The only sounds are the gentle lapping of waves against our boat, the soft hum of the engine, and the ubiquitous serenade of our seagull companions. The sea breeze sweeps the hair from my face with a cooling mist. Engulfed in the ineffable beauty of the cobalt sea, my husband and I motor past secluded palm-fringed coves and forested hillsides, languishing in this sun-drenched paradise. We round one last bend and are disarmed by the spectacular sight before us.
Rising majestically from the water’s edge over a half mile into the sky, the twin peaks of the Pitons suddenly present themselves. These dramatic spires, for which the Caribbean island of St. Lucia is most famous, are remnants of long-dormant volcanoes, having withstood the ravages of both man and nature. Gros Piton and Petite Piton stand respectfully apart, yet nestled side by side for all eternity, as if bound to a sacred covenant. Underwater, the firmly rooted mountains continue their descent to the depths, cementing their commitment.
In reverent silence, we cruise beyond the crescent-shaped bay at the foot of The Pitons, finding ourselves at Anse Couchon. We plunge from the boat and swim to its black volcanic sands, where ours are the only footprints on the shores of this romantic hideaway. Beneath these sunlit waters is a sensory explosion in tropical technicolor. Indigo seafans undulate at the ocean floor. Neon fish in electric blue, fuchsia and marigold scamper past boulders of brain coral and patches of seagrass in multicolored hues. And white coral fingers stand outstretched toward the sky’s golden spotlight as it glitters on the entire dazzling display.
We scheduled this boating excursion through Rendezvous resort, our home during our stay in St. Lucia. The resort bills itself as “the escape for romantics,” and as such, provided the quintessential setting from which to explore the area’s natural and cultural treasures. This elegant, all-inclusive, couples-only resort near Castries is set amid seven acres of tropical gardens on a long sandy beach. Fiery Flamboyants and brilliant Bougainvillea are never out of sight, and lavender orchids grow as parasites on stately oaks. Hammocks for two are strategically placed for the optimum combination of privacy and ambience.
Happily lacking in toga parties and wet T-shirt contests for which all-inclusives have gained notoriety, this quiet retreat was not without a lively complement of optional social activities. Though the swim up bar in the free-form pool closed at dusk, evenings offered sing-alongs at the piano bar that continued until the last guest leaves. There was live entertainment and dancing nightly at the Terrace Restaurant and Bar, a West Indian barbecue and beach party on Wednesday and Saturdays, daily breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets at the Terrace, and a more formal dinner by reservation at The Trysting Place.
We had for days indulged in Rendezvous’ decadent offerings of food, wine and entertainment, so we decided to venture into the native night to experience St. Lucia as only a local could. We alone hopped aboard the 10 p.m. resort shuttle to the town of Gros Islet, final destination “jump-up,” a Caribbean street party described as a not-for-tourist glimpse into local culture.
The night was black as coal…no lights, no stars, no moon. With wild abandon our oversized van wound precariously around cliffs miles above the sea. As we neared town, cars lined the roadside and pedestrians appeared in our headlights, making it impossible to drive any further. The walls of the van were vibrating to quasi rap/reggae rhythms punctuated by pungent aromas of grilled fish and meat.
Our driver let us off with simple directions: Walk toward the music. Smoke rose up from the hot coals of hibachis lining the streets, local women hawked handmade jewelry and young men sold beer from Styrofoam coolers, cleverly proffering an oasis from the thick night air. The masses multiplied as we neared the music’s source — pulsating speakers the size of cars. Everyone was dancing in the street. We decided to reconnoiter from the second story of the corner bar.
Looking down on this sea of St. Lucian humanity, I suddenly felt very small, and decidedly American. There really were no tourists here, except for Don and Sue, the couple scrunched next to us at the bar. We learned they were also staying at Rendezvous. So we had actually run into someone we knew, sort of, and were suddenly feeling adventurous and stirred by the primordial beat of the blaring bass. We looked at each other, then ran down the narrow stairs and danced our hearts out, or at least, moved with the sardine-packed crowd to the beat of the music.
A young St. Lucian man pulled my arm toward him… my husband yanked me back with my other arm and I became caught in a tug of war. I flashed my biggest smile at this local guy and yelled above the noise and music, “no thanks!” He smiled sweetly, released his grip and retreated into the darkness.
We returned at some morning hour to Rendezvous’ piano bar, where, along with the pianist and other vacationing couples, we sang tunes like “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” “Day-O,” and “Yellow Bird.” A far cry from “jump-up,” but rounding out the evening, or rather morning, experience.
The resort’s guest services personnel arranged other outings as well — to the colorful market in Castries; to the world’s only drive-in volcano; a visit to one of many historic plantations; to rain forests, sulfur springs and botanical gardens and to the fishing village of Soufriere. They were all worthwhile excursions, each instilling a sense of intimacy with this lovely Caribbean culture and terrain.
Still, some of our most moving moments came as we witnessed several weddings a day either on the beach or in the gardens at Rendezvous. I cried at every one. Blushing brides and hopeful grooms vowing to stand side by side throughout eternity … much like the Pitons.
What’s included: In addition to accommodations, room rates include all meals, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (except French champagne and certain wines); all entertainment; all organized and individual activities including use of all sports facilities and equipment; sports instruction, including scuba diving; dance lessons; airport transfers, room tax and all gratuities. Spa treatments extra. Tipping is not permitted.
Getting Married: Arrive at least three days before the ceremony with original, notarized documentation. If you bring copies it can take several more days. Weddings at Rendezvous are complementary, with optional extras such as strolling guitarist or steel band, photography and videotaping.
Getting there: American Airlines is the most prominent carrier to St. Lucia, offering a number of daily round-trip flights from San Juan.
Currency: St. Lucia deals in the Eastern Caribbean dollar, though American dollars are accepted throughout the island with varying exchange rates.
For Rendezvous reservations and information call toll-free (800) 544-2883 or visit www.rendezvous.com.lc.
Reprinted from Style Magazine