I'm proud to have a one-of-a-kind souvenir of St. Lucia. It’s almost two centimetres long and half a centimetre wide, and is the most fetching shade of magenta I've ever seen. I take it with me everywhere, and each time I look at it, I remember the day I spent jungle biking in St. Lucia.
It's the scar that crowns my left knee.
Being a city girl, I'm used to cycling in a concrete jungle. But "jungle biking" sounded like so much crazy fun that I had to try it. And in spite of the scar, it remains one of the high points of my holiday.
The biking facility is located on a former sugarcane plantation at Anse Mamin. The landscape is green and lush, with plenty of tall shady trees to keep cyclists cool. We were fitted with sleek, sturdy mountain bikes and appropriate helmets, then given a thorough orientation to the trails. Safety was always emphasised, and we were repeatedly told to get off our bikes and walk if we found something a bit too challenging. With this in mind, I actually walked my bike during part of the orientation, across a gully that veered sharply left and plunged into the jungle; I just didn't feel ready for it.
After our orientation, Eric and I were on our own. We decided to try one of the side loops, which turned out to be rocky and heavily strewn with loose earth and large dry leaves -- a bit treacherous for our first ride! We ended up walking most of it, and then unanimously agreed to stick to the intermediate trail. We flew over roots and rocks as we followed the trail up, down and around the plantation. "Fun" doesn’t begin to describe it!
At one point, the trail, which had become very narrow, led us along the side of a steep cliff that dropped off into a sun-dappled river. It was a beautiful spot, but we had to be careful lest our bikes slipped off the path and tumbled us into the water. The descent was a little scary, but we made it to the bottom of the cliff at the river’s edge. And then the trail abruptly ended. The riverbanks were heavily treed with no apparent breaks in the foliage. We looked back the way we had come, but the cliff appeared too steep for us to retrace our original path. We were stuck. Thinking back to the orientation, it seemed that river had run parallel with the trail, so we guessed that we'd find some kind of trail on the opposite bank. Being intrepid Canadians, we picked up our bikes and forded the stream, then crashed through the jungle towards what looked like a clearing; fortunately for us, the clearing turned out to be the main trail!
This was so much fun!
We came at last to the place that had defeated me earlier, but this time I felt ready to ride. Eric went first; he crossed the gully, then turned sharply to the left and followed the steep path down. I watched with alarm as he skidded on some leaves and almost fell, then saw him recover with the help of a springy palm tree and finish the slope. He stopped to wait for me. I took a deep breath, my heart pounding madly in my chest, and started the descent. I traversed the gully, then slowed as I turned left and plunged down the trail. I passed the spot where Eric stumbled, and I breathed for perhaps the first time during that descent. And then, something happened. I'm not sure if I struck some rocks or veered too far to one side of the trail ... All I know is that I suddenly pitched forward and was flipped over my bike. I remember shrieking and landing hard on the ground. Instantly, there was pain in my left arm and leg, my chest, and one shoulder blade. More shrieking. Blood was streaming down my left leg from several scrapes and cuts, but most of it came from a fat flap of skin that was hanging off my knee. Even more shrieking. This wasn't supposed to happen: I was on holiday! And I’d been having fun!
Eric helped disentangle me from my bike and clean me up. His most challenging task, though, was calming me down; it took a while for me to stop shaking. We rested without bothering to pull off the trail, as we neither saw nor heard other bikers. When I felt good enough to get back on my bike, we continued along the trail, although my confidence was considerably shaken and my fun somewhat diminished. What cheered me most was the realization that, serendipitously, I’d gotten my tetanus shot only weeks before my holiday!
It seemed like a good time to stop for lunch. And some first aid.
After we had eaten and my knee had been looked after, we decided to hike up Tinker's Trail, which is the toughest bike trail on the plantation. We were told that nobody has ever cycled it in its entirety (which, come to think of it, should have alarmed us) but that the view from the top was worth the climb. And what a view it was! The Caribbean stretched out to the horizon on one side, and the bumpy green landscape of St. Lucia to the other, with the Pitons rising directly before us. It was indeed worth every step of the climb. Triumphantly, we rang the bell that marked the top of Tinker's Trail.
Just when we thought our day's challenges were over, we started our descent back into the jungle. We very quickly realized we should have gone down the way we'd come up: the "down" trail was very steep and narrow, with the ground alarmingly dropping away to one side. What was Tinker thinking?? We skidded down bit by bit, wide-eyed and clutching roots and rocks and trees to keep from slipping. The trail was barely hikeable; how on earth could anyone be expected to bike it?! It took us a while to get back to the jungle and when we finally did, my oozing knee was throbbing with pain. The violent-looking bruises that I’d wear for the next few weeks had also started to emerge, and my ribs were tender and sore.
At this point, I had to admit at last that my day of adventure was over. I could do no more than relax on Anse Mamin's beautiful black-sand beach and indulge in some Zen-like snorkelling. And then it was time to go.
I'll admit it's not glamourous, but you just can’t buy a souvenir like mine!