Caribbean Special, St. Kitts [Part 1]Posted in Where to Travel to Now
Seb King explores the island where monkeys outnumber people, you're never more than 18 miles away from the ocean, sugar cane grows in abundance and the temperature rarely dips below 30° centigrade.
The wheels of the quad bike spat dust into the humid atmosphere as they ate every mound, boulder or ridge I threw in its wake. Roaring off a cliff edge fades to a distant fear, a whisper from the lips of the wise.
Under instruction from our tour guide, Ivan, I release my thumb from the throttle and apply the brakes. We dismount. The invasive sound of petrol engines die down to be replaced by the song of tree frogs and the rustle of leaves in the wind.
Above: Quad Bike
Tours Of The Island Are Picturesque.
“Just look around you. I tink it’s always important to look around ‘n take it in,” Ivan’s grin is so wide that I can make out the twinkle of a gold incisor.
He points towards where the ocean meets the sea in the form of limestone cliffs, “You get what I mean mun?”
I nod. He has a point. Plus he has a gold filling.
Above: This Just Looks Like Grass, Right?
Enveloped by endless fields of sugar cane, the chimneys of former plantations scrape the sky with decaying fingers while the coast laps against sandy shores. Palms sway in the breeze with the nonchalance of years past and luminous butterflies draw circles in the sticky Caribbean heat.
Above: Wrong. The Grass Lives In The Form Of Butterflies!
Without warning Ivan darts into the foliage. For some unknown reason I feel inclined to pursue him with purpose and leave the rest of my group behind. Once I start sprinting the heat saps my enthusiasm for speed and I submit to a lackadaisical plod. I’m not as fit as I used to be.
Above:Sugar Cane Fields. It's No Wonder That The Capital Of St. Kitts Used To Be Known As 'Sugar City'.
I catch up with our tour guide in the middle of a field, yanking at the roots of the sugar cane. The tapered leaves of the stalky plant fly in all directions and land on the sorrel earth in clumps.
No reply. He plucks a lanky looking specimen from the ground, its roots clawing at the air. I try again to break him from his reverie.
He spins round, eyes glistening, a gangly plant in both hands and a wicked smile on his face.
“What the hell are you doing?”
He shrugs his shoulders and shakes the two samples of Kittitian ecosystem at me with expectation. There’s an awkward silence.
“You wana try some sugar cane mun?”
I scratch my head, “Sure thing.” Ivan sprints through the field back to the pathway where the rest of the group are waiting and wondering where their tour guide has suddenly vanished to.
Above: Ivan Is Incredibly Knowledgeable About Local Plants And Fruits.
At the forefront of the convoy Ivan bashes the mauve stalks of his bounty against each other until they begin to weep.
“Who wants sugar cane then?” he says.
One by one Ivan twists the fibres of the battered plant above our mouths with adroit skill so that we each have the chance to gulp at the syrupy liquid like hungry chicks in a nest. Then the engines start up again and I’m blasting through dusty dirt tracks as if this vaguely homo-erotic experience has never happened. Part of me wishes we could grow sugar cane to the same extent as oil seed rape in England; it would reduce the pollen count and double as a tasty snack at the same time. Everyone’s a winner if you ask me, but I’m no horticultural genius.
Above: Ruins Of Old Plantations Are Scattered About The Isle.
The landmass of St. Kitts is a petite 68 square miles. To demonstrate the influence and scale of the island’s involvement in the slave trade from 1700-1930 it should be known that divided between the 68 square miles of astounding natural beauty are 68 testaments to human injustice; plantations. The ruins of these icons of discrimination have grown to become symbols of national identity for Kittitians. Many have been reclaimed from the jaws of historical bleakness and renovated into destinations in their own right such as the Rawlins Plantation Inn
, the Golden Lemon
restaurant and the wonderfully luxurious Ottleys Plantation Inn
. However, the majority of the plantations on St. Kitts have been left for Mother Nature to toy with; one particularly breathtaking example is the Wingfield Estate.
Above: The Chimney Of The Old Wingfield Estate, St. Kitts.
Located on a hilltop above Old Red Town, one of the first English settlements in the Caribbean, the Wingfield Estate overlooks the rainforest and is a must see for those wanting to zip wire across the treetops at the nearby Sky Safari. A significant proportion of machinery and structure of the Wingfield Estate remains intact, left behind in an eternal slumber. Standing on a wrought iron cylinder adjoined to a towering chimney, Ivan informs the group that in its previous life it was used as a vat to heat sugar.
Above: The Wingfield Estate Produced Tobacco From 1625-1640 And Sugar from 1640-1925.
“See ‘dose plants over there mun?” he says, indicating a few green sprouts beside an ancient-looking wall.
“’Dat is the remains of ‘da tobacco crop back when ‘dis place was a tobacco plantation in 1625.”
The silence that shrouds the Wingfield Estate is eerie and the air is heavy with the stench of the past.
Above: The Wingfield Estate Was operational Between 1625-1924.
“I bet none of you knew ‘dat ‘da first owner of this place was Sam Jefferson. He was the great great great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, ‘da third president of the United States Of America?”
Stunned, I shake my head in disbelief. It’s amazing how time moves on but history never forgets.
Above: Church On Sunday Remains A Major Social And Spiritual Event In St. Kitts.
We negotiate rugged terrain as winding trails hug the coastline and occasionally descend into jungle. I follow Ivan along a ridge that cuts through dense vegetation where vines dangle from mango trees as if they were jade threads of spaghetti. Without warning he cuts the engine and whirls around in his seat to face me, the palm of his hand raised in the universal ‘stop!’ signal.
Above: It's A Jungle Out There. A Large Proportion Of St. Kitts Is Covered By Rainforest.
Ivan raises his index finger to his lips, “Shhhh.”
I look around. Sunlight trickles to the leaf litter layer and I catch something blot out its rays for a fraction of a second as it dashes across the branches of the canopy; movement, there’s something watching us.
Ivan jabs his finger at the colossal kinks of living timber.
“Monkeys,” he says, smiling, his finger glued to his lips.
I breathe a sigh of relief. A troop of silver-haired monkeys tend to their young and stuff their fury faces with fruit from the trees.
“You know what kind of monkey ‘dey is?”
I hazarded a guess, “Spider monkeys?”
“Wrong mun,” Ivan grins.
“They’re velvet monkeys. Do you know how ‘dey came to live on ‘dis here island?”
“When ‘da French came over to colonise ‘da island ‘dey brought with ‘dem ‘dese here monkeys as pets. Now ‘dere’s over 80 thousand of ‘dem ‘n ‘dey eat all our crops.”
“They eat your crops?”
“Yar mun. ‘Dey come out in the morning and steal all ‘da fruit from ‘da trees. But ‘dare cute, no?”
“What kind of fruit do they pinch?”
“Everything mun. Soursop, mangos you name it ‘dey eat it. We can’t export most of our fruit because of ‘da monkeys.”
“You should have a cull. After all they’re not indigenous”, said a lady with auburn hair and creamy skin on the bike behind me.
“Aww but they’re so cute,” said a different voice from the rear of the convoy.
Above: "Oi, Gimme My Lunch Back You Fiend!" St. Kitts Is Home To Over 82,000 Velvet Monkeys.
I remained mute on the matter but thought that having monkeys on a tropical island was hardly the end of the world. After all, it would be a real bummer if were outnumbered by poisonous fruit-eating insects. We dropped the bikes back at base camp and said our goodbyes to our knowledgeable tour guide, Ivan. A Spectrum ATV
tour of St. Kitts is so much more than a drag race through monotonous scenery.
Whatever you do, be sure to familiarise yourself with the landscape of St. Kitts; after all, the island is only 23 miles long and 5 miles wide.
Above: Not A Fan Of Quad Bikes? Then Take A Seat Aboard The Scenic Railway.
Top Tip: If riding a quad bike doesn’t appeal to you then why not take a seat on the Scenic Railway and get to grips with the beauty of St. Kitts while sipping a rum punch? The route is 30 miles long and hugs the coast, ensuring wonderful vistas and a chance to eye the landmarks of the island. This is one of the last remaining sugar cane trains in the Caribbean and is well worth the $110 (US) fee.
Above: The Scenic Railway Offers Spectacular Vistas Of The Island.
Get an insider's perspective of Basseterre, the capital of St. Kitts, discover why cinnamon trees could wreck your marriage and follow Seb as he wrestles with his fear of heights and whips 1350 feet above the rainforest suspended on a Zip wire.
Read Part 2 of Seb's adventure in St. Kitts by clicking here
For the long-haul flight from London to St. Kitts why not take advantage of British Airways Club Class
? Because flying need not be time lost but time gained.