As a professional travel writer I have been lucky enough to travel to many exotic and exciting places. But on a winter's day in the UK, when I'm sat in my office and it's already dark outside at 4pm, it is to St Lucia that I turn my thoughts.
I was fortunate enough to travel to this incredible Caribbean Island a few years ago. My quest was to interview the Nobel Laureate writer Derek Walcott about his personal favourite places on the island. Walcott has lived most of his life in St Lucia and this verdant volcanic island appears in much of his work. In his epic poem Omeros, which is a reworking of Homer's Odyssey, he writes: "In the mist of the sea there is a horned island/with deep green harbours". The horns are the island's volcanic plugs, the Pitons, which rise as two peaks and provide fantastic views over the lush rainforest interior for those with energy enough to climb them.
The nearest town to Walcott is Gros Islet, just outside Rodney Bay, and he told me about the Friday night Jump Up, where stallholders set up shop to sell barbecued meats and fish and to ladle out rum punch to the revellers. It is a huge street party with music blaring out of competing stereos that has been going 40-odd years and is on most people's to-do list when they come to St Lucia. Because it is such a tourist attraction some people can be disappointed that they see more Americans and Brits than they see St Lucians. The locals tend to join the party late, when they have finished their shifts at the surrounding restaurants and bars. So if you want to get the local vibe at the Gros Islet Jump Up, then it is best to show up past 11pm, when the families of tourists have gone to their beds and the locals are ready to lime.
There is a competing Friday night street party in the fishing village of Anse-La-Raye a bit further down the West coast. Known variously as seafood Friday, Friday Fish Fry or Friday Fish Fiesta it was set up as a showcase to all the great seafood caught in the area, from whelks and lobster to snapper and conch and to provide a similar party atmosphere for the guests at the hotels in the area so they wouldn't have to head up to Gros Islet. I never made it to the Anse-La-Raye fry, and have heard mixed reports that makes me think it depends very much on the time of year and particular week you go as to whether you will get a full on street party or just a few stalls selling street food. Word is you should arrive early here to get the best food as some stalls run out later in the evening.
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Instead, I headed to the other side of the island after a tip-off from Walcott that there was a more authentic party taking place on a Saturday night in Dennery on the east coast. As there are fewer hotels near this fishing harbour, you will find far fewer tourists. Instead you will find plenty of locals jiving to loud reggae music, swigging from bottles of Piton beer and tucking into grilled fish with plantains. Those wanting to get away from the noise of the music and dancing head down to the beach and sit on upturned fishing boats to socialise and chat, while being cooled by the breeze off the sea.
My evening in Dennery, chatting to locals, grazing on fabulous food and sipping on rum punch was one of those evenings that encapsulate everything I love about travel. Getting up close and personal to a culture entirely different from my own, soaking up the sounds, smells and flavours of a new place and making friends along the way. It is where I go back to in my mind on a bleak UK winter afternoon.