St. Lucia: rainbows while time stands still
Castries, St. Lucia
FROM the leaning rail of a sailboat, you can see what St. Lucia is made of. Sailing south along the western side of the island, we pass fishing villages clustered and perched along the flank of forested hillsides. Straight ahead, the pair of volcanic peaks called the Pitons loom into view. We make a tidy entrance into Soufri`ere Bay, drop sails, and go ashore. Standing on a palm-draped, pebbled beach, with tropical woods at our backs and the bright Caribbean Sea all around us, we've discovered a place where sea and forest are inextricably tied. The rain forest echoes with the songs of birds, crickets, and frogs.Skip to next paragraph
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Fishermen haul red snapper out of the sea, and hill farmers tend soil around their bananas. St. Lucia is a small Caribbean gem, unhurried by time, blessed with rainbows.
St. Lucia measures about 27 miles long and 14 miles across at its greatest width. It is one of the larger Windward Islands. You can see both of St. Lucia's neighbors on a clear day - Martinique lies 21 miles to the north, and St. Vincent 26 miles to the south.
All the qualities of a great Caribbean getaway can be found here: long, isolated beaches, posh resorts, busy markets, endless days of sunshine punctuated by rain showers and rainbows, delicious local food, and warm, generous people.
And something more - the interior rain forest reminds you of a South Sea island. You can look down on a green canopy of tree ferns and vines and, through the mist, half expect some great colorful parrot to appear.
In fact, count yourself fortunate if you catch a glimpse of the rare St. Lucia parrot, considered one of the most endangered parrot species in the world. This pretty bird lives in the island's rain forest, where it mates for life and raises only two young a year. It's found nowhere else in the world, and current estimates indicate that only 100 parrots remain on the island today.
I thought I knew the meaning of green mountains, having arrived directly from my home state of Vermont, but St. Lucia gives an exalted definition of green. If you were to float high over this island, you'd see an emerald framed in Caribbean blue.
The mountains seem to go on forever, one after the other, disappearing in tiers of multihued peaks. A north-south spiny ridge blanketed by tropical woods winds through the island's interior, culminating in the peak of Mt. Gimmie (3,145 feet).
Misting showers - islanders call it ``liquid sunshine'' - turn everything the color of wet moss and make great rainbows. St. Lucia gets about 150 inches of precipitation yearly in the rain forest proper. The rain cascades down the mountains and flows into rivers cutting their own valleys.
``A giant stroked the land with his fingers making ravines to the sea,'' one observer said. Producers of the movie ``Superman II'' were so captivated by St. Lucia that they chose the island as the paradise Superman flies to to pick a flower befitting his love, Lois Lane.
Authority over St. Lucia has seesawed between the French and English for close to 200 years. Britain finally took possession of St. Lucia in 1814, yet the infusion of French culture runs very deep. While English is the official language, most islanders speak a patois of Creole French.
The best way to see St. Lucia is by car. You'll need to purchase a temporary Caribbean license for $12 (US), and don't forget to drive on the left. You can, of course, hire a guide or taxi, and it might be recommended, as no good road maps exist and it's easy to get lost.