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Castries and Soufriere, St Lucia - Day 6

Our port on Friday was Castries, St Lucia and I had booked a ship’s excursion to Soufriere and Diamond Falls. Their description:

After ascending Morne Fortune, with its dramatic views, you’ll embark on a scenic drive along the winding west coast road to Soufriere, home of the Pitons, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you’ll visit the historical Diamond Estate with its Botanical Gardens, waterfall and mineral baths. Enjoy a guided tour of the gardens, an oasis of flowers, fruit trees and foliage along concrete walkways and a well-maintained gravel path over relatively even ground with a few steps leading to the mineral baths and the spectacular sight of Diamond Falls. Although one cannot bathe under the waterfalls, the amazing colors of the mineral stained rock face make an excellent photograph. You will have the option of a therapeutic bath in mineral pools fed by hot springs and built in 1784 for the troops of King Louis XVI of France. A refreshing drink is served at a hill top restaurant, which affords panoramic views of the town of Soufriere, the Pitons and the Caribbean Sea. Local snacks are available for purchase. On your way back to Castries, you will stop for photos at the quaint fishing village of Anse la Raye.

After eating my oatmeal and banana at Taste, I headed to the pier to join one of multiple groups waiting the organization and departure of their tour. As ever, it was hurry up and wait!

Many excursions, as the St Lucia government was apparently enforcing their Covid restrictions for cruise visitors. The group was marched out through the Duty Free and the Diamonds International shop. Seating in the open-windowed tourist bus was a pair of seats on the starboard, with singles to the port. I wound up aft with the wheel well.

Rapidly passing through Castries, we zipped past the front of the cathedral and bounced around the adjoining park as our driver sped out of town. Flustered with the half-dozen photos I managed to take, I hoped for better on our return. As we began our climb out of the port, the Epic appeared off in the harbor. Passing the gated prime minister’s residence, we continued into the hilly wilds of our southern-bound route, where, when the driver had to slow for a turn or slower vehicle, some photos at “Kodak speed” were possible. Passing through small towns, our guide kept up a patter over the PA system, explaining what we would see and anecdotes about them.

Banana plantations were passed, with the blue plastic bags over the fertilized blossoms, to protect the fruit. After about an hour we came around the bend in the ridge and saw Soufriere filling a valley with the twin peaks of the Petit and Gros Pitons further down the shoreline. Our first stop was a quick “pee break” an hour or so out, then on to the Diamond Estate, a botanical preserve where a waterfall and hot springs provides opportunities for a mineral bath at several temperatures. Not my thing, I wandered about the forest enjoying the many flowers. (There’s also one of those rare posed photos with me in it, holding my mask, in front of the waterfall.)

Our driver took us down to the town, passing the beach and the many structures of a town.

Climbing back, we stopped at a restaurant with stunning views of the valley and town below.

Continuing our twisting, bouncy journey, we alighted above Anse la Raye, a fishing village, to stretch and at an overlook at Marigot Bay to take photos of the town below.

Half an hour later, we rounded a bend and the Epic appeared, moored calmly in the port. Soon we were coming into Castries proper, and the driver pulled to a stop alongside the cathedral, and I was allowed out briefly to take a couple of pictures. (Of course, our transport was going to be in the shot. But both the driver and the guide had not really shown any awareness of what or how a camera-laden patron might be hoping to “permanently” capture memories.) My best shot came from our approach along the side of the neighboring square.

Passing through a light sprinkle walking the duty free, it was 3pm by the time I got back on board, and I headed to O’Sheehan’s for a late lunch. With my stomach a bit unsettled from the turbulent ride, I settled for a club soda with bitters to accompany the chicken Caesar salad. When done, I headed to the top decks and took shots of the harbor and a few other cruise ships. Descending into the interior, I began taking some pictures of aspects of the ship – the big open spaces, casino, empty restaurants, O’Sheehan’s, Headliners, entrances to the theater and closed off shops. To my eye, they are unstudied and not great.

Returning to my cabin, I dropped off my backpack and grabbed my invitation to the final art auction event. Heading down, after waiting for the staff to finish preparing the event, a patient group was admitted and handed a glass of bubbly. We had about a half hour to look at the art, and then those items that had had interest expressed were brought up. One piece had appealed to me, an oil by the Disney backdrop artist James Coleman. I wound up buying it, but really disliked the framing. The Park West staff had a gimmick, putting multiple pieces up hidden and asked for preliminary bids. Based on a price, anyone who had raised a paddle could pick one of the pieces for that price, with no obligation. I passed on several of these.

Leaving the auction, I was late to join the singles group. It had grown in participation, including a recent widower from my former hometown of Pleasanton! Most of the group was heading to Tastes, and then the show in the theater, with a few others off to the Bistro. I opted to go solo back to The Manhattan. Seated by myself, I ordered the country-style paté, a shredded cabbage salad, three cheese ziti and Balti lamb tikka., Off across an aisle was a group of 7, apparently from the Philippines, with a solo male taking much abuse. I figured it was a newly engaged woman, her BFF, a cousin, a sister, her mother and her aunt. As much of the wait staff is Filipino, Tagalog filled the air.

The paté was pleasant, albeit no strong flavors I’d come to expect from a country paté. The accompanying red onion chutney was a plus, and the greens were decent. I suggested to the waiter that perhaps they might toast the mini-brioche that the chutney was served on, but I got the impression I’d wasted my breathe. My notes indicate that the cabbage salad was “almost crisp”, but the French mustard dressing was too lightly applied. (I guess many folks don’t like mustard, or the chef was aiming to have the flavors of the cabbage come through.) The parmesan was buried, but the baguette croutons were lightly toasted and had nice garlic notes. Raisins at the bottom of the pile offered a sweetness. I found that freshly ground pepper was the trick to making the salad better.

Ziti was okay; the gravy (aka the tomato sauce) wasn’t spectacular, which, with a plain pasta dish, it really needs to be. The inclusion of mushrooms and some veggies was a nice touch. But the tikka was 5-stars. Spicy, tasty, tender, superb, according to my journal. Served on a very thin potato pancake, with a dab of sour cream. Haricot vert. Clean plate club on the tikka, it left my mouth happy with a warm, spicy feel.

I did opt for dessert – chocolate roulade with a Bailey’s up. The roulade was chocolatey. The Bailey’s was served on the rocks, which I took with me. I had a few minutes to walk to the front of the ship for my meeting with the Park West people, so I thanked Laurence, my waiter and Felipe, the maître d’ (from Sao Paulo.) Declining any further art, and paying a premium to have a different frame, I signed off on the charges. [An update: after numerous emails with Park West, I rejected all framing options and will be receiving the art unframed. I will have a local framer work with me to show it off well.] I returned to Maltings, but ran into several from the group at the neighboring bar, so sat with them. We discussed our debarking in Puerto Rico, and I learned than several of the group were taking the excursion into Old San Juan, which ended at the airport. That would kill some time, save having to get a taxi there, as well as give us more time together. I signed up. We all closed the bar at midnight.

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