GINGERLAND, Nevis - At the Bee House, Ordett Meeks is slicing honeycombs off the frames of her hives, transported here from verdant fields that skirt the pale green Caribbean. Attracted by the heady aroma, bees whiz through the open door, looping and buzzing like party guests who've sipped one too many drinks. Meeks pays them no mind, methodically scraping the waxy combs into a five-gallon tub. Later, after whirling this sticky mass in a centrifuge, the sweet liquid will be bottled and sold, one of the local products that support this sleepy island.
Nevis (pronounced knee-viss) is the smaller of two islands that make up the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis. Eight miles long by six miles wide with a 3,000-foot dormant volcano at its center, Nevis is separated from its larger, boisterous sister by a two-mile channel.
The island is best appreciated for what it lacks: casinos, high-voltage night life, stylish boutiques, skyscraper hotels, and walls of condos along its beaches. (Though the latter might be coming soon.) With only 11,000 residents - and what feels like an equal number of goats, sheep, donkeys, roosters, chickens, and monkeys that roam at will - Nevis feels more like a spacious hacienda than a glitzy tourist destination.
"Nevis is not like other islands. You don't see condo, condo, condo. It still has island charm. It has history. It's not too commercial," said Sandra Stewart. Stewart and her husband, Don, from St. Catharines, Ontario, retired to Nevis in 2005.
We're sitting at the octagonal bar at Gallipot's, waiting for a dinner table. The atmosphere is sand-in-your-shoes casual and the drinks are strong. Owned and run by Julian and Tracy Rigby, the place is a popular hangout for tourists and residents. The Stewarts advise me to order either wahoo or snapper, as they were delivered fresh from Julian's boat an hour earlier.
Across the room I spy Cheryl Mink, from New Baltimore, Mich., dining with her family. We met at the Thursday night beach barbecue at Coconuts on the Nisbet Plantation. After gorging on the all-you-can-eat buffet with salmon, wahoo, snapper, tuna, shark, shrimp, chicken, ribs, and beef, I chatted with Mink while musicians strummed a reggae beat and dancers swayed where the patio meets the sand.
"Nevis is an unknown place. Everyone is so wonderful here. It's for people who don't want commercialism," she said.
There is a timeless quality to the island, or at least a sense of being frozen in time, say 30 years ago before a tourism boom in the West Indies changed life in many communities. Visitors can participate in local activities such as the weekly barbecue sponsored by the Water Department and rotating karaoke nights at bars, and also enjoy amenities offered through resort hotels, like spa treatments, snorkeling, windsurfing, guided rain forest hikes, and deep-sea fishing.
The Museum of Nevis History, located in the port city of Charlestown where Alexander Hamilton was born circa 1755, provides a portrait of Nevis through the centuries. Artifacts from the first indigenous people show the island was inhabited 4,000 years ago. In the early 1600s, Europeans planted tobacco, ginger, cotton, and sugar. Africans, whose descendants still live on the island, arrived as slaves when the sugar industry boomed. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, sugar exports from Nevis rivaled those from the colony of New York.
The last sugar plantation closed in 1958, and the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis gained independence from Britain in 1983. Many of the sprawling plantations have been renovated into inns, including the exclusive Montpelier Plantation Inn.
There are three levels of accommodations on the island that serve both seasoned and pampered travelers: guest houses suitable for backpackers with restricted budgets, B&Bs and "plantation-style" inns, and corporate-owned luxury hotels and inns where nightly rates teeter close to four figures.
At the Golden Rock Plantation Inn, on the lush rain forest hillside below Nevis Peak, owner Pam Huggins Barry explains the estate was originally built in the early 1800s by her great-great-great-great grandfather Edward Huggins. At some point it passed out of her family's hands, and in the 1950s it became an inn. Barry came to Nevis for the first time in the 1960s and discovered the property was for sale.
Smaller, more out of the way, but equally charming is the
"We cater to people off the beaten track, like hikers, walkers, and gardeners," said Anne.
Close to hiking paths and the Botanical Garden, the Banyan Tree is home to exotic birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and wild monkeys, and the oldest - possibly 300 years - banyan tree on the island. Gardens on the property include a banana grove, sour orange, carambola, tamarind, and mango trees, cocoa and coffee bushes, bamboo, and a vegetable garden with ginger, basil, tomatoes, and herbs, all of which can show up at breakfast in breads, omelets, and salads.
If you prefer to stay directly on the beach and not pay four-star prices, the Oualie Beach Resort is an option. Located along a sheltered cove, the hotel has gingerbread Caribbean style cottages, a restaurant serving West Indian specialties like conch creole and chicken roti, spa services, and access to independently operated water activities.
Saunter southwest from Oualie to Pinney's Beach to find the restaurants Double Deuce and Sunshine's Beach Bar and Grill that serve grilled fish, salads, barbecue, and cocktails in a casual environment. Sunshine's signature drink, the Killer Bee, made with rum, nutmeg, and other ingredients they won't disclose, is best sipped, not slugged.
When visiting Nevis, fast-paced Americans need to practice patience. The air, thick with heat, humidity, and a salty residue from the sea, slows activity to what can best be referred to as "island time." The only things moving swiftly are the minivan taxis, cars, and trucks on the two-lane road that circumnavigates the island. Be prepared to wait for a waiter, a drink, and especially your food.
One of my new friends explained this island sensibility by recalling a trip to the post office: A woman asked how long it would take for a letter to reach America. "Have you posted it yet?" the clerk asked. She answered no. "Well, if you haven't mailed it yet how can you expect to know when it will arrive?"
Ah, Nevis. Some things change. Some things never change. That's what makes it so beguiling.
Necee Regis can be reached at email@example.com.