My story this week is about the last island we visited on our Caribbean Adventure. It is St. Kitts and is an island in what is known as the West Indies. It is touched by the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern side and the Caribbean on the western side. When you tour around the island you see the contrast between the waves of the Atlantic and the calm seas of the Caribbean.
Like most of the islands we visited, they were conquered and inhabited by foreign countries over 500 years ago. The island’s original inhabitants were lost in the early conflicts. The new land owners were men who wanted to raise tobacco and sugar cane to export back to their European countries. The land was worked by slaves for much of the island’s early history. But, near the middle of the nineteenth century many countries abolished slavery. During the 1600s the island switched between English and French rule. In 1630, peace finally came to the island.
That was long ago, but still the island reflects much of the history and culture of the people who first came to the islands. The main population are descendants of those brought from Africa to work the land. They live in homes constructed with concrete blocks and cement walls. They are built to withstand an occasional hurricane that visits the island. A great many homes are neatly painted with bright festive colors. Yellow, blues and greens cover the exteriors of many homes across the island.
Mary and I saw much of the land as we traveled by train and bus. Our trip took us around thirty miles of the island. The train is a relic of the sugar cane industry. Our guide explained that a little over a decade ago, the country’s main source of income was from the sugar industry. The sugar market collapsed and the island’s source of income quickly failed. Modern sugar refineries stood empty and barren in the sun. A few have been redesigned to produce fresh water through a process known as de-salinization. Each of the islands we visited obtained much of their water from the process.
As we toured the island, we could see remnants of past sugar cane factories. Each cane farm had its own operations to render the raw cane into sugar. At one time over 250 small factories could be found on the island. Today, there are no operations still producing sugar. Only the smoke stacks and stone refining buildings remain from the last five centuries of operations. They are scattered around the green fields that once grew cane.
Fields that once had large stands of the sweet plants can be seen all along the railroad tracks. A few areas that once were prolific with the plants, now only grow spindly and unimpressive cane plants. The guide explained sugar cane must be replanted each year from a small section of the plant. This must happen to keep the new crop strong and full of sugar content. If the cane plant is not harvested and left to grow on its own, it loses its valuable sugar content. Today the island only has stands of leftover cane plants for the tourists to see along the tracks.
After the sugar industry collapsed, the island needed a new source of income. Today the island survives because of the tourist industry. It seems to me everything was designed and operated to make the island visitors welcome. The people were warm and smiling and never failed to wave as our train passed by. Kids waited along tracks to see the passing tourists. I have to wonder did they really want to say Hi, or does the government encourage them to welcome the island guests. Either way, their smiles and waves seemed genuine as we passed.
As we circled the island, I noticed in the center was a large mountain range. The largest mountains were green with tropical vegetation. The steep mountains shot up quickly into the blue skies.
During our tour, the guide explained the mountain was really an extinct volcano. It last erupted over 1800 years ago. The volcano is why the island exists today. Mount Liamuiga rises 3,792-feet above sea level and forms much of the western part of the island.
The extinct volcano is the tallest in the British Islands. It also holds the distinction of being the tallest peak in the eastern Caribbean archipelago.
Of all the islands we visited, Mary and I liked the laid back life style of St. Kitts the most. Its colorful homes and welcoming people made it an enjoyable day. Traffic was not a problem and most people traveled by bus, bicycle or small cars. Gasoline on the island was fairly expensive. By my calculations it was near six dollars a gallon.
The island had a gentleness to it. The people seemed to enjoy visitors and sharing the warm sun and tropical breezes. The driver of the bus explained to us that the weather we experienced the day of our visit was the same almost every day. He wondered about how it must be to have seasons. He told us of his family and the life they lived in the tropical paradise. He told us that his mother had moved to Atlanta to live. He also explained with a chuckle, that his brother went to visit her and found the mainland too cold for his comfort.
Before our trip to the islands, I visualized them as places described in books and stories as, paradise. After our visit I now know there are such places of those dreams in this world. I also came to realize, that to live in paradise every day may become a little boring. Mary and I hope to someday return to St. Kitts. We will look forward to sitting in the sun and becoming bored by the quiet tropical gentleness of the island. And, if you have never had the opportunity to visit these places, I would encourage you to do so at least once in your life. The blue waters, friendly people and tropical life style is something you will remember the next time a winter snow storm visits us here in the Ohio Valley.
For me, I especially enjoyed our adventure because all I had to do was to make arrangements threw Uniglobe and travel to Wheeling and board a bus. Then for the next twelve days enjoy myself. The next time you look at a picture and see the Caribbean and wonder, “Is it really that beautiful?” The answer is yes, and Mary and I experienced it Through the Lens.