23.5.03

Barbados 03 p1

Thursday May 22

My brother Kim and I flew to Barbados from Montreal and arrived around 2 pm. The first sight of the island was memorable: as the plane leaned towards it to turn, all of it could be seen framed in the window. It is, after all, a mere 21x14 miles. We were babbling with excitement when we got into a cab and got our first taste of the local heat, much like a Lebanese summer's.

We crossing this field twice a day to and from the bus stop.

Our apartment is the last one on the upper floor

It took only about ten minutes for us to reach Coral House, the little resort in the Silver Sands area (on the South Coast) where we were going to stay. It consisted of a block of ten small apartments standing alone on the edge of a field, a few meters away from the water, with a wooden kind of building in between. There was a young woman there, sitting on the steps, who told us her name was Carmen. We mentioned we had a booking, and she got up, got the keys for us, and left us to our own devices. She asked neither for ID nor rent -- indeed she barely asked us our names before showing us our living quarters. This wasn't the last example we'd see of Bajan laid-back way of life.

At that point though we started worrying a bit. The place was deserted and distant from everything. There was no phone, seemingly no place to get food and necessities, and we didn't know if we should expect this desolation all over the island. We decided to go straight to the capital, Bridgetown, and get our bearings there.

However, that was just a misleading first impression. Later on the advantages of our position became clear to us, and if I go back, it will be to that very "lost corner" in the parish of Christ Church.

Our living room...

View from the balcony...

Another view. This lighthouse has the oddity of being made entirely of iron.
 We asked Carmen if there were buses in the area, and she directed us to the top of the hill, behind a church (the place is filled with churches), where there was a bus stop and a shop. As a friend was coming to pick her up, she offered to give us a lift. They dropped us off at the shop, a real quaint place selling only the bare minimum but home to groups of local men hanging outside at umbrella-ed tables waving at and greeting anyone passing by. The bus arrived: it was the exact same mini-van, with sliding door, that is circulating in Beirut. With one difference: Caribbean music instead of Arabic - and the passengers can get their own CD and ask the driver to pop it into the player. I also noticed that when a mobile rang in the bus, the driver put the volume down and then cranked it back up when the conversation was over! Another difference is that the Bajans are never, ever in a rush or under stress. If a passenger is ascending or descending, the bus waits. No worries. It will wait with no sign of impatience from driver or passengers, as long as it needs. Once as we were still far from the stop and the bus was arriving, we waved to it and I started running out of habit. An old man was coming on a bicycle in the opposite direction and went: "Take your time sweetie, there's no need to run!"

The shop less the usual crowd of people-watchers
Although Bridgetown is ridiculously close to the south (7 miles at most) and you take the main road to get there, it takes a little while to reach it because vehicles go so slowly. I must say the main road is a two-way street (a bus stopping to load passengers holds up everyone else), and it's not in the best of states.

The first thing we did in Bridgetown was locate Roger's Scuba Shack, where we'd be taking our Advanced Diver courses. At this point I think we desperately needed an anchor, because everything was closed in Bridgetown: a real ghost town, and we were thinking "Uh-oh." We did find the Shack though, part of a complex called the Boatyard (at the time it was just a name, but to us it's now the heart of the whole island), and to our relief there were people inside. At that point we didn't catch any names but the crew immediately struck us as nice and funny. The young woman at the counter (we later learned her name was Donna) said someone would pick us up the next day at 8:15, and when Kim asked if we should pay for the class, she was like "Oh, no! You pay after you've done the dives and finished everything". Kim and I looked at each other thinking we'd rarely seen so many people refuse to take our money. We were feeling much better by then and stopped by a little internet café nearby to send news that we had reached the place in one piece. There we found out the reason for the ghost town: There had been an election the previous day and "whatever party won gave everyone a holiday for today". That relieved us for good. We caught the bus home, shopped for groceries, and cut across the field to go home.

Another asset of the place
Steve at the bar
It was past 5 by then, and the strange little wooden shack revealed its nature: Mike's Bar, a place of rare delight. All of Coral House, by that time, was starting to show what it was really about. First off, it's exceptionally quiet. There is literally nothing nearby save a few tourist houses that were uninhabited then. At night the closest light is almost a mile off, beyond the fields: the night is pitch dark with no light pollution. There are only three sounds until Mike's Bar opens: the wind, the waves, and the birds. Then there's the chatter and laughter of the handful of tourists who stream in in the early evening to enjoy a drink in this open-air wooden bar that's sitting by the water. Mike's Bar has a sign that says "Happy all the time! Extra happy hour: 5-6:30." Drinks were disgustingly cheap, but there's no point in getting drunk: you're already floating in pink bliss before you lift a glass.

The barman there is Steve, who's been living in Barbados for ten years and teaches kite-surfing in the daytime. Every night at 7 an exquisite buffet is served, consisting mainly of fish dishes. The menu specifies things like "Wednesday - Was Flying" (flying fish), "Thursday - Never Flew" (non-flying fish), and "Friday - Going surfing, see you Saturday!"

I had never slept so wonderfully. All windows and doors of the apartment were open so the wind was blowing through it. It was a strong, whispering wind throughout our stay, but the temperature was perfect, and there was no trace of any bugs or mosquitoes. It was like a velvet cocoon.


Friday May 23

When I woke up, immensely refreshed, it was still really quiet. I let Kim sleep; we have different biorhythms, so I would enjoy the veranda in the early hours while he would in the evening when I went to bed. I made a sandwich and put down the plate next to me on the verandah. Within seconds, there was a bullfinch perched on the plate nibbling at my breakfast while I stared with amused disbelief. In the following days this scenario would repeat itself without fault, and I started counting the seconds between the moment the plate clinked on the table and the appearance of the bullfinch. His best time was four seconds.

There are so many birds in Barbados. A very common, but hard to approach, species is the Antillean grackle or blackbird pictured above. There are also ground doves that look a lot like our Beirut morning doves, and a wood dove whose calm cooocu coo cu cu is interpreted in local folk lore as "Moses spoke God's word". But I nearly fell over the day I spotted a hummingbird in our coconut tree.

View of the rugged South coast


 We walked along the shore starting below the apartment. It was windy and waves were crashing beautifully; in the distance a kitesurfer was riding the waves and occasionally taking flight. A group of dogs met us on the way and immediately attached themselves to us, begging for cuddles in turn. They followed us home and only left us when Steve, who was passing by, told them "OK guys, go home!" We were impressed.