With thousands of tree and plant species as the backdrop, the air is definitely much clearer up in Coco Hill Forest. Nestled in the hills of St Joseph, this repository of nature’s goodness rests on 53 acres overlooking Barbados’ beautiful East coast.
Bamboo groves, hundreds of royal palms and tree ferns, along with many other species of plant life indigenous to Barbados, can be found in this lush oasis.
From Monday to Saturday, visitors to Coco Hill Forest can either strike out on their own or take a guided tour through two kilometres of trails on the property. As you hike the trails of the forest tailored by the native green monkey, a glance around reveals a vast array of greenery – low standing shrubs; tall, swaying palms; and leaves of every shape and shade.
The forest’s stillness and beauty have a heightening effect on the senses. The energy permeating the atmosphere is so intoxicating that it compels you to pause and admire the marvels of nature that are right at your fingertips.
Under the canopies, the air is cool and fresh, rays of sunshine filter through the trees, the leaves chatter and sing as the island breeze passes across the foliage.
From the majestic heights of a large cluster of royal palms that are close to 100 feet tall, called ‘The Cathedral’, to serenity in ‘The Temple’ in the bamboo grove, Coco Hills provides ‘green therapy’ as you breathe deep and take in Mother Nature in all her glory.
This foray into eco-tourism for Coco Hills, which is an offshoot from what it started as seven years ago, is what owner and filmmaker Mahmood Patel calls positive tourism. Guests can volunteer to help plant trees, and the money paid for admission goes into a project that, if successful, can contribute in a real way to food security on a national level.
What initially began as a venture for Patel to grow coconut trees and greens for the café at his Ocean Spray Beach Apartments has turned into so much more.
“Coco Hill Forest is a regenerative agricultural project, it is an ode to the idea that food is the first art and that if you import all of your food you can’t really talk about indigenous art,” he says.
“Secondly, as a region we need to look at food security. The focus in Barbados has always been growing and exporting sugar, making us a mono economy – as is it relates to agriculture – while importing most of the food consumed locally. This project is seeking to heal that by creating food security through permaculture and organic farming. We use integrated farming which puts multiple crops in one area, this way you create biodiversity, you replicate the forest and yet still you have a productive food source.”
Along with coconuts and greens, there are bananas, coffee, cocoa, pineapples and numerous fruit trees, herbs and spices.
Patel is working with local chefs to create a basket of food that is grown here, and out of that the goal is to create recipes for new Caribbean cuisine so that “we eat what we grow and grow what we eat”.
“The reality is that tourists want food that is local, they ask for it. They don’t come here to get what they already have at home,” he points out.
Coco Hills Forest is a gift from nature that can feed the body and the spirit. It’s green therapy and soul food all at once. Bountiful, vast and full of life, it’s rejuvenating energy just might inspire you to hug a tree. I sure did!