It's Sunday morning. McArthur Cornibert, the designated driver, fails to disguise how much this unexpected journey depressed him. We depart from the La Clery district and from the heights of Castries. We cross the current capital of Santa Lucia and conquer the slope that finishes it.
From there, towards the south coast that we had planned to explore, the paved road passes through a succession of valleys and slopes oriented from the center of the island to the Caribbean coast. An hour and a half of this lush roller coaster later, we reach the top of the zigzag route that leads to the Palmiste area.
Mac stops the car by a viewpoint and, even in his monotone of shy and irremediable annoyance, he encourages us: “Take a look over there. It's one of the best views of the Pitons you'll find.” We rescue the photo backpacks.
the first sighting
We dodge the ubiquitous souvenir sellers on the island's tourist route. Moments later, the balcony enraptures us with the first of Saint Lucia's sweeping revelations. Ahead, the prevailing rainforest gave way to multicolored houses that occupied a carving of the valley below.
It was delimited by the outline of a wide cove and a densely wooded hillside of which the villagers had claimed only the shore. By itself, the panorama would have everything to dazzle us.
As if that wasn't enough what we've described so far, on the other side of the valley, two huge, sharp boulders insinuated themselves over the ridge above the village.
Welsh settlers became accustomed to simply calling them the Pitons, as they did to several other peaks of their Overseas Empire. Since the village was located on the outskirts of a smoking volcano, they nicknamed it Soufrière. This term, too, is far from unique in the Caribbean.
Randy, a flamboyant and sensationalist tour guide we joined a few days later, made a point of putting the dots in the “is”: “You certainly won't know but I'll inform you: thanks to the French, only two of the seventeen volcanoes of the Caribbean is not called Soufrière. Check it out if you like!"
Les Pitons: the Geological Monument of Saint Lucia
From the colonial ends of Saint Lucia, Soufrière and its Pitons are inseparable. For programmatic reasons, we started by dedicating our attention to the peaks duo, symbolic of the natural exuberance of Santa Lúcia to the point of giving the name and brand image to the national beer “Piton”.
On the first day, we just crossed the city pointing to the Tet Paul Natural Trail, a route outlined at the top of the slope from which the Pitons rise: the Gros Piton (770 m) and the Petit Piton brother (743m), linked by the ridge why we walked, his name Piton Mitan.
The privileged viewpoints of Tet Paul revealed to us, in opposite directions now, the colossi of rock towards the good light and in all its splendor, stained by the vegetation that clings to them.
The green blended perfectly with the turquoise emerald surrounding the Caribbean Sea, which is endowed with such preserved and rich flora and fauna that UNESCO declared the entire Ecological Reserve a World Heritage Site.
On the last of the panoramic balconies, the semi-sunken beauty of the Petit Piton forced us to stop walking. We sat down on a wooden bench and gave it a well-deserved contemplation.
At that moment, we thought we were alone. The hum of an approaching drone creates doubt in us. Activates the defense mode of a falcon that, upon feeling its territory invaded, attacks the flying apparatus with its beak.
Larger clouds, darker than the skeins that had hovered until then, steal the glow from the summits. When we noticed the extent of the cloudiness, we decided to withdraw.
The Past Ora Francophone Ora Anglophone de Santa Lucia
We crossed Soufrière again, on the way to the volcano that inspired the city's name, the only volcano drive in This is what the tourist authorities of Saint Lucia promote on the face of the Earth, committed to highlighting the easy access to the muddy, steaming, sulfurous and unusual slopes that, from the XNUMXth century onwards, surprised and delighted successive European visitors.
In the period before the Discoveries, Saint Lucia was inhabited by the Arawaks. Shortly before the advent of European colonization of the West Indies, these found themselves dominated and expelled by the much more aggressive Caribbeans who, in turn, made life miserable for the pioneers of the Old World.
It is estimated that Christopher Columbus sighted the island during his fourth and final expedition, when he sailed to the Caribbean Sea through the north of present-day Barbados and passed to the west of the Lesser Antilles, just south of the island that welcomed us. Columbus ignored her. It ended up landing in Martinique, the island that followed.
It is known that shipwrecked people and – from 1550 onwards – French pirates led by the feared Jambe de Bois (François Leclerc) were the first settled European inhabitants of Saint Lucia, originally baptized as Sante Alousie.
By this time, any attempt at stable colonization was rebuffed by the irascible Caribbeans. In the year 1664, the British governor of nearby Saint Kitts tried to subdue the natives with a force of over a thousand men. Two years later, of these, there were 89 left. The rest succumbed to illnesses and attacks from the natives.
Two more years passed. The French West Indies Company decided to seize the island. He approached it with many more men and resources until the goal was accomplished.
Saint Lucia became a dependency of Martinique. It did not take long to arouse the envy of the British who, like the French, were eager to expand the profitable cultivation of sugar cane.
During the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, depending on the historical tides of each nation, Saint Lucia switched from the French to the British and vice versa. During this period, mainly the French settlers, established a series of large agricultural properties worked by slaves brought from Africa.
In 1774, the Gallic authorities hacked the island into seven administrative strongholds. Soufrière, one of them, developed according to the French-speaking standards of the time, with a rectangular layout of streets and neighborhoods, organized around the main church (of the few stone buildings) which had the homes of wealthier settlers and influential, yet, erected in wood.
Since then, in visual terms, what has changed in Soufrière has been the gradual expansion of the village that became the island's capital and the shores of the bay that welcomed it.
The French stronghold of Soufrière
On the way back from Tet Paul, we stopped at yet another high observation point. From this other viewpoint, we can see, from a perspective opposite to that of the first day, the prolific houses of Soufrière, spread beyond a leafy section of coconut trees, in the central section of the valley and the inlet.
Even if cruises that ply the Caribbean, overflowing with vacationers, dock in the current capital of Saint Lucia, Castries, it is the Pitons and Soufrière that informed passengers want.
In Soufrière, at the same time, residents are yearning for the consumerist and excited heaps that fill their pockets with dollars. They sell crafts and trinkets Made in China. Too often, too dogged, they impose guide services for which they are unprepared.
Further north on Anse le Couchin beach, certain natives already referenced wait for the snorkelers coming from the catamaran tours in kayaks and lead the unsuspecting to the beach areas with the best reefs. Before they return to the boats, they present the account to them.
An animator of the catamaran on which we sailed from Rodney Bay to Soufrière assured us that he has seen elderly passengers forced to pay 50 or even 100 dollars.
Tired of putting up with them whenever she goes to the old capital, Maria, our Dutch hostess (married to a Martiniqueño) from Castries describes these opportunistic natives unceremoniously: “People are what they are!”.
When cruises are lacking, Soufrière lives the life he would otherwise have. It is in one of those relative peaces that we dedicate ourselves to the great city in the south.
Upon detecting our cameras, one or two “entrepreneurs” already too formatted for hunting gringos, cannot resist offering us their services. As if to emulate the island's fascinating bilingualism, one does it in French. The other in English.
Even today, Soufrière and the south of Saint Lucia express themselves in a closed French-speaking Creole. This, despite Saint Lucia having been a British colony from the end of the Napoleonic Wars until the emancipation of the United Kingdom in 1967, and being part of the Commonwealth.
It goes without saying that, as soon as they became the owners of the island, one of the first measures of the British was to move the capital from the French-speaking Soufrière to Castries, which would become an Anglista of no return.
A Fishing Late Afternoon
We left the main square and the Church of the Assumption to passersby, relieved by the late afternoon of work and in a good mood to match.
As we descend Frederick Clarke St. towards the port, we come across the inevitable Rastafarian guests of the city, used to milling around the bars and businesses of this artery of the town and its airy seafront. In this golden closing of the afternoon, a communal task recruits dozens of hands and draws inquisitive souls to the cove's walled threshold.
Much due to the cruises being Castries and Soufrière's account, having stayed only with traditional fishing boats, small boats, sailboats and the like, fish abound in the sea in front of Maurice Mason St. and the seafront in general.
A mere twenty-five meters offshore, two fishermen with fins and diving masks guided a complex net fishing maneuver. They instructed an entourage of pullers ashore to retract the huge net in order to preserve the fenced school.
Initially, the work progressed according to plan. Two or three mishaps were enough to trigger the fury of the brains of the operation and multidirectional discussions that, in that wavy Creole, sounded to us the music, the themes sung between the dance hall and the boyoun punch.
Finally, the net is collapsed. With the horizon almost capturing the sun, fishermen and spectators are left to the intricate distribution of the fish.
Satisfied with what we were taking from Soufrière, we decided to share the last attention with the Pitons.
The Delightful Vision of Petit Piton Twilight
We got in the car. We cross the village towards the edge of its bay. Then, we proceed to the sand and to the nook where the black sand gives way to the tropical forest hanging on the slope. A group of young women determined to improve their shape undergo strenuous exercise.
A few meters away, under the also vegetal shelter of a leafy mango tree, three boys try to save their minds from the hardships of the day, given to their own weed fingers and that unique tropical setting that most of the world only dreams of.
We stop at the surroundings, surrendered to the scent of grass intensified by the Caribbean humidity. We appreciated how the sunset and the twilight made up the smallest of the Pitons.
Out of nowhere, four teenage friends appear, one with a pit bull on a leash. They walk to the T pier that stood out from the beach and inaugurate a session of acrobatic dives that not even the mascot can get away with.
Soon, the blackness of the night merges with that of the beach. We return to Castries. The Pitons are among the stars of the Caribbean.