From Old to New in St. Kitts

This post is a little overdue (okay, really overdue), but 2017 was a really busy year for me.  I changed jobs, traveled as usual, studied six months for a new certification (which I passed, woot woot!), and while dealing with a few setbacks.  However, 2018 sees me more determined to keep on top of my blogging activities because I love to share information and highlight some of my adventures (can’t share EVERYTHING with you).  Anyway, back to the matter at hand – my visit to St. Kitts.

So, I actually visited St. Kitts in December 2016 as part of my new years eve/new years trip.  Getting to St. Kitts was a day long journey (like more than 10 hours) and included a 5 hour stop over in St. Maarten.  The layover in St. Maarten was kewl because I had a chance to link with a friend and drive over to the french side to just hang out.  The day was going well, we were enjoying our time together and then the damn iguana that wrecked a car.  Yep, you read correctly.  It sounds like a bad joke when it starts out like “What happened when the iguana crossed the road?”  Well, my friend (the kind soul she is) didn’t want to run over the iguana so she stopped to let it pass, but the car behind her was not paying attention and slammed right into us.  The damage to the vehicle was rather extensive, but a repair man put a temporary band-aid on the vehicle so we could make it to the airport.  Oh, did I mention that the guy who hit us turned out to be a cousin of hers that she never met?  Go figure.

Back at the airport, after a bit of a delay, I boarded a short flight (approximately 30 minutes) to St. Kitts and arrived on the island around 8p.m.  There were only four (4) of us arriving at that hour so customs and immigration was a breeze.  So much so that I barely had time to organize myself before stepping outside and having the taxi driver already walking up to grab my bags.  For this trip, I stayed at a VRBO unit within a five minute drive of the airport in Connaree.  Arriving at the rental, I was greet by four (4) dogs (there was no mention of dogs in the listing and I am deathly afraid of them).  The owner quieted the beasts and took my bags up to the second level where he gave me the keys to my unit and a rum punch to go.  Completely wiped out, I hit the hay and slept like a baby.

The following day I was planning to go into town and figured that I might pick up a few items so was getting my money and travel documents together when I noticed — my passport was not in my bags.  Surely I had it the night before when I processed through customs and immigration.  “Oh no, the taxi!”  Of all places.  On a island with fifty taxis easily, how in the hell would I find my passport?  Well, the owner of the lodging took another renter and I to the airport because he forgot his e-Reader on the plane.  There were a few drivers around so I started to inquire if anyone recalled dropping me off.  Thank God for favor because one driver saw me and motioned me over.  He was cleaning his taxi and found my passport.  Trip saved.

Although it was a rainy new year’s eve, the other renter and I journeyed into town and then made our way to the Marriott on “tourist area”.  This place was massive with over 900 rooms and was slated to be the “it” spot to watch the fireworks later than night.  While my temporary traveling companion settled down near the bar to watch college football, I settled into the lobby to listen to the steel pan players.  After a few hours we jumped in a taxi to make our way back to our lodging for a quick shower and change before heading back out to ring in the new year.  We opted to eat at a local spot called the “Shiggidy Shack” whee the food was pretty good and they had karaoke.  After dinner we headed to the Marriott to watch the fireworks and ring in the new year.  Fireworks done, we headed to a local spot called “Vibes” where we spent a few hours drinking strong rum and dancing to soca.

New year’s day was pretty low key with a visit to Frigate Bay for a day at the beach.  There was a local restaurant on the beach which had the BEST cooked Mahi Mahi I EVER had (and I’ve had a lot).  The cook was a woman named Inez who was originally from the dominican republic.  To put the cherry on the cake, they had a really good panty ripper (drink) and a great live band.  After dinner, we headed back to the lodging to call it an evening.  The following day was rainy again, but I went into town solo (the other guest left to make his next destination for Haiti), had some lunch, procured some local libations and just hung out.  After a few hours I boarded the local bus and came back to the residence.

The next day was the carnival parade in town and it was— next.  Nothing to write home about.  Since the parade was rather boring, I went back to Vibes bar where I had a few strong rum drinks and danced the night away until 3a.m. as if I didn’t have a flight back in a few hours.  All in all, St. Kitts was a pretty kewl destination (minus the rain), the people were friendly, and it was fairly easy to navigate.

Things to know:
Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC) is the local currency; however, USD is widely accepted.  The typically exchange rate is ~$2.65EC to $1.00USD.  The rate is subject to change around the island.

Electricity: 220v is standard; 110v is available in most establishments and lodging facilities.

There are TONS of duty free shops in town and rum is VERY cheap (starting around $6USD per litre bottle).  Most shops will allow you to purchase the rum with no problem; however, a couple will ask for your passport information or only sell if you are coming on a cruise.

The taxi rates are fixed based on the destination.
Airport to Basseterre $12
Airport to Connaree $12
Airport to Marriott (tourist area) $20
Airport to Frigate Bay $20 (although we got it for $15)

Getting around by local bus is pretty easy and really inexpensive (I believe the fare was around $2EC per ride to go into town from my local).  However, there were a few times that I simply walked into town.  The walk was approximately 25 minutes.  It is important to note that the local buses are prohibited from going to the tourist area (I wonder why? $2EC vice $20USD, you do the math).

The bartenders at Vibes bar are heavy handed.  You WILL get drunk!

Saboring Saba

Situated on the northeastern side of the Caribbean, approximately 1.5 hours away from St. Maarten by high-speed boat, is a small dutch island named Saba.  This small territory of the Netherlands is only 5 square miles, but has a very rich history and culture and should definitely be included on the “must-see” list for individuals looking a rather unique Caribbean experience.  While there is a small airport on the island, I took the high speed boat over from St. Maarten.  Now, for those of you who have images of a high-powered machine, chopping waves as it makes its way across the ocean… think again.  Although it is touted as a high speed boat, it is moderately paced.  None the less it was a pleasant ride across.

Once we docked in Saba, there was a quick 1 minute process to clear customs and immigration and proceed to the taxi stand.  Reaching Saba by boat puts you at “The Bottom” where there is little to nothing around and to do.  All of the magic takes place up the hill.  There are taxis on the ready as soon as the boat docks to take you up the hill and the cost is almost as steep as the hill at $15 dollars US one-way.  That is per ride, not per person.  This is just one of those situations where it kinda sucks being a solo traveler.  Nonetheless, I bit the bullet and took the ten minute ride up a winding hill to the top.

Once you reach the top of the hill, you are greeted by some of the most spectacular, breathtaking views to behold.  There are a number of small shops and eateries in the immediate local area, as well as a grocery store and the welcome center.  A quick stroll down the main road and you will find more restaurants, a church, and gift shops.  Slightly off the main road is the Dutch museum where you can take a tour and look at some of the age-old artifacts.  While donations are welcomed, there is no set fee to enter.

Saba is a very small island and you can see a lot in a one-day visit or perhaps extend it out to multiple days if you wish.  The important things to know about Saba are: 1. it is very picturesque and lush; 2. the locals are very friendly and love to chat with you regarding the Saba’s history and culture; 3. free wifi is available at the welcome center in case you need to check-in or send a quick message to someone; 4. food is reasonably priced and pretty good; 5. there are gypsy cabs available that can save you a bit of money, but you need to know someone who can organize one for you (the regular taxi cab drivers really do not like the gypsy drivers–obviously); and 6. it is against the law to walk around shirtless (so wear a cool short-sleeve shirt on really humid days).

That’s my personal experience with Saba.  Again, in my opinion, it is definitely worth a look-see, especially if you just happen to be taking holiday in nearby St. Maarten.

Happy traveling!

Maxi, Taxi, or Local Bus: An Experience to Behold

If you have ever journeyed to a Caribbean destination and ventured out of their comfort zone, you would know that it is a very economical and pretty efficient way to get around in most destinations.  Whether it is the mini van with the jump seats or the sedan, this type of transportation is often used by locals and travelers alike who do not want to spend an arm and a leg on a taxi and are not in a rush to go anywhere fast (more on that later).  However, it should be said that there are a few key rules that you must keep in mind prior to taking the leap and joining the locals.  I like to call it my top four rules for riding success.

  1. Mind your manners – With the exception of a few Caribbean destinations, it is customary to greet the other passengers upon entry into the vehicle.  A simple Good Day/Good Morning, Good Afternoon, or Good Evening will suffice.  Failure to do this simple task will draw stares, cause teeth sucking, and you may even be called out for your poor manners.
  2. Have your money ready – It should go without saying, but commonsense will tell you to know the fare for the ride prior to boarding.  There are several Caribbean destinations where the US dollar is widely accepted; however, it is important to not only know whether or not you can pay in local dollar or US, but to also have the exact fare ready.  There are some maxis, taxis, and local buses that will make change, but many will not.  From my experience sometimes you pay when you reach your particular drop, but other times you pay upon boarding.  Therefore, exercise the Girl Scout rule and “be prepared” when you first board.
  3. Speeding, what’s that? – So, this is the part I love.  And, well… maybe I should have listed this first for the faint of heart.  While this is not the Indy 500 or the Autobahn you are on, it may feel that way from time to time.  Whether standing (yes, sometimes on the maxis you many have to stand) or sitting, grab a hold of something and don’t let go.  Time is money and the drivers make sure that once they start rolling, they run a tight schedule.  So, that may mean quickly over taking a stopped vehicle, cornering curbs like they are on rails, or blowing through an intersection.  It is all a part of the experience.  If you are the type who prefers a driver to drive the speed limit and need to be safely strapped in, local transportation is DEFINITELY NOT an option for you.
  4. Introverts will be converted – So, this is something that I had to adjust to when I first started taking the local transportation.  As I said before, time is money and drivers will pack people in like sardines in a can.  So, if you are the type who “likes your personal space” and “don’t want to be close up” on anyone, local transportation is DEFINITELY NOT an option for you.  There have been a few occasions where I have been so squeezed up on a person that I thought I should have tipped them for the lap dance I was given on the way to the destination.  Again, this is a part of the experience.  Just make sure your breath is fresh and your hygiene is proper and all will be well.

All in all, taking public transportation is a great way to get around.  It saves you money, if you are budget traveler or simply do not want to be taken for a financial ride with the “tourist” taxis.  It also is just a good way to interact with the locals and see some interesting sites along the way.  There is another little tidbit regarding local transportation that I neglected to mention, but… it’s all a part of the experience.  You will just have to find out for yourself.

Happy traveling!