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Explore Nevis in the Caribbean

Explore Nevis in the Caribbean
By Candyce H. Stapen

Nevis, an off-the-beaten-path Caribbean getaway, is often dubbed the “nature island.” Mount Nevis, the dormant volcanic cone rising from the island’s center, dominates our first impression of the island: green, lush and intriguing. Nevis’s charm stems from its blend of rain forest and beach on an island with a population of around 11,000, big enough to support nice hotels but small enough to escape traffic jams and major malls.

On a rain forest hike with Jim Johnson, the guiding spirit behind Top to Bottom, we explore a slightly uphill section of Jessup’s Rain Forest Trail. Jim asks “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 Paige, the 8-year-old on our hike. Jim then cuts the white fleshy ”meat” from the sides and we munch on rain forest 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 for Paige and any adult in need of one.

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. In response to Paige’s “yuk,” Jim replies that termites do the dirty work of breaking down dead wood and leaves.

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.’” We all 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. While Jim twines “mahoe,” or mountain bark into rope, he points out a zebra-striped butterfly known as the heliconia, the longest-lived butterfly in the world; it can last up to 1 ½ years.”

On the way down the mile-long trail, we show-off our new-found knowledge: the strangler vine enveloping the fallen fig tree, the 600-year-old ficus arcing over the trail, and the lilac-colored morning glory leaves, which a few of us pluck, just in case.

Nevis also offers a range of lodging from pricey to inexpensive. For luxury, try the Montpelier Plantation Inn located on a hilltop estate. For pampering with kids, reserve the Four Seasons Nevis which has a complimentary children’s program. The resort, which has been closed because of hurricane damage, is slated to reopen June 2010. For a moderately priced getaway, book the Mount Nevis Hotel & Beach Club. From the hilltop resort, enjoy a sweeping view of the turquoise water. This family-run property has 32-rooms and suites, each with kitchenettes.

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