Discover Nevis and its Caribbean Rainforest
By Candyce H. Stapen
Discover the secrets on a Caribbean rainforest on Nevis, a laid-back island with a population of about 10,000. On Nevis the only “crowds” we encounter are the hundreds of goats and sheep roaming free during the day before they return to their owners at dusk.
To explore the rainforest we opt for a hike. As we march along the slightly uphill section of Jessup’s Rain Forest Trail, Jim Johnson, the guiding spirit behind Top to Bottom, says “Does anyone know what ‘sucking the monkey face means’?” Jim then finds a coconut covered with brown fibers, positions it point up like a football, and smashes it with a rock. The globe splits in two, revealing the whitish juice inside.
Jim picks up one half and slurps, much to the delight of the 8-year-old on our hike. He then cuts the white fleshy ”meat” from the sides and we munch on rainforest snacks: really fresh coconut. But that’s not all locals do with coconuts. Jim quickly twists the leafy tendrils called “coconut cloth” into a hat.
More than a mere walk in the woods, a Top to Bottom trek is part botanical foray, part local lore, and part pure fun. Cautioning us not to fall into the “pig pits,” the deep holes dug to trap wild boar, we move on.
Jim informs us that the sawdust-like hump on a nearby trunk is an active termite nest. To my “yuk,” he replies that termites do the dirty work of breaking down dead wood and leaves. Termites, according to Jim Johnson, area ‘keystone species,’ so necessary that if “we wiped out termites, we would wipe out 20% of all species.”
As we walk, Jim names the greenery for us: wild sage, cinnamon trees, mountain morning glories, and thick growths of acacia. “What were these flexible thin leaves used for,” Jim asks holding an acacia branch. “Well, I won’t tell you, but the other name for it is the ‘shitten tree.’” The kids as well as the adults break into giggles.
The Caribe Indians,” Jim notes, “thought the mountain morning glory vine brought good luck if you took a bath with 3 of its leaves.” Further uphill tall plants block the sun and the shade feels good. A jade-green wasp flits by us, disappearing into a thicket of 30-foot tall Indian tree ferns. Soon we come to a 600-year-old ficus arcing over the trail.
Jim shows us how to make rope from “mahoe” or mountain bark by twining the long strips. A zebra-striped butterfly flits past us. “That’s the heliconia, the longest-lived butterfly in the world; it can last up to 1 ½ years,” notes Jim. On the way down the mile-long trail we pick some of the lilac-colored morning glory leaves, just in case it really can bring luck.
Nevis offers a wide range of accommodations from pricey to moderate, beachfront and hilltop. For luxury and a good children’s program try the beachfront Four Seasons Resort Nevis. The hilltop Mount Nevis Hotel offers suites and condominiums with kitchens.