Cache Strapped
St. Lucia

Glenn Kaufmann

Some while back, a good friend gave me a portable GPS unit. Now this gift, while deeply appreciated, has proven to be both simultaneously great fun, and a colossal time-waster for an easily distracted work-at-home type like myself (“Oh look, the elevation of my office is 23 feet higher than the mailbox.”). But on a recent trip to the island of St. Lucia I decided to take said GPS unit along, and go in search of one of the two geocaches on the island. What I found was much more than a Tupperware box filled with trinkets.

Arriving in Vieux Fort, the southernmost town of any consequence, and home to a one-time military airfield now converted into Hewanorra International Airport, I found myself consumed with finding a way out of the humidity. On the ride north, to Gros Islet/Rodney Bay, I huddled infant-like against the van’s air conditioning vents, thus insuring that my travel partners got the full benefit not of the cold air, but of my sweat. I was beyond caring. I needed cool, or, doubtless I’d burst into flames. Never mind that it was 10:30 in the morning in late October, and this was hardly the worst that the tropics can dish out.

Later, ensconced in my room, I quickly changed into shorts and a tee shirt (mistake number one – I should have noticed that the locals were all in loose, light, long pants and long sleeves), grabbed my GPS, some cash, my key, and headed out for “Romeo Romeo” (the name of the cache). Though I’d already programmed the coordinates into my GPS, the observant reader will note that my list of gear included neither water nor the printed geocaching guide sheet that had all of the details for finding the cache. Mistakes number two and three.

Out on Rodney Bay’s main drag, I found a rather industrious young man selling CDs, and other items. Though I wasn’t buying, he was kind enough to direct me to a taxi stand after informing me that, contrary to what I’d been told, Pigeon Island was too far to walk to. I blew $25US on the cab ride, but gained a valuable resource. My driver was incredibly funny, and bent over backwards to get me to the island before the park closed at 5:00. He also took the time to explain the current state of St. Lucian politics. Then, blasting past the Sandals Grand St. Lucian Resort, we pulled into the Pigeon Island parking lot.

The park attendant collected $5US from me. It was now 4:50. I pulled out my GPS and headed into the park, and uphill. Pigeon Island is essentially a giant lush volcanic mound/island, now connected to the main island of St. Lucia by a causeway created from the tailings of local dredging projects.

According to Garmin, Romeo Romeo was 0.25mi. away. I headed up past the giant field used each spring as a venue for the St. Lucia Jazz Festival. I made my way up to a couple of old abandoned buildings. Though I was still 0.1mi. from my target, the tree cover was steadily increasing and my GPS’s accuracy was somewhat suspect, so I searched the buildings. No luck. I couldn’t recall the hints included on the geocaching guide sheet. Checking my pockets I realized I’d forgotten the sheet, and had nothing to go on but the coordinates, and the vague memory of the sheet mentioning a “great view”.

From the old buildings I climbed onward, using tree roots for hand and foot holds, up to the south wall of an old fort. In the only clear spot I could find, my GPS reported tat I was roughly 600 feet from my target. Hot, sweaty and dirty, I stood panting, covered head to toe with bits of leaves. Had I worn long pants and sleeves, the dirt and leaves would not have clung to me. As it was, they made the heat and humidity unbearable, and I itched beyond belief.

Slowly I inched my way around to the east side of the fort and clawed my way through thick brush along the eroded and crumbling canon ports to a point just 570 feet from my target. To my right was a fall of about 200 feet through thick brush, ending on sharp volcanic rocks, and heavy surf. Clinging to the battered old fort, I looked down upon the young surfers plying the waters just below me, gazed across the channel at nearby Martinique and thought, “My God this is beautiful, but what a stupid way to die on your first day in the Caribbean.” I was dizzy with the humidity. Water seemed a priority (and not the crashing surf kind).

So I headed back to the southern wall of the fort, and threaded my way uphill to the top of the fort. From here I got a good look at what was to come. Romeo Romeo was still 584 feet away and the route was a nearly vertical hillside scramble. To cover the 584 lateral feet I would need to climb in the neighborhood of 350-400 feet straight up using only palm fronds for ropes. This cache would have to wait for others. It was now 5:40, and I was seriously dizzy and dehydrated.

Glissading downhill past my hard earned vertical progress, I had a chance to take in the view of Gros Islet and Rodney Bay. From 300 feet up on Pigeon Island, St. Lucia is a magic carpet of lush green, fringed with lacey surf, and turquoise waters. I made my way back to the park gates by 6:00 and was given a warm smile from the gate attendant, and greeted by my driver. From somewhere, I don’t recall where, a drink appeared in my hand, and the thirst, which just seconds before had been so all consuming, abated instantly.

Though my quest for the cache had ended in failure, on my first afternoon in St. Lucia I succeeded in finding what I’d really come for: a sense of adventure, a glimpse of unimpeded natural splendor, and a few laughs with the locals.

Copyright Glenn D. Kaufmann, 2006. All Rights Reserved