Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Sailing to Soufriere

Sailing to Soufriere
May 2016

My one regret from our 2014 visit to St Lucia was my failure to explore Soufriere, an omission I determined to put right this time around.

The Pitons from Soufriere

Today was THE day - the actual day of Marian's "Hrrumph" birthday and to celebrate it a catamaran was chartered from Rodney Bay which would carry our party south along the coast of St Lucia to the formidable Pitons, the twin volcanic plugs which rise sheer from the sea at Soufriere and represent the iconic image in any tourist brochure for the island.

Yes, this is lived in!

.....but these two arn't

Soufriere was founded by the French when they colonised the island and was for a time its capital, but was taken by the British in 1803 who made Castries the new main town. Soufriere has had a troubled past, enduring repeated hurricanes, earthquakes and fires but through all this it has managed to retain a certain Frenchness in its vernacular architecture. And it was the houses I came to see.

This one was for sale 

Strangely, the town does not seem to get many visitors - although several hundred come on on a daily basis via a fleet of tourist boats. However, they land on a guarded jetty, jump straight into a mini bus and are whisked  away to see the local waterfalls, botanical gardens, the drive through volcano and possibly one of the working plantations. The one thing they don't do is to pause in the town itself, and that's a bit of a shame.

One of the colourful main streets

With the rest of the part off on the official tour and Helen having a snooze on the boat I grabbed my camera and set off to see that I could find in the old section which carries echoes of a tumbledown New Orleans. This the the section to the south of the harbour.

The buildings are mostly humble wooden structures, clad in corrugated iron but its like they have a DNA in their design and probably the most charming are the ones in various states of dilapidation. Live run down boats, it can be very difficult to identify which ones are lived in and which have been abandoned. You find yourself examining a complete wreck and suddenly realise that someone is hanging out of the upstairs window. In the UK all these gaps in the walls would be a big problem but in Soufriere you have to remember that the temperature rarely drops below 30C so the holes are a positive advantage!

In some ways the images don't do justice to the place. I visited at the hottest part of the day on a Sunday so its residents were all chilling out in the shade trying to escape the relentless heat and humidity and the vibe was laid back in the extreme. But it was by no means quiet - the whole area throbbed to a Reggie beat which the rhythms competing for attention through the flimsy walls. You have got to love Reggie and be hyper tolerant  neighbours to survive here. And then there is the sanitation - basically the municipal signs say it all when residents are instructed not to put solids into the open roadside drains, everything else seems to be fair game but with such a high rainfall anything foul soon finds its way down to the sea.

Electioneering St Lucia style

The island elections are next week and everywhere people are having animated discussions all denoted by the colour of their flags. This discussion was very lively at times but I never felt threatened - but It was clearly abnormal to see a tourist wandering the streets alone.

Fishermen repairing their nets in the shade

The ramshackle area around the harbour is a hidden gem and well worth a visit.

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