|Getting to the island of St. Kitts late at night is something out of a 1940s film noir.
Connecting to the last flight to the island from San Juan, Puerto Rico, was a puzzle. When you get to the San Juan airport, no one is around, no gate agents or even the lonely janitor swabbing the floor. The flight coupon for St. Kitts said Gate A1, but the first gate is B2. There seems to be no A1. I walk the length of the concourse. I finally find a flight attendant that informs me that Gate A1 is downstairs. You can't see it from Gate 2.
Escalatoring down to a sea of people, the A gates are crowded with late night fliers, all flapping off to different Caribbean points. A short shuttle takes me to the plane. Rain is splashing everywhere; quickly loaded, the American Eagle Bombardier bounces down the runway and into the night, the props grinding in the wind.
The flight to St. Kitts' Golden Rock Airport is about an hour. Landing on the jumbo jet approved runway seemed longer. There is no jet port; the wind seems to whip the carry-on out of my hand. Hang on to your hat. A short custom interlude and it is off to the Jack Tar Resort. Everything around Basseterre, the capital, is close at hand.
Caledonia charters from Great Britain and Signature Tour charters loaded with Canadians are the primary budget flights to the island, subsequently the English language gets a brisk workout of crisp British and drawling Canadian accents, most notable after a few rounds at the hotel bar. Signature Tours has an agent desk at many of the local hotels. There are no direct flights to or from St. Kitts from the United States, only through San Juan, where you go through U.S. customs on the return.
The Frigate Bay area is one of the most developed areas on St. Kitts, with an additional casino coming soon. Jack Tar Village, also known as the Royal St. Kitts Casino, also known as Allegro Resort, sleeps astride salt ponds, away from the beach the oldest resort on the island. I had gambled at Jack Tar 12 years prior, arriving by Windjammer at Banana Bay on the southern peninsula again late at night.
There are only 3,000 rooms on St. Kitts, more are planned under a controlled growth plan by the progressive government (as of 2005, about 5,000 rooms). White Hall, on the north shore (Atlantic side), will eventually have hotels, housing, resorts, and convention services. Jack Tar is on the more benign drier side of the island. Walking through the bush will ensnarl you in cacti; that is how dry it is on this side of the island.
Driving is British style on the left. Often people park their cars along the narrow roads west of Basseterre, making the journey slow and painful, but leisurely; time to slow down, island time. The constant trade winds blowing down the sole volcano cool any road rage.
"Wot - You're British?"
Even though St. Kitts is an independent nation and a former crown colony, the attitudes are still a sort of British stiff upper lip with a Caribbean lilt. The locals are well educated, with a strong middle class, all with a hang loose attitude, and not arrogant like the Bahamians. St. Kitts is a well-kept garden, clean and comfortable.
The currency is the EC or Eastern Caribbean Dollar, with the Queen of England embossed on the notes. You can get one-dollar coins in round or octagonal coins. The exchange rate was about 2.6 EC to the US$1 when I was there. The American dollar is accepted everywhere, as are credit cards in the major establishments. Get a wad or two. The Royal St. Kitts Casino slots take only U.S. coins.
You have to love a country that paints its government house pink. I think that is the Caribbean influence because Basseterre the capital was historically a French town. The French split the island down the middle with the British, the French taking the southern and northern ends, with the British sandwiched in the middle. The British ended up with the entire island after the Treaty of Versailles in 1783.
The government re-elected the unicameral government for another 5 years, encouraging an entrepreneurial climate on the island. The Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis also has its American political roots. Alexander Hamilton was born on Nevis, and his home is now a national museum in the dual capital of Charlestown. William Jefferson, the grandfather of Thomas Jefferson, built the family's sugar fortune near Basseterre, in the foothills of the rain forest.
The Food Is Fabulous
The dual island nation grows fresh and healthy food. No one on the island goes hungry. Think of one big macrobiotic landscape. I was asked by the Ministry of Tourism what restaurant I enjoyed the best, and I had to admit there was no bad restaurant. They all served fresh, clean, tasteful, and large quantities of the locally grown staples. Salt fish is a main staple, but you will find tuna, red snapper, grouper, sea bass, mahi mahi, pork feet, beef, and all types of vegetables. The potential for aquaculture could compete with agriculture on the island, if fully developed, as the government plans.
Fisherman's Wharf at harbor side on the west side of Basseterre Bay is managed by the Ocean Terrace Inn, and it is a great local hangout for the best in seafood, barbecued meats, baked yams, potatoes, and fresh vegetables. This is one of my favorite spots. The atmosphere reminds me of a Caribbean era long past. During the day, dine at Ballahoo in town, again a local preference. For more on dining see our short dining guide for St. Kitts and Nevis.
Basseterre is one of the finest examples of Caribbean architecture in the West Indies. In 1991, "The Beautiful Basseterre Committee" was formed; its main objective is to prevent the town from developments inconsiderate of the surrounding areas and architecture. It is also through various means encouraging owners of existing incompatible buildings to implement changes and give their building a look which conforms with the traditional architecture.
The focal point of Basseterre is the "Circus" dominated by the "Berkeley Memorial." A look to the northwest and you will see "The Palms." Liverpool Row is a traditional West Indian street with a variety of styles, and if you look south you will see the Treasury Building, which has been standing for more than a century. It has been renovated and will become a National Museum. Across Bank Street you will discover the Barclays Bank with a new façade influenced by the Beautiful Basseterre Committee. Here you will also discover the Ballahoo Restaurant building, which was in fact completed in 1992, even though it appears to have stood for centuries. All this can be seen from the Circus.
At Independence Square you may admire the Georgian House, with beautifully cut stones. The Courthouse is almost a replica of a 19th Century building, which was destroyed by the fire in 1982. While in Independence Square you will identify old baking ovens in the gardens of several properties.
Taking the route from Central Street to Church Street you will discover the Government Headquarters, completed in 1996.
The Caribbean architectural style is beautiful, it is unique and nowhere is it more revered, respected, and recreated than in beautiful Basseterre.
History of St. Kitts & Nevis
St. Kitts has been inhabited for over 4,000 years, although only periodically due to three volcanic eruptions over the years. We know little of these inhabitants except that they lived near the coast and were hunters. The first real settlers probably arrived in the first century AD and came from Guyana and Venezuela. We have proof of their occupation of the island in the form of fragments of pottery, tools made of bone and stone, petroglyphs and skeletal remains. These people were farmers and grew their cassava, corn, and potatoes; they raised animals for food and fished in the surrounding waters. They called the island Liamuiga, which means "fertile island" and it is also the name of the singular dormant volcano on the island.
Gardens of Romney Manor
Open Monday -Friday
8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Only a few short miles by road on the west side of the island, Romney Manor is the former home of the grandfather of the United State's third president, Thomas Jefferson. William Jefferson built the family fortune in sugar in the area.
Developed in the 17th Century. the estate used waterpower to drive the mechanism that crushed the sugar cane. The aquaduct still stands alongside the chimney, built a century later as testimony to the skill of masons from the by-gone era.
A stretch of tropical rain forest separates the estate yard from Romney Manor. Spectacular is the only way to describe the giant ferns, heliconia, elephant ears, and lilies that guide you to the Manor entrance. From the disorder of the rain forest to the manicured order of the estate is amazing. These formal gardens boast a 350-year-old Saman tree that covers half an acre and is possibly the largest in the Caribbean. You will always find shade under the tree on the croquet lawn near the bell tower; orchids, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and rare plants abound.
Roam the batik factory for some of the loveliest batik pieces, pillowcases, shirts, caps, gowns, and dresses, in the world. Watch a talented artist hand paint each piece individually. The prices are very reasonable. The Sea Island cotton becomes a stunning work of art under the artists' hands The 17th Century sugar estate and factory was recently rebuilt on the foundations of the old manor. Purchases of batik can be made right on site.
In the gardens watch for the wonderful inhabitants buzzing by hummingbirds are everywhere. Nestling about 500 feet above sea level on the slopes of the volcano, the estate is set on nine acres of tropical paradise, featured on many TV presentations and host to royalty and celebrities from around the world. Close by are the Carib Rock Drawings, and Old Sugar Estate.
Wedding Hints at Romney Manor The gardens of Romney Manor are great for weddings. Photos only hint at its splendor. If you are planning to get married at Romney Manor, exchange vows before 2 p.m., when the best light is for photography. You are in the foothills of the rainforest, and the colorful plants will be more dramatic for photos around that time. Nevertheless, this is still one island that I could come back to time after time, just for the smiles.
By Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.