Exploring St Lucia The Sulphur Springs and Morne Coubaril Plantation
A supposed 'must see' around here is 'The Volcano', as the taxi drivers tell you. And only $80 to take you there, sir. 'It's the only drive through volcano in the world, mon'.
Well, that'll be apart from the one on Dominica, then? And it's a vent and bubbling springs rather than a volcano proper, but you can't fault them for trying. We know that you can catch a local bus most of the way, for $8EC, then have a nice walk to the Springs and back down again. We plan to do this, and visit a plantation - called Morne Coubaril - on the way down, where we might have lunch.
The plan starts well, we walk to the church square where buses leave, but the bus is full. Normal practice is to wait for the next one, which we do and are engaged in conversation by a taxi driver. When I joke that he's welcome to take us if he can match the bus fare, we laugh and he offers $15EC, less than £3. You're on, and we have a nice ride all the way to the Sulphur Springs, and a good chat. He either is or recently was a policeman, so shares some truths about the boat boys (most of them are dealing drugs)
At the Springs we pay a modest entry fee and are met by a guide, included in the price, who talks us through the walk around the springs. Issie and Max are focused on the fact that it is 'stinky' until the story about the guide who fell into a bubbling mud pool jolts them into attentiveness. Apparently until the 80's you could walk around the pools until a guide, demonstrating that the ground was solid, jumped up and down and fell through a weak crust into a pool. the poor man survived with serious burns and since then tourists have been kept at a safe distance.
The guided tour is quite careful to keep you to the path that leads back past the 'tips are welcome' sign, so much so that when Max spots a path leading off, he asks 'Where does that go?' and our guide says, 'oh, just another path up higher and a little museum.' before guiding us on past.
Good old Max and his inquisitiveness. After leaving a tip, we return by ourselves and hike up a bit to a real nice interpretation centre, with video and models of the area and whats going on beneath the ground. It was really nicely done and the kids were very interested. A few tourists were taken that far by their taxi and sat in front of the video before returning to their taxi for the 200 yard trip downhill to the start of the guided walk. From the small sample of fifteen or so tourists, they could have done with the walk. People, and their kids, are getting big these days....
We dig into our rucksacks for a snack and slowly walk back down the hill past the springs, taking in a wide variety of different views and spotting banana trees, mangoes and other interesting flora and fauna as we go. At the base of the springs, the water gathers into the black Soufriere River that flows to the falls we visited yesterday. Here there is a rustic outdoor pool where you can bath in the hot black mineral water itself. We waded and soaked out feet, it was very pleasant.
Following the plan, we politely reject the entreaties of the souvenir sellers and taxi drivers and walk back downhill for about 20 minutes to the plantation. At the gate we find things very quiet, and whilst they are happy to give us a tour, they are not serving food nor is the bar or gift shop open. It's not a cruise ship day. OK, that's fine, lets tour anyway. It's a little more pricey than the other things we've done, still cheap compared to a National Trust visit but we have different benchmarks now. As we walk in it seems a little less interesting than we'd hoped and I begin to wonder if we've picked poorly this time.
Yet once again, hanging in there a bit and letting things happen and develop pays dividends. The plantation is really fascinating, our guide is very knowledgeable and we have the place almost to ourselves. If there were cruise ship visits, there would be literally hundreds of people milling around here. At one point, a car drives in being some more visitors hoping for a tour, and since our guide is also the girl who takes ticket money, she breaks off from us and lets another gentleman take over. He's a bit hard to understand but as we grow an understanding and get chatting, he's great. He's worked on the plantation for 15 years and knows all about it. He shows us how to get coconuts out of their husks using an iron spike, and opens them with his machete. Max, at last, tries a drink of coconut milk and really likes it! From where we are, we can see Ty Dewi down in the bay in town. It's a delightful spot.
we learn about how they process cacao to make cocoa beans for chocolate, and are given a couple of cacao pods. We are currently engaged in a science experiment on board to ferment the beans, then dry and roast them. Can we make our own St Lucian chocolate? Watch this space...
We see how sugar cane is crushed to extract the sweet juice, have a drink of fresh grapefruit juice, and chat a little to the other visitors, an architect and his wife staying with a St Lucian friend in Castries. Then we bid our goodbyes and start to walk downhill to town.
About halfway, the visitors from the plantation come past, and stop and give us a welcome lift down into town. We head for Camilla's, a recommended local restaurant and have a great, and great value, meal before strolling back to the boat. On the way back, we pass the bar we ate in yesterday and sitting there are the Canadians we'd talked to at the Botanical Gardens yesterday. They are here on vacation but also sail back home, and we'd half-jokingly invited him to sail to Boston with us in May. 'Hey', he says, 'I got the go-ahead for the trip if you're serious'. 'Come on back to the boat if you'd like, we can chat..' So they come with us and we have a lovely hour sharing a rum punch and chatting away. It looks like Ken may join us for the trip, so that's another great outcome from our time here in St Lucia.
We really have enjoyed this island, even with the attentions of the local hustlers, but that's the next email....