There’s something in the air on the islands – something about the heat, the humidity, and the slow island lifestyle. I lost my mind, almost lost my ride – and could have lost my oldest son.
We were only there for one day, a pit stop (shore excursion) from our enormous cruise ship. Grenada is known as the Isle of Spice, so I definitely wanted to spend the day touring spice plantations. As usual, however, my all-male traveling companions vetoed me. Instead, we piled into a crowded, non-air-conditioned, forget-the-shocks taxi van, to tour the island en route to the Seven Sisters Waterfalls.
We unstuck our arms from each other at our first stop, the Grand Etang National Park – open and airy, a nice place to stretch our legs, I suppose. The monkey in the tree was a nice touch. Yellowstone it was not.
Later the taxi van pulled into a parking lot adjacent to a little building where we could buy $3.00 bottles of water. No thanks. We’d survive the heat, we thought. We borrowed walking sticks and set out on a hike along a dirt road amidst island farms under the scorching sun, carefully heeding the warning signs to let the residents have their privacy. We were immediately parched, and our children threatened to report us for child abuse for not having paid the extortionist price for water. Spotting young pineapple and banana trees along the way only contributed to their desire for refreshment, but we persevered, determined to make men out of our young boys. The trail narrowed and seemed to lengthen with each step through the jungle. Branches and insects swatted us as we picked our way down the slippery path. For a while, we wondered if the waterfalls might be figments of some marketer’s imagination.
Alas! We turned the corner and there it was, the cascade of water rushing down from a ledge perched high above the clear pool. This largest was one of seven waterfalls; we only saw two…except for my son. (I’ll get to that later.)
Before having the chance to remove our teva sandals and tread over the slippery wet rocks towards the base of the falls, we were greeted by five or six dark-skinned islanders. In perfect English, they informed us that they would perform their remarkable diving feats from the top of the falls in exchange for a tip, of course. Tourists that we were, with digital cameras in one hand and beach bags in the other, we acquiesced.
Like circus performers, they executed their swan dives with precision. As with teen-age boys (which they actually were), their cannonballs were just as entertaining. The downside to all this was that every child there (including our three fearless sons) were determined to follow in the footsteps of these locals, despite the repeated warnings of the cruise ship personnel and the taxi van driver. It was too dangerous!
I scrutinized every step of the performance and decided that it simply was unsafe. If the climb up the slippery face of the rock cliff didn’t kill you, the drop into the falls (about forty feet, I suppose) might. I refused to let my children follow suit, in the name of pure love, knowing full well that the remainder of our vacation would be burdened with whining, complaining and possible mutinying.
I was not aware of my sudden mental illness right away. My husband was starting to suspect something had gone askew when he discovered that I was actually interested in finding out more about the back way up to the ledge. It involved a gradual hike through the jungle, circumventing the dangerous slippery rock cliff, in and out of the five other pools and waterfalls – all this to achieve the final ultimate goal of standing forty feet up on a rocky outcropping, and then testing gravity, fate, and the depth of the water in the waiting pool. This back way had already enticed a few adult tourists, who successfully made the hike, risked the leap and survived.
What I didn’t know at the time and still don’t is just how many tourists never survive!
With my husband’s back turned, I gave the green light (and $15.00) to a local islander to take my fourteen-year-old son on a private out-of-the-way hike to reach the top of this ledge so that I could point my digital camera skyward and document his plunge to death.
Once they had taken off, it was too late to change my mind. So when my husband shook me out of my stupor and asked what exactly had I done, it dawned on me. My son was with a total stranger, in a remote rain forest, on a poor island, with no medical or police facilities to speak of. When I turned around for an unknown reason, perhaps to bounce the whole idea off our taxi van driver for his nod of approval, I realized he had gone! And so had all the others in our van!
My son had been abducted (it now seemed apparent) and our ride back to our cruise ship had vanished! We were about to be stranded there on the Isle of Spice, forever. My maternal antenna was now fully operating on red alert. I turned into an overtly crazed lunatic. As each tourist survived the plunge, I interrogated him (all men) on every detail. How difficult was the hike? How long should it take? Did they see my son? Aside from the blood dripping off the legs of one man, who said the hike was brutal and the most dangerous part of the experience, I got nothing of substance to hang my hat on. I had one choice and one choice only.
Wait. And get the digital camera ready.
The longest twenty minutes of my life ticked past, second-hand by second-hand, until at last I saw the young shape of my son at the top of the ledge. He was alive, and near as I could tell, no worse for the wear, except for one thing: he had fear written on his face, an unusual expression for him – fear with a smile, that proud badge of courage and survival.
He waved, he peered over the edge, he stepped back, and he peered again. He talked to his guide for advice on the best way to attack that pool far below. He peered one more time, looked out at his waiting mom and jumped.
Today I am here to tell you that, although it was one of his best experiences of any family vacation, I grew a lot of gray hair that day. I caught a lot of grief from my husband. I doubted my right to be a parent. I admit that it was the most stupid decision a mother could ever make. But I’m glad I made it.
By the way, once our son had climbed out of the pool and received the obligatory congratulations from the more timid onlookers, we raced back along the dusty, steep path in the scorching heat of the day, hoping someone could take us back on the winding twisting roads through more rain forest and the ghettos of St. George to our cruise ship – before it set sail. If the panic of my son’s disappearance hadn’t fazed me enough, the long hot jog and the fear of abandonment by the taxi van was definitely enough to get my heart pumping. At the parking lot, we found that our driver had waited for us. I was never so happy to see a dilapidated car!
There was no window for me to bang my head against on the way back through the city, so I had to forgive myself for my poor decision-making skills of the day. As I did, the taxi van came to a halt to let us stop at a private fresh spice stand. I got my wish, after all, tasting and buying all kinds of vanilla, bay leaf, paprika, nutmeg, and much, much more.
Sometimes a little craziness is worthwhile.