Touring Saint Kitts
17 June 2007 | Saint Kitts
We took a tour of Saint Kitts today. The typical way to get a tour of most of the Lesser Antilles is to simply hire a cab and tell him to take you on a tour. Some islands have some quality control in this area and others don't. It's best to talk to anyone you are considering for a tour and ask them a few straight forward questions about the country's history and environment. If you find yourself needing hip boots in response to questions as elementary as, "when did your country gain independence?", you might want to check with the next driver. I find that the older guys usually know a lot more about the history and nature of a place. Never can tell though.
We had two choices for our tour. Alfred, an older gentleman, and Junie, a younger go getter. We were walking to the marina office on our first day in when two cab drivers both started talking to us concurrently. Soliciting our business and arguing with each other in alternating bursts. We ended up using both throughout the week but Junie happened to be on hand this morning.
We started out with a little tour of Basseterre. Like most towns settled by the French, English and Spanish, there are churches marking the center of town. Sometimes Catholic, sometimes Anglican, sometimes otherwise, but always one of the oldest and grandest structures in the area. Basseterre has a little town center that is rumored to be modeled after Piccadilly Circus in London. I didn't really get that but it is a neat area of town.
Saint Kitts is a good sized island and has the shape of an hourglass with the north portion much larger than the southern. The northern part has large volcanic peaks covered in rain forest, lots of sugar cane fields in the lowlands, and small villages dotting the rocky coast line. The southern part has the sandy beaches and is where the tourist resorts are located. Basseterre is the only real city and it sits at the bottom of the leeward side of the northern part of Saint Kitts just above the apex of the hourglass.
We drove up the west coast of the island and through many nice little villages making our first stop at an old sugar mill then on to the botanical gardens. The farther up hill you go the greener everything gets. We had lunch at an old plantation house with sweeping vistas of Saint Eustatius to the north. Many of the plantation houses in the Caribbean have been converted into bead and breakfast places.
I spent a bit of time in a hammock with Roq at the lunch spot. One reason was that they didn't allow dogs in the dinning area, but also because I was starting to feel like I was coming down with something. I hate being sick in a foreign country.
The sugar cane farms that stand in disrepair all over the island have almost all been shut down. This is an unfortunate affair because it used to be Saint Kitts' number one business. The sugar was shipped to various places but principally the UK. As other parts of the world got into the sugar business, Saint Kitts found itself producing the cane at a loss. The government owned all of the fields and over the last two years they shut the entire industry down. Some of the fields have been burned to make way for new crops or other uses for the land. Others fields just grow wild. There is a Sugar Cane train that has turned to tourist duty but it only runs during high season, mostly for the cruise ship folks, at $85 a head.
The colonial powers were good at building churches but also forts. There's a nice one here on Saint Kitts. The fort is high on a rocky bluff and affords spectacular views west and north. You have to pay a few Eastern Caribbean Dollars to get in but like most attractions on Saint Kitts the experience is fairly organic.
We wrapped up the day with a drive down the rugged windward coast and a little trip around the touristy south node of the island. We had enjoyed good food and seen a great many interesting sights covering most of Saint Kitts. The tour cost $150 (US) for the 5 of us, plus food and park fees.