I had the good fortune to travel to several Islands in the Caribbean a while back and found the place quite Interesting. I took a plane that for some reason originated in Detroit, stopped in Atlanta, then on to Miami, San Juan, Puerto Rico and finally landing at George F. L. Chairles Airport on the island of St. Lucia. Quite a trip, but at least the people I ended up sitting next to on the flights were interesting and friendly.
The airport is quite small but it is a small, impoverished island. I spent most of my time in Forestiere and Castries CIty and what a stark contrast they provided to life in the U.S.Castries was the first place I ever saw half a cow hanging on a hook in the open air at a market. People would hand the butcher money and he would chop a piece off, put it in a bag or something and off the customer went. That type of food handling/sanitation scene would land just about everyone in north america in an emergency room with food poisoning. But the entire market was operated in a similar fashion and the locals seemed to be just fine.
I drove around for a bit when I first arrived, heading up to Forestiere to have a look around. On the way back as I noticed what were effectively tar paper shacks with tin roofs. This was not an uncommon site as the island as it struggles with a stagnant economy, high debt and low per capita income. It relies heavily on tourism which accounts for something like 65% of GDP. Despite all this, I found the locals to be friendly people and I had a great time.
You probably won’t be surprised when I tell you I stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. I was surprised to see it so I thought I’d stop. There were a couple other American restaurants there but I chose the Colonel for some reason. The capital, Castries was generally active and alive with life all day. Well, there are resort areas just outside of Castries where as you can imagine anything a tourist desires is available. I was surprised to learn there is a decent sized expat community from various countries in the area. The island life is quite easy to become accustomed to. Yes, I hung out in the area and did a pub crawl a few times as the area is quite lively at night. It was interesting speaking with all the expats hanging out as some of their stories were fascinating.
Oh, I was walking down the beach one day and a guy was squatting down, holding what appeared to be fishing line extending out into the surf. Out of curiosity I stopped to ask what he was up to. He had only a pair of pants on and was obviously poor but seemed to be quite happy nevertheless. He told me that he was homeless but when he was hungry he fished and extended his hand showing me the line. I suppose living in a place like this you don’t really need a job if you can figure out how to live outdoors.
There seemed to be some type of festival every day I was there, probably for the tourists but I loved it. The music, dancing, food, tourists and locals all came together to make an incredible experience.
Interestingly enough there is a dock for cruise ships and periodically one would show up, let the people off and they would descend on the local area, eating, drinking and souvenir shopping. You could tell when a ship was in the area as the population would balloon. There are also a couple high end resorts I learned, like Sandals which was not to far from where I stayed. One reason I know this is I met a group of tourists that had wandered down the beach and onto the Sandals resort. Turns out there is a bar in front of the resort and if you walk up to it, and the bartender thinks you’re not a guest you can drink for free. So, two of the guys from the group walked up and posed as a gay couple and enjoyed a few drinks until the manager wandered out and asked who they were. All good thins must come to an end eh?
So, eventually I made my way to Forestiere to work on a school project as I’d volunteered to help on a humanitarian project while I was there. We remodeled a school for the locals and brought in books and schools supplies. The locals in this area lived in what amounted to abject poverty compared to the west but again, everyone seemed to be quite happy. I remember a family that lived on the school grounds in a one room house, a mother, two daughters and I believe a son. They were incredibly helpful, friendly and accommodating. One day they even brought us some baked goods which were delicious. Interesting how people experiencing lack are the first to help others but the wealthy aren’t.
There were some entrepreneurs living close by and after a young boy came up to sell us some pop and we bought, he showed up every day thereafter with stuff to sell us. Hey can’t fault that behavior can you? We finally finished the school and I made my way back to Castries for more fun in the sun.
I was on the island for several weeks and enjoyed the entire time. If I ever get the chance, I’ll go back in a second, the island life is definitely something I could get used to.