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NEVIS - notes from a small island

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The west coast of NevisPHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
The west coast of NevisPHOTO: Wikimedia Commons

As I watched my usually cautious 10-year-old daughter, Nancy, haul herself up a waterfall using just a rope, I knew this would be a trip to remember. I had assumed that our rainforest hike would be a gentle meander through the trees, but our guide had other plans.

Reginald Douglas is the superman of Nevis — twice the island’s sportsman of the year, five times national triathlon champion, all-round Rastafarian powerhouse. He also has a deep spiritual connection to this beautiful island. As we walked behind him through the forest, he tended to the plants, pointing proudly at a thriving cocoa bean he had protected behind netting earlier in the season. “Everything you need to live is here,” he told us.

Nancy made it to the top of four waterfalls on the slopes of 3,232-ft Nevis Peak, while we followed, puffing and sweating in the 30C heat.

“The mountain”, as locals call it, is actually a volcano — linked to the one on Montserrat that erupted in 1997 — and is the source of the island’s name. To the Spanish settlers, the cloud that covers its peak looked like snow (nieve) and climbing it is an integral part of island life: the taxi driver, known as Champ, who took us to the rainforest, used to climb it every week as a boy.

Just outside the capital, Charlestown, volcanic springs emerge from the earth at 41C. On another island, these might have been turned into a commercial spa, with hefty fees and chi-chi treatments. But on Nevis, the waters are free for all to enjoy — in a sizzling, faintly sulphurous, tiled pool beneath a simple wooden roof.Unspoilt beauty

It’s a sign that, compared with other Caribbean islands, Nevis is incredibly unspoilt. Its vivid green rainforests and empty beaches are undeveloped, and mainstream resorts are few. Because Nevis is volcanic, the sand is not the cliched Caribbean white: it’s browner and coarser. Wildlife on the island is exotic and plentiful. Every evening we stumbled across giant frogs and moths the size of smartphones. In the daytime, (smaller) hummingbirds would flit past our table, while caterpillars built themselves up for vast moth-dom by stripping the frangipani trees of their leaves.

Vervet monkeys lolloped across the lawn, babies clutching their mothers’ stomachs. The monkeys had been brought over in the 17th century from west Africa, and there are now more than 20,000 of them on an island of just 12,000 people.


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