Thursday, 24 December 2015

Day 4 St Lucia on Christmas Eve

yeAt 8 am on Christmas Eve we arrive at the port of Castries, the capital of St Lucia which is a very popular stopping place for cruise ships of all sizes.

Google Maps: Saint Lucia is an island nation in the eastern Caribbean with 2 distinctive mountains, the Pitons, on its west coast. It's known for its beaches and reef-diving sites, as well as its rainforested interior with waterfalls such as at Toraille. It's home to quiet volcanic beaches and fishing villages as well as luxurious resorts, and the capital, Castries, is a regular cruise ship stop.

Currency: East Caribbean dollar
Capital: Castries
Population: 182,273 (2013)

St Lucia Island Map

The port is on the west coast towards the top of this map and was formed when the

Harbour Caldera

side wall of an extinct volcano was breached and the sea rushed in. This is in keeping with the island’s volcanic history, namely that it originally was two islands (each formed from volcanos) and in the recent geological past (around 2 million years ago), the islands were joined together by another volcanic eruption. A very readable geological account can be found here.

We are nudged into a small side berth close to the town by a tug

Mooring nudged into place

because there is another large cruise ship already in the harbour.

Harbour Company

This is a comparatively small liner (around 3000 passengers) when compared to that of the

Two cruise ships

previous day but it still dominates the harbour and makes us look like a minnow (you can now play “spot the Minerva”).

Scenic Drive and Sulphur Springs

Enjoy a short panoramic drive through Castries before ascending Morne Fortune for a panoramic view of the city and Castries Harbour. Continue along the East coast through the Cul De Sac Valley and Roseau Valleys, pass through small village communities before reaching Soufriere, home of the Majestic Pitons. Drive through the town of Soufriere and arrive at the Sulphur Springs, the only drive in volcano in the world. Drive right into the crater of the volcano for a guided tour and the opportunity of seeing the bubbling pools of Sulphur.

Depart the Sulphur Springs for a short drive to the Morne Coubaril Estate, here a guided tour will introduce you to the key steps in the making and processing cocoa as well as to the de-husking and roasting of coconuts for food products. You will have an opportunity to sample dry coconut, fresh coconut water and sugar cane juice. You are then invited to a rustic restaurant for a cool refreshment and some relax time before departing returning to Castries Harbour where you will return to the ship.

This is the plan for today and we soon set off in a small bus heading south at a relatively slow pace because the roads are very winding. As with Dominica, the houses and shops we pass are relatively modest

Shanty Town 1

Shanty Town 2 

Shop and House

Shanty Shop

and there are numerous road side shops selling everything from meat through to 

Roadside shops

food and clothes. As with everywhere we go, we are asking questions and here, the questioning moves towards the effect of the European Union upon the export of Bananas to the UK.

Sainsburys Fairtrade Bananas

Bananas are an important crop on the island and many are grown in large plantations. Having had this discussion, we then passed a Sainsbury’s FairTrade sign on the edge of a Banana Plantation.

Banana 2

Here the bananas are within the blue sack which is protecting them from damage as they grow. The island soil is very fertile and crops grow without difficulty.

Breadfruit 1











Here Mangos and Breadfruit grow side by side.

Breadfruit 2

Apparently the island has more crops growing on the trees than they can eat and a lot goes to waste because of the cost of transportation and a change in dietary habit (again Diabetes is an increasing problem).

We were told that the breadfruit had many uses although they preferred the mango but they had too many of both throughout the island. Not being too sure what we would do with a Breadfruit, we turned to the Web which can provide information on almost everything and found a site here which enables you to compare two different fruits of your choice.

Tropical Rain Forrest

The parts of the island we saw were stunningly beautiful and this is obviously another island where preservation of its tropical forests was taken seriously.

18 kms and 45 minutes from Castries we pass through the village of Canaries.

Canaries 001

This is a typical of a small village on the island


and is significant from a British perspective because when the price of sugar dropped in the mid 1950s, the Sugar Plantation closed and a lot of local people left for England to look for work.

Town Houses

Many subsequently sent money back to their families and the number of more substantial houses which we passed was quite noticeable.  Some have sent funds to businesses to be established

Shop Craft

Nearby Anse La Raye is beautiful and looks like we imagined a Caribbean location to look

Next town along coast

with fishing canoes on the beach and blue water out to sea. Unsurprisingly, the area is a mecca for Divers (perhaps a future holiday?).

The most famous image of the island is that of the Two Pitons near Soufrière


and these appear as we head further south. They are the remnants of volcanic plugs of solidified lava which blocked the inside of a volcano. 

Pitons Hotel looking at

One of the most expensive hotels on the island (on the hillside in the above photograph) has been built so that its residents simply have to raise their eyes to look out of their rooms onto the Pitons.

The Sulphur Springs

SS Sign

The Sulphur Springs at Soufrière are the reason we are heading south and they are marketed as “The Drive-in Volcano”. Drive-to might be a more accurate description and if you have visited Yellowstone or any of the similar in New Zealand, although interesting, these are a bit of an anti-climax.

Sulpher Springs Park

The actual Sulphur Springs which tourists see is an area of the crust of a volcano (which collapsed around 400,000 years ago) where is a weak spot.

SS Steam

Water in springs here boils due to the volcanic heat creating plumes of steam.

SS Steam 2

The water is black due to its high content of sulphur and iron (hence the sulphur you can smell as you approach the area) and also contains lots of other deposits (comma, lead, carbon etc). There is also a mud bath here which is cool enough to bathe in.

As soon as we arrived, a guide appeared and took us up to a vantage point (from which these photographs were taken) and she briefly talked about the history of the area and the springs.

Cocoa Production on Estates

Morne Coubaril Plantation

Nearby is the Morne Coubaril Estate which has been an estate devoted to the production of Sugar, Cocoa and other crops for over 200 years, there is a long history of its ownership here. Interestingly, the original French owners had the same surname as my Great Grand Uncle (and others) - perhaps I am vaguely related to the original owners !

The estate is now a regular stop on the tourist trail for those interested in crop production or Ziplining.

Plantation House

The original Plantation House has been maintained and looks just as it should do.

Cocoa Pod

Cocoa pods are growing on trees around the estate.

Cocoa Processing House

When they have been harvested, they are taken to a processing shed

Cocoa Pod Inside

where the cocoa beans are extracted by opening up the pod. The beans were a total surprise being large, covered in a white goo and sticky. They are cleaned, 

Cocoa Pod unprocessed

dried and then eventually turned into the Cocoa we know. The whole process is described here, before this visit, we had never wondered how a bar of chocolate was made.

Cane Crushing

There was also donkey powered SugarCane crushing device nearby showing us how cane was processed.

Coconut deHusking

Coconuts were growing everywhere and we were able to see how a coconut is got out of its outer casing, 

Coconut Husks

this is a pile of discarded outer casings 

Coconut Drying House

which are used for coir production and as fuel for a drying shed.

Coconut Insides

The coconut was chopped open to show us the inside and let us taste some fresh coconut flesh.

As we left the Estate, we saw a superb view of the bay, looking just like we had imagined a Caribbean view to look

Carribean View

The Minerva was awaiting us in the harbour

Boarding Minerva

and at dusk we said goodbye to St Lucia

Goodbye St Lucia

and Mrs Harvey tried a non alcoholic cocktail before dinner.

Christmas Eve Cocktail

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