Hunka Hunka Hawksbill Love

Turtle-Pic Super Cat

Whenever I go on an “up close and personal” nature excursion, I wonder who’s entertaining whom?

“There’s a mountain goat that’s always here when we paddle this stretch of river,” the guide said on a rafting trip in Cody, WY. Every afternoon the rafts float by; every afternoon the goat — often joined by a friend or three — waits on the hillside. A massive bison chewing his cud while lazing in a well-worn hole by the side of a byway in Rapid City. A barracuda greeting novice divers in Provencial.

I imagine the conversation: “Hey, Edna, it’s nearly noon. That’s when the humans always show up. Don’t want to miss seeing what they’re up to today. Do ya think Grandma would like to go along?”

In Barbados, the interactive delight is swimming with sea turtles. Half a dozen outfitters offer day cruises that promise a sea turtle encounter as part of a day long cruise. (The rest of the itinerary includes snorkeling, on-board lunch buffet, cruising past the very tony estates on the Platinum Coast, and sunbathing on the foredeck of the catamaran — all while imbibing rum in various concoctions — with a background soundtrack of reggae and Jimmy Buffett.

Depending on the size of the boat and age of the passengers, this can be a relaxing outing with friends or a boisterous bacchanal rivaling New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

Long past the bikini and Speedo stage of our lives and physiques, our gallant gang of pre-geriatrics opted for Super Cats/Stiletto. She carries 10 passengers, max, so it was perfect for the 6 of us. Trevor and Preacher were the crew, and as it the habit of our gang, we included them as part of the party. stiletto_supercats 2

Two shipwrecks just offshore are havens for tropical fish and magnets for snorkelers. Preacher said one of the ships reputedly was scuttled by the crew at the beginning of WW2, effectively stranding them on the island for the duration. Given a choice between the probability of being torpedoed by a U-Boat or joining the Coastal Watch Patrol, there were worst decisions.

From there it was a short paddle to the sea turtle hangout. It probably violates every ecologist’s goal of leaving the creatures unspoiled by human contact, but all of the guides are equipped with chum to attract them. The turtles anticipate their daily morning snack and glide through the swimmers in search of the Sugar Daddy with the goodie bag.

snorkel_turtle

“Our” visitor was a massive Hawksbill. Sea turtles never stop growing, so I’m told. From the size of this momma, she was a hatchling back in the days of sail. (I don’t know if she was a female or not, but Big Momma fits her.) When she cuddled up to Preacher for her sushi, she stretched from his calves to his shoulders. When the bag was empty, she made a circuit around the rest of us in case we were holding out on her. Close enough to appreciate why it’s a “hawksbill,” to respect the determination in her eye, to lightly rap on her shell. Despite her bulk, she moved with smooth grace, dignity, and power.

Certain we were of no further use, she left us in just a few strong strokes of flippers the length of my arm. Two Green Turtles — delicately hued as if tinted with artists’ pencils — followed in her wake. Within moments, the busy turtle site was deserted.

I could hear the conversation: “That’s it for today, Edna. Nice flying fish, don’tcha think? The Mahi Mahi was a little tough, though. Got plans for tonight? They’re showing “Heart of the Sea” at the multiplex.”

(photos courtesy of ActionCharters.org)

 

Gridlock in Paradise

Panorama Barbados org
Barbados – broad sandy beaches, mellow sunshine, incredibly friendly people, unintelligible patois, wonderful food, rum in all manner of concoctions – and traffic congestion to rival the Capital Beltway at rush hour.

How is it that this tiny island – all of 21 miles long and only 14 at its widest point (roughly twice the area of Boston) – ranks #6 on the roster of the highest density of roads in the word? Most of them are squeezed into the business and resort districts in the island’s south and west. Barbados traffic from Barbados Today They’re just wide enough for two vehicles to pass, provided nobody in either of them breathes too deeply. The rest of the island’s equally narrow roads meander to tiny villages via lots of blind curves and little maintenance.

Given all of that, plus gas prices at $7/gallon, I figured people would take advantage of the excellent public transportation system or use motor scooters.

Silly me. Every square meter of roadway anywhere near civilization is jammed with buses, cars, vans, taxis, and trucks. Thank God for the laid-back patience of the Bajans; otherwise, there’d be road rage that would make the Freddie Gray riots in Baltimore look like a tribute to Pope Francis. Bajans who have to be to work at 8 a.m. leave no later than 6:30. This might explain the nation’s high rum consumption.

We wanted to go to the famous Friday Night Fish Fry/Street Party in Oistens. Fish Fry Barbados orgThree miles from our hotel, if that. We were told it would take about an hour to get there. When we were sated, slightly tipsy, and ready to leave, we flagged down a van with a lighted “taxi” sign. “Get in; get in!” the driver yelled. There were other people in the van. What kind of taxi was this? “We’re going to the Time Out Hotel in St. Lawrence Gap. Are you going there?” “Sure. Sure. Get in quick before the cops come.”

That sense of urgency compelled us to clamber aboard without asking more questions. The van took off at surprisingly high speed, given the number of people and vehicles in the road.

It took a moment to realize we were experiencing a part of the Bajan transportation system most tourists don’t. There are official, government-licensed taxis and buses, and then there are the “independent” operators. These are the same white vans as “real” buses, right down to the lighted “taxi” sign on top. But these are Bajan Taxi pirates. They use the same routes as the “official” transport, but with dubious licensing and permission. But, hey, for $1, you can go anywhere the buses go and, given the drivers’ contempt for laws of traffic and nature, it’s far more exciting and faster.

He didn’t quite yell “We’re Off!” but NASCAR drivers are old ladies puttering around parking lots compared to this dude. We weaved around other vehicles stalled in gridlock, swinging into opposing traffic and back like a fighter plane in a dogfight. If we saw someone at a bus stop, we’d come to a shuttering halt long enough for the newest member of our expedition to jump in. That hour-long journey to Oistens was about 10 minutes coming back.

The van skidded to a stop at a bus stop near the hotel, and we hopped out, a little surprised to be alive. The thought of the van careening down the one-lane road to the hotel past the patrons at the street food stalls and Karaoke bars was enough to sober us. But only until we passed the first rum shop. After that ride, we needed something to steady our nerves.

(photo credits: Barbados.org; Barbados Today)