The road curved up and over the forested mountain sides. Heavy rain, pot-holes, and a complete lack of lighting meant the night time journey of 40km from the airport to LA Haut plantation lasted 1.5 hours.
I was in St Lucia but my suitcase was still in Barbados. Damn!
Eventually the taxi turned into what seemed in the darkness to be a huge bush. I then saw the white smile of the attendant who raised a metal barrier. He saluted me enthusiastically and pointed me towards the reception. I smiled for the first time in three hours.
The unabashed cheeriness of the receptionist soothed my frown; she promised to phone the airport the following day. She would ask them to notify her when my case arrived. The swaying palms ushered me to my room, with its four-poster bed and shower providing hot water to make me feel clean on this humid evening.
The next morning, after eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, I felt my final tensions ebb away as I surveyed the misty forests, ornate gardens, and wooden architecture of the plantation. I felt at home. La Haut’s meals are served on a patio so the view over my mango slices and guava juice was of the La Soufriere Sulphur Springs on the opposite side of the valley and of the two Pitons towering out of the sea beside the town of Soufriere. The Pitons are 700-metre high volcanic remnants that are the symbol of St Lucia.
As I read my book after breakfast the mistiness persisted. I was distracted only by the hummingbirds feeding in the bougainvilleas and by the happy chattering of the room maids. The manager offered me the services of the plantation driver to get me to the airport, where my suitcase could clear customs only with my presence.
The driver, Hugh Paul, made the journey pass quickly – we talked about West Indies cricket, Arsenal Football Club, and the devastating effect of the previous year’s hurricane on the banana crop. When we arrived at the airport, Hugh waited without complaint. Apparently no people could be in the arrivals hall when customs searched my case. After five minutes of admiring my clean clothes and souvenirs, I was allowed to wheel my suitcase outside.
On the return journey, Hugh showed me the landslides and the places where houses used to be before the hurricane. He knew many people on the road and stopped to talk to them.
After returning La Haut helped me organize trips to La Soufriere and the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens for the following day. Everything now felt under control. What a relief! I could have swum in the pool on the terrace, but instead I decided to stay on my verandah, read some more, and let the ambience of the plantation wash over me. There was no sunshine but the air was warm. It didn’t matter.
The gentle breeze and flow of the palms carried me away to a satisfying sense of complete relaxation.