Saturday, July 15, 2017

Other People's Vacation Pics * The Tourist And The Teen

It has been more than a year since my Mom's last visit. How has a year passed???  My... how time flies...  We were leaving St. Martin when she began talking about a visit.  Looking ahead at the islands within a reasonable distance, we chose St. Lucia, mainly because it is an English speaking country and I thought it would be easier for my Mom to manage by herself...

She asked me about a range of dates and I confirmed that we would be able to get the boat to St. Lucia within that time... Next thing I know... she's emailing me her itinerary!  Now I know where I get my impulsiveness gene!  And furthermore... she was bringing my teenaged nephew along as her travel companion!

Stewed pork and mashed potatoes - a local meal
It's been some time since I've spent any time with my nephew...  Like since I used to rock him in my bentwood rocker when he was an infant!!!  My first thought was that he would be more than Bruce and I could handle... I have no experience with teenaged boys... I had two girls!  But Bruce's decades as a school teacher lessened my concerns, so we started making plans of a different sort.  Things to do in St. Lucia that would entertain a TEEN!

I asked my Mom and my Brother what his son likes to do... Mom's answer:  Eat!  My Brother's response:  Play video games and be on the internet.  Whoops!  Houston, we may have a problem.  The eating we can handle... but our internet connectivity ranges from painfully slow to non-existent.  Tell him to download some entertainment to bring with him just in case...

The holiday began on a downward note when my big surprise visit to a beautiful beach right across the street from the airport was a non-starter.  The plane was more than three hours late, which pushed us to even get them back to Rodney Bay before dark!  By the time we got checked into Heritage House B&B, it was full on dark and everyone was hot and tired.

Bruce took my nephew to the boat with him, leaving me to sleep in air conditioned comfort have some quality time with my Mom.

Day Two:

The next morning the boys joined us for breakfast at the house, then we set off to show our guests around the island.  We chose the #1 thing to do on St. Lucia for our first event... Viewing the iconic Pitons!  This would be an easy one.  While on prior reconnaissance missions we discovered not one, but two really nice viewing stops along the winding roads (another event in themselves) through the rainforest and valleys of this beautiful island.

We met up with Rescue once again, and purchased the obligatory commemorative island jewellery... and gave our guests their first glimpse of the amazing land masses that are Gros and Petit Piton.

Next stop was a viewing platform that gave us the Pitons and the quaint little town of Soufriere blanketing the valley below and to the north of Petit Piton.  These views are just beautiful and leave us with no need to get any closer!  I hear that there are guided hikes up BOTH of these peaks... No thank you!

 Ticking that off the list, we can now proceed to the #2 most interesting thing to do on St. Lucia... Sulphur Springs Park - Drive-In Volcano and Mud Baths! 

Looking up at the collapsed rim
Soufriere is billed as a "drive through" volcano.  I think that's a bit dramatic... Yes, you can drive up into the collapsed rim of the volcano to a parking lot.... But that's where it stops.  You pay for your tickets first, then walk (or drive) up to the volcano dome to take a very informative guided tour.  Then you go back downstream and frolic in the steaming grey mud coming down the mountain from the volcano's sulphur springs.

The Dome
We bought our tickets and walked along the nice pathway right alongside the volcanic field.

You can see - and smell - the sulphur steam rising from the dome of this still-active volcano.

The Sulphur Springs form a river down the ravine from the dome to the pools below

This is one of the original mineral baths that is no longer in use.  It is above the dome with clear spring water from the pool above.

Gabriel's Hole
We climbed the steep stairway that led around the perimeter of the active volcanic field.  There were holes exposing bubbling vats of grey mud that emitted the sulphurous steam.  It was warm and the air with thick with vapours.

From the top of the viewing platform we looked directly into Gabriel's Hole.  Until the mid-1990's the public was allowed to walk right up to the edge of this active field... That is, until a tour guide named Gabriel fell through the thin crust, receiving terrible burns from the waist down.  One dude roast's himself and ruins it for the rest of us!

Pretty uncomfortable to walk in... it's THAT hot!
We followed the stream back down into the ravine where a nice staging area has been set up.  There are changing rooms and lockers or benches to leave your dry things while you slather your body in the thick grey mud!

Theft is reportedly an issue here so we took nothing of value down to the pits, leaving everything locked safely in our guarded vehicle.  We quickly abandoned our towels and coverups and stepped into another world.

The Park Staff bring buckets of the grey mud down for visitors to dip hands in and rub all over1  The day we were there was a non-Cruise-Ship day...  There were very few visitors.  We learned on subsequent visits here that it's not even worth trying to visit the baths if a Cruise Ship is in port.  Just don't bother.

The story goes that if you cover yourself in this mud and soak in the mineral baths, it will melt away ten years from your age.  While that is desirable for the rest of us... we hoped it wouldn't work on the youngest member of our party... That would leave us with a four year old for the rest of the week!

I'm sensing some reluctance...
Yes... we even got BRUCE to join in the fun!
Photo by my Mom
After letting the grey mud dry to almost white, they have a second, smaller bucket with a contrasting darker mud to use to make fun patterns... It didn't take us long to be ready to shed this layer, and the promised ten years...

That is done in a two-step process... first, the mineral baths!  The mineral springs have been pooled in a huge cement vat that's about waist deep.  While the muddy waters are still thick, they will rinse off most of the dried on mud, leaving the last to be washed away in the cool fresh water showers below.  I don't know about washing away ten years... but I can say that the mud leaves your skin smooth and soft. 

This pool, while not quite as hot as the stream above... is only slightly cooler making total submersion difficult.  They also warn visitors not to spend too much time in the baths for fear that they will be as limp as a noodle when trying to get out.  Some of us learned that the hard way...

Guess who was first in to remove the mud...

Here honey... could you help get this OFF OF ME???

Photo by she-who-remained-cool-and-dry
And there it is... the coveted THUMBs UP!
Time to get out... I don't want to have to tell your parents that I cooked their son!

Markings from an ancient civilisation?  
Stick a fork in him... he's DONE!
We had an awesome time at the volcano.  My concerns that we would be saddled with an unimpressable teenager were melting away with that smile.  Maybe I can come out of the shadowy world of "that aunt I never see" to "that aunt that I visit in cool places"... We will see...

All of this boiling has made us ravenous.  As mentioned in other posts, finding lunch outside of the lunch hour is not easy on this island.  There are no fast food places and many of the local restaurants close up in the afternoon.  We discussed finding some place that would serve up "local cuisine"... and the lack of enthusiasm for my examples led me to Google to search for a place that served Teen-friendly food... hamburgers or pizza or the like...

We straightened ourselves up a bit and took off in search of that kind of food in the little town of Soufriere!  Bruce and I had previously struck out on our last attempt at finding food here...  Google Maps showed us the way to Hippos Pizza.  How can that go wrong???

Check out that sign...
We parked the car a couple of blocks away and walked down the streets lined with vendors and little shops of all kinds.  People were liming or selling their wares and I had to wonder what was going through the minds of our guests.  What has become more normal for us in recent months is definitely not what people from back home are used to...  But they both put on a brave face and followed us into the alleyway beneath the Hippos Pizza sign...

We walked past an upright beverage cooler that was locked with a double-wrapped chain of a size that surely overestimates the value of the contents of the cooler...  This was our first clue...

The four of us stared in dismay at the merger selection of pizzas in a warming case... There was pepperoni, cheese, corn and - wait for it -  WEENIE!  Yes!  I had brought my guest- to-impress... to a place that served weenie pizza... and it was to-go no less.  There was no actual restaurant... just this cheesie alley where my Mom and nephew were already teetering on the verge of fleeing back the way we had come!

Eventually we all voted with our stomachs... we were hungry now... We took a mixed pizza, a little of each... and fled back to the relative safety and familiarity of our rental car.  Finding shade in the parking lot of the nearby Diamond Botanical Gardens, we ate our pizza, licked our fingers and our mental wounds...  I think my guests were growing tired of too much reality.

Furthermore, the day was growing long and if we were to be off the roads by dark, we needed to forego a visit to the Botanical Gardens and head back now.  Oh well, you can't do everything in one visit!  This island just has too much to see!  Back to the B&B and Boat for now...

Day Three:

After breakfast we left my Mom at the B&B to recuperate while Bruce and I took my nephew out for a short sail.  Sailing and snorkelling were two of my nephew's secondary interests, according to my Brother.    So we would tick both of those off the list today.

Both of his parents are proficient sailors and I would imagine that it would please them to see a love of the sport develop in their son.  The deep blue waters of the Caribbean just might do the trick!  We motored out of the mooring field and raised sails, encouraging participation by all onboard...

Once the morning fog wore off, my nephew became a fully engaged participant in the process, working the jib sheets under Bruce's instruction.  I did my best to explain everything we were doing and what was going on at every stage.  Sometimes kids are afraid to ask questions, so I tried to answer them before they were asked.  I could see comprehension in his eyes and hope that I did my part to further his interest in sailing.  At the very least we showed him a different side from the racing and sailing on Corpus Christi Bay that he's accustomed to.  Cruising is very different and the blue waters of the Caribbean beckon the proficient sailor to adventure.

Pigeon Island
Today, we just took a leisurely sail along the coast to the south, then tacked back to the northwest with the winds until the ocean swell began to make the ride less comfortable.  Bruce and I decided to douse the sails and just motor on over to Pigeon Island where we would anchor and snorkel for a while.

We both laughed when my nephew found out that all this time we had been out sailing, and it was only about a ten minute trip to our starting point!  He learned that sailing is the art of getting nowhere fast slowly!

We anchored the boat and, leaving Bruce to work on cleaning the waterline, I swam with my nephew to snorkel the rocks along the northwest shore of the anchorage.  We stayed within the protected waters, which might not have had as many fish and things, but provided a playground for my fully dive-certified nephew to hone his free-diving skills.  My primary duty here was to make sure he was safe, which required chasing him around... because he swims like a FISH!

I'll share the underwater photos but I don't know which ones were taken by me for sure... we both had cameras to snap away and got some good ones I think.

Squid - I know I didn't take these!
More squid!

Is that a lobster???

We found bubbles coming up from the seabed.  Sign of volcanic action down there!

I could hardly keep up with the kid and he dove quite deep!  We had a blast but I finally had to wrap it up...  My Mom was probably getting bored without us.  She still wanted to go to the beach... but after our full day in the sun, we compromised and went to the Marina Pool...

A want... not a need... That is good.
Day Four:

The shoreline to the right near the point is our snorkel spot
Next up... exploring Pigeon Island and Fort Rodney!

Bruce and I are members of the St. Lucia National Trust and their primary concern here on the island is with the management of the Park on Pigeon Island.  It is a sprawling and beautiful property with shores on both sides and a trail up to Fort Rodney that is easy enough for most, but with just enough of a challenged to make you think you've done something when you get to the top.

I haven't any pearls of wisdom to educate you about this place... just the photos of us exploring the grounds and having a wonderful time laughing and joking around with one another.  I think this was our most "comfortable day".

Something my Brother requested of me prior to this visit was to try to give my nephew some pointers on photography.  You know it's my passion and if I can help open up the world of the camera's eye for him it would be my greatest pleasure.

We practiced on this cemetery... another of my passions... and I will say that my pupil was respectfully attentive and for a time, a willing student.

His photo
Him taking it
My thing is "perspective".  I like to take shots from a "different" or unexpected angle, not just standing straight and shooting the normal eye-level view.  That's the thing I tried to share of myself with my Brother's son... and I think he got it!

This is the person we should BOTH be getting photography pointers from...


Don't worry... it ended well.
The closest we get to Fall

Well the photography thing got old fast for a 14 year old boy...  So I went back to taking the pictures, and he went back to being a kid...  Bruce and Mom hung back, not wishing to continue up the more strenuous part of the trail to the fort...

He found this stick... it must have been 30 ft. long.  He carried it all the way up...  The last experience I had with boys and sticks involved holes in my screen door... But that was then, and this is now.  We had some fun, just me and him...

The trail became less of a path and more of a scramble but it was fun.  I had no stick, but still led the way pointing out landmarks and telling my kin of whatever things popped into my head. Then conversation became scarce as the terrain grew more steep and rocky...  I swear it looks like someone is moving the summit like a dangling carrot!

Just a rest stop...


Ahhh the reward

It was nice up there... the cool breeze, the distant clouds making a dramatic landscape.  Coming back down was much easier of course, and eventually I had to talk the stick out of my nephews hands...  We sent it off and returned to the Park commons to find my Mom and Bruce.

Their time was winding down and we still hadn't been to the beach.  So we went back to the B&B and suited up for an afternoon in the sand.  There was beach access parking about a block away from the house making it very easy.  I hadn't expected the vendors to swarm here... but one of them latched onto us and hustled us out to two beach chaises and proceeded to dig a hole for the umbrella.

Yes Mom... he's wearing sunscreen....
The price was really minimal and he made us very comfortable.  Guy's gotta make a living somehow, we might as well contribute to the economy of the lovely islands we visit in every little way we can.

We settled in for an afternoon in the sun, sand and surf...  Well, except that there wasn't any sun, which is OK because it wasn't too hot... And... there wasn't any surf because we're on the leeward side and the winds are calm... But there WAS sand!

Our visitors did the "tourist thing" while Bruce and I watched on indulgently.  No need for us to get into the water, we can do this any old time... Bruce can relax and I will stick to my duties as photographer!

The Produce Vendor

Presenting the shell collection
We lingered at the beach... This was the last chance to swim in the Blue Caribbean waters... My family would be leaving the island the next afternoon...

Slim Pickins

It's been a long time since I've had the chance to tickle these toes!
We left the beach and got ourselves cleaned up for dinner.  We had no energy to go far, but there is a nice area that begins just down the street from the B&B that I've taken to calling "Little Vegas" because there's a gambling casino in the middle of it.  There's also a mall and many, many stores and restaurants, all in one concentrated area.  We found Teen-Friendly food at a Wingz-N-Tings.  It was filling, cheap and really pretty good!

When I found out that my Mom had only booked for five days, counting arrival and departure day I was a little bit disappointed.  That's not really enough time.  Not enough time to visit... not enough time to see everything I wanted to show them.  But we had given it our best try to pack in as much as we could in the days allotted.  There was also not enough time in there for REST!

Bruce and I lead a less frenetic life.  We have lots of down time between spurts of activity... This prolonged high energy outlay was wearing on all of us I think... we were tired!  The guys went back to the boat, where Bruce still had to do his nightly chores and charge the batteries.  Mom and I returned to the B&B for some internet time and packing...

Day Five:

That's her... in the white with the hat...
The next day we combined the trip to the airport with a visit to the Port city of Castries.  We had to be out of the B&B by noon and by the time the boys arrived for a late breakfast and we had everything packed up, it was just about that time.

There's a really nice parking garage in the building where the Massey Supermarket is housed.  We parked the car and unfortunately, picked up a beggar on the way out of the garage... She hustled to open our door...  before we were ready.  She bounced around waiting for us to make a move... anticipating where we would go or what we would need so that she could jump to it before we had the chance, and thus earn herself some money...  She was a little bit creepy...

Telling her no, we don't need a taxi, or no, we don't need ANYTHING... we attempted to give her the slip by altering course abruptly and ducking into the supermarket.  We wanted to take a spin through there to check it out anyway, and needed to pick up some cold water to drink.

Carnival was gearing up and the market was crawling with people!  We left Bruce to check out with the water while we waited on the steps outside the door... And there she was!

We darted across the street and into the fish market where somehow she melted away.  Guess that wasn't her turf.  I led our small group through the reeking fish vendor's booths and into the produce and trinket shops that lined the dark aisles of the famous Castries Market.

Somewhere along the way, Bruce got his pocket picked.  The perpetrator had obviously watched us come out of the grocery store and saw Bruce slip his change from $100 EC (about $30 US in change) and gave him the bump...  Bruce checked his wallet and didn't think anything more of it until a bit further on he realized that the bills he had outside of the wallet were gone.  We considered ourselves lucky that it wasn't the wallet and chalked it up to Lessons-Learned.

The vendors were - well- vendors.  They did what they do.  They offered all manner of things with gentle, or not-so-gentle guilt trips for things unpurchased... It can be a little overwhelming!

My nephew was looking for something to take home as a souvenir and while Bruce was telling me about the pickpocketing... quietly did his own haggling and purchased a small painting on canvas.  Good job!

My mom was convinced to purchase a coconut bird feeder... for Emerald. The guys were just so relentless... they wore her down.

Time was dwindling... we were hungry... But the look in the eyes of our guests when I suggested picking up something from one of the vendors here was something I can only describe as "hunted".  I think they'd had enough of the bustling, messy, cornucopia of sights, sounds and scents of Castries Market and just wanted to get back to some normalcy.  We headed for the airport.

We all said our goodbyes and Bruce and I left them at the Departures gate... the ONLY departures gate... and returned to our lives, a little melancholy...

I wasn't ready for the visit to be over... but we were sure tired.

The already gruelling return itinerary became even worse for my family.  Their midnight flight out of Trinidad got cancelled and they didn't get out until late the following afternoon... Then that flight was late arriving in Houston, causing them to miss their flight to Corpus Christi...

I can't even think about how that must have been for them... so I won't.  I was left musing about our time together.  I went into this with some concerns that we would have a typical "Bored Teenager" on our hands.  What we got (after the daily morning fog lifted) was a chance to get to know my nephew and share a bit of our lives with him and my Mom.  We laughed a lot and made some memories.

Love of travel came late in life for me, and even later in life for my Mom!  I've tried to open that door for my own kids, now Mom has opened it for my nephew... A big "THANKS" to his parents for letting him come!  Maybe this will be the start of something for him...  I can only hope that they enjoyed out time together as we did!   We will be happy to have them back again somewhere (else) warm!