St Lucia – Paradise Island Turns 35

Saint Lucia is an island in the eastern Caribbean and part of the Windward Islands.  It is about 240 square miles in area and is close to St Vincent, Barbados, and Martinique. The estimated population is 175,000 people. The volcanic island of Saint Lucia is more mountainous than many other Caribbean islands, with the highest point being Mount Gimie, at 950 metres (3,120 ft) above sea level.

Two other mountains, the Pitons, form the island's most famous landmark. They are located between Soufriere and Choiseul on the western side of the island. Saint Lucia is also one of the few islands in the world that boasts a drive-in volcano.

The capital city of Saint Lucia is Castries, where about one third of the population lives. Major towns include Gros Islet, Soufriere and Vieux Fort. The local climate is tropical, moderated by northeast trade winds, with a dry season from December 1 to May 31, and a wet season from June 1 to November 30.

On 22 February St Lucia celebrates its 33rd year of Independence. That is 33 years of full independence achieved in 1979 from the British Commonwealth, though St Lucia had been self-governing from 1967 onward.

After passing between them many times, the French ceded St Lucia to the British in 1815. While the British had abolished the slave trade in 1807, it wasn’t until 1834 that slavery was abolished on St Lucia. Today’s population of St Lucia is mostly made up of African descent.  Among the remaining population, approximately 3 percent are of Indo-Caribbean descent.

History

Saint Lucia was first inhabited by the peaceful Arawak Indians, but they were conquered by the fierce Caribs. It was once believed that Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage to the West Indies in 1502, was the first European to set foot on St. Lucia.  However, historians are now almost certain that he never landed on the island. One theory suggests that Juan de Cosa, a little known explorer, who traveled with Columbus on his first and second voyages, named the island.

The first European to settle in St. Lucia was Francois Le Clerc, known as Jambe de Bois or Wooden Leg. He was a pirate who settled himself up on Pigeon Island. From there he attacked passing Spanish ships. The Dutch established a base at Vieux Fort around 1600.

The British first landed in 1605. The French arrived in 1651 when two representatives of the French West India Company bought the island. Eight years later, ownership disputes between the French and the English ignited hostilities that would endure for 150 years. During this time, the island changed hands fourteen times and was finally ceded to the British in 1814.

Like the English and Dutch, the French began to develop the island for the cultivation of sugar cane on extensive plantations. After the seven-year war between Great Britain and the France-Spanish coalition was brought to an end by the treaty of Paris (10 February 1763) in which the signatories agreed to an exchange of colonial territories. When the British acquired the island they uses the Caribs as slave labourers, and they also imported Africans who were also enslaved. Many of the Caribs died because of lack of immunity to Eurasian diseases, such as smallpox and measles, and as a result of being overworked and maltreated by the Europeans.

In 1746, Soufriere, the first town was established. By 1780, 12 French towns were founded and the first sugar estate (factory) was built. Within 15 years, 50 more sugar estates were in operation. In 1780, a hurricane destroyed many plantations but with slave labour, the French quickly repaired the damage.

With the abolition of slavery in 1838, Saint Lucia joined the Windward Islands with its seat of government in Barbados. In 1842, English became the island’s official language. In 1863, the first steamship laden with coal called at Castries and the port soon became a major coaling station. The first shipment of indentured Indian labourers arrived in 1882 to slave in the Agricultural industry. They continued to arrive over the next 30 years and many decided to remain.

The wars between the English and the French limited the growth of large plantations and the sugar industry suffered severely with the abolition of slavery in 1838. The industry finally died in the 1960’s. The coal industry began to decline in 1906 when the island was abandoned as a garrisoned naval station. Other events such as the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, World War I, the Depression in 1929 and the introduction of diesel and oil fuel in the 1940’s all contributed to its demise.

Saint Lucia moved towards independence in 1951 when suffrage was granted to all citizens over age twenty-one. The Windward Islands adopted a new constitution and the seat of government moved to Grenada. In 1958, Saint Lucia joined the West Indian Federation which collapsed after only four years.

In 1960, the island enacted a new constitution with the appointment of the first Ministers of Government. Saint Lucia became completely independent from England on February 22 1979 under Sir John Compton of the conservative United Workers party. The island nation celebrates this every year with a public holiday.

Saint Lucia is a British Commonwealth country. Queen Elizabeth II is the Head of State of Saint Lucia, represented on the island by a Governor-General. Executive power, however, is in the hands of the Prime Minister and his cabinet. The prime minister is normally the head of the party commanding the support of the majority of the members of the House of Assembly, which has 17 seats. The other chamber of Parliament, the Senate, has 11 appointed members. Saint Lucia is a two-party parliamentary democracy. Saint Lucia is a participating member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

The wars have left fortresses and relics behind, for example, Pigeon Island National Park and Fort Rodney. Sitting in the former British Officers’ dining area it is easy to imagine the cannons firing at French warships as they tried to slip past the fortified hilltop. Morne Fortune and Marigot Bay were strategic wartime bases but are now beautiful yacht havens. Diamond Falls and Mineral Baths, built by the French king, Louis XVI, to refresh and heal his troops stationed on Saint Lucia, are fascinating, as is historic Soufriere, the old French capital. 

Many British characteristics remain in St. Lucia and, although English is the official language French patois is widely spoken on the island. In spirit, the island is influenced by many cultures. Saint Lucians drive on the left and have a passion for cricket. The Caribbean influence surfaces in the alcoholic drinks rum and locally brewed beer; in the music calypso, soca, and reggae; in the richly flavoured Creole cuisine, in the carnivals, festivals and days of national pride, and in the open-air markets. You'll find Saint Lucia a colourful and unique mixture of history and charming influences.

Saint Lucia is another perfect Caribbean destination for romance, relaxation, and adventure. A natural landscape of gorgeous palm-fringed beaches, miles of unspoiled rainforest, and the majestic Piton Mountains, are sure to indulge every taste. Natural waterfalls, breath-taking views, friendly people, authentic culture, tropical weather, welcoming accommodations, and unexpected adventures await all those who travel to this paradise island.

Saint Lucia is the birthplace of two Nobel Laureates (who by remarkable coincidence were both born on January 23). The late Sir W. Arthur Lewis won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1979, and poet Derek Walcott won the 1992 Nobel Prize for literature.

The financial sector has weathered the global financial crisis, but the recession has hurt tourism. St. Lucia’s educated workforce, excellent infrastructure, and world class port facilities have attracted foreign investments in tourism and petroleum storage and transshipment. However, with the global recession, tourism has declined by double digits since early 2009. The fluctuations in banana prices, increased competition from Latin American growers, and mandates by the World Trade Organization have caused a decline in the GDP of the island. St. Lucia has attracted foreign business and investments, especially, in its offshore banking and tourism industries, which is the island's main source of revenue. The manufacturing sector is the most diverse in the Eastern Caribbean area.

Inflation has been relatively low, averaging 5.5 percent between 2006 and 2008. Saint Lucia’s currency is the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$), a regional currency shared among members of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECU). The Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCL) issues the EC$, manages monetary policy, and regulates and supervises commercial banking activities in member countries.

A new health and wellness retreat will be hosted in the town of Soufriere in St. Lucia. The recent demand for vacations that promote health and wellness experiences prompted the creation of the retreat. The first health and wellness retreat will be hosted in the town of Soufriere from November 17th to 20th, 2011.

The goal of the retreat is to provide visitors with many health and wellness experiences through hikes along various nature trails, bike riding and various other activities. In addition there will be workshops hosted that will feature experts in yoga, art, feng shui and several other topics. The Sourfriere Foundation, the Soufriere resort community and the St. Lucia Tourist Board are producing the health and wellness retreat.

If your flight to St. Lucia lands at George F.L. Charles airport, you will see a spectacular view of one of the best beaches of St Lucia. Vigie Beach runs closely parallel with the runway of the airport. Now that would seem to be a disadvantage for some. However, this beach is kept clean all the time and is well shaded so that is definitely a plus. Vigie beach is popular with the locals and the close proximity to the city of Castries may make up for any disturbance from the planes.

In addition to Vigie Beach there are plenty other St Lucia beaches located on the North-Western coast that you should visit.  Pigeon Point beach, located at Pigeon Island National Park, is a nice secluded beach that is perfect for a picnic and close to several facilities such as restaurants and bathrooms. Several major hotels in the capital city of Castries as well as the Gablewood shopping center are near Choc Bay beachMarigot Bay beach is the epitome of the romantic Caribbean cove that most people dream of getting stranded on.

Labrelotte Bay beach is a warm sandy beach located near the Windjammer Landing. Convenient to the city of Castries,Malabar Beach is near George F.L. Charles airport and is excellent for people watching. Smugglers Cove beach is near Rodney Bay and good for swimming and snorkeling. Of course who could forget the most popular beach in St. Lucia? Reduit beach which is known for its long stretches of golden sand, ample bars, restaurants, and availability of numerous water sport activities.

When the forest is dark the St. Lucia parrots’ feathers appear dull and serve as camouflage among the trees. However, when the sun shines is when the true beauty of the bird becomes apparent. That’s when you can see the beautiful array of emerald, yellow, red and blue feathers displayed throughout the bird’s plumage.

Depending on the season, St. Lucia parrots feed on a variety of seeds, fruits and foliage. When they are feeding the birds chirp softly to keep in contact with one another. If disturbed the parrots screech loudly and fly off. The nesting season of the parrot is from March to June. The St. Lucia parrot may live to be about 30 years or longer. Similar to humans, two parrots must be compatible when they mate and many parrots can mate for a lifetime.

An endemic species

Despite the St. Lucia parrots’ appearance on everything from key chains, T-shirts, to St. Lucian passports, it has teetered on the brink of extinction. Uncontrolled hunting, hurricanes, and loss of the parrot’s habitat have led to the St. Lucia parrot becoming classified as a vulnerable species. There were only about 100 birds remaining in St. Lucia in the 1970’s. In 1979 the year of St. Lucia’s independence, the government enacted new protective laws, created protected areas, and a breeding and education program was created to bring the species back from its near extinction. Today the St. Lucia parrot has been slowly increasing in numbers and its population stands at a few hundred.

St. Lucia Jazz Festival 2012

Saint Lucia Jazz has become one of the major events in Saint Lucia’s and surely a most anticipated event on the Caribbean’s calendar. During the month of May, the island dances when Jazz fills the air and tourism takes on a whole new meaning to all. What started as simply a marketing event to boost tourist arrivals during a low period has developed into a truly International Festival. As the month of May approaches each year, Saint Lucia Jazz draws attention to the island as the world waits in eager anticipation for the announcement of the usual star studded line-up. The entertainment is a mix of straight up Jazz, R&B, French and Latin music, reggae and Caribbean music.

St. Lucia Carnival

Carnival in St. Lucia is full of intoxicating fun filled events that celebrate the rich Creole heritage on the island. Carnival is a joyous season traditionally held immediately before Lent. Carnival is primarily celebrated in Roman Catholic communities. Traditionally, Carnival events are held during February. A distinct characteristic of Carnival celebrations are the vibrant St. Lucia Carnival costumes and masquerade masks. Ten years ago, St. Lucia Carnival dates were changed so that it would not compete with other Caribbean Carnival events. St. Lucia Carnival stands out because it features various art forms including theater, music, dance, and song.

The season begins months in advance, with competitors performing nightly for audiences eager to hear the latest offerings.   All of the action explodes into a kaleidoscope of colour and sound on Carnival Tuesday, when the costumed bands take to the streets for a day of complete and unadulterated fun.

In 2012 the Carnival runs from May to July with the Parade of the Bands on Tuesday July 17 in the capital of Castries.  St Lucia's Carnival is the most extravagant event on the island. Every year people throng and block the streets of Castries in colourful costumes to parade to the latest soca and calypso hits.  The island's premier performers pit their lyrical and musical abilities in an attempt to win the coveted Calypso Monarch title.   There is also a beauty queen competition, a steel band competition and a King and Queen of the Band competition.

St. Lucia Mango Madness Festival

Experience the Mango Madness Festival that will take place from June 15th to 18th at the Jade Mountain resort. The festival will showcase the various flavors, textures and varieties of mangos grown in St. Lucia. There are several activities which are centered around the mango fruit with the highlight being the “Night of 1000 Mangos” dinner.

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