Monday, May 9, 2016

Discovering Nevis

Nevis, a tiny little island boasting about 12,000 residents, part of the federation with St. Kitt's, has been enticing us to come visit for quite a while.  Last year we dropped by for a half-day visit as we were passing through but this time we planned a more lengthy stay.

The real allure was that we would get to meet up with sailing friends Wendy & Bill (Overstreet) who also spend half their year at the family cottage on the island, and what more perfect way to get a little insight into a place than through the eyes of someone who is almost a local!

We met up in Charlestown after completing our check-in formalities and from there we started our little introduction to this bustling little town.  On Fridays it seems that there is almost a street fair atmosphere as everyone readies themselves for the weekend.

I took a picture of this flamboyant tree last year - still just as pretty in the town square!

First stop - the beer depot.  Do we have a reputation??

When you've got a scratch, you gotta scratch!  There are donkeys pretty much all over Nevis.

We then headed up into the hills above Charlestown for a visit to the Hummingbirds Cottage, where they call home - what a lovely, airy place perched up on the hill.  I loved that when I asked Wendy exactly where it was that we were perched on Nevis, she pulled out a map that dated to 1871.  Here was another hint that there is history on this island and time rather stands still.

Our approximate location at Hummingbirds Cottage.

Best place to hang out with a view of the gardens below and the sea beyond that.

Our evening moved onto dinner and plans were hatched for the next day to include a round of golf (for the men only since it was men's play on Saturday morning), and a bit of exploration and a local flea market for the ladies.

Clouds rolled down from Nevis Peak and treated us to a beautiful rainbow, but quickly dissipated for a beautiful day.
We headed up to the north-west corner of the island to find the Nevis Golf Club.  Bill warned us as we drove past a well-manicured course not to get our hopes up, as we continued up the coast past the Four Seasons and arrived at Jones Estate.

Henry was presented with an official scorecard.

West Indian style abounds in the little clubhouse.

2:00am??  Hurricanes??  What are the guys in for?
Bill suggested we walk around a bit so Henry could get the lay of the land.  I kid you not, this little course boasts not one, but two holes with varying tee placement to play a full fourteen!

Pano picture of the ENTIRE Nevis Golf Club.  You truly have to admire the dedicated band of golfers who have turned this little bit of pasture into a fun and (from the sounds of it) very social weekly activity with tournaments to round out the season.
Wendy and I left Henry and Bill to enjoy their round and we set off to the east coast to find the flea market that we had been assured would be starting at 7:30 am.  Knowing that the best deals get picked up early, we hustled up to the community centre at the late hour of 8:45 to find them just setting up a few tents and tables and the ultimate indicator that a Caribbean event is not yet ready to go - the music had not yet arrived.

Instead of hanging around, we carried on down the coast to the New River Estate and the Coconut Walk Estate.  Wendy guided the car down a narrow little track to a broad savanna area that once was home to native Arawak Indians and later to sugar cane processing.

Roadwork had narrowed the track, but Wendy had been down here before and who knows when they'll get around to filling the ditch back in.

An old windmill base and processing building lie in ruins below Nevis Peak.

It's pretty stark out here with no trees and little topsoil remaining at site of the Coconut Walk estate.

The sparse conditions make it easy to find old pre-columbian Arawak pottery.
After the muddy conditions getting down to the site, Wendy found the concrete road to get us back up the hill.  When we reached the top and I spied the condition of the spare tire on the rental car, I was rather glad that Wendy has figured out how to get around here.

Tread?  Who needs tread?

Back up at the New River Estate, the preservation is much more advanced on this site.  Old machinery sits on neatly masoned plinths, buildings have been protected with new roofs and really all that remains is the insertion of some interpretive signs.

Wendy displays her treasure trove of found objects as she participated on an archaeological dig on the site earlier in the year.

All those found objects came from excavating this odd opening in the foundation of this building.

Old sugar cane processing machinery on display, just awaiting explanation.

This building housed the cane crushers and steam engine.

Surprisingly close to the mechanized worksite are the remaining pillars from the Great House.  We've found that on Nevis the plantation owners liked to build their homes where they could keep a close eye on operations.
We couldn't figure out the purpose of this half-buried building, especially when we glimpsed the strange construction inside, but it must have been cool storage for something.

Little brick alcoves lined three sides of the small subterranean room.
In case you're keeping track, and wondering how Bill can be golfing and in the picture above, we actually went back to pick up the guys when they were finished, and had another visit to the sight so that Henry could see it.

Also, in case you were keeping track of the flea market, we did make it back to find the music thumping away, a few wares for sale but other than a local cook-book there was not much of interest on offer.

Another unique site on the north end of the island is the Cottle Church.  Built in 1824 it was the first Anglican church in the Caribbean where master and slaves worshipped together.  However, I did note that it was built by the slaves at the master's command.

Today, this idyllic setting is still used for weddings.  For some reason I can't get Chris de Burgh's song about a country church out of my head.

We rounded out our island tour with a visit to Golden Rock Inn which occupies the buildings and grounds of the old Golden Rock Estate.  Beautiful, peaceful gardens surround the place and it is amazing the amount of work that has gone into creating a complete oasis in a historic setting.  Feast the eyes!

Who wouldn't love a little repose here but at about $500US per night it's a tad out of our price range.  

We weren't even tempted to stop for lunch so instead headed back to the cottage where the afternoon unfolded with a little bit of unusual garden work.  A new avocado tree was ready for planting but first needed a new home in the form of a teepee.  Bamboo harvested from the thicket at the side of the garden and a bit of chicken wire around it, all held in place with a frill of rocks at the bottom.  What the heck??

I see supervisor written all over this picture!

Pretty happy with the results.
Still not sure why this level of effort was required to plant a little avocado tree?  Well, as the sun lowered towards the horizon and it was time to think about heading home, a troupe of Green Vervet monkeys also had the same thought and were heading back up the mountain for the night.  Close to fifty monkeys traipsed through the yard, stopping to pick fruit and nuts from the garden trees, sitting and enjoying the fruits of their labours in plain sight of the house.  Unfortunately I didn't have my big camera lens to capture these skittish little bundles of energy.

Two monkeys sitting at the bottom of the garden and checking out the newly protected planting.  Will it be monkey-proof?  Time will tell.
What have we discovered of Nevis thus far?  A friendly, relaxed little island with quite a large ex-pat population, beautiful vistas with history at every turn.  Some of the history is preserved and much more of it lies in ruins, sometimes deeply buried beneath dense jungle.  Wild-life and domestic-life abounds - donkeys, cows, sheep, goats and monkeys, so many monkeys!

Nevis has played a pivotal role among the islands - at one time producing more sugar cane than many of her bigger sisters in the Caribbean.  Of course with sugar cane came slavery and because of the level of production, Nevis was often one of the first sites to receive slaves as they were transported across from Africa.  Nelson is also tied romantically to the island as he married a Nevisian woman, daughter of a local plantation owner.  Today, Nevis shares a sometimes uneasy federation with St. Kitts and we are only starting to scratch the surface of that relationship.  So much more to enjoy and discover on this little island gem.