Should have gone with your first impulse.
Just outside the elegance of the reception office at Young Island Resort in St. Vincent, crown jewel of the Grenadine Islands in the southern Caribbean, are two perfectly happy Vinci parrots, perched lazily on tree trunks in very nice cages.
Just as happy as you, these birds, lodged – like you – in a luxury resort that Johnny Depp used as a pied-a-terre while filming the first УPirates of the CaribbeanФ, that Bill Gates fully booked for his millennium celebrations. Think poolside, hillside and oceanfront villas, private plunge pools, secluded gazebos overlooking fieldstone seawalls nuzzled by errant waves.
But no. You decided you’re going to do the Indiana Jones thing. You’re going to discover the national bird of St. Vincent and the Grenadines on its own turf.
So you find yourself standing at the dock waiting for the water taxi at five a.m, you find yourself standing on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere at 5:30 waiting for a couple of islanders, machetes in hand, to hack the branches from a ficus tree that blocks your way. The trunk is bigger than a glutton’s gut. It’s not going anywhere.
You muscle yourself over it and trudge forestward, past subsistence farmers growing edos (a kind of potato) and callalou on red earth terraces carved into the sides of nearly vertical slopes, past a couple of grazing cows, past a tree-tethered donkey who brays in complaint.
You know how he feels. The Vermont Trail is one of the most spectacular on a mountainous volcanic island that boasts no shortage of spectacular trails. But you’re wondering about the breakfast menu back at Young Island.
You are looking for Vinci in all the wrong places.
On the upside, Mr. Andy Lockhart, superintendent of St. Vincent’s National Parks, is your guide. He is a walking textbook of flora and fauna. If anyone knows where to find Vinci, it is this fellow in the lime Parks shirt, khaki pants and no-nonsense hiking boots.
The path snakes for roughly two miles through the ten-thousand-acre reserve, rising and falling, switching back upon itself; it splashes through meandering streams.
УLevel three hike, maybe,Ф says Mr. Lockhart. Vertical of five hundred feet, but after all the rise and falls, it’s more like five thousand feet. And you know in your heart it’s at least a level six. Maybe seven.
Even so, the views are worth it, the company pleasant, and this guy knows every single tree in here – along with stories of islanders’ use of the various herbs. But no sign of Vinci.
A gaggle of roosters congregates at the trail head. Whistling Warblers serenade you. You pass orchids in bloom, heliconias and pink ginger looking downright sensual. Then Mr. Lockhart slams to a halt. УHear that? That’s Vinci.Ф
The only things you hear are your own laboured gasps and the bass-drum thumping of your heart. You negotiate steep slopes where bromeliads dangle from fortress trees whose roots spread out fifteen feet from their trunks. You slash liana vines – set decorations for a Tarzan movie. You scramble down wooden steps past Sarinette trees with their characteristic red and black beadlike berries. УJumbie beads,Ф Lockhart calls them. УThey make jewelry from them. Some say they are the eyes of jumbies – ghosts,Ф he adds, a twinkle in his own eye.
At long last you descend a steep wooden stairway and, looking across a vast valley, finally see sky. The mountains on the other side are shrouded in mist, giving a surreal quality to the green cotton ball blossoms of ten different varieties of trees.
УDid you tell them we were coming?Ф you ask, scanning the skies and looking at where he points. Two little black specks that could be anything soar far overhead. Mr. Lockhart ignores you.
УStupid birds,Ф you mutter. And you still have to make our way back to the pumpkin-painted interpretive building at the trail head, where the old growth rainforest gives way to plantation growth. For a walk in the park this is no walk in the park.
Then the sun breaks through, burning off the mist. You have sweat on your sweat.
The St. Vincent Amazon parrot is a beautiful bird, no doubt. One sign says there are only about five hundred of them living in the wild. Two hundred live here.
But it hardly seems worth the effort. A heroic quest has degenerated into a glorified – if admittedly glorious – rainforest hike, one you could have taken anywhere. Anywhere on St. Vincent, anyway.
Later that day, back in civilization, you stop at the Botanical Gardens. Here they breed the Vinci parrot. Here you see them up close and personal. Here you curse Mr. Lockhart as much as your own stupidity. But you make friends with these birds for they are much more approachable than the rather standoffish specimens encountered earlier.
Much later, back at Young Island Resort, you limp over to the comfortable cages where they have two perfect specimens; they’ve resided here since before the ban on possession came into effect. You spend half an hour watching them do dinner while you inhale appetizers from a poolside table, courtesy of the weekly manager’s reception.
A waitress in a floral blouse interrupts the interaction. УDinner is served.Ф
And in that moment you see the error of your ways. You’ve been looking for Vinci in all the wrong places.