Travelogue: St. Lucia (February 2012)

I had been fantasizing about a trip to the island of St. Lucia for years–since just after starting a new job in New York. My managing editor (and soon-to-be best friend, Teryn) went to this place called Jalousie and when she returned, the picture she painted had me running to tell Aron that we must go there, too. At the time, there were no direct flights.

Since then, many others have no doubt added St. Lucia to their bucket lists: Season Jake of The Bachelor, anyone? And Jet Blue has started flying there directly.

And we had a baby!

But we finally made it to the beautiful island of St. Lucia! And while it was a completely different trip than the one I had first imagined—where we do such things as sail at sunset while sipping cocktails, hike to the top of one of the Pitons or walk through a rainforest, snorkel and SCUBA dive, gaze into each other’s eyes over a meal at Ladera, spend an evening at a fish-fry and jump-up party and then rub each other with mud at the sulphur springs—it was just as beautiful (maybe more so) than that vision of years ago. (In truth, we had spent one day pre-Hudson on St. Lucia, when we stopped on the island as a port-of-call on our cruise. We took a boat to Anse Chastenet—an appealing and faster alternative to the island’s windy roads—and snorkeled. It had been our favorite stop.)

All of this is to say that this is not the travelogue to read if you want first-hand accounts of exploring St. Lucia. This is the travelogue of first-time parents taking their six-month-old on his first international vacation and choosing (wisely, I think) that the best way to enjoy the island and to relax would be to stay at a beautiful resort (Jalousie) and to simply stay put.

The direct flight on Jet Blue went smoothly, no small feat considering that the first few minutes were spent with Hudson wailing at the top of his lungs. Aron reached over and felt ridges on Hudson’s lower gums. His first two teeth were coming in, just as we were leaving. Thank goodness we had packed what appeared to be the contents of our entire apartment because somewhere in there we had tylenol and teething remedies!

We arranged to have a driver pick us up–an attempt to keep everything as simple as possible for our first international trip as a family. By chance we got Cyril Edward ( 758-455 1900, we kept his card) and he did a great job of making a 45-minute ride on a very twisty road go by smoothly.

The hotel was stunning! Set on a 320-acre piece of land between the two Pitons–volcanic plugs that rise dramatically out of the sea–The Jalousie Plantation is made up of cottages and villas that descend down to “sugar beach.”

Our cab brought us straight to the room, and we were so happy to have been upgraded! We ended up in a gorgeous suite with a separate living room and bedroom (Hudson would have his own room at night!), butler service (wild), and a plunge pool! But perhaps the best part was walking out onto our patio and seeing the amazing view of the sea below.

Hudson had just mastered sitting up by himself, and I remember that we were amazed at how much easier it was to maneuver around him because it was the first time we could set him down on the floor and he would actually sit! He was so happy not to be stuck on his back or stomach, instead looking all around from a new vantage point.

We walked around the resort, marveling at every vista and snapping a million photos (of the Pitons and the sea, but still mostly of Hudson).

But that first day wasn’t all roses: it’s not pretty to admit because it reeks of entitlement and ingratitude, but it was a little tough letting go of that vision of how we would travel together had we been there just as a couple. Of course, given the choice to be just the two of us there or to be the three of us, there’s not even a second of hesitation to answer the latter. But that doesn’t mean that the first time you have to rush through dinner, or skip a sunset to get back to the room for baby’s bedtime is easy.

It’s been a little while since our trip, so it’s starting to get a bit fuzzy (I look back at the vacation so fondly), but that first night was rough! After eating dinner as quickly as possible, we worked on putting Hudson into his crib in his own room (while condensation gathered on the chilled champagne that was warming up in ours) and he was not having it. At home, had he fought sleep, we might have encouraged him to settle himself after some check-ins, but with a new environment and new teeth emerging, we didn’t want to let him cry at all. He’d fall asleep and then wake up a few hours later. We moved the crib into our room and tried slipping him into it after he’d fallen asleep nursing or in my arms. And eventually he just stayed in bed with us until he was wide awake at 4:45am. Not only would we not be going sailing or hiking or diving (all things we’d known we’d be skipping), but we would not be sleeping! I was worried we had made a mistake.

We made a decision then that this would be the trip on which we would work on sleep. Hudson would get onto a schedule. It was something we had been talking about with wishy-washy commitment, and which we said we wouldn’t worry about until we got back, but which suddenly seemed essential. What this meant was that I nursed Hudson to sleep for virtually every single nap, but only at the exact same times each day. Whether he slept 35 minutes or two hours, his next nap was by the clock.

We laughed at what the waiters on the beach must have thought–it seemed like Hudson was asleep on my chest every time they came by. Fortunately, the beach never seemed crowded and the staff is careful to be unobtrusive. We could raise a flag if we needed anything, but were otherwise left alone. And I was so happy that our plan involved his falling asleep at the beach because it meant that we spent his naps reading on the beach rather than back at the room (even though that wouldn’t have been so bad either). It actually worked out perfectly! To be honest, I’m not sure I’d seen a prettier beach-hotel setting, so I was happy to be there as much as possible.

Soon Hudson was falling asleep easily again and now he was falling asleep (and staying asleep) at predictable times. It didn’t take long. To be honest, I felt like he appreciated the routine, too. It not only was a game changer for our vacation, it was–and I know this sounds dramatic but it’s true–life changing!

We then found a rhythm: we’d order room service for breakfast and play at the cottage until Hudson had had first nap, then play at the beach and have some lunch brought over during his second. His third was usually very short and so occasionally Aron would wear him in a carrier and walk around for thirty minutes, looking at caterpillars and building his calf-muscles (lots of steep hills). We’d either have an early (and quick) dinner at the restaurant on the beach or have dinner back at the cottage, once Hudson was asleep.

We wished we could tried some of the other venues on the property (like the stunning cane bar lounge)–and had we used the hotel’s babysitting services we could have–but honestly we weren’t quite ready to leave him and we were content to be low-key in exchange for sleep and peace-of-mind.

It was Hudson’s first time at the beach and he seemed to really enjoy the water once he was in. He was a little less certain about the wave-line: he was fascinated from afar, but when Aron brought him closer he didn’t care for the shifting waves around his feet. I wonder if it looked to him as if the ground were moving.

Seeing his reaction to the water… it’s just incredible for us to imagine what it would be like to experience everything for the first time. It’s all such fun.

We did some snorkeling off-shore, but while we spotted some colorful fish and coral, I think the sea life at the Anse Chastenet reserve was more impressive. I hope we’ll have a chance to return and do some diving in the future.

The resort offered complimentary sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, archery (!), tennis, and host of other things which I’m ashamed to admit we didn’t do. Actually, before we left some friends of ours who had stayed at Jalousie suggested Aron and I go out kayaking together. I kept trying to imagine us paddling out with Hudson propped on the bow of the boat.

But one day, we did take turns going for massages at the spa! It was amazing! The spa looked like something out of Blue Lagoon or Swiss Family Robinson, with treehouse treatment rooms connected by suspension walkways. I especially liked the long thatch-covered corridor that led there and the outdoor shower looking out over the valley. I felt like such things really helped me to have some time to relax and clear my mind of sleep-schedules and such before the massage. 

We wised up after a couple of days and started having breakfast on the beach with the meal-plan instead of ordering a la carte room service. We could have as much of everything as we wanted and so we got down to the serious business of trying everything we could. There was a delicious omelette with platains, loads of fresh fruit,  fried local pastries with hot chocolate, and incredibly rich yogurt parfait. But our favorite item was the probably the banana french toast. By the last day we were asking for extra caramelized bananas. The staff were nice enough to pretend they weren’t shocked by our gluttony. 

And so it was that after a little bit of effort, we found ourselves getting accustomed to a new-to-us pace, a slower (but pretty ideal) kind of vacation: a hearty breakfast, naps in our room or on the beach (with some swimming or reading while Hudson slept), some rum punch and a lovely sunset. We ate dinner on our patio, took showers outside and listened to frogs, and looked for constellations in the star-filled sky. We had finally hit our stride… and so the day we had to leave arrived far too quickly!

The following morning, we did our best to hold on and set ourselves up early enough to see the fisherman come in to open their nets of flying fish to both the resturant and a few locals–like “the coconut man” who would walk along the beach yelling in a sing-song “Jell-y Co-co-nut.” And we finally got to try some “jelly coconut.” Always one of my favorites.

Hudson, like any sensible person, did not like being approached by a man with a two-foot machete. Smart kid, really. But when he saw the straws, I think he was won over. I mean, who knew it came with straws?!

I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Flight: Jet Blue is staring daily service from New York this summer (approx. 4 hours)
Hotel: The Jalousie Plantation (Day passes available according to the NY Times article linked below)
To do: For some other ideas on what to do (you know, if you aren’t bent on staying put or figuring out sleep routines with a six-month-old), check out this nice itinerary by Jen Swetzoff for NY Magazine or the “36 Hours in St. Lucia” feature in the NY Times. 

[Also, an earlier post with a few iPhone photos from our trip]

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