I’m going to set the mood for this trip down memory lane by playing the song that featured heavily on the soundtrack to our trip. It was a big hit and we would break out singing it repeatedly:
It was August, 1998. I just finished my hazy, languorous summer term that most U Waterloo coop students know affectionately as “2B”, and I was in a Caribbean island that I had no knowledge of just 2 months earlier. My travelling mates were my close friend and roommate C, and a newish friend S that I’d only met 3 months earlier. S asked us in June, “Hey, you want to come to St. Vincent with me after the term is done?” C and I looked at each other, shrugged, and said “Sure, why not?”[Aside – one of the most wonderful thing about the university experience is how quickly deep relationships can form. Lots of free time + collective stress periods of papers and exams + frequent social events + a generally more open attitude to connecting with new people + relative isolation from the rest of the world = great friends!]
Somehow one of us got the brilliant idea to join a guided hiking trip up the extinct La Soufriere volcano. It was rated a medium-level difficulty climb. Hey, we were in shape, we just spent a whole term training and racing on our dragon boat crew! Surely this would be a piece of cake. Our tour group included two middle-aged German couples, and we smugly thought the guide would set a leisurely pace for them. Little did we know that they would be the ones shaking their heads at us.
About half-way up the mountain:
C: “Uh, guys? *gasp* I can’t really feel my legs or hands! *gasp gasp*”
We stop on the trail, alarmed, but similarly out of breath. The hike so far was tougher than we expected, and the humid, still air was oppressive. Even worse, at this point of the trail, the trees had thinned out and offered little protection from the hot sun.
One of the kindly German gentlemen pulls a candy or supplement from his fanny pack and offers it to C. She gratefully accepts and sucks on it. The feeling returns to her extremities. We realize now that our group of 20-year-old girls were actually slowing the pace of the hike. These Germans still looked so refreshed, as if they were walking down to the store for milk. I surmise they must live near the alps and go for weekly hikes up the mountains.
We keep hiking. When we break above the tree line I am so grateful for the wind that picks up. Looking ahead, I see the German couples gracefully bounding up the uneven terrain like mountain goats. The girls and I are scrabbling along trying not to hurt ourselves. At long last we made the summit, and it was quite a sight to see. I’d never seen the top of a volcano before, extinct or otherwise.
Then it was time to head back down. All those uneven, loose boulders we had to climb up, we now had to head down, while looking down the mountain. It was damn scary. Needless to say my nerves were tested, and when we arrived back at the tour van and the offer of rum punch, I was looking forward to having something to take the edge off.
Not the greatest idea to mix a dehydrated girl with admittedly low tolerance to alcohol with a decidedly strong mix of rum punch. The whole rest of the ride back was woozy and nauseating for me. For S though…
S: “Look, it’s banana trees!…Bananas got no bones! *giggle giggle* Bananas got no bones!” This was repeated drunkenly for a good portion of the tour minibus ride home, before the nausea phase of the alcohol kicked in. Good times!
Other brief memories from the trip:
- The warm welcome and hospitality from S’s family friends who let us stay with them the whole trip. I realize now in hindsight how generous Auntie was with us, and having her daughter D take us around was lots of fun. She taught us how to dance, Caribbean club style!
- wild geckos that roamed freely all over the house – they are welcomed because they eat bugs. The first time I saw one though, it was unexpected and I jumped out of my skin
- the jammed packed minibus transports
- having my first roti ever, the one that all future roti will be compared to, and eating it on the beach
- being fascinated by the private Young Island Resort which lay just a couple hundred meters away from the public beach we frequented. Added to the list of dream vacation spots
- being surprised by the lack of fast food chains on the island other than KFC
- actually having local men call out “Ching-chong, ching-chong” to us in order to get our attention. There was also an incident on the beach where one guy was throwing fruit at us in the water. Strange how they would think we might find it attractive.
- And of course, belting out “All my life”, karaoke-style.
That trip really solidified my friendship with S, and I knew it would be one that would stand the test of time and location. 18 years and several countries later, I still consider her one of my close friends. And C? This is another great chapter in the canon of our continuing friendship.