As I step onto the tarmac, fresh off the plane from chilly Atlanta, waves of comforting warmth roll over me, banishing any thoughts of the coming winter months.
This fall, I find myself visiting the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, a tiny spot on the map, a utopia where happy locals dressed in their colorful clothing smile at visitors, often holding mischievous children by the hand.
The timing of my visit is perfect, just in time for Jounen Kweyol. This annual cultural festival is a show of pride in the Creole culture of St. Lucia through a weeklong festival. Locals, and anyone else who wishes to participate, dress in the traditional brightly colored plaid madras fabric to show their heritage.
Demonstrations of dance and traditions, food festivals, and cultural crafts for purchase abound. It is a lively time of celebration, and an excellent opportunity to see the “real” St. Lucia.
To get a glimpse of the island’s culture at any time of year and rub elbows with the locals, head to “Jump Up,” the local term for the weekly street dance party in Gros Islet. Food vendors grill chicken and corn on the cob over open fires, and tables of crafts are for sale, along with every kind of alcohol imaginable. The local beer, Piton, is ever-present and usually held high in the air above the crush of the crowd as people dance in the street. Though traditionally a locals’ event, tourists are welcome and often spotlighted as honored guests on the makeshift dance floor. The party gets started around 9pm and lasts well into the night, until around 2am.
The north end of the island is quite populous and home to the cruise port, along with many lively resorts, while the exotic south is known for its clear waters and boutique resorts specializing in relaxation and spa experiences. Many guests travel down the coast by catamaran, and for good reason.
A cramped bus over winding mountain roads is no comparison to sailing with the wind in your hair, music playing on the breeze, and your drink of choice in hand.
In the south, Soufriere is home to the unique drive-in volcano and hot springs. Guests may indulge in a mud bath from the pools, and then rinse off and soak in the mineral springs. The rainforest area is also quite close, and is home to the Diamond Botanical Gardens and its stunning waterfall, multicolored due to the minerals found in the waters.
After staying in this idyllic paradise for several days, soaking up the warmth of both the sun and the friendly locals, I sadly pack my bags to head back to the airport. From end to end, St. Lucia is an island rich in beauty and diversity. It boasts clear waters, soft sands and a lush climate, along with friendly locals and rich culture.
I watch the scenery roll by as we make our way back to Hewanorra Airport, the resolve to return soon growing strong within me. This is the kind of place that calls to you from afar. I think I can hear it calling even now, from my desk at work. Sigh…..someday soon.