Sunday, January 17, 2010

Escaping the New England Winter

One of the only things that makes New England winters semi-bearable for me is planning tropical vacations to escape them, even for a little bit. This year, we decided to spend a week in January in St. Lucia, a small island in the West Indies, just south of Martinique and north of the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago. St. Lucia is a very small island - 15 miles wide and 27 miles long - created out of volcanic rock. It has an interesting history, having been established by the Arawak Indians, but colonized and battled over by the French and British for hundreds of years. It only recently gained its independence from the British in the late 1970s. The country's official language is English, but most citizens also speak a French patois.

One of the reasons we chose St. Lucia is that it is one of the less-traveled-to islands in the Caribbean, and is therefore less-developed in the tourist sense. Even then, there are lots of big resorts like the Hilton, Sandals, etc. located in certain areas. We chose to stay away from all that and rented a two-bedroom apartment in Marigot Bay at Villa Pomme D'Amour.

There is both lots to do and nothing to do in St. Lucia depending on what you're looking for. With the help of our hosts, Josee and Pierre, we mapped out day trips to the beach, with plenty of good snorkelling, as well as short hikes in the rainforest. One of the things St. Lucia is best known for is its live volcano, located in Soufriere. It's a collapsed volcano, like Yellowstone, which means you can walk right into the caldera. Since it's live, but not active (yet!), you can safely take a tour through the volcano and see the sulphur bubbling up in the crater.

The other well-known feature of the island are its two Pitons - two sharp peaks formed by volcanic rock - that tower over the Caribbean. You can hire a guide to lead you on the five-hour hike to the top and back, if you so choose. Tempting, but we sat that one out this time, and kept our focus on relaxing on the pristine beaches and exploring different towns around the island.

Another wonderful highlight for me was our visit to the local market in Castries, where we found freshly caught tuna and lots of local fruits and vegetables, including the biggest avocados I have ever seen. For local food, rotis and meats with creole sauces were super tasty. There is lots of fresh seafood on the island and it's worth trying the many different kinds of sauces. But if you're vegetarian, be warned - not tons of variety if you are going out to eat. Cooking at home was another story - there are plenty of great options and the markets to choose from and we concocted a bunch of great dishes at home.

If you go: 1. Rent a car! The roads are windy and you have to drive on the left side, but it's worth it so you can see the island at your own pace. 2. Save time to explore as many beaches and coves and bring snorkel gear wherever you go - we saw lots of great sea life, including turtles, clownfish, squid, and many different corals. 3. Be sure to check out the towns of Soufriere and Castries - they are really different from one another, but appealing in their own ways. In Soufriere, you see mountains, beaches, and volcanoes all at once. In Castries, the capital of St. Lucia, you can get a flavor for local city life and like I said, the market is a must. Hope to see you there someday!

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