You know how people say that when you travel alone, you aren’t really alone, because strangers become companions or some such lame nonsense?. Well in St. Lucia, adventure and the Grim Reaper were my travelling companions.
Well on one fine morning, I hired a rental car to explore as much of the island as the 200 mileage limit and an 800cc engine would allow. The island is beautiful and I was boldly going where no man, with my exact name, had gone before.
Hell, this was going so well, I even calculated how many extra miles I could afford at the penalty rate of 40 cents per mile. About three miles on my wages.
I had the loose aim to hunt down hummingbird birds in the wild and gawk at the twin Pitons, St. Lucia’s well-known rocky hummocks.
Things were proceeding normally in a way which would not scare an American from the Bible Belt, although they scare me, when all of a sudden, I found myself at a fork in the road not sure which way to go. So I pulled over to read the map.
Gangster tour guide
A spectacularly worrisome-looking gangster limped over to the car idling in neutral, just like my brain, beacuse suddenly I found myself agreeing this man’s proposal that I give him a lift to Castries, where the Pitons are. As my brain slipped the clutch so did my brain. Both my car and I moved into first gear and I realised that it had just heard the worst-disguised request ever to act as unofficial tour guide for the day. Too late – the right to rescind this contract could only be exercised upon pain of pain.
He introduced himself as Robert. But with his deadly serious, bloodshot eyes and ripped-scruffy clothes, surely he was known as Killer or Mad Dog to his friends.
His overall appearance was of a drug-dealer with low will power and a need to avoid reality. As my panicking brain fought to grasp the last twig at the end of the Branch of Reason on the Tree of Impending Danger, it convinced itself that everything would turn out alright. Because Robert was well-spoken and seemed knowledgeable on St. Lucia’s touristy wonders.
Over the next half hour, he directed me to stop at the bay where Dr. Doolittle was filmed and two little trinket-selling huts sat on the side of the road, strategically placed at tourist trap-pretty viewpoints.
I had mentioned that I was hunting humming birds and Robert was adamant that he knew a place where they would be. I was sceptical because everyone else I had spoken to that morning told me I wouldn’t see any on account of not having got up at half past five in the morning when they are most active.
Then we pulled over at a garden where I assumed he was simply breaking into. But he said it was owned by his friend. Immediately, there were about six or seven humming birds zooming around. I got some shots I was happy with. If you squint, little blurred smudges can be seen in the corners of shots.
Whilst we were lying in wait for the hummers, I asked him what he did for a living. Without hesitating he said, “I grow and sell drugs”.
“Oh right,” I said.
I comforted myself that after I had been de-armed and de-legged by a machete, my body would at least be laid to rest in the picturesque hills above Castries, overlooking the Petons.
He then waited patiently like a coiled cobra, I told myself, for about an hour. He insisted on carrying my rucksack and camera bag, presumably to leave no signs of me and no evidence, whist I mooned around flowers, photographing fast blurry birds. He suggested I walk in front of him, camera at the ready, so he wouldn’t scare the birds away and also so as to distract me and clobber me on the back of the head with his machete. All went disquietingly well.
Anyway, I made it out of the trespassed garden with the drug dealer in tow, who at the next stop informed me, yet again, to ensure that the car was totally locked and that nothing was left on display. Hmm. Thoughtful for a murderer, I pondered.
Like in all films, the condemned man, knowing he was going to die, decided to ask more about the drug thing.
Robert apparently grows marijuana plants, which take some nurturing you know, if they are not to produce a bitter taste. Then harvests them and sells the stuff locally for which there is apparently high demand, and also runs a boat to St. Vincent and Martinique semi-regularly.
I still thought that maybe he was just talking big, although he looked the part, until he told me that the second time he had been caught in Martinique, he was spent four years in Martinique jail.
That was it. I didn’t care anymore. The air tasted sweeter. The light played a little dance on the gently undulating ocean and life had never seemed better or shorter.
Next in his bag of ‘scare the crap out of unwitting, gullible tourists’ was to tell me that there were snakes in the hills we were driving through. To stop me simply running away into the bush with my wallet, I reasoned.
“Maybe we’ll see a boa constrictor or a cobra round here,” he said.
“Yeah right, big-talker, you’re just full of crap,” I thought.
A minute later, I was taking a photograph of a man with a boa constrictor in his hands. It seemed that Robert was a straight-talking man of his word, which was worrying.
Robert’s next trick was to take me to see the locals.
We drove around Castries, where he informed me on five occasions, not only should I not take photos of the locals, but do not even look like I might be doing it. Otherwise, they will get angry, smash the camera, and possibly me too.
He really had a thing about not wandering too far away, photographing the “ignorant” locals, as he called them and not straying too far. I was quite glad to get back to the car.
Until he directed me along the shoreline, past a more evil looking load of people than any Pirates of the Caribbean film. One man walked purposefully straight down the middle of the road towards the car with an angry ‘I’m going to mess you up white boy’ expression until he saw Robert and immediately smiled.
“Did you see how his expression changed,” said my mass murdering chaperone.
“No, even my eyes were frozen in terror,” I thought.
“Yes,” I squeaked.
In order to keep my heartbeat below 150 beats per minute, we avoided the new main road and proceeded up a very steep, very rutted gully to the chosen burial ground. It turned out we were going via an old un-used road to the luxury resort between the Petons, but he had to lie to get us in.
We parked at the top of the hill and he instructed me to say I was going for a drink. So we talked our way in, headed down the long steep hill in the resort grounds, took some more photos, were repeatedly harassed by security guards and left.
To give you an idea of how scary looking Robert was, we hitched a ride back up the steep hill out of the grounds. A man who mistakenly stopped was so overcome that he said, “Err, I’m not going to the top of the hill.”
There were no turn offs and the road only led to the top of the hill. His lie was awful. We got in and his wife assumed a look like she had just been kidnapped. Presumably, because she thought she had actually just been kidnapped. She tensed up and said not one word. Her husband will have got in some serious trouble with her after me and my killer had got out.
Breaking and Entering
The breaking and entering trick was performed at the next luxury resort on the top of the next hill.
I had to buy Robert a drink at that one, because the security clouds were gathering. I have to say though, he got me to some breathtaking places, which I wouldn’t have dared to try and get into on my own. At this second luxury spa-style resort he talked to the staff in Creole patois, which seemed to calm them down a bit.
From then on, it was all smooth, heart-calming ocean views and no drama. Until the ‘Episode’.
We arrived at a viewpoint on the main road overlooking a small fishing village. I duly took photos next to a gathering of other tourists.
Robert directed me off the main road into the village. He performed his lock the car, hide all valuables and stay close nerve-calmer and we walked over to the beach.
It was here that I met the supplier of his drug-running boat.
Riding a wild-eyed horse, the supplier galloped through the beach-front stalls, kicking up sand, like the deranged stable boy for the Four Horseman in the Apocalypse.
We were all being monitored shiftily by a number of other worrying-looking locals, who were obviously trying to work out why a sheep would willingly wander, in a carefree manner, into the centre of their pack of wolves. When, after ten minutes photographing fishing/drug smuggling boats and a gaggle of machete waving traders haggling over snapper, I wandered 20 feet up the beach away from Robert, he shambled quickly over to me and nervously asked me “How much further down the beach are you planning on going?” before telling me that the correct answer to that question was “back to the car, now”. There were apparently some young guys in the group, who would do very bad things to me, mainly to get my camera, but also just to brag to their mates about how they killed me for no particular reason. He was worried, which had the effect on me of seeing visions of the grim reaper, politely asking me to duck-rapid compliance.
Robert took the only sensible option, leaving via another vertigo-inducing steep, rutted back-alley gulley, ensuring a maximum escape speed of four miles per hour. The spotty teenage beach gangsters wouldn’t even have had to break into a run to catch the car. This turned out to be the ‘hood’ he grew up in. It was during this slow speed getaway that he appraised me of the total number of murders in St. Lucia, a whole lot per week, and lamented the loss of the gallows, giving people the easy option of ten years, which many people he knew would be quite willing to serve, After giving me a piece of brain liquefying news as was his habit, he insisted on stopping and talking to a group of dodgy-looking characters, while I sat in the car with the engine running. We were apparently safe for now as we were no less than 300 metres from the trophy-seeking tourist dispatchers.
All that then remained was to knock over a cash machine so I could pay Robert. Once again, he insisted on shadowing me, like a corrupt FBI agent, skulking across the street, watching for his competing muggers.
When I emerged one minute later, having got my cash fast, he came running, asking was I was alright? Who was following me? Was everything okay?
“It was before you tuned my already high-pitched stress levels to E-sharp, you convict,” I thought, but I could not bring myself to speak the words out loud.
Wondering if he was ever going to kill me or flee, we did the deal on the money, touched knuckles.
He checked if I was “irie gwan de hotel”.
“Yes, thanks Robert,” I said.
And then I made my escape, after a day long reign of terror and loads of fun.