It was my first visit to St. Lucia, in the fall of 2009, and I was in a cab, heading from the international airport to the Sugar Beach resort, nestled between the iconic and awe-inspiring Pitons that rise up out of the Caribbean.
The song on the radio was a country music tune, with somebody doin’ somebody wrong. The next song was also a country number, something about a dog and maybe a grandma. The third song? Yep, country again.
I didn’t want to be rude so I asked my driver what was up. I thought maybe it was a tape but he said it was a radio station.
“Why country music,” I asked, being in a place where I assumed calypso or reggae might be the music of choice.
“Oh, folks here LOVE country music,” he said. “It’s our absolute favourte.”
He explained it a bit, telling me how the music was seemingly popularized by U.S. army workers who helped build the airport many years ago.
“Folks like more traditional Caribbean music, but country is number one in St. Lucia,” my driver said.
A few nights later I’m in a second floor dance hall near the water in the town of Castries. It’s a Saturday night at Prio’s Palace, rightl above the main market. The place is full of locals and a calypso song is playing. But there’s nobody on the dance floor. Instead folks have taken the jaunty tune as a chance to fill their drinks or catch their breath.
After a minute or two, a hurtin’ tune from Hank Williams comes wafting out of the speakers and folks practically run to the dance floor. A young couple glides around the hall and a guy with dreadlocks and a bright green New York Jets football jersey is shaking like nobody’s business.
Folks here don’t seem to care much for modern country but instead prefer old-timey tunes from folks like Hank Williams or Tammy Wynette, with lyrics such as “I keep drinkin’ and I’m still cryin’.”
Definitely not the scene you’ll get in Rodney Bay, where tourists from Toronto or Toledo down cold Piton beer or passion-fruit margaritas. But that’s what I loved about it.
You forget how florid and vibrant the colours are in this part of the world. The bright purple and pink bougainvillea are outstanding, as well as the red hibiscus and the birds of paradise.
They have giant, flowering trees covered with orangey-red blossoms. I thought they looked like African tulips a bit but the flowers are smaller. Here, locals call them “flamboyant trees,” and it’s a perfect description.
The roadside and garden croton also are spectacular; all shades of deep and fiery reds, lime green to deep green and daffodil-bright yellow. Just lovely, as you can see from this photo below right of the Sugar Beach resort (see a bit more on the hotel below).
Anse La Raye has a fish fry on Friday nights and vendors sell everything from twee twee fish to mahi mahi, plus octopus and seashells baked with seafood and potato. It’s a fun spot with tons to eat for just a few bucks.
You can grab a beer from a cooler next to the food tables or take a bottle of rum from the dozens you’ll find sitting around. When I was there there tables with a drink called “Bambu,” which featured a large-breasted woman on the front and boasts about how it has “uplifting power” thanks to ingredients like ginseng and “horny goatweed.”
I couldn’t resist having a close look, which got the attention of a young woman vendor behind a tray of fish.
“Hey,” she yelled. “It’s strong enough to Bambu you.”
Further north in Gros Islet, Friday night means it’s time for the Gros Islet Jump Up, with hundreds of folks milling about with drinks and snacking on barbequed chicken in what feels like a giant street festival. You can grab a snack or a drink and sit at a picnic table or perhaps drop into the Happy Cock bar.
The Pitons are a magical sight, towering over Sugar Beach. I didn’t get a chance during my visit but you can climb one of them for awesome views. The beach below is fabulous, with world class snorkeling and a wonderfully posh hotel called Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Resort. The villas are amazing and the food is outstanding. The beach is featured in the photo below left.
Sure, you can try a Piton beer. And it’s quite good. But rum is the drink in these parts. Got to try some Chairman’s Reserve last night before dinner. Wow. Deep and rich and mellow and not too sweet. Really, really top notch stuff.
I love the names of the rum shacks on the sides of the road, too; Virgil’s Place. Top Up Here (my fave), Limer’s Bar and the Bush Garden Pub.
Hoping to try some green bananas with codfish tonight. Last night I had pig’s feet in a rich sauce; very meaty and sweet. It’s called, I think, pig trotter’s sous. Terrific stuff.
Also had some soursop at breakfast today; very rich and creamy but not a flavour I’m terribly fond of.
MAIN PHOTO AT TOP OF BLOG COURTESY THE NEW YORK TIMES AND THE TORONTO STAR