A Family Reunion in Barbados
The rickety, brightly-painted minibus arrived at our resort to take us, along with other nature lovers, for a day on the wild Atlantic side of Barbados. As my sister and I climbed into the van, someone placed two halves of coconut shells threaded on thin leather thongs around our necks. Although my sister and I lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic, we tried to get together every year. This year we’d chosen a reunion in Barbados.
We are both passionate about nature, and I wanted her to have a birthday to remember. When I heard about a movement to preserve the wild Atlantic side of the island as a national park, and that the tour I wanted to book would donate parts of the proceeds to that cause, I signed us up. Our teenagers were left to take an introductory scuba diving course.
Our mini-bus rattled its way up the many hairpin bends on rough rough roads through tropical rainforest, the canopy of the tall trees preventing much sunlight from penetrating through, so it was fairly dark even at 9 am. At the end of the road, we pulled onto a grassy bank where we saw two donkeys waiting patiently for us, each with two saddle bags. One donkey carried rum, the other water. As we exited the van, the guide ladled water into one of our coconut shell halves. His helper ladled rum into the other.
Our group followed him through fairly dense jungle. We could see an occasional bromeliad in the forks of some trees, and leaves of every tropical variety, from huge elephant ears to tiny filigree ones, from banana leaves to crotons of vivid orange and red. Occasionally the brush encroached on the path, but our guide carried a scythe to clear the way.
One donkey carried rum, the other water. As we exited the van, the guide ladled water into one of our coconut shell halves. His helper ladled rum into the other.
We didn’t see any animals but we heard the green monkeys calling to each other in the treetops. We heard an occasional parrot cawing, and even saw something multi-colored flying across our path. To our relief, our guide told us the mongoose had been very successful getting rid of snakes on the island. We were unlikely to see a thread snake, which lived underground and was harmless. As we emerged from the dense brush, spiky red poinsettias, six-feet tall, and amethyst and mulberry-colored bougainvillea welcomed us to the light. We also saw some iridescent hummingbirds flitting from flower to flower on the yellow trumpet vine.
Eventually, we came out of the forest to a grassy clearing on a cliff, with a breathtaking view of the Atlantic Ocean, cerulean blue on this day reflecting the sky. Waves crashed onto the rocky shore, sending plumes of white froth high in the air. We followed the guide down a steep path along the coast until we came to a large cave, probably 15 feet deep and eight high, from which came an enticing aroma of herbs.
A Family Reunion in Barbados
Our mouths started watering although it was barely noon. The cooks had built fires of driftwood on slate slabs in the cave, which accommodated three people cooking. We loaded up our banana leaves with the delicious offerings. The fried plantains were the best I had ever tasted, melting in the mouth and leaving a slightly sweet-spicy aftertaste. Everything we ate grew in the area, from the papaya, pineapple and mangoes to the root vegetables and plantains. It was a meal fit for a king served from a cave, all with the most spectacular view of a small sandy beach sheltered by black cliffs, shiny from the waves crashing onto them.
After lunch the guide told us we had three choices if we wished to swim. He recommended the small beach for less-strong swimmers, which was fairly sheltered, with calmer water. If we wanted to play in the waves, we should climb over the next knoll and down to the more exposed beach. And, if we preferred to swim naked, we should continue on to the the third beach.
It was a meal fit for a king served from a cave, all with the most spectacular view of a small sandy beach sheltered by black cliffs, shiny from the waves crashing onto them. This reunion in Barbados would be remembered.
After our swims, as tends to happen in the tropics, we were half way through our jungle hike when the clouds burst and warm rain poured down. We were drenched, and the path turned to mud, so we squelched back to the bus. My shoe got stuck in the mud at one point and came right off my foot. This must have been the moment when a hookworm took advantage of me and penetrated my skin, which I didn’t discover until I was back in Illinois.
The bus ride down the mountain was more lively than the ride up, with some of our group singing and dancing in the aisles. The rickety van felt like it might fall to pieces as it hopped, skipped and danced its way down. I believe the many refills of the coconut shells had something to do with the merriment, but it made for a birthday bash to remember for my sister, and a reunion in Barbados to remember.