If one could bottle and sell the moment I saw a bank cashier and security guard laugh so hard (while at work) that the latter collapsed on the floor in a contorted heap, this island would be far more known than it is.
Maybe it was the hammock on the veranda of the police station in Gingerland or the parked car in the middle of the main street in Charlestown but within 24 hours of being on Nevis I knew the place was, er, a little different to any country I’d ever visited.
People talk and they talk for long, long spells at a time. They stop and park in the street (hence the aforementioned four-car tailback in the island’s main town) and nothing, it seems, is as important as conversation. If it was, someone might have honked to get a shove on up there… “Where-you-a-go-a”, is a common line spoken here in a long unbroken sentence. In Nevisian tongue it translates to, ‘How are you, where are you off to, how was last night and what’s on where you’re going now’.
So you can forget about going anywhere for the next 20 minutes if you’re caught up in this ‘congestion’. Which is just as well, because if you had a scuba diving lesson or group hike planned, your guide will probably have “got chattin’” and be a little late too. And make no apologies for it.
Bernard, our taxi driver, is a bit of a know-it-all, and he sums up the refreshing laissez-faire attitude of the people perfectly.
Amongst his infinite maxims was this nugget; ‘You take on life in the race, mo’ friend, you always come up second best’. Or in Irish terms, “Will you f***ing relax”?
It sums up Nevis perfectly; put off for today what you can do tomorrow, or the day after, kind of thing… ah, the Caribbean.
But back to language school…“Wapen” is another beaut and means ‘what happened’ while the best of all has to be “wash-you-a-mouth-out-a”… the latter used by an interrogator who senses tall tales are being expressed.
Tall tales will always be unravelled too, because in a place a tenth of the size of county Louth with a population of 12,000, everyone knows everyone’s business.
They remember your name here too and they say you’re only a stranger in Nevis once. Nowhere was the latter more apparent than two days after doing a cycling tour of the island, I’m fielding questions from locals in the bar about what brings me to Nevis.
Actually, where Mrs. Rodney Elliott of Rodney’s cuisine is concerned it’s less of a question and more of a statement; ‘Rare to see skinny white boy in these parts, you must come here for the feed, boy?’ Mrs. Rodney is a proud Nevisian, cooks the most fabulous nosh from her base outside Charlestown.
There are no menus in her joint – which has a huge Guinness sign out front, but if you can convince her to cook her specialist goat water (soup made from goat, spices and vegetables), swordfish (main) and Johnny cakes (side), you’ll be full for two days.
Her freshly squeezed soursop juice, which tastes like strawberry and pineapple, is full of nutrients and is believed to contain anti-carcinogens. It makes the 30 degree heat in April bearable.
You’ll get soursop anywhere on the island but Rodney’s is worth the trip.
The other drinks on the island, by the way, have just as much reputation… probably even more.
The first is the killer bee rum punch and extreme caution should be taken with these as a) the recipe is a secret and b) there’s definitely a lot of rum in it.
Many places in Nevis lay claim to crafting the best but nowhere comes close to Sunshines Bar on Pinney’s Beach, located a short stagger from the Four Seasons Hotel on the west of the island.
Think Caribbean and Sunshines pretty much ticks every box, what with its multi-coloured timber frame structure complete with thatched roof looking out at a palm-fringed beach, a few steps from azure waters set against the backdrop of the island’s highest peak (Nevis Peak), flanked on either side by sweet-smelling calibash trees and waxflower plants.
It’s also where a good spread of wealthy people dock up, drop in for the grog and mosey on again.
Dustin Hoffman, Barbara Streisland, Paul McCartney are just some of the many A-listers who’ve docked here for one and stayed for three.
The other mass-produced drink – which is reported to enhance, er, performance, is called sarsaparilla, an old-fashioned root beer. Carib is the other mass-produced beer on the island.
Nevis is a place that’s easy to get ‘done’ in a short timeframe.
If it’s adventure you’re after then look no further than scaling the aforementioned Nevis Peak. It’s bang in the centre of the island and if you’re fit you’ll be up and down before lunch.
However, you need to be quite fit as it’s rather steep but the summit is covered in low-lying cloud anyway for much of the year and you’ll need to be extremely lucky to get the panoramic views few locals claim to have gotten.
On a clear day they say you can see many of the neighbouring islands like Antigua, Montserrat, the Virgin Islands, St Barths, Guadeloupe and Barbuda, amongst others.
Other popular activities are scuba diving at any of the islands sites and unless you’re very unlucky you’ll see plenty coral, tropical fish, sea urchins, green turtles as well as crabs and lobsters.
Snorkelling is another perfect way to spend the afternoon. The water is calm and crystal clear. The high-speed catamaran, stocked to the gills with Carib with reggae music belting across the bay, took us to a sheltered peninsula where we explored a semi-submerged wreck and that was definitely a highlight for me.
Despite its size, Nevis is a sports-mad place and in 2003 they shot to relative fame when one of their own, Kim Collins, won gold in the men’s 100m at the World athletics championships. His achievement sparked a fitness frenzy and on the back of that events like the cross-channel swim to its bigger, bolder sibling St Kitts were conceived.
In September, there was a running festival featuring 10k, half-marathon and marathon distance while in November they’ll host the hugely popular Nevis triathlon.
Bike rental is available at Wheelie World beside Oualie Beach and is the best way to explore the island. – though beware of the vervet monkeys when you put your back down and the array of livestock when you put the boot down. Animals have the right of way and won’t budge an inch!
While in Nevis I stayed at the 350 year-old Hermitage Plantation, an idyllic hideaway snuggled away up a rocky path in Gingerland. Be it the luxury cottages, hillside and garden rooms or private villas, they’re all sublime and the four poster canopy beds guarantee a relaxing stay.
Every Wednesday the staff at Hermitage lay on a marvellous hog roast on a spit and it’s an all you can eat affair. The food is all locally produced and is just sensational. Rabbit pie was a first for me, but definitely not a last. Lemongrass and coconut milk soup, conch cakes and passion fruit and ginger cheesecake were some of the other delights I found space for. The Golden Rock Plantation Inn is another hugely popular off-the-beaten-track hotel not far from Hermitage and this is arguably even more stunning, architecturally anyway. Perched on a hill on the east of the island this sugar mill turned boutique hotel houses 11 guest rooms in bungalows with individual stone paths and lush tropical vegetation leading there. Waking up to spectacular sea views – or being woken up by the drone of hummingbirds, finches and tree frogs is a truly wonderful experience.
Follow it up with their famous pancakes and guava syrup or if you’re a late starter, the conch chowder and lobster sandwich is a perfect lunch.
As well as fine dining and easy living, religion plays a huge part of life here and they’re a devoutly religious bunch, with Christianity the most widely practiced.
But there’s a staggering number of others, be it Methodist, Baptist, Pentacostal, Catholic, Rastafarian or at least 10 more.
To wake up on a Sunday morning and ride around the island through town and village, listening the most fervent sung songs and masses is an amazing experience. Sunday sermons last anything up to four hours in some churches and it’s usually followed by a huge al fresco lunch.
The whooping and hollering as communities mix and mingle is a real sight to behold as well – and there was even a jerky pork sandwich spared for the curious white passer-by.
It’s an island bliss like no other and if you’d like a great tropical escape in the Caribbean, the best lodging and food without knots of people at every turn you, then you’d best get reserving now as there are only about 400 rooms in total on Nevis.
So should you go? Well, consider this for testimony. No one’s in a rush, anywhere, ever. There is no traffic light on the island. The chairman of the Nevisian Tourism Authority said he would leave the place if it ever morphed into anything remotely like St Kitts, or hell, Barbados. Hell, they even have McDonald’s over there.
“You will not see me fo-ah (for) dust if they ever pollute this place with that stuff,” he reasons.
“The world is shrinking and the Caribbean is too and we intend to keep this place distinctly Caribbean, mon.” An island that’s only accessed by floatplane or water taxi? Sounds good to me…
Where is it?
It’s a dot on the map – and it’d want to be a fairly big map at that. It’s in the Caribbean and forms part of the West indies.
How to get there?
The recently opened twice-weekly direct flight (Wednesday and Sunday – 11 hours) from London Gatwick to Nevis’ sister island St Kitts (Basseterre) should really open the place up to Irish tourists but London-Miami-Basseterre isn’t so bad either and both will cost around €1,200 return. A water taxi from the pier in St Kitts to Nevis takes around 20 minutes and will set you back around €30.
The cost of everything in Nevis is comparable with home – or even more expensive.
What to do?
Snorkelling, scuba diving, mountain biking and fishing are all popular with tourists. Cricket, football and athletics are massive locally. Nightlife is scarce but the Culturama festival in July and August sees the place explode to life with epic street parades and all-night parties. Independence Day (September 19) is a big draw as are the Nevis Blues Festival in April and the triathlon in November. Yacht races regularly swing by here too. Starting in mid-December, Carnival is another massive yearly celebration.
When to go?
High-season rates start from around mid-December and go to mid-April. The best time to visit, price- and weatherwise, is November and early December. Winter days average a temperature of 27°C, while summers shoot up to anything over 30°C.
The driest months are February to June, and the hurricane season is from July to November.
The currency is the Eastern Caribbean dollar, though most places accept US dollars also. Bananas and the Montpellier plantation are two of the best places you can expect to eat at.
*Brian Canty was a guest of the Nevisian Tourism Authority (http://www.nevisisland.com)
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