Unexpected thrills await you - R.H. Joseph

Last week I spoke of the quality of scuba diving off the coast of Carriacou, a one gas station island in the Grenadine chain, little more than 12 degrees north of the equator in the Caribbean.

Today I shall address alternative sources of wonderment above the water line for those seeking true adventure.

Resort hotels featuring colorful natives in colorful native costumes doing colorful-native dances rely upon their guests' appetite for non-threatening predictability. Life has so much more to offer for the voracious.

As they say, "One man's ceiling is another man's floor." If being pampered is your cup of tea, more power to you. The Caribbean is littered with soothing, pastel-colored wombs ideal for designer bathing suits, cha cha lessons, and $25 dollar Cuban cigars. (Ashcroft will never know.)

As for us, Baby and me, we prefer the challenges and marvels presented by islands devoid of toney resorts and ignored by cruise ships. Islands with air strips of insignificant dimension and natives who've never been taught to be colorful or subservient.

Last year, for example, we spent a couple of weeks in a small fishing village on a remote end of Tobago.

Integral to the hamlet's daily ritual is a man who, every morning, rows in a large arc around the bay that defines the village, towing one end of a net. The other end is held fast by several men on the beach.

Once he completes his arc and returns to shore, several additional men take his end of the net and, in concert with those at the other end, pull in this now roiling cornucopia of bait fish. Fishermen, pelicans and squawking sea gulls await.

This is the mechanism of life in Charlotteville, not an amusing tourist attraction. Therefore, these men took umbrage when Baby attempted to capture this timeless symbiosis of man and nature on film.

They didn't insist she stop, however, they insisted I help. I did. They were satisfied and I was no longer an outsider.

The fishermen go out. The bell rings at noon indicating the fish are in and have been cleaned by another bunch of guys. Fresh fish every night for the town.

When we wanted bread there were two women, each with her own 5x5 shack, who offered same. They don't open at 9 a.m., they open when they feel like it. One also makes rotis, a food product found throughout the Caribbean somewhat like a burrito but ordinarily enhanced by aromatic curries. A roti and a Red Stripe (Caribbean beer) make for a tasty and filling lunch following a couple of morning dives.

As for fruit, I'll never forget an epiphany I had on another island some years ago. When asked where we could purchase mangoes the local guy, incredulous, responded in a thick island accent, "You don't buy mangoes man, you pick them!"

The soil is different on Carriacou, fruit is not nearly so abundant. Therefore we would stop at the fruit/dried fish/frozen bacon/leather goods store on the way to the dive shop every morning.

As one would assume from an island with but a single gas station, there are few automobiles and few roads. In truth, on Carriacou the word road applies to areas of the island's surface avid hikers would find daunting. Four-wheel drive is often called upon.

Even in two-wheel drive the island's serpentine paved roads are not to be taken lightly. Goats, cows and chickens roam freely and in packs. Weird opossum-like marsupials of diminutive proportion skitter about individually but are no less startling when rounding a corner.

Additionally, somewhat like the kudzu infestation of the American South, "cane" toads, a non-indigenous species of corpulent dimensions (think plump green oranges) appear magically at dusk and fear nothing; they will not budge for automobiles. Remarkable creatures, they squirt a highly toxic venom capable of killing a dog.

Dining in the island's restaurants amongst fellow adventurers is a delightfully international experience. Brits, Italians, Australians, Canadians, and French people, predominantly "yachties," sailors who have traversed wide expanses of the seven seas, become festively garrulous following the imbibing of rum punch (on Carriacou flavored with freshly grated local nutmeg).

These are adventurers who speak nonchalantly of encountering 40-foot waves in the mid Atlantic. They do not live with fear, they embrace risk and the unknown.

Some raise their children on these boats and the youngsters, like their parents, are remarkably self-possessed and self-reliant.

Next time you plan a vacation, especially with your kids, ask yourself which destination provides the more enriching experience for your family.

R.H. Joseph is a longtime employee of the News Daily. His column appears on Wednesdays. He may be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 252, or by e-mail at rjoseph@news-daily.com.