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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - St Lucia

From Stem to Stern
• Sadie Wilson

"As soon as we get into the room, put your tennis shoes on, we are going for a little hike." Mom said with a grin on her face.

St Lucia

My family and I have found ourselves on the southernmost island in the chain of the Caribbean, just above Venezuela. Arriving in Saint Lucia we are guided towards a muted gray van with heavily tinted windows, antique leather seats. The driver corrals us in, nodding and tilting his head towards the van. Driving an hour on narrow, peeling roads with edges dropping off into the Atlantic, we finally spot our resort. Grateful to be fully intact we were greeted with cooled hand towels and coconuts filled with Pina coladas.

This paradise did not last long. That's when Mom decides to take us on a hike. Shoes laced, backpacks stuffed, and water bottles filled, we arrive at a little shack with a roof layered in palm fronds. A sign hung above the door, finger-painted in blue: "Climb tallest peek Gros Piton 2,438 ft." Not exactly a little hike.

A guide comes out wearing a blinding neon orange shirt with a scraggly woven Dutch braid sitting on the very top of his head. In all caps, he has his name, 'MARTIN' tattooed on his left arm and a single, fake diamond earring embedded in his right ear. He was too soft-spoken to be your usual overzealous tour guide. Filing in a line behind him, we shuffled through powdery volcanic sand that erupted in a cloud of dust with every step.
Martin with my family

Climbing higher up the westward face, we spot trees rounded by the salty wind gusts from the Mid-Atlantic. Coral-covered boulders peak through the sand, forming craggy steps beneath our feet. We stop for a quick break, my Dad strips his backpack off, flinging it at me. The sweat from his back had seeped into the straps, bleeding onto my tank top. By the time we reach the top, our clothes clung to us. But not Martin.

Descending Gros Piton, our knees and ankles buckle every ten steps. Slowly the trail starts to level, and our 'little hike' closes in at about 6 hours. My mom, ever the inquisitive tourist asks, "What's the fastest time you've ever hiked up and back down?"

"About two hours," he replies.

We felt embarrassed for taking up so much of his day, but he didn't seem to mind. Following him into the valley, we anxiously search for a place to eat. Martin's face lit up.

Martin with his Mom "Dey have da best food! My broda can take us der on his boat. It only a five-minute ride. Come, come." He invites.

We step onto a small, thinly-sculpted boat, with an inch of water lining the hull. The motor skips and spits out a dark liquid oil. I thought for sure we weren't going to make it out of the bay. Then, perfectly carved into the mountainside, peeking through the trees arose a little yellow building. Out runs a small woman, waving at our boat joyfully, wearing a teal blue shirt with the words, 'Hug me xoxo.' Martin and his brother jump off and wrap their arms around her. Not knowing a lick of English, she grabs my Mom's hand, walking us up a rotted set of stairs, greeting us in the French-based Creole, locally known as Patwa.

Photo: Martin with his Mom

Entering through the back door, we see 20 strangers gathered around a buffet of food. Martin, the only one who understood English, told us the restaurant is his Mom's place. She wakes up every morning around five and walks three miles to the marina to get the first pick of the fresh fruits, vegetables and meats shipped in daily.

Sitting around us are Martin's cousins and uncles and aunts and a brown mangy pooch racing the outskirts of the table, picking up scraps. The rest of the afternoon was filled with wild rice, grilled chicken and cherry tomatoes and the kinds of smiles that make your cheeks sore. Despite the language barrier, their unrestrained laughs and loud outbursts reminded me much of my family. We leave hours after dark making our way back to our resort.

Almost exactly a year later my mom receives a message from a number she doesn't recognize. "Hello, Wilson family. When will you come back to da island?" It was from Martin. Our hiking guide, our captain, our friend.

*Sadie Wilson is a recent graduate from the College of Charleston

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