The first settlers were British but they were killed by the Caribs after three years and the island was colonised again a year later by the French in 1642. The British returned and the island changed hands 14 times before becoming a British crown colony in 1814.
Most of the settlers were French and their influence remains as 85% of the population are Catholic. The official language is English but the people speak créol between themselves.
St Lucia is an independent state within the British Commonwealth.
Agriculture and tourism each contribute about a third of GNP but tourism is growing faster...
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It was past eight in the evening when the Jade Express high speed ferry from Martinique brought me here. I always try to arrive early in a strange place to have plenty of time to chose where I'm going to stay but this time I had no choice.
It was dark when I got out of the customs building, too dark to go searching for a room on foot so I took a taxi. As chance would have it, the driver was a huge very black unshaven person who smelled of alcohol among other things. I felt a little apprehensive but negotiated a price and asked him to take me to the Damascus Guest House recommended for budget travellers by Lonely Planet. He told me that it had closed down and offered to take me somewhere else. Having heard that before, I insisted that I wanted to see for myself at the risk of insulting someone much bigger than myself. Anyway, we drove up to where the Damascus should have been and I had to admit that he had been right. The next Lonely Planet recommendation was for the Chesterfield Inn at 35 $US which probably meant 50 $US since my Lonely Planet was 3 years old. By that time it was really dark and finding the Damascus closed had unsettled me. He offered again to take me to some place he knew. He did not know the price but was sure it was cheap. I was tempted to go to the Chesterfield but I did not want to pay 50 $US just to sleep so finally I accepted his offer. He drove up a winding narrow road with shacks on both sides and I was beginning to think that it had been a mistake to take risks for a few stupid dollars when we stopped in front of a guesthouse that was also closed. I was relieved that he had not brought me to some isolated spot to mug me and enchanted when his repeated banging at the door brought the owner who said she had a room for me for only 17 $US. All was well that finished well. I had been lucky again. I paid him off with a generous tip and retired to my room to savour the emotions I had just traversed safely. I must admit that I enjoy the adrenaline rush I get from a little apprehension (after it's over). That is one of the aspects that I like about backpacking and as I am frightened easily, I get a lot of adrenaline, my favourite drug...
The next day I got lucky again. I met a man in the park, Joseph Reece Mangal, who, after chatting for a while, offered to drive me around so I could see more of Castries than I would on foot. I accepted and that is how I got to the lookout from which I took this composite photo.
I was thankful to Joseph for the only other way I could have reached to this lookout on Morne Fortune would have been to take a guided tour and that is something that I seldom do for I am allergic to being herded around.
There was a steady parade of cruise ships in Castries while I was there. I had seen this big fellow, the "Mistral", about two weeks earlier in Guadeloupe!
This one is called "Costa Romantica".
Two more, small and big.
Castries has a well protected harbour but little level land to build on. To expand, it has had to climb up the hills that surround it.
Here is the entrance to Castries' large covered market.
The Chateau Blanc Guesthouse where I stayed was in a neglected neighbourhood up Morne Doudeau Road but it was quite adequate and a fourth of what I would have had to pay downtown.
It is hard to spot the J's Hideaway guesthouse tucked away behind these shacks the way to the Chateau Blanc on Morne Doudeau Road. The Footprint guidebook warns that this area is not safe but I have had no problems here, even at night.
One day, I took a minivan to visit Gros Islet on Rodney Bay about 10 kms north of Castries. The modern tourist oriented part of Gros Islet has a large, well protected marina, a variety of hotels and restaurants and the superb Reduit Beach.
Here is a view of another part of the marina.
Immediately north of the marina's entrance is the old village of Gros Islet where the local people live. Next to the village is Causeway Beach leading to Pigeon Island with Fort Rodney on the left hilltop.
I found the quiet, simple old village more friendly and interesting than the fancy marina area.
This interesting example of Caribbean architecture combines a friendly neighbourhood bar at the street level with living quarters above.
As mentioned above, I seldom take organised tours but this time I could not resist a special deal on a bus trip to Soufrière in the south, with return by catamaran.
This is Marigot Bay, a protected marina surrounded by fine resort hotels.
Here is a banana plantation in Roseau valley near Marigot Bay. Banana exports are falling because of competition from Central America in the European market. Tourism is replacing agriculture as the island's major economic activity.
A stop at Anse La Raye is a treat. This small village does cater to tourists but fishing is still the principal activity of its inhabitants.
It's a pity to think that if the trend continues, these tranquil fishermen mending their nets might become taxi drivers heckling tourists or waiters serving them dinners made from frozen fish imported from Asia.
Don't laugh at my nostalgia... this quiet way of life is disappearing fast from the Caribbean area, it has already happened in the "more developed" islands like Tortola, St-Thomas, St-Barts...
Canaries is another small fishing village that still has the charm of being a real fishing village.
To be fair, I have to recognise that my nostalgia is very self centred. What really matters is these people's free choice to become "tourist servants" if that is what they want.
Who am I to say that tourism corrupts? What do I know about these people's reality? How pretentious can I be to say that the child prostitute on the streets of Bangkok would be better off in school?
Finally our bus got to scenic Soufrière with its dramatic Petit Piton and Grand Piton (the one in front is Petit Piton).
Tourism has replaced fishing in Soufrière and it has grown to be a town.
My tour group had a "tour group lunch" in the crowded "The Still" restaurant (left), and visited Diamond falls before boarding the "Bongo Too" catamaran for the return trip to Castries.
Here is a final view of the Petit Piton as the "Bongo Too" left Soufrière.
An open bar and lively music resumes what I remember of the return trip on the "Bongo Too".
We had a closer look at Marigot Bay and its fancy resorts.
It had been a quite pleasant tour but not extraordinary enough to overcome my prejudice against organised tours.
Back in Castries, I lost a whole day visiting Liat, Biwia, Amex and other agencies to negotiate air travel to Barbados via St Vincent. There is little competition, if any, between the airlines serving the Caribbean with the result that prices are sky high (excuse the pun).