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Easy living: the island of St Lucia

PUBLISHED: 22:36 16 July 2012 | UPDATED: 22:03 21 February 2013

Easy living: the island of St Lucia

Easy living: the island of St Lucia

Karen Bowerman visited St Lucia and discovered a beguiling, easygoing attitude on a small, Caribbean island.

Easy living: the island of St Lucia

Karen Bowerman visited St Lucia and discovered a beguiling, easygoing attitude on a small, Caribbean island.

Some people arent any good at keeping a straight face; poor Lily was one of them. The moment she tried to come out with her designated line, she collapsed into giggles, her head on her hands and her hands clinging to the edge of her shiny, granite-topped bar.

It was then that I knew we were lost, for as soon as she glanced up to see if my husband was still waiting (as he invariably was) shed break into laughter, a deep, throaty laughter, which I, looking on, feared would never stop.

Lily, the larger-than-life bartender at Calabash Cove hotel on St Lucia, was a middle-aged woman who mixed a fine dirty banana cocktail (with a generous measure of white rum) and whod visited England only once, leaving after three days because it was Far. Too. Cold.

It was clear she hadnt exactly fallen in love with our country, but the welcome she gave us to her own, won us over during our visit to this small, tropical island in the Caribbean.

XXX
On our first day, a Sunday, we went to mass in the capital, Castries, a forty minute drive away.

The doors of the massive cathedral were wedged open to let in the breeze. We crept in and sat at the back.

The congregation numbered a thousand and everyone was in their Sunday best. I looked out over a sea of hats and hairdos: silk roses, glittery slides, pearl-studded headbands, plaits, pigtails, ringlets and ribbons.

The service included a biblical quiz, fervent Amens and a 75-minute sermon, notable for its length but also for the lack of fidgeting among the 200 or so children.

A spurt of zealous hymn singing brought everything to a close; most St Lucians are Roman Catholics, but they worship with West Indian verve.

We emerged three hours later, skirting a man with a bright pink cart whod installed himself directly in front of the church doors. The kids whod been impeccably behaved in the presence of God began clamouring for ice creams.

The vendors cart reflected life as he saw it. On one side (the one that faced the cathedral) it declared God is love. On the other: No credit.

St Lucians seem fond of their slogans; windscreens are emblazoned with them.
At traffic lights messages of spiritual encouragement: God saves! and Blessed are the meek! pull up next to those of a more colourful nature such as Wanna tempt me? or Sexy and I know it!

Even the minivans that serve as buses offer food for thought (of sorts) as you hop on for a ride.

XXX
Castries runs along an exceptionally deep harbour making it a favourite stop for cruise ships.

Our guidebook didnt think much of the place, but not wanting to dismiss it out of hand, I decided to consult the locals and approached a St Lucian couple to ask where they thought we should go.

The woman barely hesitated. You should go back to your hotel, she said, because there is nothing to see here.

Undeterred we set off in the other direction, sauntering over (an admittedly ugly) bridge past a young boy tinkering with his bike in a small mechanics yard.

We stopped to admire a local Calabash tree whose bulbous fruit is hollowed out and used as bowls and had soon settled into that slow, energy-conserving pace of those accustomed to walking under a strong Caribbean sun.

Our stroll turned into a four-hour walk back to the hotel.

XXX
Lily shook her head, either in disbelief or disapproval. I couldnt work out which. No one walks from church, she said. It was a statement we werent to question.

She glanced across the bay, tracing the palm-fringed coastline as it curved from Castries, then told my husband if he had, indeed, walked that far (he insisted he had) then he deserved two, if not three, bottles of ice cold Piton, the local beer.

He said he doubted his wife would allow it; I said it was too hot to argue.

As the two of them discussed the pros and cons of a matriarchal relationship, I ordered a dirty banana cocktail and headed for the shade.

And thats when the deal was struck. Whenever Lily spotted us, she was to glance up from the bar and say, as if of her own accord, of course, It looks like you need an ice cold Piton, sir. If she made the suggestion, then I wouldnt dare disapprove.

Apparently she thought this hilarious.

XXX
Life on St Lucia is laidback and relaxed: fishermen land their catch, children wander home from school and women sell coconuts and dasheen (a vegetable similar to potato) from roadside stalls.

No ones in a rush. Theres time to talk (about nothing in particular), to stroll (nowhere special) and to trade jokes, banter and smile.

I was worried that joining the tourist trail it might spoil it.

But compared with its island neighbours, Barbados, Martinique and St Vincent and the Grenadines, tourism has grown relatively slowly here. In fact the absence of ticket offices, turnstiles and tourist shops seems to have added to St Lucias charm.

We drove north to Babonneau and spent a few quiet hours gliding over the rainforest in an open-air cable car, before trekking through the undergrowth searching for toucans and spotting termite mounds 5 feet tall.

Next, we headed west, through mountains and banana plantations, to Soufriere.

Beneath a hill that bubbled and belched, we slathered ourselves in mineral rich mud and baked on rocks in the sunshine.

A sign, stuck into the ground was all that advised against heading upstream (where temperatures rose above scalding) and since there were just a couple of shed-cum-changing rooms, we dumped our belongings on a bench under a tree.

The springs attract thousands of visitors a year. People arrive, slip on swimsuits, sit under a ramshackle stone bridge, scoop up mud and smile!

XXX
The sun was setting when, back at Calabash Cove, we strolled past the open-air bar.

There was an eruption of giggles. Lily, glancing up, did her best to deliver her line. My husband smirked. Within seconds the two of them were rumbled.

But by the following evening Lily had developed her own, unique style of service. We approached; she collapsed in convulsions - the usual. But as she disappeared under the bar, a hand appeared from beneath the counter, plonking an ice cold Piton on top.

There was no glass, no finesse and no small talk. But shed honoured her side of the deal.

That was the main reason, no doubt, that my husband warmed to Lily. As for me, it was a tad more subtle; Lilys fun-loving, easy going attitude embodied little of what I was beginning to love about St Lucia - although her dirty banana cocktails were pretty amazing too.

Calabash Cove and Spa: www.calabashcove.com has its own private beach and gardens that slope down to the sea. All rooms and garden chalets enjoy sea views.St Lucia tourist board: www.stlucia.org



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