Old People Shouldn’t Travel?

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Beach on the Caribbean island of Nevis

Is travel only for the young and fit? Reflections from a trip to Nevis and Antigua.

“Old people shouldn’t travel.” My twenty-something niece made that comment after hearing my husband had tripped and pulled tendons in his left leg and I had developed an allergic reaction to no-see-um bites the second day into our two-week Caribbean vacation to the islands of Nevis and Antigua. My first reaction was outrage. I’m not old! My second reaction was that maybe she was right.

Although the arthritis in my toes didn’t immobilize me, it ruled out extensive hiking. Aches and pains developed faster than in our youth. I wondered if our ability to explore was too limited to give us a truly rich travel experience at, ironically, a point in our lives when we had more time to travel. The itching from the no-see-um bites had already made me feel sorry for myself. Thinking this way just made me sadder.

The injuries did change our vacation. Any plans involving extensive walking were scrapped. Before the trip, I’d been worried I wouldn’t be able to walk enough to keep up with my husband. As it turned out, I hiked in the rainforest while he waited at the restaurant. Visits to pharmacies for antihistamines were added to our itinerary. My husband spent time with his leg elevated. I had a couple of horrible itchy nights. I’m sure we made quite a sight as we walked slowly together, my husband hobbling and leaning slightly on me, my legs and arms covered with ugly red welts.

But the injuries did not ruin our vacation. There was plenty we still saw, enjoyed, tasted and savoured. We found some pleasures we might not have encountered without the injuries. My husband enjoyed the scenery as he sat on the verandah, leg elevated, and became friends with two lizards he named Leonard and Lucy.

Lizard peering from ledge on the verandah in Nevis
Leonard, the lizard, on our verandah

As we hobbled down the streets of Nevis, several people recommended the “hot water” to my husband. Waters of volcanic hot springs attracted wealthy tourists in the late seventeenth century, who came to Nevis, stayed in the grand Bath Hotel, and treated their various ailments in the mineral laden spring water. Although the Spring House, which once held five thermal baths, was no longer operational, an outdoor pool had been constructed so people could continue to experience the healing waters. A visit there became a daily ritual. The pool was never very busy, but there were usual a couple of other people there, locals mostly. Through the bits of their overheard conversation, we learned more about the political situation on the island.

Nevis hot springs pool
Nevis hot springs pool
Spring House, Nevis, no longer operational
Spring House, Nevis, no longer operational 

Slowing down can be a good thing. Especially when you’re on a Caribbean island. I was forced to relax. We noticed more. My husband could not manage swimming in the ocean. He was too unstable and could not regain balance in the sand and the waves. But we could sit on the beach, read, and watch the water. I paid attention to the changing colours of the sea.

Sitting in a chair on the beach in Nevis
My husband enjoying the beach
Donna Janke in Nevis
Relaxing, welts and all
The mist atop the lush Mount Nevis in the Caribbean
Watching the mist over Mount Nevis

One day, while walking slowly along the main street in English Harbour, Antigua, so slow we were almost at a standstill, a couple approached us with a question about a restaurant. We wound up joining them for a pleasant dinner that evening and another evening two days later. This might not have happened if we’d been walking more quickly.

Grounds of Copper and Lumber Store Hotel, Antigua
Grounds of Copper and Lumber Store Hotel, Antigua where we enjoyed the Friday night seafood barbecue

I don’t know if the hot waters helped my husband’s healing, but it made him feel better for a while. By the time we reached the last leg of our journey home, the swelling on his foot had gone down enough to squeeze it into a dress shoe. Back at home, physiotherapy helped speed up the healing process. Antihistamines brought me some relief. After a week, the itching had mostly subsided, but the welts stayed around for much longer.

Have we traveled since? Yes. Will we travel again? Definitely. Will we do the same kinds of things we would have done thirty years ago? Likely not, but that be may be as much a result of changed interests as reduced physical capacity.

I am a planner. I do a lot of research before we travel. This trip reminded me to learn to appreciate the unexpected and go with the flow. Will I do a lot of research before our next vacation? Definitely. I like doing that. But I hope I will also remember to not let that research rule our trip or get in the way.

What unwanted vacation changes have you experienced? How did things turn out?

Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. Lawrence Block

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour. Unknown

Beach on Nevis: reflections from the Caribbean about old people and travel

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