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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Poverty in Paradise: Splendor & Depravity of Soufriere

Petit Piton, as seen from our cockpit.

The Soufriere area, with its surrounding inlets, bay and the two volcanic peaks, Gros Piton and Petit Piton, is literally and figuratively the high point of Saint Lucia.  Hot springs, waterfalls, rainforest hikes offering spectacular views, the best snorkeling and diving on the island, plus lots of high end accommodations, complete with culinary delights and pampering in paradise.... There is no shortage unique activities.

View of Soufriere from our cockpit from our
more comfortable mooring, further from town.
However, despite the area’s lush, wonderful and wild volcanic beauty, in my personal opinion, Soufriere is still “the wrong side of the tracks.”  While we’re glad we saw the area, we curtailed our exploration in our frustration with the Disneyland attitude, where the best things in Soufriere are far from free, especially freedom of movement. 

Arriving pre-season, despite traveling and dressing modestly, we were a very visible target for starved tourist-dependant locals.  It took several minutes to shake off aggressive unwanted offers of help whenever we or our boat came in striking range.  A few offers were pleasant, but most seemed to take a page from the phrase, “Salesmanship begins when the customer says ‘No.’”  In our case, “No” really does mean “No” and further pushing dramatically decreases rather than increases our interest.  Help took the form of bringing our boat in, buying fruit, local handicrafts, guarding our boat, our dinghy, taking us on tour, providing a boat taxi, eating at a particular restaurant, smoking a joint…

Without Dave’s encouragement,
we probably wouldn’t
have snorkeled in Sourfriere….
Savvy areas might consider ways to minimize or at least coach and organize those entrepreneurs interested in basing any of their livelihood on tourism, especially if the area is interested in growing their tourist economy.  Then again, maybe I’m just not their ideal customer.  Still, it’s hard to believe telling visitors they need to pay a total stranger to guard their dinghy so it won’t get stolen will make an area more appealing to visit.  Yet given their gaunt figures, the general decay and the crumbling shanties many called home, it was easy to understand their desire for a piece of what we possessed.

Enjoyed the Petit Piton Falls and its hot
waterfall shower…

$3 @ USD
Soufriere is the first place, even though it was hot and humid, that we felt compelled to lock ourselves into our boat to sleep at night, and close up all the hatches.  I don’t regret locking ourselves in, but do resent feeling the need to do so.  There are of course exceptions…. We were incredibly relieved Petit Peak restaurant, where we stopped for a(n expensive) draft of Piton the day before, still had and quickly proffered the backpack forgotten there the day before, fully intact.


Or eaten at Big Yard, where Dave treated us to lunch and we
provided the Pitons.
  We’re glad we met Dave
in 
Marigot Bay and hope to meet him again in our travels.
We still enjoyed the snorkeling at Anse Chastanet (despite getting our prop fouled in what looked like a mooring buoy and paying $18 USD to avoid getting stung by jellyfish to untangle it) and nearer Soufriere, Diamond Baths botanical gardens ($10 EC each), built by Louie the 16th, its waterfall, and Petit Piton hot! waterfall and baths ($3 USD each).  

We did not go to the Sulpher Springs, hike the Pitons, tour the Hotel Chocolat, though I’d have liked to. I did not spend time photographing the locals or the Soufriere architecture in its sad but colorful state of Venetian decay. It struck me as unwelcome; I respected that. Nor did we pamper ourselves at any of the spas, eat at any lofty high-end restaurants or stay in any hotels, resort or otherwise; we just stuck to exploration by foot, fin and dinghy and took in the view from our mooring ball.

What would I tell someone considering the Soufriere area?  If you’re comfortable opening your wallet and your heart, it’s a wonderful though not entirely safe place to go.  For the rest of us?  A scenic sail and snorkel, admiring the Pitons at sunset from a distance falls far short of what the area has to offer, but frees up time and money to explore elsewhere with greater ease.  For hiking, I was happier with our morning hike at Pigeon Island Park (than our long-cut hike to Petit Piton Falls), a lunch at Jambe de Bois and back to our boat in Rodney Bay and am maybe a bit spoiled in my volcanic explorations in Hawaii (VolcanicNational Park), and hot springs in Oregon (Breitenbush and Bagby).