Travel: Getting my groove on in Caribbean paradise
Dec 29 2010 By Kat Keogh
AH, ST Lucia. Home to crystal clear waters, swaying palm trees and a cool Caribbean breeze.
I’d imagined days spent lazing by the poolside, catching some rays while my very own Man Friday mixed me cocktails made with lashings of rum.
But my desert island dream faded as quickly as my nonexistent tan as I found myself standing in a crowded street at 4am, clad in an old pair of pyjamas.
Covered from head to toe in bright blue paint.
How had I gone from the safety of a sun lounger one minute to being chased down side streets by strangers armed with buckets of emulsion the next?
It may sound like a particularly nasty case of sunstroke (drinking in the day does dehydrate, after all), but my nocturnal adventure can by explained away in one word: Carnival.
A week-long festival that makes Notting Hill look like a WI meeting, St Lucia’s annual carnival is every bit as colourful as those of its Caribbean neighbour Trinidad and Tobago.
By day, its a sleepy island beloved by honeymooners.
But in the wee small hours, St Lucia comes alive with the sights, sounds, smells and thrills of carnival.
Kicking off the festivities is J’Ouvert, where thousands of locals splatter one another with paint while running amok in the winding streets of capital city, Castries.
An eastern Caribbean custom dating back to the 19th century, J’Ouvert began when slaves, who were banned from attending their French masters’ masquerade balls, would stage own mini-carnivals in their own backyards.
Fast forward to 2010, and J’Ouvert has certainly taken on a 21st century feel, as monster trucks, piled high with more speakers than a branch of Dixons, blast out soca music while the crowds dance to the break of dawn.
Four hours later, and bearing more than a passing resemblance to a Jackson Pollack painting, I trudged back to my hotel, aching for a hot shower and 40 winks.
But our guide had other ideas, as waiting in my room on my return was a ominous-looking shopping bag accompanied by a note saying “wear me to carnival”.
I drew a deep breath and peeked inside – and there, nestled between layers of pink tissue paper, was a polka dot outfit that would make even Lady Gaga blush.
It appeared I had been volunteered – nay, forced – to take part in that afternoon’s parade as part of a carnival “band” – a gaggle of revellers who dance alongside brightly decorated floats. Fortified by a few rums, naturally.
The theme for our band was countries of the world, so I donned a feathered Matador’s hat and shimmering cape in honour of my adopted nation, Spain.