When I arrived in St. Lucia following a frigid early winter in central Canada, I was thankful for some sun, sand and sea before venturing on to dear Dominica. My beloved adopted country was in the midst of a challenging recovery, following complete devastation caused by Hurricane Maria a few months earlier. Although I was suffering from a heavy chest cold and a back injury, this lovely island, rightfully nicknamed the ‘Helen of the West’, offered all the ingredients for a reasonable recovery before heading to my cherished, but damaged Nature Island.
Admittedly, I had occasionally journeyed to St. Lucia during my 20 years in Dominica. Although I enjoyed each brief visit, I had never stayed in this beautiful country for more than a few days at a time.
However, when planning my Caribbean return from Canada, I intuitively felt that St. Lucia would be a good place to acclimatize and recuperate from a chilly northern winter. Rest assured that I am thrilled to have followed my instincts, as I was never disappointed during the entire two weeks of my visit.
Looks aside, this scenic island repeatedly charmed me with its genuine hospitality. I was constantly amazed by sincere offers of assistance, cheerful greetings of welcome from complete strangers and spontaneous hugs from adults and schoolchildren alike.
From the moment I landed, my Airbnb host portrayed heart-warming traits that I found consistent in all Lucians that I encountered during my visit. When my flight from Barbados was delayed for several hours due to unusual inclement weather, Christian offered to wait and pick me up at the airport even though the arrival information was not yet confirmed. It was getting late by the time I got in, but one text later, I was whisked away to my cheery self-contained and secure apartment near the renowned village of Gros Islet.
From this convenient location, I took a local bus to the nearby Rodney Bay Marina the next morning. Although not a sailor, my mission here was two-fold: to eat a wholesome and energizing breakfast and then search for boats that might be taking supplies to Dominica. One of my intentions was to purchase some badly needed items such as slip-ons and umbrellas. I was hoping that a local boat could take my package for pick-up by my intended on-island distributor: Tina Alexander of Lifeline Ministries Dominica.
That first day in St. Lucia, I surveyed the busy marina, asked a couple of questions, and did not get too far. Travel exhaustion was setting in, so I contented myself by ordering a delicious omelette from the bay-side Cafe Olé. I savoured the scrumptious meal and breathed deeply of the refreshing tropical breeze. I felt increasingly ‘at home’ when the resident house-cat situated herself in close proximity for pats and kitty-chat. Despite feeling ‘under the weather’, the congenial surroundings lifted my spirits and no doubt contributed to a quicker recovery from the ‘flu!
For the next two weeks, I delighted in plentiful R&R. I didn’t travel too far from home base: no need when I had the vibrant village of Gros Islet a stone’s throw away, nearby shopping malls in Rodney Bay and two beaches an easy 15 minute walk in different directions. As I had participated in plentiful tourist activities on my previous visits over the years, I felt no pressure in partaking of anything but unwinding on island time! And with spectacular weather and warm temperatures, I was definitely in the right place to rest up for my anticipated visit to Dominica.
As I was able to prepare breakfast and evening meals in my apartment, I usually enjoyed lunch in a nearby restaurant or cafe after daily outings. In Gros Islet, I ate healthy meals at The Ancient of Days vegetarian restaurant. With its alkaline food and beverage offerings, I knew that my menu choices could only enhance my recovery from that persistent Canadian cold. The added bonus was meeting there twice with Teetee, a friend from Dominica. She and her husband had recently relocated to St. Lucia after their home was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria. She relayed their harrowing encounter with the category 5 cyclone and I appreciated her positive outlook, despite having been through such a traumatic experience.
Sometimes I went in search of a little sweet treat; at least twice I found myself at the beach bar of the Sandals Grande St. Lucian for a bowl of their delicious ice cream. When I shyly informed the wait-staff that I was not a guest, I was nonetheless
warmly welcomed and on one occasion even given a hug, with enthusiastic appreciation for patronizing their establishment, and by extension St. Lucia!
On Saturday mornings, I did the West Indian thing, and ‘took a lime’ (hung out) at a popular snackette in the village of Gros Islet. At ‘Nancy’s’ on the main road down the village towards the sea, I inhaled codfish sandwiches, fried plantains, sorrel juice and cocoa tea (local hot chocolate). It offset my wholesome lunches at The Ancient of Days, but I didn’t feel too guilty as I chatted amiably with residents who commiserated about the situation post-Hurricane Maria in Dominica and also told me about their family members in Canada!
As I was craving some fresh fish, I did seek out the highly recommended Flavours of the Grill in this village. I was not disappointed. As you can see in the
photo, my meal of yellow fin tuna and sides was more than substantial. On grocery shopping days at the mall in Rodney Bay, I enjoyed a flavourful quiche and coffee at La Bonne Baguette Bakery and Cafe. It would be impossible to not eat well in St. Lucia!
Once on the road to recovery from the ‘flu, I spent a revitalizing day at nearby Pigeon Island National Park. In this locale, I prepared for
the mountainous terrain on Dominica by trekking up its steep paths to the look-out points on its twin peaks. The area is filled with fascinating history, and I spent a few hours examining the ancient ruins of the 18th century fort. But I was always distracted by the spectacular views of the
northwest coast of St. Lucia, and was even able to catch a glimpse of the famous Pitons in a southwesterly direction when the clouds lifted later that morning.
Although I only spent one full day in Castries, the capital city, I will never forget the extraordinary assistance I received at a travel agency down a side street near the bustling Carenage/ cruise ship port. A knowledgeable consultant confirmed my booking on the Express des Iles ferry to Dominica, provided me with a ticket on the spot and ensured that I had the proper paperwork so that my journey would (hopefully) be a smooth one.
Then a helpful travel counselor directed me to Derek Walcott Square. In this
beautiful urban park, I admired the prominent sculpted bust of this renowned St. Lucian poet and Nobel Laureate for
Literature, who passed away last year. It brought back memories of teaching some of his poems to CXC students at Orion Academy in Dominica, as well as having had the privilege of attending his key-note address at the first annual Nature Island Literary Festival in 2008.
As this restorative visit was bound to come to an end, I spent my last couple of days purchasing items for people in Dominica. I resumed my search at the Rodney Bay Marina for a boat that might be headed for the Nature Island in order to save time and postage. As it turned out, all who had sailed over were currently at anchor here. I was fortunate to have met the captain of the 60′ catamaran Flying Ray (referred by Dominican friends, Simon and Wendy Walsh) and also with Sheron Wahl of the S/V Ballerina,who had recently returned from relief runs to Dominica. I thank them for their assistance to the Nature Isle in its time of dire need.
In the very early hours of a drizzly January 24th, I boarded the Express Des Iles ferry at Castries with great anticipation of a reunion with my beloved Dominica, no matter what its condition. In five short hours, I would be back in my adopted country. I could barely wait!