Don't ask me how I did it. Don't. But Fortuna took a lucky spin as I find myself shacked up at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort and Royal Beach Casino in the Caribbean. Here's an interesting tidbit you might not know about the island of St. Kitts. There are 40,000 people who live here and 20,000 monkeys. Can I say that again: 20,000 monkeys! That's one monkey for every two people. My goal: to befriend a monkey who will spend the rest of my trip on my shoulder while clad in tiny people clothes. My new friend--with those freaky little monkey hands--will then be nicknamed, "Chuck Norris".
St. Kitts is a rare gem in the Caribbean; a 69 square mile island shaped like a chicken leg. (The neighboring island of Nevis is shaped like something entirely different: a container of tasty coleslaw.) This lush, tropical paradise has an intoxicating blend of rolling hills, aqua-green sea, abundant vegetation, huge rain forests, and volcanoes looming majestically in the cloudy mist.
The locals (known as "Kittitians") are extremely warm, friendly and very laid back--as one would be if their habitat were an island paradise. In fact when entering the country, the customs official simply suggested:
"Just have your passports out. You don't need to show your picture."
How different is the lush tropical paradise of St. Kitts compared to my City by the Bay?
Upon arrival, the St. Kitts Marriott Resort staff greets me with one of my all time favorite greetings: a tropical rum drink placed directly in hand. Hello insanely exotic and beautiful Caribbean.
Opening the balcony doors to my hotel room, I'm treated to this wonderful view facing the Atlantic Ocean with a surf-swept, four-mile stretch of sand. The landscape looks like it jumped right out of a postcard--a really exceptional one. Taking a deep breath from the balcony my lungs fill with a warm, tropical sea breeze.
It's not that different than the view from my San Francisco apartment, which faces.....yet another San Francisco apartment. When taking a deep breath from my window that faces Valencia Street, my lungs fill with the smell of homeless people relieving themselves on the sides of buildings.
Sure the St. Kitts Marriott harvests a grand casino (I would later win a Texas Hold 'Em tournament), three pools (hello swim-up bar), a world-class golf course (my ball sliced into the Atlantic ocean), but I'm going to momentarily put aside the manly activities in order to explore tropical island drinking. That's right: knocking back a nice Ting with a sting like Papa Hemingway would right after he reeled in a giant marlin that would later be devoured by sharks on the voyage back to the mainland--that kind of island drinking.
Let's hit the van.
Almost every van on St. Kitts has its own funny name airbrushed on the hood, such as Uncle Millie, Easy Boy Eddie, Jah Blessing, and Zion Train.
Taking to the road, I already notice signs (I assume) warning against the effects of drinking too much delicious local St. Kitts rum.
Cruising down Old Road, school kids playfully throw rocks at a mango tree in order to knock the sweet, ripe fruit to the ground. Driving in a tight, two-lane road, I hear myself spontaneously exclaim "Oh my!" several times as large trucks swerve side-to-side in order to clear telephone lines; veering frequently into the oncoming traffic lane. Scotty, our driver, friend, and hero, stops several times in the middle of the road to point things out--regardless of how many cars might be behind us. This seems to be the island way. Traffic often comes to a halt with the occasional goat crossing.
The Caribbean is known for its rum. The first distillation took place on the sugarcane plantations in the 17th century. Thus it's no surprise that besides mango and guava trees, St. Kitts also boasts the famous Rum Tree.
Scotty explains: "It's from guys who hang out in the trees and drink rum. When they're done they'll hang it in the trees."
What would this tree be like if they only drank 40 ounce PBRs?
Though the tourist beach bars are amazing, I find some of the best watering holes to be in the Old Town section of St. Kitts; they simply seem like random structures that dot the roadway.
One of my favorites is a place called Paula's Shop. It's run by a woman. Not ironically she is named Paula. Basically, it's a shop that sells beer, delicious home cooked chicken, and two types of shampoo. The Kittitians fav local beer of choice is Carib. All I can say about Carib: "Yum, yum, yum!" Do the math on this: $8 for six beers.
Local Kittitian Toast: "Here's one for the house."
My favorite bar on St. Kitts is a little beach paradise called Mr. X's Shiggidy Shack--in fact it's close to being my favorite bar in the world. I don't know who Mr. X is, but he sure has one hell of a great establishment; where you can indulge in both fruity tropical drinks as Mango Margaritas, Rum Punch, and Reggae Coladas, and great local cuisine. The best part about the Shiggidy Shack--it's a mere obtuse conga line away from my digs at the St. Kitts Marriott.
Located in the lively part of the island called The Strip--comprised of several beach bars directly next to each other--the locals don't even kick off the party until 11pm. I'm told when it gets to the early morning hours, women will do a dance that involves spinning on their heads. The question is: will I end up spinning on my head?
Here's one for the house!
The musician at the Shiggidy Shack has the most awesome name known to humanity: Stash Heel. The man had the ability to turn any song into cool, head-bopping reggae. I learn this through his rendition of the Eagle's Hotel California and numerous Miley Cyrus numbers.
Having another Ting with a sting, I ponder the notion of the steel drum outside of an island setting. Would its constant play become really annoying--fast?
For me, more Ting with a sting! Here's one for the house!
What would a drunken pub-crawl be without tasty food to go with it? San Francisco might have its wonderful Mission burritos--the size of a baby's torso. Meanwhile, the popular food choice on St. Kitts is the fresh Caribbean lobster--the size of a mutant baby's head. For roughly $30, you can feast on a huge, delectable crustacean. Different than North American lobster, what the Caribbean Spiny Lobster lacks in pinching claws it makes up in sweet delicious-a-bility.
This has nothing to do with my pub-crawl, but here's an obligatory photo of some funny monkeys. The Green Vervet monkeys are best to spot late in the day, along the St Kitts Marriott Resort's picture perfect golf course, when the temperature cools down. Crazy: monkeys wandering around at random--going about their lives like it were the most ordinary thing in the world.
Only 19,998 more St Kitts island monkeys left to photograph.
Though we have numerous Burning Man fire dancers in San Francisco, nothing compares to the local celebrity known as The Fireman--a muscular shirtless Kittitian who does such flaming daredevil feats as limbo dancing under a pole of fire.
One can only image how much Carnival Cruise Line poonany The Fireman must get.
Here's one for the house! More Ting with a sting. Onward to Ziggy's! Onward to Sunsplash! Onward to the Monkey Bar! Yet another one for the house!
In the morning I wake up safely in the comforts of my St. Kitts Marriott Resort hotel room. (God bless you comfortable hotel room.) I'm wearing one of the provided bathrobes and slippers; wondering if I ended the night spinning on my head at the Shiggidy Shack in the celebration of dance? Where's my monkey?
Much like Papa Hemingway's marlin in The Old Man and the Sea, my liver feels like it was devoured almost entirely by sharks. When it comes to Caribbean rum, I guess anyone can be a fisherman in May.