St. Kitts and Nevis

 

Topless trees and mountains in the clouds

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.

St. Kitts southern peninsula

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.

Hash House Harrier trail along the rail road

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

tombstone grazing horses near Kittitian Hill

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.

the man with the horses

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).

Nevis in the clouds

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.

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Little Cayman

Arriving from Vancouver and Vegas to Grand Cayman made it feel like I was flying to a tiny, barely inhabited island, in the middle of nowhere. After a week there, its busyness surprised me, but I started to see the same people, recognize  all the main streets, and finished visiting every where there was to visit (some places, more than once). This made it seem smaller and smaller as time passed.

Then I flew to Little Cayman Island, which really is a tiny, barely inhabited island in the middle of nowhere, and it couldn’t really get much smaller  with time.

Little Cayman from the air

It has a resident population of 120 people, its about 12 miles long and one mile wide, and only 90 miles from Cuba. To get there, one takes a 35 minute flight in a 12 seater plane, with the luggage stowed away behind the last row of seats. Though there were only 9 passengers traveling, they still managed to forget one of my bags, which was a waterproof dive bag and carried my books and a volleyball called Wilson – three very important things when on a remote Caribbean island (ever seen Castaway?).

Out of the 120 residents, few are Caymanian, and the island blends a mix of ex-pats who refuse to live in colder climates. They host and run an expensive tourism industry, fueled by scuba diving, snorkeling, and most recently, kite surfing. Visitors stay at one of the resorts, enjoying hobie cats, kayaks and hammocks, and add a fluctuating 80 more to the population number.

the ultimate beach pad

Resorting isn’t really in my price range, and the only 2 couchsurfers on the island couldn’t host, but one dive master tipped me off on a fun fact – the bartender at Little Cayman Resort was Icelandic. I asked some questions, found him on facebook, had a mutual friend, and three days later, arrived in his skyloft to crash with Marieke, my host from Grand Cayman.

He was an excellent host, taking us on many adventures. The first was a kayak expedition to abandoned Owen Island, against fierce winds and white water waves. We walked the last 200m after capsizing, but made it back down wind in no time.

We learned how to Hobie cat sail. Well, we watched him hobie cat sail. We

Owen Island by Kayak

snorkeled. We played dodgeball. We biked to the end of the island. We tried to kitesurf, but failed when the wind calmed. I tried fire dancing.

Our biggest advneture was a 2 am mission to Owen Island on his friends boat, which we grounded twice in the shallow water. Or it may have been the excess wait in the boat (we were 8 in 5 seats). Or it may have been the pitch darkness, although there was an eerie glow from the full moon which made everything seem like a Pirates of the Caribbean scene. We tried (and failed) to light a bonfire of wet palms and bamboo, and almost used all our spare gas trying, but managed to avoid getting stranded.

Ingvar was working most days we were there, but it made no difference since we ended up at his bar every evening anyway to hang out. This was also where we had most of our meals, and met half of the Island since people came thru all day long. Some were iguana-walk tour guides, others were kitesurfers, the dodgeball guy and his dog, and even the airport arrivals guy who was better known as ‘ninja’ (he was an incredible fire dancer).

fire dancing by the failing bonfire

When we had to leave the island, we simply walked to the concrete strip of road they cal their ‘airport.’ Noone was there til 20 minutes before our flight departure, and he just showed up with our boarding cards and luggage tags and handed them out to us standing around. He knew who was who, didn’t care what we had packed, checked no ID and didn’t even have a security check for us to go through. It seemed too quick and easy (if only all air travel was that laid back), but, magically, they lost my bags again, somewhere between Little Cayman and Grand in that 45 minute window, on that tiny plane…

I stood in Georgetown trying to make my connecting flight to New York, and when they told me my bags would have to arrive a day later, I begged not to be sent to New York without them. I was wearing flipflops, shorts and a shirt, and had nothing else until getting back home to Iceland, where it was -15 degrees and snowing. They agreed that was tough, so delayed my flight by one day, upgraded me to business class, and let me have one last night in Grand Cayman. I could certainly think of worse places to be stuck…