Liming – The Emerald Isle – Soufriere and Scott’s Head

The last stop of the day was at Soufrière.  The name is common in the eastern Caribbean as it is French for Volcano.  Many of the islands I visited had been influenced by French at certain times and the Creole language, which was especially widely used in Dominica and St Lucia, derived many of its words from the French.  This Soufrière was close to a bunch of sulphur springs which blew bad egg smells over the town from time to time.  We were here because a marine protected area had been set up.  It was managed mainly by Al Philbert, an old fisherman himself, and was guarding the finest dive sites and the only extensive snorkelling reef in Dominica.

Soufrière Bay, within which the reef sat, was protected from the rough waves from the channel by a small hill called Scott’s Head, connected to the rest of Dominca by an isthmus, the same isthmus I could see from my hotel room in Roseau.  From a distance, I could see it was low and guarded by only a few palm trees, but I only got the sense of how thin it was when Jullan rumbled the truck over the cobbles to the foot of the hill.  Looking back, the berm was less than thirty feet wide.  To my left was a calm bay with myriad colours of reef and a number of snorkellers.  To my right, the open sea was bashing against the pebbles and you could see nothing beneath the white surf.  The whole isthmus was looking vulnerable from breaching by the first big storm.  Indeed, Al had told me how it had got narrower over the years, the palm trees which had once protected its whole length had been reduced to a few at the town end only, and the vines had been cut back so now it was just bare rocks.  But he also said that although they knew it was getting narrower, the evidence seemed to suggest that it was happening from the sheltered side, and not from the rough channel waves.

 We climbed to the top of Scott’s Head.  Jullan had insisted he could drive up half the hill, but the narrowness of the ridge we climbed and the lack of turning places at the top made me feel his driving skills were not up to it, so I got out the van while he was still arguing at the bottom of the hill.  As with many coastline hills in the Caribbean, this was topped by a fort, Fort Cachacrou.  It jutted out beyond the generally straight coastline of Dominica so you could get at least  a 270 degree view of any French or English misdoings, depending on which of them had the island that week.  Now it served as a fabulous viewpoint, a light beacon and liming joint.

 The town of Soufrière below was remarkably similar to its namesake in St Lucia, nestled in amongst the green mountains, fringed with palm trees and with brightly coloured fishing boats on the beach.  It poured with rain when we approached, the wonderful view of the head was obscured for ten minutes and all I could see was a solid sheet of water as it fell from the sky.  Mud and gravel were washed from the backstreets out onto the beach and muddied the waters.  We took shelter in the Marine Protected Area headquarters and chatted to some of the workers there.  As quickly as the storm had started it dissipated and we were able to get some lunch.  Jullan ate nothing but accepted a drink from me.  I tried Seamoss for the first time.  A curious plant clinging to rocks in the intertidal zone, the juices are extracted and sweetened with cane juice to make a syrupy, almost milk shake like drink.  Like Mauby, it has a curious aftertaste, like a childhood medicine, but all in all it is very refreshing.

Liming – On the Edge – Exploring St Lucia

By the Wednesday, we were getting tired.  We saw little hope of moving the St Vincent project on, and Keith persuaded me that I should go and meet with my counterparts in Kingstown, the capital, so he booked me on a Liat flight the next day.

Air Jamaica plane taxiing at Vigie Airport

Air Jamaica plane taxiing at Vigie Airport

Before I went, he wanted to show me more of the island, so far I had seen only the north west side, the busy capital of Castries and the tourists traps around Rodney Bay.  We slipped out of work the Wednesday lunch time and headed south along the coast.  Past the massive oil tanks in the deep bay harbour, we went through the banana growing country that helps sustain St Lucia’s economy.  Every single bunch of bananas was enclosed in blue plastic bags to keep pests away, but these bags also littered the ground and watercourses for miles around.  We went past Marigot, where the original Dr Doolittle film was shot.

Doolittle Bay

Doolittle Bay

We went through a couple of fishing villages, Anse le Raye and Canaries, and I began to see how under the veneer of paradise, there was a developing country shouting to get out.  Although not the mud huts of Africa, nevertheless, these dwellings were small, ill-repaired and lacking many basic services.  From above the village, the clusters of tin roofs look like any barrio in Cali.

 At every corner we passed people by and Keith would invariably toot his horn or be waved at.  I think he knows everyone on St Lucia.  It is hardly surprising, these islands are so small if you live on them for a few years you are bound to know most of its inhabitants.  Keith had also been a fisheries officer for the St Lucian government before moving on to OECS which meant he spent a lot of time in these little villages talking to the fishermen, often the kingpins of society in these places.

 We circled a few headlands and went through a couple of forested areas bedecked in tree ferns and lush green shrubs, before we came down into Soufrière.  Once the capital of St Lucia, this small gridiron town sits in amongst one of the most dramatic settings of anywhere in the Caribbean.  Not only does the river valley Soufrière snuggles into emanate from the largest mountains on the island, clad in tropical rain forest, but, to the south of the town, two huge conical hills rise out of the sea, known as the Gros and Petit Piton.  Closer and more dramatic, the Petit Piton appears more challenging, tapering uniformly to its peak, but together they give St Lucia a potent environmental symbol.  Every tourist brochure contains their picture, as do the T-shirts, shot-glasses and T-towels you can buy, and even the beer is named after them and displays their twin peaks on every bottle.

 In the little town below, we met up with Kie Wolf, at the time the manager of the Soufrière Marine Management Area, a sort of co-operative National Park.  He showed us round his new headquarters, only about half finished at the time.  We could hardly hear because of the hammering that was going on, and the noise of a drill sergeant who was training National Park staff in the car park below.  We stood and watched this huge man ridicule his pimpled young recruits.  RecruitsHe barked out orders to this group of youths in the car park surrounded by the old men of the town, several vendors and Keith and I.  The youths became easily confused, turning right when they should go left, bumping into each other, yet all the time trying to maintain their dignity with solemn concentrating faces.  Keith and I could hardly contain ourselves.

 A small red plane circled out in the harbour mouth before coming into land on the water.  It taxied up to the beach, and some fishermen went out to pull a rope the pilot was throwing out.  The landing caused great interest and most of The way to Commutethe town seemed to come down onto the promenade to watch what was happening.  The seaplane pilot disappeared into the back streets for a few moments before reemerging carrying a couple of groceries.  He started the plane up, withdrew his rope and circled around to face the open sea.  With a lot of noise and spray he lifted the plane into the air and it flew out of Soufrière’s life again.

 I took a quick look on the beach, where a small armada of brightly coloured fishing boats were hauled up on the pebbly beach, tied to swaying palms.  The whole place seemed so tranquil, the true Eden, so stable.  The following year, the whole front of Soufrière was destroyed by Hurricane Lenny.  The beach was washed away, many palms were cut in half, the new centre of the Soufrière Marine Management Area was washed out.  It showed how below the devil-may-care attitude the tourist may see in the Caribbean, an attitude cultivated by the holiday brochures, people lived on the edge in these islands.