What difference does an R make?
Arrive at the Daren Sammy National Stadium and a colleague guffaws that the good people of St Lucia have misspelt the first name of their national hero. Enquiries reveal that Sammy is actually Daren and not Darren. In his passport, and other official documentation, he has always been Daren. In cricket, he has always been Darren. At some stage, an official from the West Indies Cricket Board asked Sammy if he wanted to set the spelling record straight. “What difference does an R make?” Sammy replied, flashing that 758-mega watt smile that makes you want to reach for your sunglasses. Typical of the man. He turns up at the Daren Sammy National Stadium to diffuse a minor agitation organised to protest his sacking from the Twenty20 team. “People, I’m happy for your love and respect. Let’s do this right, I don’t want to see anyone hurt,” he says, a sensible approach given that those organising the mini congregation have set up a tent on government land without getting police permission. The small yet passionate gathering of the faithful disperses after Daren signs their shirts. Daren’s father, who runs a fleet of buses, is at hand and despite well-intentioned warnings from his son, chats to the media who are at hand. Meanwhile, Daren has gone into his ground to support his mates.
If it’s Friday night in St Lucia, the only place to be is Gros Islet, the otherwise sleepy little fishing village that transforms into party central once a week. An initiative of St Lucia Tourism, who call their country The Party Island, the Friday night street parties are legendary. Unlike carnival night in Antigua, which was characterised by music blaring out of speakers that would tear any eardrums not lubricated by a few rum punches, the Jump Up, as it is called, is a much more intimate affair. There are little barbecues on the go, succulent cuts of pork doing battle with fresh catch from the sea, stalls selling drink, and, of course, the mandatory mind expanding herbs. “Mr Green or Mr White, who will be your friend today?” we are repeatedly asked, and as we repeatedly decline, we are looked at like we have just been dropped off on the beach by a flying saucer.
The Johnson Charles Stand
That Daren Sammy has a cricket ground named after him is an absolute anomaly in the cricket world. It is unheard of that a currently active cricketer has a ground named after him. But, then again, Sammy is the only St Lucian to have played Test cricket. And he didn’t merely play, he was captain across formats and has the small matter of two ICC World Twenty20 titles under the belt. While the love for Sammy is understandable, up to a point, the fact that a stand at the cricket ground is named after Johnson Charles, another St Lucian who has played for West Indies, grates a touch. Charles has played 42 One-Day Internationals and averages less than 30. There’s a more illustrious St Lucian about who isn’t celebrated at the cricket ground. Nadine George, nicknamed The Lion, is the first West Indies woman cricketer to score a Test hundred. She is 100% St Lucian, a qualified open water diver who holds high office in the lifeguard department now, and is a competent netball, volleyball and table tennis player to boot. What’s more, she’s still playing club cricket at 47. How about a Nadine George Stand then? Johnson Charles has one, something that Rahul Dravid (24,000+ international runs) and Anil Kumble (950+ international wickets) can’t boast of.
The host with the most
Roger Graveson is an unusual man. Running a series of apartments in Gros Islet, the Yorkshireman who still refers to Geoff Boycott and Ray Illingworth as young men is a keen cricket fan. And he has been in St Lucia more than two decades. When he first bought land in Gros Islet, strategically on the top of a hill so nobody could block his view of the sun setting over the sea, the locals were convinced they had a madman foreigner on their hands. The popular and commercially successful Rodney Bay Marina was a mangrove swamp back then and his was the only big bungalow in the region. When a colleague invites some Indian cricketers over for a home-cooked meal, Roger is over the moon, and throws open his home to host two batsmen and a fast bowler. Roger watches the England-Pakistan Test with interest, but his heart does not long for the Moors. If anything, the honorary St Lucian is more pained by West Indies’ loss than England’s. Roger is keen to hear news of India, having travelled there as a young man nearly 50 years ago. Having left Yorkshire with 80 pounds sterling in his pocket, Roger spent half a year travelling through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India over land. Certainly, the accommodation he would’ve encountered back then is nothing close to the comfort he is offering to Indian journalists in his backyard years later.
Piton, one or two?
The national beer of St Lucia is Piton. It’s crisp, light, refreshing and ubiquitous. The logo on the little bottles and cans, two peaks, is a cheerful caricature of the Gros Piton and Petit Piton, the two shark-tooth shaped natural formations which are the pride of the country. At 2530 feet about sea level at its highest, neither of the Pitons is particularly tall, especially when you come from the land of the Himalayas, but the change in weather as you drive from Gros Islet, down the West Coast and up the hills is telling. Despite being dazzlingly green and lush with rainforest fauna that include giant ferns, the temperature drops and, more importantly, the mind-numbing, energy-sapping, humidity, is gone. It’s like someone turned on a giant air-conditioner, until you step into the main attraction at the Pitons, the Caribbean’s only drive-through volcano. While it isn’t spewing lava, the volcano is active enough to send enough sulphur-rich ash downstream to hot pools that act as natural saunas. Tourists and locals alike exfoliate with gay abandon, and the visiting party of Indian journalists is not averse to taking a dip. It just feels right.