It’s the start of a new week, and I finally feel like I’ve got my head on straight. Survival mode has seamlessly transitioned into “vacation” mode, as the first week of classes at the University of the West Indies consists of only one class meeting, in which the professor may or may not show up, merely handing out the syllabus and discussing it if he or she does indeed come. The days have blended together, as my biggest daily decision is whether to head down the hill to Batt’s Rock Beach with the morning crew, the afternoon crew, or both. There’s been days when I’ve rolled out of bed and thought to myself, “there has to be something I have to do… I can’t have this open of a schedule”, but, in reality, the only absolute necessities of the day are picking out some delicious food to eat at the cafeteria and tracking down the lecture halls for my 6:00 or 7:00 pm classes. After the hectic hustle and bustle of the first few days — sorting out school payments, navigating the transportation systems, and getting my class schedule straightened out — things are definitely feeling more natural.
As soon as I had become comfortable with life on UWI campus, though, the urge to keep exploring was buzzing around my head. This was probably one of the last weekends of the semester of abundant free time before my nose would be stuck in the books, I realized, and thus it was prime for checking out some of the more remote destinations on this island of 166 square miles. Although Barbados is not necessarily known for its abundant wildlife, there were rumors that a place called the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, in the northern parish of St. Peter, had a number of different species within their confines. Oh, and not all of them were in cages! Our group crammed ourselves onto the local bus headed north toward Speightstown, passing the ritzy tourist-trap Holetown on the way.
The Wildlife Reserve is located in the middle of picturesque rolling sugarcane fields, but once inside the “zoo,” visitors follow winding stone pathways that are nicely shaded by hundreds of tall trees. Immediately, the cameras were out, and before we walked more than a dozen yards into the park, many of us were excitedly snapping countless pictures of the large tortoises meandering through. Little did we know that Bajan deers (formally known as red brocket deer), peacocks, pythons (caged, of course), parrots, and the famous green monkeys awaited our eager eyes. A Bajan zoo-keeper distributed peanuts to those who wanted to feed the monkeys, and it was a challenge to keep a straight face as the mischievous-looking monkeys hopped up next to you, uncurled your hands with their miniature fingers, and proceeded to eat all the food in your hands in mere seconds. Reactions ranged from one girl shaking in nervous energy to another proclaiming she could “die happy” after having had such a close encounter with the green monkeys.
The next nature adventure our group undertook was one that I, myself, had searched out and organized. Before I arrived in Barbados, I knew two things: One, I wanted to see as much of the island as possible; and two, I wanted to do so on a budget where I could still eat during the last month of school. The Barbados National Trust hikes are the love-child of such ideals, as they are free hikes guided by the Barbados National Hikes every Sunday at either 6:00 am, 3:30 pm, or 5:30 pm. This Sunday’s hike took place in Foul Bay, a complete geographic unknown to me before that afternoon, and I discovered it was all the way on the other side of the island. I called a taxi, gave him all the logistics for the 3:30 pm hike, and estimated that about 10-15 students would be going on the hike. Sunday afternoon, nearly 30 students came out to our meeting spot to take the taxi!
Foul Bay turned out to be quite an amazing scene. We drove down a steep hill, parked among a thick enclave of trees, and marched out onto the beach, lined with palm trees and sandwiched between huge stone cliffs. Our tour guide was a wizened, older Bajan man named George, who not only gave us some historical background about the area we covered, but also launched into some serious philosophical musings about the future of renewable energy, the dangers of money, and World War III. At one point in the 6- mile, three hour hike, he took me aside and told me that “you, young man, are going to be the leader of your group. There is a lot of you, and we need to make sure everyone makes it back”. I took away a strange satisfaction that George would make me second in command without any previous knowledge of my abilities, but I agreed to keep an eye of our pack of 29 and make sure no one fell behind. Our hike took us through the beachside forest, up a stone staircase to the top of the sea cliffs, and winding through the grass fields that skirted the coast. On the way back, we took a number of back roads that would through villages of both large and small, colorful Bajan abodes, often waving to the onlooking locals as we passed.
We tramped back into the beach parking lot well after sundown, and it’s safe to say we were all tired and hungry to the bone. As we were clambering aboard the taxis that would return us to campus, George stopped me and said “I made a good choice in choosing you as your group leader. You did a good job, and I look forward to seeing you on more of the hikes!” Again, I wasn’t aware of anything I did to deserve such high praise from our tour guide, but I guess someone with so much life experience was able to see in myself something that I’ve never truly noticed. Whatever it was, I will try to cultivate it further in my time here at the University of the West Indies, knowing that it’d make George proud.
The stunning view of the east coast from Farley National Park.
A green monkey catching a ride on a tortoise at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve.
Foul Bay beach is sandwiched between rocky cliffs.
George appointed me group leader of the exchange students.