Head North: Crazy GPS

St. Lucia, a beautiful island with the friendliest inhabitants you can ever come across, and an interesting quirk.
View of St. Lucia from Pigeon Island Beach 
A few relatives and I recently came across to visit the island on a trip that was planned without much of my input. As a result, our hotel and flight were booked without consideration for the distance between the two places. Ultimately we were scheduled to land at the southernmost airport; a whistling one-hour and thirty-seven minutes away from the lovely hotel with a spectacular pool.
Harbor Club Hotel, Rodney Bay, St. Lucia 

Yes, let us allow that to sink in. Think about travelling to the most northern part of an island formed be volcanic activity for ninety-seven minutes.


Whenever I’m planning a trip to a foreign country I always consult a map to determine where the best accommodations were in relation to the airport. This helps you to figure out what the best mode of transport is and to get an idea of commuting costs. Unfortunately, by the time I consulted a map – one day before our departure – it was already too late.


So, here we were at the airport, ready to collect the rental at 7:00 pm with overcast skies, a huge marked-map, a downloaded Google map and a slight idea of where we were going to.


Things started off smoothly. We were on the way, and I’m driving like a Trinidadian thinking, ‘Hey, this isn’t so bad. The roads are great! Better than back home. My data was working, Google map was working. The scene was like driving from San Fernando to Mayaro; or more like driving up an extended version of the Lady Young Road! Awesome!’ Ha! So I thought.


After thirty-five minutes of feeling confident and driving at sixty kilometers per hour (60 km/h), my dearest GPS began singing, “In 300 meters, turn right!”. Well that couldn’t be right. According to my research and the instructions from the car rental service it was supposed to be a relatively straight path for at least one hour before I had to take some funky right turn and left turn.


Miss GPS kept announcing upcoming right turns for an entire twenty minutes like it was a rule which I chose to ignore until we arrived at our first real landmark that was meant to indicate our only turn off. It was at this point more drama ensued because we all forgot which turn came first. Was it a left turn first and then a right or a right turn and then a left. I decided to take the right turn first because that seemed logical since it matched the northeastern bend of the line on the map. And as Murphy’s Law would have it, this was a mistake.


The GPS stopped talking at this point. She probably gave up on me, but I made it this far without running off the steep drop-offs on the hairpin bends. We eventually stopped at a local’s house for directions and the man told us that both ways could take us to where we wanted to go – to the north. “That’s to the north of the island. You can go back out this road and take a left and keep left. When you get to Castries keep heading north,” he said.


Now you have to understand that we Trinis are accustomed to directions with ‘landmarks’ included. Nevertheless, we continued as directed since I was sure that I had a fair idea of the places we were supposed to be passing by. Once again, I was wrong! We ended up in the heart of the town for which I was glad, but it was dark and rainy and I didn’t know which street we were on, or which roads were one-way or two-way.


What now? When in doubt stop and ask for further directions. I mean, how do you get off this street and on to one that leads further north. Lo and behold, this was when we discovered that St. Lucians give you directions by telling you where on the island a place is, rather than how to get there by road names.


Our next Good Samaritan started off by saying, “Oh that’s to the northern end of the island. You have to go north.”

My mouth fell open, thinking, ‘Okay. I know that. We have been looking at maps all night. We have a fair idea about where this hotel is located.’


Our ‘Lovely Samaritan’ was smiling and I managed to ask specifically how to get off the street we were on and on to a road that would take us directly to our final destination. This was how we finally were able to get some detailed directions that sounded something like this:

“Head down this road, then take a left at the end. Drive straight to the traffic lights and turn right, then at the end of that road turn left and keep left. It should take you straight to where you want to go.”


I couldn’t have been more relieved and grateful to find my way out of the rain and the busy town; sans a traffic violation ticket or worse.


Giving directions – I’ve come to realize – happens to be one of those quirks associated with West Indians. Each island you visit has its own way of describing where you need to be. For example, in Trinidad and Tobago we describe the landmarks you have to look out for: like the name of the building (KFC/Store/Bank), the colour of the building, and where your next turn is in relation to said building.


Here in St. Lucia they tell you where on the island your destination is in relation to the cardinal points, and in other countries they give you distances – which can be a bit vague if you’re like me and have a terrible sense of distance.


All in all, I got to my destination safely after one hour and forty-five minutes. Victory!

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