After deducing that there was little chance of us ever finding the beaten path again, should we leave it to explore the island unchaperoned, we finally happened across a hiking club organised by the Barbados National Trust.
Every weekend, the club gets together to explore Barbados’ wild and undiscovered landscape and historical dwellings and there are two walks: ‘Stop and Stare’ and ‘Grin and Bear it’.
Stop and Stare, the hike we believed we had set off on, should have been a gentle three hour amble, stopping to stare (hence its namesake) at the island’s flora and fauna and listen as our guide divulged the district’s history. What we actually went on was the Grin and Bear It hike, which, as the name suggests, is quite different.
Grin and Bear It is a fast trek over coarse and uneven terrain, starting late afternoon and finishing in the evening, meaning that the last hour of the hike is in the dark. And being that the only light visible the foothills of Barbados is the one cast from the moon, it makes for pretty dicey hiking.
Unlike Stop and Stare, the only stopping on this hike was from one of only two outcomes: to stop and chastise the weaker of the pack into shifting along a bit quicker, or if you fell over after getting entangled in the bushes. We were forewarned by our guide that the hike was for people of a decent fitness level, and after a quick scout I felt there were a fair few people, including a small child, that I thought I could easily outpace. I was wrong, and I have not been that wrong in a while.
The group comprised almost completely of locals, a fact that pleased me greatly, as initially I thought it might be a bit of a tourist trap. It might be worth pointing out that I now consider myself a local (three months seems like a solid enough jaunt to call oneself local), and I regularly find myself getting somewhat irked by tourists. This manifests itself in a few customary ways such as misdirecting them (though with my sense of direction this is not always on purpose), and occasionally having the odd ill thought about not breaking at crossings. Personally, I blame London and the mentality you end up with after having to deal with all the tourists there. Anyway, back to the unbeaten path…
The hike started off at Haggarts Old Factory Sugar Yard, St Andrew, on the east coast of the island. Already waiting to start the hike were a very enthusiastic American couple, decked out in all their hiking finery, completed by matching ‘Hike Barbados’ t-shirts. As Stop and Stare veterans they had many a tale to tell and knew our guide well. That conversation was pretty much the last time we saw them, until passing the husband early in on the hike, without his wife, and looking pretty destroyed. Through sweat and gasps of air, he exhaustedly tried to object that this was not the Stop and Stare hike he’d been promised. We nodded in agreement, and bid him farewell. For a moment, I did consider pulling off his Hike Barbados t-shirt, as he didn’t look like he would put up much of a fight, and I really wanted it. But by that time, I was marinated in so much of my own sweat, that my top and skin had pretty much bonded as one. The only way would have been to put it on as another layer, of which the thought alone made me feel nauseous. I genuinely don’t even remember seeing them finish at the end. I think they were more likely finished.
George, our 71 year old guide, had the constitution of a 17 year old. He knew every nook and cranny the island had to offer, and shared the most incredible, spine-tingling stories of times past. Every now and again he would abruptly turn round and race back to the beginning to round up his herd. He probably did about 30 odd miles in all.
Our first hike (yes, just last weekend we went back for seconds!) took us through the wilderness of Barbados and into the Scotland district, named so by the British as the landscape reminded them of Scotland’s. The climate, however, is quite dissimilar to that of Scotland’s. The district lies mostly uninhabited due to poor soil and erosion. Most inhabitants had to leave their homes due to the ground collapsing. For the few left, it is a beautiful, unspoilt landscape of green rolling hills and tropical forests.
In the Scotland district stands Mount Hillaby, 340 m above sea level and the highest point of Barbados. Mount Hillaby, and with it the Scotland District, is the summit of an elongated submarine mountain range several hundreds km long, and is the only location in the entire Caribbean where this mountain range is above water. The air is thick with tropical scents and cooled by the Atlantic winds. The paths are mostly only trod by cattle, and magnificent panoramic views of the island lie in wait at its peak.
Last weekend we went back for more, this time a hike from the Barbados Wildlife Reserve down to Morgan Lewis beach. The Bajans couldn’t believe it and, frankly, neither could my muscles in their current veal-like state. But the hikes are truly inspiring, and I actually feel a bit sad for those who come to the island and just sit on its beaches, marinating in sun and rum, when there is so much beauty and history, just waiting to be discovered.