An Active Caribbean Volcano in St Lucia
From l'Anse Chastanet Resort near Soufriere, Saint Lucia
The Lesser Antilles have a volcanic origin, formed along the edge of the Caribbean Plate in the subduction zone where the North American Plate slides under the Caribbean. The southeastern group of these islands, called the Windward Isles because the prevailing east to west trade winds brought ships to first landfall there after crossing the Atlantic, sparkle like green beads on turquoise sea, a string of lush tropical forests, warm bays, and miles of beaches to sail to, catch the sun, and sip cool drinks in the shade. Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, St Vincent, Grenadines, and Grenada are paradise destinations for vacation or honeymoon.
From the Porte Cochere of our resort at Anse Chastanet on Saint Lucia, we took a minibus to the Soufriere Volcanic Centre to explore the "drive-in volcano." We drove for about 45 minutes south and east of Soufriere, up into the high country that forms the lip of the caldera of Qualibou. Near Ladera Resort, we turned into the property, picked up our guide, and headed to the parking lot.
Live Volcano of the Caribbean Plate
This live volcano last erupted in 1766, when steam, rock and ash exploded in a phreatic eruption. In 1990, 1999 and 2000, there were earthquakes
The Pitons near Soufriere, Saint Lucia
Wild Caladium in the Tropical Rain Forest in the Volcanic Caldera
The high country was cooler than the beach we had left. We passed through lush green rain forests, colourful red and green-leaved caladium plants, and lacy bamboo groves until in the wide distance the caldera opened into a desolate landscape, treeless, brown, steaming in places like the destruction of a muddy battlefield. Along the higher slopes, Caribbean pines had been planted by the Ministry of Forests to stabilize the steep slopes of the caldera, and to repair damage after Hurricane Tomas in 2010.
Caribbean Pines in Saint Lucia
Geothermal Mud in Qualibou Volcano, Saint Lucia
From the first viewpoint, we could see steam rising from the mud baths in more than one place. The guide spoke of the danger of walking on the site, warning us to stay on the paths, for the crust over the volcanic mud is precarious, and the magma-heated water raises the temperature of the mud to boiling point, hot enough to cook a person alive if one falls in.
I shivered in the tropic afternoon. In the echoes of the wind I felt the man screaming, the one who fell in.
I took a few steps back, and clutched the rails. We walked past the rusty pipe that brought geothermal water to a bathing pool. No one was bathing in the pools today, but in the past the French aristocracy had, in one of the periods Saint Lucia was colonized by the French.
We walked down steps into the caldera. Then we climbed. There was stench of sulfur in the air, like hard boiled eggs. A light rain fell, warm and pleasant. Huge green plants lined the edge of the caldera, in contrast to the bleak volcanic mud where demonic vents of steam rose from the blasted landscape.
On the way back, we met a lone local vendor at the top of the stairs. I fell for his brilliant white smile, and stopped to listen to his story. His wrists were wrapped with strings of necklaces, wooden pine beads between glossy volcanic ones, with a tiny dolphin pendant. Today there were no tourists but us, in the summer low season, on a rainy day.
"This is what I do. There's been no tourists here today but you," he said, rubbing the gun-metal gray bead with dark slender fingers.
We bargained, and I paid him some Eastern Caribbean dollars for two strings of beads and his story. Are they really volcanic beads? Who knows.
The other tourists, honeyymooners in their twenties, laughed in a friendly way when I climbed back into the white van. "Volcanic beads made in China, perhaps," gibed Melanie. Her husband of two days, Jamie, laughed easily, his arm around her shoulders.
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We drove back over the lip of the caldera and made our way to the Diamond Botanical Gardens. Here were more hot springs, built in 1784 for the troops of King Louis XVI of France, so they could enjoy the therapeutic mineral waters heated by the Soufriere Volcano 2 miles upstream. Here we stayed long enough to change into bathing suits and lounge in the hot water, about 110 degrees Fahrenheit. I lay on my back and floated. Jamie and Melanie came up and joined me. We sat in the hot tub and enjoyed some quiet conversation, or lapsed into comfortable silence listening to the birds.
If you go, it's worth the trip.
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