The Last Stop

Trip Start Jan 03, 2004
Trip End Dec 2004

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Where I stayed
The Golden Rock

Flag of Saint Kitts and Nevis  ,
Monday, January 3, 2005

The island of St. Kitts is a mere speck on our world globe. You'd be hard pressed to find it on some maps. We'd never even heard of this small Caribbean island until our friend Renetta moved there last February as a Peace Corps volunteer. But we couldn't resist a stop on a tropical island to visit a friend, so we included St. Kitts as the last stop on our round-the-world itinerary.

Unlike its more well-known neighbors such as Antigua and St. Lucia, St. Kitts has all the beauty and serenity of a Caribbean island without being overrun by casinos and corporate hotels. Sugar remains its number one industry, with a growing tourism industry a close second. But it's still easy to find a palm-tree lined beach of white sand where the only others around are a few free-roaming cows and goats. Everyone on the island of 35,000 souls seems to know when the cruise ships dock and unload their passengers of pasty white Americans. The handicraft market opens up and the taxi drivers make their way to the dock. But the cruise-goers are gone by nightfall and the island returns to being a sleepy backwater.

Renetta and a friend named Bigga picked us up at the small airport in the country's Ministry of Tourism van. Renetta has a knack for getting to know people who can help her out in a jam, which has been a very useful skill as a Peace Corps volunteer since she's prohibited from driving a car or even riding a bicycle during her two-year assignment. We soon met some of her other friends including Mr. Pinchon and Venetta who were more than happy to show us around the island.

Our visit coincided with the start of St. Kitts' Carnival celebration. Our first night on the island, we tagged along with Renetta to her steel pan practice session. Her band was competing in the upcoming Jouvert show, which parades through the streets of St. Kitts at 4 a.m. the day after Christmas rousing everyone out of bed. The steel pan is a drum instrument made out of the bottom of oil barrels. We heard plenty of steel pan music during our stay in St. Kitts. Music always seemed to be in the air coming from people's cars, stores, homes and restaurants. Our second night, we attended a Calypso competition. We learned that Calypso is more about the message than the music. While the Calypso beat is fun and rhythmic, the messages were often serious ones about peace, poverty or government corruption. Actual singing ability is not as important. A popular Calypso song during our stay was by local Calypso singer Socrates. His hit "Before You Put on the Ring-Ring, You Better Check Out the Ting-Ting" (the title may not be entirely accurate) was being played over and over on radio stations. We were surprised when Socrates turned out to be another one of Renetta's friends and a local taxi driver. He picked us up for our first trip to the beach. But we knew the island was really small when a local alerted Renetta at work that outside her apartment on the clothesline Jill's purple sarong had snagged on a fence and needed to be moved. It was the perfect example of how everyone knows everyone and everyone's business in St. Kitts.

We actually drove around the entire circumference of the island (23 miles long by 6.5 miles wide) one night. It was dark, so we didn't see much but we got a sense for the island's small size and close-knit community. The drive was needed after we gorged ourselves on baby back ribs and the biggest lobster tails we'd ever eaten. Despite being served on a paper plate with a plastic knife and fork, it was the best lobster dinner of our lives.

Renetta made sure we fit in all of the island's must-see tourist destinations. St. Kitts has had a tumultous history since Columbus sighted the island on his second voyage to the New World in 1493. St. Kitts became a hub for the transatlantic slave trade and the town center of Basseterre used to be where the slaves destined for the sugarcane fields were auctioned. A source of pride on the island is its Brimstone Hill fort, a remnant from when the island was fiercely contested between English and French colonialists. The well-preserved fort is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is situated on a hill to give you a beautiful view of the ocean and island's coast. We also visited two beaches where the clear water made for good snorkeling. Rum is another St. Kitts product, and we became smitten with the drink of pineapple juice and coconut rum. We tried other local cuisine including goat water (a goat meat stew with a few bones mixed in) and salt fish and downed the local brew, Carib.

To celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary, we splurged on a one-night stay at an inn on the neighboring island of Nevis. Nevis was named for the Spanish word "nieve" (snow) because the frequent clouds shrouding the mountain on the island resembled a snow-capped peak. Nevis is even smaller than St. Kitts with 10,000 inhabitants. Many of its old sugar plantations have been converted into romantic inns. We stayed at The Golden Rock, which butted up against the rainforest and had a stunning view of the ocean from its perch on a mountainside. Our cottage looked out onto the ocean, as did the pool and tennis court. We took advantage of every amenity the inn had to offer, including bumper pool. We figured we'd get our money's worth. The other two couples staying at the inn were Americans. They were a bit older and classier than us, so we donned our best quick-dry clothes for dinner and tried to behave ourselves with good manners and witty small talk.

We're so glad to have visited St. Kitts when we did. It wants to stake its ground in the profitable tourism industry and is well-positioned to do so. A new Marriott just opened and Sandals Resorts has purchased some land where the locals now go to hang out on the beach. But we'll always remember St. Kitts as the small dot on the globe that rings no bells for most people but reminds us of white sand, blue water and genuine Caribbean hospitality.
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