The ARC Village is in full swing in Rodney Bay Marina. For the second year in a row, the Village, with chattel houses as colorful as the personalities that inhabit them, is injecting a bit of local flavor into a very international crowd here in St. Lucia.
Rodney Bay Marina’s permanent establishments are diverse to be sure, yet are more or less European. Elena’s café specializes in Italian coffee and gelato, and also offers a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items. Elena herself is often on hand personally serving her customers. She is awaiting a new pizza oven, which soon will occupy a new waterside gazebo adjacent to the café. Next door, Starfish is a self-proclaimed ‘Eurobbean’ fusion restaurant, while it’s neighbor Café Ole serves up fairly standard café fare. New management has taken over what used to be H20, an annually popular spot with a poolside bar, now called the Ocean Club. Around the corner, the Bread Basket offers some westernized local flavors.
Supplementing these is the ARC Village, temporarily setup in charming colorful houses that line the promenade around the waterfront. Local St. Lucians move in during the ARC programme, offering everything from handmade crafts to Swedish massages. The Fruit Man occupies a thatched hut just outside the ARC office, selling mangoes, papayas, bananas and coconuts. Near J-dock, Dennery Seafood, who have come over from the village of Dennery on the Atlantic coast of the island, sells boiled conch, grilled fish and sea snails, all with local side dishes and their famous grilled bread. And all at local (read low) prices. On Saturday night, the Dennery Seafood folks are promoting their Seafood Festival, in the village itself, and are offering free transportation to and from Rodney Bay for those wishing to join the festivities. It’s a wonderful opportunity for participants to get out on the island and enjoy some local culture.
In addition to the local ‘imports’ to Rodney Bay Marina, several of the permanent establishments have key additions during the ARC programme. Starfish has erected a tent under which an authentic Texas-style smoker long-cooks beef brisket and short ribs. A local St. Lucian fits the part of grillmaster, clad in a black cowboy hat. The meat, with just a hint of smoke flavor, comes in a pita pocket with coleslaw and is served with a choice of sauces. At the waterfront Boardwalk Bar, ARC participants are invited for a happy-hour rendezvous daily, with beer specials on offer for all crew. From about 5-7pm daily, the Boardwalk is the place to be.
For those who have had a chance to escape the marina – which is quickly filling up with ARC yachts (over 160 at the time of writing) and becoming quite the lively place – the St. Lucia hinterland provides a welcome respite. Castries, St. Lucia’s capital city, is only a short drive down the coast.
Castries is a ‘Caribbean’ city. A very nice harbor is situated to the east. The cruise ship terminal is what one might expect from a cruise ship terminal. It’s filled with stores selling watches and jewelry. Across the road, the market comes in two sections – one for the locals (apparently) and one for the cruise ship tourists (obviously). The latter is lined with stalls under a wooden fixed roof, selling things you would expect to find in a market next to a cruise ship terminal.
The locals market is on the opposite side, further from the waterfront, and offers a much more authentic taste of the city. Most of those vendors have tables set up beneath umbrellas. Some of them are in permanent, colorful huts.
“There is a lady who sells grilled bread at one of the colorful stands,” said one crewmember who preferred to remain anonymous. “I go there every year and eat about fifteen pieces at a stretch. It’s amazing!”
The coconut vendors, of which there are plenty, admit that the tourists do not quite understand the attraction. “We sell most of the drinking coconuts to the locals,” said one particularly friendly vendor in Castries. “The tourists don’t even know what they’re missing.”
Which is ironic, because in the USA, bottled coconut water has become the hipster drink of choice, promoted as a natural alternative to sports drink, and even as a hangover cure. Bartenders from New York to LA have concocted $15 cocktails with the stuff, imported from Brazil. In St. Lucia, a 1.5L bottle of freshly harvested (with a hefty machete) coconut water, chilled on ice in the back of one of the vendor’s pickup trucks, sells for only $8EC (about 3 US dollars).
Along the streets surrounding the market space are several small pubs and food establishments, though most have only a few stools, if they have any place at all to sit down. Grabbing a bite of chicken from the grill with a side of banana salad while calypso music thumps out a heavy beat from the adjacent and enormous speakers is a Caribbean experience not to be missed.
“The countryside is so clean,” remarked Andreas and Nina from Vaquita, who took the opportunity on Friday to explore in their hired car. The difficult terrain perhaps had a hand in the same car breaking down midway through their journey, but the friendly staff fixed them right up with a new one after they managed to limp back home.
St. Lucia’s mountainous interior provides ample opportunity for adventure. Perhaps more than any other Caribbean island, St. Lucia provides an amazing diversity of high-end luxury mixed with authentic culture, and the two blend seamlessly. One only has to know where to look. Only one short block away from Rodney Bay Marina, for example, the village of Gros Islet has quaint local restaurants and beachside tiki bars. Every Friday, the village hosts a ‘Jump Up,’ a neighborhood block party that can get raucous late in the evening (enough so that participants are warned against attending after about 10pm).
Further down the road a Sandals resort butts up against Pigeon Island, a national park crisscrossed with walking trails and wartime ruins. The park also includes one of the best restaurants in the area, Jam de Bois, a local beachside retreat offering atmosphere as good as the food, and at local prices. The Pitons, of course, are the island’s signature, and play host to the most exclusive resorts.
Further afield, small villages line steep dirt roads, and around nearly every corner a local roadside grill serves beer and local (strong) spiced rum alongside grilled plantains and homemade cassava bread. The back roads, clean houses, green scenery and friendly people give a clearer glimpse into the heart of the island nation. A peaceful, friendly truth emerges about the country that is hidden in the hubbub surrounding Castries bustling city and the excitement around the ARC programme at the marina. For those who make the effort to seek it, the experience leaves an indelible mark.