Today's adventure started off with a 100-metre dash from the River Road van stand, into the back entrance of the Fairchild Street Bus Terminal. The Sugar Hill bus is every hour on the hour. "Doh go too far y'hear, otherwise I would forget yuh!" warns the friendly bus driver. He quickly assesses me above his shades and reassures me that I can manage the walk from the bus stop to the mystical Flower Forest. Sure, I could have waited 30 minutes for the Chalky Mount bus but I was too anxious to get to today's destination.
There is something both beautiful and peaceful about early mornings in Barbados. There is just enough sun to highlight the isle's beauty and nothing beats sitting by the window where you and the wind kiss and hold sweet talk. The chattel houses are the only constant in the changing scenery. For me this means the presence of more coconut and breadfruit trees, which causes the envy of town folks like myself.
The driver points to the road I'm to walk on and wishes me a good day. My prideful 'I can do this walk' met with reality as I thought the road he pointed to was the only one to the forest's entrance. However, if you embrace every step with joy and observe the sorrel, okras and mongoose, the walk won't feel like exercise ☺
I jokingly tell my friends that Barbados stole 13 square miles of St. Vincent & the Grenadines and called it St. Thomas. The parish has such an unexpected topography for a country widely thought of as flat.
Bamboo and tall boastful palm trees align the pathway to the entrance and it is the perfect preview of what is to be seen. The bamboo trees are so clustered that they sound like a creaky door when the wind passes by.
I came upon an unexpected view that left me jaw dropped. It was like an old friend turning up at my doorsteps! It should've been obvious to me that a forest that's 750 feet above sea level would allow me to see the rough East Coast.
The journey began with the forest's greatest gift of the season - a view of the Jade Vine that blooms once a year (February -March). The flower has a rich turquoise colour and is like a splash of the sea in the green surroundings.
I spared the life of a cat-tail flower and avoided a Caribbean childhood pastime where we place the furry flower in our lower backs to mimic a cat's tail.
The bees were early at work and I had to wait until a bee's shift was over to smell the amazing wax leaf begonia. There are lots of these, including the pink variety, in the forest. While standing at the begonias, I met an Indian woman from Minnesota who said she's not a botanist but loves plants. She noted that she didn't have an appreciation for them in her early years in India because she "was a stupid girl". We laughed and chatted towards what is now my favourite view! - Liv's Lookout.
This view could easily be renamed Shalisha's Lookout as I would love to build a one-room shack with a glass front at this very spot. Each lookout or scenic area is named after a founder or staff member. I sat on the bench for a while and admired the panoramic view of the East Coast; Cattle Wash, Farley Hill, Chalky Mount and the valley leading to Spa Hill.
Feeling empowered, I do away with the map and take the stone path to wander the forest through its maze. (The paths are also wheelchair accessible). This unguided journey lead me to walk extra steps through the almost 10 acres forest.
The variety of flowers adds colourful beauty to the forest. While my heart beats more for the trees and foliage, I still admire these arts by nature.
The sun played peekaboo through towering trees that made me look like a dwarf. There are lush patches of coconut trees situated in the other 40 plus acres of forest that is visible from the path. I also found there to be an army of palm trees! My favourite palm is the phoenix date palm, which reminds me of a pineapple; I call this (pause for effect) ... the pineapple palm ☺
Not all trees are huggable! Avoid using either the sandbox or (worst), the macaw palm, to brace your fall. The macaw palm is like a tall stationary porcupine. The long spines that decorate the trunk are around 4 inches (10 cm) in length and they feel as painful as they look. Unlike the porcupine, I'm not sure what predators this tree has - perhaps us humans that carve our names on them?
"Please do not carve on the trees. It looks bad, hurts them and would you like to be carved on?
While parts of the forest felt cool, I was relieved to have a bottle of water with me! The stroll coupled with the slight greenhouse effect made it a warm journey. You can easily take a rest on the green grass, or a bench. It's the perfect place to fall asleep on a mat alone or with a friend.
The very botanical forest is a therapeutic and quiet place where birds and bees roam in search of flowers to pollinate. I ensured to smell every flower I saw and even employed some ballet moves to reach flowers not so close to the path. The falling petals and raindrops from branches and leaves are the only things that will startle you. The depth and mass of the trees and the lush views reminds me that there is more to Barbados than its beaches.
I wanted some quiet time in nature and got just that in a place where The Secret Garden meets The Chronicles of Narnia.
Thank you to Alliston Franklin, on behalf of Essgee Creative, for helping me capture the beauty of the Flower Forest.
*About Tourist Thursdays: Youth from Small Island Developing States (SIDS) share their local island experience with the world!