Once you begin to plan a trip to another country, you should do some research on your destination. 1) Get to know the country
Take time to review the local currency, weather, and things you need to make your stay enjoyable. Try to review maps of the cities you will be staying, learn how to add minutes to your local sim card that is in unlocked phone, and most importantly, pay close attention to your surroundings. Remember that crime is in every country/community. Just because you do not hear about it on your local news at home, does not mean there will be low crime at your destination. Criminals pay close attention to foreigners/tourists because they seem to be gullible when visiting communities that they are not familiar with. Saint Lucia local currency is the East Caribbean Dollar (EC on printed materials like menus, price tags, etc.; XCD on currency exchange/converter websites). The current exchange rate for US$1 is EC$2.67 if you are selling US cash in-country and EC$2.71 if you are buying US cash in-country. In other words, if I give the bank in Saint Lucia US$1, they will give me EC$2.67. Or if I want to exchange my EC dollars for US dollars, then I need to give the bank EC$2.71 for US$1. CORRECTION I recommend exchanging
a little of your money before leaving the US. You will get more bang for your buck exchanging in your home country. You will get EC$3.20 for every US$1 (Not EC$2.67) (US currency is accepted here, but I recommend using the local currency unless you arrived on a 1-day in-country cruise.) Anything greater than EC$2.00 is a beautiful paper bill with texture and colors. All other currency (EC 2 and 1 dollars, 25 cents, 10 cents, 5 cents, 2 cents, and 1 cent) are silver coins with the Queen of England on one side and the amount on the other. The coins have two shapes: completely round or almost an octagon shape. Luckily I found a rounded square 2 cent coin that will be a gift from one of my friends that collects international money. To add minutes to your sim card (which you can get from the Lime, Digicell, or pretty much any other phone store) you can go to the sim card company(Lime or Digicell) store, website, or find a sign that says TopUp that is associated with your sim card carrier. TopUp your phone is the same concept as topping off your drink–fill it up. When you visit a random spot with a TopUp sign, you give them how much you want to TopUp and they will pay the phone company from their phone in front of you. But I recommend waiting until you receive a text saying the company has received the phone payment. (A couple of weeks after I arrived I bought a sim card and paid EC$20 to TopUp my phone. After taxes, around EC$17 worth of minutes was added to my sim card, roughly 17-18 minutes. 7 weeks later I still have 15 minutes left on my sim card. I plan to call the states on my last day to burn the rest of the time.) Paying attention to your surroundings is the most important thing a visitor can do to ensure your safety. My eyes have been peeled as soon as I landed. I took in the local culture and watched what was culturally acceptable such as body language, verbal language, facial expressions, in addition to listening to conversations and watching my physical surroundings. I was able to pick up on speech patterns, key phrases, when someone was speaking Creole versus English, history of beautiful scenery, and which neighborhoods to avoid. I have heard then later was told that a group of young restless boys/men in Castries who cannot find work have got involved in gang activity. There have been open gun play (not very playful if you ask me) in the streets and recently calmed down. A couple of weeks ago (sometime around late October to early November, there was another event of shooting. Before this was told to me I noticed the gang-related graffiti around the areas that reported gang violence. It is on my commute to work, so I ensured that I did not walk around in those areas. There also has been reports of murder since I have been here, so all the more to be careful and watch yourself as a tourist/visitor. Weather here in Saint Lucia is comparable to the weather in Tampa during the summer time–random hot sunny showers at any given moment. I recommend carrying an umbrella to protect yourself from ALL the unbearable elements–THE HOT SUN on a cloudless day and those random hard showers. Not to mention that an umbrella could be a handy weapon should you find trouble while out and about.
–This is short clip is how I view myself as I commute back and forth to work with my umbrella, which is more like a parasol. As soon as trouble presents itself, I bring out my protection that blocks all unwanted touching– http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4oul88JUx4 2) Getting around the country. It only takes less than 60 minutes to get to any other part of the country from Castries (with light traffic). You can rent a vehicle to drive around the island as a visitor or you can buy a car if you plan to stay longer. Just remember that cars drive on the left side here. Another tidbit of information if you are considering buying a car is to know there is a 100% tax on bought vehicles and insurance needs to be purchased too. So if you want to buy that US$40,000 Chevy Camero (Bumblebee from Transformers), understand that you would be paying US$80,000 for that same vehicle on the island. The roads are very narrow and steep with the exception of parts of Micoud and Vieux Fort. Roads are as wide as 1.5 American cars but are 2-way roads. If a part of the road is big enough for only one car, one car needs to pull to the side so one can pass. That can be scary since most roads are lined with ditches or steep cliffs on both sides. (Good Luck if you decide to drive them for yourself as a visitor!) Other ways to commute include hopping on the back of trucks headed in your direction, which I do not advise. Just an observation that I made since being here. There are a lot of liability and safety issues that I am sure I do not need to explain here. You can also hire a taxi-cab. I also do not recommend this because they are extremely expensive and there has been reports of foul-play from the taxi drivers. Be extremely careful should you decide to hail a cab. The other option is hopping on a mini-bus (city bus). (Some ride the horses!!!)
I catch the bus to commute to work. They look like mini-vans (well they are) and holds 14 adult passengers excluding the driver. There are bus stops in every settlement/community throughout the island. You walk to the bus stop, wave the driver down to pick you up if you want to catch the bus. (or wave them away if you are just resting at the stop with seats.) If you are catching a bus in Castries, there are specific parts of the city that you go to to catch a bus to certain districts outside of Castries or within Castries. Everything is within walking distance, but try to take notice what part of the city you should be to catch your proper bus. Nothing like having to walk clear across the city from one “bus station” to the next because of error. Buses come in many colors and could even be wrapped in an advertisement. Look for a green tag (car plate) with an “M” before the numbers and a banner on the front windshield or hood with Cast-(city location) as well. For example, I live in The Morne (part of Castries), so the banner on the front of the bus would say Cast-Morne, Cast-The Morne, etc. You will be lucky if there is a price list located somewhere in the van, but most drivers that I have rode with were fair. Even gave me my change back when I accidentally gave too much money for a fair. (Yes he knew I wasn’t from Castries). The most I have heard a fair cost would be EC$10 for those commuting from Vieux Fort, the southern most tip of the island. Sometimes there are even rules and regulations of the bus posted somewhere in the cabin as well. If anything, I recommend hopping in the front seat of the bus of by a window seat depending on your stop. The front is the most comfy since you do not have to frequently get up to let others out, but more importantly, you get a clear view of the beautiful country!
When I commute to work, I walk up a steep driveway and then down a steep hill. I have to pay attention to where I am walking because at any given moment, I can run into a goat, cow, or even a horse that is tied somewhere near the path. Or less desirably into their not so small “droppings”. Sometimes there are people shouting or singing into bull horns for the community to hear the messages, people bathing in the harbor, or simply a clear path of nothing but beautiful scenery sans people.
When I commute back home, I have to get ready to battle for a bus seat, dodge little kids or stray dogs that may be playing in the road or chasing cars, and once again, random tied animals on the path. Sidewalks are lacking here, so most times you have to walk on the side of the road. I have to be very careful because vehicles fly up and down this road as if it was the autobahn.
I have noticed a great deal of spiritual tags to vehicles since I been here. If you look at the back, side, or inside of a vehicle, you will learn some spiritual mantra, scripture, or learn that God is protecting them so don’t drive too close. I have also seen cops do random stops looking for vehicles that needs maintenance (no wiper blades, lights out, deflating tires, etc.) Which reminds me, I barely see cops around the city, but their sirens are the same as the US.
Well that should give you enough information to get you around the island. It has for me as I begin to wrap up my stay here. *Ubuntu Krystal*