REPORT NO. 16 OF THE LUTMAN'S TROPICS 2000 TRIP

Tuesday, May 2, 2000. St. Lucia Day 4 of 5. Trip Day 26 of 38. A RESTFUL, TOURISTY, MOSTLY NON-BIRDING DAY. THE SOUFRIERE MECHANIC.

We sleep in and what a great feeling. At 10:42 we go over to the grocery store for some grocery shopping, then come back to the room.

By 12:30 pm, we are sitting in our car at a dump/swamp that Donald has told us about, but it is all dried up. Sharon does her best Donald distress squeak and calls in a Blackface Grassquit, our own Adelaide's Warbler and then a Scaly-breasted Thrasher. Flash: Hey, she's good!

We decide to take a leisurely drive down to Sofriere (SO-free-ERR. I believe it's French) because that's where the two famous St. Lucia Pitons (volcanic peaks) are, and the harbor is supposed to be very picturesque.

A little before 2:00 pm, Sharon thinks she sees swifts, and we stop high above a little bay. We don't see any swifts, but we watch a couple of Brown Boobies outside the bay, skimming the water.

We continue and and drive by one of the many homemade booths beside the road where they sell anything from dried yams to cokes to beer. But at this one, there are about eight men standing around, while one closest to the road holds a snake by the tail, and holds it out towards us as we pass. As if to say look what I got, or do you wanna buy this, or take a photo of this for a small fee. We breeze by, and Sharon says it's a big Boa. To me it just looks sort of medium. I think to Sharon BIG and BOA always go together no matter what.

We come to a scenic pullout and we take photos of each other (me , Sharon)with the Pitons in the background, but the sun's not at a very good angle. Oh well.

After miles and miles of twisty roads and switchbacks, we descend into the town of Sofriere, and it's just a little village as far as we can tell, but it is in a picturesque harbor, and the pitons are very impressive. Donald had told us that they go deeper into the water than they rise out of the water.

We make our way through Sofriere, looking for a bank and/or a parking place when suddenly a man of perhaps thirty (but with the energy of a twenty-year-old) asks us what we're looking for. "A parking place to go to the bank," I say. "Follow me, follow me," he yells and sprints up the street with his bare feet, pockmarked face and shabby clothes. He is clearly a hustler, and I don't trust him at all. He continues running, and I see a road to the left, so I take it, ditching him.

But I have turned into a one-way road, so some helpful St. Lucians get us turned around and headed back down the slight hill towards the town center. I put my foot on the brakes, and uh, nothing happens. The brake pedal goes all the way to the floor, and we slow down maybe a smidgeon, maybe not at all.

My disaster alert flag raises, and I plan to jam it into first gear, and slow it down as much as possible, then jam it into park. But first, as an automatic thing to try, I pump the brakes again, and they work normally. Did I just imagine that they didn't work the first time? But then I try them again, and again they don't work until the second push.

At that exact instant, the hustler guy shows up and says he has a parking space for us. I tell him we don't want to park because the banks closed at 3 pm, but could he tell us where there's a mechanic. "Follow me," he says, and takes off running again. This time he turns around to make sure we are following him. We don't go 20 yards, and he motions us into a sort of side yard of a house.

I say, "I want to find a mechanic." He says, "My brother is a mechanic. I'll get him" I say, "No, I want a garage." He points across the street, and says, "That's a garage," which it wasn't. He runs across the street, and out comes a man with more missing teeth than I have. The man has a sort of toolbox with him.

The hustler says, "My brother will take care of you." Then he says something like, "Now you need to take care of me for finding you a mechanic." "I don't have any money. That's why we were looking for a bank." He says, "American dollars all right. I can get them changed for you."

I wonder if this guy would say no to anything.

I give him a 20 American, and he goes running off while I describe to his brother the problem. "You're not the first," he says in English with some kind of accent. I finally understand that he means we're not the first to have this problem after applying more or less steady brakes descending into Sofriere. His eyes are yellow and bloodshot. Sharon says she can tell he's been drinking, but to me he just looks weird.

I want my momma.

He says "I need to bleed your brakes. Air got into the hydraulic system, you are not the first." He pronounces "the" as "thee." You are not thee first. Like that.

Just then the hustler brother comes back and gives me a bunch of St. Lucia Eastern Caribbean Dollars. It's sort of a combination of me giving him, and him taking $8 US worth of East Caribbean (or EC) dollars. He says, "I am Victor," and takes off again.

Meantime, we station Sharon in the vehicle to alternately mash the brake pedal down, and turn the wheels in the direction requested by the mechanic brother. I want to make sure he doesn't break anything on purpose so he can hold us up, or con us. I say, "Wait just a minute. So you think there's air in there, and you are going to loosen that fitting, she will pump the brakes to force the air out, right?" "You are smart man," he says, in what I'm sure is a comment to get the maximum dollar from me when he gets us fixed up. Which I'm hoping that he can do, but not having a lot of faith. Yet.

I'm standing, staring into the open space just inside the turned-fully-to-the-right tire (the right front one) when he has Sharon stand on the brakes. Then he loosens the fitting, and brake fluid mixed with a lot of air, sprays right onto me.

I adjust my position. He opens and closes several times, having Sharon pump the brakes, moves to the other wheel, repeats the procedure, then does each wheel again. He's finally satisfied. He praises Sharon over and over for doing a fantastic job pumping the brakes. "Nobody can pump the brakes as good as you." Stuff like that.

So Sacre Bleu, if he doesn't seem to know what he's doing. Including all the flattery. I drive the car forward and back in the little yard till I'm satisfied that it's ok now, and it does seem to be.

I shake his hand. "What's your name?" I ask the mechanic brother, now all friendly and grateful. "Victor," he says. Wait, two brothers with the same name? How can that be? "Paul Victor," he finishes his introduction. "You are very smart man, you know about a lot of things," he says. Well, maybe the guy IS pretty sharp after all, now that I think about it.

About that time, Victor, the hustler brother comes back, and says "I will give you my address." Odd thing to do, but he's adamant about it. I give him a piece of paper, and he just writes, "Paul Victor, Sofriere, St. Lucia." And he appears as if he has just made peace with the world, by giving us his address.

I ask the mechanic how much he wants, and he won't tell me. He just says, "You take care of me. What you think it's worth." I say, "How about $20 US?" He doesn't change the expression on his face, so I throw in a bunch of Trinidad money too. I think about $17 US worth. He seems OK with it.

I talk with Sharon and we decide to continue on south, to the drive-in volcano, a tourist feature about a mile and a half south of the town. The hustler brother hears us and says, "I will ride along with you and show you the way."

I-don't-think-so.

"No thanks," I say. "We can find it." You can see him wracking his brain, trying to figure out how to get a few more bucks from us. We wave and head on out. The two brothers wave, as do the seven men who've been lounging across the street by the "garage", watching our every move. They are all smiles, with lots of gaps. My kinda people.

We go to the drive-in volcano, and at first I think it's a scam, but after I park, and they explain it to us, I accept it. Picture a cone-shaped volcano, then remove a wedge of it, like a piece of cake, but from the top, not the side. So looking from the top you have a cone with a sort of a smile.

The road drives in through the edge of the smile. So technically, we DID drive into the volcano. For the price of admission, you get a guide (who you "take care of" later), and he's pretty knowledgeable. But the feature itself is like a tiny four acre parcel of the bubbling cauldron area of Yellowstone. Oh well, it's our day off, and we're being tourists. Sharon also gets some nice souvenirs there after I haggle with the vendors. I won't tell you what they were in case she wants to give something to you (maybe little drive-in volcano mugs or something).

We head back for home, driving past the "garage" and the two Victors' house, but everybody is gone now. I test my brakes to make sure we're safe, before I leave the area. Then we're up, up, and out of little Sofriere.

In the next village, there are two seemingly dead dogs lying in the road in our lane (drive on the left, drive on the left). It's very hot, but they are in the shade, on the road. As we drive around them, the motivated one lifts his head a little to eyeball us, then puts it back on the pavement. The other one has hired this one to check for traffic apparently, because he never moves.

I've got my GPS unit plugged into the cigarette lighter and I'm getting a big kick out of the rather straight line stored-data-highway that's represented on the GPS map vs. the actual path tracked by the GPS (based on the three or more satellites it's locked onto). Incredible switchbacks look like mom's embroidery stitching overlaid on the "straight" version of the highway.

If all that GPS stuff is boring, don't worry about it. You just saved $400.

At 5:45 pm, a dozen or so cars pass us head-on, flashers on. They are Isuzus and Mitsubishis, and they have something white written on each of the windshields. We're sure it's delivery to a dealer somewhere. Pretty cool.

A mongoose hurries across the road, looking for snakes I presume. Hey, we can drop him off at the snakey booth.

We pass a St. Lucia lady talking to a man. She has a soft cloth curled into a sort of spiral, and set onto the top of her head. On the cloth, is a tank of propane, sitting sideways. She is holding onto it with one hand while she talks.

Just before 6:00 pm, we reach the road that winds its way up over a mountain before dropping back down into Castries. But near the top of the mountain, we stop off at the Green Parrot Hotel and Restaurant, recommended by our friends Rick and Glenda Voss, who ate there once during a junket away from their cruise ship here.

This morning, we could see an enormous cruise ship, anchored in the harbor. And during our drive north from Castries, in this hilly district, we came upon buses of "cruisers" buying St. Lucian crafts and souvenirs from vendors at a place with a fantastic lookout over the harbor and town.

After the waiter takes our photo (I'm the one that you can't tell has any missing teeth. Hey Point-tooth -- that's sister Shirley, Uncle Pete might call me old Gap-tooth), we have a dinner of steak, salad, many vegetables [Sharon here: christophene, pumpkin wrapped in spinach, fried plantain, something that was fried like a hush puppie] -- none of which I liked (but, hey, that's just me), cokes and then we drive home in the night. There's almost no traffic, and it's quite peaceful. We notice that the cruise ship has departed.

Tomorrow we have a plan to get up early, leave at 6 am, and try to get the White-breasted Thrasher (maybe 60 pairs left on the island) we missed yesterday, plus have a shot at Bridled and Sooty Terns at the southern tip of the island, where they are breeding on the Maria Islands, just offshore. But after Sharon is asleep, and late in the night, I realize that I've hit some sort of a wall. I don't want to get up early tomorrow. I don't want to go driving all over the island again. I don't want to look for birds. I'll tell Sharon in the morning, I'm sure she'll agree, because she's a little pooped too.

I totally relax, now that I know we're going to sleep in tomorrow, and tinker with updating the travel log, watching TV and the like.

No new birds today. Oh well, it was our day off.

Totals: Today 0, St. Lucia still 18, Trip still 167

Frere Jacques,
Sharon and Bob

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