'Life without a car' is not always about risky hitch hiking, meeting other adventure seekers, or getting to adrenaline driven activities. It is also about what we learn when going slow and in that extra time it takes to get around, re-balancing the mind and soul with small inspirations along the way - taking in those signs we might otherwise speed past.
On a recent trip to the Caribbean I arrived on Nevis by boat late at night half asleep. Curious to see what the island was like in daylight I hired a bike to go around the 35km circular route. It was not long but with a 1pm start in 30 degree (C) heat those kilometers were sufficient to sweat out the jet lag. A mountain bike was the only thing on offer, not the lightest but solid for the bumpy roads.
The Lonely Tunnel
My outing starts well when leaving the hotel the first sign I see says 'good fortune will accompany' me 'each time' I pass under what is apparently the only tunnel in Nevis. As cars can't pass through I am already feeling lucky to have discovered it and to secure my chances I enter it a number of times.
The island road is quiet, people are relaxed, nobody impatiently driving up behind my bike or trying to push me off the road. I go slow enough that I get to exchange greetings with people along the way, and when passing one of the churches the parish outside welcome me with friendly smiles and waves. At the biggest hill I provided entertainment for the men chilling out on their porch as they surely thought only a tourist would go out biking in the heat of the day and I definitely was not looking like any pro-cyclist. It was likely my pride that didn't allow me to stop until further up the hill, just out of sight. While I rest there in a small patch of shade to catch my breath (sounding like I was biking on Everest not at sea level) a woman walking downhill says to me 'yah man, you will make it'. It is funny how words from a complete stranger can remain with us.
I pass several small fruit and vegetable farms with road side stalls and regret not having brought a pack to take some with me but do welcome another break to refuel with fresh passion fruit and watermelon. The girl manning the stand talks with me about farming and the monkey problem, something I hear about many times from locals. Those 'cute' little beasts that tourists love unfortunately destroy the crops but I guess only time will tell which priority wins out with local government. Afterwards a local laughs at me when I say I saw a squirrel, which admittedly I found a bit odd in the Caribbean, he informs me it was a mongoose.
Friendship and Good Will
The next sign which catches my eye says 'Will it Build Good Will and Better Friendship?'. I am not sure for whom this is intended (and didn't get a reply from Nevis Tourism) but it does make me reflect on my own circumstances and the challenging year I just came through. When all was stripped down to basic survival, those foundations of good will and real friends are what got me through (along with sport). It did make me wonder if and how society can foster those principles in a generation that communicates by quick interactions reduced to 'tweets', 'likes', and 'mojis' in what is ironically called 'social' media.
However the cynical view of society is kept at bay a bit longer when I come back from my bike ride and one of the hotel staff so thoughtfully had a little treat for me. Having heard me ask her colleague about local culture and fruit when inquiring about biking around the island, she got the idea to show me a local fruit I didn't know and so brought in a sugar apple from her home garden for me to try. These are the small but interesting exchanges with people I find by being without a car. Removing the physical barrier of a car invites people to interact with you and slowing down invites your eyes and mind to engage with what's around you.