St Kitts, Leeward Islands

If you needed to summarize the history of Caribbean in two words you would do no better than these: Sugar and Slaves. Take the island community of St Kitts as an example. Sighted by Columbus on his second voyage of exploration in 1493, it has retained the name of his patron saint ever since, the official name of this island nation being St Christopher and Nevis. The latter, the small neighboring island where Horatio Nelson found a wife, was strikingly visible at daybreak as we made our approach, its cloud-encircled peaks had reminded the explorer of snow, nieves in Spanish. The British took possession of the island in 1623 under the command of Sir Thomas Warner whose tomb we passed in the grounds of the Anglican cathedral on our way from the capital of Basseterre to Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park. The British were soon joined by their maritime rivals the French; together they massacred what remained of the native Carib people at a spot still known as Bloody Point, our last stop en route to the fortress. So spectacular are the Brimstone Hill fortifications that St Kitts (as the British called the island after they had removed the French) came to be known as "the Gibraltar of the West Indies". The large and imposing site has been lovingly restored, with informative displays in the former barrack rooms.

Moving on to Romney Manor Gardens we quickly came to understand why all the blood had been shed. The evocative remains of a sugar plantation, aqueduct, wheel-pit, chimney and boilers spoke to us from the not too distant past of centuries of slave sugar, cultivated, processed and exported to satiate the increasing widespread sweet tooth of the European colonisers. Ninety percent of the population of today's Caribbean islands traces its ancestry to the African slaves imported from the Old World to the new in the Atlantic slave trade of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the most remarkable enforced migration in human history. The slaves could bring no physical reminders of home with them to the New World, but their culture survived in vibrant music and costume. An example of the latter was the highlight of the day for many, a chance to browse and shop at the local Batiq workshop. That evening, out on deck, many were sporting some of the finest (and brightest!) shirts and dresses to be found in the Caribbean.