Like many Caribbean islands, St. Kitts once had many sugarcane plantations. Narrow-gauge railways often carried freshly harvested cane to sugar factories. In Saint Kitts the tracks that remain now host the sugartrain of St. Kitts Scenic Railway. This train carries tourists for a 2 hour 18-mile ride as part of an island tour that uses buses or boats to complete the island loop. Some sugarcane still grows on its own, but like so many other islands it is no longer a commercial crop. Tourists are the main business of the island now, though they have other industry with things like electronics.
Carnival Breeze pulled up to an empty dock, joined shortly after by Carnival Sunshine. Passengers from both ships boarded buses for the short journey to the start of the train ride. The train cars each have a lower inside air conditioned area with windows or an upper open sided area with canvas cover. Passengers can choose either one for their journey. Inside for comfort or outside for better photo ops.
The train passes over a number of bridges and through countryside and small villages. Along the way we saw a lot of nice houses and some not so nice. Homes ranged from fancy places with pools to shacks with outhouses.
Sometimes what looks like a squatter’s shack sits next to a beautiful house. A lot of the island’s people had small houses, but some had quite large ones. We saw lots of goats and some pigs, cows, horses, birds, and butterflies, but none of the island’s feral monkeys, descendants of pets let loose when the French left the island.
Island history includes occupation by French and British, with the British winning out in the end. The island is independent now with its own prime minister, but still a part of the British Commonwealth much like Canada or Australia. A large fort sits atop a hill, built by the British and at one point taken over for a year by the French. It is now a historical site and tourist attraction called Brimstone Hill Fortress.
The rainy side of the island was mostly sugarcane plantations and still has remnants of windmills and smokestacks dotting the landscape. Many of the villages by the sea have the same name as the estates on the hillsides above them. Newly freed slaves of those plantations just went down the hill and made towns. Roofless buildings dot the landscape, victims of hurricanes past. Some look as if all they need is a new roof and others have sat abandoned so long trees grow through them.
We saw all sorts of abandoned metal objects along the way. Enough that some enterprising person could probably make a pretty good profit cleaning up the island with a metal recycling facility.
The slow-moving train rattled along the track, swaying at times. Here and there a road crossed the track and if it had a crossing arm someone on the ground had to raise and lower it by hand.
Each train car had someone serving complimentary drinks which included daiquiris or piña coladas (virgin or not) as well as sodas, mixed drinks, or water. A group of a cappella singers moved from car to car singing different songs.
On the bus and the train rides guides provide information about both the island’s history and its present. School is required for all the island’s children. Our bus driver mentioned all sorts of medicinal plants that grow there, saying they “have a bush for everything.” They had some hospitals for things like broken bones or childbirth, but prefer to use herbals as much as they can. Graviola or Soursop grows there, which is said to be better for curing cancer than chemo.
The island is safe for tourists. Residents are punished more harshly for crimes against tourists than for murdering their own people.
In touristy areas like the cruise port someone is likely to put a monkey on your shoulder and then want $5 for a picture with it. They can get fairly insistent, but you can always say no. We hadn’t seen any wild monkeys so I figured that would be the only way I’d get a picture of one and let one of them take photos. That monkey just had a diaper on. Later we saw someone else with one dressed as a pirate.
The cruise port on St Kitts has a pretty big shopping area with most of the usual cruise port shops as well as some other stores. It also had an area for local craft booths behind the stores.