We woke with the sun the morning the Viking Octantis sailed into the Soufrière Bay on Saint Lucia. But let me say that any lost sleep was more than made up for by the incredible view of the island’s most famous landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site, The Pitons.
The fact that we docked at the town of Soufrière, instead of the main port of Castries, worked out very well for us because it meant that we would be anchored (even though the ship doesn’t actually have an anchor, it is kept in place by GPS guided thrusters) in the shadow of these prominent peaks.
The two volcanic remnants are the most iconic geographic landmark on the island. The larger, Gros Piton, stands over 2,600 feet high, while its co-star, Petit Piton, comes in a couple hundred feet lower.
They are climbable, but that was not our adventure of choice for the morning, we were completely on board with going into the caldera of a volcano to wallow in the mud. Yup, we were actually excited at the prospect of getting covered head to toe with fresh, hot, sulfur-laden volcanic mud.
To accomplish this feat we needed to enter into a volcano, which was not a problem because unlike the Pitons, Qualibou is still very much on the active list, having last erupted in 1776.
The giant caldera of Qualibou makes up what is called the Soufrière Volcanic Center, which is home to Sulphur Springs, also known as the only drive-in volcano in the world. This is possible because the crater is over two miles across, so drive up the side and in to an active volcano is what we did.
Our bus managed the narrow, winding roads without incident and in a few minutes we were standing amid steaming vents and boiling mud puddles. The scene is not unlike a miniature Yellowstone. There are even some geysers, but none are very faithful so we didn’t get to witness an eruption.
We climbed up some stairs and a short trail to an overlook and got a good view of the hot spot. A stream is formed from the bubbling pools, and once it cools down a bit the mineral rich water is captured in pools for some serious mud bathing.
We began at the bottom pool because it is the coolest. First we got wet, then smeared two types of mud all over ourselves. The white mud for overall coverage, and the black for adding some décor and flair.
Once the mud dried it was back in to the pools, with each one getting warmer as we moved up the hillside until we reached the top bath that can exceed one hundred degrees Fahrenheit. By then all of the mud had washed off… well, almost all. We still managed to find little bits that had escaped for the rest of the day.
The claim is made that these baths will make you look twelve years younger. Don’t know if I buy that. It might have been true for Veronica, but me? Maybe twelve hours younger.
After our baths we took the opportunity to wander around the quaint little village of Soufrière for a bit. The town itself is not much of a tourist attraction, pretty much your basic island fishing hamlet, but still interesting, and for us it was a treat to be back in the Caribbean again. Still feels a little bit like home.
There is one very impressive highlight in the small square in front of the Church of the Assumption, the Freedom Monument. However, unlike most emancipation monuments, this statue by sculptor Ricky George is not an exactly an emancipation memorial, it honors slaves who helped defeat the British in the First Brigand War.
It began in 1791 during the French revolution when Commissaries were sent to some colonies to spread the revolutionary philosophies. On many islands, including Saint Lucia, these ideas were embraced by the poor free people along with the salves. So by February of 1794 slavery was abolished in many places.
But soon after that the British invaded Saint Lucia and several other French islands and retook control of the island. Well, the Saint Lucians were in no mood to give back their freedom, so they formed an army of resistance and drove the Brits out leading to what became known as “l’Année de la Liberté” or the Year of Freedom from Slavery.
However, the British were not inclined to give up, so they returned the next year and by the end of the Second Brigand War in 1797 had retaken the island. It remained under British rule until 1953 or 1979, depending on how one defines independence, and is still a member of the British Commonwealth.
While this is certainly an interesting piece of history, and we were glad to learn about it, we were most impressed by the quality of the artwork. This bronze statue is nothing less than stunning with its amazing detail and emotion.
As the heat of the day set in we set out for the ship, but decided to stop off on the waterfront for a cold beer at MICHAEL’S. The sign on the front welcomed us as a friend in four languages so we knew this must be the palce. It was here that we discovered a new contender for our favorite Caribbean beer, Piton.
Named for the mountains, this is obviously a brew native to St. Lucia. It has a light, crisp appeal much like our other prized island brews, Carib (from Trinidad & Tobago but brewed on several Caribbean islands) and Medalla (from Puerto Rico).
So we hung out in the shade and ordered another, just to make sure that we liked it as much as we thought we did.
By the time we finished, it was time to make a dash for the last tender of the day going back to our expedition ship Octantis.
Good thing we were close to the dock.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.