I'm no Alex Haley, but this feels just like home

Was it a holiday or was it the return of a prodigal son? Peter Victor was in two minds about a trip to his parents' birthplace

As we step off the plane, the Caribbean warmth grabs us in a bear hug – the three kids squeal with delight. St Lucia! Sun-kissed holiday destination and world capital of the clichéd barefoot-on-the-beach wedding.

But it is more: it holds our roots, the source of our history and tiny family legends. We breathe in warm air, feel the sun on our backs. We've travelled thousands of miles to a place that only a generation ago we would have called home.

We ride in the taxi from Hewanorra Airport on the island's southern end to the tourist resorts and hotels that blanket the north. Banana plantations and rainforests, clinging to volcanic hillsides, roll past the windows. I ponder the island's place in our family's DNA. My parents came to Britain from here in the early Sixties' assisted-passage rush to the Mother Country. My baby sister, born, like me, in England moved to St Lucia nearly a decade ago. Mum joined her two years ago: returning "home", I suspect, for good.

We are not staying; this is just a holiday: flight from Gatwick, luxury hotel villa, beaches and booze. I feel divided: part tourist, part prodigal son. It strikes me that St Lucia, small as it is, is also divided: one island, but two worlds. Just 27 miles long and 14 miles across its widest point, its sights, sounds and smells are almost as unlike Britain as can be. Yet, it feels familiar. Everyone speaks English; kids wear uniform like at any good school in the Home Counties.

It even has its own north/south divide. In the north are batteries of all-inclusive resorts, private beaches, golf clubs, multimillion-pound homes on the marina at Rodney Bay, and Castries – the capital. The south counters with the Pitons, banana plantations, a volcano, cloud-covered rainforests, exotic wildlife, less congestion, a more relaxed atmosphere and some pretty amazing beaches of its own.

Likewise, our holiday is divided. We spend the first week in the north, at a villa at Windjammer Landing, one of the most popular resorts on the island, less than 15 minutes' drive from Castries. The second week we pile in with my sister at her large house in Micoud, on the south-east coast.

We check in to Windjammer, rum punch in hand and settle into a three-bedroom villa. It is swish; kitchen, dining area, en suites for each bedroom, a swimming pool and hot tub. We swim or wallow and take in the panoramic sea views. We feed ourselves if we feel energetic; catch the shuttle bus down to one of the hotel's four restaurants if we don't. We succumb to eating, drinking cocktails and lounging around. It takes a conscious effort not to forget all that lies outside the resort's perimeter.

At the end of our week of luxury, we descend like an invading horde on my sister, who takes care of mum, her own young family and what seems like an army of assorted dogs.

In the UK, the children are guarded closely and never allowed out of sight; here they wander off in little gaggles to explore Micoud's beaches and trees. The beach police are never far away and every adult keeps an eye out.

We tour banana plantations with their Sainsbury's Fair Trade signs everywhere. My grandfather grew bananas on his patch of land at the top of a steep and treacherous mud path. I climbed it barefoot as a teenager and was bitten on the toe by a massive ant. He worked his land and sold the bananas for export almost until he died, just after my father. The signs bring a lump to my throat, and I feel silly.

We eat in local cafés and eateries in shopping malls: in England, the kids might have cavilled, but here they wolf down the spicy fish, jerk chicken with fig, plantain, yam and rice and peas.

We bathe in the hot, grey, stinky mineralised waters close to the volcano near Soufrière, where my parents grew up. The waters have now been made tourist-friendly, with broad pipes feeding a large plunge pool. The children listen round-eyed to how their granddad washed in the milky flow winding through its natural channels long before any of this was built, and how he took me along the first time I visited the island, aged 13.

Each excursion is an adventure in family history. A stop for a meal suddenly turns into visit to a great-uncle or an unexpected meeting with a long-lost cousin. In London, we look back half a century and our line disappears without trace. Here, on holiday, we extend backwards to infinity.

On this island of two worlds, we are the children of two cultures. For me, the link is vital, immediate. Though I've been here only three times, my identity is imprinted with my parents' memories of island life, their journey from here to the biting cold weather and welcome of 1960s England. For my partner, Katy, it's a chance to fill in blanks in my useless recall of, or my reluctance to rake over, family history.

While normally, out of shyness, I don't speak my parents' mother tongue, the French patois of the island, I understand every word. When we visit my uncle, it feels natural to start in patois before we lapse back into English. To the children, one generation removed, it is just a foreign language. But they feel their link to the island, through me, through myriad cousins, aunts and great-uncles.

We sit on the beach at Micoud with new friends made from among the locals, delicious barbecue sizzling, ice-cold, locally brewed, Piton beers in hand. Hilroy, who moved "home" from London's East End a few years ago, is lauding the sheer joy of living on the island. After a few more Pitons, I start adding to his list of Lucian joys. I ponder whether I feel some bone-deep connection to St Lucia and its people. My English identity, dry and ironic, asserts itself: This isn't Roots and you're no Alex Haley, son.

As we fly out, we strain to see out of the cabin window: below is the beach where we barbecued and swam, the pick-up truck we used to tour the island. The children ask when they are going to see their cousins again and I realise it will be years before we return to where, ultimately and at least in part, we came from.

"Dad, can we go back and live there like Aunty Tracy?" my eight-year-old son asks. "No, son," I explain. "It was a holiday; it's not our home." But, for much of the journey back to England, it is where my heart is.

Compact Facts

How to get there

Peter Victor and family were guests of the St Lucia Tourist Board (stlucia.org). He flew to the island with Virgin Atlantic (08448 747 747; virginatlantic.com) which offers return flights to from £571. He stayed at Windjammer Landing Beach Villa Resort (0808 178 1819; windjammer-landing.com), which offers a four-bedroom villa from £4,232, accommodation only.

Breakfast costs a further £18 per adult and £12 per child, aged four to 12 years, per day. Half-board costs £48 per adult and £33 per child per day. All-inclusive board costs £84 per adult and £30 per child per day. Windjammer Landing is offering Independent on Sunday readers a special rate of 20 per cent off room rates and all-inclusive packages as part of Windjammer's celebration of its 20th anniversary. This deal will be available until 30 November 2010, quote promotional code 010.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
News
i100
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Sport
Dwight Gayle (left) celebrates making it 1-1 with Crystal Palace captain Mile Jedinak
premier leagueReds falter to humbling defeat
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Excellent opportunities are available for par...

    Investigo: IT Auditor

    £60000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits : Investigo: A global leading travel busi...

    Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie x 2

    £16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This charming and contemporary ...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor - OTE £20,000 Uncapped

    £15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin