The Forest

We are waiting outside Sandals resort. We’re going zip-lining today! We went last time we were here, so I jumped to book it again. The bus picked us up ten minutes ago and we’re picking up the last set of passengers at Sandals. It seems a nice resort. If we were coming here for a hotel vacay, this would definitely do. There’s a real friendliness in the air.

Overall, St Lucia is feeling like the best balance of islands we’ve visited so far. Its Garden of Eden sense of agriculture (all its bananas are exclusively shipped to the UK – a little strange but true), a population of ~180,000: advanced enough infrastructure with a small enough sense of community. Plus, where else can you buy French pastries as standard in an English-speaking country? A country with a long history of being both French and English – that’s where. We are having custard-filled sacrostins for supper. Thank you 😊.

The mix of St Lucia doesn’t end there. There’s an older, even more mysterious part of the island. As soon as you drive into its interior, it emerges.

On the summit of St Lucia’s tallest mountain, Mount Gimie (950m), is carved a face. Supposedly a witch’s face. The story goes like this: this witch liked to seduce men and devour them afterwards. On one occasion, she chose a wise, practical lad – and he didn’t die like the others. He ended up stumbling back into his village the next day.

Perfect! This villagers reasoned the next time she came into the village, someone would recognise her. Indeed, the next time she came, the man pointed her out and the witch was trapped. The village folk marched her back to her mountain shack. They tied her up and set her alight in her home. The next morning they looked up and found her face had been etched into Mount Gimie’s summit. We peered at it from our moving bus. Sure enough, a silhouette of a howling face stares up at the sky.

St Lucia is filled with cautionary tales of its dense interior. There’s Papa Bois, the king of the forest who comes after woodcutters. Another witch, the diablesse who meets you at bridges and feeds you lizards and snakes. Then there’s the soucouyant, a vampire who sheds her skin and flies into the sky. You can kill her by finding her skin and sprinkling salt and pepper on it so it’s too itchy to put back on. Finish her off by pouring holy water over her body. Surely, a Caribbean version of the song, ‘If you go into the woods today…’

Still, there’s some truth in warnings. One of the most venomous snakes in the world, the St Lucian lancehead or fer-de-lance lives in these forests. Just half of the injected dose (105mg) of this pit viper is enough to kill a fully-grown human. There are boa constrictors too (called tete-chien because of their dog-shaped heads), tarantulas and wild boar to charge at you when you least expect it. A couple of skin-shedding witches and good old Papa Bois, well, they might be a little light respite. Or perhaps if you’re too busy being scared of spirits, you don’t mind the animals?

Nowadays, at the top of Mount Gimie there are no more villages – it’s too remote. That’s not to say it’s empty though. There is a settlement of Rastafarians near the mountaintop – about 300 souls. Apparently the cloud that surrounds the summit in the morning – it’s not ‘normal’ cloud. That’s another story though. Zip-lining calls! Have a happy Sunday, dear reader.