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Cotton Bay and Union Nature Trail / Mini Zoo

Getting lost is half the fun


View St Lucia 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

It always takes a while to get used to “Island Time” where there is no rush, people are perpetually laid-back and time-keeping is an alien concept. One of the German guests in the hotel really has not adapted to this mentality yet, as she tries to storm the breakfast gates when the restaurant does not open at 07:30 as advertised. The otherwise friendly staff are not amused by her thunderous face (really not a pretty look), and they still carry on regardless, taking no notice of her. Take a chill-pill woman!

After a half-hour “fitness massage” (which in reality is nothing more than a hard rub and does little to alleviate David's continuing bad back), we grab our gear and head for the hills. The higher we climb, the worse the road becomes. I have seen smoother dried-up riverbeds. Thank goodness for the four-wheel drive and great tyres!

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Travelling at slower-than-walking pace has its advantages as we spot a few birds along the way:

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Common Ground Dove

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Cattle Egret

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Mangrove Cuckoo

Cotton Bay

Beginning to think that we are somewhat geographically misplaced, we are happy when we finally come across some road construction workers toiling away in the tropical heat. “Which way to Cotton Bay”? They put us right. Just around the corner is a nice, smooth road, which in fact would have taken us directly to the bay without the need for the last hour-and-a-half of off-roading; but I bet it wouldn't have been as much fun!

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Cotton Bay is a small crescent shaped bay which is a haven for horse riders and kite surfers, with the occasional jet-skiier thrown in for a little excitement. The riders look like they are having a lot of fun, riding bare-backed and bikini-clad into the ocean.

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Lots of trees shade the beach, with some perfectly placed branches for chilling.

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There is even some eye-candy for us women too.

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Overhead, brown boobies circle, occasionally dipping in the water to pick up some lunch. After strolling the length of the bay, we decide we too are in need of some refreshments, and a rustic beach café provides just the place. We are joined by a friendly and inquisitive Lesser Antillean Bullfinch which flits between the tables, chairs and serving counter.

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Having quenched my thirst, I head around the corner to check out a wooded area for some more birds. A beach salesman approaches me eagerly, and seems somewhat surprised when I explain my quest. “You looking for birds”? he says, puzzled, then “there's one”. I look in the direction of his pointing finger and see a grackle on a branch high above me – a bird which is found on every street and in every garden on the island, much as sparrows are back home. “There's another” the salesman volunteers, pointing to a fast flitting black shape between the trees. Hoping I'd be eternally grateful and repay his generous birding tips by buying some tacky souvenir from his stall, he continues to point out grackles to me for the next ten minutes. His sales ploy isn't working and we decide to head off for some more exploring.

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Turning off the main road, we find ourselves driving past some amazingly luxurious villas. The road, however, leads to a dead end. And the next road. And one more.

Although distances are not great - St Lucia is only about 28 miles long and 14 miles wide – driving times are usually much longer than they would be if covering the same distance at home. There is basically only one main road on the island, plus a number of tracks in various degrees of good, bad and bloody awful state. We soon find ourselves in the middle of nowhere (red arrow on map below), having come from Cotton Bay (blue arrow) and wanting to get to Rodney Bay on the north west coast. After five of the roads end in nothing, we eventually approach a woman waiting at a bus stop on a five way road junction: "which direction to Rodney Bay"? We know approximately where we are from the name of the school, but as we are on the highest point of the ridge, and all roads lead downhill from here, it is hard to judge which way to go to get back to the hotel.

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We make it back in time for lunch, which seems to take forever to arrive. The fish burger is worth waiting for though, this is none of your 'regurgitated, reshaped, covered in breadcrumbs and deep fried' stuff, what I get is a plain, steamed fish fillet on a toasted bap, smothered in fresh salsa.

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The lunchtime menu is somewhat limited in the blu Hotel, and does not change the whole week we are there. It is more than adequate, however, and having tried every single item listed, I can confirm it is all good!

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After a short rest we head for Union Nature Trail and Mini Zoo. We have been unable to find a decent street map of the island and road signs are almost non-existent, but we have a general idea of where the Nature Trail is located from the Forestry Commission website. We find Union village (as identified from the name of a school. Again.) so realise we must be in the correct general area. The website suggests the trail is just off the main road, with a large visitor's building. It certainly isn’t obvious. When it becomes clear that we have driven way too far, we try to turn the car around – not easy on these single track roads – and venture down a few of the little side roads off the main drag. When we find they all take us to a residential area, we finally give in and ask a young chap on the side of the road if he can direct us to the Union Nature Trail. He looks at me blankly, but when I mention Mini-Zoo, his eyes light up in recognition. “Down that way, turn right, then left and left again” he tells us, pointing right. Not sure whether his verbal directions or pointing hands are correct, I look at him quizzically. “Left, left” he repeats, this time pointing in the correct direction. OK, so that is settled then.

The car park for the trail has half a dozen cars in it, so we are confident we have come to the right place. We wander in through the open gate towards the Visitors Centre and ticket booth. Locked. No-one about. We shout out. No-one home. We try the doors upstairs. Nothing. The toilet doors are open however, so at least we can use the facilities.

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We decide to walk around the zoo anyway expecting the person in charge to just come over to us when they arrive back so that we can purchase our entrance ticket. The zoo really is “mini”, and consists of half a dozen aviary style cages, although the first thing we see is a wild merlin sitting on a tree stump.

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The cages contain animals such as the St Lucia Iguana, terrapins, agouti and the indigenous St Lucia Parrot, but it is very hard to photograph any of them as the netting is very fine and you can't get close to the cages.

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The whole thing is very sad and depressing (although the animals appear well fed and in good condition), and I am not sorry when no-one turns up and we can just leave. We never do find the hiking trail, so we give up and go back to the hotel for a cocktail (or five) instead.

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Posted by Grete Howard 05:58 Archived in Saint Lucia

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