My 30-10th: a birthday with a difference

Published: June 15th 2010
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With A difference? With a HUGE difference, more like. Make that a multitude of differences. For starters, I was, with one exception, entirely without family or friends of more than a few days’ acquaintance. For another, I was in the Tropics. On a Caribbean island. In 24/7 five-star luxury. Oh, and I started the day with a yoga class.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Having reluctantly resigned myself to a summer of that nasty w-o-r-k stuff, by the end of April I was finding that it wasn’t all going quite to plan. Yes, I was lucky enough to have been taken on by a City firm’s innovative locum-lawyer programme, but the paperwork was dragging its heels and the initial apparent plethora of opportunities seemed to be drying up. So, when Kate mentioned over pizza and a glass of it-must-be-summer-despite-still-being-so-cold rosé that she’d been taken on as a fitness instructor at a very chichi Grenadian resort for a fortnight in May and asked if I’d like to come along for her second week, the only surprise was that I didn’t immediately bite her hand off in excitement. In fact, it took me about fifteen hours to figure out it might just be possible, and a further ten seconds to scribble an email, “Did you mean it? Are you sure?”

Monarch provided a reasonably priced flight, and then all I had to do was cross all my fingers and toes that a certain unpronounceable volcano in Iceland kept its ash to itself on the requisite days. It didn’t, quite, and I found myself undertaking an extensive survey of Gatwick coffee shops for an additional six hours. On my belated arrival in paradise, I beamed broadly on feeling the evening warmth on my London-chilled skin… and nearly had a sense of humour failure when it became apparent the resort had forgotten about me. Six hours in a London airport I can do. An extra 45 minutes at night in the middle of wherever, when my body- and actual clock are both dying to Get There NOW Please, when I knew the resort was only a five-minute drive away in one direction or another, and I started to have a very little wibble. But Kate had heard the incoming flight and clocked my subsequent non-appearance, so kicked ass (you don’t mess with this girl!)… and I soon found myself luxuriating in solo splendour in the resort’s vast limousine while the wibbles begged my pardon and evaporated with their tails between their legs.

LaSource sums itself up succinctly in its marketing tag-line (and email address), “the amazing holiday”. An all-inclusive resort, its species would usually be at the very bottom of my travel wish-list, but here it is done thoughtfully and in style. It helped, admittedly, that we were near the end of the season, and that the place was probably operating at only about a third of its capacity, but the atmosphere was remarkably warm and even homey. There are only a hundred rooms, and the communal areas manage to be both spacious and cosy, so it isn’t impossible to imagine this atmosphere prevailing even when the resort is full. Staff are friendly and approachable, quickly developing an easy banter with the guests, and many of the guests even talk to each other - very uncharacteristic, I felt, for a largely British clientele. Solo travellers are invited to join a hosted table at dinner each evening, the events staff taking it in turns to do the honours, sometimes doubling up to share the effort. With Kate’s status hovering between that of “staff” and “guest”, we could see a little of both worlds.

The days merged comfortably into each other. Most mornings I managed both the 8 am yoga class and Kate’s 9.30 am circuit training, though I felt that the scheduling left a little to be desired. Gently stretched and wonderfully relaxed after an hour of yoga in the “Relaxation Pavilion” to the accompaniment of Mimi’s hypnotic voice and the birds’ morning chorus around the lake, it took quite some effort to persuade my muscles to muster themselves for the infinitely more rigorous class back in the air-conditioned gym. By the time Kate had finished with me and anyone else brave enough to risk indigestion after the wonderful breakfast buffet, I was only fit for a sun-lounger and my book. Kate was indefatigable, though, barely drawing breath before going to the daily aqua-aerobics class. Then she’d deign to pause for an hour or so - unless persuaded to join in aqua-volleyball - to down some lunch and prepare for her staff-training class in the early afternoon. I’d be more likely to be discussing cocktails with Wiggan - someone had to do the relaxation bit around here!

As the sun began, almost imperceptibly, to cool and the light to change to that wonderful gentle warmth of the late afternoon, we’d head back up to the Relaxation Pavilion for Kate’s core stability class. With the sun now pouring in on the open sides of the pavilion, in contrast to the shade of the morning, this class could be an unexpectedly sweaty affair, but any discomfort would soon be forgotten when the frangipani started emitting its glorious scent. And I am delighted to report that I was told off at one point for not concentrating… because I was distracted by a hummingbird in the reeds. How often does that happen?!

The birdlife here is fascinating and colourful. I was a complete novice about many of the species I saw, though I found more familiar outlines than I was expecting, amongst them four species of egret and heron, as well as a family of moorhens with two surviving chicks still learning their way around the lake. The great blue heron was new-to-me, and it’s apparently somewhat of a rarity so I felt privileged to watch it stalking the shallows one evening. An osprey haunts the nearby stretch of seashore, but seemed to specialise in flying over when I wasn’t around, so he eluded me. However, I did see my first species of frigate bird - appropriately enough the “magnificent” frigate bird - and it was a treat finally to see the bird whose name I had first encountered in a nature crossword something like twenty-five years’ ago (eek!).

Evenings would start with a much-needed cocktail or two at the end of Kate’s final class as we watched the final rays of the sunset disappear and the first stars emerge. A leisurely shower and scrub-up, and we’d be ready for the evening’s excitements… or at least for an hour or two before the day’s activities caught up with us. (It’s very tiring lying reading for most of the day, as I’m sure you’ll be aware, the hardest decision being which of the delicious range of fruit smoothies I was going to order next!) But, by our final evening, we were ready to P-A-R-T-Y…

We’d had a rehearsal the previous evening to celebrate the last of Kate’s classes. At dinner, we had joined the solos table as it was being hosted by the duo nicknamed by Kate “the Grenada Massif”, aka the 6’4”-plus heights of Andy, a former Commonwealth Games boxing medallist, and Jeremy, an aspiring basketball player, and had thoroughly road-tested the dance-floor despite the evening’s humidity. Now we had my birthday to celebrate. (For the pedants amongst you, yes, this was technically a day early, but we justified this on the basis that, come cocktail hour in the Caribbean, my actual birthday would already have started in the UK… like we needed much of an excuse, I admit…)

I had been uncharacteristically reluctant to reach the big four-oh - birthdays don’t normally bother me - not that there was much I could do to stop the passage of time, and I had toyed with a number of ways to spend the day, from house- and dog-sitting on my own in the middle of the Rift Valley in Kenya, to a quiet dinner with an old friend in London, to a “virtual” party encompassing my now well-scattered acquaintance, to the hackneyed but easy option of gathering all and sundry in a pub somewhere... Kate’s suggestion that I join her in Grenada seemed the perfect solution. What a place to spend the last week of my thirties and, with flying home on my actual birthday, I could deny that the day had ever taken place, being lost in time zone changes. I would remain 39!

Folks on holiday - particularly in a place like this - need little encouragement to join in and party. Kate and I gathered all our “best” acquaintance of the previous week in the bar, plied everyone with cocktails and/or champagne (we hadn’t tired of the easy offer at an all-inclusive resort, “What can I get you? This one’s on me!”) and then herded them upstairs around a large table for dinner. Sadly, the fabulous crab cakes were no longer on the menu, but the grilled mahi-mahi was some compensation. Deliberations over the dessert menu were curiously prolonged - there wasn’t that long a list - but the champagne and conversation were flowing and I was content to sit and digest awhile. Suddenly, from round the corner, several of the restaurant staff appeared, carrying an enormous cake with a diplomatically single candle, and singing lustily, soon joined by my new-found friends. I blushed, and giggled. When had I last had a birthday cake?? Kate, with control of my camera, recorded every moment of my embarrassment and delight.

After such a meal, dancing was once again in order, and I was enchanted to find the DJ on duty again. There was no holding us back, and our enthusiasm was infectious. New arrivals at the resort, people we hadn’t even met, soon got up to join in the fun, and the evening blurred into a daze of colour, cocktails and eighties music… It was an unbeatable way to bring in my next decade.

Postscript: there simply have to be acknowledgements on this occasion, if you’ll excuse me. To Kate, without whom I wouldn’t have had a Tropical birthday in the first place; to Petra for organising the cake; to Liz, Nigel and Michael for organising endless fizz and cocktails; to everyone at the table that night for making it a night to remember; and to Amanda for inadvertently providing this blog’s title.

Additional photos below
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angel in the sunsetangel in the sunset
angel in the sunset

(or maybe it was just a mosquito caught in the flash)

15th June 2010

Happy 39th!!
Elizabeth, it's once again a fabulous entry - I never tire of being an armchair traveler with you. Happy 39th birthday forever! It sounds like you picked the perfect way to celebrate (and you are giving me ideas for my big 4-0 next April!). Safe travels, happy billing, and hope to see you on my side of the pond soon. Love, Colleen

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