Saint Lucia: Roller Coaster Roads and Fart-Stink Mountains

It’s easy to think that any one Caribbean island is going to look more or less the same as any other Caribbean island: hilly to mountainous, with clear turquoise waters and loads of lush green foliage.

Such generalizations are hard to avoid sometimes, and transforming to a jaded tourist can quickly change from outlandish concept to unfortunate reality. As our big old boat approached St. Lucia in the copper-lit hours of the early morning, it quickly became apparent that we were very wrong about our ideas of most Caribbean islands.

Saint Lucia and the piton mountains

The Pitons and Soufriere

We hopped a tour bus and ended up riding far into the viscera of this island. And viscera it was – we were on our way to the sulphur springs in the heart of an old volcano, and the mountain road we were on had more twisty-turns and switchbacks then a set of small intestine.

Despite being mostly fine the entire time on the boat, the roller-coaster roads were building up and I found myself doing all I could to hold onto the breakfast I had eaten earlier that day.

I mean, sure, food was all-inclusive on the boat so if I lost it I could always just stuff myself when we got back, but through a combination of not wanting to embarrass Becki through cement-truck-like disgorgement and sheer willpower, I managed to keep it all in.

The Worlds Only Drive-In Volcano

St. Lucia has some serious mountains. I’ve never been to Hawaii, but comparisons were nevertheless made. Far higher and steeper than any other Caribbean features we’d seen, The Piton mountains dominate your view of the island.

Pitons and palm trees

Pitons and palm trees

These things are massive and unmistakeable. They were formed when – like most volcanoes – magma pushed it’s ways up from the deep depths of the planet. However, normally one of three things happens with volcanoes:

  1. holes open up, often with one big hole at the top, and lava comes rushing out
  2. the magma can’t force it’s way out, pressure builds, and the whole thing blows
  3. the magma empties out before either of the first two happen, and the top of the mountain collapses into the hollow underneath, creating a caldera

As it turns out, neither of these happened with the Piton mountains. The specific type of rock, and the amount of it, turned out to be too much for the magma to burst through, and it never built up enough pressure to explode like Mount St. Helen.

Instead, the magma just kept pushing the rock up and up, soaring skyward above the humble buildings of fishing-town Soufrière and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. These “volcanic plugs” as they’re called are pretty rare, hence the Pitons being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Fart Soap

Over time, the tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust keep their eternal march, and the mound of a volcano is no longer over the deeper hotspot. This is the reason you see chains of volcanically formed islands, such as Hawaii and Japan – the position of the islands will show you which direction the plate is moving relative to the hotspot. Think of it as poring sand on a conveyor belt; if the belt sticks and slows, the sand will make higher mounds. That’s exactly what happens when a volcanic island is formed.

Some of the Pitons did end up collapsing once the hotspot was no longer underneath. We drove right into the caldera (which is why the tours like to call it “the only drive-in volcano in the world”, though millions who’ve gone through Yellowstone might disagree…) and instantly started blaming each others backsides for the overwhelming stink.

Sulphur spring in Soufriere Saint Lucia

See, that’s the source of the smell…

There is a huge amount of sulphur escaping from the Earth in that caldera, but the amount of it is carefully monitored by authorities to make sure it’s below toxic levels. There are hot-springs in the caldera that also reek of sulphur, but the sulphur brings with it loads of minerals.

The locals tout the spring water as a panacea, claiming that bathing in it will heal any problem you have; anything from acne and backne to ezcema, cysts, dark spots, light spots, in-between spots, uneven skin tones, too-even skin tones, lockjaw, hammer-toe, the gout, or even just a plain ol‘ case of the uglies.

You can even take some with you in the form of bar soap. I was pretty tempted, as I was sure that with repeated dosing my “green undertones and dead shark eyes” would finally heal, but our tour bus left before I could pick some up. Ah well, Becki’s loss….

In the end, I didn’t turn the bus into a Caribbean vomit-comet, and we didn’t get to experience nearly as much of St. Lucia as we would have liked. It was a uniquely beautiful island, with picturesque but terribly poor fishing towns nestled between soaring peaks and the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Scene's from Soufriere

Scene’s from Soufriere

It served as a good reminder that no two islands are the same. Saint Lucia is not the yachters paradise of Saint Maarten or the bustling island of Puerto Rico.

Each island, and each person on those islands, have their own unique stories. Things are never so black and white; they’re never so simple, and it’s up to us as avid travelers to learn about those people and their stories.

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