Sunday, June 21, 2015

Volcanoes and Waterfalls and Beaches! Oh My!

What an incredible first weekend—or at least the first weekend we had free time for ourselves. Actually, we did need to complete some training on Saturday morning. We were required to find our way (using local buses) to our special consolidation point (a hotel) in a different town where we would gather in the event of an emergency.

Once everyone arrived, we talked for awhile with our security officer. Then we had to ride to the capital city of Castries and perform a scavenger hunt in small groups. This was designed to make us more knowledgeable about St. Lucia. We had to find specific items in the big marketplace as well as facts about different landmarks around the town, such as the library, the cathedral, the police station, and the post office. It was a good way to get a sense of the town.

This beautiful church was built in 1899.

Finally, we had the afternoon off—which gave us the opportunity to visit the beach for the first time since we arrived the previous Friday afternoon. Our training classes take place in the town of Babonneau up in the highlands, and we are all being housed with host families in surrounding villages. We know we are on a Caribbean island surrounded by beaches, but our feet had not yet touched the sand.

So after we were done with the scavenger hunt, we took the local buses to one of the popular beaches (Rodney Bay). It was a beautiful afternoon, sitting on golden sand and swimming in crystal clear water (for those of you worried about such things, I was wearing lots of SPF 50 sunscreen). Across the bay, I could see the old fort, high atop Pigeon Island, that Anna and I had climbed to on a cruise excursion when we spent a day at St. Lucia on a cruise years ago. It was hard to believe that I was back in the same geographical coordinates, except this time I will be here for two years, rather than just the few hours the cruise ship was in port.

Pigeon Island is in the distance, with its fort built in the 1700s on top.

While Saturday was fun, Sunday turned out to be even more of an adventure. One of my neighboring host families has a taxi van, so they arranged an island tour for a few of us. We left early in the morning, and drove more than an hour-and-a-half down the western edge of the island, primarily on hilly, twisty roads. We saw passed through a few towns such as Anse la Raye, Canaries, and Soufriere. There were many majestic views looking down at the Caribbean Sea, as we climbed across ridges separating about half-dozen small rivers or creeks.

This was taken during a stop for Cassava Cakes (which were delicious).

As we approached Soufriere, the iconic twin coastal mountains for which St. Lucia is famous came into view. Known as Grand Piton and Petit Piton, they are an impressive sight! I have heard that you can hike all the way to the top, but that it is a very challenging hike taking at least four hours (one way). I've been warned to take plenty of water and leave extra early if you attempt to climb one of the Pitons.

The town of Soufriere is jammed into the valley next to the Pitons.

Near the Pitons is the remnants of a volcano. One side has collapsed, allowing St. Lucia to tout itself as having a “drive-in” volcano. The park in which it is located has a road you can drive directly to the caldera. After first learning about volcanos in elementary school during the 1960s, it was amazing for me to actually be staring at the steam venting from the caldera—I never thought I'd be able to say that I had been inside a volcano.

Note the steam rising and the black stream flowing down.

Another feature of this park is the sulphur springs, which supposedly has healing qualities. Hot sulphur water from the caldera forms a stream, which is black from the sulphur. The smell of rotten eggs permeates your nose. The water temperature is very hot. We slowly lowered ourselves into the hot water, and dutifully rubbed the black mud all over our bodies to take advantage of the magical healing properties. While I'm skeptical of the medicinal value, I appreciated the opportunity to take part in this local (as well as tourist) tradition.

I refrained from putting on a thick coating of the black mud.

You see, I've had experience with sulphur water when I was young. I attended Murphytown Elementary School, which was too far from town to have “city water.” Instead, the school depended on a well that delivered sulphur-tinged water. During my dad's tenure as PTA President, they purchased a fancy water cooler with a filter that made our water fountain much tastier (and no longer smelled like rotten eggs). I saw no advantage during my elementary school days of sulphur water!

After leaving the volcano park, we went to a nearby waterfall. It reminded me a bit of Cathedral Falls in West Virginia, except we had to hike through the jungle to get there. In some spots on the path, there was a good view of Petit Piton, and looking downstream, you could see the Caribbean Sea through the trees. Even better, while the water wasn't as hot as the sulphur springs, it was still warm from the volcanic activity. Best of all, there was no stinking black mud!

That is Petit Piton towering behind me.

I loved the feeling of the water cascading down the hillside and pounding on my body. It was like a natural “shower massage.” In fact, that was the first “shower” I had enjoyed since we left the Benedictine Abbey a week ago. We had a wonderful stay these warm water falls! But eventually we loaded back into the van for the long ride home.

That is my young friend Kyle sitting on the rock behind me (he is part of another host family).

It was a grand adventure to have on my first full day off. I certainly have a new appreciation for how large the island is and how twisty the roads are, as well as a sense of the small towns along the west coast. Now I need to resume my literacy studies. Tomorrow begins our focus on Reading Literacy skills, so that they can turn us into teachers in six weeks (when most teachers get four years). It will be intense, and so I'll be looking forward to new adventures for next weekend!

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