Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Country #96: St. Lucia

Reasons this cruise had to be done (in no particular order):

*I found a great deal on Travelzoo.  We each paid $700 for a 7 day cruise including unlimited drinks, a $75 on board credit, taxes and gratuities!

*Initially, there were six of us going and everyone was able to get the time off.  On top of that, the dates coincided with my friend's husband's 50th birthday and this seemed like a very suitable place for a party.

*Two new countries!!!  Well, not exactly new. One has been independent since 1979 and the other since 1981, but they were new to me and both would put me that much closer to 100. This was huge.

On our fourth day, this third reason came into play.

I had been told by several friends that St. Lucia was the nicest of all the islands.  Standing on the deck as we pulled into port, I was already prepared to agree with them.  It looked so green and mountainous and uncorrupted by highrise-itis.  Looking into the distance, there were no golden arches.  There were no other ships parked alongside us.  The souvenir store gauntlet that all cruise ship passengers must run through to get to the outside world was relatively small.  This must be what paradise is like.

But one can not simply disembark in paradise without having to stop for a photo op with a costumed character.  Different ports, different characters, all of their portrayers most likely suffering from a combination of heat stroke and the toxic effects of inhaling all of the Febreeze employed in other to make those outfits bearable.

In the last post, I mentioned some of the issues I encountered traveling single on a cruise but there are unexpected benefits, too.  Chief among them is that the ship photographers don't know what to make of you.  While my friends, a very photogenic husband and wife duo, were constantly being stopped and asked to pose with a parrot-man, sailor-man or similar human prop, I was virtually invisible.  At worst, I got the "poor dear must have misplaced her man" look.  I am not crazy about being in photos (I'd much rather take them) so this suited me just fine.

Prior to the cruise, I had set up a tour with the highly recommended Real St. Lucia Tours.   From the get go, I was impressed with their professionalism.  I had sent my first request on Xmas day, thinking this should get me a response sometime after the New Year.  I heard back from them within the hour.

But professionalism alone does not make for a fun tour.  Luckily, we got Delvin, an easygoing guy,who knew both the history of the island and each and every one of its inhabitants.  For real, we quizzed him on the identities of random people standing along the side of the road and either he truly knew their life stories or he is a master improviser.

We went up one curvy hillside road and down another, all of it while driving on the wrong (aka left) side.  I would have rather worn the sweaty parrot costume than tried to drive these obstacle courses, but Delvin was doing great.  He took us from one lookout point to another.  It didn't take us long to realize there are no blah lookout points in St Lucia.  This place is stunning. The island should be renamed St. Scenic Vista.

I guess bare fronts are ok.

Early on in the tour, as we passed a distillery, Delvin wondered if we would be ok with doing a rum tasting before 10am.

So...we were sampling local rums, lots and lots of rums and I was grimacing every time I heard the term "men's rum".  It was usually in the context of "here, we make spiced rum, white rum, men's rum, flavored rum, etc."

It annoyed the hell out of my tipsy inner feminist that they were deeming certain bottles too strong for the l'il ladies. Then we got to that section of the tasting.  These rums were not strong, far from it, they tasted more like a mix of cough syrup and cheap wine coolers.  What set them apart is that they contained ginseng, horny goat weed, vitamins and whatever else is rumored to float a gentleman's boat.  These weren't men's rums, they were boner rums.

I guess these are for the guys that want to get a buzz on but also want to last all night,  Because that's what every lady craves- a drunk dude that won't just go to sleep already.

Our tour had unintentionally picked up a theme.  From the rum distillery we continued onto a bar, but this is not as debaucherous as it sounds. Delvin's father owns a bar that could easily double as an art studio.  We stopped there to take in the views and check out his dad's artwork.

His dad came out to greet us and introduced us to the moringa plant.  I personally had never heard of this and thought we might be getting punked, island-style but Lily knew of its many medicinal benefits, so with Dad's instructions, we all began munching on moringa seeds.   The taste is not bad per se, covering the gamut from bitter to sweet as you chew it, but it has some serious lasting power. By the time we were a short distance from the bar, we were pulling over to dig into the cooler and see if the local beer had any power against the mighty moringa and its lingering aftertaste.

So far, we had taken our vitamins (via the Stiffy Rum) and chewed on some medicinal mystery seeds. This was practically a day at a wellness spa.  Our next treatment was to take place in the world's only drive-in volcano.  This is where you find Sulphur Springs, home to a therapeutic stinky stream that runs through the crater.  One guy selling trinkets in the parking lot assured us that a dip in the water would leave us looking and feeling ten years younger.  I wondered if I could go through twice.

After a quick dip in nature's hot tub, you apply a layer of volcanic mud all over your face and body and let it dry.

I look like (a) a cherry lollipop (b) a curvy matchstick (c) a character from the next season of American Horror Story.
Where most tourists rinse the mud off in the springs themselves, we had signed up for the deluxe package.  Delvin instructed us to leave the mud on our faces until we got to the next stop.  This made perfect sense.  The longer you wear a mud mask, the better the results but it also meant that we were now going around looking like we belonged in an undead street gang.

We pulled over to looked to view the Pitons, two volcanic peaks that have earned the status of a UNESCO world heritage site.  So did one of the ship's tour buses.  Only one group looked like they were playing hooky from mime school.

It was completely worth it.  Our next stop was the Toraille waterfall.  This is where we would rinse our faces and partake in deep tissue aqua massages courtesy of 50 feet worth of crashing waters.  The cold waterfall was a perfect compliment to the warm waters of the crater and the water pressure of this particular shower were hard to beat.

We now looked and felt 9 years younger (I feel we might have lost a year to the moringa) and had silky soft skin.  It was beach time.  We threw our towels down at Anse Chastanet, a volcanic sand beach with cool waters and a killer view.

Pedicure meets dark volcanic sand

It was so relaxing that you could almost forget that our hotel would soon be taking off without us. We packed up drove back along more winding roads, stopping time and again to enjoy the scenery.

The Gros and Petite Pitons

Had I watched Pirates of the Caribbean, I would be able to explain what scene was filmed here.  I did not.
I returned to the ship to find a pleasant surprise.  Waiting on my door was an invitation to come visit the helipad for a champagne reception as we pushed back from port.  The surprise was threefold.

For starters, it was addressed only to me.  No mention of Mr. X or Mr. Anderson anywhere.

Secondly, the ship has a helipad?!  Was this mentioned in the briefing? If this all got to be too much, could I just helicopter out of there?

And lastly,  this was a very VIP thing to do and I was there on a very decidedly un-VIP fare. How'd I score this invite?  Could it be something that they give to all guests who have now been to 96 countries? Were there other perks awaiting me now that I had crossed this threshold?

1 comment:

  1. Truly a beautiful island n an unforgettable experience! One of my favorites so far!