St. Kitts: A Perfect Little Island with Great Diving
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BasseterreOne of the highlights of a stroll through this charming and architecturally interesting city is the bright green bronze clock with four faces. The Berkeley Memorial, named after the 19th century president of the General Legislative Council in St. Kitts, stands in the roundabout (called the "Circus") in the center of town.
Around Independence Square are 19th century gaily painted wood homes, and buildings constructed with ballast stones from incoming trading vessels and held together with white limestone mortar. The Georgian House (now a restaurant) and the Court House and Library, adjacent to the Catholic Church, have gabled roofs and verandas, once the answers to the wind, rain and heat of the Caribbean. They're examples of colonial architecture, as are the decorative balconies supporting the upper floors.
I sat on a bench in this tree-shaded square (known as Pall Mall Square before the island's independence from Britain in 1983) amazed by the Friday traffic jamming the four main streets leading out of town. It seemed that the entire island's 50,000 inhabitants were navigating through here, with everyone eager to begin weekend festivities of eating, drinking and dancing.
Stalls offering passengers local handicrafts and products along the streets of the customs house opposite the jetty were closed to the public, but the owners and townspeople were in full swing with much laughter, street music, dancing and barbequing. Basseterre had returned to the Kittitians who were ready to play.
Marveling at the jiggling hips of the revelers, I tried to follow the rhythm and footsteps to their great amusement. Soon I was laughing and dancing with them. I felt honored to be included in their fun. "Kittitians are among the friendliest people in the Caribbean," notes Richard Skerritt, the Minister of Tourism for St. Kitts.
It's Time to Dive in St. KittsScuba sites are located along the southeast section of the island. Although some divers consider the wreck of the River Taw one of the best in St. Kitts, there are sunken remains of 20th century vessels encrusted with coral and sponges and a true reef system inhabited by good-size lobsters, schools of yellowtail snappers and all forms of nudibranchs.
Diving River TawOn the River Taw dive with Pro Divers from Ocean Terrace Inn, I kept up with a hawksbill turtle, which provided great entertainment until it had had enough of me and departed swiftly. Near a buoy chain Bluebell tunicates were a delicate contrast to the stark black and yellow juvenile angelfish hovering above it.
Together with colleagues and Austin, our divemaster, I swam over to the famed wreck, where a three-foot barracuda patrolled the hull. The sun above had penetrated through the water and lit up the deck with multi-hued coral compositions.
Austin tied up to another buoy and named the site "Austin's Reef." The site gently slopes to 80 feet, where there are large sponge formations and outcrops alive with blackbar soldierfish, tangs, angelfish and fairy basselets.
In the 1980s, Kenneth Samuel, owner of Kenneth's Dive Center in town, had the River Taw, a van, a bulldozer and concrete slabs towed to a spot near Frigate Bay. Over the years, storms and tides have broken up and scattered the detritus. The tangled parts remain and have become perfect environments for marine life.
If there's an underwater denizen, Kenneth will find it. His enthusiasm and love of diving is so infectious that on our third dive of the day, a night dive at one of his "special" places, we could have stayed as long as our air held out. Lobsters, crabs, a perfectly camouflaged scorpionfish, an octopus and a sleeping turtle were exactly where Kenneth knew where to look for them in the jumble of wreckage.
Snorkeling and Tours of St. KittsMore watersports were on the agenda the following day after a sumptuous lunch at Reggae Beach Bar and Grill at Cockleshell Beach, home to the much photographed mascot, Wilbur, a gigantic pig that died after a long, comfortable life on the beach. Heidi runs the informal shack on the beach and offers tours of the island and her sister, Nevis, in addition to renting out kayaks, jet skis, Hobie Waves and snorkeling equipment.
Our final dive of the trip was with Dive St. Kitts from Bird Rock Beach Hotel. The tug, The Corintian, sits fully intact on the bottom of the sandy sea floor at 65 feet. Penetration is possible and once inside, I was able to capture a colleague swimming by.
Best Beaches and (of course) Dining SpotsThe best beaches are farther south toward the end of the island. At Carambola Beach Club, visitors and guests can walk right out from the lobby and restaurant to a lounge on a wide powder-fine sandy beach. Orlens, the sommelier at the resort, gave my colleagues and me a tour of the lobby-level wine cellar, which contained 800 bottles of the good grape, ranging in price from $30 to $500.
The restaurant's menu is Asian in influence and also caters to Caribbean spicy and barbequed meats and fish. I ordered the local arugula salad with honey glazed carrots and toasted walnuts. The tasty local spiny lobster tail was served with couscous and garlic butter.
There are less formal dining spots on the island. For a West Indian flavor, the Excelsior in Basseterre serves outstanding Roti (a flour wrap filled with various curried foods). Hangouts such as Talata's, Kathy's, Rock Lobster's and Sprat Net are favored by ex-pats, locals and students attending the accredited medical schools on the island. Like all the eateries on St. Kitts, Shiggity Shack serves enormous portions of ribs, chicken, snapper and lobsters, while the shack's bar habitues listen and dance to a nightly live band.
There's a lot to do in St. Kitts and the high standards of the operations, hotels and restaurants and the polite Kittitians guarantee visitors a wonderful holiday.
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Denise Mattia is a freelance photojournalist and Senior Editor of Tripwich.com, living and working in New York City, where she was born. Her travel features and photographs (topside and underwater) appear in national and international publications. She is an active member of SATW, ASJA, IFWTWA and is past president of NYTWA.