On our second night we went skinny dipping in the Caribbean Sea outside our cottage. Surprisingly the under current was rough even though we were only in two feet of water. Both Brian and I fell and got cut by coral. The laughing and drinks prevented us from feeling the immediate pain. Coral is alive and stings like a bee and lasts for a very long time, long after we were home it was still stinging. We would suffer but it was worth it! The following day we met our first Rastafarian, Tongoo. He was only three days into his first job as a gardener cutting grass with a machete. We later found out he was twenty-seven years old but he looked like a young boy. He noticed the cuts and offered to come after work to doctor us up. He arrived with aloe vera and lathered it all over our wounds. Every day for the next three weeks that same doctor came by, if for nothing else but to say hello and chat for a few minutes before going home to his cave, as he described it. Living in a cave sounded intriguing and the following Sunday we got to see it. Joan and I had visions of hanging bats and musty smells but we were in for a surprise.
Tongoo met us at the cottages and we went on an incredible adventure, one that would last for years in our treasure box of favourite memories. He was in the lead with his donkey named Blackie, who incidentally was brown. He rode through the trail of wild brush of prickly cassias swinging his machete making it safe for us to follow. We traveled up hill through the bush for over an hour singing old calypso songs along the way. He was quite surprised that we knew them and we even sang a few that he had never heard before. We were out of breath when we came to the top of a landing overlooking the sea, this was his home.
The scene was surreal. It was a beautiful, peaceful, God like scene surrounded by a most unusual rock formation, sparkling colourful sea and clear blue sky. Birds were singing and a soft breeze came in off the sea. Did God carve it for this single human being? He told us he inherited it from another Rasta that has since moved on. Maybe years ago a pirate or runaway slave lived there too. It was well protected from view by land, however could be easily seen from any passing boats at sea.
The floor was a huge platform about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. At the edge it dropped off straight down to the Caribbean Sea where the water was sparkling turquoise with huge waves breaking against the floor bottom. About six feet from the edge the floor contained a dip that was the same size and shape as a bathtub. The waves from the sea had come spilling over filling it with clear water and tiny fish. Tongoo sat in it providing a little demonstration for our benefit. On the back of the platform were several natural shelves carved into the rock. One of these shelves was the perfect size for his bed and would protect him from the elements of rain and wind. It was filled with straw and didn’t really look comfortable but it was where he curled up at the end of the day. The smaller shelves held his only possessions; a blanket, stew bowl, teapot, chalice pipe, coral spoon, safety pin and a portable radio.
Tongoo was a performer and encouraged us to take his picture. He posed and tossed his dreadlocks to make it even more entertaining. Next he dove off into the sea for a quick swim and to shampoo his dreadlocks using aloe vera that surprisingly suds up into a thick lather. He spread his blanket for us to sit on and served tiny local bananas while he made an open fire to roast corn still in the husks. Milk was straight up from the coconut. It wasn’t until years later we learned that coconut milk (also known as water) caused diarrhea. Wish we’d known! There were no bats and the air was fresh, it was more of an outdoor shelter than cave. I could imagine lying on that little shelf at the end of the day counting stars, at least a million if I could stay awake that long.
He was a gentle soul dedicated to his Rastafarian beliefs. When we spoke of his home he commented, “We can praise our maker for this creation” at the same time took a big toke of his spliff (big marijuana cigarette). We stayed for several hours listening to tales of his youth and how he grew up in the village at English Harbour, only a few miles away. Since becoming a Rastafarian he has been arrested for possession of his religious herb, marijuana. During his incarceration the police cut off his dreadlocks, which have since grown back. He didn’t seem to hold any grudges and only spoke praise for all the people of Antigua, “we are all God’s children“.
Sharing our simple lunch with our new friend made it very special. He didn’t ask for anything in return, except our friendship.