Deborah Rath Howell
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The Voice of Rath

Les Chaudieres (TTT Property #T016)

January, 2008 - Anse Galet, Saint Lucia

Just back from one of the best trips ever, with one of my best friends, ever. I’ve known Hilton Purvis since 8th grade and it was high time we had a girl getaway. Hilton’s only parameters were that she wanted to bake on a beach and didn’t want to be on a plane for more than 5 hours. Other than that, she was good to go.
I consulted my long-time friend and esteemed travel writer Brenda Fine. She immediately said “You should go to St. Lucia…the western side. American Airlines has a nonstop flight from JFK that puts you there in four and a half hours.” Done.

Luckily for all of us, one of our Trade To Travel host families—The Durhams—knew about St. Lucia in the ‘60’s and got there in time to claim one of its most beautiful spots on which to build their dream vacation home. Now we can all benefit from their foresight.

As billed, American Airlines got us out of 10-below New York City to balmy Hewanorra Airport in Vieux Fort, St. Lucia in three hours and 57 minutes on the dot. (The way home was a bit longer—5 hours and 10 minutes, due to strong headwinds.)

A representative from Drive-A-Matic met us with a sign bearing our name and shortly thereafter we were cruising along the main road (there’s only one) in our 4-wheel drive, smiling with the windows down and Caribbean souk music blasting from the radio. It only took one “whoops!” of a near-miss coming out of the airport area to scare us into remembering to always drive on the left-hand side of the road!

Petite Piton
Petite Piton
A few minutes up the road we caught our first glimpse of the world-famous Pitons, and they made us gasp with wonder, two emerald towers bursting from the sea, beckoning to all those who might try to climb them.

An hour and a half later, just as the sun was setting, we saw the flagpole and driveway into Les Chaudieres. The first one to greet us was Bingo the dog, a great sausage-shaped, gregarious being who made us feel instantly at home with his wagging tail and appetite for companionship.

One Dog
Bingo
His compadres, two cats named Sandy and CeCe, were more circumspect. They made us work a little for their friendship, but were at last ever so happy to cuddle up in our laps while we read on the couch at night. Since Hilton has the same mix--two cats and a dog at her home in upstate New York-- it was a perfect fit.

There were also some humans to meet us—Paul and Christy, long-time chaperones of this homestead. They showed us to our rooms and answered our many questions about St. Lucia and the villa. Walking the grounds for the first time was simply dreamy. Lovers of green grass will appreciate the large lawn areas surrounding the house—perfect for morning yoga sessions or picnicking-- and contrasting so nicely with the bright blue skies over the Lesser Antilles. (In this case, less is more.)

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Not enough can be said about the orientation of the house to the landscape, and the great amount of thought that must have gone into the construction of this very special home. Later in the trip we actually found some of the plans and black and white photos documenting the building of Les Chaudieres. It looked like a great community project from start to finish, with plenty of smiles and sweat and heart poured into the place by all.

What’s so refreshing about Les Chaudieres is that it truly feels like a French house in the countryside, with its gray stone structure and soaring cedar beams. Yet, unlike in France, where the winds and rains can come from all directions, here in St. Lucia, the rains always move from the mountains toward the sea, so only one wall of glass doors is needed in the great room.

With the walls missing, you feel like you’re outside all the time; yet even when it’s pouring, you’re perfectly protected. What could possibly be nicer than having a gentle breeze on your face as you read or play cards in the living room? It’s mystical to watch the veils of mist move in huge silver sheets out to sea.

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Christy had made us a scrumptious welcome dinner of locally caught fish, with rice and vegetables a la Chaudieres, after which the three of us sat around and chatted. We made it an early night so we could make the next day as long as possible, not wanting to miss a drop of pleasure here.

You won’t be lonely upon falling asleep. You’ll experience “the fax connection beetle”, the “wood block bird”, the “King Kong cricket” and many other species whose names we didn’t know so had to invent. By the second night you’ll be used to them all, and your first night home after staying here for a while, you’ll miss them all. Even “Les Toadieres”—which are absolutely gigantic.

We awoke to the smell of bacon in all its glory. Martina, the grand matron of the villa, who arrives in the morning and generally leaves by midday, was cooking up a storm. She asked what we’d like for breakfast and we decided to go for the whole shebang: scrambled eggs, toast, bacon, fresh fruit, fresh-squeezed orange juice and tea. A cattleman’s dream, except for the tea. After which, we promptly put on our bikinis and hit the pool. (Who cares? It’s completely and utterly private here, so there’s no need to count calories or wear your dreaded one-piece.)

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
One of the divine things in life is to swim long, endless lengths in a lovely stone pool. We did this every single day during our stay, and to heighten the experience, we listened to some of the music that’s been played here by the host family for decades. Mel Torme’ and George Shearing together doing impossibly gorgeous ballads, and a cd called “The V Tapes” which included some of the great songs that were released during World War II poured forth from the Bose speakers tucked into the side of the pool, lending a musical sense of place and time.

With the water beneath you, gorgeous plantings surrounding the perimeter of the pool, swaths of green grass and the deep teal of the ocean in the distance, and Mel singing “This Time The Dream’s On Me” by Harold Arlen, it’s pretty hard to think of a complaint in the world. I notice Hilton smiling continuously as she sat by the pool, sketching, and I’m sure my face bears the same blissful expression.

That night after dinner we decide to make the 5-minute drive to Ti Kaye Village Resort for an after-dinner drink. We’re in luck—Nick Pinnock, the man who built the resort with three guys and his own two hands—is on the premises. He grew up on St. Lucia, did his schooling in Australia, and then came back to the island to build this place.

We grab three bar stools and have a nice chat about what it took to build a refuge like this from the ground up: lots of machete work and sweat equity, but the results speak for themselves. The cottages built into the hills are eco-friendly, economical and romantic; and if you don’t mind climbing a few stairs, the beach is one of the best on the island.

Nick gives us some suggestions for our first time on the island and invites us back to have a beach day here at Ti Kaye when our schedule allows. He’s a shining example of the best of the “new” St. Lucia, and we are so happy we caught him there.

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Back at Les Chaudieres over the course of the week we got up the gumption to do some yoga on the lawn, play some Cranium (Hilton’s impression of “The Blob” will live in infamy) and watch as Paul demonstrated the bamboo cannon at night after he lit the tiki torches. Impressive! But mostly, we were lured by that magical pool to do our swimming, thinking, sketching, reading, writing and daydreaming. Once you’ve found the perfect spot, it seems a shame to leave it unattended.

We did eventually pry ourselves away to venture down to the beach at Anse Galet, just below the villa. Since we had snorkeling gear and towels and other things to carry, we took the car instead of the steps. There’s a small road that runs through the working fruit plantation below the house that leads directly to the beach—I’d suggest a 4-wheel drive vehicle, unless you’re very adventurous. The beach is almost always deserted, so you can lie back and listen to the amazing sound of the waves crashing to shore and then the rattling of the tumbling smooth stones as the water takes them back out to sea (you must hear this sometime—it’s utterly hypnotic.)

The water at this beach is of a temperature so pleasant that you can stay in as long as you like without getting chilled. You might want to wear aqua socks or swimming shoes if you’re tender-footed, as it’s a tad rocky walking in and out of the ocean. Hilton had no problem without them, but she’s blessed with thicker skin.

It’s also a great treat to rinse off after an afternoon at the beach in the outdoor shower at the villa, which is as large as a room, and filled with plants and art and two whimsical “hairpin turn” signs. Solar, too, so you can feel good and “green” about soaping up in that hot water under the rain spout fixture.

Every meal that was served at Les Chaudieres was well worth showering for. Everything from Martina’s pancake breakfasts and banana French toast to Christy’s special lobster feast to Betilia’s Key lime pie were devoured all quite gratefully, and we looked eagerly forward to what would appear next from the kitchen. (Recipes can be found at www.leschaudieres.com.)

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
The days slipped by much too quickly—before we had the chance to have Paul take us on a boat ride, or before we could visit the botanical gardens, or take in the Friday Night Fish Fry in nearby Anse La Raye. That’s just fine, though, because it just leaves more magic to discover on our next journey to this breathtaking manor on the stunning cliffs over Anse Galet.

Derek Walcott, Nobel Laureate from St. Lucia, has captured perfectly what it feels like to come to a spectacular place like this and to give one’s self up to reflection and happiness:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome.

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Durhams invite you to come to Les Chaudieres and greet your true self again. Sit. And feast on your life.

We thank them and the wonderful staff for an enormously satisfying retreat.

Deborah Rath Howell
Hilton Purvis

To find our more about Les Chaudieres, please visit www.leschaudieres.com

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Side Trips: Read on if you’d like to know a little about other things to see and do in St. Lucia.

Thoroughly relaxed after a couple of days at Les Chaudieres, we decide to strike out and meet some of the people who call St. Lucia home. Today we met the fresh breeze that is Molly McDaniel; a pretty, effervescent, humor-filled New Zealander who met us for lunch at a place called Discovery at Marigot Bay. Over “Lime Squashes”—refreshing sparkling drinks with bitters and island lime—she recounted to us not only the many pleasures of life on St. Lucia, but also spun stories of her escapades around the globe—including an unfortunate foray into the untamed jungles of Borneo via kayak that resulted in a helicopter rescue mission after days of being lost.

Forced to abandon their kayaks, she and her crew went sloshing through chest-deep mud, were snacked on by leeches, and to top it all off, Molly was then bitten by a snake. She could feel the deadly poison hotly creeping up her leg and so she quietly (so as not to alarm the others) told the British nurse who was with them that she’d just been bitten. Being very stiff upper lip and without medicine, the nurse replied: “Well, we’ll just put a dab of lavendar oil on your leg then, shall we?” Yes, a dab of lavendar oil ought to do the trick. Spiffing!

Pink Snail Bar
Pink Snail at Marigot Bay
As if on cue, just then they heard a helicopter and took out their pots and pans and anything shiny they could find to reflect the sun and luckily were spotted. Molly got airlifted first because she’d been poisoned, and luckily everyone lived to tell.

No wonder she’s so happy at Discovery at Marigot Bay. Not a leech or snake in sight! But there is a very large snail that creeps around on the floor of the Pink Snail Bar and then climbs stealthily up the wall. Happily, it’s just a pink laser light rendering of the famous snail from the movie “Dr. Doolittle” which was shot here in the 60’s. Rex Harrison and crew had a few cocktails here while on-set over 40 years ago, and there are photos on the wall of a dapper Rex alongside the gigantic mollusk that was erected for the movie, back before studios knew how to use small models.

This enormous gastropod was still beached here in all its pink bigness until about 20 years ago when one night it went mysteriously missing. Many theories abound as to what happened to it—perhaps it “sailed” to Thailand, or maybe certain locals believed it was possessed with demon spirits and took it into the rainforest to demolish it. In any case, it’s long gone now, and only its pink rendering on the wall remains.

Marigot Bay
Discovery at Marigot Bay
After a really delicious al fresco lunch at the Hurricane Hole Bar-- local organic greens and catch of the day with island hot sauce and rice pilaf, and seriously the best mango cheesecake in the entire universe-- we pop into the Lapli Spa to view the treatment rooms. You can receive your cacao massages or St. Lucian seaweed wraps and such either inside if you feel like cocooning, or outside on the deck if you’d prefer to catch a breeze during your rubdown. Very nice!

Now we’re back outside and headed to the Marina Village adjacent to Discovery. It’s just the right size to browse around and pick up a gift, a piece of local art at the galleries, stock up on groceries, get a croissant at the French Bakery or replenish your EC’s at the bank. (EC = Eastern Caribbean currency.) We even find something at the grocery store called “banana ketchup” which sounds so intriguing Hilton actually buys a bottle.

On the Ferry
On the ferry at Discovery at Marigot Bay
We take the “Sunshine Express” solar ferry to the beach area (a two minute ride) where chaises dot the sand and guests have a bird’s eye view of the yachts and sailboats slipping into their slips at world-famous Marigot Bay. Future expansion plans for Discovery include installing a first-rate beach clubhouse with wait staff and spa activities.

As we take in the scene, Molly relates a story about the day the great Morgan Freeman arrived in Marigot Bay with a few days’ growth of beard, a dirty t-shirt and his dog. As the actor was trying to dock his small yacht, one of the security guards walked down the dock and yelled “Hey! No Boat Boys here! You can’t tie up.” Just then, another security guard recognized Mr. Freeman and whispered to the guard “You may want to let him tie up—he’s a rather well-respected American chap.”

There was also the day that Nicholas Cage sailed into Marigot and expressed interest in one of the private homes tucked into the hills. As Molly was having a meeting with him, a local spied them and came right up to Nicolas and exclaimed, “I know you!” Nicolas was kind enough to say “Thanks for saying hello.” Then the guy followed up with “You’re the manager of that new furniture store up the road, mon! I want a job from you!” Mr. Cage laughed hard, then turned to Molly and said “That’s why I want to live here!”

Taking the solar ferry back to the mainland, we take a tour of the meticulously landscaped Discovery grounds (designed and overseen by two talented British women in their 70’s) and view an ultra-modern spacious suite with a full kitchen, large veranda, and generous living room overlooking the freeform pool with the harbor and the mountains as backdrop. It looks like a scene a marketing company might put on a large-screen TV in order to sell the set….but the scene is real, and right outside your window.

Molly notes that the honeymooners tend to stay tucked in their suites further up the hill, content with room service, nautical views, private plunge pools, every conceivable amenity, and just each other. Perhaps at some point they’ll wander down and have a drink under the snail sconces at the glowing Pink Snail Bar, which is one of the Caribbean’s hottest spots for yachters and sailors alike to gather and swap stories. (Luxury superyachts have been pouring back into Marigot since the recent redevelopment of this bay that James A. Michener famously called “the most beautiful in the Caribbean.”)

We say our fond adieus to Ms. McDaniel who has been utterly gracious with her time and her insights, but not before she gives us plenty of ideas of fun things to do and great places to eat while in St. Lucia. And after she convinces us that we can certainly climb the Gros Piton, and really should try to do so while in St. Lucia. “It’s just like a big stair climb—piece of cake!” she smiles and waves as we drive away.

Therefore, the next day we challenge ourselves a bit. We are now highly motivated to climb Gros Piton (the larger but less steep of the two Piton mountains) and so we call Jared, who is a local guide Molly has recommended. Jared agrees to meet us at 11:30 just past the bridge in the town of Soufriere. Lo and behold, he’s right where he says he’ll be, and hops into the back seat to show us the way to the trailhead. 15 minutes later we’re at the state park along with a park guide (Mervyn) looking at a paper maiche model of the Gros Piton.

“Here is the quarter-of-the-way-up-spot. We’ll stop here for a rest. Then, at the halfway point, here, there’s a nice bench with a view of the bay. Here, at the ¾ marker, is a gigantic mango tree and a commanding view of the Petite Piton (the smaller of the two mountains.) We call this “The Point Of No Return” since if you make it this far you might as well finish since it’s only 25 minutes to the top from here, so you just must do it!” And off we go.

The first part is quite easy (“moderate” according to those who rate such things) and then we hit the uneven gray rocks and boulders that will test our balance and cardio capacity for the next 4 and a half hours and haunt our dreams that night.

A few months ago I popped the acl in my right knee playing squash, so this is definitely going to test the “new” (aka, cadaver) ligament my surgeon installed. I discover quickly that Hilton is at least half mountain goat and doesn’t need to watch each footstep with care like I do, so Jared and I wave her on ahead with Mervyn and they scamper up to the ¼-point. We catch up minutes later and take in the superb view of the bay, as promised. On On! as we used to say in running club.

We clamber up to the halfway point, very grateful for the occasional railing or hand up from Jared on the particularly humungous step-ups. I’m learning to grasp onto roots, small trees and boulders to pull myself up, and up, and up. This is no groomed, wussy Girl Scout trail—this is a real climb.

Jared is cheerfully discussing the indigenous plants like lambs’ ears which help to stop hemorrhaging (we’re not at that point yet) neem (a spice used in West Indian cooking) and another leaf which, when crumbled, acts as a natural deodorant, which I could sincerely use right about now, as I’m sweating buckets…..

But there’s no need for this crumbled leaf after all, since it suddenly begins to rain. A shift of the wind, and just like that—the roots and stones turn dark and slippery; the dirt turns to mud under our feet. “Hmmmmm….” says my cadaver knee.

While the rain feels refreshing, I’m beginning to question the sanity of continuing, since one slip could land me right back into the O.R. for knee surgery #3. We quickly catch up with Hilton and Mervyn at the ¾ mark. They’re under the ancient, gigantic mango tree locked in an intense conversation about local plants and their medicinal uses.

We conference. Jared’s cell phone jangles. He has another tour group that needs his attention. I have to decide whether to go back down the mountain with Jared like a sane person, or continue on in the rain to the top. I turn to go down the mountain with him; then stop. “This is lunacy, but it might be my only chance in life to climb the Gros Piton. This is the moment, rain or shine. Gotta go for it.” On on!

Mervyn now offers guidance—climb here, then here. I grab every young tree in sight with a death grip. Like Jeeves, Mervyn uses thought-transfer and just the slightest gesture to show me the way forward, and ever upward. It does get steeper after the ¾ mark, and I ask him if people who get off the cushy cruise liners really make this climb. “Oh, yes. Even people who you might not think could do it. There’s a group of men and women from the UK called “The Wanderers” who are in their 70’s and 80’s and they come to St. Lucia just to make this climb.”

Mervyn
Mervyn
“Get OUT!” I’m astonished but inspired by this piece of information. With renewed vigor, I attack the trail using every toe, handhold, sinew and positive vibe to keep it together and make it to the top. “Just two minutes more, now, and we’re there,” smiles Mervyn. Lungs exploding, thighs pounding, skin dripping, suddenly—nay, miraculously—we’re standing at the peak of St. Lucia’s Gros Piton—what a feeling! The Hallelujah Chorus bursts from my lips.

Hilton is lying comfortably on a rock looking for all the world as though she’d just taken a spa day at Canyon Ranch. We group cheer, we drown ourselves in water, we take photos. The sun comes out. These are moments I’ll relish forever. Sometimes it just is worth pressing on. However, time is pressing on as well, so we’d better gear up for the hike back down “before the legs go”, as Mervyn ominously puts it. The way up took nearly two hours, so I’m thinking the way down will take much less time. (Insert small, dry chuckle here.)

Atop Gros Piton
Atop Gros Piton
OMG. The way down is twice as hard as the way up, in my book, anyway. Those huge, wet “steps” you chose so carefully on the way up have to be duplicated on the way down and all the pressure is borne by the knees. Cadaver knee is already sniveling. It’s still wet, and the large roots that acted as foot grips on the way up are now like stepping on greased poles and must be avoided at all costs. And, excuse me, but where did all those little trees I hung onto go?

Mervyn, blessed, Mervyn, kindly offers his shoulders on the huge downward lunges. At this rate, from rock to rock to rock, I figure we’ll arrive at the bottom in roughly a week. Time to get creative. I sit down (in white shorts, of course) on the really big muddy boulders and scurry down other rocks backwards, holding onto virtually anything I can grasp. This is a full-body aerobic workout, using abs, neck, pinky fingers, chi, etc. to get the job of climbing downward accomplished.

Mervyn is as patient as Job, and we encourage Hilton to gallop on ahead as she finds it easier to climb quickly. There are actually a couple of points where I seriously doubt that my leg will hold out. At those points, just a small pause and a mental pep-talk (okay, prayer) got me right back into the game. If “The Wanderers” can do this, so can I! A little over two arduous hours later, we make our final descent, to find a radiant Hilton sunbathing happily on the top of a shack at the bottom of the mountain. A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to be sure.

Even Miss Mountain Goat’s first words were “I have two perfectly good knees, and the way down was brutal!” which made me feel a tad better, even if she was just being nice. We popped open an orange soda from the gift shop and toasted to victory. One Piton, conquered in the pouring rain! I make a mental note to send a postcard to my surgeon and tell him how gifted he is.

We buy three chocolate (cacao) sticks at the little shop at the base of the mountain for later use on frigid nights back in New York. The lovely woman who runs the shop is only too happy to part with the recipe for how to make authentic St. Lucian-style hot chocolate with herbs.

Time is once again on the march and Mervyn has offered to take us to a local place to buy some St. Lucian honey, so we hop in the car and head to a little bar down the way. We offer Mervyn a Piton (he defers, opting instead for a Heineken—maybe too much Piton climbing causes aversion to the local brew) and Hilton buys a huge bottle of local honey to take back to New York and compare to the honey she gathers on her own property.

We fall in love with the matriarch of this bar and her goddaughter, and discover that she has 21 godchildren in all. We could stay all night talking to this woman who has the gravitas of Maya Angelou and the wit of Whoopie Goldberg. Alas, we have to take our leave, so we thank Mervyn profusely and head off to go pay Jared. We have just enough time to wedge in a stop at the sulphur springs before catching the sunset at Dasheene.

The sulphur springs are right at the bottom of a volcano—not active except for the egg-smelling steam vents that choke out rancid fumes into the air (at about 270 degrees F—so don’t get too close or you’re toast.) The sulphurous waters are more like 100 degrees F, and although they’re gray, they actually make you feel much cleaner than you were before. Well, we were pretty sweaty, so I guess it’s all relative.

We quickly change into our suits (the dreaded one-pieces) and hop into what looks like a very large Jacuzzi filled with very dirty water. From a pipe stuck into the mountain flows the gray mud-water, and admittedly the minerals feel delightful on the muscles. We have a lovely peaceful little soak with a Rastafarian (that’s soak—not smoke) and suddenly from around the corner comes a tour group. A sizeable one.

They are rowdy and boisterous and ready for a group dip. The onslaught of humanity is almost overwhelming and we’re frozen with amazement watching them strip down and clamber into the water. The Rasta comes to life. “Everyone gotta have mud! It’s alllll mud! One love.” Then he proceeds to take mud from the pipe and slathers it on everyone’s faces. And just like that, we’re in the middle of a big, honking mud fest.

It’s transforming, this gray stuff. It makes the white people grayish-brown and the native St. Lucians whitish-gray. “Now you change color, white boy,” laughs the Rasta. “And you turn white,” rejoins a portly light-skinned freckled American. About 15 minutes of this and we’ve had about all the mud jokes we can swallow, so we gently slog our way out of the water.

Now, hair a total mess, and bodies smelling of sulphur, we have 8 minutes to make our 5:30 sunset call at Dasheene. We make it just on time; so, if not looking and smelling our very finest, at least we have promptness going for us.

Ladera Resort
Ladera Resort
Dasheene at Resort Ladera is a real knockout of a place, and we’re lucky to snag a table for two in the T’cholit Bar, as this is the hopping pre-sunset hour. We position ourselves behind a pole in order to not be blinded by the blazing sun just before it dips into the sea, and gaze at the waters of the Anse de Pitons inlet flanked by the signature twin volcanic Piton peaks and shake our heads in wonderment. Sooooo gorgeous.

Once the sun has set, the pinks and golds reclaim the horizon and everybody at the bar takes off his or her sunglasses and enjoys the chromatic sky feast. Live music begins. It’s a wonderful singer/guitarist named David, who sets a nice vibe for the dynamic Chef Orlando Satchell to roll out of the kitchen in his chef whites and tall white toque. He takes the mic and welcomes the guests and then emcees a fashion show in which various female Ladera employees including the boutique manager have kindly agreed to model.

With the music, rum drinks, island fashions and glowing horizon in front of them, every patron in the house has something to smile and clap about. Not to mention the bar snacks: amazingly tasty stuffed olives, christophene balls (made from a local root), and homemade potato chips. Yes, yes, a fine time is had by all.

Ladera Resort
Ladera Resort
When the last model has walked the bar in stilettos, beach tote and tankini, the chef retires (a bit reluctantly, we note) to his backstage role in the kitchen. Perhaps he’ll be a Vegas entertainer in the next life, but in this life he’s found a place worthy of his culinary talents. (Chef Orlando is the only chef in the Caribbean that has been invited to cook at the Cordon Bleu School in London, and made his debut at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City.)

The fresh organic salad features organic baby greens from a farmer who delivers them to the high-end restaurants in his veggie-oil bio diesel truck. He drops off the lettuces and then takes the used oil from Dasheene’s kitchen and uses it to fuel his truck for his next delivery. It’s a win-win for the environment and for the diner because these greens (also delivered to Discovery at Marigot Bay and Ti Kaye Resort) are so flavorful and delicious and would be otherwise quite hard to come by.

Next, the entrees. Hilton dives into her seafood pepper pot with potatoes—a well-deserved hearty choice for the Queen of the Piton! My kingfish dish is served on a bed of ‘dirty’ rice and is slightly spicy and all delicious. Decidedly, the “Big O” is as focused on the culinary details as he is captivated by the staff models on the runway.

Ladera Resort
Ladera Resort
Dessert is a slice of cheesecake, upended to stand vertically; a perfect mini-model of the Petite Piton we’re still ogling over as the last of the light slips from the sky. There’s something so magnificent about these peaks—small wonder Oprah says the Pitons are something everyone should try to see before they leave this earth.

After dessert we have a nice chat with our server who admits that she’s been recruited to be in next week’s fashion show. We pass along our condolences and wish her Godspeed in that tankini.

Back to Les Chaudieres-- which we now call “home” with utter conviction-- to wash off the remaining bits of gray sulphur mud from our tired beings, and sleep like dead toads.

We were going to do the “Tranopy” half-day adventure the next day but were just longing for a recovery, flop-around day after the Piton climb, so we postpone our reservations and just chill out at this most wonderfully-positioned sweet spot on the globe. Dr. Durham did well to locate this site where he did. Awarded membership in The Explorer’s Club in 1963, this doctor served in the 63rd Medical Battalion in 1945 in France and Germany, and has surely seen his share of the world’s good and bad.

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Respecting the good doctor and his family, we very carefully drag the chaise longues away from the pool and set them gently on the lawn as close to the edge of the cliff as we possibly dare. Maybe just one more inch…and now we are as close to the edge of the earth as humans can safely get, and just past our toes is the bright azure Caribbean dotted with white sails and the occasional wake of a powerboat, seen but not heard from this breezy eagle’s nest. The playful soundtrack to the movie “Juno” caresses our ears as the St. Lucian sun warms our souls. It really doesn’t get much better than this. A swing through the jungle in a harness can wait another day.

It’s a typical day here at Les Chaudieres. Easy sunshine and tropical breezes; then a shift in the wind and a tropical shower bathes us in raindrops. It’s so gentle, we just stay in the pool until it subsides. More sun. Then another shower….this one is more powerful, so we return to the open-air great room in our white Les Chaudieres bathrobes to watch the sheets of mist travel from the mountains to the valleys to the ocean in a steady silver parade. Several minutes or three Neil Young songs later, a vertical rainbow appears over the sea. The sun breaks through, the robes come off and we’re poolside once more. (Almost like those breaks your parents used to make you take when you were a kid and you just wanted to swim all day long.)

Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Anse Galet, Saint Lucia, Property #T016
Hilton falls asleep during a relaxing Ralph Sharon Trio cd I’ve found here in the rack. It’s utterly soothing, and upon waking she finds the left side of her face 10 shades redder than the right. She’s also sporting a long crease from her forehead to her chin from the piping in the pillow she was resting on. I’d say that’s about as relaxed as a former kick line pep rally goddess can get.

More sunshine, a flip to the other side, more tunes, a delicious salad platter and grilled cheese lunch prepared by our beloved Christy and we find the day has slid by comfortably and it’s time to shower for dinner.

Tonight we’re hitting a restaurant called the “Rainforest Hideaway” in Marigot Bay. It’s a gorgeous night and about 18 minutes after we leave the villa (Bingo guards it for us in his wooden chair at the front of house), we’ve parked and are on the two-minute ferry to the restaurant. The young man who operates it is nearly done with his 8am to 8pm shift, yet is still very cordial and cheerful. We thank him and alight onto the dock to the restaurant, which is located directly over the water. We’re met by 3 hosts who firmly shake our hands and welcome us warmly.

Our waiter, whose name we can’t quite catch, is naturally charming—especially when we ask him a question that goes slightly off-script. Two treats promptly arrive from the chef...a brochette with tomato, onion and fresh herbs, and a small portion of duck with minced vegetables and a local herb sauce. Very nice!

Next, a palate cleanser of citrus ice that goes down smoothly. “Are we clean now?” asks our server. “We are clean,” we grin in unison. Certainly cleaner than our sulphur-soaked selves were last night at Ladera, anyway.

Entrees arrive at our corner table so close to the edge of the dock we’re a little concerned that a flying fish might jump up and grab our handbags off the table. Fish—or something—are definitely leaping out of the water on a quite frequent basis. The beef I order is delicious, with wasabi potatoes that are as good as I’ve found anywhere. Hilton’s shrimp and scallops and risotto rock our world. Chef Jim is in fine form tonight.

Portions are generous at the Rainforest, and even though our moms told us it’s polite to leave one bite untouched on the plate, we don’t. Members of the clean plate club always get dessert, eh eh? So we choose the coconut ice cream (3 scoops!), which is truly wonderful, and the Baileys chocolate mint crème Brule which is fine, but we can’t really detect the mint.

We thank the staff and take our leave, stopping only briefly to greet Molly McDaniel who is here at the restaurant entertaining a party that includes at least one Ambassador. She’s as friendly as ever and has the table in fractures with one of her delightful yarns.

Friday.

We meet Betilia, the fourth caretaker of Les Chaudieres. She whips up a big bacon and egg and fresh fruit breakfast and we just relax poolside. A big swim, some pool aerobics, lots of music and just gabbing. Perfect weather. After a quick shower we head to town. Castries is the capital of St. Lucia and its only real city. We hit mad lunchtime traffic and are worried we’ll miss our 1 o’clock Tranopy tour at Rainforest Skyrides. We finally arrive about 1:30, thinking for sure we’ve driven there for nothing, since we’re very tardy.

Strangely enough, they’ve waited for us, and tell us that we can go on the tour if the rest of the 1 o’clock people ever show up. They don’t, but they give us the training session anyway and then decide to take us. We’re elated! Our guides are Roger and Aldric and they not only know the names of all of the trees and animals here in the canopy layer, they know their scientific Latin names as well. We glide over rainforest trees like Gommiers, Magnolias, Ficus, Chatanniers—but of course our favorite is the Cacao.

Tranopy Tour
Wheeee!
We’re riding in an Austrian-designed gondola through the trees and catch a nice vista of St. Lucia all the way to the sea. We can see both the Caribbean and the Atlantic oceans from here and the point where they converge. Once at the top, we take a short hike down to the first zip line platform. Hilton and Roger hook on as a “double” for the first zip, and Aldric and I follow suit. It’s a great feeling—scary only if you look down while you’re about to go flying off the platform. On my first solo zip, I brake too hard with my back hand on the cable, and don’t quite make the platform. A moment of terror as I dangle 130 feet above the ground before Roger cleanly leans waaaaay over the platform and scoops me up to safety. There are 10 zips, and as we cover the forest in this way we continue to learn about the flora and fauna as we go. Our form improves.

The guys do this birdcall whenever they’re in the air (Arr ARRR , Arr ARRR!) and it’s total fun to hang out with them and hear about their lives and their wives. Best friends, they were born on the same day a couple of years apart. It’s fun to spend this time with them, and as Hilton puts it “It’s good to get a guy fix.”

After the last zip flight, we take a short hike back up to the gondola. A few steps into the hike Roger shouts something, bends down and scoops up a 10-pound possum by the tail. He is overjoyed with his find, and Aldric immediately names the captive “Archie” for reasons unknown. Now we are a party of five; unfortunately for Archie, he is now traveling snout-side down by his tail.

Roger and Archie
Roger and Archie
Of course everyone back at the gondola is enamored. Archie gets the paparazzi treatment and then is summarily released into the rainforest. Since it’s the end of the work day on a Friday, Roger and Aldric ask if they can catch a ride with us to Castries since we’re headed that way anyway. They wave and holler to all of their friends as we pass by, and everyone in the whole town seems to know them.

We cruise to the city and hear more ore about their lives and stand them a beer at a local pub. They both drink Piton and scoff at the traitors who favor Heineken. From the second floor balcony of the pub, we spot lots of other Tranopy employees in their signature rainforest shirts and they all greet each other with the birdcall and a wave. It’s all very companionable, but they need to get back to their families and we need to not be late for the special meal Christy has planned for us tonight.

She’s scored a local lobster, and we arrive in time for a veritable feast. We ask if she’ll join us for dinner and the three of us drown ourselves in garlic butter and fine conversation. It’s all so satisfying we decide to skip the local fish fry/party at Anse La Raye everyone has been telling us to go to all week. Next time!

We do need to take our leave the next day since there are other visitors coming to Les Chaudieres, but we have time for one last swim in that fabulous fish-shaped pool. Gifts and thanks are given to Martina, Betilia, Paul and Christy, and we take a few last photos of this lovely spot.

Ti Kaye Village Resort is just 5 minutes down the road and tucked into another nice Anse (bay). After we check in and don our welcome leis, we’re escorted to the bar for a complimentary drink. Two large coconuts have been sliced open and adorned with fresh fruit; a refreshing and unique treat.

We drive up a hill to our room, which is like a small casita or cottage (Ti Kaye means “small hut”) with a hammock on the porch and a view of the sea. Inside, our beds are strewn with colorful flowers and plates of fresh-baked cookies and local candy. As a matter of fact, there are flowers strewn just about everywhere—in the soap dish, spread lovingly along the windowsills, and tucked into our white robes…. It’s one of the sweetest welcomes we’ve ever had.

Since we only have one day here, it’s off to the Ti Kaye beach (Anse Cochon) for a bite and a swim. We grab a quick salad and homemade chips at the beach grill and then set up shop on two chaises. Just as we arrange our towels, we hear live music. Glancing up, we see a stunning woman dressed in a white gown holding a bouquet of flowers. She walks right in front of us and down the beach a few yards to an area with white chairs and a wedding arch. And within 15 minutes, she and her new husband are beaming and kissing each other and their guests to a big round of applause from all on the beach who have been watching surreptitiously, as of course we have.

Inspired, Hilton and I abandon our chaises and pull two of the complimentary yellow kayaks into the water. The view of St. Lucia from the ocean is divine. We paddle around a few little coves and it reminds us of Maine. Odd, but true. The water is crystal clear, and the green mountains jut into the sky and we can even see a peek of Petite Piton in the distance. Hilton’s dismount from her kayak is less than 5-star, and she winds up guffawing with a mouthful of sand.

Of course, all that paddling works up an appetite, so after a nice swim in the pool and an outdoor shower back at the “hut”, we make our way down to the restaurant for a cocktail and some dinner.

It’s Saturday night, so there’s live local music, which goes down nicely with Cleus the bartender’s amazing margaritas and coconut coladas. He not only remembers our names from a week ago when we stopped by, he remembers our drink orders. Most impressive. We’re also greeted by Katie, the new G.M. She’s a vibrant blonde with a French accent who took over the management of Ti Kaye 7 weeks ago and who has big plans for the place, including a new Balinese spa that will be tucked into the hills if she gets her way. She shows us some of the new cocktail tables and chairs that have come in and we all agree they’ll be a nice addition. A former aerobics teacher, she’s quick on her feet and doesn’t miss a trick; tending to small concerns here and there throughout our conversation, and keeping the energy in the room high.

We’re sorry to leave her excellent company when we head to our table. Again, it’s that famous St. Lucian hospitality as our server welcomes us warmly with a firm handshake and big smile. I try the beef pepper pot for an appetizer and it’s earthy and spicy and fabulous. Hilton has a green salad and then we share two delicious entrees….shrimp curry and catch of the day with vegetables. Lovely, all.

It wouldn’t be dinner without dessert (our mantra for the week) so it’s bananas flambé, flaming high when presented at the table. Our server warns us nicely but firmly: “Do not blow.” Okay, then. We’ll just eat. We wonder what happened to people who blew.

It’s been a long week of sunshine and desserts and we’re getting a bit punchy. We head back to the little house, fall on the beds, pull the mosquito nets around us and have simultaneous laughing fits like we’re back in eighth grade. Hilton re-enacts “The Blob” one more time for good measure, plus offers a command performance of her kayak dismount. It’s clearly time to be headed home.

We stop at Ladera (home of Dasheene) on our way to the airport for a drink and one last look at the Pitons. To our surprise and delight, Chef Orlando is just about to begin a cooking class and he invites us to participate. We’d love to, but fear we’d miss our flight. Instead, he joins us for a quick conversation and sends out—what else—a farewell dessert: three “Popsicles”-- refreshing guava, mango and star fruit ices each stuck through with a piece of sugar cane in place of a wooden stick. They totally hit the spot, as Orlando tells us about the new cookbook he’s writing and about the plans for the secluded full-service spot in the works to be called Dasheene on the Beach at Anse Jambette. The fully-staffed facility will feature a casual beach café serving grilled lunch items from a Caribbean menu created by Chef O, plus a full bar, massage, changing facilities, shower, floats and snorkeling equipment. Sounds like a welcome addition to an already fine property.

All the guests at Ladera shake his hand as they pass by, or thank him for a wonderful stay. He makes sure we get to see one of the suites and the Ti Kai Pose’ spa before we have to go, and then heads off to host the cooking class: a first-class ambassador for a top-shelf resort. (Voted in 2005 as “Best of the Best” hotel in the world by readers of Conde Nast Traveler.)

A word about the suites…..they’re like staying in a fabulous tree house made of Caribbean timbers, local stone and terracotta tiles. Rooms are furnished with canopied beds made of rich, polished green heart wood from the rainforest…and one king-size bed is set on the deck overlooking the sea so you can sleep under the stars facing the Pitons. Pure heaven. (Yes,there’s a mosquito net for protection.) All villas and suites are missing a fourth wall, with no windowpanes or sliding doors to obscure the views or dull the natural sounds of the nearby rainforest. Guests can slip into their landscaped private plunge pool and fall asleep to the rhythmic trill of the tree frogs.

And now it really is time to be on our way, having taken in much of what St. Lucia has to offer, yet leaving much to be discovered on our next journey here. The island will remain long-imprinted in our minds for its unparalleled landscape, breathtaking natural beauty and its warm and caring people.

Music lovers might note that the 17th annual St. Lucia Jazz Festival will take place May 2-11, 2008. Known as the premiere jazz festival of the Caribbean region, St. Lucia Jazz encompasses multiple shows of acoustical/straight ahead jazz, new age jazz, fusion, rhythm and blues with acts coming from the U.S., Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and Europe. For the lineup and more information, you can visit www.stluciajazz.org.

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St. Lucia was recognized on the coveted “53 Places To Go in 2008” list by The New York Times, the “It List” of the 10 Must-Visit Destinations” by Conde Nast’s Concierge.com and ranked as one of the “Top Destinations for 2008” by Frommers.com. For information about the island of St. Lucia, call (888) 4-STLUCIA, or visit www.stlucia.org, the official site of the St. Lucia Tourist Board.

St. Lucian Sayings:

First of all, everything here seems to be called an “anse”, which rhymes with “sconce”. An anse is a bay. Now you won’t have to ask.

Molly McDaniel, the lovely P.R. maven for Discovery at Marigot Bay, clued us into some localisms. If someone doesn’t believe you, they are likely to challenge you by saying “You lie like a big, hairy dog.” If you’re REALLY telling a whopper, they might add, “You lie like a big, hairy dog on a cheap rug.”

If a man is romantically interested in you, and wants you to believe that there is no one else in his world but you, he will gently take your arm and look deeply into your arms and say, “I am telling you…..I am telling you…” and that’s supposed to convince you of his undying love for you. (Molly says that if a man says this, you absolutely know it’s untrue.)

If a local thinks you’ve disrespected her by walking by without saying hello, she might take you aside later and gently chide you with “You passed me like an exam this morning, what’s wrong with you, eh eh?”

Which brings us to the most-used expression on the island. “Eh eh” can be used in a profusion of ways. It can be used as in the Canadian “eh?” at the end of a sentence—as if to say, “right?” (The French would prefer “non”?)

I won’t tell you all the other uses “eh eh” has on this island. I’ll leave that for you to discover on your next trip there. Can’t make it too easy for you, eh eh?