Monday, January 26, 2009

Exploring Nevis - Day 2

[Kyle]Starting from Oualie beach, we decided the next day to rent a bicycle for me (Maryanne would use our on-board folding bicycle) for us to explore further around the island.

Cycle trail passing saddle Hill, and local wildlife

We took the road back to, and through Charlestown to a dirt track / trail that followed the coast on the south-west side of the island (there are numerous bicycle trails marked on the "Journey map" provided by Tourist Information). The trail took us through back gardens (on right of ways) and within a few minutes, all signs of civilization had disappeared [Maryanne]the landscape quickly became almost African. [Kyle]We found ourselves alone on a dirt trail that varied in quality between smooth road and rutted mountain biking track. Maryanne did surprisingly well with her folding bike that was certainly NOT built for rough trails. I even broke a spoke on my fancy mountain bike, and put it in the backpack to return to the store with it.

Eventually, towards the South side of the island, the vegetation became dry scrub with the rocky coast on one side and saddle mountain in the distance on the other. The track began to get very rough and I decided to ride the last 100 yards or so to the lighthouse (pole!) much to the irritation of the many wild donkeys and goats along the way that felt obliged to leave the road as I approached. We also found a very tiny beach, which I managed to scramble down to in order to fill my shoes with sand and pebbles!

On the way back we decided to take a short cut, the town by-pass, in effect, which ended up being just one big up hill followed by a down hill to the main coast road. Going very slowly up the hill, about half way up, we noticed TVs and a marked decrease in the number of people and moving cars in the streets. We were tired and dehydrated, so decided to stop at a local shack/store for a soda (and a rest from climbing that hill). Inside the store were a few locals watching the inauguration speeches on a TV mounted in the corner. The woman from the counter waved to allow us to take a drink from the fridge, and we sat at the counter drinking our sodas and watching the rest of the speeches with the locals. Once ended, we had no more excuse to linger, and feeling rested, we returned to the hill.

A couple of miles out of town, my chain broke, leaving the bike unusable for anything except coasting down hill. The problem was we had previously arranged to meet a guide at 3pm for a hike, and we were running out of time - now we had an extra delay. Maryanne stayed with me as I pushed/coasted for a while, but eventually, we agreed she would have to go ahead to meet with the guide, leaving me to rush to swap the bike and then catch up. Despite the fact that Maryanne had telephoned ahead for me, upon returning to Oualie beach, rather than swap the bike, the shop wanted to fix it, so I sat there checking my watch every 20 seconds until he'd finished. I tore out of the parking lot and onto the road at about 5 minutes to 3pm, worried that they would either start without me, or that Maryanne would miss the hike because I'd not shown up.

I rode as hard and fast as I could, speeding along the coast road for a mile or so, before I turned the road for the climb to the mount Lilly estate (where we were to meet the guide). This road appeared to be a 15% grade that went on for as far as I could see (and then some). I was quickly in low gear and pushing harder than I should have been, trying to make it to the top of the hill. Just as I was thinking I was almost there, a small 4 wheel drive came down the road with Maryanne waving at me from the passenger seat; one of the other hikers had graciously offered to come and collect me, and delay their hike so we could all go. We quickly loaded the bike into the car and headed back for the rendezvous point - it turned out that I was no where near the top (maybe a 1/3rd of the way), I would never have made it in time (and I'd probably have got lost on the way anyway!).

Everyone was very understanding about my late arrival, and rather than being frustrated at the late start, all seemed happy to help rescue me - a little extra adventure. The hike we had arranged was with Jim Johnson, a biologist/pathologist/agriculturist with a wonderfully encyclopedic knowledge of the flora and fauna of Nevis. During the slow pace hike we would often stop at some plant and he'd break off a piece for us to smell or inspect while he cited numerous factoids of its uses or island history. There seemed to be nothing of the forest that we could question that Jim didn't understand in great detail. He was enthusiastic, a little eccentric, and really entertaining as a guide. Our hike quickly transitioned from meadow into thicker forest/jungle where we started spotting soldier crabs (Caribbean Hermit Crab) which hatch in the sea but seem live their day to day lives atop high mountains. The reputedly got their name when an invading army heard rustling all around them at night and assumed that the enemy had found them, so they quickly retreated! We entered a couple of caves to see local bats and the blind whip-tail scorpion (no stinger) and passed numerous ruins from what appear to have been a secret subterranean enclave from a couple of hundred years ago. Towards the end of the hike, we sat down in one of the ruins and Jim opened his backpack and pulled out sample after sample of local edible plants - plenty enough for each of us to enjoy.

Forest Hike, and sunset from Nevis

We hurried back to the starting point on the hike as the sun was setting. Maryanne and I enjoyed a FAST downhill return to Oualie beach. We were very thirsty, having not drunk anything since the inauguration, so we stopped by the Oualie beach bar for sodas and found ourselves engaged in lively bar debate, starting with the inauguration and drifting around social issue to social issue.

Exhausted from our day and no longer willing to spend more time on a hard wooden bar stool (that bike they rented me had a saddle made of granite) we went home and collapsed into a very restful sleep.

[Maryanne]This day's exploring was exhausting, my little bike with small wheels, and after only a few minutes a very uncomfortable saddle was not the easiest way to see the island; but it was great exercise, and BOY did I need it. I really felt the pressure though when I had to rush to the top of Mount Lilly to meet with the hike and explain why Kyle would be late - that hill was steep, and for much of it I pushed the bike while running. The guided hike was fantastic and I would have loved to have joined Jim Johnson on some of his many other offered hikes, he was a great character. Going back down hill was much quicker, but very scary, I had my brakes on the whole time (but even without them I could not keep up with Kyle).

1 comment:

Mommy Dearest said...

Wow. Simply Wow.