Thursday, October 28, 2010
Oh yes. This is paradise.
I don't know if it was the "Sex on the Beach" I drank (a gin based concoction that I had to try if only because its name was so funny! and I wanted to be able say, 'I had sex on the beach'.) or just the fact we're nearing the end of our sojourn here in paradise, but when Tammy, Jack, C.C. and I returned from town last night from a drink at the Surfside Bar, I suggested we go for a late night swim, 'au naturel'. The other three quickly jumped at the suggestion and there we were in the dark, inky waters of the Caribbean laughing and splashing and enjoying the feeling of the water flowing along bare skin.
Above us, the moon lay on its back, its body curved like a bowl open to receiving the universe's bounty pouring out of the sky. The dark blanket of the night was pierced by twinkling stars intent on their purpose to lead sailors and wayfarers home. When my daughters were little I used to tell them the stars were little holes made by the dream fairies as they fluttered down to earth to cast magic over sleeping children. I searched for familiar constellations. The Big Dipper. Little Dipper. Cassiopeia but could only find one familiar friend, Orion's Belt. Bobbing up and down in the waves, feeling the silky smooth texture of the water against my skin, I was lost amongst the stars in the Tropic of Cancer.
It was a perfect nightcap to a perfect day in paradise.
Tammy and I had walked into town earlier that morning to pick up bread and croissants at a little French bistro. As we passed The Sandpiper resort on our way back, we decided to go in and inquire if we could rent a Moke for the day. To our delight, the woman at the desk arranged it easily and shortly after 10 the four of us set out on an island adventure of the Moke kind.
The Moke (rhymes with 'pope') is a real hybrid. A cross between a Morris Mini, a go-cart and a Jeep, it has no doors, no windows and no solid roof, just a piece of canvas that can be pulled back and stuffed in its miniature trunk. The little cherry red Moke we had did have a cassette player -- I don't think CDs were around when it was built.
The art of the Moke is finding a way to get in and out gracefully. There is none. One let in. Tuck your head. Angle your bum in. Pull the other leg in. Whew. You're in. Which is easier said than done when the Moke has been sitting out in the sun. It's all metal. And metal can get really hot in paradise. Towels are an essential part of the equipment.
But we didn't care. We set off inland, intent on getting lost in the wonder and beauty of this island in the sun.
And we did. Get lost. Several times. Though its hard to get really lost on a 21 x 14 mile wide island. If you get lost, the car rental man told us, just follow the bus signs. Every road leads to the sea and eventually, every bus leads back to 'The City'.
Now, C.C., who was driving, may disagree, but I decided there are two facts about Bajan drivers that are vital to understand. 1. Everyone thinks they own the road. and 2. They all like to play chicken.
Oh, and you also have to be prepared for blind turns on narrow twisting roads where to let oncoming traffic know you're coming is to beep your horn, slow down and hope for the best.
The roads are not wide in Barbados. Nor are they particularly smooth. Few roads have centre lines and shoulders are just not part of the picture.
And it didn't matter. It was fun to climb up into the 'highlands'. To tool around corners and bump and grind over pot holes and swerve to miss foliage that brushed out against the car. Though I'm not sure C.C. was too intent on missing the sweeping branches and other foliage that kept grazing Jack and me where we sat on the passenger side of the Moke!
We didn't have a really clear agenda planned. We just wanted to explore though eventually we knew we wanted to end up at Bathsheba, a surf tossed beach on the Atlantic side of the island. Enroute, we stopped at an 'adventure spot' where tourists can rent mountain bikes and hike in the lush, tropical forests of the hills. We weren't dressed for outdoor adventure of the rugged nature so after snapping a few photos of the incredible view afforded from the terrace of the bar, we climbed (not so gracefully) back into the Moke to continue on our journey. One somewhat disconcerting incident was the arrival of two khaki clad, MK4 toting army recruits who climbed out of a police vehicle, MK4s at their sides and proceeded to walk along the ridge, peering into the dense foliage below. Even though they reassured us, 'everything's ok', the contrast of being surrounded by beauty and the might of the military was jarring.
I wondered if they were on the prowl for drug dealers hiding out in the coconut grove below us or perhaps just reconnoitering advantage points to set up security posts for the upcoming state funeral of Prime Minster David Thompson who passed away last Saturday. Dignitaries and politicians from around the world are expected to descend upon this little island in the sun as she mourns the loss of one of her sons and security promises to be tight.
Funny, I didn't feel more secure with these armed soldiers in our midst. I felt more exposed.
Just like in the Moke as we continued to wend our way along winding roads and narrow trails leading, we weren't sure where. We drove past pastoral scenes of cows grazing, accompanied by the prerequisite Cattle Egret, the white heron that roosts at night in the bushes that line water ways and who, during the day, gather in fields to peck at the flies and bugs that congregate where ever the cattle graze. We drove through coconut groves and banana orchards and C.C. was positive that just beyond one ferny hedge, Mary Jane's finest was growing.
They're not big on road signage on the island so we often left the next decision of which way to turn up to the loudest voices in the car. "Go left." "No, right." "No straight." "Stop! Go back. Turn left instead of going straight."
Poor C.C. He deserves a medal for his patience and ability to ignore our exhortations to take the road less travelled. In the end, he picked the direction of his discretion and all was well.
We ended up at Bathsheba, a stunning beach where gigantic outcroppings of coral rock litter the shore. Perhaps eons ago they rained down from the heavens, meteorites left to guard the eastern shores of paradise, ensuring no evil spirits can enter from the sea. The surf roared. We sat along its edges and let the waves pound us, pushing us here and there. It was exhilarating.
We found a roadside vendor selling jewellery and cotton caftans. He had a tiny six week old monkey tied to the leg of his table. The monkey chattered and turned its tiny paws over and over. He was sweet but somehow it felt wrong to tether the monkey -- or, as I'd like to believe, he was rescued and this was his only chance at survival.
We drove along the shore, turning on a whim, following no map except the coastline's serendipitous route. We were hungry, and thirsty, and to our delight, by turning left instead of going straight, we found the perfect restaurant/bar on a beach. The surf pounded as we ate fried snapper and turkey leg and salad. The air and sun and sand and the sounds and sites of the water pushing in and out and fishing boats bobbing in the tiny harbour and palm trees swaying in the breeze was intoxicating.
And so the day continued. Perfectly in tune with our holiday spirits let loose, we travelled past churches and school children in pink and tangerine and pale blue uniforms, waiting for buses or walking along roadways as they journeyed home. We past roosters and cows rutting and sheep grazing. We stopped at The Cranes and climbed down to a beach of pink sand that felt like butter under our feet. We pulled into the fish market at Oistens and watched a game of 'road tennis' and I danced with one of the vendors and we ate 'Macaroni Pie' and took pictures of a cattle egret standing on the fishmongers counter pecking away at the entrails of deboned fish. We chatted with a man, a Bajan who now lives with his wife and two absolutely beautiful children in Switzerland. A musician, he talked about his music and its roots in the Caribbean sun and discrimination and his white/black heritage. "How can I discriminate when I am half and half?" he asked.
And then, we had to head home. Along the coast. The sun setting in the west. We got lost, ended up in 'shantytown', the fumes of vehicles choking us. It wasn't the perfect ending to our day, but it was real. And humbling. And disturbing.
Tar paper shacks and corrugated metal roofs. No grass. No trees. Nothing but house on house in tumble down disarray. and heat and smells and people walking home and people sitting on porches watching the world go by.
Eventually, as night wrapped us in its enveloping embrace, we made it home, tired and happy to have spent a day of wonder lost in paradise. Andy and Lia listened avidly to our tales and over a candle lit table and a delicious meal, we shared the stories of our adventures.
Oh yes. This is paradise.
Thank you TZ for the use of your photos!