I arrived in St. Kitts at 10 pm and got picked up by my couchsurf host Mike in his beat up Nissan Sentra. It was missing both driver side and passenger side windows, the back bumper and the muffler, and a Phillips wrench replaced the key to turn the car on and off. Mike was all smiles, and had steaming hot Chinese take out ready for an impromptu picnic.
We drove out to Muddy Point, along a bumpy dirt road, and pulled up to a hurricane-torn apartment building surrounded my palmless tree trunks. We explored the graffiti-painted walls after having our midnight picnic under the brightest, full moon I’ve ever seen. The wind was so strong that the clouds seemed to pass overhead in fast motion, lit up as bright white mountains moving up and over the volcano peaks of St. Kitts. The moon cast our shadows on the black sand, the curling waves were as white as day, and even the coral was visible through the rough water because of its crystal clean clarity.
I didn’t exactly couchsurf Mike’s place, but slept on a mattress in a tent on his living room floor. The tent was a mosquito net substitute and worked just fine, but with some minor rearrangement, we turned his living room from a campground back into a social space. We had another picnic on the southern tip of the Kittitan peninsula, sharing a whole chicken, some fresh tomatoes, and cheese bread in silence while we watched the sun go down. We then had to drive back over the mountainous road without headligths in the dark, since both the Sentra’s headlighs and highbeams strangely stopped working.
Mike took me to a Hash House Harrier event, a name I cant explain, but it refers to a group of people coming together and walking or running a newly marked trail once a month on a different part of the island. It was the St. Patty’s day Hash, so everyone wore green, and we trekked along the old rail road and through sugar cane fields down to a littered beach.
St. Kitts was the first Island I visited that felt like the real Caribbean. Im not really at liberty to say what defines the ‘real’ Caribbean, but I can try to explain it the way I perceive it. Life is slow, really slow, and simple. Locals were locals, with fewer rich expats exploiting their lifestyle, and no cultural divide between the locals and the colonial locals since St. Kitts is actually an independent country – different from the French, British, American and Deutch islands Ive been to so far. Small wooden houses in various pastel and neon colours had replaced the gated communities and concrete beach resorts, and communities lived together in walkable villages. Only one narrow road, 31 miles long, goes around the island, with a different village every 2 or 3 km. Each village was known by atleast 2 different names, and the streets and alleyways were unnamed and unmarked, with foot traffic and chicken crossings keeping the road in use.
The island looks lived in, not groomed, and tourism still hasn’t taken over all the industry in the island. You drive past countless abandoned windmills, left to ruin since slavery ended, surrounded by stone buildings and ancient churches built during colonial rule. Instead of restoring any of these places and turning them into tourist attractions or UNESCO World Heritage sites, they leave the guinea grass to take over their forgotten history, and keep on
growing sugar cane in the fields around to be processed by more modern methods. The churches are doorless and the wooden window shutters are half rotten, but some churches are still used. The cemeteries are overgrown and horses are tied to tombstones to try and eat down the luscious vegetation.
I settled into this atmosphere nicely, and got accustomed to the easy going pace of things. You could make friends with just a nod hello, and bus drivers and shop owners would treat you like a visiting relative to their home instead of making you feel like a passenger or a customer.
At Black Rocks, one of the souvenir sellers became my friend after I bought a Ting (grapefruit soda) from her, and her dad was my bus driver back to town and her uncle was the taxi driver who later took me to look for a horse man. Everyone knows eachother in the villages, and you could find or run into anyone you wanted to, whenever you wanted to. My local friends said I even started picking up the local talk, after trying hard to put on my mothers Guyanese accent, and I got asked if I was an islander 4 or 5 times by other strangers. I learned that Guyanese are one of the largest minorities on the island, so that may explain why. I eventually met the man with the graveyard grazing horses and asked him to take me riding. I think he said yes because he recognized my Island talk, so together we took two stallions for a galloping sprint around the Cane fields and up Kittitian hill.
St. Kitts Island has many craters, mountain peaks, and one active volcano that if it went off, would devastate a lot of the island. They say the clouds in St. Kitts are always lower than clouds anywhere else, and its because they get trapped between the mountains and sit above the island like a roof above the low-lying coast. I visited Nevis for a day, the sister island just south of St. Kitts, which is round at its base, and pyramids straight up into one volcanic crater. There I made a friend called Whiskey, a 3 month old green vervet monkey that lived at a bar. The bartender, Lyon, saw I liked animals and tried to sell me one of 10 puppies he had adopted from a stray dog for $50EC (less than $20US).
I left St. Kitts airport on a late flight, and at 9pm the airport had only two staff working. A janitor mopped the floor and a luggage handler sat around with no luggage to handle. I waited ten minutes before someone arrived at the counter to check me in, and then walked up to an empty emigration hall. Me and Louise, another passenger, walked on to security and asked one of the two people working there to get us a customs officer to exit stamp our passports. Louise, an Antiguan, didn’t seemed phased at all, not even when the flight arrived 40 minutes early and took off only minutes after we rushed through security to board.