I love the quiet stillness that enters my mind when I’m riding along though noisy traffic or empty back roads with serene pastures. There’s a weight that feels lifted off my shoulders, a loosening of the usual necktie of anxiety and suddenly I can breathe. I can think without over thinking. I can decide without second guessing. Best of all, I can sleep.
Travelling in the wee hours of the morning is even better because now it’s combined with the mysterious delight of being awake when no one else is. That feeling also leaves me at peace and content.
Maybe this is a metaphor of some sorts. A reminder to cherish the journey more than the destination.
As I write this I’m sitting under a gazebo at the Hotel Versalles in May Pen, Clarendon. But I’m not on vacation, I’m about to start the first two weeks of my ten week Internal Medicine rotation which will begin at the May Pen Hospital.
Sometimes in this whirlwind of a degree I get to pause and look around and just be grateful for the opportunities I am afforded. Like travel. I have travelled more in the last 4 years than in all my 22 years put together. I’ve gotten to know parts of my country that I’ve never even heard of.
Like Highgate, St. Mary where we spent two weeks on our Community Health rotation and where I learnt a whole lot about rural living and health care.
Or Mandeville, Manchester where we spent the last three weeks of Paediatrics and where I exercised my penchant for exploring unknown pathways.
Or here in May Pen with it’s half-abandoned houses, sweltering roads and messy sprawl of a town centre that reminds me comfortably of home minus the hills. We’re in the middle of a drought but the fish don’t seem to mind.
Two things I can tell you about Barbadians: they love their Banks and hate their green monkeys.
Banks beer is like the beer of Barbados. You can’t drive out without seeing the name painted on the side of every other bar.. I think Bajans love Banks more than we love Red Stripe. Actually, I’m sure of it.
Bajans also love their parties. I went to Harbour Lights on Friday night (upscale sort of bar with patrons of mostly Caucasian persuasion. Also, expensive as hell.) as part of my “see all the things” approach to Barbados, and it was quite a revealing experience. Bajans have won me over with their love of songs you can actually danceto. Me love soca long time, so I knew I would enjoy it, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear so many Jamaican songs being played. And all of them were dance songs!
A bit of background here: Back home, the DJs like to spend 80% of their time playing ‘bad man tunes’. You know those songs you can’t really dance to but that everyone “feels” and wants to put up a lighter or their lit-up cellphone or fire a couple rounds for. Yeah, those songs that leave you standing around awkwardly whenever they’re played for longer than thirty seconds. And few things irritate me more about Jamaican parties.
Despite the late night out, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed at a reasonable hour the following day so we could visit the Wildlife Reserve in St. Peter. Granted, we barely made it two hours before closing time. As much as we longed to see the native green monkeys, we didn’t actually spot any of them until we were preparing to leave.
But there were so many turtles! Big ones and small ones and girl ones and boy ones and water ones and land ones. We saw brocket deer and peacocks and more than a few ducks. I discovered my fear of snakes when I was introduced to a huge reticulated python, and subsequently couldn’t even stand looking at the tiny ones.
And then the monkeys came. I loved them right off the bat. The tiny delightful creatures were feeding and playing, showing off their climbing skills and dexterity. When I got too close one brave monkey hopped directly towards me, reminding me that the signs said these creatures do bite. Amused, I backed away slowly. I can’t believe that Bajan farmers consider these cute little guys pests.
I fully intend to raise a pet monkey one day. They’re such clever, mischievous creatures.
Barbados is lucky enough to have one side of their coast laved by the gentle Caribbean sea and the other side crashed furiously upon by the wild Atlantic ocean. I am lucky enough to see both these fantastic shorelines during my stay.
On Thursday and Friday I visited the beach at Accra (in Oistins). Yes, that’s right. I went to the beach two days in a row. I’m on vacation, sue me. I was expecting the same gently rolling waves we experience on beaches in Montego Bay but the surf was determined to play rough. It crashed on rocks and people in equal measure, so much so that there was a continuous sheen of mist hanging above the shore.
Amateur and experienced surfers tried their hands at waves that made Mobay look positively geriatric. Swimming was next to impossible for me and I ended up just rolling with the waves, which was incredibly exhilarating in its own right. Or maybe I’m just easily amused. There was an overwhelming abundance of tourists on the beach, but that was to be expected when quite a few hotels opened right onto the sands.
But the boardwalk has got to be my absolute favourite part of the beach at Accra. It’s a 1.5km walkway that stretches from Accra almost to Bridgetown. I enjoyed walking along it, feeling the mist from the crashing waves and watching tiny crabs scuttle into the rocks.
And I’ve no idea how to end this entry other than by going on about how amazing Bajan beaches are but that actually makes me feel like a traitor to my homeland, so I’ll just stop here in this awkwardness and leave you a silly/cute picture of footprints side by side in the sand.
Barbados is a fun-sized island. Somehow they have managed to cram it full of all the things you think you need to live, visit and do business. It’s like a tiny Starburst that just explodes into flavour in your mouth. It has everything.
Can you tell I’ve been out driving again?
I love the smooth, almost invisible, transitions between country and town here: the way the cane fields roll right on to become gas stations. I love the way they play around with nature and technology: the solar-powered bus stops, the tastefully decorated roundabouts, the way country roads only have street lights on one side so that you actually get to see the stars.
I love the way Broad Street lights up at night, not discriminating between tree and building. Everywhere gets Christmas lights. I love the intimate feel of the capital, Bridgetown. I wish Kingston would take notes.
I love the way the beach comes right up to the road (I should point out here that this is something Jamaica does too), and I love that Oistin has so much pride in its Fish Festival that it hangs larger-than-life outlines of smiling fishes above their main street.
I even love the way their tourist area (St. Lawrence Gap) reminds me of the Hip Strip in Montego Bay.
I want to live in Barbados. Not right now, of course. But at some point in my life, my career or my studies or my personal whims must lead me back to this little big island for longer than just a tourist stay.
I want to immerse myself in the culture and lifestyle of the place. I want to go to the supermarket and pay bills and make routine trips on public transportation. I want to to converse with people for longer than it takes to make an introduction.
But, unlike Liz Gilbert, my budget isn’t unlimited (seriously, did anyone else reading Eat, Pray, Love obsess over how much money she was spending?). If I’m planning on staying in a different country for a while I’d better be working or studying there, not eating my way through a midlife crisis.
I don’t know when and I don’t know how, but I’m definitely coming back.
Sometimes it’s nice to just to stay at home, where the breeze blows cold and the Bajan rain sounds so different on the rooftops from Jamaican rain but it’s a good different, soothing-like, lulling me into a warm sleep ’cause I’m already wrapped up to my eyelashes in blankets and surrounded on all sides by love.
After sleeping the sleep of the jetlagged the day before, I’m up before seven this morning ready and rearing to go. And go I do. Today, I venture into the city: Bridgetown.
Bridgetown is the capital of Barbados, in more ways than just geographically. It’s the shopping and cultural centre as well; everything happens here. And almost every things that happens in Bridgetown seems to happen along Broad Street. I go window shopping in the vast, rambling departments of Cave Shepherd and I learn one very important fact: things are not cheap here.
We run into the nearest Chefette and kill two birds with one stone. Chefette is a uniquely Bajan restaurant, sort of a cross between KFC, Burger King and Pizza Hut but somehow not quite achieving the same excellence of flavour it would have if it had devoted its energies to just one fare. But the food still tastes good, with the exception of one drink option they can only offer in Barbados: mauby.
Mauby is a flavour of soda (also sold as a syrup, and – I would like to think – a paint stripper) derived from the bark of the Mauby tree. It is black and fizzy much like Coca-Cola, but there the resemblance ends. Mauby is as bitter as a jilted bride, with a burn at the back of your throat reminiscent of really bad tequila. It is no Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.
We go back home.
Later in the evening is a small Christmas party, held at the nearby Home for the Physically Challenged. It’s my first time singing carols with a group of people who aren’t in a church, let alone with a group of people who are so enthusiastic (if somewhat dysarthric) in their renditions.
The exposure to Bajan culture and customs is much less overt here where we are just a group of people, some more challenged than others but still people, congregating to celebrate the season. The lines between J’can and Bajan blur enough for me to slip under them and fit right in, serving plates of fresh-from-Chefette Christmas fare and smiling with everyone I see.
Just driving from the airport in St. Michael to the neighbouring parish of St. George gives me a good idea of the Barbados’s layout.
“Bajans love their roundabouts,” K tells me as we pass the 5th such in less than an hour.
And indeed they love their roundabouts. Each roundabout is assigned to a company who is then in charge of its upkeep. Competitions were once held for the best looking roundabout but the practice has since faded. Still, it is Christmas and many of the roundabouts were splendidly decorated in the spirit of the season.
Another ubiquitous facet of the Barbadian landscape is the cane fields that seem to stretch on for miles along the island’s interior. Driving through the country (and I use this term reluctantly, as it reminds me of the annoying Jamaican dichotomy of Kingston/everywhere else) I pass a set of cane fields twice, going and coming.
But cane fields are also a quintessential part of Caribbean history. Not only do the cane fields of Bimshire stretch for miles, they also stretch for centuries back into the eras of colonialism and slavery. It may not be the happiest point of reference but I love the sense of connection we have as a people with a shared history, despite the differences in where we are today.
In fact, despite the absence of the hills that are so commonplace in Jamaica, I’m finding it very easy to feel at home here.
6:00PM Departure Lounge, Norman Manley International Airport, Jamaica
Airports are every bit as grand and awful as I’ve read about in books and watched in motion pictures. In fact, because my principal experience to air travel has been through the lens of fiction, I’ve come to regard the such tediums as luggage checks and line-waiting with the same fondness a dowager would have for her ill-mannered puppy. In fact, I have to resist the urge to pet the drug-sniffing dog as she passes in all her golden, furry glory.
4:10AM Departure Lounge, Piarco International Airport, Trinidad
Standing in lines has lost its allure. Waiting around has ceased to be romantic. Air conditioning and fast food are now a sore sight for my eyes. Perhaps around the same time as I developed frostbite in my toes (covered in candy purple polish so you can’t prove or disprove the cyanosis), I joined the ranks of international travellers who regard airports with the kind of disdain reserved for gum stuck to the bottom of your shoe. A misfortune I managed to avoid when I ran outside the airport into a light drizzle just so I could stand on Trinidadian asphalt.
7:00AM Outside Grantley Adams International Airport, Barbados
It’s too warm for the oversized sweater I donned in Port-of-Spain, and by now I’m old hat at airport bathrooms. The time in Barbados is fifty three minutes faster than the time on my watch, but no matter the time zone I’ve been awake for 24 hours. I’m tired and my bags are heavy, but I’ve arrived.