As you enter the village of Laborie, a mural painted by Jonathan Guy-Gladding announces your arrival with lyrical beauty. Gladding, an artist whose work shows in the Caribbean as well as Europe and the United States, fell in love with Laborie as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1999, and continues to call it his muse and second home.
Last year on a winter getaway, I too fell in love with Laborie. Unlike the resorts in St. Lucia’s north, the village on the south coast has an old West Indies soul. Although the predominately fishing and farming community sees few tourists, the traditions Gladding celebrates in his mural can now be seen on a community-led heritage tour called “The Laborie Experience” created with the help of another Peace Corps volunteer, Diane Gunvalson.
On my visit, I saw children at the pan school rehearse, watched men weaving strips of bamboo into fish pots, met Mr. Bram who harvests sea moss, and Mr. Ives, a self-taught musician who’s a local cultural icon. (In the mural, Ives and his friends are playing the violin, electric base, shak-shak, banjo, tanbou, and maracas.)
In Laborie, fishermen still leave the beach each morning in their bright boats – one of the boats is a traditional gommier made from a hollowed tree trunk – and return to the conch’s blast, bringing locals to the shore to buy their catch. Some of St. Lucia’s last coral reefs lie in Laborie’s sandy bays: Ti Tou (“Little Hole”) to the southeast: Laborie Bay, where Rudy John Beach Park is located; and the secluded beaches of Sapphire Bay.
If it’s Saturday, be sure to arrive early at the market square where vendors come from around the countryside to hawk yams, vegetables, green figs (bananas), spices, and home-baked farine and cassava breads. The half-day tour includes a local lunch, but save room for piping hot, croissant-shaped Creole bread from Zeb’s Creole Bakery, where Zeb and Alene bake over 2,500 loaves every day in their wood-fired oven. (Time your stop before 8 a.m. or 1-5 p.m. to get them while they’re hot.)
For more information and to schedule a tour, visit www.ilovelaborie.com/index.php/experience-laborie or call 717-1715 or 717-1519.