This is a Caribbean ritual that has previously escaped me. I’m furiously rubbing mud on to my torso, scooped with my hands from a rickety bucket positioned perilously close to the edge of a large trough.
Beneath me, people are submerging themselves into waters the colour of prison porridge — only quite a lot hotter.
Here, a couple of miles inland from the south-west coast of St Lucia, a sulphurous, volcanic mud bath has long been considered a perfectly normal way to relax and a solution for fixing any rheumatic pain in the process.
Perfect blend: Windjammer Landing on the north-west coast of St Lucia is a mix of old-fashioned charm and up-to-date luxury
It’s a pastime dating back to Louis XVI, who decreed (while the island was a French possession) that the stone troughs built for bathing should be filled with sulphurous waters by plugging the holes with banana skins.
The banana skin technique has vanished, but little else seems to have changed. And it’s easy to spot their location from the billowing tapers of smoke.
Taste of the tropics: A mango seller
My skin, afterwards, feels softer and smoother than it has been at any time since I started shaving. But after so much contact with the bubbling browns and greys of the sulphur spring waters, I’m keen to see some of the other brighter hues and tones that St Lucia offers away from the beaches.
Shaped like a raindrop and fought over between the French and the British in the manner of two children bickering over a favoured toy (both countries ran it seven times each before a final, lengthy spell of British rule after the Napoleonic Wars that ended with independence in 1979), today’s St Lucia has English as its official language, but town and village names almost exclusively of French progeny.
Covid rates are currently high by Caribbean standards, but the only real restriction to visitors (and locals alike) is a curfew which means residents and tourists must be back at home (or at their resort) by 7 pm from Monday to Saturday.
On Sundays, the whole island is in lockdown, meaning I am confined to my resort, but able to partake in most of the activities on site, or lounge by the pool or on the beach just as I would have done regardless of any pandemic. The rules will be reviewed this weekend, when the curfews could be lifted.
The island’s small size means it’s still easy to get to attractions without breaking the evening curfews and I quickly adapt my thinking to interpret Sunday as a day of ‘enforced laziness’ which, let’s be honest, is why most people holiday in St Lucia in the first place.
Refreshed, but thankfully not scalded from my volcanic bath, I take a water taxi from the docks of Soufriere, the south-west coastal village located a mile or so from the volcanic baths. The streets of Soufriere are a ramshackle sprawl of stout Catholic chapels and pastel-coloured wooden slatted houses with bijou verandas occupied by sleeping cats.
The colourful streets of Soufriere feature wooden houses painted in Caribbean pastels
As I sail further south down the west coast, cauliflower clouds bulge and cascade across the skies, the natural totems (and perennial poster boys) for the island slowly reveal themselves.
The pitons, two vertiginous spikes of lava, carpeted with greenery, are named Gros and Petit — the former, at a shade under 2,620ft high, is about 160ft taller than its sibling.
Gros Piton can be climbed in about 90 minutes if you’re fit as a fiddle, but the midday heat and the desire for something a little more relaxing defeats the last of my rapidly depleting enthusiasm for scaling these giddy heights.
Majestic: Pictured is an aerial view of Soufriere with the towering twin volcanic peaks in the background
So I walk around the forests below instead and quickly find myself lost in a wet and slippery Eden. Giant snails squat on drooping leaves the colour of avocado, heliconia flowers sprout petals of lurid pink and Irn-Bru orange, while trees seem to have been possessed by demonic strangulations of talons, claws and tentacles wrapped around their trunks.
The lansan tree gives off a sharply citric aroma. Its resin is traditionally used as incense for religious ceremonies on the island as well as helping fight off mosquitoes and myriad evil spirits.
I want to tramp in the interior for hours, but the curfew means it’s time to return to the refreshing breeze of the coast. A water taxi takes me for a smooth 50-minute sail back up the western coastline to my lodgings.
Windjammer Landing, on the north-west coast of St Lucia, has been around since the early 1990s and has aged gracefully, albeit with two totally contrasting personas.
The beachfront bar is a creaking wooden charmer with zero pretence; this is a place to prop yourself up at the bar with a pitcher of beer and a bowl of fried calamari rather than expect hushed silver service.
But the villas are a steep ascent — both literally up the hillside and figuratively on the social scale — with their terracotta roofs, whitewashed walls and immense infinity pools.
It’s here I put into practise my Covid curfew lazy Sunday. I call room service for fresh grilled kingfish on my terrace, I feed the hummingbirds that skip around the infinity pool and swim until I’ve finally rinsed the last of the volcanic mud out of my toes.
St Lucia is the full package — glorious beaches, of course, but a lush and eco-friendly interior of which Sir David Attenbrough and even dear Greta Thunberg would approve.