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St. Lucia Is Rich in Color, Culture, Crafts and Community

So there I was, at the Sulphur Springs Mud Bath in St. Lucia, being smeared with green mud all over my body: two layers first to exfoliate, then sprinkled with black mud, a guide making designs in stripes and handprints as if my arms, face and chest were a canvas. Allegedly the mineral waters into which we were submerged washed off 10 years along with the mud. I’m pretty sure my husband didn’t notice any difference.

Thus began our full-day adventure aboard the Carnival Sailing Party Cruise “Castries to Soufriere Adventure” outing. Next stop: a “refreshing” dip in the Toraille Waterfall. The only reason to do this is for bragging rights, and you have to recover from the chill before loudly exclaiming, “I did it!” But oh yes, that felt good. The snorkeling we did later—after a lovely buffet and rum punch—had its own appeal: colorful fish in much warmer waters. I did feel a tad guilty, however, that I had just eaten a relative for lunch.

After the various exertions, just sailing back with the warm breeze on my weary body, lazily gazing at the looming twin peaks of the Pitons—the iconic symbols of St. Lucia majestically claiming their dominance of the horizon—I thought, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” But this is St. Lucia, so of course it does.

Another landmark event on the island occurs every Saturday: the Castries Market, full of bustling crowds and local color. Fruits, fish, flowers. Hats, handbags, hot sauce and housewares. People flooding the rows and rows of stalls inside a huge warehouse-type building and then street after street of vendors plying their trade. Bedding, bangles and baked goods. T-shirts, trinkets and toys. Loud music from multiple speakers, all vying for attention. Clothes, condiments, crafts and candy. In other words, everything you could possibly ever consider buying—and a wide variety of items you never would. Not to mention the many items—mostly edibles—that are not even recognizable.

Mostly locals coming to shop for the week—or given the overwhelming variety, maybe the year. A symphony of sounds —patois of voices, ringing of bells, clacking of merchandise—pulsates with an energy that is hard for any onlooker to resist. So many brightly colored umbrellas shield vendors from the sun that from above the view resembles a beach scene more than a marketplace.

A shopper examines merchandise at the Castries Market in St. Lucia.
A shopper examines merchandise at the Castries Market in St. Lucia. (Photo courtesy of Victor Block)

When we stopped at a stall to buy some hot sauce, the owner offered us a taste of some spiced rum she makes. Of course, she was hoping to sell us a bottle, but since after one sip, delicious as it was, I already was having trouble putting one foot in front of the other, we regretfully resisted. No easy task.

Many similar alcoholic options are available at yet another of St. Lucia’s must-do activities. The Friday night Jump-Up in Gros Islet dishes out generous servings of drinking and dancing, jammin’ and jivin’ to tourists and locals alike.

But here I must digress for a little nostalgia. When I was last here in 1995, what had started as a local gathering some 25 years earlier had evolved into a rollicking street party with body-to-body guests enjoying congenial sensuality.

Tourists with cameras around their necks—now smartphones in hand—moved as freely as the native vendors who were dispensing barbecued chicken and beer. Although visitors were welcome and made to feel an integral part of the celebration, it remained an authentic island happening that hadn’t deteriorated into a commercialized venture staged mainly for tourists—at least not yet. That was then.

Disappointingly, it was now a crowded mishmash of mostly tourists waiting in long lines at barbecued chicken stands. No one moves freely. Yes, it was still hard to walk around without moving to the music—a familiar plus—but we were advised to wait until close to 11, when tourists return to their all-inclusives and the locals who work at the same resorts come out to restore the Jump-Up to the memorable—and far more authentic—experience it once was.

Still, other things had not changed. Traveling the steep, windy roads that slither and slink through the harrowing hills provides a glorious view of the island. Greenery, rich in color, content and texture, is everywhere, blanketing roadsides and mountainsides. You are engulfed in lushness: small, large, low, high and enormous, with leaves the size of surfboards that would be delightful diversions if looking at them were not itself a life-risking endeavor. Well-kept, multihued huts mix with less-quaint, more run-down dwellings. Women balancing seemingly unmanageable loads on their heads wave as you pass by.

And you haven’t even hit your basic tourist attractions yet: a hike through the rainforest, a walk through the botanical gardens complete with yet another waterfall, a visit to bubbling springs lying within a dormant volcano. And oh yes, there are beaches, lots of them, and they’re worth the time and the effort it takes to see them all. The real beauty of St. Lucia, however, lies within the exquisite countryside, the warm welcome of its people and the exposure to a way of life not usually seen from the swim-up bar at the hotel pool.

When You Go

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