Nevis, British West Indies
I arrived here on British Airways that stopped first in Antigua and then made the quick ten minute flight to Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts and finally a water taxi landed us onto Nevis.
I had thought that Bahrain to Dhahran was the shortest commercial flight but am wrong on that!
Imperial Airways never had routes to the Caribbean so that was left to BOAC and tourism really only started in the late 1950s. Interestingly the first hotel in the area was built on Nevis in 1778.
Nevis is a volcano surrounded by bush and palms. The deep forest was cleared for sugar plantations and from that has a brutal history of slave workers. There are many monuments and decaying buildings to prove that time in history.
Slavery was abolished in the 1830s but it took several years till full freedom had been recognised, but what freedom was it for the slaves? Many of the wealthy white plantation owners took their Government compensation for slaves they had to let go and then they departed. This left the now freed workers to the land that they had been working on for generations.
Starvation and economic depravation followed as that century progressed. However there were opportunities on other islands, and in the 1890s the construction of the Panama Canal offered employment too.
Slaves were not the only ones freed, for as motor transport came to the island, donkeys were released and are now seen as a pest as packs of them roam wild on the island, eating what they can and of course reproducing at will.
Monkeys from Africa, the Vervet have taken over the farms and rush around in packs stealing fruit and causing havoc. This was a result of a hurricane that destroyed their earlier habitat on the mountain and so they came down to seek shelter and food. Some years ago Nevis tried to spray the area with contraceptive powder, and that did not work as the regular rain from the Tradewinds washed it away.
So along with the other islands in the Caribbean with their magical names tourism became the core industry. There had been efforts to have some sugar production but the issues of very hard work and low global prices made the sector stagger and fail, last being in production in 1960. Of course the spectre of the past was present too.
Sitting in a plantation house we are in a paradise enlivened by rum punches with monkeys performing antics on the lawns, and all white guests. The locally employed staff who are the kindest, watch over us and would do anything for us.
But they must think and wonder about their immediate location for in some ways not much has changed for them. Their advantages on Nevis are small. As an example is a bruising climate which we love as tourists but is in reality a relentless heat, tropical rain and a dense low cloud mist that hangs menacingly over the summit of the peak.
Tourists see the opposite. We think the animals are cute and thousands of Facebook images are testament to this.
The local dogs are seen as pests and terrible treatment is meted out to them.
Brave souls, usually expatriate ladies of a certain type run rescue shelters and the airlines charge excessive fees to fly adopted dogs to new owners in the US and Canada. So that puts pressure on their resorces.
Any representation to the Government is seen as criticism and so the problem of strays remains.
I had a conversation with an English volunteer who tells me that there are ten generators on the island, of which only four work and one of those is for the Four Seasons hotel. The remaining three run at over 90% capacity and break down, so black outs are common. Not that you would know in the hotels and plantation style boutique lodges.
‘This is an unfortunate island,’ he told me as I helped him to change a tyre on his rather battered van in the tropical rain that finally had found me.
I don’t see that but the sentimentality of tourists certainly hides them from the reality here. However for the owners of the businesses, the white owners in general, they swear that this is a gem.
I sleep well to the sounds of tree frogs and know that our small contribution does help, albeit a tiny bit.