The ecstasy you feel as the water caresses your skin, the soft sand squishing between your toes, the cool mist spraying from the waterfalls, and never-ending, heart-stopping adventures, this is what paradise is made of. This is the vision I was carrying with me as I ran towards my friend with open arms ecstatic to be back in St. Lucia once again.
Unfortunately, my elation was quickly crushed as my naivety became my new reality. Beneath all of the glitter and glimmer of island life there lies some untold truths.
Before we dig beneath the surface to expose the realities of living in paradise, here are some quick facts you need to know:
- St. Lucia is part of the commonwealth
- Gained independence in 1979
- The island is 27 miles long and 14 miles wide
- Population is 182,790
- Average annual salary is XCD $75,874 ($28,022 US)
- Currency is Eastern Caribbean Dollars (or EC Dollars)
- Primary language is English with some Creole (also referred to as Patwa, which is very similar to French)
- Capital city is Castries
- Main source of revenue is tourism and banana production
Just One Tip: Be aware that when using public washrooms in downtown Castries, there is a fee for toilet paper
Transportation and Driving
The island is extremely hilly, and I’m not talking rolling hills. The roads are like a roller coaster, and yes, if you are prone to car sickness, it will happen. Driving in St. Lucia is completely opposite to North America. They drive on the other side of the road and car than we do. I avoid driving in St. Lucia at all costs and take the bus or a taxi wherever I need to go.
The buses are minivans and are a reliable form of transportation which will take you from any part of the island to the main downtown hub in Castries. There are multiple bus stops scattered throughout the island, as this is the main means of transportation for the locals.
There are very few, if any, rules of the road in St. Lucia which makes driving extremely treacherous, and some would even say dangerous.
Housing and Infrastructure
At first glance it appears that the housing in St. Lucia is very similar to our homes in North America. Unfortunately this is not so for the majority of the islands residents. There is no planning when it comes to the development of the residential areas. If there is a vacant piece of land, a home will be built which makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to service. My friend’s home, as well as most other homes, was built high up on a hill which did provide a front row seat while watching the sun sink into the ocean every night, but that is where the magic ended. There are no roads that lead to the majority of these homes which means climbing an endless amount of hills for egress and ingress. There are no street lights or other form of lighting system, which makes it difficult and dangerous to maneuver throughout the evening hours.
I was dismayed to learn that the island does not have a very sophisticated water management system, and in many areas, no water management system at all. Many of the home owners are left to fend for themselves to create their own form of waste management system. Many of the homes have installed rubber or plastic tubing and the waste is often left to flow freely. I learned this the hard way, by stepping in it and going for a joy ride the rest of the way down the hill. Care should be taken especially with small children, as waste often accumulates along the water’s edge which has been known to cause various diseases.
Heating is another North American luxury that the island does without, which left me with the privilege of bathing in freezing cold water. The wealthier folk have installed solar panels to warm their bath water, but I was not fortunate to bath in warm water during this particular visit.
I have stayed at many other private homes throughout the island, and I did notice that the homes built on the hills were much more obvious in their lack of facilities.
While it is necessary for some children to drop out of school at an early age to help support their families, many visitors have the incorrect perception that the residents of St. Lucia are undereducated. In St. Lucia, it is mandatory that all children attend school from the ages of 5 to 15, with a large number of children continuing their studies in university. St. Lucia does has one university, but the majority of students opt to leave the island in pursuit of their post-secondary education. Students of all ages are required to wear uniforms, including those students attending pre-school.
Crime and Safety
Even though St. Lucia has a relatively low crime rate, it is not uncommon to see the police patrolling certain areas in a mass amount of numbers, especially in Castries. The police officers will be people you see walking around wearing army fatigues and carrying rifles.
Just One Tip: I had a police escort to the public washroom in downtown Castries. Stay in the tourist area!
When visiting Castries especially, it is prudent that you stay within the tourist area, as it doesn’t take much to wonder into forbidden territory. In particular, avoid visiting the area of Morne du Don, just outside of Castries. You guessed it correctly, this is the area I stayed when visiting my friend. I was unable to wander, or even leave the house without protection. The people in this area do not take kindly to tourists, especially white tourists. Whenever leaving the house on my own, my friend arranged to have a policeman escort me to my destination. Not all visitors will be afforded this luxury, so wander with extreme caution.
The Lucian’s are extremely hard working people, often working 6 day weeks, 12 hour days, under difficult working conditions, and for very little money. Despite this, they are extremely happy people that know how to let loose and have fun. Join in their Friday night “jump ups” to see for yourself….a true Lucian experience.
Living Like a Local
I won’t say that my time living among the locals was all sugar and spice and everything nice. I faced multiple challenges and experienced more racism than I would have liked, but it did teach me not to take my own lifestyle for granted.
JOIN ME AS I TOUR OTHER DESTINATIONS
Despite some of the difficulties that I experienced along the way, I have absolutely no regrets. There is no better way to experience the true culture and lifestyle of your destination than to live among the locals and I would do it again in a heartbeat!
SAFE TRAVELS 🙂
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