The village of Morne rests at the top of a mountain in the green interior of St. Lucia. On Sunday, Mia, Suzana and I made an accidental visit there and got to enjoy part of an island culture I had assumed didn't exist here.
Rodney Bay Marina, where more than 200 yachts participating in the 2009 edition of the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers are berthed, is typical Caribbean tourism at its worst. Restaurants serve 'western' food at ridiculous prices, taxi drivers continually bark for your business and locals remain virtual slaves to the visiting yachts. Apparently this works for all parties involved - the St. Lucians demand a pretty penny for the services rendered to the yachties, and the yachties get the 'developed' services and facilities they're after. It's just not for me.
On my second day off from working - and after just completing the 2am-8am graveyard shift - my ARC partner Suzana, who is from Portugal, Mia and I took the car and went for a drive. The plan was to have no plan. I was at the helm, Mia riding shotgun and Suzana in the back, and we agreed that if anyone wanted to turn at any time, simply to say so. As driver, I was happy to oblige their whims.
We stopped to buy drinking coconuts not five minutes outside the marina complex. I will never tire of coconut water, which is without a doubt the most refreshing and enjoyable beverage one can experience, and it comes in it's own container. The guy on the street hacked a few open with his machete and Mia and I drowned them in a few large gulps. Then we continued up.
We made a left turn off the main road as soon as we could - another side effect of the influx of tourists and yachties is the incredible traffic on an island where there is only one road leading to anywhere. Only half a century ago an overland journey on St. Lucia could have taken days on foot or horseback. Today it takes about an hour to traverse the island from north to south, and the roads are in amazing condition. Up we went, on a roller coaster of a road. We came to a fork in the road, and Suzana shouted 'Left!' so I went left. The road continued up, passed a few small shops, and turned into dirt. And we found ourselves in Morne.
Little more than a few houses on the hills lining each side of the road, Morne is a family village, and we had stumbled upon a family party. The party was not all that different from the summer pool parties at home. Chicken was roasting on several grills, a man behind a bar that known as the 'No F-ing Credit Bar' was distributing 'Piton' lager beer, and the family was playing music. Incredible music, actually. About a dozen or so St. Lucians - all related - were banging away on metal chairs, bamboo poles, plastic barrels and bongo drums, while another was tooting a conch horn and a woman sang the lyrics in Creole. They called themselves 'The Secret Band,' and I was happy to be in on it.
We were only passing through on our 4-wheel adventure, but they insisted we stay. I had no problems with this request, and was handed a beer. Several generations of the Morne Village family were present, from the smallest baby to old men with no teeth, and everyone was happy. The music continued with new members joining and leaving the band at will. Even the little ones had a go, and it was apparent that these islanders, at least, had music in their blood.
They would only allow us to pay for one beer each - after that, everything was on the house. We ate grilled curried chicken, fried bread and fish cakes. We drank beer. A teenager opened a dozen coconuts with his machete, and we drank the water, with rum of course.
The party continued into the afternoon. We were invited by one of the younger guys to go for a trip down to the beach, on the Atlantic side, where he'd show us around to the Carib Indian ruins that lay among the palm trees, the first settlement on St. Lucia. Happily, we obliged.
Once beyond Morne, the dirt road began its descent to the beach. The little Daihatsu bounced along on the rutted and rocky path, but managed well enough. To our right a valley opened up, at the bottom of which stood a small pig and banana farm, a thousand feet below us. To the left, cows and goats grazed on the steep hillsides. This was the St. Lucia that the ARC participants were missing, and I was okay with that.
At the beach, which was volcanic black sand, dwarfed on two sides by enormous cliffs, the Atlantic surf pounded on the sand. Debris from passing ships had washed up on the shore. Bookcases, old bottles, even a telephone pole were strewn about the ground. We hiked beneath the cliff on the southern side along a barely discernible path through a grove of coconut palms. Our de facto guide pointed out the Indian ruins, which became quite obvious after a second glance. Soon the remains of a large Indian 'church' appeared out of the trees. An enormous tree had grown right up through one of its walls, betraying the age of a rather mystical place.
After our walk, I helped Lloyd (our village guide) load the two bookcases into the back of our car - he was going to fix them up and use them for his house, which I thought was a grand idea. Similarly, the grills back at the village were made from old propane and gas tanks cut in half and hinged, mounted on legs made from rebar. The kettles they boiled their pots on were old car and truck wheels, mounted in a similar fashion as the grills. They waste nothing in the village.
Upon our return to the mountain top and Morne, I expected Lloyd to announce his fee for our afternoon tour. Instead, he called to his two kids, who appeared holding a machete and more coconuts, and he offered us another drink. He was incredibly proud of his family, of the house he built with his own hands, and of the village life where his entire extended family lived close together on the top of that mountain.
I arrived into Morne with the initial impression that I was an intruder, 'stealing' photographs and somehow tainting an otherwise 'pure' atmosphere. I wondered to myself if there was anything I could give to those people to make their lives better.
The villagers at Morne want for nothing. They are quite obviously far happier than any western family I've encountered, my own included. Their happiness comes not from things or money, but from togetherness and passion. Passion for their land, their music and for each other. I left thinking instead how the world might be different, if we all had the same attitude about life.