Monday, June 29, 2015

Retaking the Fort

My current visit with the Peace Corps is not the first time I have been to the island of St. Lucia. During one of our Caribbean cruises (probably about seven years ago), Anna and I were on a ship that stopped for a day in St. Lucia. We disembarked from the giant cruise ship in the capital of Castries and went to another dock where we boarded a two-masted wooden sailing ship. This old sailing vessel took us out from the port and up the Caribbean coast of the island.

The sounds of a sailing ship are much different than motorized ships—the whipping of the wind in the sails, the waves cresting against the hull, the creaking of the wooden planks, etc. I remember thinking that somewhere back in my family tree, my ancestors made a crossing of the Atlantic on a similar wooden ship—a humbling thought which made me thankful for their bravery. I realize (especially now) just how blessed I am to have been born in America.

Our ship's destination that day was Pigeon Island, which includes the remnants of a fort built by the British in 1778. Named Fort Rodney, it was a key post in the battles with France for control of the Caribbean. The fort is atop one of the two peaks on Pigeon Island, which was originally just off the coast of St. Lucia. However, in 1972 the island was artificially joined to the western coast of the mainland by a man-made causeway (now home to a Sandals Resort).

Upon our ship's arrival years ago, Anna and I decided to create our own path to the fort at the top of the mountain, by going straight up the steep hillside, rather than taking the tourist path which zig-zags its way up the hill in a more casual manner. After all, we are West Virginia Mountaineers, and we enjoy blazing our own trail when scaling mountains!

Once we made our way to the summit, it was interesting to roam around the remains of this historical site. Plus, the views were fantastic! Later that day we sailed back to Castries, where we reboarded our giant cruise ship and headed off to some other Caribbean island.

Little did I know that years later I would return to Fort Rodney—this time as a local Peace Corps volunteer. On Sunday, thirteen of us squeezed into a minibus for a trip down the mountain to Pigeon Island (which can be driven to as a result of the aforementioned causeway). It was a beautiful day to spend checking out the historical sites atop the twin peaks (thus refreshing my memories of my prior visit), as well as for relaxing on the beach afterward.

This time, I went along with the group and we took the tourist path up the mountain. Of the two peaks on the island, the slightly shorter one guarding the bay was where Fort Rodney was built. The higher peak is called Signal Hill, where a lookout could see as far as the French island of Martinique. Roaming around the remnants of a fort built well over two centuries ago was awesome—but not as awesome as the views from this high vantage point! It was obvious why Admiral Rodney occupied Pigeon Island and built his fort here.

After exploring the fort, we crossed the ridge of the island and climbed the steep trail to the summit of Signal Hill, with its commanding view of the entire area. From that height, you could see for miles—it was phenomenal!

After hiking back down, we spent the rest of our time on the golden beach and in the beautiful turquoise waters. It was a great day of relaxation—before we hit the classroom again for another week of intensive training. Below are some pictures with captions.

This is the beach where we swam after climbing the hills. Fort Rodney can be seen at the top of the mountain.

With my colleagues at the fort, with me holding my Peace Corps beach bag.

On the top of the fort with my colleagues.

Looking down the coast with one of the remaining cannons at the fort.

A view out one of the windows through the thick walls, looking toward Signal Hill.

Looking down on a large boat from the edge of the fort.

Looking along the coastline towards Signal Hill from the fort.

Looking back towards the fort from the gap between the two hills, with the remnants of another outbuilding in the foreground.

A caravan of Peace Corps trainees traipsing up the steep hillside.

The man-made causeway that connected Pigeon Island to the mainland, as seen from atop Signal Hill.

Looking towards the northern end of St. Lucia from atop Signal Hill.

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