St Lucia’s Drive-in volcano more entertaining than a movie

TRACY McLAUGHLIN writes about St Lucia’s drive-through volcano for Toronto’s Sun.

Beware the powers that churn in the bowels of the earth. Steaming, roiling, bubbling, boiling — and stinking to high heaven.

On the charming island of St. Lucia, which was formed from volcanic activity thousands of years ago, you can visit the world’s only drive-in volcano in the little town of Soufriere.

Still bubbling away, the semi-active volcano gives a fascinating insight into the violent geology of the Caribbean Rim. Visitors can drive right up for a close look into the dark grey bubbling pit, which blew it’s top off 39,000 years ago.

You can arrive by taxi — or even take a fishing boat for a more scenic view — and join one of several guided tours that take visitors along the wooded pathway to the inside pit. It’s amazing, but be prepared to put up with the noxious odour of hydrogen sulphide so strong it would put a rotten egg to shame.

Yet, it’s that same ingredient that area spas make use of in hot spring baths and volcanic mud facials, which apparently soothe body aches and pains, rejuvenate the skin and ease other aliments — even hangovers.

Recently “Jake,” from TV’s The Bachelor, came to the island for a volcanic mud bath before he proposed to his lady at one of the island’s dream resorts.

Standing at the centre of the volcano, try to forget the smell and just imagine the incredible forces within the earth, where pools of volcanic mud boil at 100 C.

“If anyone fell in there, they would surely be barbecued,” said our good-natured tour guide, Tamancia Francois, who grew up on the island.

There are times, she told us, that the volcano becomes more active, especially around a full moon.

“You can tell because all activity stops. The birds leave, animals flee and tremors will begin,” Francois said, adding there is no real danger as scientists constantly monitor seismic activity and can tell well in advance when — and if — it is necessary to clear the area.

While there, take a hike along the lush wooded pathways that lead from the centre. A little mountain stream trickles by, steamy-hot from the volcanic earth below. At the entrance you might be bombarded by friendly locals who want to sell souvenirs — beads made from coconut shells or pretty sun dresses.

The island of St. Lucia is hot and the visit to this incredible volcano is even hotter, so dress in light cool clothing use a sun hat or sun umbrella. It’s a great idea to end your trek with a refreshing swim at one of several waterfalls in the area.

Also near Soufriere are the spectacular Pitons — two steep dormant volcanic spires that rise out of the sea. Popular with climbers, these primeval twin peaks top 600 metres and are St. Lucia’s most famous landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site

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