Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want, in the best way you know how, and then be prepared to get it. I am a beginner in asking for what I want, so I tried it this way. I told my client that as my name began with B, I was only available to travel to destinations that began with B. Like Barbados. And they b b bought it. They also gave me Budapest. I could have had Bangkok but it was too long a trip for me.
This tactic also excluded me from the not so nice destinations that were on offer – Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Colombia.
I didn’t mention to anyone that I had always wanted to go to Barbados. Some destinations just have a ring about them that makes me think of white linen flowing in the breeze, palm trees swaying around a Technicolor blue sea, and Pina Colada’s.
Barbados was most of that (minus the white linen, NO ONE actually wears that in the tropics). But it was also very run down, noisy, crowded, dilapidated, and had some of the worst food I have ever experienced (and remember I have crossed the ex-Soviet bloc by train). Outside of the resort, all in all, it was a bit of a let down.
I remember setting out with high hopes to see Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. After having sufficiently recovered from jet lag and the shock of being in high temperatures I warily stepped out of the hotel and onto the roadside (there are no footpaths) one morning. I had been told that a bus would come by going to the town centre and it would cost $1.50 Barbados. After ten minutes of waiting and watching the banked up traffic crawl past, a small crowded van stopped, and man leaned out and told me it was going to the centre for $1.50. This must be it I thought and hopped on.
I hopped off again a few minutes later and every few minutes during the half hour trip. I was on a fold-out seat and so had to let other passengers on and off, eventually we were so many that there were three of us on the fold-out seat accompanied by loud reggae music and no other tourists besides me. (Later the hotel staff told me that was not the official bus service of Barbados but the local method of transport). The van stopped in a huge car park, full of vendors and other vans. Just follow everyone else the bus driver said, who was now calling me sweetie, when I asked where the town centre was. It was already a bad sign to me that I could not see or recognise anything that looked like a town centre.
I followed the tourist map and saw all the examples of British colonialism that had been left. I could still clearly see the city at is would have been in 1700’s. I could feel how weird it must have felt for the British in their tight and restrictive clothing to be in such a lush and different climate. World’s apart. What I could see today was masses of big women, sexily carrying their whares, shouting and gesticulating together, skinny men with dreadlocks and reflector sunglasses trying to pick me up on every street corner (and sometimes crossing the street to do so if I wasn’t on their street corner), fried chicken stores and open shacks where other food was being friend, traders sitting in the shade behind small wooden or stone buildings, a pretty river that came in from the sea just at the edge of the town, flashy cars, lots of people walking, buildings that were unkept, boarded up, or full of bright imported duty free goods, and lots of traffic. Every time I slowed someone came to talk to me wanting to sell me something, mostly themselves. Where was the flowing white linen, the tea served in silver under palm trees, the genteel quality of a tropical colony?
Parts of it remained. St. Michaels Cathedral was a cavernous, moss covered, work of art that could have stood in any part of the British colonies, including in the English countryside itself. It looked identical to every other Anglican church from that time. Except it was empty and where the glass once had been there was mosquito netting and rotting wood. The walls were full of plaques commemorating generations of sea captains, philanthropists, soldiers, law makers and engineers. All the stalwarts of an anglicised society were there. The cemetery was even better. Generations of families all together, many having followed their men folk here from Sudan, Gambia, Sri Lanka and other parts of the vast British empire of that time. The women were nurses, teachers, mothers, and often families had two or three mothers and wives in their history due to high death rates in childbirth. It was all there, an era laid out before me. What type of people had travelled where and why. The tombstones mentioned their careers, their birthplaces, their relationships to each other and often their accomplishments in life (Founder of the society of Masons in Barbados, First Governor General of the Sudan). All buried so far from home.
Even when I’m on holiday I go to ex-pat land. They reminded me of me, of us, of my society, full of people who have been born, lived and raised all over, usually from diplomatic, military or humanitarian backgrounds, and who have chosen to carry on the tradition by living and working in yet another country, for the UN. It cheered me that there have always been bunches of people that have wanted to leave their homes and do good for others in different parts of the world, bringing their versions of order and justice, and having a mighty exciting life along the way.
It was really hot and after a few hours of wandering around the paradise that was Bridgetown I was ready for my hotel again. I also did a tour of the island which didn’t give me a better impression. So the best part of the island was inside the resort and I guess that is common. Most people I spoke to raved about Barbados but what they really meant was their resort experience. And I have to admit that part of the experience was spectacular.
I woke every morning to see from my bed, two blue bathing pools languidly joined by a pretty, flower covered, wooden foot bridge and a sunken bar, fringed by softly waving palm trees, four of them, two on either side, perfectly framing the Technicolor blue sea that lapped a perfect white sandy beach. And then I would have breakfast.
Just to finish up about the swaying palm trees and Pina Coladas…..the sea was the kind of blue that made you never want to get out of it. Just bathing in it was a sensuous experience, and I often caught myself moaning while I was floating around in it. As you can see the bottom, and for miles around underneath, I felt quite safe and hence allowed myself to frolic in it for longer periods than I would normally stay in the sea. It was best in the early mornings when it was limpid, and was like entering a swathe of wet blue silk. It was body temperature, and so enveloped you like a lover. In the late afternoon it had a purple sheen to it, on the underside of the little waves, as the sun reflected off them. It was a sea that didn’t make you want to swim in it because swimming requires effort. It encouraged you to frolic, loll, float and dance in it while absorbing its healing and turquoise accented happiness vibes.
And then there was the sand. Soft, white, and like mounds of sugar. It was clean and squeaky to walk on, warm and relaxing to lie on. I was also re-introduced to Rum in a good way. Having overdosed in Cuba some years back I have never been a rum drinker, and maybe one should never be, outside of the Caribbean. Because there they know how to mix a great rum punch. I had a banana smoothie with rum in it every day for lunch. There is something about rum that makes me feel happy and does not give me a hang over, but again maybe that’s only in the tropics, and only when drinking from a bar half submerged in a swimming pool.
On my last night I was dinning al fresco on the white sand hoping that nearby dropping coconuts would not brain me as I ate my imported food and drank my imported wine. I was dinning with ten other Caribbean’s, only one of them from Barbados. They were discussing their agriculture, their economy and their poverty and I understood from them that in spite of the magnificent hype that is the Caribbean, theirs is a world just like anyone else’s. Full of hopes for a better society, a way to feed and educate everyone, full of corruption and politics, and those that still come to the island to dedicate their lives to serving others.