Vacation in St. Kitts was much fun, so this will be long, with lots of links. Feel free to skip if you're bored by my ramblings. Bruce's comments are in italics.
The trip down was quite long. We flew on Delta this time. Overall, Delta treated us much better than United did on our Knoxville trip. Bruce slept most of the way down. I didn't get to sleep on the plane at all—the leg I was trying to sleep on, the seat was broken and wouldn't lay back, so I couldn't get into a comfortable position. I ended up sleeping a couple hours in the airport during layover though. We had a brief bit of panic when we belatedly realized that the gate had been changed on the last leg of the flight (the important one, as Delta only flies to St. Kitts once a week) and we were waiting on the wrong concourse! We hauled butt across the airport (Atlanta is BIG) and made it to the correct gate just as they were pulling our bag out of the cargo hold and giving up on us. It was 35F when we boarded in Atlanta.
The 85F and 90% humidity when we deplaned in St. Kitts was a pretty brutal change! But we made it through Customs and Immigration with only a small issue (we only got one of the two forms we were supposed to've been given to fill out, so had to fill the other out while standing in line. Hardly the worst Immigrations complication to have!) and Bear and Georgia met us as we staggered back out into the heat. We went to their place and changed into summer gear. Chased lizards in the back yard for a few minutes (little brown anoles with an almost transparent yellow tail, and medium/big brown anoles with stripes, and tiny quick little lizards—you'd think they were teleporting, they're so quick). Then we headed for the beach to chase critters and waves. I'm sure you'll be terribly surprised by all the parts where I list what critters we saw! I did my best to ID birds for Nessa, but didn't get very good pictures of most of them, sorry. I did get a lot of pictures of lizards though! (surprised, anybody?)
So the beach called The Strip was our first St. Kitts play destination; we found a bunch of little sand crabs and one camouflaged crab, watched the Brown Pelicans diving for fish, and the sunset over the water, then hit Buddie's for some BBQ. Pretty good stuff, and had our first experience with restaurants that hand you a bottle of mosquito repellent when you walk in. And our first taste of the nearly absolute lack of customer service exhibited at restaurants on the island. Then we went home to sleep off the travel exhaustion.
Day 1 Bird list: Brown Pelican (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Sea%20Birds/1%20Pelican.JPG)
Cattle Egret (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Shore%20Birds/Cattle%20Egrets%201.JPG)
Wood dove (Zenaida Aurita) (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Land%20Birds/Zenida.jpg)
Next morning we got up late and had delicious strawberry pancakes with banana syrup. Bruce and I spent a couple hours swimming and hanging out on Whitehouse Beach while Bear and Georgia had their final sailing lesson. Wind was from the wrong direction, so water was too choppy for snorkeling, but was fun to play around anyway. Tons of different tiny little shore snails; took pictures of some of the more striking color patterns. Scraped my ankle up on something underwater. Chased some birds around, and debated the pros and cons of the waterfront property for sale at the corner of the beach... Bruce's new goal in life is to move the the Caribbean and become a Cabana Boy. We went to PJ's for dinner; no bug spray on the table there, because they have an automatic sprayer in the doorways (every 19 minutes—how's that for a random time cycle?). Chicken picatta is yummy, mon.
We went home and met a friend and previous student of Bear's, Laura. Laura is a wonderful outdoor warrior type; she came over to borrow Bear's sewing machine after having done a 50 mile bicycle ride on the neighboring island of Nevis. FIFTY MILES! For fun! That means, by the way, that she was making laps of the island, because seriously, the island isn't that big.
Day 2 Bird list: Thick billed plover (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Shore%20Birds/Charadrius_wilsonia.jpg)
Grey Kingbird (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Land%20Birds/Grey%20King%20bird-Tyrannus_dominicensis.jpg)
Monday there was no sleeping in, as we decided to join a Ross University Adventure Club hike. Why yes, we ARE crazy. The hike was lead by Warrior Laura, you see... Mt Liamuiga is the volcano responsible for forming St. Kitts. We hiked all the way up to the crater, and the view was incredible. For future reference, when the warrior woman says “moderate hike” she means “do try not to die, as it would be moderately inconvenient to have to carry you out”. But we managed to hup our out-of-shape and not-heat-accustomed selves all the way up. It wasn't all that bad. There was one girl who almost quit out crying, and one guy who got heat-sick enough that he threw up. They were not us! Only new bird for Day 3 was the Antillean Crested Hummingbird that hung out with us on the edge of the crater for a while. I failed to get good pictures, as he was a speedy critter, but his crest was a beautiful iridescent green. This picture utterly fails to do him justice: http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Land%20Birds/Antillean%20Crested%20Hummingbird.jpg. Several other pictures available here: http://ibc.lynxeds.com/photo/antillean-crested-hummingbird-orthorhyncus-cristatus/lateral-view-perched-adult-male.
Tuesday, Bear had to work. Georgia dropped us off in the tourist area of town, and we wandered around shopping, had a good bit of fun watching how people's attitudes changed when we told them we were not on a cruise ship. (There is a distinct range in the prices a lot of places charge ranging from local/native through local/student or uni employee up through visiting-but-staying-in-an-actual-house and topping at cruise ship tourists. There are some places where there is literally a 4-fold difference in prices for things depending on which category you are.) Met Bear and Georgia for lunch at Circus Grill. Bruce got Bear into a fight with a street vendor outside the restaurant. He wanted to try the local carrots, as Laura had told us they tasted different. Bear told him that the price the vendor was asking for carrots was too high, which apparently seriously offended the woman, because when Bear asked what she wanted for the sweet potatoes, the vendor said “You can't afford them,” and refused to give her a price or sell her anything. I stood back and tried not to laugh too loudly. Had “Caribbean Creole” chicken for lunch, which was significantly milder than I expected. The ginger beer was made in-house, and VERY gingery. And thick! Like whole milk thick. Scoops is a wonderful ice cream place in Port Zante. The coconut ice cream is made with actual coconut, and the rum raisin ice cream is made with actual rum. A shot per scoop, according to our guides.
Day 4 bird list: Magnificent Frigatebird (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Magnificent_Frigatebird/id)
Black headed grassquit (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Land%20Birds/Antillian%20Grass%20Quit.jpg)
Mostly lounged around the next day, Bear headed back to the States to be a bridesmaid for her friend in New Orleans. Georgia and Bruce and I walked down the hill from the house to Bird Rock Hotel in the afternoon to play fetch in the water with the dogs. Saw some big black crabs on the road, not the beach (body big as a fist) and a huge skink (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Reptiles/Geckos/Ameiva%20erythrocephala%20%28ground%20lizard%29.jpg). We went out with Laura that evening to catch Dr Kevin Fitzgerald's comedy routine (he was on the island to do some guest lectures for the students at Ross, and had an evening comedy show). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kevin_Fitzgerald
Thursday we walked back to Bird Rock Motel and played with the snorkeling equipment. Saw 3 different types of fish, but since I know nothing about fish identification, I can only tell you that the blue ones were probably Yellow Tail Damselfish. No idea what the slightly larger black ones, or much larger brown and black fish were. Did not see the huge skink, probably because we had the camera with us this time. While there, we had a lovely “you're not in the States anymore” experience. Watching this gent I'm still unconvinced that both X and Y chromosomes were present with a baby girl playing in the sand... he strips the kid naked, smears on some sunscreen, and then walks off and leaves her alone. On the beach. With nobody between her and the water. Not that the kid DID anything but sit there and play in the sand, but still... that'd never happen on a US beach without someone freaking out.
Back to the house to shower the sand and salt off, and then off to the Veterinary College with Laura to catch a couple of Dr Fitzgerald's exotics animal medicine lectures. I got left behind with Georgia. Then a walk-around of the campus, which was quite nice. Things you only hear from veterinary students: “Look, a pig skeleton! How cute!”
Went to Bary's for dinner; really good BBQ. Says Bruce “He's not afraid of flavor and this is obviously not toned down for the tourists. That's not a complaint.”
And on the walk home, saw geckos! Sadly, no camera.
Friday we thought we'd try out Sky Safari (http://www.skysafaristkitts.com/) but turns out they only go by appointment. Made an appointment for Sunday morning, and went to the Caribelle Batik (http://www.caribellebatikstkitts.com/) instead. Got some pretties, wandered around the grounds and took pictures of purple plants and pretty Brahmin cows. Despite the doubting Thomases, I got a really nice picture of a Green Throated Carib. Bruce claimed to see a monkey, but sure looks like a silver tabby cat in the photos... Stupid shape-shifting voodoo monkeys. Then we went to dinner at Pizza Shack at the Marriott. Decent pizza, but a bit spendy.
Day 7 Bird List: Green Throated Carib (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/Bio-div%20Thumbnails/1%20Green%20Carib.JPG)
Lesser Antillean Bullfinch (http://www.bio-diversity-nevis.org/images/Nevis%20Birds/Land%20Birds/Antillian%20bullfinch.jpg)
Saturday we slept late, then spent the afternoon at Sandy Beach. Did a little snorkeling, and saw a stingray; he was pretty cool! Some silvery fish with blue dorsal line and blue around the eye, apparently called Grab Jacks? Lay on the beach reading for a while, then headed off to dinner. On the walk back to the car, Bruce saw a mongoose, but I missed it. Not the voodoo kind. We went to La Belle Vie, which, as you might guess from the name, is a fancy French restaurant. It was quite nice, though it's rather an odd cultural dissonance to sit in a fancy restaurant and be handed a bottle of bug spray...
Goat cheese absolutely should be served warm over salad with bacon and a nice vinaigrette. It was quite yummy; easily the best thing I've ever eaten with goat cheese. Tomato slices would have been nice. Steaklet of duck in green and black pepper sauce was quite delicious also. The rack of lamb in thyme sauce was also nice but the sauce was not as flavorful. The assortment of cheeses was pretty good too; finally was introduced to a cheese in the bleu family that does NOT taste overwhelmingly of mold. Bleuforte is much mellower, though a bit salty. Salty is an understatement. Good stuff, though.
Bird of the day: Red Tailed Hawk. Looks shockingly like the Red Tailed Hawks at home.
Sunday we got up early to get to Sky Safaris. Zip lines are fun! Sadly, it was a pretty short course... I was really expecting it to be longer. Ah well. Got some good pictures of “rasta” Bruce (I'd braided and beaded his hair the night before). There is nothing I wouldn't do for her, obviously, nor is there such a thing as a "good" picture of said devotion. Shortly after finishing the Sky Safari, the drought broke and boy howdy can it rain down there. Beach out of the question for the evening, we decided to check out the shiny new 8-screen cinema. And give our host a bit of personal time, rasta style. We went to the conveniently located Domino's Pizza (right next door to the theater) for dinner. It was absolute insanity. The group that shoved in front of us while we were politely waiting our turn at the counter was led by a young girl (10 years ish?) followed by a very tall woman who didn't seem to think children needed any controls, and a very fat woman who had no good grasp of communication. She pointed at the sign and told the lady that she wanted the chicken sandwich. Fine and dandy, but there are 4 different chicken sandwiches listed. When the lady behind the counter asked which sandwich she meant, they went around in circles 3 or 4 times about there being more than one chicken sandwich. She storms out, the tall lady starts to order. Then the fat lady comes back with reinforcements in the form of a guy and 2 more kids. *sigh*. All in all, it took them about half an hour of arguing and fussing to actually give their order. Then the kids proceeded to run in and out of the building randomly, taking extra stuff from the chip rack and refrigerator case, so that the tall lady ended up standing at the counter and just passing over money every few minutes when some kid ran through and grabbed something. All for a small pizza, a couple sides of bread sticks, and an untold number of sodas and bags of chips. The chaos was such that the lady working there forgot to bring us our pizza until I went up and asked for it again. Daybreakers was a pretty darn entertaining flick.
Still raining on Monday, so we mostly lounged around and read all day. Checked my receipts to put them in my check book, and was unpleasantly surprised by the Sky Safari charges. Called and inquired why I was charged $100 (US!) more than expected. Explained that we are not rich cruise ship tourists, and would really appreciate the Ross University price (nicely, really. and the lady was quite nice too. But we have to go back in person to get a refund, and can't get there today; they're closing early because of the rain.) Bear got back from the States, so Bruce and I headed out for the evening to give her and Georgia some alone time. Took Laura to see Book of Eli; good stuff. Rather more overtly religious than we were expecting, but good fun.
Tuesday we went back out to Sky Safaris and got refunded. Wandered around downtown, saw the Spencer Gallery (some interesting artwork, but not a big selection). The honey bees in the ceiling were pretty darn cool. Best viewing of active honeycombs I've ever seen. Bought Bear a new phone, since her old one went swimming with us at Sandy Beach, oops. Georgia went to pick Bear up from work, and Bruce and I wandered through a little toy store with a crazy mix of really old toys and new stuff. Bear wasn't feeling well, so we didn't do much exciting for dinner, just back to the house.
Wednesday, Georgia kicked us out to fend for ourselves while he cleaned the house. Heh, but that's a story for another time. We taxied up to Brimstone Fort, an old British military fort (http://www.geographia.com/StKitts-nevis/knbrim01.htm). We spent about 4 1/2 hours wandering around this place. This day was a lot of "you're not in the States any more" stuff. There was only 1 warning sign in the entire place, and there was "you could die" stuff at each step. Drop-offs down rock walls, stairways in the middle of sloped floors with no indication of which end of the opening is the top of the stairs, no guard rails anywhere. It was great! Truly, she speaks. Though apparently my feelings of "you could die" were not unfounded; during an Easter picnic years ago, a rush to get out of a sudden rain ended up with 10 dead...
Deciding that the taxi was way, way too expensive to call back, we caught the local bus home. The bus system in St Kitts is completely unlike the US systems. Buses are privately owned and operated mini-vans, that have vaguely recommended routes but no real set times or stops. almost entirely along a single road on the coast. A bus coming through town with space on it will honk when approaching people, and if you want on, you just step up and wave. They'll stop anywhere to pick people up, usually in the middle of traffic with minimal warning. They don't bother to pull out of the lane, so traffic just goes whipping around past them. Switching buses consists of signaling your driver, who begins honking at other buses until one of them honks back, then both stop (blocking the whole road, of course) and people jump off one, run or saunter, depending on their mood across the road, and climb on the other. To get off the bus, you just tell the driver where you want to stop; there aren't scheduled stops any more than there are scheduled routes, so you say "that pink house" or whatever, and the driver stops and lets you off. Again, they don't bother to pull off to the curb for this, just slam on the brakes and stop in the road. The maximum speed limit on the island is 40mph. Buses commonly disregard such niceties, and accelerate as fast as possible between stops, so you go 0 to 60 to 0 to 60 repeatedly and suddenly. It's like a roller coaster ride, in traffic. And much (1/10th of the price) much less expensive than the taxis. If we ever go back (or to a different island) we will absolutely be using the bus system! It was exhilarating.
We asked a random taxi driver on the street where we should eat dinner tonight, and he sent us to Chef's Garden, which was great food, once we convinced them to cook it for us. Then as we were walking downtown, we crossed paths with the lady from Scoops. By this time, we'd been in so often that she recognized us on the street and asked why we hadn't come in today...
Thursday we thought we'd try the Bat Cave/Bloody Point hike. Bloody Point (and Bloody Beach, and Bloody Canyon...sensing a theme here?) is where the British and French decided to cooperate with each other long enough to kill essentially all of the native population of Karibs. During a religious rite, no less. The canyon is a very narrow, very deep gorge in which the tribes gathered for ceremonies. The Brits and French split up the top of the gorge, and shot them all during their ceremony. Since we're both terribly masochistic, we called on the lovely warrior woman Laura to lead us on this hike. Unfortunately, with the past several days of rain, the hike was undoable; the trail was thigh-deep in very quickly moving water. We followed the top of the gorge for a while, but started running into fences and such. Backtracked and waded through the river again, then followed the old narrow-gauge rails for a while. The trellis was fun; ties were definitely not evenly spaced. Good thing neither of us is scared of heights!
Home for clean clothes, and then back to the Strip to see The Fireman at Mr. X's Shiggity Shack. The ginger chicken was quite good, and they didn't stint on the spice in the jerk pork. Not even a little stinting. The Fireman is a fire-eater/fire-breather guy who puts on a weekly show, somehow managing to not burn down the very crowded eatery. Well, in fairness, the fire-breathing happened outside. Then he comes back inside and limbos under a burning bar.
Friday's trip to the neighboring island of Nevis didn't happen, because it was (surprise!) still raining. Somehow, walking down to the ferry, ferrying across the way, and renting a scooter didn't sound like a good heavy rain plan. She can be so reasonable, sometimes. So we spent the day lounging about with Bear (who'd taken a sick day from work, but was feeling rather better, thankfully) and Georgia. Silly movies were watched, books were read, naps were taken. Good relaxing day.
Saturday we packed it all up, and headed to the airport for the return trip. Gotta say, the 24 hours of flying is not the best part of a vacation to St. Kitts! The flight into Atlanta was uneventful, until we got to Atlanta. And spent the first hour of our 2 hour layover sitting on the plane, on the tarmac. No gate to unload at, and then no crew to set up the available gate. Re-routes from some other airport that took priority. All manner of excuses, none of which actually got us deplaned. We finally got to head into the airport and check through customs, and then got the unpleasant news that we had to go pick up our baggage and recheck it, because for some unexplained reason the airline can't/won't shift it to the next plane at this point. Nevermind that this process consisted of standing around a baggage drop, picking our bag up, walking it to the next room, and handing it to someone to put on a different baggage carousel. Very frustrating and pointless. Speaking of pointless--we now have 30 minutes to make it across the Atlanta airport to our next flight before it departs. Which means it's probably boarding already. So we can run for it, right? WRONG. Instead, we have to go through security again. I guess the hand search of every bag, and pat-down of passengers after going through metal detectors and x-raying bags at St. Kitts wasn't sufficient, we have to go through the whole process (minus things like hand searching bags and pat downs, which are too...what... primitive? effective? annoyingly useless? to be bothered with in US security). So we end up with less than 10 minutes to get to our next plane before it departs without us. Good thing Atlanta's airport has trains, because I don't think we could have made the run.
When we got to Washington DC, we had 7 hours to kill. Too early to check in for our next flight (can't check in more than 6 hours early), so we weren't sure what the protocol on baggage was. Asked the steward and he said to ask the lady at the gate. So we asked her. She said we should go pick the bag up, since it might not get transferred to the next plane. So we trekked down to baggage claim and waited for it. Tried to check it into the baggage storage area, but they wouldn't take it. So we ended up packing it along with us the rest of the time. Not quite long enough to be worth getting a hotel room, but we thought we'd grab a taxi, and have them take us to food. Now, I don't have much experience with taxis in the States. My experiences with taxis have been on Caribbean islands, where if you ask a taxi driver for recommendations on just about anything, he'll have a list of places he likes, and a list of places that tourists like, and will be happy to (for a small fee, of course!) take you to any and all of them. Apparently, that's not how it works here. The taxi driver seemed to think that we were total nutjobs when we asked him what was a good place for late-night (it was pushing midnight at this point) dinner. He could not grasp the concept that we didn't have a hotel reservation. Finally came down to give him an exact address, or get out of the car. So we got out of the car. Went back inside the airport, found a yellow pages, and started calling restaurants listed as "late night". Got info, directions, and address, and went out to hail a different taxi. Gave address to this taxi driver, who asked what the place was. When we told him the name, he says "oh, I know that place! Good food!" Turns out the place is a 5 minute drive from the airport, frequented by cops and taxi drivers. So why the F did driver number 1 think such a place didn't exist? aarg. I hypothesize that the first driver had spent fewer hours in our nation's capitol than the tourists he was driving around. Ah, the power of a navigation system. Anyway, if you need a late night place in DC that will give you huge portions of food lest you waste away to nothing before breakfast, check out Kabab Palace. (http://www.yelp.com/biz/kabob-palace-arlington-2).
We decided not to try getting a taxi driver to tour us around DC to look at pretty monuments, partly because it was very late and we were tired, partly for fear of asking taxi drivers questions after previous experience, and partly because it was (still, again, some more) raining. We caught a taxi back to the airport, and tried to find some place to sleep for a couple hours. Unfortunately, the DC airport seems to be determined not to provide a comfortable napping area. No benches anywhere, just rows of chairs with metal ridges and low armrests between each seat. We ended up just laying out on the floor, which was cold and uncomfortable and not good sleeping.
When check-in finally opens well 3 of the twenty terminals, anyway, the rest got confused by DST, we pass over the bag, and the woman behind the counter tells us that we should have just left it for the airline workers to transfer, because it was already checked clear through to Spokane (even though we weren't!). She just looked confused and had no explanation when we said that 2 people the night before had told us differently. Ah, consistency.
Next stop, St. Paul. In stark contrast to DC, the St. Paul airport actually has at least one corner cubby with a floor pad in it for sleeping on at the gate. Too bad we were only there for an hour. The rest of the trip home was pretty uneventful, and Monday I returned to work to a pile-up of messages from clients. It seems I was missed... Bruce (the lucky lucky bas...er... gentleman) had the day off, and got to sleep in. And sleep in I did.