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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lunch With Herod's Mom

William Porcher DuBose - Priest & Theologian (1918)


Today's port-of-call was St. Lucia.  A little more than a hundred miles from Barbados, it allowed the Serenade of the Seas to chug along at a leisurely pace while we slept.

Herod explains how bananas grow
St. Lucia is mountainous and a large swath of its interior is relatively unspoiled.  Today I took a tour with several parties in our cruisecritic.com "family", again researched by one of them in advance.  Our guide, Herod, restricts the tour to ten people, which meant minimal waiting and plenty of flexibility to stop when something looked interesting and ask questions.

We had more exposure to the local people today than in Barbados, where we spent most of the day on a boat.  As we twisted through the forests and towns, men and women would wait patiently at the  roadside offering handicrafts, fresh fruit and (in several cases) the opportunity to get cozy with large snakes.  The sales pitches were not aggressive or frequent enough to be really annoying, and I expect our guide -- who does this every day -- knew who could be trusted.  

Among the things we saw were coconut and banana groves (with the opportunity to sample fresh fruit right off the tree), an ancient volcano which still emits sulphur-ripe steam, and a small waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation teeming with birds and butterflies.

But the highlight for me was when Herod announced that he was taking us to his house, where his mom had prepared lunch.

Anybody who knows me will roll their eyes at this; all you do is mention food and you immediately have my attention.  However, I loved this idea.  I know folks who will seek out familiar brands wherever they go instead of chancing some culinary misadventure, and the McDonald's and T.G.I. Fridays' folks have capitalized on this from Reykjavík to Dubai.  But I don't know of a better way to experience a place than to go to someone's home and share food with them that they prepared.

Lunch with Herod's Mom
Herod's mom was warm and gracious, and their house has a big terrace with a splendid view of one of the Pitons, the twin conical lava domes for which St. Lucia is famous.  We were treated to a buffet of curried chicken, fried codfish, rice and beans, plantains, and various other goodies.  

After lunch, we took a water taxi to a remote resort, situated between the two Pitons, to spend an hour or so on the beach.  We shared this space with just a handful of other tourists, and so were able to take in the rugged beauty of the place in peace.  Having gotten more than my share of sun the night before, I commandeered a chaise lounge under a canopy of overhanging sea grape and just took it all in.

Our return trip was accomplished by speedboat, much to the delight of the youngest members of our party.  Somehow these two pre-teen girls ended up right up in the bows, and every time the boat crested a wave, they would be literally tossed airborne, only to thump back down onto the (thankfully cushioned) seat.  They screamed and laughed all the way back to Castries, where the boat deposited us veritably at the ship's doorstep.

Tonight was formal-dress on board.  This is the subject of consternation for some, while others -- like me -- enjoy it on the rare occasions that I am required to dress up.  On some lines (Cunard transatlantic in particular) you will still be politely turned away from the dining room without a jacket, but In the Caribbean on most of today's mass-market ships, the dress code is more of a suggestion than a rule, and we saw people wearing everything from black tie to tank tops as we headed to dinner. 

Everyone in our party made an effort to comply without going crazy buying new gear which we would not have much future use.   I own a tux, for the simple reason that it was de rigueur aboard the Queen Mary 2 and I scored a sweet deal on one when we were preparing for that ship's maiden transatlantic crossing to New York in 2004.  It dawned on my last week that I should probably try the darn thing on and make sure I could still get in it, since it hasn't seen the light of day since Emily's wedding a few years ago.  Thankfully, I have neither packed on enough muscle or fat to require any alterations. 

At Barbara's request, we posed in various groups on the swank glass staircase in the ship's lobby, sporting our finery while the Company photographers snapped away.  These souvenir photos are mind-bendingly expensive, but it's part of the experience, so -- as many times as we say we're not going to do it -- we always end up buying at least a few.  Barbara had special reasons for wanting to document this trip, so for that purpose it was worth having the professional shots done.

The dinner was wonderful, and the Serenade's classic double-height dining room complete with a ceremonial staircase provided an elegant backdrop for our fellow passengers in their fancy duds.  But -- if I had to choose -- I'd still take that lunch under the Pitons, served up with a smile by Herod's mom.

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