Caribbean Journey – Part 3: Basseterre, St Kitts & Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas (2022)

St Kitts

     March 23 brought us to the island of St Kitts (shortened from its original name  of St Christopher, bestowed by Columbus in 1493). Basseterre, the capital where we docked, was founded in 1627 and has a population of about 14,000.  While the island was claimed for Spain by Columbus, it was settled in the early 17th century by the British and French.  Control went back and forth between them until 1783, when it became British after the Seven Years War. 

     We visited this island a number of years ago, before the beginning of this blog in 2012.  At that time we rode on the small gauge railroad that takes you around the coast in cars with an open upper level.  It was built in the early 20th century to transport sugar to the port from plantations around the island and was converted to a tourist attraction after the sugar industry was closed in 2005.  It’s a nice ride, but since we had already done that we decided this time to take an excursion to see Ft Brimstone, a world heritage site.

     The excursion started with a panoramic (stay on the bus) tour through the streets of Basseterre.  You can’t really get to know a city through the windows of a moving bus and it’s also hard to get decent pictures.  Among other things we saw in passing was the Berkeley Memorial with its clocktower standing in the middle of the Circus, said to be modeled on Piccadilly Circus in London.  We also passed St George’s Anglican Church, originally established in 1710 then rebuilt after being largely destroyed by an earthquake and hurricane in 1842 & 1843.  The current building was consecrated in 1859 then restored in 1869 after a devastating fire.

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     We drove along the coast road, at one point passing some trees full of white egrets.

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     Our first stop was at the Romney Manor Gardens.  Originally probably occupied by Carib people, this is the oldest plantation on St Kitts, established in the early 17th century shortly after Europeans took control.  Owned by an ancestor of Thomas Jefferson in the early 17th century, it became Romney Manor when purchased by the Earl of Romney, who was the first on the island to free his slaves inn 1834.  Today it is a gorgeous botanical garden.  We were there in the Spring, so it was filled with colorful flowers and splendid vistas.  There is a Saman tree that is more than 400 years old, the oldest living organism on St Kitts.   The bell tower in the picture below was used to notify the slaves when to go to and come in from the sugar fields and when to go to sleep.

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     On the grounds is Caribelle Batik, where beautiful wax-resist dyed cloth is created and made into colorful clothing and other items, all of which are for sale in their shop.  We watched as this process was applied to cloth by a woman who was very much in charge:  each time someone entered without a mask she stopped working and instructed them in no uncertain terms to put one on.  We wished that were done more often in crowded public spaces in the Caribbean.  The cloth is hung outside to dry.  Their products are not cheap, but are excellent quality.  Mary purchased a batik Covid mask while we were there.

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     Brimstone Hill Fortress is a stone fort built on a steep 800 foot hill by the seashore.  It was built by African slaves under the direction of British military engineers.  The British began fortifying this spot in 1690 and by 1790 it was considered impregnable, called the “Gibraltar of the West Indies.”  Yet just two years later the French gained control of it through a siege.  The British reacquired it in 1783 under the Treaty of Paris that settled the US revolutionary war and the fortress was never lost again.  The British abandoned it in 1853 and it fell into disrepair (many stones carried off to build other buildings).  Restoration began in the early 20th century and reopening for visitors began in the 1970’s.  UNESCO recognized it as a world heritage site in 1999.

     The drive up to the fortress was not easy for our bus driver as there is a sharp turn into a narrow gate to enter.  We got out at the visitor center where we watched a film about the fort’s history, then walked up the very steep stairs to the Citadel, called Fort George.

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     In the Citadel were a number of canon arrayed along the walls.  To the northwest from one canon was a great view of the town of Sandy Point and the Dutch island of St Eustace in the sea beyond.

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     Among other things, we saw a bell tower growing out of one wall, the Prince of Wales bastion on a lower outcropping nearer the sea, and the ruins of the Artillery Officers’ Quarters down the hill.  There were pretty spectacular views in all directions from the top of this hill.

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     We drove back to the port, where we wandered around in the shops for a while then boarded the ship.  Another interesting day.

St Thomas

     We spent March 24 in Charlotte Amalie, the capital and largest city (18,000+) in the US Virgin Islands.  The city has a huge & protected harbor that attracts a lot of cruise ship visits.. We have been here 3 times before (although we spent the second visit on an excursion to sister island St John), but we have only one blog entry from those previous visits:

https://baderjournal.com/2014/05/03/

     Occupied by indigenous people when Columbus visited in 1493, the town was founded by the Danes in 1666 and named Taphus (tap house) because of its plentiful pubs.  The town received a less colorful name in 1691 when it was renamed Charlotte Amalie after the queen of Denmark at the time.  For a long time it was a pirate hangout.  In 1917 the US bought the Danish West Indies for $25 million and renamed it the US Virgin Islands.32a. 2022, 03-24  Charlotte Amelie, St Thomas, US Virgin Islands_stitch

       We had seen many of the sights here on previous visits but had been unable to visit Fort Christian, the Danish fortification at the water front, because it was closed for renovations.  Today it was open so after breakfast we walked into town to see it.  Named for the Danish King Christian V of Denmark (Charlotte Amalie’s husband), the distinctive red and yellow fort opened in 1680 in what is now the heart of the city.  It is the oldest existing structure in the US Virgin Islands.

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     The entrance is under the clock tower on the side away from the water, so we walked  around there and up a small hill to enter.  The tower was originally round but was replaced with a clock tower over a new entrance in 1874.

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     When it was no longer needed for defense the fort was used for a time as a prison. We walked down the steps to the prison area, which looked like a dungeon but with a small window.  As the views from the windows confirm, the water line on the other side of the street in front of the fort continues in a nearly straight line in both directions.  When the fort was built it sat on a small peninsula jutting out into the water; the land now on both sides of the fort was created later from fill.

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     After walking around a while we crossed the inner courtyard and exited again under the clock tower.  Then we walked back to the port where our ship was docked.  It rained, and we got wet despite our umbrellas on the way back.

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     Next to the ship at Havensight port is, you guessed it, Havensight Shopping Mall.  But this is not just any mall.  There are some seven large buildings, each lined with vendors.  And most of them seem to be selling pretty much the same stuff, all kinds of souvenirs of St Thomas:  clothes, jewelry, knickknacks, etc.  It’s a puzzle how so many businesses selling the same or similar goods can survive right next to each other. 

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     So in late afternoon we left our mooring and sailed across the harbor and out to sea.  From our balcony we spotted Blackbeard’s Castle, a lookout on top of a hill built by the Danes in 1679 because Fort Christian’s location on the water did not give it a view of possibly hostile ships that might be approaching from a distance.  On our first visit here we sat in a restaurant just under the Castle and had a leisurely beer while we watched seaplanes landing and taking off in the harbor below.  It made for a really fine afternoon.  Sadly, last time we were here the whole area around the Castle was enclosed and an admission fee was required to enter.  Not an improvement.  As we reached the end of the land there was a small rainbow to bid us farewell.  Outside the port we passed a couple of islands as we headed out for a full sea day before our next stop, which was much appreciated after six consecutive days in different ports.

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2 responses

  1. Konnie

    I guys have so much fun

    August 8, 2022 at 9:37 pm

  2. Judy K.

    You take the mot beautiful pictures.

    August 8, 2022 at 10:35 pm

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