Soufriere, St Lucia

As we approached the island of St Lucia in brilliant early morning sunshine, the majestic Pitons above the township of Soufriere were an immediate reminder that the Lesser Antilles are an attractive destination for vulcanologists as well as lovers of sun, sea and calypso. Soufriere – there was a volcano with the same name on St Vincent, the island we visited yesterday – derives from the French word for sulfur and the first stop on our morning excursion was at an impressive sulfur springs. The sulfur-laden air is reputed to be good for some respiratory complaints – in small doses, maybe! We also stopped to photograph the Pitons at close quarters, two volcanic plugs as our geologist explained. As on other small islands on this voyage, tourism now offers the best prospects for economic growth and it was disturbing to note that a new resort had been constructed between the two Pitons on land that many islanders had hoped would be preserved as a national park. On islands with high employment, running at 40% throughout the Lesser Antilles, the temptations to look for short-term gains at the expense of long-term sustainability must be very great.

One of the reasons for such high unemployment has been the downturn in agricultural incomes on the island. Many of the island communities have gained full independence in the last quarter of the twentieth century but moves towards federalism across the Caribbean have been painfully slow. The former colonial powers, on the other hand, have forged ahead with European Union, and mutual trade agreements between the EU and the USA have had a devastating effect on the price local island producers can obtain for such staple crops as bananas. Bananas traditionally provided the small producer with a regular weekly income and it is difficult to find a replacement in kind within the agricultural sector. For a flavor of the old plantation life and a taste of new-style sustainable tourism, we ended our morning’s visit at the delightful Fonds Doux plantation. Its French colonial house is still lived in by the owners and the estate is productive of a variety of crops ranging coconuts to cocoa. We were given a most informative tour of the cocoa drying and fermentation sheds (pictured) and saw aspects of the cocoa harvesting process in action. The morning ended delightfully with drinks and snacks in the beautiful grounds of the estate.