How strange to be in this vast, opulent villa in St Lucia by myself. I wander through the seven double bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. White walls, high ceilings, dark-wood floors, big airy rooms with ocean views – where in this wilderness of elegance shall I sleep? I settle on an upstairs room with a four-poster bed and a balcony the size of a cricket pitch. I hang my four shirts and one spare pair of trousers in the walk-in wardrobe, where they’re surrounded by yards of empty space.
Where shall I drink alone? Between the balcony, the veranda, the deck and the gazebo by the swimming pool, there are at least a dozen prime drinking chairs, and every time I sit down with my glass of rum, I feel like sitting somewhere else. The sun is setting over the Caribbean; the landscaped gardens are full of flowers; mangos and limes hang ripe on the trees – and yet I feel oddly restless and ill-at-ease. Instead of basking in my good fortune at being here, I find myself pining for human company.
In the normal course of my life, I spend a lot of time on my own, travelling by myself and writing books in remote cabins, and normally I relax immediately into solitude. The difference here, I think, is the enormous size of the villa – all those big empty rooms and unoccupied chairs – and its gorgeousness, which cries out to be shared. I call my girlfriend in New York and the phone goes to voicemail. I check my email instead of admiring the sunset. When Francis, the caretaker, comes over to say hello, I fall on him like a long-lost friend, and 20 minutes later we’re driving away together to the nearest town, with music and revelry in mind.
First we make a winding descent through a hillside estate of luxury villas overlooking a golf course. Most of them are shuttered and empty. It’s early July, a month into the rainy season, which is also hurricane season in the Caribbean.
Today has been hot and sunny, and tomorrow will be the same, but at this time of year there’s always a good chance of heavy downpours, and an outside possibility of a full-blown hurricane, with power cuts, flooding and road closures. To visit the Caribbean between June and November is essentially a gamble with the weather, and a bargain because of it. The villa where I’m staying costs nearly £4,000 a week in the peak winter season; right now, it’s going for £2,000 a week – an amazing rate when you consider that it’s designed to sleep 15 people.
We pass the club house of the golf course, and soon emerge into a scruffier, livelier, more colourful St Lucia. It’s Friday night and the weekly street party is under way in the town of Gros Islet. Vendors are barbecuing chicken and fish, and selling cold beers and shots of rum from makeshift bars. DJs are playing soca and reggae through big, booming speaker stacks. People are laughing, joking, arguing, knuckle-bumping, dancing a supple-hipped dance, and who in the world, I wonder, can throw a better street party than Caribbean people?