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Rekindling a Caribbean romance

TRANQUIL: Nevis beach [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

LAST MONTH I renewed my vows. There was no man waiting at the altar, but there was a special love expecting me at the end of a nine-hour flight.

It was only 12 months ago that I fell in love with St. Christopher – more commonly known as St. Kitts – and its sister island of Nevis. But after what felt like an eternity apart, we were reunited on the tarmac of Robert L. Bradshaw airport.

As the sun beat down on my vitamin D deprived shoulders and cursed the London weather for neglecting the precious melanin in my skin, I experienced my ‘waiting to exhale’ moment.

Thoughts of the London rat race, the barely-there smiles, cancelled rush-hour trains and the persistent rain, sleet and snow (in ‘Spring’) left my body as quickly as the air escaping my mouth. I was in paradise and they were in another time zone – at least for now.

Our renewal ceremony was short and sweet, albeit overdue, but the after party, which would come in the form of the annual St. Kitts Music Festival, would be a sight to behold.

Names including soul legend Lionel Richie, reggae great Beres Hammond and international dancehall star Shaggy would take to the stage in the famed event, now in its 17th year.

But until then, it was time for me and this beautiful island to get reacquainted.

After an indulgent night’s sleep at the luxurious Marriott hotel and a welcome dinner consisting of an array of freshly caught seafood and localised cocktails (‘The Painkiller’ was my poison of choice during my week-long stay), we were afforded a sobering, yet welcome, history lesson courtesy of a visit to the Brimstone Hill Fortress the following day.

In 1690, the first cannon was mounted on the aging structure, which was designed by British army engineers, and built and maintained by African slaves, in an effort to recapture Fort Charles on the coast below from French occupation.


HISTORY: A cannon mounted on Brimstone Hill [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

The distinct smell of sulphur, owing to the hot springs 80ft below us at sea level, awakened more than my sense of smell – this now vacant monument was built by the hands of my ancestors.

As I stood against the now disused cannons and looked below at the stunning views, I marvelled at the island’s beauty and was reminded of why I fell head over heels 12 months ago. It is a snapshot that will forever be etched in the walls of my mind.

The island’s richness of history and 68 square miles of sprawling beauty and promising new developments – including self-sustainable Kittitian Hill, which will house a collection of boutique hotels, private villas and intimate restaurants serviced by organically-grown food from on site farms and the hope for renewable energy in the future – had me emigrating in my mind.

Kittitian Hill, the brainchild of Trinidadian-born entrepreneur Val Kempadoo – the man who designed and built the island’s popular Warner Park, a cricket ground by day and the venue for the music festival by night – is set to offer new jobs for an island with a population of over 40,000.

Over 400 people are working on the site, which Kempadoo claims is the biggest on site workforce in St. Kitts.

“My vision is to bring together community and culture, along with mindful conservation of natural resources,” Kempadoo said during our site visit.


RENOVATION: Val Kempadoo shows off the work taking place on Kittitian Hill [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

The importance of community and engagement around the world were the main topics echoed throughout our stay. At the first press conference ahead of opening night – dubbed ‘soca night’ – Minister of Tourism for St. Kitts and Nevis Richard ‘Ricky’ Skerritt noted how soca music could play a part in doing that.

“Soca has to grow if the Caribbean story is to spread around the world,” he told the room where press from around the world were gathered.

Joining him on the panel was legendary soca star Superblue, the first winner of Trinidad’s popular Soca Monarch competition, and his son-in-law (and fellow soca bigwig) Bunji Garlin. Garlin, who has also won the world-famous Caribbean competition on a number of occasions, is married to Superblue’s daughter, the genre’s successful Fay Ann Lyons.

“We mix the best from St. Kitts and Nevis and from the Caribbean and we invite the rest of the world to share in this wonderful celebration,” Skerritt exclaimed ahead of formal introductions.

Judging by the crowd gathered at Warner Park later that evening, much of the world had found their way to the Caribbean isle for this three-day extravaganza, said to have cost the Government an estimated EC$1m.

As I made my way through the masses who had gathered to see soca’s finest grouped on one stage, I pinpointed accents from islands around the Caribbean, the US, and a group, who like me, were representing London town.

Much like last year, it was night two – locally dubbed ‘dancehall and reggae night’ – that rendered the island derelict. And with a line-up consisting of Beres Hammond, Shaggy and ‘Jamaican Idol’ winner Christopher Martin, it’s easy to see why.


JAMAICA UNITED: Beres Hammond and Shaggy [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

Earlier in the press conference, Shaggy, who revealed he had supported The Voice “since the beginning”, took time out to thank the publication for its support of “not just reggae, but Caribbean culture over the years.”

During his set, Shaggy took us on a trip down memory lane with renditions of hits including UK No.1 Oh Carolina, Boombastic – complete with pelvic thrusts – and brought out surprise guest Rayvon for a performance of Angel.


HYPED: The crowd enjoy the festival vibes

But it was 25-year-old Christopher Martin, the winner of Jamaica’s version of American Idol, who provided the surprise performance of the night. His silky smooth vocals on crowd favourites Cheaters Prayer and Paper Loving provided the perfect prerequisite for the night’s main course – the legendary Beres Hammond.

When I caught up with Martin after his performance to a heaving crowd of about 10,000, I asked how he responded to critics who questioned whether the winner of a TV talent show could go on to maintain a successful career.

“I’m showing that it’s possible,” he replied. Enough said.


CROWD PLEASER: Christopher Martin [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

By the time Hammond took the stage, my feet were telling the painful story of the evening’s entertainment. I had danced them into oblivion. Flame-haired dancehall star Konshens, whose energetic set left him bare chested, sweaty and “very happy”, had just about finished them off. I should have taken his hit Stop Sign literally, but instead I channelled everyone last one of my Jamaican roots to keep up with the hype crowd.

My feet were screaming for a song that would require nothing more than a two-step. Then came Hammond – perfect timing.


ENERGETIC: Konshens [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

From I Feel Good to Rockaway to Can You Play Some More, I two-stepped into musical heaven. You can’t get better than listening to this reggae legend sing, might I note better than the CD, with the sun beating down on your neck, a cool Carib beer in hand and a maxi dress swaying with your every move. I could’ve listened to him forever.

The same can be said for Lionel Richie’s performance the following day. I had interviewed him a few hours before his headline performance, so as I took my place front row and centre for his eagerly-anticipated set, he flashed a smile my way and gave me a cheeky little wave. My night was made.

As he burned through hits from his days as the frontman of 70s group The Commodores, which included Easy and solo work in the form of Hello and Dancing On The Ceiling, we rocked, we swayed and sweated out our hairstyles much like Richie, who admitted his perfectly manicured hair was reverting to a “Commodores afro!”

He closed his set – and this year’s festival – with the global hit All Night Long, which really brought the house down.

After having my musical taste buds spoilt for three days straight, I made my way to Nevis for my honeymoon - a spoiling of another kind.


SOULFUL VIBES: Lionel Richie and his band closed the festival [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

Nevis is situated just two miles from the mainland of St. Kitts and takes about 30 minutes by ferry. The island, once referred to as the ‘Queen of the Caribbees’ because of its reputation of providing the richest sugar in the region, is much smaller in size than St. Kitts. We’re told it boasts a population of 12,000 compared to the 40,000 on St Kitts.

With promises (and proof) of being ‘one of the last remaining unspoiled places on earth’, there is really no other place to fall in love all over again. Just ask Beyoncé and Jay-Z who visited the island before marriage.
A cainrowed Bey, circa 1999 aka Destiny’s Child Writing’s On The Wall era, is seen nestled in the arms of a baby-faced Jay in a picture mounted on the wall of the popular Sunshine’s Bar & Grill.

This was my second visit to Sunshine’s, a popular celeb haunt. But far be it from the celebrities to entice me back, I came in search of the bar’s famous cocktail, ‘The Killer Bee’.


POTENT MIX: Sunshine’s Bar & Grill’s famous cocktail, The Killer Bee [PIC CREDIT: Dionne Grant]

The last time I was here, I stopped at just half a glass of the potent mix, said to be the toughest in the whole Caribbean. This time, I stretched to two – go me! My head spun for the rest of my visit.

After a whirlwind tour of the island and an exquisite lunch at The Hermitage Plantation Inn, the oldest house in Nevis, boasting a 1670 birthdate, it was time to inhale the scent of my love for the last time.

They say time apart does you good, but as I sit here and type this extended love letter to St. Kitts and Nevis, I can safely say that whoever ‘they’ are, were lying.
Sincerely yours.

St. Kitts is served twice-weekly from London Gatwick on Saturday and Tuesday by British Airways.Worldwide Travel Solutions are offering seven nights at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort from £733.00. Call (0)113 237 4488. For more information on St Kitts visit www.stkittstourism.kn

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