Nevis, Oh Nevis, how you did surprise me

I love it when a new island awaits exploration, it’s as if I am unwrapping a surprise gift. Having visited a number of Caribbean islands I have become more demanding in my expectations, call me spoiled and you could be correct. I seek hills to hike, white sand beaches to stroll, locally grown produce to sample and residents who love their island and share its story. However, my first impression of Nevis left me hesitant. Approaching by sea it is hard to detect an island’s vibe. After a bumpy sail from Antigua, I was happy to see an available mooring ball but not overly impressed. The mooring field, moderate in size, felt unprotected compared to harbors I had recently visited. The dinghy dock, at the time of our visit, by any standard, was downright dangerous. I suspect my first impression was jaded.

Our mooring beneath Nevis Peak became ablaze at sunset. Photo by Toni Erdman
Our mooring beneath Nevis Peak became ablaze at sunset. Photo by Toni Erdman

We arrived late Saturday and moored in the shadow of Nevis Peak’s towering grandeur. Everything in sight seemed very quiet. The custom’s office was closed, supposedly until Monday, and our quarantine flag was flying. Feeling a bit like law breakers, my husband and I still decided to stretch our sea legs; under the circumstances we chose to stay in close proximity to the dinghy dock. Once our feet hit dry land rewards came quickly. We stumbled upon Alexander Hamilton’s birth place and home until he was nine years of age, a Catholic Church for Sunday Mass, and free Wi-Fi internet access to FaceTime the kids back home from the portico of the island’s internet provider, Flow.

The author strolling Pinney Beach. Photo by Toni Erdman
The author strolling Pinney Beach. Photo by Toni Erdman

I found my island groove once again and the itch to continue exploration mounted when I saw Pinney Beach up close. We choose to go further afoot, there was still time before sunset for a stroll and a swim as we cut through the Four Seasons Resort for beach access. Who knew that Nevis had a 5-star hotel? We continued our stroll and along the way Rob found a cute little sand dollar to add to his blossoming seashell souvenir collection. 

We stopped to admire Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace, which was close to the dock area. Photo by Toni Erdman
We stopped to admire Alexander Hamilton’s birthplace, which was close to the dock area. Photo by Toni Erdman

I figure that cruisers, and travelers in general, fall into two basic categories. One type knows exactly what there is to see and do before they hit a place and then there are the others who just show up. I suppose a balance between the two is best. I am type two. Thankfully, the next day, attending Sunday Mass at St. Theresa’s Catholic Church, we met locals and expatriates who were extremely helpful in giving direction to our explorations. With map in hand we rented a car to circumnavigate the entire island. I love islands that are easy to drive around in a day or two; Nevis is only 36 square miles with 21 miles of main roads. 

Following the path less travelled with borrowed walking stick in hand. Photo by Toni Erdman
Following the path less travelled with borrowed walking stick in hand. Photo by Toni Erdman

Even crisscrossing the island, we were never long without a spectacular coastal view of rugged land and blue sea. We first stopped at the historic Bath House Hotel. Unfortunately, the building was closed yet we were fortunate enough to bump into two young women who hosted a period costume fundraiser the evening before and they pulled out their cell phones to show us the attendees decked out in grand attire. They said that this stately building simply awaits an entrepreneur to open a luncheon spot, maybe even a wedding venue. We continued on, stopping at a local food stand for fresh foods: eggplant, bananas, and local potato-like ‘something or other’. Nothing is too far in Nevis and soon we arrived at the recommended spot for my anticipated hike along a portion of Nevis Peak (3232ft), beginning 800 feet up the mountain at a well known Inn owned by world-class artisans. The receptionist provided a photocopy of a hand drawn map and even offered us the loan of walking sticks. Along the way goats, lots of goats, and even a few monkeys showed themselves. At one section we entered through the grand gate of a property with a building under restoration. Like many of the stops on Nevis, this place tugged at my emotions as I pondered the lives of those who chose to live here long before I arrived. After our hike we treated ourselves to lunch at the beautiful Golden Rock Inn restaurant. With its tropical gardens the Inn is a destination in itself. 

Cottle Church, historic site along our drive, said to be the first interracial church in the Caribbean. Photo by Toni Erdman
Cottle Church, historic site along our drive, said to be the first interracial church in the Caribbean. Photo by Toni Erdman

Back on the road we continued to glimpse parts of the Island’s history. Having read James Michener’s book, Caribbean, the small pieces of Nevis’ history we dipped into made sense – from the many rolling hills that once grew sugarcane creating fortunes from the soil, to the structures that merged the plantation people into communities. Cottle Church was built in 1824 by plantation owner Thomas Cottle as the first integrated place of worship in the Caribbean, where both his family and plantation slaves worshipped together. It was not all history along the way, we did stop at cute modern shops and small boutique resorts to merge modern day amenities with the wistful past. I purchased a colorful coiled hot pad for the boat as my souvenir of the day. To end our tour, we returned to the beginning, the Bath House Hotel to soak our weary bodies in 107-degree volcanic spring water. Not the original bath house, which is no longer in use, but a new, modernized set of small pools open to all – “Ah …” 

We had a lovely chat with Nevis humanitarian Ken Evelyn. Photo by Toni Erdman
We had a lovely chat with Nevis humanitarian Ken Evelyn. Photo by Toni Erdman

Locals on Nevis have an open, friendly demeanor. Everyone greets everyone; it is Caribbean loveliness. We adopted this custom and enjoyed chatting with all the people we met. While soaking in the soothing bath I met Kathy, a retired nurse who, in turn, greeted Ken Evelyn who was retiring in three days from 30 years of grocery store ownership. Ken, a well-known humanitarian, stopped by to vacuum the hot tubs and described how he built the modern bath area with his own money and has maintained it daily for years. Another local arrived and thanked Ken for fixing and maintaining the chiming clock over the library and said how he missed hearing it chime, and how he would be willing to have Ken teach him how to maintain it. Ken commented that until the local government repaired the roof, he did not consider it safe to go to the tower. This was an interesting snippet of Nevis life.

The Golden Rock Inn, our lunch spot garden view. Photo by Toni Erdman
The Golden Rock Inn, our lunch spot garden view. Photo by Toni Erdman

Still damp, we dinghied back to Our Time, happy and satisfied with our explorations. Once aboard, and with sundowners in hand, Nevis Peak dazzled, seemingly ablaze in the evening sky. 

Nevis, Oh Nevis, how you did surprise me.

 

Toni and Robert Erdman are cruising the Eastern Seaboard on their catamaran Our Time. They hope to return to the Caribbean next season. Visit: [email protected]