Thursday, June 5, 2014

South Caribbean Cruise Day 4: Soufriere, St. Lucia

     We kind of had a rough start on Day 4. Firstly, the only part of Castries that we saw, was the welcome building on the pier. Taxi drivers down in the islands are pushy at best and downright aggressive at worst. By far, Castries has the others beat. We actually had to push our way through the throng of them at the doors to leave the shops. They're not allowed in the building but they will get as close as possible. I could barely get the door open, there were so many! Then we had to push our way back through when we figured out we needed to go back the way we came. 

We didn't realize our guide was waiting by the ship (dressed like all the other excursion people) since the excursion instructions said to meet a blue and white boat at the other end of the pier, and we thought we had a few minutes to grab some coffee and jump on the Internet in a cafe just above the meeting place. Apparently, they were early. When we saw them boarding, we panicked and ran downstairs but no one was there. Poof!  People and boat vanished!  Like, Twilight Zone kind of vanished. The instructions said they weren't allowed to tie up to the pier so I guess everyone just jumped and they were off. So, the catamaran left without us, and after asking several dock workers, we finally found our tour guide who was looking for us back down by our ship. Nice. But, once we met up with our guide, Dee Dee, things started to fall into place. She called the boat back and actually said they were changing to a bigger boat anyway, so no worries.  This was another tour (The Soufriere Sail Excursion), and I believe our tour company was CelebrityTours in conjunction with Carnival Sailing Cruises (no affiliation with either cruise line). By far on this vacation, and other than the mandatory surcharge on the ship, this was the highest 'tip' day of the cruise. What I mean is, if you follow the rules of etiquette regarding tipping (and we Las Vegas folk are the biggest tippers in the world because most jobs in Vegas rely on tips...remember that the next time you go!), we tipped the tour guide at the botanical gardens, we tipped the girls at lunch, we tipped the van driver, I refused to tip the guide at the was one flight of stairs, smelly and a plaque would have covered it; and a big tip for the crew on our boat. 

(our catamaran from the snorkel viewpoint)

      I've always been curious as to what St. Lucia would look like. Back when I was working for Club Med, St. Lucia was one of the few resorts they had which had horses. I was raised on horses, but a contract just didn't open up for me there. Frankly, I wasn't that impressed.

      Back to the trip, now. When we finally got on the catamaran, I was impressed because it was a pretty good size boat for the fairly small group on the tour (about 40). It reminded me of our dive boats when I lived in the Bahamas, although those were not sailing boats. It's kind of like a modified pontoon boat.       This was a full day excursion, and about the first hour or hour-and-a-half was going along the western coastline of the island. Once we got out to a good spot, our captain killed the engines and hoisted the sails. There was an area inside the boat with benches, walls and the bar (for later!). Out on the front of the boat was where I sat on a bench trying not to get knocked over when the ship tacked. The front of the boat for the most part was the "trampoline", which is where the sunbathers staked their claim (it's actually brilliant because they have the breeze above the boat and the breeze under the tramp to keep them cool). It was really awesome when a school of about 7 dolphins came up on us and a couple went right under our boat while the others passed on the sides. If the girls on the tramp were paying attention, they could have reached down to touch them. After that, the Pitons came into view and one of the tour guides was taking pictures of us in front of them. Of course, that would be when we hit a really big wave. The boat went up!  I went up a half-second later but we seemed to crash back down at the same time. Ouch. That literally did leave a mark. Quite a few actually. So there it was! The minimum one fall per vacation was out of the way! I could have broken something or I could have fallen the other way and gone right into the water, so there are the positives to that.

(Welcome to Soufriere)

     Our cruise went to the small village of Soufriere. It was a large group of people so we had to contend with several vans and buses. Our first stop was the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens.  Not the biggest or best botanical gardens I've been through, but our tour guide was a walking encyclopedia on every plant there! I actually mistook him as a homeless person until he introduced himself. The group division did not work, however. There were probably 25 people being herded like cattle on a little tiny path and it was difficult to see or hear what he's describing, particularly with his accent. The big claim to fame for this little garden is the small waterfall in the back. It was featured in "Romancing the Stone". 

     After the gardens, we were taken to the Fond Doux Holiday Plantation (cheesy spelling, I know) for a buffet lunch. It was not bad but not great. We were told it was local creole food, but I always thought creole was spicier. This was just bland and blah. But I thought the bathroom was cool!

                                                            (Inside the volcano crater. )

    Right after lunch (and this was ill-timed), we went to the Soufriere Sulphur volcano which is touted as "The world's only drive-thru volcano". The smell of it is overwhelming, and right after lunch it's positively nauseating. The only reason I got as close as I did is because there was a virtual geocache there which would give us credit for the island. The excursion allows you to take the 'tour' of the crater or visit the mud-baths. It wasn't suppose to be both, however some rude people did it anyway. The volcano tour was up some stairs and there was yet another tour guide and it took about 10 minutes. The problem is, these people go to the mud baths and fart around and then have to get cleaned off and it's a minimum of 20 minutes. It irritated the hell out of me because looking at my watch, they were cutting into what was beginning to look like a short snorkel before we had to get back to our ship for departure.

(Dory!  If that's you, JUST KEEP SWIMMING!!)

    And that's exactly what happened.  We wound up with only 1/2 hour to snorkel and we barely left the immediate area of of the town to do so. Not to mention, the snorkeling was in choppy water and a bit too close to the cliffs. It reminded me of the snorkeling in Maui... Lots of rocks and lots of silt. Nothing too exciting. But I was so proud of Train Wreck 2!  While she didn't actually go snorkeling, mom did actually get off the boat and in the water!  That was a new experience for her! But because of the chop in the water, she was feeling a little anxious, not wanting to get too far from the boat, but not wanting to get a concussion being knocked into the boat.  Baby steps, but we're getting there!

(Leaving Soufriere behind)

    But what happened next made the entire excursion and brought St. Lucia into the number two island position behind Dominica, and I think we can lay that entirely on our excursion crew. Once everyone was back on the boat from snorkeling and we began the 1.5 hour cruise back to port, the music got started and the rum punch started flowing. One of our guys (aka: "Energy Man") was insane!  He was trying so hard to get people up to dance. While I was enjoying my rum punch, my mom was trying to find a quieter place on the boat. I got her settled into a corner with some punch. And then a little more punch. And then I lost track of the punch either of us had. I went above deck for a few minutes, and when I came back down, my jaw dropped and I was just gaping. Dee Dee serving punch said my face was just classic.  My mom was out there shaking it up with Energy Man on the 'dance' floor. You really need to understand the historical relevance of this. I have NEVER seen my mother dance. Oh, she's told stories of how crazy she was in her youth, but I never witnessed it! She's usually the one in the back of the library trying not to be seen or heard. I fortunately whipped out my cell phone and started recording. I figured I got video of dad doing a hula dance in grass skirt and coconuts in Hawaii for blackmail, now I've got mom, too. Muwah, ha, ha.  Then when she turned around and saw me filming, and HER face was classic!  But she broke the ice, which means my social skills do come from some repressed gene in her, only to be witnessed with rum!

(The Train Wrecks and the Energy Man - doesn't that sound like a 70's band gone wrong?)

    Pretty soon, classics like "The Electric Slide" brought almost everyone else down to dance as well. I did that one, but risked no further injury afterwards. Then Energy Man (we discovered how he earned his name...I was exhausted just watching him!) was leading folks in fun 'copy me' kinds of dances and by the time we got back to our ships, everyone was tipsy and laughing and agreed that we had an awesome time. Celebrity Excursions...Great job! 

(Everyone up and dancing!)

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