the hotel, I knew we had made the right choice. Just wonderfully finished throughout, laid out in a manner to build a relaxed atmosphere. The bright and fine sand was close at hand, with the 80F ocean a few steps beyond, any time of day.
Friday - Snorkeling and Street Party
We got some snorkel gear and spent quite a lot of time exploring the hotel beach. There were small fish everywhere, "shrubs" of ocean plants, with large and particularly round sea urchins scattered throughout.
There were a few large rocks and concrete blocks underwater here, in about 8ft of water. I decided to take a big breath and dive down to see if there was anything interesting there. Imagine my surprise when I saw a pair of eyes attached to a very supple and gelatinous body -- a small octopus lived under that rock!
We saw a few more in our time here, one of which was an interloping sea star getting punched away by an octopus arm!
We arrived on Friday afternoon, and the town that we were staying in is known for its Friday Night Street Party. They close off the main road and set up booths selling food, drinks, souvenirs, drinks, and food. There is also a pretty loud DJ/PA set up in the middle of the stretch of road. There are people everywhere, dogs aplenty looking for handouts, local boys looking for their next tourist date, tourists aplenty having a great time. We stood in line for quite a while at what seemed to be the popular food cart (not sure why this one was special and the others had zero customers) and got some food and found a place to sit and eat. We were greeted by several dogs with their puppy dog eyes hoping to be the recipient of a scrap.
We made arrangements with our taxi driver to pick us up at 10:00pm, so we had a bit more than an hour here. It was the right amount of time for us, since we're not the drinkin'-partyin' crowd.
Saturday - Beach and Gros Islet Town
The next day we played more, then walked into town for lunch. It was really neat how everyone here looks to greet one another, and it's more than just a "hello". Several times I was wished a happy father's day or we were wished a blessed day. The St Lucians really exude community in ways that I wish Americans would do more of.
Saturday night was a special buffet with live music at the hotel, and it it did not disappoint. Lovely food and each one a lovely person at the hotel that were always up for a real conversation. It was such a pleasure to be able to learn about the people who worked at the hotel.
Sunday - Jet Skis
The next morning I walked to the local bank to get money to rent jet skis. This is where it really solidified it for me the St Lucian's strong community and care for one another. I felt that the people there really want to connect with everyone, including an obvious tourist like me. It was super welcome.
We rented jet skis from Marcus on the beach. I negotiated the price and time with him a little bit. That part is fun. We paid him his normal rate, but for 40 minutes instead of 30. Marina was immediately comfortable on it and zoomed off with Naomi riding tandem. I did my best to keep up, but kept losing confidence in the steering. Once I shifted out of bicycle steering mode and just let the jet ski be a jet ski, then I started to be able to have more fun. Marina and Naomi swapped driver/passenger duties a couple of times and Naomi seemed to get the hang of it well too!
Thanks Marcus! It was awesome to chat with you the mornings and days that we were on the beach. I appreciate the stories you shared with me and I hope you have great success!
Monday - Boat Tour, Snorkeling, Waterfall, Sulfur Baths, Pitons
Each morning was a really delicious buffet breakfast, with everything from breads and pastries to cereals, fruits, potatoes, plantains, beans, yogurt, porridge, to a wonderful egg/omelet bar.
We booked a boat tour of the west side of the island from Benny's Boat Tours. Nick was the salesperson working our beach, and he was another guy I had some great conversations with to help me understand what life was really like on St Lucia. One thing that I found interesting was that Nick and most others that I talked with generally appreciate the opportunities that the tourism industry is providing to them. This is a really interesting topic to me -- the balance between local culture and tourism income. Conversations with Nick and others helped me to see the virtue of the tourism dollars.
Rasta D was our guide on the boat tour.
He was a top notch guide and MC. He had all of his good jokes delivered just right, and was also open to having real conversations about life on the island, the history of occupation and oppression, or just about also being the parent of two teenage girls. Respect.
We checked out some scenic spots along the coast. First, a cliff diving spot where the diver was trying to get us to commit to money before he dived. We just left that. Then onto a couple of noteworthy bays -- one where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed, and another where some famous Americans live.
We then headed to a snorkeling spot, where I learned about "water ants" allegedly that will bite if in the presence of urine. I think that was just Rasta D messing with me. From there we got back on the boat and headed for the famous Pitons.
We docked a short bit later and got on a bus for a short drive to a 40ft waterfall. This was a bit of a rushed photo-op, but fun nonetheless.
From there we drove to the famous sulfur mud and hot baths. St Lucia, like most of the other Caribbean islands, was formed by volcanic activity. There is still some in the form of geothermal activity in the town of Malgretoute.
This was a very interesting experience, where we covered ourselves in volcanic mud, head to toe. We then got to make decorations using a darker mud. There was something very satisfying about this, even if it was just a silly way of connecting to an ancient version of ourselves. I think it's a powerful feeling.
From there, you dip slowly in the hot baths. This combination leaves the most amazing soft feeling on the skin. It's not something I've ever felt before. 🙂
We got back in the van and drove down a long and windy dirt road to the Paradise Hotel at the foot of the Petit Piton.
We had the most delicious lunch of the trip here. It was served buffet style, which I really appreciated being able to taste absolutely everything. Amazing fish with a garlic sauce, roast chicken, plantains, potatoes, super tasty rice, salads, you name it. They also served amazing fruit drinks. So glad we stopped here.
Cheyne was our boat driver. You can see that he's a man of few words, but a relaxed confidence that makes him a perfect driver and sidekick to Rasta D.
He pulled up in our boat while we were eating lunch. How awesome to be able to get off a boat on one part of the island, take a van around to do tourist things, then get on the same boat in a different spot. There's something about that that is just awesome to me. :)
Cheyne was catching fish from the boat while the group was having a our fantastic lunch. It was fun to see him reeling in the catch. After the meal, we had a little bit of chill time before heading back to the boat on the hotel's dock.
Cheyne did a perfect 720-degree tight turn in front of our hotel beach, where we unloaded and said goodbye!
That evening, we walked into town to find a dinner. We had a good meal at the Golden Taste in Gros Islet.
Then a nice walk back along the water to the hotel.
Tuesday - Beach Day
The next day was just a chill relaxing beach day for us. We were intentional with setting aside days with nothing planned so we could just enjoy the place we were in. I appreciate that M&N also wanted this too. It helped me to feel like it was a vacation.
That night we had a nice meal near Pigeon Island, at a rustic open-air restaurant right near the water. I had an awesome chicken curry there.
Wednesday - Zip Lines
The next day we connected with Jexx, who would take us to a Zip Line tour place. This was a lot of fun, both to do the ziplining and to meet some really nice people -- both the guides and the fellow tourists. Everyone is so nice if we can break through the walls around us.
Back to our hotel, we decided to have lunch there. Lucky for us our favorite waitress Alica was working. We learned a lot about St Lucia and life on the island from her. I always had a list of questions for her when we saw her, and she was so fun to talk with about them. Thank you Alica!
We had another relaxing day the next day, hoping to soak in our final full day on the island. A nice dinner and swim after was a great capper.
The weather started looking interesting for the next day, the day we were supposed to depart.
Thursday - Tropical Storm Delay
The island was hit by a hurricane in 2010 and suffered a lot of damage. This sensitized the population to the possibility of bad weather, and so the airport decided that it should close for the whole day. This was communicated to us quickly by the airline, and flights were rescheduled for the next day. Bonus time!
With a little confirmation with the hotel that we could stay another night, and we were set for some extra time in this beautiful place.
The next day (the day the storm was supposed to hit), the hotel staff were working all day getting the place ready for that night's storm. Beach chairs were stacked up and lashed to the coconut trees nearby. Tables and chairs in the restaurant areas were taken inside. Activities were appropriately canceled. We still had a nice time on the beach, waiting in anticipation for the storm to hit.
The wind picked up through the day and was really howling at times. A maintenance guy knocked on the door in the afternoon to bring all the furniture from the patio into the room.
The night was overall uneventful. The storm's track shifted more southward than the forecasters had predicted, so most of St Lucia was spared from its brunt. There was just minor bits of debris on the roads the next day, which the government was well positioned to clean up early.
Friday - Traveling Home
Our drive to the airport from Jexx the next day was uneventful. It was fun to talk more with him about St Lucian life, his origins, and his aspirations. It really got me thinking about the vast opportunities we have in the US and really got me wondering how we could create more opportunities in places like this. I think by bringing industry or skills beyond tourism would allow countries like St Lucia to thrive in new ways.
The scene at the airport was chaotic. We arrived about 2.5 hours before our flight, and the airport was packed with people. We guessed at a line to join, and were at the building's entrance. We all expected to move slowly like an airport can sometimes get, but this was different. Even after an hour, we had not moved at all. Naomi walked to pick up some food for us (this was a smart move in hindsight), and so we had some fried chicken wings and fries for lunch/dinner. Eventually, some airline workers started letting us know that their computer systems were down and we would manually start checking people in. The one giant line was divided into the two flights that were departing that day, and they started their manual check-in process. This involved hand-writing boarding passes for each passenger, hand-writing luggage tags, etc. The line barely moved. It took about 30 minutes to process 8 passengers. On this full 250 passenger aircraft, that means it was going to take over 15 hours to check everyone in. I think by that point this place would turn into the Donner Party. Lucky for us, after about 30 minutes of manual checking-in, the computer systems came back online and they were able to check everyone in at a normal rate. This was about 4 hours after we arrived at the airport.
The realization that we were going to miss our connecting flight to San Francisco led to a never ending sequence of looking for alternative ways home that weren't going to take more than 24 hours and contact with American Airlines online chat to asking about options.
About mid-flight, the crew announced that we were not going to land in our original destination of Charlotte, NC until about 10pm, which was after the 9pm cutoff there for immigration and customs. Because of this, we were going to divert to Miami, do immigration, then get back on the airplane and continue to Charlotte. This triggered a second flurry of attempts to find a way back to San Francisco, which culminated in the airline putting us on a nonstop flight that left at 7pm that night. So we'd have nearly a full day in the airport waiting for that flight, and get in late at night at SFO.
I was ready to throw in the towel, but then the announcement came that we could change to a different flight in Miami, rather than a forced continuation to Charlotte.
Our remote travel agent Arti came through and found a direct flight to San Francisco the next morning. Armed with that information, we headed through immigration and customs and took our bags to the AA ticket counter. At this point it was about 12:30am. A very helpful agent Malcom hooked us up not only with that flight, which would get us home in time for Marina to go to her graduation party at Kanta's house, but he also comped a hotel room for us to sleep and some meal vouchers. You rock, Malcom! Thank you.
It was a quick shuttle ride to the hotel. Marina doordashed some McDonald's for "dinner" which showed up in the hotel lobby as we were waiting to check in. Bless this child! We had a nice meal then zonked out for about 5 hours until we needed to wake up and get on a shuttle back to the airport.
Saturday - Final Leg Home
We spent our vouchers on a gourmet Starbucks breakfast. The line was long, and we were one of the last people to board our flight. I had to sit apart from the girls, who were next to each other across the aisle. I sat next to a nice couple on a deferred honeymoon. It was fun to talk with them about their trip, suggestions for SF, and about the husband's new career as a police officer.
Exiting the plane, one of the flight attendants stopped me and said "your girls are SO BeAuTiFuL!" I don't know what to say in situations like this, because yes they are! But we can't really say that can we? Can we? 🙂
Anyhow, this was an epic trip with my favorite people. It was great to be able to explore a new place, and feel some connection with the people that live there. I want to do more of this to see if I can somehow be a force of good with these beautiful communities, beyond bringing my US Dollars to rent some time in their paradise.