Lovely St. Lucia

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“Take a look on the left,” boomed the Delta pilot as we approached St. Lucia. Obediently, I craned my neck for a peek. One look at the verdant peaks of Gros and Petit Piton rising directly from the azure sea and I gasped. Suddenly, I was

Lois Lane
and Superman was transporting me – sans airplane — to pluck a flower from beside a lush waterfall near Petit Piton.


“You’ve got me. Who’s got you?” I mumbled, surprising my seatmates, honeymooners Amber and Andy Utt from Hillsville, Va., who were doing some gasping of their own.


The mesmerizing island was a world away from the Windy City of Chicago where my husband and I honeymooned four decades ago. Poorer than church mice, we had commandeered my grandmother’s apartment while she visited my parents in New Orleans.


We thought it was glorious. We fixed our first breakfasts together as man and wife, fed the squirrels in Lincoln Park and spent entire days at the Art Institute and the Museum of Science & Industry. Our one splurge was a romantic dinner at The Pump Room, one of the city’s premier restaurants.


Years earlier, my parents had been more ambitious. Their four-year engagement spanning the Great Depression had one advantage – the ability to sock away a few dollars each month toward a cruise through the Panama Canal.


Prohibition was in full force and nearly everyone in tiny Canton, Miss., — including the police chief — had shown up at the wedding for a taste of my grandfather’s Cherry Bounce, a sickly sweet homebrew. The honeymooners departed in a boozy haze and had reached Texas when a frantic call from my paternal grandfather halted them in their tracks. The struggling department store he and my dad owned in Jackson had gone belly up. So instead of cruising through the locks of the Panama Canal, my parents spent their honeymoon job-hunting.


Today’s honeymooners start off on better financial footing and fly to exotic locales that boggle my frugal mindset. But who am I to say it’s not worth the splurge for two people to begin their new lives in an island paradise where dreams are made? After my brief visit, I understand why it has become known as honeymoon nirvana.


Located just 13 degrees north of the equator, St. Lucia is one of the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles located midway between Martinique and St. Vincent. But it’s not your ordinary “lay on the beach and get a great tan” kind of place. The ecological aspects of the lush 27-mile 14-mile wide island attract couples who want to do more.


St. Lucia truly has it all – the white sand beaches famous throughout the West Indies, mountains to scale, hotels that make the word “posh” seem plebian, fabulous four and five-star restaurants and a lively native night scene. But Mother Nature is the star. She’s kissed the water with blues that artists envy, decorated a lush rain forest with exotic flowers and rare birds, left a volcano hissing but not spewing lava, and created waterfalls and peaks that dazzle.


Travel writers and lovers agree. World Travel Awards voted St. Lucia the “World’s Best Wedding and Honeymoon Destination” in 2002, 2003 and 2004 and two of the island’s resorts – Ladera and Anse Chastanet – have received plaudits from Conde Naste Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Caribbean Travel and Life and A&E Television. In 2000, St. Lucia won the Ecotourism Award for its Heritage Tourism Program and in 2004, UNESCO named the Pitons a World Heritage Site.


Atlantans Angel and David Touwsma – owners of the Limetree Gifts  — are serial St. Lucian visitors. And when David decided to pop the question, he knew he wanted it to be from the top of Gros Piton, a climb they had wanted to make on a prior visit.


“For her birthday, I surprised Angel with a cruise aboard the Golden Princess but she had no clue I was going to propose,” he says.


Prior to their arrival, David had secretly arranged for a water taxi and a guide to take them up the mountain (an island requirement). Angel was delighted. But the couple quickly discovered that the two and a half hour climb is not designed for the faint of heart. “It was strenuous, even for me and I’m a climber,” David says. “Angel was really struggling.”


Two-thirds up the mountain, the couple found themselves scrambling on their hands and knees. “At one point, Angel said, ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore,’” reports David. “I turned to her and said, ‘Okay, let’s quit.’”


“I’m no quitter,” she retorted, resuming her ascent.


Once they reached the summit, David led his bride-to-be to the northern side where the view of Petit Piton is the most spectacular. He asked the guide to take their picture together, then bent down on one knee and proposed. “What you see in the picture is the real deal,” he says. “It’s not a reenactment.”


Needless to say, the descent, though difficult on the knees, went much faster than the climb. The couple married a year later and Angel jokes, “He made me wait six years and climb a mountain before he proposed.”


Another World

Our St. Lucian adventure began the moment we stepped into our van at HewannoraInternationalAirport at the southern tip. The island’s highway system consists of one two-lane road with turns tighter than a corkscrew’s. Though it hugs the circumference, few railings divide the road from the crevice below and our dare-devil driver displayed none of the laid-back qualities of islanders. He neither slowed down nor yielded to oncoming traffic.


Nearly an hour later, the white-knuckle drive ended at our destination — Jalousie Plantation, a luxury resort nestled on 325 acres of tropical forest between the volcanic spires of the Pitons. Well-appointed villas tucked into the hillside make for spectacular views at dawn and sunset and afford privacy without compromising the convenience of the beach, dock, pool, spa and restaurants below.


Our first day began with a guided hike through the Barre de L’isle Trail within the St. Lucia Rain Forest Preserve that occupies 19,000 acres (13 percent) of the island and has 30 miles of trails for hiking and birding. Our personable and knowledgeable guide, Philip Smith, pointed out exotic trees and plants, warned of snakes and creepy-crawlies and identified a myriad of birds. Spotting a bird in flight, he excitedly told us we were seeing the elusive and endangered St. Lucian parrot (Amazona Versicolor) that is found no where else in the world.


The rain forest was surreal, a picture post card of dense greenery punctuated with exotic wild orchids and neon orange and blue birds of paradise. Tired but happy after hike, I was pleased we hadn’t tackled the 566-step climb to the peak of Piton Flore.


Famished and soggy after a light rain, we headed for lunch at Anse Chastanet, a resort known for its diverse outdoor activities and amazingly luxurious accommodations. Recuperation came quickly following mango daiquiris and a fresh fish feast and we plunged into the ocean for snorkeling just off shore. A magical undersea world appeared instantly. Oddly, I was consumed with guilt as I tried to identify a few of the 175 species familiar to St. Lucians. Had I just eaten one of their brothers for lunch?


Excellent scuba diving is accessible off the coral reefs that slope from 20 to 145 feet from the Anse Chastanet’s coastline along with yachting, kayaking, windsurfing and fishing. For the truly hardy, mountain biking provides the ultimate challenge along an ocean-side trail that leads from Anse Chastanet through the mountains to the fishing village of Soufriere.


On the Atlantic coastline, horse lovers can ride bareback through the surf along the Cas en Bas beach led by guides from the International Riding Stables. A new aerial tramway over 1,200 acres of rain forest canopy and mountains offers unforgettable views.


One of my favorite experiences was a trip to FondLatisabCreolePark in Babonneau for a taste of ancient Amerindian customs. Everything in nature was utilized. Cocoa was not only consumed but made into shampoo. Nutmeg cane flavored tea and porridge. Rags were soaked in a brew of alcohol and coconut oil and tied around the head as a headache remedy. Creole music played by a chak chak band on a barrel drum and bamboo sticks served not only to entertain but to ease the arduous task of cutting logs with an unwieldy two-man.


For St. Lucians who strive to keep tradition alive, cassava bread remains a staple. The lengthy process begins by grating the roots of the cassava plant, then squeezing out the juice and rolling, then patting the pulp into flat loaves. They are baked atop macambou leaves placed in an enormous iron pot over an open flame. The result is delicious – a cross between cornbread and crackers.


On the Posh Side

St. Lucia is rife with luxury resorts that are tucked into hills and rise from the beaches. Each has its own persona.  At Anse Chastanet, an open-wall suite dubbed The Royal Palm was named the “Best Room in the World” by Conde Naste Traveler. Other honors include Conde Naste Traveler’s 2005 Gold List and “Best Small, Best Romantic and Best Resort with a View.” JadeMountain, a new resort-within-the-resort takes “luxury” to a new pinnacle.


In 2006, Ladera, Conde Nast Traveler received "Best Hotel in the Caribbean," and “Best Hotel in the World” honors. It’s no wonder. Swings over the Infinity pools in the open-wall suites seem to float out over the edge of the cliff. Dasheene, the resort’s award-winning restaurant, is one of the island’s best known and loved, affords an unimpeded view of the Pitons.


Le Sport at The Body Holiday provides multiple sporting options and an opulent hilltop spa. Discovery at MarigotBay offers a sail-in dock, grocery store, beauty shop, spa and more along with weddings in a unique tree house. Coco Palm at Rodney Bay Village boasts Feng Shui design and reasonable pricing across from one of the island’s most beautiful beaches. Shops and restaurants are within walking distance.


By moonlight, St. Lucia glows with weekly events like the wild and crazy Friday night street festival, the Jump Up. Friday evening fish fries at Anse La Raye draw residents and tourists alike for a gastronomical extravaganza. Rhythmic Caribbean music is an integral part of both. On Saturdays, the capital of Castries comes alive with the weekly market where island craftsmen and artists sell their wares along with local spices and a delectable array of fresh fruits and vegetables.  


Looking Back

I can’t help but wonder “what might have been” if Phil and I had honeymooned in St. Lucia’s paradise instead of Chicago’s snow and ice. Would our memories be any more special? Probably not. But each night since my return, my mind’s eye replays the images of the verdant Pitons, water bluer than an aquamarine stone and visions of Superman scooping me up for a return trip. In my dreams, he resembles Phil.


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