Second in a Series:
My wife, Catharine, and I always like to arrive one or two days in advance at the embarkation point of a cruise, partly to explore and get acclimated to a new location, and partly just to plain avoid missing the boat.
We also like to seek out the ship wherever it may be docked, if it’s arrived in port a day or two early. We were looking for the Sagitta, the Island Windjammers’ 24-passenger sailing vessel where we would spend the next week, sailing from St. Lucia to several other Caribbean islands.
And so Catharine and I walked down to the Rodney Bay Marina — on the far northern end of St. Lucia — from our hotel, the Bay Gardens Inn. (Which, by the way, I heartily recommend; it’s small, clean, the staff are friendly and helpful, it has a nice pool, and it’s a relatively short walk to Reduit Beach, a long strand of golden sand on Rodney Bay). Its two sister properties, confusingly named the Bay Gardens Hotel and the Bay Gardens Resort, are more expensive, but as a guest at the Inn, you can use their facilities.
Rodney Bay Marina was filled with yachts, catamarans and sailing ships of all types – including a “pirate ship” and an unusually decorated small boat that delivered fresh vegetables and fruits to the various yachts. It looked a bit like a Chinese junk, with the emphasis on “junk,” but it would never go unrecognized.
Though we failed to find the Sagitta – which, we later discovered, was anchored out in the bay rather than docked at the marina – we did find a nice lunch spot, Elena’s Café, which serves excellent sandwiches and pizza right by the water.
Our First Taste of St. Lucia
We had arrived in St. Lucia on a late Friday afternoon on what was the beginning of Memorial Day weekend back in the States, which may account for the full flights flooding the international airport during what is supposed to be the off season.
Hewanorra Airport is situated on the southern end of St. Lucia, convenient to some of the island’s best known attractions – including the famous Pitons, twin volcanic peaks that serve as St. Lucia’s symbols – but is a 1 ½-hour-minimum drive to Rodney Bay.
While the island is only about 27 miles long, the roads twist and turn up mountains, pass through a lush rainforest, lead across to the busy capital, Castries, and much of the time provide views of St. Lucia’s Atlantic or Caribbean sides, both of which are dramatic in their own ways. (The Atlantic waters are choppier but harbor fishing villages known for their fresh seafood fests; the Caribbean waters are calmer and warmer for swimming.)
Bananas, Battles, and Scams
Our van driver, Lawrence, who provided us with a liter of bottled water for the drive, gave a running commentary on such diverse topics as St. Lucian bananas – superior to those we get in the U.S., and mostly imported to the UK — and the many 18th-century French and British battles over St. Lucia and other Caribbean islands. The French dubbed the island “La Belle Helene,” after Helen of Troy, because it was fought over so much.
While St. Lucia changed hands between the two countries seven times, the British ultimately prevailed there as well as in Grenada, Jamaica and Dominica, thanks in part to Admiral George Rodney (hence the name Rodney Bay rather than, say, Comte de Grasse Bay).
The French influence persists, however, in the local patois that St. Lucians often speak among themselves, which combines elements of French, Spanish, and African languages. (Everyone also speaks English.)
We had pre-booked our drive through the St. Lucia Airport Shuttle, which meant we didn’t have to hassle with taxi drivers at the airport. Lawrence was there waiting with my name on a sign, and recited the special number he had been given to further identify himself. (It seems that some unscrupulous drivers copy the names of newly arriving passenger on signs after seeing the legitimate drivers holding up their own signs, hoping to steer the unwary arrivees into their vehicles first – a creative scam, to say the least.)
Seafood and More Seafood
Our first quest for seafood served on the waterfront began that evening and ended successfully at a fine restaurant in Rodney Bay village called Tapas on the Bay. We shared a mariscos platter of calamari, mussels, shrimp, octopus, fish, and ceviche, washed down with mojitos, which watching the ships pass by. Our friendly server, Suzanne, joked that she was picking up the tab, and then, after we paid the bill, promised to really pay for it if we came back the next night.
Though tempted, we decided to try Jacques Waterfront Dining, formerly called Froggy Jacques because the chef and co-owner is French. (For those who don’t know, “Frog” is the derogatory British term for French people.) While chef Jacky apparently welcomed the Frog designation, he and his wife, Cathy Rioux, changed the name because, she told us, the St. Lucians don’t like frogs (the amphibian kind).
In any event, we had another delightful meal on the waterfront, this time chicken livers in pastry and seafood soup followed by the catch of the day, dorado (a meaty white fish) in a garlic and wine sauce, and a medley of delicious vegetables, including the best red cabbage I’ve ever had. And for the record, there were no frog legs on the menu.
Stress Melts Away
By now, we had settled into the stress-free Caribbean traveler’s life — caressed, as they say, by tropical breezes, warm sun, and salt air. We stopped to watch a group of high school girls in their uniforms playing tin drums with a kind of rhythmic joy that buoyed the spirits of everyone around.
But once we located the rest of our fellow 22 passengers gathered at the Rodney Bay Marina on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we were ready to board the Sagitta and find out what lay ahead for us on the islands of Dominica, Guadeloupe, and Martinique, the heart of the French West Indies.
Next up: Dominica and the Island Windjammers experience.
For my previous post on this trip, see Island Time: Life on an Island Windjammers Cruise
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