Monday, January 5, 2009
BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS
Sunday, January 4, 2009
St. Kitts/Nevis, one of the smallest nations of the world, is sparsely populated. It is inhabited by 35,000 citizens, mostly descendants of African slaves brought in to work the sugar plantations, and 40, 000 small, wild monkeys, imported by the French as pets in the 1700’s. One of the more southern Caribbean Islands of the West Indies it has a reputation as a gathering place for the rich and famous. I am sure they are all here, on their yachts, hidden away in their exclusive retreats or at the five star resorts, but my tour group saw none of that during our excursion—which began as a van drive from the port of Basseterre, along Old Town Road, past the historic Brimstone Hill Fortress to the Lavalle Transfer Station to continue on the Scenic Railway around the rest of the island.
Until 2005 the island was dominated by the sugar cane industry. The narrow gauge railroad, built in 1912 to transport the cane, is now used as a tourist attraction, since cane production was abandoned several years ago by the government as unprofitable. St. Kitts today relies mostly on its tourist trade. In contrast to Trinidad which is a vibrant, immaculate community, St. Kitts is shabby and impoverished. All along the way, not only the homes but commercial buildings, as well, were shabby and unkempt. The small homes, some no bigger than shacks, were badly in need of repair. Roofs were gone, doors askew, windows broken. Most of the corrugated tin roofs and fences were badly rusted and falling apart. Even the churches and schools were sadly in need of repair, with doors and windows boarded up. There was litter everywhere, foliage ragged and straggly, the soil dry and dusty. As we drove through village after village, it was distressing to pass through such squalor.
At the Lavallee Transfer Station we boarded the last narrow gauge passenger train in the West Indies. The well appointed and double decked rail cars, built specifically for touring the island, are handsomely appointed, The lower decks are air conditioned, have wide windows, and comfortable seating—arm chairs and tables. The “Sugar Train” is considered one of the most beautiful train rides in the world. The less agile of us (I was traveling with Marissa, Florence and Mark) remained on the lower deck, but most passengers opted for the open-air observation level for a panoramic view of the surrounding country side.
As we hugged the northeastern coastline, we passed through the now abandoned sugarcane fields which stretch from the shoreline to the mountains. To our left was the wild shore line and its magnificent black sand beaches, to our right were the high volcanic peaks, rising nearly 4000 feet above sea level, the sparse vegetation of the downtown areas had given way to lush green rain forests. The train rolled across tall steel bridges over “ghuts”(canyons), past abandoned sugar plantations, and small villages and farms with small herds of cattle, goats and some hogs. It was not a school day and children playing along the track waved joyously to us as we passed through their village.
It was a long and enervating trip four hour trip, and by the time I returned to the ship I was worn out. Although we were docked at the port we could not exit the ship from the lower deck, so we were all faced with those exhausting 47 gangplank steps down and back. It was also a long walk from the ship to the terminal to pick up the bus—and I found walking difficult in the heat and humidity. I spent the rest of the day in my room—dozing on and off during the afternoon and early evening. My feet and legs were quite swollen, I felt feverish and concerned about my blood pressure. I was sure that it was not the noro virus (which seems to have attacked everyone at one time or another), but to be on the safe side I checked in at the infirmary. My blood pressure was elevated and I was running a slight fever, but the doctor seemed to feel that the leg swelling, high blood pressure and fever were caused by the heat, saltier food than I was used to, and exertion. He advised that I rest with my feet elevated and drink plenty of water and not go off the ship tomorrow. I did not have any trip planned for St. Croix—and if I do not feel any better, I will cancel my trip to the Dominican Republic.
I took very few pictures yesterday, none on the trip—but we were presented with a DVD of the train ride and I will add some of those pictures to the blog.
I will use the free time to read and slowly pack my suitcases. I was sure that I had brought more clothes with me than I would need—most are still unworn and folded neatly on the closet shelves. When the trip description said clothing casual, it has been really casual. Except for a few passengers, who dress for dinner, even in the formal dining room, passengers come in their shorts and “t’s”.