Barbados took our breath away, and not just on its track. Blue skies, azure seas, soft vanilla sands and warm hearts welcomed nine of us for a week. The island wrapped its swaying palms around us to keep us safe and sated.
“Twenty-one miles long and a smile wide,” seemed an apt description.
My first smile about the trip came on a cold January day in Portland with an email from Kyle Case, CEO of the Huntsman World Senior Games, about a Friendship Tour to Barbados where, for the first time, athletes outside the island were invited to compete in the annual Barbados Senior Games. Three months and two five-hour flight legs later, my husband and I touched down on a piece of paradise.
After a get-acquainted and get-some-sleep night Thursday, followed by a free day to acclimate, our eager group of nine---from Utah, Washington, Oregon, California and Indiana--were whisked away in full fairytale mode to a reception in our honor at the residence of the prime minister.
“Dress: Elegantly Casual”, the invitation had read, and that described our evening at the elegant mansion with gardens to match, mingling with Barbados athletes and officials who offered outstretched hands and wide smiles while silvery trays of delicious appetizers and drinks appeared--all with a comfortable and casual elegance. Prime Minister Freundel Stuart graciously greeted us with warmth and humor, and we returned to the Hilton before our coach turned into a pumpkin.
We jumped eagerly into the next day--and ran and threw at the first day of the 13th Barbados Senior Games at the National Arena. During the opening ceremonies, we paraded behind an “International Contingent” sign in our new USA t-shirts, waving tiny American flags midst music and cheers that left me speechless, literally. Laryngitis and a cold kept me from competing. Two others in our group were sick, too, but our team still took home 12 medals! Our CEO, Kyle, freshly turned 40, competed in the shot put which he’d never done before, and took silver!
Over two days, strangers became friends as they often stopped at our covered area to shake hands, welcome us and chat. We left the track Sunday night tired but smiling with the medals around our necks gleaming in the Barbados sun.
The meet was behind us and touring began. A snorkeling trip on a catamaran to a secluded beach the next day showed us shallow shipwrecks, schools of colorful tropical fish and giant sea turtles, with lunch, drinks and music awaiting us back on board.
The Barbados countryside and rugged coastline beckoned Tuesday as we piled into a backroad vehicle and bounced our way around the island’s twists, turns and gravelly shortcuts. We walked a nature trail through Welchman Hall Gully with its tropical plants, exotic and native palms, nutmeg trees plus hens, birds, green monkeys, bats and lizards. We watched a live pottery demonstration at remote Chalky Mount Village, all the while wending our way from the Caribbean southwest side to the Atlanta waters lapping at the east coast, where a man at a roadside stand whacked off the end of a coconut with a huge knife and handed it to us with a straw for a refreshing drink.
Dinner each night at varied restaurants with the group was a delight, and this night was no exception at the famous Oistin’s Fish Market, an active fishing village where fish is grilled or fried on the spot in front of you--tuna, swordfish, marlin, mahi-mahi and flying fish---the best fish we’d ever tasted! Our host was Rawle Clarke, Kyle’s counterpart, who directs the Barbados Senior Games and is a former Olympian who competed in the 200 meters.
Our last day took us into the heart of Barbados and Harrison’s Cave, where a tram moved slowly through a stunning crystallized limestone cavern with flowing streams, deep pools of clear water, and towering columns.
Our farewell dinner that night was a short stroll from our hotel to an old Barbados home which is now Brown Sugar Restaurant, lush with ferns, cascading water gardens, chirping tree frogs, and good food. Some of the island’s athletes and race organizers were there to say good-bye. Getting to know them and their island had brought our group closer together each day.
Senior athletes have a zest for life. This young-at-heart group of Americans jelled early: Elsbeth, the ever-energetic and fun Swiss firecracker, always moving to any music that happened to be playing; her roommate and straightforward “straight man”, Edythe, with a dry wit who regaled us with her past harrowing, narrow escapes in mountaineering; affable Pat and Ron, softball players, she a road runner (with an arm!) who had recently taken up track and he new to throwing; Dave and Theresa who were sick the whole week but friendly and game; and our personal CEO, Kyle, who handled us with ease like the shot put he tossed for the first time, and who brought out the best in Barbados and in us with his calm leadership. We could see the Huntsman World Senior Games are in excellent hands.
Even the guides and drivers became like friends, filling us in on the island’s sites and history. We got to know our taxi driver Malcolm, who was a minister preparing for Sunday’s sermon and also a golfer who helped us get on a golf course. Our driver Wade told us about fixing his family’s Sunday lunch and about the island’s popular dishes, then later surprised us with a gift of a Bajan cookbook.
We had arrived seven days before not knowing Barbados or its people. We found a beautiful island with a warm, smiling, polite people who like to laugh.
Even the cars were friendly, often emitting short honks of hello. It was a peaceful place, a week without road rage or raised voices, a people easy to like.
The island reflected its people: the sweetness of sugar cane fields, the fun of famous Mount Gay Rum, the freshness of its varied fish, the constant blue of the sky dotted with cottony clouds, and the gentle blue waves of its beaches, unhurried and unharried.
Our week was waning. By the last day, handshakes had turned to hugs. As our plane lifted off, we watched the outstretched palms waving a final good-by, and carried that piece of paradise and a bit of the Barbados way home in our hearts.
Edythe Hulet - Javelin, Silver; Discus, Bronze
Elsbeth Padia - Javelin, Gold; Discus, Gold; Shot Putt, Gold; 100M, Bronze
Pat Kelly - 50M, Bronze; 100M, Bronze; 400M, Bronze; Cricket Ball Throw, Bronze
Ronald Widmer - Shot Putt, Silver
Kyle Case - Shot Putt, Silver