Sunday, April 25, 2010

A guide to Owia Salt Ponds

by Edward James

The Owia Salt Pond can be found on the North Eastern Coast of St Vincent. The ponds are located just through the traditional Carib village of Owia, which is a couple of hours drive from Georgetown. Despite being such a small island it seems to take forever to get anywhere in St Vincent, but then I guess this is down to the mountainous profile of the island and the rough dirt tracks that replace tarmac roads once you get in the more "out of the way" and remote parts of the island.

Even though the journey is long, it is not at all boring as the scenery all over this island is just so beautiful. Along the way, you see lush green foliage, exotic plants, coconut trees, banana plantations, sugar cane plantations and other greenery as you pass through small villages and the like. The views are simply stunning and get even better as you pass through the Rabacca Dry River (which was created by the ash flow from the 1902 eruption of La Soufriere) and head on through the black point tunnel (a tunnel dug by the British in 1851 that used slave labour). En route you will also see the gorgeous black sand beaches and the rocky shoreline of the island protruding in to the Atlantic Ocean.

Upon reaching the salt ponds all vehicles must be parked on the top of the cliff overlooking them in an ample sized piece of wasteland off the track. From there it is the descent down the steep cliffs to the shore below. Navigating the cliffs is no problem and extremely safe as there is a designated set of man-made steps down to the beach.

The salt ponds are natural phenomenon and were made during the last eruption of La Soufriere, during which the molten lava flow reached the sea, instantly cooled and a new rock formation was born. This formation holds many pools of water, which are constantly refreshed, and aerated by the Atlantic Ocean’s waves crashing over the rocks and spilling through the many holes in the rocks. When you think of pretty things I’m sure a load of drab and gray rocks wouldn’t spring to mind, but the salt ponds do have their own unique beauty about them and they are well worth a photograph or two.

Historically the locals have used the salt ponds for therapeutic baths and after taking a quick dip, it is easy to see why. Since the pools are unable to escape the rocky formation the water gets very warm in the sunlight and it is almost like being in a bath, at the shallower ends furthest away from the Atlantic Ocean that is. However, if you want contrast then

finding a rock where Atlantic is coming in through a hole or go to the end where the waves are crashing over the formation and you will get a very refreshing stream of water.

The whole experience is very relaxing although for those of you wanting a bit more "action" then there are several places for jumping in and diving and the water is more than deep enough to allow this to be done in safety. In addition, the salt ponds are home to a variety of reef fish and there are even coral formations so it is an ideal place to grab a mask and go snorkeling. With the abundant amount of marine life you don’t have to go far to see something interesting.

As you would expect the salt ponds are extremely salty making it an ideal place for less confident swimmers. The salt content keeps you afloat and makes it ideal for just laying in the water in the sun. It is almost impossible to drown, which is good in some respects but not so good if you want to swim under the water as it makes it that much harder work. 

If the salt ponds were in the Western world then tourists would probably be charged for parking, getting to see the salt ponds and bathing in the, however since they are in St Vincent access is given totally free. The only cost will be getting to and from the salt ponds, or the cost of the excursion if done through a tour operator, making it great value for money.

The salt ponds are a wonderful place and very interesting. Just looking at the rock formation and pondering over how it was constructed will lead to many questions and excite geologists and those nature lovers with an inquisitive mind. A dip in the ponds can be as relaxing or therapeutic as you’d like so it is a place that will cater for all needs, and the fact that entrance is totally free makes it even better.