ISLANDS OF Paradise.
Every guest at a particular resort on the Caribbean island of Nevis adopts a turtle. Luckily, finds KEVIN PILLEY, you don't have to pay excess baggage in the deal
WE extended our family on Nevis. Much to our surprise. Because it certainly wasn't planned.
But nevertheless we came back from the West Indies with a new family member and a beautiful memento of a very happy and relaxing fortnight in the Leeward islands.
She is a girl and she weighs over 20 stone. She has no teeth and has very large paddle-like feet.
Her skin is also very leathery. She is quite cumbersome and only active for small parts of every day. If she follows anyone, she follows my wife. Although admittedly that lady hasn't started attacking small boats. Yet.
Every guest at the Four Seasons Resort on the Caribbean island of Nevis adopts a turtle. Every visitor comes away with a tan and a critically endangered leatherback sea turtle. Ours is called Idun.
We have never met and I didn't have to pay excess luggage to bring her back home.
Excess baggage on massive marine old Chelonians is ridiculously prohibitive.
Nevis's Adopt-a-Turtle programme is run in association with the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and Sea Turtle Survival League.
Green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles are also involved. The turtles are electronically tagged while nesting and you can track their movements on a website. Some can travel as much as six thousand miles.
As far as Canada.
Idun is presently somewhere off Chiriqui Beach, Panama.
Nevis (which you quickly learn is pronounced Nee-vis) is a short flight from Antigua although EXCEL flies direct from Gatwick to the sister island of St Kitts.
Princess Diana made the island famous when, seeking privacy after her separation from Prince Charles, she fled there and stayed at the exclusive Montpelier Plantation Inn. There are four other similarly 'classy' plantation inns, the Old Manor House, the oceanfront Nisbet and the Hermitage.
The main house of the latter is the oldest wooden house on the island and perhaps the oldest wooden house in the Caribbean. The sitting-room dates back to 1670.
The gardens boast mango trees (a native of India brought to the Caribbean in early 1700s), breadfruit (brought from Tahiti by the British to feed the slaves), night-blooming cereus, royal palms, coconuts (the milk is called 'jellywater'), sea grape tree, tamarind and flamboyant, the national tree of Nevis and St Kitts.
Golden Rock, up in the hills on the edge of the rainforest, has a collection of pastels by the famous painter, the late Dame Eva Wilkin who had her studio at Clay Ghaut in Gingerland. History lessons are complimentary at Golden Rock because co-owner Pam Berry likes to sweet talk her guests.
'Columbus brought sugar plants to the New World from the Canary Islands. It was the discovery of tea in India that made the Europeans so sweet-toothed. It was also used as preservative,' Pam told me over her 'signature' rum punch.
'Sugar was the most labour-intensive of all industries. At one stage the slaves outnumbered the English 1000-1.
'Twenty million slaves were brought from Africa to help with sweet trade.
'Our reception area is the old counting house where they counted the hogsheads. It goes back to 1801. The Drip House is where they purified the water. You can stay in our sugar mill suite. You can be part of history in any plantation.'
The sugar industry ended mainly because of the size of Nevis and St Kitts. Neither could compete with, or modernise, at the same rate as other countries. And eventually young locals refused to work the fields because it was just too hard and too hot, while bar work and water sports paid better. Sugar production officially ceased on the two islands in July 2005.
But if they are not talking about sugar or cricket, the Nevisians are talking about Horatio Nelson.
He arrived as captain of HMS Boreas in 1785 and spent two years enforcing Britain's Navigation Acts which were intended to keep her colonies trade exclusive to the mother country.
There are six official Nelson sites on Nevis. He had a lookout at Saddle Hill. Nelson Spring provided his fresh water and he attended a ball at the Bath Hotel, the first tourist hotel in the Caribbean.
On March 11, 1797, he married Frances Fanny Herbert Nelson under the silk cotton tree just down the road from the Montpelier Plantation Inn.
Fanny, a young widow, was the niece of the owner of the Montpelier sugar plantation.
The future William IV gave the couple away. St John's Fig Tree Church holds their wedding licence. Nelson left the island in 1798 and the couple separated in 1801. There is Nelson Museum which has a small piece of the flag from The Victory.
There is no all-inclusive Nelson Lodge yet. Nor any special honeymoon hideaway packages for one-eyed, wispy-haired amputees.
We learned much on Nevis. Like how it may not be the cheapest island but, along with St Kitts which is just a half an hour ferry ride away, it is the least dangerous and most hospitable.
Our natural history teacher was Barbara Whitman, the resident marine biologist at Oualie Beach resort which has the best beach on Nevis.
Barbara takes you out snorkelling and shows you amazing colourful and odd-looking things. Most are native to the reefs. Only a few are American.
I learnt much on Nevis about the real Caribbean - as well as my own family.
Two days after returning home I noticed that I had been replaced in my wife's affections by the newest addition to the family. A photograph of Idun now stands on my wife's bedside table. When questioned on her motives, my wife told me that she has merely replaced one ancient order of reptile for another. Kevin Pilley travelled with Just St Kitts and Nevis. For details see www.justkittsnevis.co.uk or call 01373 814210.
It costs pounds 730 per person for a seven night stay at Timothy Beach, St Kitts based on two adults sharing a room with an ocean view. This is on a bed and breakfast basis.
Hilton has introduced Time to Fly packages, available at the seven Hilton Airport hotels in the UK. This includes hotel accommodation the night before going on holiday and up to 15 nights car parking included. For more information please call 08705 515151.