Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Uncategorized

Flashback: Halloween on St Lucia, but with tricks and treats you wouldn’t believe

pitons-room (1)

View from the deck of our bungalow in the jungle canopy at Anse Chastanet on St Lucia, our home for two weeks in 2011, exactly eight years ago this week. Rose is teaching yoga at Jade Resort, up the mountain from us and at Anse Chastanet, right on the beach. My first visit to the Caribbean and it is off to a fantastic start. (Rose taught here five years ago.) The peaks in the distance are the Pitons, also the name of the local beer, a light lager, perfect for the tropics.

Here’s the situation:

You know that you are going to get married on February 12, 2012. In Los Barriles, Mexico, a quiet little fishing village just 40 kilometers up the coast from the craziness of Cabo San Lucas.

The invitations have already been sent out. 

It was a photograph with the inscription, “If you can make it, you’re invited.” More than 40 family and friends took us up on that offer. But that is another story. (See the invite at the bottom of this page!)

crab-talker (1)

I spent the day stalking this extremely shy sand crab from my beach chair. You must sit very still and wait, wait. Very still. Twice I broke off when the pressure grew too great and went snorkeling. When stalking beautiful fish in the coral reef, you must float very still and wait, wait. Very still. Also, I find that to endure the intense humidity of St. Lucia you must sit very still and wait, wait. Very still. Finally, the rains come and for a moment I am in the midst of perfection. Where all is still. Very still. And there is nothing to do but wait, wait …

The main problem was, getting a license to marry in Mexico was said to be a bureaucratic nightmare. At the time. 

You know: Where church and government are gathered together, let no man succeed. (Rose Alcantara and I have since lived in Belize and know all too well the soul-sucking nature of a true bureaucratic nightmare.)

“Go to city hall and have a civil wedding first,” said just about everyone.

So that brings us to the weeks on either side of Halloween in 2011.

And the tropical island country of St Lucia, on the eastern fringe of the Caribbean.

resort (1)

“Main Street” in the Anse Chastanet resort. The uphill climb takes guests from the dining/services area to private bungalows positioned on both sides of the road. It is lush with vegetation and reminds me of a Disney fantasy — except that the rocks and plants are real. There are 187 steps to our bungalow, More if you head down to the beach or up to Jade Mountain resort.

We are there because my future wife, Rose Alcantara, is an incredible yoga instructor and she has agreed to fill in while the resident yogi at Anse Chastanet Resort in southern St. Lucia takes a break.

I agree with you:  To this day I grapple with the concept of needing a break from teaching yoga in one of the most beautiful settings in the world. But it happens.

Much to our good fortune.

Yes, “our” good fortune. Rose can bring a guest.

Me!

morningrun

My first morning run on St. Lucia took me past the ruins of a sugar cane plantation. The sugar cane fields were later converted to fruit orchards after the slaves were emancipated. Once-mighty stone and timber structures, now rubble, are overgrown with tropical flora. It made me think of Macando in Garcia-Marquez’s “100 Years of Solitude.” Later that day, Rose and I walked through the plantation with Meno, a resort guide and historian. He stood us inside this building and described the six roaring fires beneath the six steel vats filled with curing molasses. He described the heat which dropped young slaves like sweat-soaked rags. He showed us the slave cemetery and the church in which they attended mass in shifts before returning to the furnaces. Now, when I run through the ruins, I stop, I say a prayer, and I seek forgiveness. Thank you, Meno.

So, two weeks, all expenses paid, in a jungle canopy suite overlooking the iconic Pitons. The canopy and nesting egrets and the mountains are visible because there is no fourth wall overlooking this Eden-esque landscape.

Kind of leaves us breathless.

Kind of makes me think, “OK, I could get used to this.” And also, “Who is this amazing woman that I will someday marry?” And even more, “Jeeze, can she pull this off a couple of times a year?”

The answers to those questions are:

  1. We did get used to it. Which is why we no longer live on an island off the coast of beautiful Belize. Paradise has its downsides.
  2. I am still in a constant state of discovering who this amazing woman is. That will never end.
  3. No, we didn’t use the yoga relief card again, although the opportunities sometimes came up. But you could draw a straight line from visiting St. Lucia to living in Belize.
yoga (1)

After her 7 a.m. yoga class at the top of the world, Rose taught one morning and one sunset class in the “yoga hut” on the beach at Anse Chastanet, St. Lucia. To get from one “office” to the other is a hike of more than 300 steps. No elevators here. But plenty of glorious sunsets. You can see Rose inside here leading several students in a Warrior’s pose (I think).

So Rose came to work. A morning class up the mountain at the even-more incredible (and exclusive) Nick Troubetzkoy-designed Jade Mountain Resort, followed by a class in a jungle gazebo on the edge of the beach. And a sunset class on the beach.

But in our minds, we also thought, maybe, just maybe, we could get married on St. Lucia instead of in some bone-dry city hall..

“Sure!” said the preternaturally cheerful resort events planner. “It will take about a week to get the license — and it will cost you about $1,500 US, plus flowers and fees and …”

Ok, city hall isn’t so bad.

bob-rose (1)

Rose and I stand just outside her “office,” the highest rooftop of the Jade Mountain Resort in St. Lucia. Her 7 a.m. yoga class is sometimes augmented by rain, rainbows (behind us), flights of Cattle Egrets, and beautiful cloud formations sailing between the Piton mountains.

During one of Rose’s mid-day breaks, we grabbed a lift into the nearby town of Soufriere in the pink water taxi captained by John, a laid-back boatman who seasons everything he says and does with  “Maximum chill, mon!”

“Enjoy the town, mon! And … maximum chill!”

paul-mackeral

We’d barely stepped off the water taxi to the dock in Soufriere when Paul came up to us and began a patter so practiced and streamlined that I couldn’t get a word in. Before we knew it, we had a guide for the day. Paul walked us up and down the grid streets, through the market and oversized Catholic church. He showed us where the supermarket was so we could shop and where I could pick up good sandals for $5. He showed us a backroom stone-oven bakery that was nearly 300 years old. We bought some amazing bread. He told us how to not get taken by street peddlers and where to get a nice cold beer. He even showed us the hospital, built in 1943. (“The doctors are never in. The nurses have to call them and they say, ‘I’ll be in in 5 minutes’ and it takes 3 hours.”) And he showed us the soup kitchen run by the nuns. As we walked through the market Paul picked up everything to show us — fish, bananas, mangoes, ginger root, limes — the vendors all know him and let him use their displays as teaching tools. He showed us the lingering signs of damage from Hurricane Thomas and the newly rebuilt houses and paved streets. He told us which neighbors were having disputes over property conditions. We were Mister Bob and Miss Rose to Paul. He was an angel from the streets of Soufriere to us. That’s Paul on the left holding a mackerel.

market

Miss Rose and our guide for the day, Paul, stand in the road beside the Saturday market in the Saint Lucian city of Soufriere. We got there long after most of the market had wrapped up for the day but there was still plenty to see and Paul made sure we didn’t miss a thing. He would pick up a fruit or vegetable from a vendor and say “What do you think this is?” Sometimes we’d get it right and he would laugh with joy. Sometimes he’d cajole us, as if thinking harder would yield a better answer. Paul would say “Pop quiz time, Mister Bob. What wood are these pews (in the Catholic church) made of?” I’d cast about — Mahogany? Cedar? Pine? — until I got lucky and he would laugh. “Very good, Mister Bob.”

As the boat pulled away, a local materialized behind us. Strange, because I hadn’t noticed anyone on the dock as we pulled in.  He was suddenly just there. Paul introduced himself and announced that he would be our guide to all things Soufriere — for the day.

“You will be very happy,” he said. “I will show you things that tourists never see. Shall we go now? Stay up with me!”

And we were off.

Paul was a terrific guide. Shortly after an off-tourist trip down a tunnel to a bakery that had been operating for more than 300 years, we found ourselves on the sidewalk, at the end of Paul’s tour. 

I tossed him an off-hand question.

“So, Paul, how difficult is it to get married on St. Lucia?”

He laughed. “Not hard at all! You can get a license in a day or two and be married very quickly. It costs about $200. You want to get married? I can help!

He turned around and pointed to the plate-glass storefront behind us. “In fact, my very good friend, a lawyer, has her office here and she can do the paperwork for you right now.”

And she did.

facerocks

Sometimes, when you stare long enough at rock formations from the beach, under a broiling Caribbean sun, you begin to see shapes and faces. Like looking at clouds — only with a frosted Piton beer in your hand and a little sunburn.

Two days later, with a beautiful bouquet of tropical flowers in her hand, Rose and I hopped on John’s pink water-taxi and headed back to town. We were met on the waterfront by the most majestic magistrate I have ever seen. She was carrying our wedding documents. This was a woman of regal stature, power, poise, grace — and a beatific smile that suggested she was the Earth Mother of all St. Lucia, the source from which all life flowed.

She carried the authority of God and government in her bosom.

What we didn’t have was a witness.

Bit across the street from the little park was the Office of Tourism. 

I ran over and opened the door. “Hello! I’m a tourist. We want to get married out here. Can you be our witness?”

That was pretty easy.

pitons

Rose and I took a celebratory ride in our favorite St. Lucia water taxi, operated by John, the guy who added “Maximum chill, man” to our vocabulary these past two weeks. John owns his own boat, is fiercely independent, and flies the red flag with the white star of the Labour Party, as most of the boatmen seem to do. He took us across the Soufriere Bay to cruise by the Pitons and get waterfront views of the mansions secreted along the shore. We even saw the property owned by Nicholas Cage, with cattle grazing right down to the beach.

Our magistrate delivered the most beautiful little speech about duty, loyalty, hard work — and I so regret not recording it. Well, I couldn’t record it, because my batteries died. But maybe I shouldn’t have been taking pictures at my own wedding.

John met us at the dock, gave us a celebratory ride-by of the pointy Pitons, past a farm owned by the actor Nicolas Cage, and then dropped us off for the rest of the day on a nearly deserted beach north of the resort.

jungle

Cruising along the shore in a water taxi. The water is what Rose aptly called “Listerine blue.” An almost unnaturally clear and brilliant blue-green.

Our honeymoon, within a honeymoon.

At the end of our two weeks in Paradise, I flew back to San Diego and returned to my work at the newspaper. Rose flew back to the Bay Area and resumed teaching Pilates and yoga.

We still had February 12, 2012, ahead of us, and a most magical gathering of family and friends to look forward to.

stoneman (1)

On this remote St. Lucian beach, every palm tree is encircled by a pile of rocks. But to call it a “pile” is grossly unfair, like calling a Picasso a scribble. Each circle begins with an outer band of the largest rocks, fitted snugly together. The rocks and rows in the outer band grow smaller and tighter toward the top. The inside is filled with an assortment of rocks but topped off with even-sized stones. The entire beach is surrounded by neatly constructed walls of rocks, too. This is the work of “Stone Man,” a middle-aged gentleman who has made this his life’s work for about seven years. He isn’t sure how long. Each day he arrives with his bucket and begins filling it with rocks exposed by the waves that lap over the black volcanic sand. His long sinewy body looks like an upside-down “U” — a shape honed over the years. Occasionally, he said, storms will wipe away all his work. He is accepting of this. This is nature. This is simply the way of the island. “Do you meditate as you go about your work?” I asked. He looked at me and grinned. “No, no meditation. This is my job.” But it is a bit more than that. At the north end of the beach is the stump of a dead palm that is painted white and carries the signature of this work of art in black lettering: “Done by Stone Man.”

desmond

Desmond plays in the marketplace, bending reeds in his hands, turning them into hats and bowls, selling them to tourists who pass by his stand. (Singing obla-de, obla-dah, life goes on …). When we first met Desmond he made Rose a reed sunfish but he really wanted to sell us his reed hat or a reed bowl, for EC$20 each, which isn’t all that much. We didn’t want either as much as he wanted to sell it but we parted cheerfully, having gotten off with just the one fish.
Later, in a local bar, Desmond walked in for a beer break, spotted us and came over. “I sold the hat, mon!” he said, pointing to a head full of exposed dreads. He insisted it was destiny that brought us together and provided a second chance for him to gift us with the bowl.
“I really want you to have this bowl, mon! Nobody else. It was meant for you.” I bought Desmond a Piton beer and eventually paid way too much for his bowl but I can’t help but think that someday that bowl will stop a bullet, wake me in the middle of the night during a fire, or cure some sadness as I look upon the once dark green reeds. Desmond was good Caribbean street theater.
As was another fellow, who walked up to us with a piece of lined paper on which were two stanzas of a newly penned liberation song. He sang them to us as we walked down the street and I gave him a few coins in return.

 

This was the postcard we sent out to family and friends before we got married in Mexico, by my beloved Sister-in-law Kara Smith. The photo was taken during the annual San Francisco Bay-to-Breakers race in 2011:

invite

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One thought on “Flashback: Halloween on St Lucia, but with tricks and treats you wouldn’t believe

  1. Pingback: Flashback: Halloween on St Lucia, but with tricks and treats you wouldn’t believe « Bound for Belize

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