The directions to Sault Falls seemed straightforward enough.
We were to take the road opposite the cream-coloured concrete bus shelter south of Dennery, and continue past Belles Fashions and various furniture factories until we reach the falls. Easy enough. But as the cream-coloured concrete bus shelter grew smaller in the rearview mirror, we grew increasingly uncertain whether we'd found the right one. The shelter had looked cream-coloured, and it had a road more or less opposite, but the factories were nowhere in sight. In fact, we appeared to be driving into the heart of a banana plantation.
We pressed onward.
After bumping along the road for a while, our doubts rising with each passing minute, we were relieved to find Belles Fashions. The furniture factories were a little further up the road. We passed these and kept driving. The falls were nowhere in sight. We didn't even see a river. Everywhere we looked, there were more bananas.
We continued along.
The condition of the unpaved road deteriorated as we pushed deeper into the greenery. A broad canopy of leaves stretched high overhead, now and again obscuring the sky. The jungle grew thicker around us, swallowing us in a lush green landscape that was eerily silent but for the rustle of leaves and the cries of invisible birds. Then the land on our left suddenly dropped away, and we caught glimpses of a deep green canyon hidden behind the trees. The narrow road was now snaking along a kind of cliff, rising here and falling there, putting Bessie, Eric's 4WD, to the test. As we were tossed about inside the truck, I felt I was surely the most demanding houseguest in the world and wondered if Eric regretted agreeing to take me so far off the beaten path.
Twice the road forked. We guessed there might be a river in the canyon, so we chose the left fork both times. And we continued on. And on. And then we noticed something odd on our left: an abandoned hut, like an information or admission hut. We pulled off the road. Next to the hut we found a bamboo-lined path descending into the canyon. Surely, we though, it must lead to the falls. But why was everything so quiet? If the falls are among the tallest on the island, shouldn't we be able to hear them?
We followed the path down to the canyon floor. A stream split the canyon down the middle and there, on the opposite side, were the falls. We immediately realized the reason for the silence: we had forgotten that it was dry season. Instead of finding a wall of water, we found a 10-metre-high cliff, out of which ferns and vines grew with abandon. There was a deep, wide recess in the cliff, where water trickled from the top and cast a pretty spray as it tumbled down darkened rock. It looked as though, during rainy season, the water would pool beneath the falls after crashing over the cliff, then run over a smooth rock ledge to join the stream. But the ledge was dry. We could see how the water had carved a broad path where the cliff face met the ledge, leaving a massive vine-covered rock overhanging the stream.
It was a spectacular sight, beyond anything we could have expected.
We hopped across the stream and explored the ledge directly below the falls. There were shallow pools and plants and grasses, and a small tumble of water where the falls fell into the stream. I felt very small. I felt like I was in a kind of stone cathedral, dwarfed by the vast, quiet landscape where everything, even the air, seemed alive. It was sublime.
I'm not sure how long we stayed at the falls, as we couldn't bring ourselves to leave that place of beauty and stillness. We saw not one other person the entire time we were there.
The road back through the jungle was now familiar. I can't remember what I was thinking as we bumped and lurched back towards the highway, except how much I would love to return to St. Lucia during rainy season and see the falls as they are meant to be seen. Writing about this now, I realize that perhaps I have seen them as I am meant to see them: Sault Falls showed me that something doesn't have to be precisely as expected for it to be good. You just have to be open to it.