First Impressions of St. Lucia

I arrived in St. Lucia on a JetBlue flight and, without any warning, the back door of the plane was opened and those of us towards the rear of the aircraft (and I was in the third row from the back) climbed gingerly down the stairs and onto the tarmac, and then to the left of some orange cones into a small airport terminal in Vieux Fort.  Once inside, we got in the line for customs and went through.  When you wait in customs, you see billboard advertisements in the small terminal and you get a sense of what sort of people the island is marketing to.  Two of the billboards were for wedding photographers, which makes sense as on our plane there were quite a few members from a wedding party.  Another one of the billboards was advertising two and three bedroom mansions (?) for $600,000 to $2,000,000 (!!).  Once I saw those billboards I realized that even though St. Lucia may be an impoverished island that they weren’t going to offer tourists any island discounts.  More on that anon.  The other advertisement was for discreet banking.

I took this as an ominous sign.  Seeing an advertisement for discreet banking reminded me that St. Lucia attracts travelers with less than fully honorable financial dealings.  There are different kinds of dishonorable financial dealings.  There is the sort of shirking and ashamed quality one gets from being poor and unable to pay one’s debts, and there is the sort of deliberate shadiness of one who is unwilling but entirely able to pay one’s obligations, which also results in its own form of shiftiness, which enriches the incomes of small and opaque nations in the Caribbean who offer these individuals the infrastructure they need to engage in their business.  After going getting my luggage and being directed through the correct door, I found myself beset immediately by some particularly aggressive taxi drivers, something that I also took as an ominous sign.  Thankfully, I had arranged a ride already (it was not cheap, at $80) from the airport to my hotel an hour and a half away, and the driver was at least friendly.  I was exhausted and not as chatty as I might have been, but I was also observing the scene and trying to do my best to understand it [1], which is a frequent approach of mine to new places and situations.

What does one see when one travels along St. Lucia’s roads between Vieux Fort and Rodney Bay?  There are a few things I was able to notice.  The buildings are colorful and often not particularly well-constructed, either being made of unreinforced concrete or material that would be treated like matchsticks by the hurricanes that have demolished the areas north of here during this year’s terrible hurricane season.  The roads are somewhat poor and very frequently narrow.  Traffic drives on the left, as is the case in Thailand and Great Britain, for example.  People honk on their horns a lot, whether as a sign of irritation and impatience, or to say hello, or to give you a friendly warning that they are headed into your lane and that you need to take such evasive measures as are possible for you to make.  There are a lot of hills, and a lot of banana trees and the other signs of tropical plantation crop monoculture.  There are a few used tyre (rather than tire) shops, and businesses have strangely functional names such as “Cost Less Auto Rental,” which in light of the island’s priciness seems rather a dubious claim.  The population that one sees on the roads shows all of the signs of poverty, although the schoolchildren are smartly dressed in their uniforms.

The purpose of the island as a whole appears to be trying to get as much money from tourists as possible.  This island is beautiful, in the tropical island sort of beauty, with heat and humidity, a surprisingly large number of mountains for a small territory, and most of the population huddled around the coast in houses that are often along the hillsides.  Yet when a country has the economic development of, say, Thailand, and the prices of the United States, clearly something in the island has gone amiss.  Obviously, the locals don’t eat and shop where the tourists do, because they could hardly afford to.  There must be some sort of dual economy going here, where fleecing tourists is seen as one way of subsidizing the local economy where wages and prices are more modest.  It is not as if shipping to St. Lucia is too unreasonable, as I happened to see a fairly big port facility in Castries that was able to handle large ferries and even container ships.  Still, the island has a small population, a great deal of natural beauty, and not a lot of development going for it aside from tourism and banana-growing, which does not make for a very balanced economy.  As is the case with many tourist-focused areas (Florida comes to mind here, as does Thailand), there is a mixture of irritation and compassion that I have for an area that has to make its living by catering to the contradictory desires for great service and low prices from people like me.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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