Telfor Bedeau has not broken a sweat on our ninety minute hike. Presently, he is gazing down at a little green lizard as if it were a live sports match, chuckling, "Look at him, he will stay so still and unassuming, and like that -- BAM -- he will catch a fly. So smart. How can you not admire nature?"
The characterization could equally apply to Bedeau himself, whose soft voice and quick laugh belie a determined nature.
Having swapped the seaside charm of Grenada's Carenage for the verdant rainforest interior I am hiking to the Seven Sisters waterfalls accompanied by the indomitable Telfor Bedeau. A former surveyor, sailor and British railway worker, Bedeau is the most recognized face in Grenada hiking.
He began hiking in 1962 and since 1990 has been regularly guiding travellers throughout Grenada. He has even helped to map the country and discovered topography that had been previously undiscovered. He is wearing woven yellow jellies which he calls the best shoes for hiking. I wonder aloud whether he is ever bitten by ferocious rainforest insects and he calmly answers, "that don't bother me."
He moves swiftly through the forest and exhibits an endless fascination with the world around him. At various moments during our hike Bedeau points out trees and plants used by Grenadians as bush medicine or for practical everyday use. "This is bois canoe the French name is canoe wood because it will float," he says while cutting a piece of the wood revealing the hollow interior.
Elsewhere, the wind breezes through a patch of bamboo.
"You hear that? It is a bamboo orchestra. Long ago people thought there were spirits living in the bamboo. Don't plant this because you can never get rid of it. But I say I will cut it down. When it grows up, I cut it down. When it grows up again I cut it down. I say it must have a point of exhaustion. Eventually it will die away."
This undeterred plodding, working little by little until a goal is reached, is characteristic of Bedeau who has made 168 ascents of Mount Saint Catherine, Grenada's highest peak. "But my favourite hiking is at Fedon's Mountain," he says, adding that he once devised a hike through Grenada that did not cross any rivers. "That was a little hard because you have to go to the source of the river if you don't want to cross it."
Fit and sprightly at 73 years old, Bedeau is fond of celebrations that mark any and every event of his life. Particularly challenging ascents or anniversaries (like his 150th ascent of Mount Saint Catherine) are toasted with champagne, and birthdays are celebrated for a month. He says that when he turns 100 years old he will turn this into a yearlong celebration. His stories, and for that matter, his presence make an example of the superiority of gentle endurance over brute strength.
"I rowed my little boat around the island," he says modestly of the two round-the-island voyages he has made. His gift is finding delight in things that others would overlook. "Life is never boring when you can interact with nature," says Bedeau who prefaces nearly every statement with a half-chuckle. This coupled with his predilection for celebration lends him a sort of ebullient quality as though the world is a constant merriment and revelry to which he is especially attuned.
We approach the falls, primed for the acrobatic exploits of another local, Butterfly, who has raced ahead to prepare for a jump into the cool water. Bedeau recalls the days when neighbours would cook communal pots of food and redistribute them among the neighbourhood and roosters and hens made sport for precocious boys.
Then in his typically unassuming manner he recalls a seminal decision in his life. "Mummy left for Trinidad when I was younger which was probably better because I never wanted to take the straight and narrow way and she would have kept me on that path like my brothers and sisters. I never wanted to be a doctor, lawyer or teacher I wanted to be a rough and tumble guy. If I had taken the straight and narrow path I may never have been acknowledged by the Queen," he says referring to the British Empire Medal he received in 2007.
This impulse for a life out of the ordinary is something I know too well, and I hope that I can answer my own call to adventure as Bedeau has done.
The short hike to the falls is but a warm up for Bedeau who will go on to a hash, Grenada's favourite pastime that involves embarking on a long running trail ending at an ubiquitous rum shop to rendezvous. Bedeau is off on the trail again.
*This was originally part of an article that first appeared in City Style and Living Magazine's Fall 2010 issue.