Thursday, October 31, 2013

Home again

Sunset at Shacks Beach

Back home again. Well, at least I am. Elaine is still in St Lucia and will be until Christmas.

Interesting flight home. Not bad, just a little weird. My flight on Liat Air from St Lucia first stopped for a passenger pick-up in Dominica then on to Antigua where I was supposed to change to the flight for San Juan. In Antigua everybody has to get off the plane, go through a "transit" station where they check your passport and boarding pass for the next leg and then back through security screening (even though nothing has changed since you boarded the plane an hour earlier).

When we went through the transit screening, they told us our flight to San Juan was not going to be direct, that we were making a little detour to - Dominica! apparently Liat had a problem with a plane and passengers who were supposed to get from Dominica to Antigua for the San Juan flight couldn't get there. So we went and picked them up.

Arriving two hours late in San Juan wasn't any big deal for me at least. I didn't have anybody waiting for me. I didn't have to be anywhere at any particular time. Some passengers did have to change connecting flight though.

What was a big deal was Elaine was tracking the flight on the Internet. The Liat website showed our flight leaving St Lucia, leaving Dominica, and then, it just disappeared. The website didn't show it landing anywhere. We did in fact land in Antigua, but then because of the detour, they had to create a whole new flight number on the fly (as it were). Our old flight simply ceased to exist. But that information didn't show up on the website anywhere.

My cellphone didn't work until I got back to PR. I don't have a smart phone or tablet or any of those other gadgets. It was some old skool travel for me: Plans changed, flights changed, and I had no way to communicate with anyone. Just keep truckin' til you get to where your goin.'

Even though I back in PR, I still have some stuff to in St Lucia to write about. That will be coming up as I get time. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

At the southern tip

As part of our Jounen Kwéyòl tour of the island, our hostess and guide Aretha took us to the very southern tip of the island past Vieux Fort. From here you can see the widest part of St. Lucia.(Unfortunatly my lens isn't wide enough to take it all in.) This is looking north. The Atlantic is on the right, the Caribbean on the left.

The community at the base of the hill is Vieux Fort. I know it's hard to see in this photo, but just past the settlement is a flat grey strip that runs horizontally at just about the center and almost the full width of the land. That is the runway of St. Lucia's larger airport, Vieux Fort. This the airport where the bigger jets land. And the runway really does run almost the full width of the land at that point.

From up on top of this peak it meeting of the Atlantic (top) and Caribbean (bottom) is very apparent.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

St. Lucia's El Morro

Like El Morro commands the entrance to San Juan harbor in Puerto Rico, Fort Rodney overlooks the entrance to Rodney Bay in St. Lucia.

Fort Rodney, named for British Admiral Rodney, was built in 1778 on Pigeon Island, two peaks that rise between the Atlantic Ocean and Rodney Bay. Located just 25 miles south of the French post at Fort Royal in Martinique, Rodney Bay "is the post the Governor of Martinique had set his eye on and if possessed by the enemy would deprive us of the best anchorage in these islands and from which Martinique is always attackable" Admiral Rodney wrote to the Admiralty back in England.

Barracks, cook houses, and other support buildings were built below. The heart of the fort was the gun battery on the lower of the two peaks commanding the entrance to the bay.

Three 24-pound cannons and two eleven-and-a-half inch mortars guarded the bay entrance.

Further up the ridge between the two peaks the fort's heaviest gun, a 32-pounder, could be turned from north to south to cover the St. Lucia Channel and Gros Islet Bay.

In 1781 Fort Rodney successfully held off a French invasion of Gros Islet.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Jounen Kwéyòl

In St. Lucia the last Sunday in October is Jounen Kwéyòl, a international celebration of all things Creole and we got to join the party!

As to the origins of Jounen Kwéyòl:

"At a meeting of the international organization of Creole speaking countries, Bannzil Kwéyòl, in
Louisiana, U.S.A. in 1983, it was decided to observe an International Creole Day (Jounen
Kwéyòl) annually on October 28th. Countries involved in this decision included Cayenne,
Dominica, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, Mauritius, Reunion, Seychelles and St. Lucia." 

The purpose is to preserve Creole customs, languages and traditions.

Here in St. Lucia, Jounen Kwéyòl is celebrated all over the island. Some districts have designated areas for the community to come together to celebrate. Our hostess and guide for the day, Aretha, took us to one of these community celebrations in Monchy.

We got there early specifically so we would not get into the huge crowds that showed up as the day went on because we had more parts of the island we wanted to visit.

Like all good festivals Jounen Kwéyòl celebrates music and dance, like these women dancing to Creole music:


and of course drink

But it's not just these designated sites. Every little roadside place, which are normally closed on Sundays, have pots and grills of food to sell and music - Creole music mostly - blasting. I can't begin to tell you how many of these roadside parties we passed in our travel down the Atlantic (eastern) side of the island.

On our way back north in the late afternoon, we passed by the same where we stopped in the morning. There cars were parked a mile or more from the main festival site. There were so many cars and so many people the main road was nearly blocked.

It was a fabulous fun day. I would love to come back and spend a more time and stop at many more of the little roadside places. What a great celebration! Even if I didn't understand a lot of what was said in Kwéyòl. But then I'm used to that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Celebrating early

On our horseback ride through a banana farm we kept hearing what sounded like gun shots. We asked our guide Spencer what people were hunting. He said they weren't gun shots, they were bamboo tubes.


He asked if we wanted to see them. Sure!

So we rode around to the local elementary school. The kids were fascinated by our horses but we were invited into the school grounds to see the "celebration."

This would NEVER happen in the States! A group of what looked to be nine- or ten-year-olds, with adults nearby but not hovering over them, were pouring tiny amounts of kerosene into bamboo tubes, lighting firesticks from bottles of kerosene with rags stuffed in them (essentially Molotov cocktails) and lighting the kerosene in the bamboo. The kerosene ignited with a loud cannon-like BOOM. This was what we heard from the other side of the valley.

These bamboo "cannons" are common at celebrations here in St. Lucia. People use them at times like we use fireworks - Christmas, New Year's or in this case Jounen Kwéyòl or Creole Day. (More about Jounen Kwéyòl coming soon.)

We were fascinated. One little boy watched us watch the boys light the "cannons." Elaine said to him, "we've never seen this before." The boy looked incredulous. "You've never seen this before?" he asked. "Nope." He shook his head sadly, apparently wondering at the woeful ignorance of the old white people.

We asked another youngster if anyone ever got hurt. He looked surprised at the question and said, "No."

Many of the schools celebrate Jounen Kwéyòl on Friday. The official island-wide celebration is on the last Sunday of October each year.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Scuba diving St Lucia, Dive 2


Our second dive was on the purpose-sunk wreck LesLeen M, named after the former owner's two daughters. This was supposed to be our first dive because it is the deeper of the two, but currents and a gazillion other divers from other boats in the water forced us to switch our dives. It's not really a big problem: the bow, where the buoy line is tied off, is about 30 feet. The propeller and rudder bottom at 65 feet. Depending on how you profile the dive about half is spent at 60 feet or so. The rest is exploring shallower parts of the wreck.

Our briefing instructions were, if you get separated, make your way to the bow to the buoy line. With a lot of divers in the water kicking up sediment in less-than great vis to start with and everybody (but me) wearing a black wet suit, I did get separated. I spent much of the dive exploring the bow section which was fine with me. Again, visibility was not anywhere near 100' so exploring up close, looking at smaller stuff, was great.

Eventually my group did appear at the buoy line. And immediately started up the line. I looked at my air gauge; I still had over a thousand pounds left. Turns out one of the guys was under 500 when he and his buddy started back to the bow. By the time he got to his safety stop at 15' he was breathing hs buddy's air.

So for all my dive buddies back in PR - I WAS NOT THE GAUGE on either dive. Sixty minute dive on the first dive - admittedly a shallow dive - and a came up with 1000 pounds. Forty-five minute second dive, about half of it near 60 feet, came up with 1000 pounds.

Not bad for an old guy.

Photos from both dives can be found on our Flickr page.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Diving with Steve's Scuba

The dive shops here appear to be primarily tour operators catering to tourists. This isn't really surprising. For example, Steve's Scuba is on of the top-rated operations and their little tiny shack houses the office operation and rental gear. There is no retail at all. You can't even buy a mask or snorkel. I haven't seen all of the scuba "shops" but my impression is they are all pretty much that way.

I did two dives with Steve's. We had a full boat - 12 - but only 7 of us got on at the dive shop dock. The rest we picked up at stops at resorts along the way. We had 6 experienced divers, a family of four on discover dives and two snorkelers. Our boat captain was kept very busy motoring back and forth dropping off and picking up the various groups. It's sort of a water taxi for divers.

Because of conditions we reversed the usual pattern and did the shallower dive first, saving the deeper dive on the purpose-sunk wreck LesLeen M. So our first dive was on a reef called Roseman's Trench, named for a 10-meter swim-thru. Our dive master, Ken, told be on a good day visibility here is 100' or more. There has been a lot of rain here in the last two weeks so visibility is much less than normal. Some sites are literally undiveable because of the closed down visibility. Hmmm - sounds like home.

Virtually all the diving here is on the west coast, the Caribbean side. Ken told me strong currents and big jellyfish populations make the Atlantic side pretty much undiveable.

Since there has been LOTS more rain since this dive, I probably won't try to dive again while I'm here on this trip. I'll try to come back in the winter - the dry season - and dive again.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


On Tuesday I watched the sunset from here on the back of a horse at the end of a fabulous ride with our friend Marie. Tonight I watched the sunset as I headed into the water for a sunset/night snorkel session.

The ocean has been so flat for the last week or so. Shacks hasn't been this flat, especially for days in a row, even in summer for more than two years. The surfers are starving for waves. But snorkeling has been good and we've even gotten in a couple of good dives.

It addition to flat, it has been HOT! We've set several new records for daily high temps. And calm! As in no wind. None. Zip. Nada. Even people who lived here their whole lives can't remember a stretch this long, this hot, this calm, this flat. It has literally been weeks.

But it's still beautiful. And speaking of beautiful, here is a sunset last week from St. Lucia:

Monday, October 07, 2013

Buses in St Lucia

This is a bus stop here Castries. The buses do have a regular schedule which is to run their route over and over as quickly as possible for their entire shift. They probably start out staggered but lots of times there will be one every 3-4 cars or so. Since there are so many running at any one time and their routes all are on the same main road generally, they come every couple of minutes or least during commuting times.

Sometimes bus drivers will actually leave their route if they're not too full and no one objects. Of course, that's for a little extra consideration ($), but all the same it's super nice. That's how I got home from a recent trip to Pigeon Island...and he even stopped and waited while I got grilled chicken to go!

I know the buses run at night, but guessing that's more like every 15-20 min., but that's purely a guess. There's no need (or place) to post a schedule.

Once you know what bus you want, all you do is go to the bus stop, stand there and flag it down when it's driving towards you. I have never waited more than 5 minutes for a bus and frequently I'll be getting on one as I watch 2-3 others pass by while I'm loading. And, when you want to get off, you just say "bus stop, driver" when your stop is coming up. You pay when you get off the bus (almost always) and that's that.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Not like the Parelli horse training video

Pat Parelli is a well-known horse trainer and horse trainer trainer. He does workshops and has a bunch of videos about his training. I have a couple of his beginner videos and watch  them to (hopefully) get better with our horses. This seems even more important in Elaine's absence.

One of the things Parelli talks about is going out and just sitting with your horse. No agenda, no treats, no feeding, just sit and see what the horse does. Let your horse approach you. Don't touch the horse until he touches you.

The other day I decided  to go sit with our horses. I've done this before, but not with three horses in the corral.

First Zip, our friend Marie's horse, kinda sauntered up and sniffed me from toe to head and back again. Then he just stood there by me. Chocolate wandered up. He's the alpha horse so he put his ears back and pushed Zip away. Then he proceeded to sniff me from foot to head and back. Then he put his nose right in front of my face, waiting for me to blow in his nose, a kind of greeting he and I have. Then he just stood there in front of me.

Pretty soon Zip wandered back over and he and Chocolate stood nose-to-nose with each other literally at the end of my nose. This is definitely not how it looked in the video!

I just sat still waiting to see what was going to happen next.

Chocolate gave a little nudge with his nose and Zip backed off, only to walk around the outside of the corral and stick his head in over my shoulder. So there I sat with Chocolate right in front of my face and Zip breathing in my ear.

KTJ meanwhile just stood at the far end of the corral through this whole thing with a kind of quizzical expression like, "what are y'all doing?"

We stayed that way for about 10 minutes before I finally got up and moved out. I repeat - this is not how it looked in the video!