St Kitts
 
"Frigate Bay beach ... lined with palm trees and rustic shacks ... serving good food, good drinks with friendly service ... is where the action lives."
  
 
November 12 

So popular is St Kitts that folks have been battling over its fertile lands for centuries. West Indies tribes, the Spanish, French and the ones holding the prize at the end of it all ... the English.
St Kitts along with Nevis, two miles away, make up a two island nation officially known as the Federation of Saint Christopher and Nevis. The two islands became independent from Great Britain in 1983, but remain in the Commonwealth with a Governor representing the Queen.

There are reports that relations are strained between the two islands and the near future might see them part. A local we spoke to told us that the politician who was promoting such separatist feelings had been defeated in a recent election. "It was all political," the fellow said. "Why would we want to part; we are all family, I have family there and on Antigua. There are some who think it is a good idea but most feel we should stay together. What would little Nevis do on its own?"

The first documentation of the island was made in 1493 when Christopher Columbus landed during his second voyage to the New World. It’s original name was ‘Liamuiga’ which roughly translates to ‘fertile land’. How the island got it’s current name is believed to be the result of a tangle of names and mapping errors, but by the 17th century it was known as St Christopher and informally the English short name for Christopher is ‘Kitt’.
We checked into the Frigate Bay Resort.  Mauricetine on the front desk was most welcoming and helpful in assisting us with our tour plans.  It’s still not high season here and the resort kindly upgraded us to a larger room overlooking the garden and pool.
The room was large with a full kitchen and bar area, a bedroom/sitting room and a spacious balcony. We did get an opportunity to see the room we had reserved and it too seemed good value.
We took a walk around the large, very inviting pool and went to the Jasmine Restaurant for breakfast. Regrettably it was not a good experience. The restaurant’s atmosphere was nice and overlooked the pool; we ordered the ‘local breakfast’ ... salt fish and johnny-cakes. The service was atrocious; the waitress the poorest we have met up with in many years. She is a perfect example of why we believe the growing movement towards mandatory service charges added to the bill should be abolished (for the balance of our stay at Frigate Beach Resort, we ate elsewhere as we just couldn’t bring ourselves to be subjected again to the ‘I-don’t-want-to-be-bothered-with-paying-customers’ kind of service). We headed to the beach.
The beach is close, only a four minute walk from our room.

Frigate Bay beach ... lined with palm trees and rustic shacks ... serving good food, good drinks with friendly service ... is where the action lives. 

During daylight impromptu groups play beach volleyball, splash in the water, meet over a cool beer or rum punch; then at night life on ‘da strip’ becomes a celebration of being in the Caribbean, whether you live here or just visiting.
 
At the far end of the strip is Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack. After the cruise boat people had left, we settled in for dinner and were able to congratulate Mr. X himself on his two most recent awards - 2007 St Kitts Entrepreneur of the Year and St Kitts Top Restaurant of the Year 2008. Those are really impressive awards given to a place with picnic tables, sand for a floor and oh-so-good simple local dishes. He’s giving tourists what tourists come to St Kitts for ... the ambiance and taste of the island ... it’s hard for up-market 5 star establishments to compete.  

   
November 13

During our one full day on St Kitts we started off with a lazy morning, followed by a swim in the hotel’s pool, lounging on the balcony and brunch at Ziggy’s on the beach. Ziggy’s is open for breakfast and lunch and we met the new owner, Sue. The friendly cook with the warm smile is Angela; she puts together a great breakfast plate ... your heart might object to the infusion of cholesterol, but hey, (so the excuse goes) you’re not here everyday and you are on vacation.
   
When we returned to our room there was a baby gecko ... a tiny, wee, little fellow ... on the shower mat which hung over the edge of the tub. He didn’t mind having his photo taken and seemed to be as interested in the camera as we were in him.  
   
We originally planned on touring the island on the ‘St Kitts Scenic Train’. This narrow gauge railway was originally built between 1912 and 1926 to deliver sugarcane from the fields to the sugar mill in Basseterre - the island’s capital. Today the double-decker train carries passengers around the island’s coastline, across steel bridges, through small villages and past old sugar fields and plantations. It is a unique way to see St Kitts in a short time, however, today the train was fully booked by cruise ship passengers (we had seen it yesterday from the air). We did have an option ... a taxi tour. It cost approximately half of what the train costs and we would be able to stop for photos.
 
JR, our tour guide, picked us up at our hotel and our first stop was Basseterre. The name means "lowland" in French which describes its seaport setting with a backdrop of lush green hills. Although the city has been beaten up by natural disasters: earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and fires; it has managed to retain its unique blend of French and British colonial past.
 
 
 
 In the city’s centre there is a ‘circus’ ... not the animal and clown type of circus, but a round open space with a round-about fashioned after London’s Piccadilly Circus. The centrepiece is the Berkeley Clock with its four faces.
JR stopped at a nondescript place on the road; we saw an egret ... that was nice but we didn’t think worth stopping for ... until he drew our attention to a tree ... a nesting tree full of egrets ... just from our vantage point we could count over 50!  
We passed the campus of Ross University of Veterinary Medicine. It would seem that each island in the Caribbean has a school of medicine ... a good source of income for the community. We remember seeing advertisements at home for Ross University and were impressed with the size and appearance of the campus.
A simple concrete bridge spans the river at "Bloody Point" where it is said that for several days the river flowed red with blood after English and French settlers massacred more than 2,000 Kalinagos (Caribs) in 1626. This marked the end of the Kalinago presence on St. Kitts. In 2002, a ceremony of atonement was held at Bloody Point to release the spirits of the Kalinagos who were massacred. It is a site which in it’s physical presence could easily go unnoticed except for the significant impact of it’s history.
 
On the other hand, Brimstone Hill Fortress (aka the ‘Gibraltar of the West Indies’) is an impressive physical site ... commanding 38 strategic acres with its seven-foot-thick walled Fort George citadel ... even from a distance. The British built it over nine decades using slave labour. In 1782 the French with a fleet of nearly 50 ships came over the horizon and placed the fortress under siege with the purpose to oust the English and take control of St Kitts & Nevis’s rich sugar colonies. The 8,000 French were finally able to defeat the 1,000 English after punching 40 foot holes in the citadel’s thick walls. In 1851 Brimstone Hill was abandoned and left to suffer the elements and vandals; today it is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
 
 
At one time sugarcane was the world’s richest crop and the Caribbean had ideal growing conditions. European settlers, like those who were later drawn to the gold fields, made their way to the Caribbean Islands, shaved them nude of their indigenous forests and planted tobacco and sugarcane. When their own countrymen could not handle the heat and working conditions, they kidnapped Africans and turned them into slaves.
When the colony of Virginia’s tobacco production proved too much competition, St Kitts became a mono-crop country ... sugarcane ... until the sugar beet made sugarcane production uncompetitive.
For a time the government of St Kitts, kept the island’s industry alive by owning the cane fields and having the entire crop processed in a single government-run factory. On the 31st of July 2005, the last cane was crushed and the factory closed ... sugar manufacturing ceased on St. Kitts. Today the island is dotted with the remnants of once handsome stone structures now falling to weather and scavengers. We were still able to see smokestacks rising up a hundred feet, cone shaped bases of old windmills and railroads which started without reason and finished in grassy knolls.  
 
A stop was made at Romney Manor, a 17th century plantation, now home to Caribelle Batik. Batik is a textile craft more commonly associated with West Africa, India and Asia. The procedure is similar to that used by Ukrainians in decorating eggs. A wax is applied to cloth before being dipped in dye. More wax is applied and a darker colour dye is used; and so on. The more colours and intricate the design the more expensive the piece becomes and in some cases, when hand done, it is considered an art form. In the shop we saw a woman applying wax by brush as it was originally done, but since the invention of the copper block, it has been possible for factories to make high quality designs and intricate patterns much faster than one could possibly do by hand-painting.
In the beautiful gardens which are part of the old manor, we found some plants we had seen in Zanzibar ... like the lipstick tree. Within the ‘hairy’ heart-shaped fruit, the seeds are covered with a jelly (somewhat like a pomegranate) and the orange-red stain from this jelly is very difficult to remove from fabric or skin. It has been used in many tropical countries as fabric dye, hair dye and body paint, especially for lips ... hence it’s name. It is used commercially to colour margarine, cheeses and smoked fish.
 
We made our way through small villages where life on the island is not directly impacted by tourists.  Children were getting out of school (each school has it’s own uniform), adults were meeting, shopping and working.  
 
   
On the north-east coast JR showed us the Black Rocks where a wide lava flow once poured into the sea, bubbled and cooled.
 
After pretty much circling the island we returned to our hotel. The baby gecko was gone. We cooled down with a swim in the pool and then dressed to take in some of the Thursday night fun and fire down at the beach.
 
 
 
There are lots of drinking spots on the beach worth dropping into .... Tasha always has a big smile and cheerful "welcome!" at Tasha’s on da Strip; Elvis had been working on building his ‘Love Shack’ (another soon-to-be drinking and eating spot) since we arrived but didn’t think it would be ready to open until next weekend. You can actually meet a friendly green monkey and his owner at Monkey Bar; Ziggy’s serves up a tall icy strawberry margaritas or try a local favourite CSR (Cane Spirit Rothchild) ... island-made rum (from cane sugar) mixed with a grapefruit soft drink called ‘Ting’ which is also made on the island ... the combination of CSR and Ting is called ... drum roll please ... ‘Ting with a Sting’.  
 
We had dinner again at Mr X’s Shiggidy Shack, then stayed around a little longer to enjoy the big bonfire and some of the entertainment before we headed back up to our room and packed for our early morning flight to Antigua.
 
 
 
      
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