Shaped like a mangled frying pan, the island of St. Kitts, more formally known as St. Christopher, was next on our island itinerary. From a ways off we could see vast expanses of steady green that took up most of the island. As we got closer, we could see people toiling away in the sugarcane fields under the hot noonday sun. Sugarcane was once a major export for the island, it still is in fact, but after the discovery/development of the sugar beet, the sugarcane industry suffered; which was apparent as soon as we set foot ashore. We walked along the sodden streets with sparse sidewalks to the dilapidated town. The rows of grubby shops looked like lined up children’s play blocks, and were poorly built. Walls that one could only assume were once painted vibrant tropical colors were now faded and flaked to the point that there was more bare wood or concrete than paint on most of the buildings. Despite the rest of the town, the one meager grocery store we did go in was fairly well stocked and reasonably well priced, although it had the feel of a warehouse.
But we had not come here to shop; we were here to visit Brimstone Hill Fort just outside of the city. Of course, being cruisers we could not take the tourist bus right up to the fort, oh no, we were going to take the local bus to the bottom of the steep hill and walk to the top. We flagged down the most inconspicuous bus we could find, for that would be the local one, and squished in. The bus was filled with an assortment of humanity; sweaty, slightly smelly sugarcane field workers, fellow cruisers, coconut peddlers, and schoolchildren in drab uniform. It was strangely invigorating to ride on that backed bus though the sugarcane fields and shabby villages, pass by goats and children riding bicycles, and feel the pleasant breeze permeate throughout the bus.
Alas, soon enough we came to our stop and we began our ascent of Brimstone Hill. Brimstone Hill was named thus because it is a sulfur vent to a large volcano on the island. It was strange, I could feel the sulfur heavy in my lungs more than I could smell it. This combined with the stifling heat made the hike up this incredibly steep hill all the more unpleasant. The sickly, strangulating heat rose up out of the asphalt like boa constrictors. By the time we reached the top of the hill we were practically dripping with sweat and our legs were screaming from exertion.
Brimstone Hill is spread out over 38 acres, and after hiking so far none of us felt all that enthused about exploring the place. Yet the areas we did see had an air of mystery, like ancient Celtic ruins. In the cool, dark, spooky areas a specter of a fallen soldier would have been all but expected. In its prime, Brimstone Hill must have been glorious, and still that glory lives on even though it has crumbled over the years. On the way back down the hill, I envisioned a line of neatly dressed soldiers in traditional woolen uniforms marching up the hill in this searing heat with muskets slung over their shoulders. Imagining this, I somehow felt a tiny bit cooler. Once we had finished struggling against gravity, we waited for our bus out in the hot sun. The bits of cool air that jumped in as the bus rushed by were most welcome after out enervating hike.
Now that we had visited Brimstone Hill, St. Kitts had little else to offer us, so we rather quickly moved on to St. Kitts’ sister island, Nevis. Together, the islands of St. Kitts and Nevis were one independent country. On the approach to Nevis, the island looked like one long beach with a big green hump set in the middle. Ashore, the town was oddly half touristy, half run-down. Nevis’ one claim to fame was that it had a remote link to Britain’s war hero Horatio Nelson. Apparently, Nelson had married the widowed niece of a wealthy and influential land owner on Nevis. The landowner had disowned his own daughter because she had married an American, for this was around the time of the Revolutionary War, and was going to leave everything to his niece. So Nelson married the niece, but the landowner eventually reconciled with his daughter, and Nelson’s plan backfired since now he had a wife and stepson the take care of.
Tomorrow we would be leaving for Antigua where Nelson had been based. We would have liked to be able to spend more time enjoying Nevis’ beautiful white beaches, dotted with tall palms and cabanas, but we were a bit pressed for time and we wanted to see as much of the Caribbean as possible. So it was on to Antigua.