A tale of two islands
It's approaching the end of January, and the snowdrops are already in flower in the garden, but I'd like to wish everyone a belated happy new year. It'll be an exciting time for me with the transmission of VERA due in the spring, a new grandchild arriving at any time, and a new novel to be launched at the beginning of February, and I hope all of you have something exciting to look forward to. But in this post I'm looking back to the end of 2010 and the very beginning of the new year.
Usually Tim and I take our holidays separately. Not for me days of trekking through the Malaysian jungle or camping out in a desert in Uzbekistan. Holidays should have at least a little comfort - reasonable food, a hot shower and a glass of cold wine or beer at the end of the day. I don't begrudge him the birding expeditions but I don't want to share them. At the beginning of December though we decided on a holiday that seemed like a compromise we could both enjoy. The Asa Wright centre in Trinidad is run by a conservation charity, but based in a former coffee planter's house, it seemed an elegant and civilised place to escape from a grey winter in the UK. There would be birds for Tim but rum punch on the verandah for me.
And so it turned out! Tim hadn't quite explained that we'd be in Trinidad at the end of the rainy season - the Asa Wright Centre is built looking down on the rain forest after all - and I gave up any notion of days on the beach when the week was soon booked up with intensive trips to look for elusive birds. But it was a beautifully relaxing holiday There were patches of brilliant sunshine and the trails through the acres of grounds made fantastic walks. The food was good and the company interesting and the centre staff and especially our guide Roodal unfailingly helpful. In my spare time I sat on the verandah of our bungalow, reading, writing and watching the hummingbirds in the bushes outside.
In Trinidad we met a couple from Islay. Ian and Margaret Brooke were fantastic company and over dinner we'd share our experiences of the day. And gossip about mutual friends. The birding world is a small one and it seemed that they were friendly with another Islay resident, Peter Roberts, whom I'd known as assistant warden of Fair Isle, and for whom Tim had worked as a volunteer on Bardsey, an island off the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales.
We had an open invitation to stay with Peter and in the first week of January we made the trip north to visit him and his girlfriend Pia. I'd never been to Islay before. I'd heard of it as a place where whisky of great quality is made. Tim was keen to see the huge numbers of Greenland whitefronts and barnacle geese that winter there. In the end we enjoyed both whisky and geese. And as we hadn't seen Peter properly for years there were lots of stories to tell and the memories all came flooding back. The weather was cold but mostly clear and the hospitality was wonderful. It was good to catch up with Ian and Margaret again too in a rather different climate. They run self-catering cottages in probably the most stunning location on the island, so if you want to visit for yourselves check out their website.
So this seems to lead me to appropriate new year's resolutions. To make the effort to keep in contact with old friends. And be open to the possibilities of making new ones. And only drink good whisky.