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Blog 10/21/2019

St Lucia through the eyes of the late Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott

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    Beach

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The St Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott brought the beat of the Caribbean to the literary establishment. He conjured his island again and again in terse poetry and vivid metaphor. Having grown up in relative poverty, his worldwide fame following his Nobel Prize in 1992 enabled him to enjoy in his later years all the delights this high-end destination has to offer. Vocally against the all-inclusive model, Walcott championed hotels that encourage tourists to explore beyond the resort. In an interview with him before he died he told me of the places he loved and those he recommended to visiting friends.

Words by Antonia Windsor

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“Castries is the place that holds the most memories for me, because that is where I grew up,” he said. “And the Vigie Peninsula. There used to be a long avenue of palm trees where the airstrip is. It’s quite different now.”Castries is a bustling market town and the capital of the island. In Derek Walcott Square a large sign, bearing an oversized portrait, states that the square was renamed in 1993, the year after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Inside the park there are two busts, one of Walcott and one of his fellow Nobel winner, economist Arthur Lewis.

“Going anywhere was a serious expedition when I was a child,” he recalled. “We occasionally went to Soufriere, the next important town, although it was almost impossible along the mountain roads. They were tortuous. The best way to get there was, and still is, by boat.” By car, it takes 90 minutes lurching down a twisting road to reach Soufriere. The town was established by the French in 1746 and there is still a Gallic whiff air about the place. The pastel-painted wooden buildings with first-floor verandas date back to that time and are remarkably well preserved.

St Lucia is a teardrop-shaped island to the southeast of Martinique in the Lesser Antilles of the Windward Islands. For centuries it changed hands between the British and the French before becoming a British colony in 1848. It achieved independence in 1979. It has palm-fringed white sand beaches, miles of rainforest and the pulse of a laid-back reggae beat. In his poetry, Walcott refers to St Lucia as “a place of light with luminous valleys”, he also often calls it the “horned island”, in reference to the Pitons, the island’s defining mountains. And as much as he realised the importance of tourism to the St Lucian economy, tourists appear in his work “grilling their backs in the noon barbecue”.

“I would encourage people not to keep to the cocoon of their resort. You need to see what life is really like here, meet the locals, listen to the language."

Derek Walcott

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“If I had visitors, I’d take them to the sulphur springs just outside Soufriere. Then I’d take them up to Dasheene Restaurant at Ladera.” Walcott said. 

Ladera is a luxury resort without a beach, nestled into the hillside with unrivalled views of the Pitons. All of the wooden rooms have no fourth wall and are open to the scenic expanse outside. At dinner you can sit surrounded by hummingbirds and tuck into fine Caribbean fusion food.

Another place Walcott enjoyed is Memories of Hong Kong, a Chinese restaurant in Rodney Bay close to where he lives. “There’s a hotel down there called the Royal by Rex Hotel and because it is not all-inclusive it has given rise to what we call ‘restaurant row’ – lots of independent businesses that now benefit from tourism and that we locals can enjoy.”

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