St. Lucia – Castries

The Magellan docked at breakfast time in the port of Castries, joining two other cruise ships that had already found their moorings. It was going to be a busy day for the inhabitants of the 2nd largest island in the Windward Islands.

St. Lucia was discovered by Juan de Cosa who travelled with Columbus, but it is thought that the first European to settle on the island was a French pirate called Farncois Le Clerc, better known as Jambe de Bois or ‘Wooden Leg’. The island was alternately French and British for the next 150 years before being ceded to the British in 1814, it achieved its independence in 1979. They sensibly drive on the left and speak English as should all civilised nations.

Castries has a chequered history having been destroyed by fire on three occasions; 1805, 1813 and more recently 1948. It is probably well over due for another one.

We had selected this port as a chill-out day so headed to Vigie Beach as soon as disembarkation began at 8.30am. The walk took us through the town and along the island’s airstrip and took around half an hour. The beach itself was a narrow strip of silver sand fringed by trees and ran along the edge of the airstrip and a cemetery.

We bagged a prime spot under a large leafed tree, leaning precariously over the beach and providing essential shade, we had the added interest of being at the start of a long rectangular section of the graveyard. Despite being within 500m of a small hotel the beach was relatively deserted, save for a few souls occasionally passing, enjoying the warmth of the sea between their toes. Apart from the obvious locals most that passed by were English, either staying in the nearby hotel, or on one of the cruise ships. From a couple of them we learnt that the graves behind were Commonwealth war graves. We spent the entire morning sitting under the tree, paddling in the waves and chatting to those passing by. As a finale to our morning we strolled down the beach until we lost interest then did the same up the beach, though on this section Sue made a purchase at a small beach stall.

We chose to vary the route back to the ship for lunch by following a road that took us over a small hill and through the suburbs of Castries. The roads seemed very busy, but drivers seem very aware of pedestrians, always giving you a wide berth and stopping on every occasion when you wished to cross a road.  The centre of the city was a hive of activity, filled with the noise and bustle that is more often seen in a much larger metropolis. A small river runs through the shopping area, but this is like an open sewer, filthy black water with debris of all kind floating downstream, it doesn’t do the city credit and certainly not in keeping with the surrounding backdrop of lush green hills dotted with expensive looking properties. We also passed a few unfortunate beggars on our way back to lunch, such a sad and thought provoking comparison of what the next few hours would hold for each us. There but for the grace of God go I, it doesn’t sit well not to be a good Samaritan.

With appetite satisfied we again joined the chaos of Castries city centre (the ship was very conveniently berthed less than 50m away) and navigated our way through a maze of dark narrow passages between dozens of stalls selling a mix all sorts of bright and touristy thingies and fruit and veg. Surprisingly we came across a couple of fellow passengers buying mangoes papaya, surely they can’t still be hungry.

We came across the Cathedral by chance, outside a side door there was a very large crowd of people all smartly dressed in red and black and it sounded like a service was taking place. Being ever inquisitive  we stepped though the door to discover that every seat was occupied and the priest was indeed giving a sermon. Asking a smart looking gentleman leaning against the door we discovered that it was a funeral, sheepishly I suggested that he must have been a very popular person, his reply was, “Maybe.” Moving to the front of the building and main entrance we discovered that the associated square  was also full of people as were all the side streets. There was a large group dressed in football kit. Speaking to a lady, similarly dressed in red and black, we found out that she had been born in London and moved to Antigua six years ago, she explained that a ‘big’ supporter of the islands’ Labour Party (colours: red and black) had died and he was also involved heavily in the local soccer team. She had never seen such a large gathering before. Apparently, many of the people had never met the man, but wanted to pay their respects, I guess he must have been very well respected.

We looked for a dress for Sue but despite roughly a million or so possibilities we drew a blank, none seemed to satisfy her clinical observations, however, it didn’t take me long to stock up on my small cache of local beers, it pays not to be so fussy.

We were back on the ship for 4pm as the St. Lucia Dunnottar School for children with developmental disabilities were performing in the theatre. They were a small calypso band of 8 children and a very gifted teacher who had trained them to produce some beautiful rhythms. Their very proud mothers had accompanied them and could be seen happily dancing in the wings to their very catchy and popular tunes. Needless to say they were a terrific hit with our fellow passengers and brought about a standing ovation. The look on the children’s faces was a treat to behold as we clapped and clapped. I am sure the money collected after their performance was quite considerable and will go some way to help maintain the school and possibly buy some more musical instruments.

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