St. Lucia’s Drive-through Volcano
These days, drive through fast food restaurants, pharmacies, and banks are common and a convenient feature of modern life. However, have you ever driven through a volcanic crater that still has some geothermal activity? This drive-through volcano, promoted as the one and only in the world, is located on the beautiful island of St. Lucia. The volcano is known as the Qualibou (place of death). The original settlers of the island, Arawaks, indigenous people of the Caribbean, worshiped their fire god, Yokaho, at the volcano. According to legends, in ancient days the locals used to sacrifice humans at the volcano to please the volcano gods.
We drove through the caldera (a large crater about 3.5 X 5 kilometers wide formed by the volcanic eruption), and later walked around via the designated walkways to witness the sights and sounds of a dormant volcano. Some geothermal activity is always on: the hissing noise of the steam vents (fumaroles), bubbling hot springs, and the strong smell of sulfur welcomed us into the crater. We saw the bubbling mess of mud-steam-mineral mixture spewing and running down in streams. The mud and mineral deposits near the fumaroles and mud pots are multi-colored due to deposits of various minerals. According to reports, the last major eruption occurred about 40000 years ago. Since then there was only a minor eruption in the late 1700’s.
St Lucia is one of the Windward Islands, located in between Martinique, St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a small island, just over 600 square kilometers with a population of about 170,000. The French and the British colonized the island for a long time. The French set foot on the island in the 1600s and then came the British. The control of the island switched back and forth between England and France many times as they fought many wars. Under the British, Castries became the capital. In 1979 St. Lucia became an independent state.
St. Lucia has two major population groups, namely African, and African-European mix. There is a small percentage (about 3%); of the Indo-Caribbean population. they are mainly the descendants of the indentured labourers brought from India during the British Rule. St Lucia’s revenue is mainly from tourism, offshore banking, manufacturing, and agriculture products such as banana. Saint Lucia has one university and a few medical schools catering to offshore students, mainly from US and Canada.
Miles of sandy beaches, an abundance of trees and shrubs (coconut palms, banana plantations, jack/breadfruit trees), an assortment of flowering plants (hibiscus, plumeria, jasmine, bougainvillea, etc.), hills, valleys, and meadows, and the rainforest make the land a tourist magnet. St. Lucia is the home to many bird species, hummingbirds, pigeons, St. Lucia Parrot, known as "Jacquot", white-breasted thrasher, the St. Lucia peewee, and the St. Lucia oriole, and many more. The hot temperature is tempered by northeast trade winds. It has hot days and slightly cool nights. The island is green, and fertile. Her people are warm and friendly.
Our journey started from the town of Vieux Fort, located in the southern part of the island. Hewanorra International airport is in Vieux Fort. For a long time, Vieux Fort was the center of St Lucia's sugar industry. There is nothing much in this town other than beaches, few hotels/resorts, and historic colonial houses in the old town area. We stayed at the Coconut Bay Beach Resort & Spa on St. Lucia’s south coast, just a short drive from the airport. We enjoyed our all-inclusive stay, friendly staff, good food, and excellent beach location.
Tourism is more substantial during the dry season (January to April). St Lucia tends to be popular due to its tropical weather and scenery and its large number of beaches and resorts.
Maria Island is a short boat ride from Vieux Fort. The island is a Nature Reserve since 1982 and is home to two exotic species, the Kouwes Snake (Leimadophis ornatus), and the Zandoli Terre lizard (Gymnopthalmus). Mankote Mangrove near Savannes Bay is a nature reserve for fish, and other sea creatures and birds
Soufriere and the Pitons
Soufrière, on the west coast of Saint Lucia, was formed as part of the volcanic eruption. The French established it as the capital. The Pitons, two towering peaks at the foot of the volcanic mountain and rising from the ocean floor, are located in Soufriere. The Pitons (The Gros Piton and the Petit Piton) are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
St Lucian Rain Forest
St Lucia’s national rain forest, about 19,000 acres, is lush and green with mountainous terrains and valleys. Its flora and fauna include giant ferns, many verities of birds and trees, orchids, and exotic plants and flowers.
It has rainforest trails, spectacular views, and several waterfalls. The rainforest attracts bird watchers, hikers, and nature lovers. There are zipline tours through the rainforest available for adventure seekers.
Diamond Botanical Gardens is located nearby within the volcanic area in the Soufrière Estate. Sulphur springs run through the Gardens. Underground hot springs feed the Sulphur Springs and that in turn feed the mineral baths in Botanical Gardens. The Diamond River originates from the Sulphur Springs, its water blackened from volcanic mud, runs through the Gardens.
The Sulphur springs are located with the crater. Its water contains large deposits of sulphur, iron, copper, iron oxide, alkaline lead, calcium oxide, and carbon. Due to chemical reactions between sulphur and iron in the water looks grayish/black in color. The sulphur baths are promoted with health benefits. These baths were built at Diamond Estate during King Louis XV1 of France’s rule.
Our tour guide, ‘Alexander the Great’, with his booming voice, gave us an educational tour of the Gardens. For two hours, he took us around explaining the history, attractions, plants, and birds. A wide variety of plants, trees, and shrubs, some of them are unique to the island, are present in the Garden.
We enjoyed an off-roading session on an ATV through the banana plantations, coconut groves, and beaches. It was fun and exhilarating. It took me a while to learn to manoeuvre the brute little monster. We met a local family that served us fruits, snacks, and drinks exhibiting great hospitality.
Capital City: Castries
Castries is the new capital of St. Lucia and it is the business center of the country. It has a cruise terminal (major cruise companies serve the island) and an airport. From the harbour, there are the high-speed boat/catamaran services to nearby islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Dominica. There are modern hotels, and resorts spread all over the island that provides all-inclusive packages to tourists from USA, Canada, and Europe. Soufriere, Gros Islet, Marigot Bay, Vieux Forte, and Rodney Bay, are the main tourist locations.
There are many tourist spots, and attractions, (Castries Market, colonial buildings of Derek Walcott Square) and activities available in Castries including helicopter tours and catamaran sailing.
Marigot Bay is on the western coast and is close to the capital city of Castries. The bay is naturally protected from hurricanes due to the location and physical layout. It has historical connotations due to the number of battles between the British, and the French.
Arts, sports, and culture
Like many other Caribbean islands, St Lucia is enriched with ethnocultural arts, and festivals. Saint Lucia Jazz Festival is the biggest festival that draws visitors and musicians from around the world. Calypso, Soca, Dancehall, Reggae, Compas, Zouk, Salsa and indigenous folk music and a local dance called Kwadril are prominent in the music, and dance scene. July is the Carnival month in St Lucia and it is becoming popular these days. Cricket is a popular sport. There are many other activities to partake including diving, snorkelling, sailing, yachting, windsurfing, hiking, and deep-sea fishing.
There is much to see and enjoy in St Lucia besides the sun, sand, and seascapes. Take a day trip to see the island, and appreciate the beauty of the rainforest, and her friendly people. Hop on a yacht and sail past the Pitons in the glorious sun. Walk around in the capital city of Castries; explore the market, duty-free shops, and local restaurants. Take a nature walk, or immerse in the mineral baths for few hours. St. Lucia is worth exploring. It is clean, safe, and inexpensive when compared to other islands.
(The author, a technology professional, resides in Toronto, Canada with his family)