Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day Two: Pigeon Island

For background on this series of posts, see the intro to my St. Lucia travel journal.

Saturday, July 9 — On my first full day on St. Lucia, I got up around 7:30, after having slept like a rock. As I got moving, I heard calls from roosters and a few barks from town dogs. None of the sounds were too loud, The communal patio at the Bay Guesthousejust pleasant reminders of animals about.

I decided to attempt making coffee, even though there was no pot in my kitchen — just a tea kettle, a gas range, and three paper cone filters. The first cup actually came out pretty well, but I spilled it after taking only a sip or two! After cleaning up, I tried making a second cup, but this time the filter broke and the coffee was too full of grounds. Oh well. On the upside, the onion bagels I bought at Super Js were good. I sat out on the patio while I ate one.

While I was getting ready to leave, I noticed the two girls staying in the room next to me, who were out on the patio for a bit. One of them was short with dark hair, the other taller and fairer. They didn't say anything to me — as I recall, they disappeared into their room pretty soon after I left mine. It occurred to me that the only tables for eating are on the communal patio, which is a nice place to sit and chat with other people, but if you really want privacy, it might not be ideal.

It was about 10 a.m. when I finished packing up my snorkeling gear and headed out into the overcast morning for Pigeon Island. If you are familiar with the region, then you probably already know that tourists often visit Pigeon Island to see the ruins of the British military fort, remnants of the historic British-French struggle for control of the island — but personally I was more interested in the hiking and the snorkeling, which I had heard was supposed to be pretty good. Because some years ago a causeway was built connecting Pigeon Island to the main of St. Lucia, getting there is a pretty easy walk from the Bay Guesthouse.

As I left, I got a better look at the guesthouse grounds than I had yesterday and realized that it is really quite secure — there is a wall on the south side, the sea to the west, a fence to the north and east. The only gate is situated next to The view south from the Gros Islet public beacha little office, where either Will or Stephanie seems to usually be sitting. This morning it was Will, and he greeted me on my way out.

I decided to walk around town a bit before heading to Pigeon Island. I wanted to check out "Lorna's Store," which I'd seen described in the binder in my room. Unfortunately, when I got to the street that I thought was right, I didn't see a single thing that looked like a store and, when I asked a passerby if he knew where it was, he looked at me quizzically and shook his head. (Later I learned that the store was exactly where the map showed it to be, but it was closed up tight for Saturday.)

After abandoning that mission, I started walking north along the beach to Pigeon Point. It drizzled a bit on the way, which was fine, just a little stressful as I debated whether I should have my camera out. I did take several pictures, looking both south and north, and was just careful to put the camera away whenever the rain picked up, which was only a few times, and each time briefly. Still, I was glad I had my umbrella.

After crossing a public beach, I got to the Landings resort, where a security guard noticed me immediately. When I explained I was going to Pigeon Island, he was fine with this and even walked me across the property, explaining that the Landings has a small marina, and I would either have to ride a dinghy across it or walk around it.

In the course of conversation, I mentioned that I might walk to Smugglers Cove after Pigeon Island. The security guard said, "Oh, no, I wouldn't advise that." I said, "because it's too far?" And he said that it wasn't far but that it was too risky for a woman alone. I have to admit I had wondered that myself, after having read some generally cautionary advice about traveling alone on St. Lucia. But I hadn't been sure, and it gave me a bit of a chill to hear a local express such caution so definitively. I asked him what the difference was between walking to Smugglers Cove and walking to Pigeon Island, and he said that it's just different. He assured me Pigeon Island would be fine. I was disappointed about the Smugglers Cove walk but grateful for the guidance.

The security guard led me to another Landings staff member, who invited me to climb in a dinghy to cross the marina. I thanked the guard and then chatted with this other guy, who complimented my "Obama '08" T-shirt.

After the crossing, I thanked the dinghy driver and proceeded on through another public strip of beach before getting to the Sandals Grande resort, where I was met by another security guard. I explained what I was doing, and the guard said to make sure I walked close to the water and not on the Sandals resort itself. The resort itself didn't seem as large or imposing as I would have guessed, but the beach was, if not crowded, busier than the others that I passed.

After Sandals was a narrow strip of land with sea on both sides. There were horses grazing there, and Pigeon Island was right up ahead. I began walking toward the park when two local men came running toward me, waving their hands as frantically as if I were about to walk into a wall of fire. Apparently the entrance was just ever so slightly north of the trajectory on which I was walking. Of course, I had heard of local people who volunteer directions and then demand tips from tourists, so I tried to extricate myself from the conversation quickly, but one of them, the younger of the two, had grass sculptures he wanted to show me — very pretty figures of birds and fish made from thick leaves folded just so. I told him truthfully that I couldn't buy one because I had an active day planned, and I would inevitably lose it or ruin it. He seemed surprised at that answer, though I am not sure why. I chatted with him a bit more out of politeness and, when I left, he insisted that I take a fish sculpture, saying really, there's no charge. I thanked him, and the older of the two said, "Maybe you will tip us on your way out of the park."

I entered the park and paid the admission — about $13 EC. Then I decided to take a snapshot of my grass fish because, as much as I wanted to keep it safe, I had a feeling that was a lofty goal.

Looking around, I could see the ruins of barracks up ahead and the sea to the northeast. The area was shady with trees, and it struck me as pretty but not stunning, much as I had expected.

I followed the signs for Fort Rodney, which is on the lower of the two peaks on Pigeon Island, and Signal Peak, which is the higher. The walk began with an easy path lined with bushes, trees, and red flowers. The views to the south were quite nice. I could see what I assume was Rodney Bay across the way, but I'm not sure. The whole area to the south is very mountainous and dramatic. I wondered what the names of the mountains were. The day before, Elias had told me that only the mountains in the southern part of the island have names, but I'm not sure that's right.

As I made my way toward Signal Peak, I crossed a wide flat grassy area. When I got to the other side, I didn't immediately see an obvious way to continue, but then I spotted the trail — you just have to go down a bit before going up.

The climb was pretty rocky. I did it fast, which left me a little winded. As I was reaching the top, some people were coming down: a British couple and a girl. The woman showed me her broken thong sandal, and told me that at her resort they had said she wouldn't need trainers. She seemed good-natured about it, but I felt bad for her doing the walk in those shoes. I don't think it would have been comfortable even if they weren't broken. I noticed the man was wearing Birkenstocks, which might have been OK, but I was glad I had sneakers.

When I reached the summit, I was treated to gorgeous views in all directions. This is where the site is stunning! I drank a lot of my water, then took a bunch of photos. It was breezy up there and hard to hold my camera steady, but the air felt nice.

The areas north of Pigeon Island were very pretty, and the waves were crashing hard around those shores. I tried to guess which resort was Smugglers Cove, the place I shouldn't walk to. I also looked for the route I would have taken to walk there. While doing this I noticed some dark clouds over that part of the island and soon it was raining fairly hard. I sat under my umbrella until it passed.

Finally, I decided I should head back down. I took one last look around, wondering where Martinique would be visible on a clear day (it was too misty today). Then I went to gather my things. In doing so, I noticed that I had indeed already lost my grass fish.

I had worried that the rocks would be slippery on the way down, but it was fine, and next I headed toward Fort Rodney. In general I don't get a big thrill out of seeing old cannons and things like that, but I thought the area was pretty neat, and I read all the placards dutifully. The view of Signal Peak from Fort Rodney was also nice. There were several other people there viewing the site. Two British tourists staying at the Rendezvous said hi to me and inquired about my trip.

At this point, I was ready to eat. I headed toward Jambe de Bois, the restaurant on Pigeon Island, and hoped the service wasn't as bad as I'd read in some of the reviews, because I was really hungry. (Fortunately, it wasn't.) I had a curried vegetable roti that was huge and delicious. The lemonade I ordered tasted a lot like ginger ale but was still good.

While I was sitting there I noticed a cat and a kitten, who were wandering around and playing — very cute and entertaining.

I also noticed a lot of Sandals boat traffic in the area, including a jet ski coming from the direction of the resort. From the helm, a guy shouted a loud but unintelligible greeting toward the Jambe de Bois patio. Since I was about to be snorkeling in those waters, I was a little worried — the waters seemed busy — but I figured it would be fine.

My bill was only $16 EC — a great value!

From Jambe de Bois, I headed to the beach for my first snorkel of the trip. Based on that one swim, I'd have to say the area seems weak as a snorkeling site. Still, it was refreshing to get underwater, and I did see a few things.

When I first went in, the water was murky. I swam north a bit and it cleared up. Still, it was a while before I saw any fish. First I saw a silvery blue type of fish — large schools of them swimming very fast past me, as if they were fleeing something. Next I saw a very small Sergeant Major, much smaller than the ones I saw on Grand Cayman. I saw what I think was a blue tang, though it was more lavender than what I am used to. I also saw what I believe was a large black sea urchin — at least a foot across.

The most unusual thing I saw was a pale yellow and black fish that was shaped a bit differently than the other fish — more blocky, if that makes sense. I also saw some tiny silvery blue ovals that were always moving upward toward the surface, in groups. At first I thought these were bubbles, then I thought they were some sort of creatures, and then I wasn't sure. (I think now that that the striped fish might have been a three-stripe damsel, and that the bubbles were volcanic ventilation.)

After my swim I was tired, but I still had a few more parts of the park to see. I walked up to the outermost point of the peninsula — the point furthest west — which is quite rocky and pretty. Sadly there was a fair bit of trash washing up against the rocks. More exciting were the tiny hermit crabs I saw scurrying about.

Next I walked back toward the park entrance to see the old barracks and the interpretation center. Then I headed out. I wondered if I would see the two vendors from the morning and was torn between hoping that I wouldn't see them and wanting to replace my fish. However, the vendors weren't there anymore, just the horses, including a colt this time, and some children playing a running race.

I walked back through Sandals and the Landings (no dinghy this time, I had to go around the marina), then back past the public beach nearest the guesthouse. On Bay Street, I saw four little boys running around barefoot. I wondered how the hot pavement must be on their feet.

Then it was home, a bit of cleanup and back out again, heading for Rodney Bay. I walked into the center of the village and caught the bus. It was dusk at this point. As we made our way south, the nearly full bus stopped for a woman who was very pretty but seemed tired. I wondered who she was and where she was going. I looked out the window and was struck by the juxtaposition of being in a fairly urban trapping — a crowded bus full of unconnected people — while up ahead were the silhouettes of mountain peaks against a slate blue sky. The only sound came from the radio, set to the local station, and all around us was a heavy heat that was becoming familiar. I felt truly removed from my old life and knew I'd always remember the moment.

At Rodney Bay, I disembarked and walked to Ti Bananne. The guest binder at the Bay Guesthouse had said that the restaurant had live entertainment most nights, but that must not apply to the off season, because they were just playing recordings. This included Elton John and, later in the evening, a rather inspired George Michael playlist, which included some obscure favorites.

After looking at the menu and chatting with the waitress, I realized that the menu they have posted online is outdated. I still had a good meal though — pumpkin mash, plantains and, when they said they were out of spinach, the parmesan mashed potatoes. All three were very good. I also had two "Blue Sky's" (their spelling and punctuation), a cocktail made with curaçao and coconut something-rather. Very tasty.

I paid with a $100 EC bill, and the change they gave me was a few dollars short. I said something to the waitress and she gave me two more dollars. It was still short, but not by much, so I decided to write it off.

From about the time I arrived at the restaurant, my stomach had been feeling not quite right, and it worsened through the evening. I suspected the water I'd been drinking all day, a mix of bottled and tap. I decided to increase the bottled ratio, and on my way home stopped at the supermarket for two large bottles. (As I write this, I feel guilty, knowing that St. Lucia does not have plastic recycling, but at least I bought two large bottles and not many small ones!) At the store, I asked the cashier how to get to the bus stop from where I was. She was a bit impatient but explained it.

I caught the bus and, very unusual, I was the only one in it. The driver's name was Morgan and he seemed very intent on selling me a taxi tour for sometime during my stay. He also asked if I smoked (nope) and drove me past his house and his sister's house (both in Gros Islet) before dropping me off right in front of the Bay Guesthouse.

It was only about 10 o'clock, but I was exhausted from the day!

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Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.