Sunday, October 24, 2010
From the top of a hill in Barbados, I could see the Caribbean waves breaking over the rocks and the reefs. The water was so turquoise, the sand so white. I could have stood there for hours, staring out to sea.
But that would have been avoiding the problem staring me in the face.
I had to get off that hill. It hadn't been an easy climb up, and the way down looked even more daunting. I turned to my companion, Bruce Rudder, a 59-year-old Bajan (or Barbadian) farmer. He pointed to a narrow path of white clay, studded with roots and branches, that led to the beach below.
A very long, very steep path.
My heart lurched, and I gave him a panicked look.
But Bruce had spent his entire life hiking this terrain. "There's no other way," he assured me. "Trust me. I will get you down."
We were six hours into the Colin Hudson Great Train Hike, the highlight of the local hiking calendar. Bajans are passionate about hiking, thanks to the late Hudson, an environmentalist who in 1983 began leading morning, afternoon and evening hikes on the island every Sunday. Hudson died in 2004, but the weekly hikes remain popular with locals and tourists alike.
"He was a great innovator and a great environmentalist," said William Gollop, head of the Barbados National Trust, which now runs the hikes. "This is a great memorial to him."
The hikes are intended to show locals and tourists that there's more to Barbados than beaches. Cane fields, gullies and tropical forests also contribute to the island's rugged landscape. "We want you to enjoy the natural world," Gollop said. "It's education and pleasure combined."
Usually, the hikes cover five- to 14-mile stretches of the former route of Barbados's now defunct rail system, which transported sugar cane from Bridgetown to Belleplaine on the eastern side of the island. But once a year, in February, hikers trace the entire 24-mile route, as Hudson did.
I wanted to do the hike to see the island and mingle with the locals in a way few tourists do. I'd thought that I might actually be able to cover all 24 miles - lots of people can't make it- but now I wasn't so sure.
Bruce grabbed my backpack, flung it over his shoulder and took my hand.