Monday, December 17, 2012

Sugar Train

My brother-in-law Jay and I did so many activities while he was here that I had to write two posts about all the fun in the sun we had in St. Kitts. If you missed the last post, then definitely go back and read it because you missed some interesting events that Jay and I did while he was here for ten days.

For the second week he was here I wanted to keep him busy and at the same time show him what St. Kitt's life is all about.

What better way to experience St. Kitts than by taking a ride on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway!
I'll have to admit, I had not found time to ride the scenic railway yet myself so my plan wasn't completely unselfish.


Before Jay arrived I called the Train Station to find out what kind of schedule they ran. I talked to a very friendly lady and she reserved two tickets for the Tuesday morning tour. She also informed me that the price would be a discounted rate for me because I had a Ross University School ID and would qualify for the "local" rate, which is $45 U.S. per person. I'm not sure what the "tourist"rate is.

For many of the activities here there is a "local" rate and a "tourist" rate, so be sure to ask for the "local" rate if you're a student or live on the island or any of the CARICOM Islands. (By the way since I didn't know which islands were part of CARICOM I decided to attach a link here: CARICOM Countries).

So of course living in St. Kitts you never know what kind of adventure you're going to have on any day of the week going anywhere. Jay and I had one of those first thing Tuesday morning at the entrance to the Needs Must Train Station.

As Jay and I rolled in the entrance on our hogs, I mean scooters we noticed an SUV sitting in the middle of the dirt road that heads back to the station. That's not that strange but as we approached the turn I noticed smoke rolling off the vehicle. Again, it's not uncommon in St. Kitts to see cars overheating but it isn't common to see flames shooting out of the hood!

No one was in the vehicle and no one was near it so we cruised down to where the train was already hooked up to three passenger cars and was seemingly spinning its wheels to get going. A small crowd of five or six railroad employees and curious bystanders had gathered and were watching the vehicle from a distance of probably 200 to 300 yards. Concerned I told them "Hey there are flames shooting out of that car. Did anyone call 911 or the fire department?" I was kind of shocked when they replied, "we don't know."

So then I'm thinking, You guys are standing here watching this car burn and I know you have phones because all Kittitians do and you haven't called the emergency number? hmm. Only in St. Kitts, as we sarcastically say. I didn't have my phone and had to rush inside to pay for our reserved tickets before our train left so I told the ladies inside and apparently someone had called 911 because on the way back out I saw a fire truck pull up. Then the firemen instead of quickly spraying the vehicle with water or a fire retardant they all stood around and looked at it. Definitely not the responses I'm used to seeing anywhere else. Sorry I didn't get a picture but we were in a hurry to board the train.

I'm guessing they got the SUV's fire put out because when we arrived back at the train station three hours later the vehicle was gone and not a charred hulk of steel like I thought it would be.

So Jay and I made our way onto the train. The cars were beautiful and you have the choice of staying on the upper deck where the waitress is with her small bar or staying in the lower deck in the air conditioning. Being the fearless gentlemen that we are we stayed up top where the drinks keep coming and the view is much better.

Jay was adjusting very quickly to the St. Kitts lifestyle. See the bartender in the background? Each car has its own bartender or waitress, definitely true Caribbean hospitality.
All the train cars had speakers and there was a very knowledgeable history guide providing commentary during our two hour train ride. It's very hard to talk about the train without providing some history, but I will leave that for another post because that's a lot of information and it deserves its own post.

The inside of the lower deck of the passenger cars
I think on someone else's blog they took a picture of another misspelled sign in St. Kitts so I had to find out myself if it was there. It was.

Read the sign in the middle of the picture. "Water is not Portable." I think this means you can't drink it because not only is it not potable but you also can't take it with you.

The train lurks along at a very slow pace and since it is narrow gauge rail it rocks quite a bit but we didn't care, we were limin with all inclusive drinks and the only view you'll get from a train in the West Indies.

After a short period of time a trio of female Kittitian singers joined our car and sang some beautiful harmonious songs. Jay truly enjoyed this part. My favorite song they sang was Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, which is an American song from the Bubblegum Pop genre released in 1960. It was cool to hear it in a Caribbean dialect. Here's a link to the original song:      Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini



With a nice waitress, great singers, and an amazing view we rolled on through the tiny towns of rural St. Kitts. Every town we went through people would come out of their houses and wave since the train literally went through peoples' backyards we got a close up view of the best and worst of St. Kitts houses and villages.

Old rural housing
See the child waving to us?



We passed most of the old plantations, estates, and the skeleton remains of old sugar mills and wind mills, once used to grind the sugar cane. It was quite a remarkable trip. The train itself was built specifically by the U.K. and St. Kitts to transport sugar cane from farmer's fields to the central sugar factory in Basseterre.

Some of the old rusted sugar train cars.

The old Sugar Factory in Basseterre. Photo Courtesy: http://www.stkittstourism.kn/explore-st-kitts-activities-attractions-historical-sites-display.php?business=134




After 18 miles on the train (taking 2 relaxing hours) we finally reached the village of St. Paul's and just before the second largest city of the country, Sandy Point on the Northwest corner of the island, the train came to a stop.

Of course we encountered some farm animals along the way that had to get out of our way.

A horse with a friendly bird on its back
Look out sheep. I know they look like goats but remember tails up goats, tails down haired sheep.


From here we jumped on Scenic Railway Buses who also each had a driver with a microphone for commentary.



In the picture above passengers await the arrival of the train as the tour runs both clockwise and counterclockwise depending on which tour you end up on. We of course rode the train first and then the buses next.

At first I thought well the train is done so now the bus will take us back to the train station and that's it, the best part is over. Well I honestly think the bus driver had better commentary and knowledge than the guide on the train. Our driver, Teddy, had a great sense of humor and a a knack for knowing the history of all the important villages and landmarks on the island main road on the western side of the island.

The western side of St. Kitts was the side the British first settled and therefore held an immense amount of historical facts. For instance, the village of Halfway Tree, which I found somewhat of an odd name, was the site of an old tree that marked the halfway point (3.9 Km each way) between Sandy Point and Old Road Town.

This is the water collection cistern in Halfway Tree Village. Notice the metal box in the center. That is the old post office box for the town. This is another fact I didn't realize until our bus driver pointed it out. Many of the boxes are still used. Photo Courtesy: http://www.stkittstourism.kn/explore-st-kitts-activities-attractions-historical-sites-display.php?business=156
After a very knowledgeable bus tour for 45 minutes covering 12 miles we were back at Needs Must Train Station and on our way home.

I highly recommend the St. Kitts Scenic Railway or Sugar Train for visitors and residents alike. I can't wait until our next guest arrives so I can ride the train again. I have a sister-in-law from Chicago, Jen, who is absolutely in love with trains and would come here just to ride it.

I'll leave you with a photo of the scenic railway passing over a trestle bridge, which by the way would never be considered safe in the U.S. but that's one aspect of St. Kitts I like more than at home: Not so much red-tape and regulation.

Photo Courtesy: http://www.stkittstourism.kn/explore-st-kitts-activities-tours-excursions-display.php?business=118