All Aboard the Sugar Train

This weekend came sandwiched between National Heroes Day and the country's 33rd Independence Day. The St. Kitts National Trust designed a Scenic Railway Tour excursion to raise funds for the Old Treasury Building in Basseterre, and that seemed like the perfect thing to do on a Friday morning. 

Although we left a half hour late as we waited on a carload of tardy passengers, the crew kept everyone happy by announcing the drink options and taking orders. Our funny and informative emcee, Patricia (a.k.a. Sweet Pea), advised us that we had a choice of: rum daiquiris (mango or strawberry), rum piña coladas, rum punch. rum on the rocks, rum and Coke... You could even add more rum if you didn't think your drink had enough rum! Don't worry, everything also came in a virgin option.

Ernestine, our car's attendant, got to work. This woman never sat down! She smiled the whole time and was incredibly gracious despite having a moving train AND stairs to contend with. After an hour, I was tempted to serve up a round or pick up trash just to let her sit down for a minute, but she was like the Energizer bunny and just kept on going.

cars & bicycles waiting as we, the vips, pass by.

cars & bicycles waiting as we, the vips, pass by.

Although I've been around the island many times, either being driven, driving myself, or hashing, it was rather nice to sit back and take it slow - 10mph, picture-taking slow. My experience with trains is mostly the New York City subway or sitting in my a/c-less car in the U.S. Midwest, waiting for never-ending industrial trains to pass by. This was better. 

I had read some reviews about the tracks not going through the nicest parts of the island (it was designed to move sugar cane in the early 1920s), but I felt that both the train and the bus segments encompassed a good cross-section of what makes St. Kitts St. Kitts. Sure, the tour starts and finishes with a rather industrial part of the island, but that's a part of St. Kitts. As we chugged past, we also learned that light bulbs made here are used in the U.S. White House. The plane we might have flown in on likely relied on parts made right here on-island. Besides, it wasn't long before we were headed to the coast, country-side, and rainforest. Relax and enjoy the ride!

I felt it was the perfect combination of everything. I was also surprised that so many people, not just kids, cheerfully waved as we passed by, especially considering how many times this train passes through their neighborhoods in a week/month/year.

I was a little disappointed that the "storytelling of old stories and tales passed down by our ancestors from over 150 years ago," advertised for this fundraiser didn't happen, but there were questions tossed out by a representative of the Trust. They were surprisingly tough. The school-aged kids in Car 3 were definitely the winners on this train. Here, I'll give you a few. Do you know the answers?

If you don't know who Marcus Garvey is or what he said, you can read the story here.

These three talented a cappella singers car-hopped the whole trip, singing Caribbean folk songs, children's songs, and hymns.

One of the songs they sang on our car was Shame and Scandal in the Family. I liked our ladies' version better than this official one below, but you'll get a good laugh at the lyrics.

After transversing 18 miles over 2 hours, we passed the St. Kitts Eco Park, and ended up at a turn-around point. I thought it was so smart the way they did this. We disembarked and boarded buses, while folks that had come up by bus, taxi or boat were now getting ready for their train segment. You have a few options here.

Some people had simply used the train as a unique way to get to the Eco Park, and off they went across the street. You can also get off here and head to Brimstone Hill Fortress and the Fairview Great House (via Kantours)

Like most, I boarded the bus back to the starting point. The 1-hour, 12-mile bus trip returns along the opposite coast (facing the Caribbean Sea) and was just as interesting as the train. The bus driver, Ted "Teddy Bear," was easygoing despite having to drive a big bus through the narrow Kittitian streets and was full of information too. For instance, did you know that back when they buried people only 4 feet below ground, islanders grew cinnamon around the cemeteries to counter the unpleasant aroma? (Six feet is the standard burial depth.) There are many tall, crumbling brick chimneys around the island, two have red bricks. These tell you that at the time of the their construction, there was a French governor living nearby. Any guesses on whether there are more bars or churches on-island?

If you feel like you've seen enough of the island by land and want to do the second half by catamaran, there's a tour just for you called the Rail & Sail (via Blue Island Safaris). 

Just note whichever tour you decide on, the trip might be reversed - you may start by bus or boat and end by train. Either way, enjoy the day VIP style. The tour is good for locals and tourists, alike.


*This is not a paid endorsement; no compensation was received other than the already complimentary and very rummy rum punch.