It was one of those rare days when simply sitting on the beach, soaking in the sun, wasn’t going to do it for me. Tomorrow would be Friday, devoid of classes, and thus I had an empty day with which to work. I have already scoured much of the west and south coasts, enjoying the beaches, restaurants, and nightlife, so if I was to go on a self-labeled “adventure,” it would have to be somewhere in Barbados’s unspoiled northern or eastern highlands. Immediately, I recalled North Point, the northernmost point in Barbados, where the serene Caribbean meets the broiling Atlantic. The images of the windswept, rocky plains of northern Barbados sliding off dramatically into the choppy Atlantic, stretching for hundreds of miles before one’s eyes, held my attention, and thus my destination was decided.
Having received no signs of interest in going amongst the other exchange students, it became apparent that I would be doing this trip to North Point alone. Strangely, however, I cherished the opportunity to take a bus ride out into the middle of what seemed like nowhere by myself and just see where the day went. I asked a lady at the bus stop when the Connell Town (the small town closest to North Point) bus was due to arrive, and she gave me an incredulous look. “You ne’er see dem tourists try’n go to Connell Town!”
The Connell Town bus came an hour after I reached the bus stop, and as the bus chugged north, the Bridgetown sprawl turned into the posh “Plantinum Coast”, which then turned into hilly countryside, dotted with modest, brightly colored houses scattered along the road. I felt myself getting excited; this was unexplored territory, and certainly off the beaten tourist path. Again, I had to ask the assistance of a lady on the bus to determine when, exactly, I should get off the bus to make it to North Point. Getting on the right bus is never the hard part — it’s determining where you should get off that has proven to be somewhat troubling. She pulled the overhead cord, alerting the driver to let me off, and the bus came to a squealing halt next to a dilapidated gravel road. She pointed down the path, telling me that was North Point.
I hopped off the bus, and as it roared away down the road, it became very apparent that I should have asked for more specific directions toward the North Point, not just a north point. I continued down the gravel road, which led to an abandoned hotel complex, clearly not having been occupied in many years. It was creepy, there’s no denying that, but I was so engrossed in my adventure mindset that I kept walking further toward the cliffs on the coast and into the complex. A couple of times, I got the feeling that someone was watching me, but I attributed that to an over-active imagination as I continued to snap some pictures of the collapsing hotel buildings. I came through a group of trees, and then I immediately saw the small fire burning. Before I could decide the next course of action, the man tending the fire jumped to his feet and waved at me. “Great,” I thought. “I just wandered at least half a mile into an abandoned hotel complex, and now I’m alone with an arguably homeless gentleman in the northernmost part of the country.”
As he walked toward me, the only thing I could think of to say was “Oh, sorry man, should I leave?” He came closer, and I could tell that my first assumption was definitely right; this guy was living out here. “Where your tour guide? It’s okay. I be your tour guide. Your people go to the Animal Flower Cave, over der. But here you can take dem steps down to da beach and swim, very refreshing!”
I looked incredulously down at the waves pounding the rocky cliffs — there was no way anyone could swim down there. We introduced ourselves, and he told me he was the “Keeper of the Flame of the North”, which would explain his little fire. It was a strange sensation, talking to the Keeper of the Flame of the North, because I was simultaneously excited to be talking to someone so eccentric, but also very nervous he was going to finish the conversation by taking all my money. After discussing our respective birthdays and how his mother’s birthday is ten days away from mine, he did eventually ask for some money. “Man, I go into town and my friends make fun o’ me ’cause I got nothin’! They say, ‘What you doin’ up there?’ They don’ know I’m keepin’ the flame goin’.”
I stolidly told him I could give him a $2 bill, but that was all. The Keeper of the Flame, and, briefly, my new tour guide, was not thrilled but accepted it and thanked me with a fist pound. Then, as casually as I possibly could, I said my goodbyes and booked it out of there.
The rest of the adventure was breathtaking. I skirted the coast for a half-mile in the other direction upon leaving the hotel complex, and was mesmerized by the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean just hammering away at the forty foot cliffs standing in its path. I got close enough to get hit with ocean spray as droplets of water exploded over the edge of the cliff. The Animal Flower Cave, where I was told “my people go”, as it turns out, is a bit of a tourist trap, as it cost $20 Bajan to have a tour guide walk you down a flight of stairs and then tell you you’re in a small cave. Don’t get me wrong — it was cool to be standing in a cave where you could see the water rushing into the pools on the cave floor, only to be sucked out moments later, but as soon as monetary value gets placed on something, one’s expectations inevitably go up as well.
Out of water, with not much left to explore, I walked back to the nearest bus stop. This is where pre-adventure planning really is important, because, with no prior knowledge of bus schedules and/or specific routes, I ended up waiting nearly two hours in the baking heat for any form of transportation to come. I watched school children getting home from school, people biking home from work, and the sun nearly set behind the sugar cane fields before a bus driver told me to get on his bus, despite the fact that it was going in the wrong direction. I agreed, just happy to not be sitting out on a sidewalk anymore. The bus would, in fact, make it back to a stop near campus, but not before driving down countless back roads all over the countryside in order to make its necessary stops. For a mere $2 Bajan, I got to see more of Barbados than I had in my previous three weeks combined.
This is where the “Keeper of the Flame” advised me to go swimming.
The view of North Point from the Animal Flower Cave.