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By Stan Bishop

A 25-minute drive from Saint Lucia’s capital city, Castries, lands you right into Anse La Raye, located on the island’s west coast. Here, the hustle and bustle of the city give way to never-ending expanses of undulating vegetation and snaking roads that lead to the inner soul of one of the island’s rural communities.

Anse La Raye – or Bay of Rays – is named after the rays found in the village’s bay. The village is popularly known for its fish fry held every Friday on Front Street near the jetty when the local fishermen’s catch – lobsters, fish and lambi (conch) — is transformed into delectable delights by the friendly vendors.

Anse La Raye native, Reeves Lawrence, alias Met La, says the village is important to the island’s overall success, due in no small part to its ideal location and tourism offerings.

“Anse La Raye is well placed in terms of its proximity to Castries and many visitors usually visit the village,” he says. “There’s also the nearby Marigot Bay Marina from where yacht loads of people come to Anse La Raye to experience our beautiful beaches. The popular Fish Fry Friday on the Anse La Raye Waterfront offers great economic benefits to our people.”

Plans are in the pipeline to create a better aesthetic on the waterfront to attract even more visitors to the community listed as a prime spot for village tourism by the island’s Tourism Minister and the area’s Member of Parliament, Dominic Fedee. The village also has the captivating Anse La Raye Waterfalls and River Rock Falls to which tours are organized daily, a growing Airbnb industry, and friendly people to its credit.

A few minutes’ drive deeper into the west coast opens you up to Canaries which borders Anse La Raye. In many ways, both Anse La Raye and Canaries seem to possess almost similar attributes – depending on whom you ask, that is. But to Canaries Village native, Andre Lansiquot, his village is unmatched.

“Canaries is known for its quiet nature which is also reflected in its resourceful people, making it one of the safest places in Saint Lucia,” he tells me. “If you’re looking for somewhere to relax in peace and quiet, Canaries is definitely the place to be.”

Similarly to Anse La Raye, residents of Canaries have traditionally made their living through farming and fishing. However, farming has been on the decline in both villages while fishing has become the mainstay. Civil servants and hospitality workers make up a large share of the communities’ populations.

Attractions in Canaries include Plas Kassav at Anse La Verdure where various flavours of cassava bread is made and the Cacoa Ste. Lucie chocolate factory at Belvedere. There are a few river bathing areas that are huge hits with visitors and villagers alike. Attempts are being made to re-establish the coral reef which has deteriorated over the years.

Over the years, Canaries and Anse La Raye have been among the many villages through which buses carrying tourists pass on their way to and from Soufriere, Saint Lucia’s tourism mecca. But Canaries and Anse La Raye had never really had any major attraction. There are development plans for both villages to be able to attract a greater share of the tourism dollar, including a yachting project for Canaries to bring some business to the village.

The Canaries bread has a well-known reputation far and wide and plans are afoot to restart its production following the destruction of the famed bakery during a trough some years ago. Back in the day, though, the bread made by that bakery was among the top things for which Canaries – and Saint Lucia – was known.

There’s also another formidable quality that Canaries residents are known: their resilience. Lansiquot believes it’s in the DNA of the Canaries people to overcome whatever odds that come their way, especially natural disasters.

“We’ve had to make do with very little over the years,” he noted. “In fact, Canaries was the last village to be connected to the road network in Saint Lucia in the 1950s. Prior to that, we were basically isolated from the other communities.”

Koudmain was also a big thing in Canaries, whereby people volunteered their time and resources for self-help projects within the community. Before there were fibre-glass boats, Lansiquot remembers seeing crews of men going into the forest to cut trees to make the gommier boats to go out to sea to catch fish.

“People from Canaries have always found ways of surviving,” he adds. “We also have a large population of people from Canaries living overseas who have never lost that strong connection with the village. We are one of the villages with the most people overseas doing things to assist folks back home.”

The formation of a steel pan orchestra to provide avenues for young people from Canaries, which is also heavily involved in sporting activities such as cricket, football and culture.

Heidi Benjamin, of Anse La Verdure, is a cosmetologist and proprietor of Simple Senses Holistic Therapy Day Spa. After working as a massage therapist at a hotel in the island’s north for thirteen years, she quit that job and opened her own spa three years ago.

“I wanted to provide employment opportunities for my sisters,” she says. “I now have plans to use the spa to train upcoming cosmetologists from nearby communities who often cannot afford to travel elsewhere for training. I also want to create motivational sessions for young people from my community.”

There is so much to experience from these storied communities. If you’re planning to visit Anse La Raye and Canaries soon, you’ll definitely enjoy the offerings from your gracious hosts on the west coast.