Keith left me to my own devices for much of Sunday, and I was able to get acclimatised. Although it was only a six day trip, no-one in St Lucia was going to work when they didn’t have to. I rose very early, the jet lag kicking in. Most of my travel had been within Africa to that date, so I wasn’t as used to jet lag as I am now. It was getting light and I watched TV till it was sensible to move. Then I went out on the terrace and saw the most magnificent view.
I had my own personal space up here and in front, a vista across Castries Harbour to the bottom end of Morne Fortune, the massive hill that dominated the south side. Below, an intricate series of small inlets had loads of activity – a couple of pleasure cruise boats were moored at the little dock, a three-masted yacht was anchored mid harbour, partly obscuring the large bar behind. To my right a small patch of mangrove had been protected during the construction of the hotel, and a bunch of noisy egrets were fighting over the best branches for roosting and nesting. I love this view so much, not just its tropical beauty but the mixture of natural and human activity. Almost every morning I would take breakfast downstairs and while dabbling with my poached eggs see a procession of two or three large cruise ships pass the end of the bay and a stream of commuters wind down the hill on the opposite side into town.
There was a little boat builder’s yard to the left which was always busy, and of course, the traffic along the gravel track coming to the hotel. Behind the hotel, less than half a mile away, lay the second airport of St Lucia, for the prop engine planes that fly regionally; American Eagle, Caribbean Express and the Eastern Caribbean’s favourite, the notorious Liat. Originally meaning the Leeward’s Islands Airways Transport, more commonly it was referred to as Leave Island Any Time or Luggage In Any Terminal. But for many islanders it was the most frequent and easiest way to island hop. All day and night the little planes would take off and land, and at night, the sight of large landing lights approaching the hotel from a few feet above you was scary, and reminiscent of scenes from Casablanca in reverse. Many of the crews would overnight in the Auberge and my thin scientist’s rags compared unfavourably to the crisp pressed uniforms of pilots and cabin crew.
I decided to do a walk around town. A lazy Sunday in Castries was great – no cruise ships visiting, I almost had down town to myself.
Only the well-dressed church goers in their Sunday Best, from the little babies to the great great grandmothers were turned out in their powder puff dresses adorned with ribbons and jewels and crowned in elaborate hats. I explored the little grid iron streets, the market place, the quaysides around the harbour, and up round the back of the cricket pitch to a solidly built Anglican church on a hill. When I reached back to the northern side of the harbour, I went beyond the hotel to a football pitch and proceeded to walk all the way round the airport runway. On the far side, less than 100 metres away, were some beautiful palm trees and a classic beach beyond. But to get to it, you had to circumvent the airfield, a walk of nearly a mile and a half. It was worth it. I got out in amongst the trees and took my sandals off. The cool wet sand tingled in between my toes as I walked along the surf. Plenty of locals and tourists were about, swimming, playing, making love under the trees. And half way along, a bunch of taxi men waited for the next plane in from Barbados or Antigua or San Juan or wherever, biding their time in the shade of the trees, playing dominoes or drinking sodas.
I continued beyond the beach to the hill on the headland. On the winding road up the hill, I passed by some of the more exclusive houses, nestling in flowering trees of every type. At the top, a low lighthouse in red and white guarded the entrance into Castries Harbour – Vigie, which also gave its name to the district I was in, the hill, and sometimes the airport below. Again the view was wonderful, I could now peep around the Morne and see down the west coast a few more miles. And to the north, I could see this magnificent Choc Bay in all its glory. It housed a few resorts but mostly was open beach, and in the centre of its two mile sweep was Rat Island, with another exclusive residence. Beyond I saw a more rolling landscape than the high hills surrounding Castries, another headland similar to Vigie and on the horizon, in the haze, the outline of Martinique, a mere thirty miles from here, but a world away in history and culture.