We dropped anchor at 7:00 a.m. in Soufriere Bay, just to the port of St. Lucia’s UNESCO grand Pitons. This small island of approximately 200 square miles and a population of 180,000 is the birthplace of two Nobel Laureates, Arthur Lewis in economics and Derek Walcott in literature. This is a real testimony to the quality of the educational system. Both Lewis and Walcott attended the same island schools!
A deep oceanic trench in the bay makes anchoring difficult, and one can easily lose an anchor if it is not dropped precisely. The water depth is almost unfathomable, exceeding 3,500 feet. The physical setting is very dramatic, as Soufriere is situated at the west end of an ancient caldera. The volcano blew the western ridge of the mountain chain away about 39,000 years ago. The area is picture perfect.
Upon arrival, we boarded minivans for a short ride to the interior of the caldera, where hot gasses, molten mud, water, and rock bubble. We were able to see and smell the seismic activity that created these Lesser Antilles. The sulfuric gases (hydrogen-sulfide) leave a strong smell in the air. Except for Barbados, all the islands that we will visit are the product of volcanic activity. Our volcano guide was well-versed in geology and took us to an overlook to observe the bubbling and sulfurous mud as it hissed and exploded.
Our next stop was Diamond Botanical Gardens, one of the unsung gems of the Caribbean. Plants of every sort abound, and our guide Juliana pointed out the most interesting varieties. I was especially taken by the bamboo, the national plant of St. Lucia. This plant can grow eight inches a day and reach 50 feet tall and six inches in diameter. We visited these wonderful gardens for about an hour before returning to our vans for a short drive to the center of Soufriere. Soufriere’s public square was recently reconstructed. It is graced by the Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a Roman Catholic church, and the presence of a wonderful statue of a slave striking out for liberty. In the mid-1790s, the French Revolution reached St. Lucia. They set up a guillotine near the present statue to rid the islands of the abusive planter aristocracy.
We then visited Hummingbird Beach and enjoyed a few hours of great snorkeling, particularly in the area directly below the bat roosting cave. Coral fans, giant clams, sponges, and a variety of fish were in great abundance. We enjoyed drinks on the house! The captain took Sea Cloud beneath the Pitons. Due to the moisture in the air, we observed the most vivid basaltic plugs I have ever seen. Simon, our redoubtable hotel manager, provided us with cold Piton beers on the spanker deck. Dinner was scrumptious fresh lobster.
And now we are off to bed.