By Allston McCrady

“Let’s go someplace warm.”

No sooner had Winter Storm Quantum aimed its icy breath in our southerly direction than my husband Ben Le Clercq uttered this pronouncement. Not that we can’t take the chill, but we’d been meaning to take a snowbird trip to the Caribbean for years and somehow never got around to it. When Ben settled a case on the courthouse steps, it was a sign: Fly. South. Now.

A quick Internet search of flight options led us to St. Lucia. We booked tickets, packed, rose early and were in the tropics by afternoon. A comedy of errors nearly sabotaged the trip at multiple turns. Our son’s passport was close to expiring (international travel is forbidden if a passport expires within three months, we learned), which required some fancy footwork in Atlanta. Ben’s bullheaded determination, the same tenacity that earns him success as a lawyer, coupled with some very kind people in the Atlanta terminal, got us through. We miraculously passed through St. Lucia customs without a hiccup, hopped in a taxi and drove along circuitous roads past wild horses, sheep, goats, a massive bull, little schoolgirls in pastel uniforms and lush banana and cocoa groves, before arriving at the Ladera Resort, a gem perched high above the Caribbean between two inert volcanic spires called the Pitons — French for “peaks” and now a World Heritage Site.

The hostess greeted us with ginger-lemongrass tropical drinks and cool spearmint-scented towels to refresh our faces. Then she took one look at our six-year-old son Ned and said, “Is he with you? Oh, sorry, you can’t stay here.” In our haste to book the trip the evening before, we had failed to notice this was a couples-only resort. No kids allowed. Another quick shuffle and friendly referral landed us one of the only available rooms left on the island. We headed to the Anse Chastanet resort.

St. Lucia had been a dream of ours for years. Ever since the striking silhouettes of the Pitons taunted me from the pages of a travel magazine, I dreamed of seeing them in person. I wasn’t the only one salivating for St. Lucia. The French and British waged wars over it for centuries, coveting its fertile soil, temperate climate and its ability to produce sugarcane. Now celebrating 36 years of independence, the island is a mixture of expats, descendants of African slaves and East Indian immigrants, yielding a fascinating fusion of customs and food.

On our first evening at Anse Chastanet, Ben and Ned plunged into the Caribbean while I sank my toes in dark volcanic sand. Wafts of Indian-Creole-Caribbean cuisine drifted from a thatch-hutted restaurant nearby. The temperature a balmy 77 degrees, I felt we were cheating winter. Birds chirped from towering palm trees as we watched the sun dip below the horizon with its optical flash of green.

For dinner, we chose the resort’s “treehouse” venue, necessitating a climb up 102 stone steps (this trek would become easier over the ensuing days). Anse Chastanet is a cascading resort, its bungalows nestled along the steep incline of volcanic rock pushed skyward some 30 to 40 million years ago. We sipped on muddled mojitos sweetened with local cane sugar. Local ladies donning St. Lucia’s national red madras attire with elaborately twisted, gravity defying headpieces served us mahi-mahi caught by nearby fishermen. Our faces glowed by candlelight as we tried unsuccessfully to identify the unfamiliar sounds coming from the surrounding jungle.

Morning on this same upper terrace proved equally charming. We helped ourselves to tropical fruit, cheeses and buttery croissants, sampled exotic fruit juices like soursop and passion fruit and admired sailboats resting in the blue bay below. Petite birds waited patiently for crumbs, the braver ones going so far as to drink out of our water glasses if we let them. We did.

Fortified by this breakfast ritual, each day yielded great adventures. Water taxis took us into nearby Soufriere (translating roughly “sulfur in the air”), a French colonial town named for its proximity to volcanoes. We experienced this translation firsthand by driving into the crater of a volcano reeking of sulfurous gas, its pools of water boiling angrily. We hiked along upper ridges of the Tet Paul trail, past free-range chickens, cashew trees and an organic farm filled with pineapples, lemons, mangos, veggies and herbs. We savored the rich aroma of fresh bay leaves and mastered the art of gnawing on just-cut sugar cane without dripping the juice down our chins … more or less.

Snorkeling took us beneath the clear, emerald waters into a magnificent world of waving anemones, corals, sea fans and Technicolor parrotfish. At times, we found ourselves nervously positioned between undulating schools of minnows and rather large groupings of barracuda (on one occasion I counted 50 barracuda suspended in absolute stillness) but came away unscathed. A pristine catamaran took us on a search for elusive whales post-mating season, with the dramatic outline of the Pitons in the distance. We zip-lined above cocoa groves, watched hummingbirds swarm mimosa trees, outran approaching rainstorms, drank yogurt-based lassi flavored with cardamom and washed down waterside dinners with local Piton beers.

One day, after snorkeling along a sea wall canvassed by sea urchin in Soufriere bay, I heard a single voice singing from the mountain above. Searching for its origin, my eyes spotted a man scaling a 40-foot coconut tree. He descended, still humming his tune, clinching a burlap sack full of coconuts by his teeth. Our tropical acrobat introduced himself as “Luther the Lizard,” explaining that the town pays him to fetch coconuts lest they fall on some poor soul’s head. He sliced a few open and handed them to us, instructing us to drink the water. Needless to say, the experience was worlds away from the perfectly aligned canisters of coconut water at Whole Foods. We guzzled away.

The night before leaving, I lay in bed mesmerized by shadow patterns cast by palm fronds dancing across translucent mosquito netting, then stepped onto our patio to watch the moon through unfamiliar trees, content to know that such an exotic place is only a plane flight away.

 

Mercury newspapers can be found at the following locations:

Burbage's

Buxton Books

Caviar & Bananas

The Meeting Street Inn (Rack)

Clair's Service Station, Folly Rd. (Rack)

Harris Teeter, Houston-Northcutt Blvd. (Rack)

Mt. Pleasant Library, Mathis Ferry Rd. (Rack)

Pitt St. Pharmacy

The Square Onion, I'On (Rack)