Dry pastureland sprawl across the slopes of the hill while prickly plants and cotton trees fill both sides of the trail. On our left lies the dramatic coastline of the Atlantic Ocean, as its dark blue waters lap onto the empty shores of the island. To the right, Mount Nevis looms overhead, reaching over a height of 3,500 feet above sea level, casting a shadow over us. Clustered around the foothills of the mountain are acres of lush rainforests and pasture lands where livestock roam and curious travelers like us wander.
We are on the Caribbean island of Nevis, just two miles from St Kitts yet a world away. In contrast to the lush tropical vegetation of St Kitts, Nevis is sprinkled with brown arid terrain and dry farm lands. Instead of bright red heliconias, here in the northern part of the island around the area of Mount Lily, we find our way around wild sage and coconut palms.
As outdoor lovers, we are drawn to nature; and there is no shortage of it on the island of Nevis. Under the wings of local guide Greg from Nevis Sun Tours, we head into the jungles of Nevis on a hike-and-bike trip to find out more.
Wearing a professional biking gear and a warm smile, Greg is a friendly and outdoor-loving Nevisian who’s more than happy to show visitors a different side to Nevis. Spotting an American accent, he tells me that he’d spent over a decade in Texas and had come home to Nevis in 2007. When I asked why he’d decided to return, he pointed out to the view before us and said, “This is why! Look how beautiful this is.”
Indeed, the view of the crashing waves and rolling hills was what drew us to St Kitts and Nevis in the first place. Both islands are packed with unspoiled nature and plenty of opportunities to engage in outdoor activities like biking and hiking. Beyond the beaches, there is a whole world of jungle, villages and historical plantations to quench our curiosity.
Greg believes that Nevis has plenty to offer especially for active travelers. From kayaking to hiking and windsurfing, the flurry of activities that Nevis Sun Tours organizes on the island is endless. With his love for his homeland and outdoor sports, he also sets up several sporting events to put Nevis on the world map. One event that has caught the interest of many is the two-mile Nevis to St Kitts Cross Channel Swim that takes place every March. Others include the Nevis International Triathlon and Nevis Fishing Tournament.
[quote]Indeed, the view of the crashing waves and rolling hills was what drew us to St Kitts and Nevis in the first place. Both islands are packed with unspoiled nature and plenty of opportunities to engage in outdoor activities like biking and hiking. [/quote]
Exploring the Unexplored
Back on the trail, we find ourselves hiking through more pasture land before entering the lush rainforest. At the edge of the rainforest, we already note a big difference in temperature and environment. The humidity increases and the tree canopy provides a welcoming shade from the sizzling heat.
Along the way Greg points out all sorts of vegetation that Nevisians use for cooking and treatment. Hibiscus is used to treat blood pressure while wild sage is boiled to cure fever and flu. We also stumble upon flamboyant trees, with brown pea pods hanging from their dried branches. Its flower is the national flower of St Kitts and Nevis – during blooming season, they light up the two islands with beautiful bright red and cream colors. In the midst of the greenery, Greg also points out a lemon tree. He says, “You wont ever get hungry on Nevis, there’s food and natural medicine everywhere.”
After going slightly further into the jungle, we arrive at Mount Pleasant, an abandoned sugar estate. Greg points out the low wall of rocks that indicate the boundaries of this 16th century estate. Lyiing parallel to the walls are cobblestoned driveways that were probably used for donkey-driven carts before cars were invented.
Since the 1600s, sugar production was the main industry on the Caribbean islands. Brought in by Christopher Columbus in 15th century, the industry thrived and up to 70 sugarcane plantations were built on Nevis. Sugar production continued to provide a source of income for the islanders until 2005. Even though the sugar mills are no longer used for their original purpose these days, many of them have been restored and converted into luxury hotels such as The Hermitage, Golden Rock and Montpelier Plantation where we stayed at.
This estate at Mount Pleasant, however, has been abandoned for decades. Banyan trees hang over the decrepit church while insects and vines fill up the storage tanks.
This estate at Mount Pleasant, however, has been abandoned for decades. Banyan trees hang over the decrepit church while insects and vines fill up the storage tanks. Even the sugar mill has partially collapsed, now hidden under layers of creeping vines and hanging roots. A bat cave stands behind the mill, showing remnants of it past. We hop over the buttress roots and weave through the curtains of tree branches to find a place that looks largely unexplored.
Greg explains, “This area is particularly interesting as few people know about it – not even locals are familiar with it. It makes us feel like explorers, discovering a secret spot for the first time.”
There are few historical records that show the past so even Greg doesn’t have answers to many of the mysteries surrounding this estate. Who lived here? How big was the actual estate? Nobody knows.
We soon emerge out of the jungle to conquer the slopes on bikes. I’m not the strongest cyclist around and the steep road that winds its way down to the coastline appears daunting. But with a state-of-the-art mountain bike and patient guides like Greg and his business partner Winston, I’m not the least bit worried.
Greg and Winston find us a smooth patch of road for us to paddle and it’s all downhill from here. The sea breeze whips my hair and I slowly relax and loosen my grip on the handle bar. We roll downhill for just half a kilometer before we arrive at Greg’s donkey stable. He introduces us to Emma and a few other donkeys his grandfather had passed on to him. They all come forward and sniff us out curiously. As I offer some food to them, they get even more excited to see us.
After our short time with the donkeys, I can’t wait to get back on the bike despite my initial anxiety. Greg is glad that he’s converted even the most nervous biker (that’s me) to a relaxed enthusiast. We hop back on and this time we snake through the quiet roads of Nevis down to beach for another kilometer.
By the way our tour ends, I’m flushed with excitement for having conquered my anxiety on bikes and discovering a lesser-known part of Nevis. The next time we’re back, I promise to spend more time paddling the roads of Nevis.
Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by St Kitts Tourism, but all opinions expressed above are our own.