Saint Lucia; volcanoes, bananas, tourists and… geniuses?

The small country of Saint Lucia is probably best known for The Pitons, a World Heritage Site.

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Rising 771m (2,530’) above sea level, Gros Piton is not much taller than Petit Piton and according to local tourism authorities, a reasonably fit person can climb up and down in about 3.5 hours. Probably a pleasant activity, but doing it on a cruise stopover means you will loose half of your time on the island and do the climb in the hottest part of the day. So we passed.

Both The Pitons and the other high mountains on the island are due to the fact that Saint Lucia is an active volcanic island. The town in the foreground, Soufrière, is named after the French word for sulphur.

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Nearby Sulphur Springs has permanent jets of very hot water saturated with various minerals.

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The water cools enough a few tens of meters downstream to allow tourists to slap volcanic mud on themselves. Locals attribute various health benefits to the mud. It has however, been scientifically proven to make your skin dirty, until the application of the antidote, water. Still it’s probably another fun thing to do, but since we wanted to go all around the island, we did not have time to partake.

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There is a much less known but quite unique fact about Saint Lucia. This is the tomb of Sir W. Arthur Lewis, a native of the country who was raised with his four siblings by a young widowed Antiguan immigrant mother and somehow managed to graduate high school at 15, obtain a PhD from the London School of Economics, a professorship at Princeton and, to top it off, a Nobel Prize in Economics. Impressive for a country of less than 184,000, but there is more. Another native, Derek Walcott, incidentally also raised by a young widowed mother, also won a Nobel Prize, this time in Literature. This makes Saint Lucia the country with the highest percentage of Nobel laureates per capita in the world. By comparison, Canada has had 24 Nobel laureates, but to beat Saint Lucia’s per capita ratio, Canadians would have to win all 6 prizes next year, and the year after, and every year until 2076! China would have to win them all until the mid 44th century!

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Religion is everywhere in the country, even at the botanical garden.

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What is more surprising is that the majority of the population are Catholic. This is due to the fact that the former British colony was much fought over and included long periods of French domination. Throughout its post-Colombian history, the island changed hands (mainly between Britain and France), an incredible 14 times! It even did so in pre-Colombian times, as the Caribs invaded and exterminated the Arawaks who had lived there for centuries.

As in several other Caribbean countries, wearing camouflage clothing is illegal, and cruise ship passengers are warned before disembarking. Although it is obviously a fashion crime, I am a bit skeptical of the modern day relevance of such a law. It is particularly strange in Saint Lucia, a country without a military! (To be fair, the Police’s “Special Unit” does wear it, but a fat American tourist in camo shorts would not be confused with them.)

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Today the main export is bananas, and I had the pleasure of seeing baby bananas for the first time. They make-up 22% of the country’s exports.

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The island’s other agricultural products are featured – and when required explained – at the botanical garden.

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Fishing is also an important part of the economy, but all these activities, combined, pale in comparison to the importance of a single industry. Look at the green peaked roof in the centre of the fishing building. I will now show you the other side of the very same building.

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Tourism. It accounts for 75% of the economy. Mainly cruises, but also resort based tourism. It is apparently a popular honeymoon destination and, by coincidence, a few days ago I saw pictures on Facebook of a former colleague of mine doing just that.

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We stopped by a sculpture shop where the artists were making a few pieces I found quite original. Note that the hook and the eye are not glued on, this is all a single piece of wood.

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Goodbye Saint-Lucia! One final port to go: Sint Maarten.

2 thoughts on “Saint Lucia; volcanoes, bananas, tourists and… geniuses?

    • Yup. We actually went on a tour around the island (a minibus affair with a funny guide). Chicken was the lunch. They generally make pretty good chicken in the Caribbean.

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