A month ago I was able to hike Petit Piton (3rd tallest mountain on St. Lucia) with the hiking group. We got off to a late start… of course, starting the hike at around 11. The beginning of the trail was flat for the 20 yards that it took to reach the base of the mountain, at which point we all craned our necks to look straight up at the trail and the mountain that lay before us. From that point on it was hand over hand climbing or crawling up the mountain. It is the steepest and probably the most difficult hike I've ever done. It was amazing. The first half hour was really hard; my legs were burning! After that, we got into a rhythm and it wasn't so bad. It took us a little over 3 hours to reach the top. At some places we had to use ropes to pull ourselves up rock faces. There was also the loose rock that our steps would send rolling down the mountain much to the dislike of those in the rear of the line. We had to rely on each other and work as a team just to get past some of the more challenging sections, but the view from the top was really worth it. The top was so tiny; it was just a little area maybe the size of half a basketball court. From the top we could see Gros Piton, Soufriere, and most of the southern part of the island…oh and of course the endless sea.
Due to our late start we had about 15 minutes to enjoy the view and cram down some food before we began the grueling trip back down. We were trying to beat the dark… but it didn't work. The trek down was slow going. You can't really rush when you're going down something that steep. Most of us resorted to sliding from rock to rock, especially since our knees were so weak by that point. As we inched down the mountain, the sun inched toward the horizon. It got darker and darker until eventually it was pitch black and we were still 1/3 of the way up the mountain. I was leading the group… with no flashlight. A few times I lead us straight off the trail. One hiker had to use the flashlight on his phone to run back and forth to help us get our bearings. Oh, and in the dark the loose falling rocks became extremely scary. All you would hear was this thudding rolling in your direction, and you would just scramble for a tree in hopes of avoiding a big blow. One falling stone caught me right between the eyes. When we finally reached the bottom we had to have our bus driver beep his horn and turn on his lights so we could find the road. Some friends at the bottom welcomed us with cold fresh honeydew melon and water. Most of us had depleted our water supplies by the time we reached the top so we welcomed the juicy treats.
The start of the trail was just across the way from the mineral baths, which are closed at night (meaning we can get in for free). So we wandered down another dark path until we found this wonderful little pool in the tropical forest. Most of us hadn't brought swimsuits, but it was dark, so we just stripped down to our underwear and jumped in. The water was warm and it felt so good on our aching muscles and joints. From the mineral bath you could look straight up and see a dark sky full of stars. It was one of those moments where I was just completely happy and content. I couldn't have had better company for such an amazing adventure. It was a beautiful day.
On the bus ride home we all shared what snacks we had left over. I enjoyed some snickers provided by a good friend back home ;) (thanks Vickie). By the time I got to my apartment I was waddling. I headed straight for bed, but no matter which way I laid, it hurt! That's probably the sorest I've been since I tried snowboarding for the first time… but it was all worth it.
For thanksgiving all the volunteers decided to gather up North at a volunteer couple's house. We assigned all the traditional dishes to each other so that we would be sure to have a real thanksgiving meal. Peace Corps staff was also invited. All in all we probably had around 30 folks, mostly American but some Lucian. The feast table included 2 turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green bean casserole, pineapple casserole (my family specialty), cranberry sauce, some Lucian dishes, apple pie, pumpkin pie, key lime pie, chocolate cake, and much much more. But! Being the half starved Peace Corps volunteers that we are, we annihilated it! We watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and some football. We attempted to have a football game amongst ourselves but a broken finger brought the game to an end before it started. It was wonderful and it was a great experience. It was nice to be gathered with so many people and to fill in for each other as family.
On the project side of things it is slow going. I am continually thinking and brainstorming ways to move things along, but it is difficult. I can celebrate a little bit though. I have been able to help put together a curriculum for life skills in the primary school where I am attached. The principal began teaching life skills with the 6th grade students once a week toward the latter half of the term. The lessons went extremely well and the kids responded amazingly. One of the kids in the class showed great behavior improvements and me and the principal both were excited to see it. Due to some schedule interruptions we were only able to do 3 lessons this term, but we will continue next term and I am excited to see where it will go. The principal is very supportive of these lessons and thinks that it is extremely important for the children. It is SO nice to be working with someone who is proactive and energetic about helping these kids. This term we focused on "understanding self" and next term we will work on "decision-making." I sincerely hope that these lessons will stick with the kids for a long time.
I have started going back to steel pan practice on Saturdays. They are teaching a lot of beginners on the weekends now so we have been able to go back and learn some of the basics, like the C scale. We have also been learning Christmas songs! We started with Winter Wonderland and just recently we learned Silent Night. It feels weird to hear and play Christmas music and see Christmas decorations all over when I'm sweating and wearing a tank top, but it still feels like the holiday season somehow. Also, all the Christmas music down here has a Caribbean twist… it's strange but kind of entertaining.
Speaking of Christmas, I have only 2 weeks left before I get to visit home!!! I have made plans to see a lot of friends while I am home and I am really excited. I think the visit will be good for a break and to be filled with love and support from everyone that I love.
And so, I get to sign off by saying: SEE YOU SOON!!!