We decided to take a short break in the Carribean starting on my birthday. Sue booked a villa and jeep on the internet via the very helpful Villas St Lucia and we were set.
The holiday started in one of Kathy and Gemma's favourite places - the Virgin Upper Class Lounge at Gatwick.- where Dad had secretly booked a manicure for them. Virgin girls fussed over them while mum and dad tucked into a smoked salmon and scrambled egg breakfast (not on the menu but a Tony favourite they run up specially for him) and lashings of coffee.
Eight hours and several films later we were swooping into St Lucia's Hewanorra International Airport. Out of the plane door and the humid warmth hit us like a hot towel.
Chris Monrose of CC Car Rentals was waiting the other side of customs with two jeeps. He took our bags and loaded them into his jeep and handed us the keys for the other white one. "Follow me" and off he set. St Lucia's roads are not the best and we were taking the back roads that wound up and down the hills of the inlets to avoid the Sunday crowds. Did we really give all our luggage to a total stranger in the car in front? As it turned out Chris was a well known local and through the holiday we were always flagged down with "You driving one of Chris's cars? I'm his <insert any relation>" It certainly got us accepted into the local community
An hour later, much shaken about and amused, we arrived at Stonefield Estates, an old banana and cocao plantation sat on a hillside looking out onto St Lucia's most famous landmarks - The Pitons. The Pitons are the cores of two ancient volcanoes rising steep and pointed out of the sea. Sulphur smells drifted over occassionally from the nearby volcano - smells that gave the name to the nearby town of Soufriere.
That evening it tipped it down while we sat and ate a birthday cake smuggled secretly by Sue and the girls in the luggage. Rain was to be a feature of the week but it was always in relatively short heavy showers and rarely got in the way of the holiday - although the rivers washed heavy silt into the sea on the last day that would have ruined diving visibility.
Throughout the weeks we managed to combine education (the girls were off school!) with relaxation and for Tony a chance to go diving on the superb underwater walls of the Pitons.
Partway through the week we turned up at Anse Chastenet where the dive operations were run from to find a lot of excitement. A large number of baby Hawksbill turtles had been found running all over the hotel. Speculation was that the hotel lights had confused them and instead of hatching and running into the sea they had turned towards the hotel instead.. That evening we went joined in the excitement of releasing them back to the sea with diving lights providing an artificial moon to point them in the right direction this time. The dive school were out with their video cameras capturing the event and a few weeks later we received a video to remember the night.
School work was part of the week for the girls. Kathy did a "yellow" project on bananas as we watched the banana trees outside the villa flower and turn into baby bananas. Gemma did her "red" project on the flora of St Lucia - nutmeg (mace) and many different varieties of plants.
In between Tony went diving with from Anse Chastenet in gloriously clear water culminating in the Superman dive - a flight along the near vertical wall of the Pitons using just the currents and an odd lazy fin flip for propulsion.
Gemma & Kathy snorkelling on Anse Chastenet reef
Gemma enjoying a manicure at the Virgin Lounge
Petit Piton from the swimming pool at Stonefield Villas
Villa Bouganvillea nestled in the hillside
Sue sat out on the balcony with the local friendly dog
Soufriere Main Street
The local volcano and source of sulphur smells
Disembarking at St Lucia Hewanorra airport
Chris's jeep on the road to Anse Chastenet
View out from the villa past Petit Piton to the sea
Lounge and dining area of the villa
Local guide who showed us to a volcanic heated waterfall bathing spot
Collecting some sulphur samples with a guide