On November 10th I welcomed an awesome group of Divers and Yogis to my home base, the beautiful island of Nevis, in the eastern Caribbean for the first (and certainly not the last) of SoulScuba‘s Yoga-Scuba vacations, a trip dedicated to wellness, adventure, and my specialty, a unique fusion of Yoga and Scuba Diving, the PADI Yoga Diver Course.
Hosted by my good friends at Westshore Scuba (Harrisburg, PA, USA), 4 people came to see what it is about this island that caused a career globetrotter like myself to put down some roots (or the closest I have come to it in many years). Kelly, Brian, and Earl are all regular yoga practitioners and have all taken the Yoga Diver course before. In fact, Earl loves it so much he has repeated the course 4 times! Earl’s wife Raquel is not a diver, but came and enjoyed the yoga offerings and other activities.
With daily yoga offerings, scuba trips, and other excursions, my goal was to provide my guests with a balance of wellness and adventure, comfort and novelty, and to use my intimate knowledge of the island to show them an authentic island-life experience that far too many tourists miss out on. For one week they had a private driver, tour guide, yoga teacher and dive guide (me!) ready to make sure they had a great time.
Nevis is not a well known dive destination. It is sometimes difficult convincing people why the places you have never heard of are worth visiting. Every diver has heard of Cozumel…Bonaire…Grand Cayman….so they must be phenomenal right? But Nevis? If I haven’t heard of it then it must not be that great…not true! The thing that makes Nevis so attractive is exactly that…not everyone has heard of it…which means that you can have a laid back, authentic island experience without getting lost in the tourist traffic (and in many cases, have the dive site, if not the entire dive boat to yourself!) My Dive Yogis were so impressed by the experience they are already itching to return.
Nevis, the smaller, quieter sister island of St. Kitts is only 36 square miles with a population of 11,000 people. With no cruise ship port and few signs of commercialization, Nevis is the perfect off the beaten track place to relax and dedicate some time to mind-body wellness. Nevis also offers an ideal atmosphere for those who love nature, being active, and want to be immersed in some authentic Caribbean vibes. A dormant volcano and lush rainforest rest at the center of the island, while the outer edges are fringed with both white and black sand beaches, old sugar plantations, historical sights (such as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton), cool beach bars, and some excellent dive sites.
Upon their arrival into St. Kitts airport (SKB), we made our way by ferry to Nevis. It is possible to fly into Nevis, but mainly on smaller flights from within the Caribbean. Regular direct flights from JFK, Charlotte, Atlanta, Miami, and Toronto, makes St. Kitts airport a much more convenient option. After a 45 minute ferry ride we arrived in Charlestown,where we drove 15 minutes to our beach front accommodation at Oualie Beach Resort. Guests spent their first night and morning settling in and commented how quiet and peaceful the surroundings were.
On Sunday afternoon it was time to get wet! Directly from Oualie Beach we cruised across the channel between St. Kitts and Nevis with our dive operator, Scuba Safaris and visited one of my favorite sites along the shores of the rolling green hills St. Kitts’ south peninsula. Buggs Hole, a 15 minute boat ride away, is the perfect dive site to ease ourselves gently into our dive adventure.
In a calm bay on the leeward side of the island, and a maximum depth of only 40 ft, the site is suitable for for all dive levels, with no shortage of critters. We saw turtles, (both green and hawksbill), eels, lobsters, octopus, crabs, shrimps, sea slugs, sting rays, and array of colorful coral and fish. Despite the visibility not being at its best my divers were really impressed. They said it was one of their best dives ever!
Following our dive we travelled to Pinneys Beach for sunset. Following a lecture on mindfulness and healthy eating, we enjoyed a healthy, Rastafarian “Ital” meal from Taste of Fari, a simple, a humble little beach shack run by my partner Ras Derrick that serves up some seriously tasty vegan food. Cooked over coals in a clay “yabba” pot and served up in natural calabash bowls with coconut spoons, this heavy stew was made with fresh, local produce, lentils, and beans in a rich coconut base. This is about the truest Caribbean vibe there is…hanging on the beach, sand between the toes, a bonfire, listening to cool roots reggae, while eating fresh, local food served up with love by a local nature-loving Rasta man.
After some Monday morning Yoga and breakfast I drove everyone around the whole island, visiting beaches, historic sights, and old sugar plantations, some in ruin and others that had been turned into posh hotels. Earl accepted the island rum punch challenge…trying each of the hotel bar’s unique recipes. First prize went to the Hermatige, which is an old plantation turned hotel in the hills, and is the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean. Later he tried the famous “Killer Bee” at Sunshines Beach Bar. The verdict: not as tasty, but much more power! Needless to say, it was an early night.
Tuesday morning started with Yoga at Oualie Beach, followed by breakfast and then two-tank dive off the shores of the western side of Nevis. Normally this is where we would do the distinctive specialty Yoga Diver course, consisting of land based yoga instruction, knowledge development, open water skill practice, and underwater yoga. However since my divers were already certified Yoga Divers we continued our practice as Dive Yogis by approaching our dives with a foundation of relaxation,mindfulness and conscious breathing, fine tuning buoyancy and enhancing our focus and sense of oneness with the underwater world.
Our first dive was at “Hot Vents”, which is exactly that…down a sloping wall at about 90 ft there are some areas where you can see and feel the heat radiating from underground volcanic vents. Dive 2 was not far away at Church Reef, named for the St. Thomas Anglican church, the oldest church in Nevis, which you can see in the distance on the hilltop. A shallow dive site, we saw all kinds of cool little critters, including a ton of lobsters! There are places on this dive site where you can put your hands in the sand and feel the volcanic heat.
Since the Ital food was such a hit, we went back to Taste of Fari at Pinneys Beach for dinner. This time it was “Scrush and Stew”… the “scrush” is basically like mashed potatoes, made not only with potatoes, but with other starchy blessings from mother nature, like breadfruit and local root vegetables like tanya and dashie. The stew, served on top of the scrush, was pink beans, black-eyed peas, okra, season peppers, and garlic in a rich coconut gravy. Nom nom!
Here at the beach, my dive yogis had their first ever Laughter Yoga experience. Yes, it’s a real thing! Laughter yoga, also known as laughter meditation, is a concept that was started by a physician in India, Dr. Madan Kataria in the 1990’s, who now heads a society called Laughter Yoga International. It started out by him inviting people to organized “laughing events”. This evolved into thousands of laughter clubs developing around the globe and now there are at least 6,000 official laughter clubs in over 65 countries. The goal of laughter yoga international is to bring good health, joy, and and world peace through laughter. Not only is laughter a means of improving our own well being, but because laughter is our social glue, it also has power to bring people together!
On Wednesday we took the long, 5 minute water taxi ride across the channel from Oualie Beach to Reggae Beach in St. Kitts. From here we had our private van for the day that drove us around the entire island. We travelled through the heart of Basseterre, St. Kitts’ capitol city, and then into the countryside and the villages. We experienced local culture, historic sites, and some breathtaking scenery.
Our tour ended at South Friars Bay on the peninsula side of St. Kitts where we had arranged to participate in a stand-up paperboard (SUP) Yoga class at Shipwrecks Beach Bar. Unfortunately, the organizers cancelled the class because it was a bit windy and choppy, what a bummer! So we enjoyed the scenery and did some “beer and veggie taco” Yoga instead while watching a beautiful beach sunset. Afterwards we made our way back to Reggae Beach and took the water taxi back home to Oualie.
Thursday was a big day. We started out with a two-tank dive on the south peninsula of St. Kitts. I had requests for spotted eagle rays and turtles, so we went to some sites best known for both. We started at Nags Head North, where we moored up right along side the wild, craggy cliffside. At first we descended only 10-15 feet onto giant coral- encrusted volcanic boulders, then gradually down a sloping wall to a sand channel at around 50 ft. We saw the usual lobster armies and some seriously big southern sting rays. Schools of Creole wrasse, snappers, grunts, and jacks cruised past, and then a graceful, majestic spotted eagle ray blessed us with its presence. Our second dive was at Turtle Bar, where we would try to check the second request from our list…with success!
After a lunch break at Oualie, Derrick and I took everyone on a rainforest/waterfall hike. There are several accessible hiking trails in Nevis, with the waterfall hike being one of the easier ones, and the most challenging being the Mt. Nevis peak.
It took us about an hour to reach the waterfall. The rainforest felt fresh and cool, a nice break from the sunny beach. Along the way we saw some majestic trees, Derrick pointed out some different medicinal plants, and we picked some sour oranges and cocoa pods. Since we were just at the tail end of the rainy season there was plenty of water flowing at the waterfall. We took a dip in the cold, refreshing waters and spent a few moments in meditation in the magic surroundings.
One of the best ways to prevent sore muscles after a hike is to visit the natural volcanic hot springs in Charlestown. Even better, hot springs Yoga! It was already after dusk by the time we reached (the best time to visit the springs) so I wasn’t able to get any good photos of the hot springs yoga.
We found a small pool all for ourselves. The pools can reach well over 100 F, so you have to enter gradually and mindfully, starting with just the feet first and allowing the body to adjust to the temperature. With our feet in the water we did some gentle stretches and then slowly eased our way in to the water. The hot water is like magic for aches and pains and it is believed that the volcanic minerals and roots from nearby trees offer powerful healing qualities. Add some stretching, breathing practice, and self massage for even more benefit. Who needs to pay hundreds of dollars to go to a spa?
After a cool down meditation, the body feels like it is made out of jelly. Everyone was pretty quiet on the way home, a tranquil, happy kind of quiet. I wonder why? The last words I heard for the day were from Kelly. “What an amazing day….the diving, the waterfall, the hot springs…and this is your life!” Indeed, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share it with some awesome people.
Friday. How did Friday get here so fast? Last day in paradise. I always recommend the last day of vacation should be spent relaxing. So often we get so caught up in excitement and activity that we forget to give our body and mind exactly what it needs on vacation…stillness, rest, relaxation.
Everyone took it easy for the day and then we all met up at Pinneys Beach for a final sunset Yoga session, the beautiful blue Caribbean Sea in front of us and the misty, green Mt. Nevis looming behind us. We ended our day with a farewell dinner and “lime” at Sunshines Beach Bar and a final nightcap at Oualie Beach.
I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to share my three passions (Yoga, Scuba Diving, and Adventure!) with 4 amazing people. Thank you to Kelly, Brian, Earl, and Raquel for visiting my little island and to Westshore Scuba for hosting the trip. I hope to see you all back here again soon!