Friday, August 5, 2011

Day Three: Reduit Beach

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

July 10 My third day on the island was a Sunday, when a lot of things are closed, so I decided it would be a good day to walk around Rodney Bay and try the snorkeling at Reduit Beach. I had heard mostly negative things about the snorkeling there, but a few positive things also. I decided to believe the binder in the Bay Guesthouse, which said you can have a good experience if you snorkel near the southern border of the beach.

Before setting off, I tried making coffee one again, this time using a spatula to give the filter some support. Complete disaster. I thought longingly of my gold filter, unused for years, sitting back home at the back of one of my kitchen cabinets.

As I cleaned up the mess, I started thinking about cocoa tea, a delicacy that I'd heard about prior to arriving. I hadn't yet seen it offered anywhere, which surprised me in some of my readings, people made it sound like latte in Seattle, as if locals would be practically throwing it at me. I decided to get proactive to find it.

I packed up my things and headed for the bus. Walking to the bus stop, I saw chickens and roosters wandering about, as I often do. Today I spotted some chicks, too. I also passed the church, this time active with a service. I caught the bus and disembarked near the mall, as usual, which might not be the closest stop to the beach, but I wasn't sure. I walked past all the restaurants, including Rituals Coffeehouse, which I had read described as a "Starbucks clone." Whoever said that wasn't kidding. The font on the sign looks exactly like Starbucks'! I examined the menu for the cocoa tea but didn't see it.

As I walked down the restaurant-lined street, it again struck me as dead. I also wondered if I was truly in the heart of Rodney Bay. I had imagined the marina, the restaurants, and the hotels as being integrated — all part of one general area. So far they seemed completely discrete.

Before I got to the right turn that I figured leads to the beach, a guy flagged me down to ask me where I was going. When I told him, he said, "I'll show you the way." I said I knew how to get there, and he tried to show me a carving. I said I needed to be going, and his expression was a mix of fatigue and disgust.

I proceeded on. After a short time, I saw a woman at a stand selling things. She looked nice, so I decided to ask her about the cocoa tea. She had to think about it, then responded that cocoa tea is probably hard to find on Sunday. She said that on any other day, the market in Castries was a good place. I mentioned I was staying in Gros Islet, but that didn't seem to spark any ideas. She seemed like she thought it was impossible, so I said, "Well, what about around here?", and she said I could try Ti Bananne. From my experience there the night before, it didn't seem like the kind of place where you would just stop in for a quick beverage it's more of a sit-down restuarant but I decided to give it a try. I thanked her and doubled back to Ti Bananne.

Upon entering the restaurant, I saw a fair number of tourists, probably guests at the hotel that Ti Bananne is part of (Coco Palm). I went to the bar and asked about cocoa tea. The question was hollered back to someone else. Yes, came the answer back. I sat down to wait. After a few minutes, a steaming cup arrived. It was a while before the drink cooled enough for me to sip it, but when I did — oh my god! It was so good. It was a spicy, chocolatey wonder, and I didn't even care that it was way too warm for a hot drink. It was very rich but not too sweet. The price for this perfection was $8 EC; I left a $10 and, when I said "messy!", the Creole word for thanks, finally crowbarred a smile out of the staff.

Cocoa tea in hand, I continued back toward the beach. When I passed the lady who had suggested Ti Bananne, I held up the cup to show her and said, "I got it!" She smiled and seemed pleased.

I walked a bit further and noticed a crab under a fence and stopped to take its picture.

As I continued, the road struck me as a bit desolate and depressing. It was a wide road with a sidewalk but little else that was pedestrian-oriented. The sun seemed low and hot. A couple of tourists passed me, but they appeared stressed and didn't meet my gaze. Eventually, I came to the Ginger Lily hotel, where I had originally planned to stay. I thought the hotel looked nice, but this area was so different from what I had expected, I was glad to be staying at the Bay Guesthouse.

On my left, I saw a sign for a police station, with a wide public parking lot, and noticed the sea beyond it. I had lied to the person who offered to show me to the beach I really didn't know the way but after actually seeing the water, I knew I was on track. I took a left and soon was on the golden-brown sand, explaining to a persistent vendor that I did not need to rent a beach chair from him.

My reaction to the beach was that it was quite pretty, not really as long as I had expected, but nice nonetheless. So many people have described Reduit Beach as "touristy," I was half expecting to see high rises or at least very imposing resorts. But the four or five resorts along the beach seemed appropriate to the area, and not unattractive or unappealing. I guess the beach probably seems more touristy if it gets packed with people in the high season, but during my visit it seemed like a sleepy, easy beach, with the only downside, so far, being the vendors.

As I walked I noticed little golden crabs everywhere. They would scurry sideways and then jump into the sand, leaving only a dark hole behind them. These crabs were different from the one I'd seen out on the road, and they were also different from the ones I remember of Cayman (which were dark and larger). These ones were petite and very entertaining to watch.

Once I got near the southern border of the beach, I decided to stop and spread my towel out. I heard a voice calling to me from behind. I turned around and saw a man grinning as if a $100 bill had just blown up in front of him. Apparently, he was a security guard for the Rex resort, which I was sitting in front of, but his mind was on things other than security. After interrogating me about who I was, was I alone, where was I "living" (apparently, the local way of asking where you're staying), I seemed to finally communicate that I wasn't interested. I got my snorkeling things out, put on my rash guard and then looked up, hoping for a glance of the sea, and this time saw a dude in front of me. He was an older gent who stood with his fists on waist. He said something gruffly about renting a chair. When I said no, he stared at me a few moments and declared, unsmiling, "I want to keep you company." I felt my patience slipping and made clear he should leave, which he did. I walked to the water and dove in without hesitation.

The snorkeling was quite good Will and Stephanie's binder had been right. The water was clear and I saw lots of fish, coral, and other marine life. On seeing the first few fish pass, I felt a rush of excitement, like, 'Oh yes, this is why I love snorkeling.'

Among the creatures I saw: some very small sergeant majors, several beautiful ocean surgeonfish (my favorites), bluehead wrasse (very pretty) , and the same blocky striped fish I'd seen at Pigeon Island (probably three-stripe damsels).

As I got out further toward the outermost outcropping of land, I saw several large schools of fish that I couldn't really identify, and lots of blue tangs.

Unfortunately, the current was strong. I suggest turning back before you feel like you're too close to where the southern strip of land stops.

On my way back, I saw a large conch shell, which I wrote in my journal was the largest I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, there is nothing in the photo to scale it, and I don't remember it well enough to compare its size to anything. I do recall seeing conch shells on Cayman that were bigger than a football, so this one must have been larger than that.

After leaving the water, I decided to go in search of a snack. I walked over to Spinnaker's, a beach restaurant/bar that I had seen mentioned several times on the St. Lucia TripAdvisor forum. As I walked there, I was again targeted by one of the chair vendors I'd seen earlier. After I explained that my position on chair rental was unchanged and left him, he called after me with a trace of bitterness, "I was waiting for you."

Spinnaker's was nice, close to the sea and with good views. It was more upscale than I'd imagined — I'd expected it to be more of a bar, also more casual and cheaper. But it was pleasant, and I liked the view from my table of Pigeon Island.

The lunch menu for the day was up on a chalkboard. As I read it, I felt my hopes dwindle, as everything listed was meaty. When I told the waitress I was a vegetarian, she said I could order the Greek salad off of the dinner menu. The salad was good
— a bit more food than I needed, but it was OK. I also had a mango smoothie, which was delicious.

While I was sitting there, a guy wandering about
— he might have been one of the chair vendors — began verbally assaulting someone who I think must have been a Spinnaker's manager. This went on for some time until the police showed up. It didn't bother me, but I felt badly for the manager.

After lunch I walked north, toward the other end of the beach. I wanted to see if there was any way to continue in the direction of the guesthouse (there wasn't). Then I went back toward the main area of the beach and lied down under a tree, with my hat over my face. Suddenly I was incredibly drowsy and a bit headachey. Maybe I am addicted to caffeine. For about 45 minutes I hovered somewhere between sleeping and waking.

After my rest, I walked more toward the center of the beach. I wanted to snorkel in the same area as before, but I didn't want to walk back to where the annoying security guard was.

I put my things down somewhere in the middle of the beach
and got in the water. I swam first south to the edge of the beach, then proceeded west along the shore, as I had before. This time the water seemed considerably murkier, but I am not sure why that would be the case. It hadn't rained, but I had noticed a fair bit of water-taxi traffic in the past two hours. Could that do it? I wasn't sure.

At this point, I should mention that in my snorkeling at both Pigeon Island and Reduit Beach, I used a dive flag that attaches to my snorkel. I think it made me more visible, which is nice in these waters that aren't not designated specifically for snorkelers, though using the flag is not a good substitute for being very diligent yourself about listening for boats. Unfortunately, the fastener that holds the flag to the snorkel had a tendency to catch my hair.

Despite the murkier water, my second swim was nice, too. On my way back, I saw a large starfish, and then something very unusual. I was in shallow water about to return to the beach when I saw this creature swimming very close to the sand. This will probably sound crazy, but it looked like it had four legs and a tail. I'm not totally sure of the color, but I think was a dappled brown with a little lavender. I was getting cold at this point, so I started to
continue on, then I realized I really should go back for a better look. The second time I was with it, it began swimming faster. Its rear legs seemed to flare out a bit. When this happened, they looked more purple. I followed a bit longer, then got concerned about the fact that the water was so shallow and I really didn't know what this thing was. Could the leg flare have been a warning? No idea. Eventually, I got out of the water, wondering how I'd find out what this creature was.

I cleaned up and headed back. On the way, I tried to get a glimpse of the marina, but I got only one or two shots taken from behind the gate pictured above.

I caught the bus back to Gros Islet. As I came into the guesthouse, the two girls next door were setting one of the patio tables for dinner and speaking to each other in another language (French?). The dark haired one smiled and said hi.

I cleaned up, and found myself with a bit of spare time while the sun was setting. I decided it would be fun to go sit out by the water's edge and read. Unfortunately the only book I had brought was "The Omnivore's Dilemma" — not exactly beach reading — so I decided to check out the communal bookcase on the Bay Guesthouse patio. The first few books I picked up were not in English. When I found the English row of books, I noticed a lot of Dan Brown and James Patterson not really my speed. Finally, an appealing name caught my eye: Patricia Highsmith. I have been meaning to read something of hers for a long time. This particular title was "A Dog's Ransom." I took it with me to a lawn chair right in front of the sea and read until it was dark, breaking occasionally to take pictures of the sunset.

At one point, I thought I could hear a man and a woman speaking behind me in another language. I wondered who it was. After a few minutes, the voices went away, but I would meet their owners later in the evening.

Eventually, it was almost completely dark, and I figured I should eat. I had decided to try another restaurant mentioned in Will and Stephanie's binder. This one was called Somewhere Special. I set off to find it.

This was my first time walking around Gros Islet at night. Well, I guess I did it the evening I arrived, but that was a little different because it was the night of the jump-up, and there were other tourists roaming the streets. Still, even on this night, a Sunday, there was a low buzz of activity and plenty of local people about. This is one of the things I like about Gros Islet. It seems to have life, with people out talking in the evening, and conversations cropping up between passersby and whoever happens to be sitting in the open-air bar along Dauphin Street, or in any of the restaurants that open up onto the various other roads. In my imagination, everyone here knows everyone, and there's a town-wide conversation that's always ongoing.

This night I wondered what the conversants might be saying about tourists, since I noticed a fair number of people staring at me as I walked past them where they sat on bar stools and porches. I said hi to a few people and, when I did, they usually said hi back, sometimes with reserved friendliness, other times with unreadable expressions.

I walked up and down the street where I thought Somewhere Special was supposed to be. I felt very conspicuous walking around in a way that I'm sure suggested I was lost in a town of about eight blocks. I passed a group of several women of various ages, all staring at me, and decided to ask for directions. The youngest regarded me warily; the oldest was eager to help. She pointed me back in the direction I'd just come from. Apparently I had just missed it. One of the other ladies said it was "by the tree," and I nodded, even though there were about 10 trees in my line of sight. I walked a few blocks in the direction that they'd indicated, then asked another person, who pointed me to a specific tree. When I got there, at last I saw the Somewhere Special sign. The restaurant was no more than a narrow house perhaps eight feet across, with a pink picnic table to one side of the door, and on the other, a guy sitting under a tree. He said something like, "I knew you'd come back." I said I'd been looking for him all along, and he said well, we forgot to turn the light on, pointing to a lamp now shining on the "Somewhere Special" sign.

I didn't take a photo of the restaurant that night, but I went back later and got one, so I will include it here now.

The guy under the tree was P.J., a native of St. Lucia, He and his wife, Claudia, who's from Germany, own the restaurant. I asked Claudia if she could make me something vegetarian, and she offered a soya roti. I said that sounded great. I asked for a Piton, but they said their Pitons were not cold, and would I like a Heineken? I took one, and though I like Heineken, I have to say I was sad, having developed a taste for the local brew.

This evening was the first that I can recall hearing an organic hum that sounded like crickets or locusts, but not exactly. Later I would be told that they were grasshoppers, then that they were tree frogs. I'm not sure what precisely I heard that night, but it was pretty and loud, more omnipresent than anything comparable I recall having heard before. I loved it!

I hadn't been sitting there long when a couple came and joined me at the picnic table. They were Clarisa and Alonso, from Barcelona, and they were also staying at the Bay Guesthouse, having just arrived that day. Clarisa said, "Oh, that was you sitting on the lawn chair taking pictures!" Ah, these were the non-English-speaking guests I had heard! I asked them about their travels and, under questioning, they finally said that they were traveling the world. I put my hand to my heart and said "ooooh" in a mix of ecstasy and mock envy. They laughed and Alonso said, "Well, we weren't going to tell you, but you did ask!"

While we were sitting there, the sounds of American country and western music became audible. We started noticing people walking by us and toward it. Clarisa, Alonso, and I all speculated on why, when P.J. explained that the music is actually popular on St. Lucia because a lot of St. Lucian people have worked in the American Southwest as migrant workers. As he said this, that explanation started to sound familiar — I had heard the thing about Cayman, though I don't recall ever actually hearing country music played there. In Gros Islet, this might have been a weekly even, though I'm not sure. However, I do recall that P.J. said that there was sometimes dancing going on at the other end of the street.

After I finished eating, I decided to head home. Before leaving them, I asked Clarisa and Alonso if there was any one place in particular that they were looking forward to seeing in their travel. They said not really, that they didn't have a hard plan, they are just "following summer," having brought only summer clothes. I thought that was a nice idea.

I took the long way home, so I could walk by the area where P.J. said there might be dancing. I didn't see anyone dancing, just people at an open-air bar enjoying the music. Then I headed home and went to bed fairly early, reading a bit more of "A Dog's Ransom" before crashing.

Next: Castries!

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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.