The warm glow of the mid-day sun caressed our faces as we disembarked the American Airlines flight that had brought us to St. Kitts. It was winter in Boston and the surrounding countryside had been blanketed in deep snow drifts. when we departed. We peeled off layers of sweaters and our down jackets to embrace the 80 degree temperatures. After we cleared customs and immigration, we took a taxi to the public ferry terminal along the waterfront and awaited our departure for Nevis.
St. Kitts and Nevis comprise an island nation of approximately 47,000 people, mainly of African descent. It is one of the Leeward Islands in the West Indies and is located 1,300 mi southeast of Miami, Florida. Formerly known as St. Christopher Island, St. Kitts was discovered by Christopher Columbus and claimed for Spain in 1493. The first English colony was established in 1623, followed by a French colony in 1625. The island alternated repeatedly between English and French control during the 17th and 18th centuries, as one power took the whole island, only to have it switch hands due to treaties or further military action. Parts of St. Kitts were heavily fortified, as exemplified by UNESCO World Heritage Site at Brimstone Hill and the now-crumbling Fort Charles. It was in 1783 that the island became British for the final time. The island originally produced tobacco, but changed to sugar cane in 1640 due to stiff competition from the colony of Virginia. The labor-intensive farming of sugar cane was the reason for the large-scale importation of African slaves. The importation began almost immediately upon the arrival of Europeans to the region. Sugar production continued to dominate the local economy until 2005, when, after 365 years as a monoculture, the government closed the sugar industry. Tourism is the primary industry today and the islands are a destination for major cruise lines.
Crossing the two-mile channel between the islands took about 45 minutes. Nevis is less developed that St. Kitts. Goats and donkeys run wild and an occasional Green Vervet monkey can be seen crossing the 19-mile road that rings the island.
Nevis is dominated by the volcanic peak of Mount Nevis in the center and is fringed on its western and northern coastlines by sandy beaches that are composed of a mixture of white coral sand with brown and black sand which was eroded and washed down from the volcanic rocks that make up the island. Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. For the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson was stationed as a young sea captain, and is where he met and married a Nevisian, Frances Nisbet, the young widow of a plantation-owner.
We transferred to a taxi in the port town of Charlestown and headed for our hotel, the Nisbet Plantation, childhood home of Fanny Nisbet. Palm trees and brightly-colored cement homes dotted the roadside and flowering trees and shrubs complemented the landscape. We were greeted at the hotel, which bills itself as the only plantation resort on the beach, by the manager and complimentary rum punches. Nisbet Plantation boasts the Great House with its wide porch and formal restaurant, 38 duplex-style cottages with Caribbean decor, beach bar, surrounded by palm-thatched cabanas along the beach, pool, tiled hot tub, and the pool side cafe where breakfast is served. Although our cottage had air-conditioning, we opted to open the plantation shutters and enjoy the sea breezes.
The beaches on Nevis are not renowned for snorkeling, although snorkeling equipment was available at the hotel where we stayed. The surf is rough and coral reefs are few and far between. Places to rent bicycles, kayaks and small catamarans are plentiful, but our goal was to relax and read on the beach or to venture inward and do some hiking in the rain forest.
We discovered that the meals at Nisbet Plantation were outrageously expensive and every place on the island added 22% that comprised a 10% service charge with 12% government-mandated fees. As we were not participating in the meal plan because we enjoy exploring and sampling the local fare, we were free to roam and discovered that Oualie Plantation Resort just up the road offered a delicious and more-reasonably priced breakfast which featured a sumptuous Calypso omelet (peppers and onions in a spicy tomato-based sauce) that we preferred. Another option for breakfast was the Fancy Jamaican Bakery in Charlestown which served hot “patties” or crispy turnovers filled with beef, chicken or cheese.
Our hike up Mount Nevis, a dormant volcano in the rain forest, was the most challenging we have ever done – slippery, muddy trails only a foot wide on the edge of plunging cliffs! We rappelled down one steep slope with a rope that was tied in place, did some nearly horizontal rock climbing to keep from falling off the hillside, traversed old stone steps and rickety, corroded iron ladders. Took us 5 hours and we returned to the Golden Rock Plantation Inn for a much-deserved rum & ginger at the end of the day.
The Golden Rock Plantation Inn was surrounded by luscious gardens with a majestic view of Nevis Peak. The cut stone sugar mill, since converted to hotel accommodations and an open air restaurant, dated back to the early 1800s. It was magnificent and we enjoyed our most memorable meal there a few days later. We wish we had discovered it sooner and would definitely consider staying in one of their 19 unique cottages should we ever return to Nevis.
Reluctantly, the week ended all too soon, although it was a wonderful vacation and a great break from a New England winter.