The Wild Side of Nevis
As many of you know, the island of Nevis is my very favorite place in all of the Caribbean. There is an energy about Nevis that you notice the moment you step off of the plane. This energy is difficult to describe, but whenever I arrive, no matter how long and trying the day has been, I feel peaceful and rejuvenated. Today we arrived just before sunset and I decided to take a walk in the foothills of the dormant volcano adjacent to our resort.
Some Nevis History
Nevis (pronounced NEE-vis) is located near the northern end of the Lesser Antilles archipelago, about 220 miles (350 km) southeast of Puerto Rico and 50 miles (80 km) west of Antigua. The 36 square-mile (93 km²) island is part of the inner arc of the Leeward Islands chain of the West Indies. The capital of Nevis is Charlestown.
Nevis, along with Saint Kitts, forms the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. The two islands are separated by a shallow 2-mile (3.22 km) channel, known as “The Narrows”. Nevis is conical in shape, with a volcanic peak, Nevis Peak (commonly referred to as Mount Nevis by the local population) at the center. The island is fringed on three sides by long sand beaches, and has a coastline intermittently protected by coral reefs. The most popular beach is the 4-mile (6.44 km) long Pinney’s Beach, on the western or Caribbean coast. The gently sloping coastal plain (0.6 miles/1 km wide) has natural fresh water springs, as well as non-potable volcanic hot springs, especially along the west coast.
The island was named Oualie (“Land of Beautiful Waters”) by the Caribs and Dulcina (“Sweet Island”) by the early British settlers. The name Nevis is derived from the Spanish Nuestra Señora de las Nieves or Our Lady of the Snows, and first appears on maps in the 16th century.
The majority of the approximately 12,000 citizens of Nevis are of primarily African descent. English is the official language, and the literacy rate, 98 percent, is one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere. Nevis is of particular historical significance to Americans because it was the birthplace and early childhood home of Alexander Hamilton. Of import to the British, Nevis is the place where Horatio Nelson as a young sea captain, was stationed, and where he met and married Frances Nisbet, a young plantation widow.
My first stop on this evening’s walk was the Cottle Church, an Anglican Church now in ruins on the northwest side of Nevis. It was built by Thomas Cottle, a Nevisian lawyer. Ground was broken in 1822 and the church was finally finished in 1824, after a severe economic depression. The Cottle Church was opened to the public on May 5, 1824. With the opening of the church, it became the first church on the whole island of Nevis to allow all people to come and worship; this included slaves. The first Reverend of the Cottle Church was Rev. Daniel Davis. After Thomas Cottle’s death in 1828, the church fell into disuse. It was then rebuilt by Governor Sir Graham Briggs in the late 19th century. But because of the population decline on the island, the Cottle Church again fell into ruins at the turn of the 20th century. Today it has been preserved and can be seen by the public.
As I left the church grounds, I spotted a family of Green Vervet monkeys, which are medium-sized primates from the family of Old World monkeys. There are six species currently recognized, although some classify them all as a single species with six subspecies. Either way, they make up the entirety of the genus Chlorocebus.
These monkeys are native to sub-Saharan Africa; their range extends from Senegal and Ethiopia down to South Africa. A small population, which travelled with enslaved Africans as pets, are found in the Caribbean, on the islands of Barbados, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and a colony also exists in Broward County, Florida.
Green monkeys live in large groups, which can consist of some males, many females and their offspring, and can be as large as 80 animals. The group hierarchy plays an important role: dominant males and females are given priority in the search for food, and are groomed by subordinate members of the group. While young males must leave their group once they are fully mature, females remain and take on the role of their mothers. These monkeys are territorial animals, and a group can occupy an area of approximately 0.1 to 1 km². They use a wide variety of vocalizations. They can with warn off members of other groups from their territory, and they can also warn members of their own troop of dangers from predators, using different calls for different predators. Monkeys scream when they are disciplined by members of the troop. Facial expressions and body posturing serve as additional communication tools. Their social interactions are highly complex. Where alliances can be formed for benefit, deception is sometimes used. Physical affection is important between family members.
Vervet monkeys are omnivores. The majority of their diet, however, is grasses and fruits. Occasionally they also eat small vertebrates and insects. On the island of Saint Kitts, vervet monkeys will commonly steal brightly coloured alcoholic drinks left behind by tourists on the beach. Many tourists have also found out these monkeys will deliver a powerful bite if they are cornered or threatened. Care should be taken when approaching any vervet monkeys, although these monkeys will retreat from a confrontational situation if given an escape route. If at one point they were domesticated in centuries gone past, they are no longer. In Africa, the documented attacks by these monkeys are extremely rare as compared with dog attacks, in spite of living very closely with humans and often being threatened by humans and their dogs.
My next creature encounter was a falcon which is common in North America, though I was surprised to see one here on Nevis. The American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) was (and sometimes still is) colloquially known in North America as the “Sparrow Hawk”. This name is misleading because it implies a connection with the Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus, which is unrelated – the latter is a accipiter hawk rather than a falcon; moreover, falcons and accipiters are only very distantly related among the diurnal raptors.
American Kestrels are widely distributed across the Americas. Their breeding range extends from central and western Alaska across northern Canada to Nova Scotia, and south throughout North America, into central Mexico, the Baja, and the Caribbean. They are local breeders in Central America and are widely distributed throughout South America.
Most of the birds breeding in Canada and the northern United States migrate south in the winter, although some males stay as year-round residents. It is a very rare vagrant to western Europe.
After exploring the wilds around Mount Nevis, I scoured the resort grounds for hummingbirds before returning to my suite. Hummingbirds go to bed early, so I was out of luck, but I promise to try for a shot on my next visit to the island. I did spot several along my walk, but they were in transit and moving too fast to shoot.
The Mount Nevis Hotel and Resort is where we stay on Nevis, and I recommend it not only for it’s pristine surroundings, but also for it’s excellent restaurant and wonderful staff. I’m not compensated in any way for my recommendations, by the way. Any views and representations are my own, and you can take them to the bank as a genuine insider’s view of the Caribbean from an airline crewmember who has been there and done that. My recommendations are few, as I am very picky, so when you spot one be sure to book mark the page for future vacation planning. This resort goes well above and beyond in my opinion, and it delivers a true ‘get away from it all’ experience.
A view across the channel towards St. Kitts twinkles at twilight. There’s nothing like a nice refreshing tropical rum drink after a walk in paradise. My favorite? Passion fruit juice with pineapple rum on the rocks. For more info about Nevis, feel free to drop me a line. Most pictures on this site are available for purchase – thank you to the folks who have supported me with encouragement, praise, and criticism. It is much appreciated!
~ by John on March 8, 2008.