Imagine being carried down into the heart of the earth. You are surrounded by humid darkness. A darkness so encompassing, you are lulled into a deep calm. In the distance, you hear the steady rush of a waterfall. This sound reverberates around you, and you are overwhelmed by a sense of peace. Harrison's Cave in the St. Thomas province in Barbados is a magical place where stalagmites and stalactites break open to reveal a naturally occurring gallery of beauty.
I almost didn’t make it to Harrison’s Cave. It was not on my list of things to do. My boyfriend suggested the trek but I was hesitant. My love of nature typically applies only to things green or watery. Having never actually been to a cave, it didn’t sound particularly appealing . The word cave conjured images of a dark underground mass of dirty, slippery rocks. I would have been content to spend the day on the beach, but unable to ignore his enthusiasm, I went with the plan, fighting off images of bats diving into my hair and of rats attacking my flip-flopped feet (for surely all caves were inhabited by evil rats and bats).
Pulling up in our taxi, we were met by tropical gardens and from our vantage point on the top of a hill, a breathtaking view of the ocean. It was not what I had expected. Harrison’s Cave is unique because it exists beneath a tropical forest canopy. It was like entering a small rain forest. In seconds, my camera was out and I began snapping pictures of butterflies, lizards, and and snails. I wasn’t lucky enough to find a Green Monkey but according to the conservationist on site, they were everywhere.
Once we paid for our tour ($30 USD), we were invited to explore a nature trail as we waited for our tour number to be called. The wait was pretty long. The tours are arranged in groups of sixteen. Each tour is about an hour long and on a busy day, you are in for a bit of a wait. Luckily, there is plenty to explore.
Nature trails were abundant. Guides were available to talk about the local habitat, medicinal plants used by locals and to assist you on your search to spot one of the mysterious Green Monkeys. There were also several shops with goods ranging from local artwork and pottery to Cadbury ice cream pops. When our number was called, we were brought into a planetarium-like amphitheatre where we watched a short video on the history of the caves. After our video, we were loaded into an electric tram and were driven through the winding splendor that is Harrison’s Cave. There were two points of disembarkation, but for the most part, we were asked to remain seated with our hands inside the vehicle. As we rode, the guide talked to us about calcium deposits and limestone, pointed out stalagmites and stalactites and stopped in front of various waterfalls and formations expertly backlit, glimpses into another world.
There were no bats, no rats; instead I found peace and an appreciation for nature’s artistic edge. An hour later, we found ourselves at the base of an open canopy forest trail, squinting beneath the afternoon sun. The hike back to the visitor center was a quick ten minutes. The trail was simple, expertly landscaped, and paved with wooden planks.
A changed woman, I exited through the doors of the visitor center, with a new appreciation for caves. No longer would the term cave conjure up dark images of dank festering rocky labyrinths, I had a new image, the image of nature’s elaborate art gallery and the feeling of being blanketed in peace.