Nevis Healing Waters: Envisioning Freedom
I was traveling alone in the Caribbean a woman with 2 weeks of much needed relaxation and blissful freedom, when I caught an unbelievable deal at the lush Four Seasons on Nevis.
Traveling alone gave me unparalleled opportunities to talk with the Islanders I soon learned of the upcoming Referendum vote for independence. In 1983 St. Kitts/Nevis declared independence from Britain; less than a decade passed before a new sense of restlessness ensued, not surprisingly a clash over economics, as Nevis sought cessation from the larger island of the two, St. Kitts.
While in Nevis I read the usual travel books and came across Nevis Healing Waters. Nevis had at, one time been the ‘Queen of the Caribees,’ with plantations for growing sugar and tobacco. When slavery was abolished, Nevis turned to tourism and, with hot springs built The Bath Hotel, now in ruins. But the Baths remain and the Natives report modern day miracles. I was quite taken with the idea of the Healing Waters as they have come to be called and was determined to make them part of my trip.
Time flew on the beautiful Pinney Beach with snorkeling and visits to the spa, and just being which is called ‘limen.’ I had just one more day when I stopped at the Front desk to inquire about a shuttle to the site. The young Native man smiled broadly and said, “You want to go to the healing waters? You have heard of the healing waters?”
I said “Yes. Are there towels there?”
“Oh, you have to bring your own and someone need to go with you. You can’t go alone. Wait until tomorrow. I’m off tomorrow. I can take you then.”
But I was leaving the next morning and though taken by the gracious offer which was clearly heartfelt, I explained that I would probably have to go that very evening if I was to make it. Undaunted, he began to explain that the islanders went in the evening. And that I would need soap. It was clear that he was very excited. And surprised.
When he finished, he said, “Are you sure you can’t stay until tomorrow, when I am off so I can take you.”
Understand that I am a middle aged woman, maybe a cougar, while this was a young man, so I couldn’t imagine he had any interest beyond taking me out there.
As the hours unfolded and the buzz went through the resort, the Native staff looked and spoke to me as I went to the beach and back, and through my day, to the dining room, there was a warmth and friendliness that was new. Several of the night crew greeted me as I went to my room to change for the trip while others were waiting at my door to walk me to the front of the hotel. There had been miracles they said. But only among the islanders.
The cab was called and as I waited, a female middle-aged English employee came running out quite alarmed. “You’re going to the baths?”
“Yes” I had read about them in one of the tourist books. It hadn’t mentioned that I wasn’t to go. Having recently returned from Europe I imagined steps down to the waters, a semblance of a city square, not unlike St. Kitts harbor, not necessarily ornate, but with lights, perhaps even music, who knew?
“You shouldn’t go to the baths alone. A woman going to the baths alone. You should not go.”
“Is it dangerous? Don’t women go? I thought the driver was going to go with me and stay.”
Now the driver looks scared, looks at her, back at me, at his friend, then at her, quite likely his bread and butter. Just moments ago this same driver was talking easily about visiting the baths but he’d picked up the tone.
I looked at my newly-found friend, the young man who had been so excited by my proposal. “Am I the first guest to ever visit the baths?”
At once they all agreed. “Yes.” The woman looked relieved. “The Islanders go at night and bathe naked. It is no place for a woman tourist to go alone.”
I look at the young man who has looked away as has the Taxi driver. He steals a glance at me as I say, “I still want to go. I agree I shouldn’t go alone, but I thought he was going with me.”
All of a sudden he was too busy, has other runs but at least agrees to take me there. We drive through the night and I realize that lights and concrete piazzas don’t exist in the grinding poverty of Nevis. The driver and I talk about the island. “We have very little crime here. Nothing would happen to you at the baths. It just isn’t done. It would make people uncomfortable. But of course, you never know. Something could happen. We are a religious people. A tight community. And the resort has brought us good money. That is why there is no crime. Families and religion.
I wonder at what the Natives see when they look at the resort and live in broken down huts with no electricity. We drive for some time on bad roads. There are no lights, not even in the main city. We finally make a few turns and the driver points and stops. “There it is.”
I peer out the window and can make out slender black men and women, naked as God made them one here or there, almost all men walking slowing down a path in tall grass to what had to be the baths, unlit and private. The healing baths of Nevis belong to the people and maybe that is how it should be because in the poverty that I saw, they clearly need all that is theirs.
Driving through the night, I thought of the name the freedom fighters chose: the Envisions. At the time, it seemed strange that in this big and complicated world they wanted to stand alone. In the year of 2004, exactly what new freedom were the Envisions seeking so soon after winning independence?
Until I rode through the deepest darkness and saw a people living as if civilization had left them behind I didn’t understand.It is very likely that the fire for liberty was born during the many dark nights spent looking at St. Kitts all ablaze.
What is most significant is that the fight for independence on both occasions occurred in the ballot box instead of on the battle field.