South Caribbean, Part II: Barbados and St. Lucia.

Written on the Carnival Valor
Sailing from Barbados to St. Lucia, the Caribbean
Evening, December 17, 2014

Tonight, I’m writing from my seat on the balcony. It’s dark out here. I turned out the light, but it’s still lit by the window and room behind me.  I wanted to come out here to enjoy the balcony because it’s very soothing. The sky tonight is a little cloudy, so only a few stars are out here in the velvety warm blackness. We are sailing north once again, having reached our southernmost point, Barbados, today. So being on the port side, our view is simply of the empty expanse of the dark Caribbean sea at night. It is a darkness so complete that it seems like it’s possible to just step off the boat and become enveloped in it.

Carlisle Bay, Barbados.

This morning, we woke up early (or so it felt to me) before 8 am to explore Barbados. The shore excursions that Carnival were offering for snorkeling all seemed to be at this one location that cost too much (like $100) for too little (just an hour of snorkeling and swimming). We also figured out that it was possible to simply swim to the snorkeling location from the beach, as was recommended in the reviews, so that’s what we did. We took a group taxi to Carlisle Bay with other people from the ship, and walked past the resort place they initially dropped us off at to the public access part of the beach. And the beach was really gorgeous. Mama came to really admire it because the sand is so silky white, and the water crystal clear. Unfortunately, the sun was already strong in the morning. We applied sunscreen and headed out for two spots where we had identified boats dropping off other snorkelers barely 100 yards from the shore: one with sea turtles and the other with boatwrecks. Both were great! We saw five turtles on our first trip out, and it was amazing how close they came. We figured out that some of the shore operators drop pieces of bread in the ocean for the turtles to come near, and the turtles know these shenanigans pretty well. Some were fairly small, but one was really pretty giant, more than 50 pounds for sure. They came incredibly close to us, and it felt like I could actually reach out and touch one at one point. We also came to the shipwrecks, which took longer to swim out to. They were about 40-50 feet down in the water, and while not very big (there were three ships about 150-200 feet in length), they were interestingly overgrown with a fair bit of coral and there were lots of fish swimming around there. We even saw a guide dive in one door and out another in one wreck. It was impressive, even if it wasn’t huge, and attracted some pretty gorgeous looking fauna.

Schools of fish surrounding the shipwrecks.

We spent a lot of time snorkeling in the morning, and when I tired of that, I read some books from the library and snacked on some hard-boiled eggs and carrots we got from breakfast while Mama swam around more. I struck up a brief conversation with a family and a grown-up daughter (she was at least like 40) next to us because they were speaking French. I started off with “Bonjour, vous êtes françaises?” “Non, Belgique.” “Oh, great.” But I managed to tell them that they should go to this place for all the turtles, and the other place for the shipwreck. My comprehension’s still there! I managed to learn that her family was on the other boat, and that they were going to St. Kitts tomorrow, and then told her where we were headed, and then she thanked me and said they would enjoy the snorkeling. Conversation a success!!

This sea turtle was so close!
Mama and me!

By the time we were ready to leave, it was high noon and incredibly hot. Looking back on today, I think I was suffering some mild sunstroke. After applying a lot of sunscreen, we also took the blue beach towels we got from Carnival and draped them over our shoulders and heads. It felt stifling sometimes, but was better than directly walking in the sun. We walked halfway back to the terminal, stopping around downtown. We ended up buying several postcards and also coconuts at a coconut vendor. He was a genial guy, and gave us two – one fairly young coconut where the water is still fairly astringent, and then another coconut that was more ripe and better for eating, with very sweet water.  We tried to tell him we had tasted coconuts in Puerto Rico and also in the Virgin Islands before, but it didn’t really seem like he knew what we were talking about. Even after I mentioned it was in the Caribbean, he asked if we meant the US imported coconuts. I don’t even know. I think he would be horrified to realize that South Carolina actually has the palm tree as its state tree.

Our genial coconut vendor.

We got a taxi back to the cruise terminal – Mama telling me the whole way that it really wasn’t a long trek (it was about 5 minutes driving) and that if she and my dad were here by ourselves, they would’ve just walked it. That’s my mom! We stopped at the post office in the  cruise terminal to buy some stamps of Barbados fruits and flora for my dad and also to mail postcard. I wrote one to Steve’s parents which I found very amusing. The postcard features a map of the Caribbean with a big sun over the islands, a rain cloud over Florida (!!) and a gigantic cloud with snow and a scarf around it further inland, centered right over what could be interpreted as South/North Carolina! Pretty funny.

By the time we got back to shore, I felt ravenous and dizzy and tired, so we ate a quick late lunch around 3 pm. I started bringing one bowl to the buffet line instead of using their large plate (which is about the size of an NFL football). Honestly, it’s just predisposed to help you eat way too much food! I then read some stuff before falling asleep for a great nap. Mama didn’t even wake me up preemptively this evening complaining that I’d been asleep for too long. Instead, she had just spent a long time taking pictures of the sunset as we were leaving Barbados around 5 pm, and it was pretty gorgeous. We walked around the ship and did another 9 laps around the very top of the ship. For the rest of the evening, I watched another few games of blackjack, because I think they’re pretty amusing. They deal so very quickly, partially because I think they’re actually trying to prevent card counting. You don’t have enough time to figure out what everyone’s cards are, just enough to see what yours are and figure out what you want to do with it. I’ve never played, but I feel like I’d have to spend like five more years watching games before I’m ready to play myself!

The Carnival Valor ship casino.

It’s pretty early for bed (like about 10 pm) but I think it might be a good idea since we can get up earlier and earlier. I’m just not too tired since I just had a nap ending around 6 pm. Especially because we have breakfast, it feels like we just go from eating to sleeping to eating to sleeping. To walking around and doing some snorkeling. I’ve gotten a great deal of reading done (2 and ½ books completed so far, will be 3 by the end of the night) but the days seem to pass so slowly.

Written on the Carnival Valor
Sailing from St. Lucia to St. Kitts and Nevis, the Caribbean
Evening, December 18, 2014

We were in St. Lucia today, which is a beautiful, beautiful spot. I was a little anxious about visiting because I wanted to get it right – I’ve heard so much about St. Lucia from Courtney, who was one of our instructors at IIT Boeing. He’s originally from St. Lucia, and talked it up a ton before I ever visited. So I researched it a lot and figured out some good places to see, but we would need to bargain for a car. Which we did. It was one of the more comfortable bargaining experiences – I knew the price I wanted off the top of my head and where I wanted to go, and I wasn’t too swayed from it. We ended up paying $150 for a round-trip, and our driver would also wait for us at the two places we wanted to go see: Tet Paul Scenic Trail and the drive-in Sulphur Springs volcano.

Independence Square, Castries, the capital of St. Lucia.

En route out of Castries, the capital town, we gave Emory our driver a good quizzing about St. Lucia and found out many interesting things: this island is 26 square miles and very mountainous. The main export is bananas, which we saw many of en route. The fruits were wrapped in a blue bag to stop the sun from ripening them too far before they could be exported. St. Lucia has a Prime Minister and a Secretary General. It is one of the Commonwealth countries. It uses the Eastern Caribbean dollar, which we came home with two of, which is also used as currency on Dominica and Antigua and some of the other countries. The population of St. Lucia is roughly 174,000 and 60,000 of those people live in the capital Castries. I had been warned about the trip from the reviews, and so took a motion sickness pill both ways going and back, which was a great move. My mom wasn’t affected too much by the trip there, but on the trip back definitely felt ill. The hills are very winding and twisting, much like they were on Koh Phangan in Thailand. I congratulated myself on our decision to hire a taxi as we went to several places and passed small vans full of people who had stopped directly in front of haggling vendors with armfuls of plastic trinkets to sell. Instead, our guide stopped at less populated viewpoints to allow us to take photos, described the breadfruit and papaya and cocoa trees that we passed, and even stopped at a cassava bread stand because Courtney had recommended it to me. We bought a patty of cassava bread with cherries and raisins, and the taste was terrific. It wasn’t too different from any other sort of flour, but I liked the combination, and it tasted hot from the oven.

They blue-bag bananas to keep them from ripening too early.

We passed two towns going down to Tet Paul – Anse-la-Raye and Soufriere. Anse-la-Raye is a much smaller fishing town, and the street that we drove through was comprised of the same sort of small two-story house next to each other the whole way down, some in states of disrepair, but most bright and neat. There were dogs everywhere, and you could tell again which ones were male and female, sadly. Soufriere is a bit bigger and lies in the shadows of the Twin Pitons, mountainous cones about 700 meters tall that just come out of the ocean. They’re St. Lucia’s premier destination, and very lovely to look at. I was really struck by how tall and majestic they were when we stopped outside of Soufriere for a look.

Our first good view of the Twin Pitons.

Our first stop was Tet Paul Scenic Trail, which is so named because it is the highest hill (hence tête or tet) in this area that used to be owned by someone named Paul. It belongs to the community that lives around it. The trail was created and built and maintained by people from the community. The main drawback to it was that it was so short. It boasted a 45-minute trip, but really felt more like 15 going back and forth. We stopped plenty of times to admire the trees and plants and take pictures for my dad. The trail culminates at a ridge which is the highest point between the two Pitons. The Petit Piton is 700 meters tall, and the Gros Piton, despite being named thus, is just 740 meters tall. You can climb up either in about 2 hours and descend in another two. I did read some articles on that, but it wasn’t recommended for just a day visit! We stayed up there for a while taking some great pictures. It is a beautiful, beautiful scene, and straight down the mountains are deep blue seas and a few curves of white sandy beach. We thanked our guide for his time and then drove to the Sulphur Springs Park which is also the volcano park. St. Lucia boasts “the world’s only drive-in volcano”. It’s drive in for sure, but if this counts, so does Yellowstone! We drove not too far from Tet Paul, and then immediately got stuck in a minor traffic jam as basically everyone and their mother also goes to the volcano. You also have to get out and buy some tickets, and the French people in front of us were causing even more of a hold-up as they were using euros. Mama and I decided we would do both the tour and the baths because we had time.

Mama and I with the Petit Piton.

First, the tour. The springs that we saw seemed much like what I’ve seen in Yellowstone before. The ground is rocky and pale-colored, and here and there, large bubbling pools of dark-colored water. Our guide informed us that we were standing within a caldera which exploded many thousands of years ago. It is still fairly active. The last explosion was in 1776, and geologists say they are overdue for another one. The pools are hot, and can get even boiling depending on the phase of the moon, when the tidal pull makes the pools bubble and even geyser up. They even told us the story of a guide named Gabriel who created the largest hole that we could see. About twenty-eight years ago, he was guiding some people around when he jumped up and down to show just how stable the ground was, and jumped straight through. He had second-degree burns from his waist down, but people managed to haul him out and save his life. Since then, suffice it to say, they have not allowed anyone to walk down there around the pools. That pool created by Gabriel is now called Gabriel’s Hole in his honor.

Sulphur Springs!
The volcanic caldera and hot springs.

We then went to the sulfur baths. The smell of sulfur is very strong there, and I can smell it still on our swimsuits. The water is very dark and has a lot of iron oxides, sulfur, and magnesium in it, but I really like the smell because it smells very clean and natural in a way still. We changed quickly, and got out to be among about thirty or so people who were all slapping mud on their bodies and bathing in the direct run-off from the mountain springs. The mud itself came in several different colors, of pale grey to dark grey to charcoal colored. I couldn’t tell that it made much of a difference, but I smeared it on myself anyway, and it made it more bearable to enter the water. That water was insanely hot. It was said to be about 100 degrees Fahrenheit or 38.3 Celsius, but it felt even hotter than that. At first, my feet felt numb after they had been plunged in, but fortunately, it was bearable if you simply sat in one spot and didn’t splash around in the water. It was like running the hottest bath you’ve ever run, but it doesn’t get any colder because it’s all being warmed by the earth and augmented by more and more run-off.

This hot spring was pretty much the hottest bath I’ve ever had.

It only took us about 5-10 minutes to get out of the springs, and after drying ourselves off as best as we could, we came back to the car. The trip back seemed faster, but that usually happens when I fall asleep. It wasn’t a comfortable nap back because the car kept going from side to side… before I fell asleep, we even saw a car that had overturned. People (including our driver) were stopping and taking pictures with their phone to record it. The poor guy had obviously taken a left turn too sharply and tipped over on the left side. It didn’t look like there were any casualties or injuries, however, as we only saw the car. Somehow, I still slept okay after that! After we got back to the boat, we caught a hasty late lunch. I then took a shower and carefully washed our bathing suits. They still have hints of red (magnesium and iron!) in them, which means I’ll have to wait until Greenville to really get them clean. Fortunately, I have another one. And more fortunate still, I enjoy the smell! Unfortunately, they may be flammable?

Tomorrow is St. Kitts and Nevis, where we booked a whole day snorkeling excursion. Let’s hope this one is good! Then it’s St. Maarten, and then it’s HOME to Steve and my sweet puppy Stella!!


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