Barbados 03 p3

Bridgetown and Folkstone

General view of Bridgetown, which is not much larger than this.
The building with the flag is the Parliament, right behind Trafalgar Square...
The bridge that named the city
Scaly-naped pigeon
Saturday May 24

Our third dive was scheduled for the afternoon, so we decided to go shopping in Bridgetown in the morning. We dropped off our diving gear at the Shack first so we wouldn't have to carry it. The first day, I had put my small backpack with the important stuff (wallets, camera) against the wall during the briefing, and as we were going to leave to dive I asked if there was somewhere safe I could put it. Mark took it: "Sure, let's see. Where was it?" He put it back on the exact spot. "There."

So we shopped, and had a look at some of Bridgetown's features. Our first stop was the Anglican cathedral St Michael. The first one could accommodate 100 people and was destroyed by a hurricane in 1780; the current one was rebuilt in 1789 and can fit 1600 people. I'd never been inside an Anglican cathedral and was intrigued by the woodwork inside. Also, how many cathedrals you know have coconut trees in the garden?

The baobab in Queen's Park
This one shows the scale better.
 We then went on to the baobab in Queen's Park. That tree has an interesting story. It is of course an African tree, now over 1000 years old, and it is believed that the seed floated across the Atlantic from Guyana before starting to grow in a lagoon. The lagoon is now dry land and this park was created around it. It is 28m high, 25m wide, and the oldest tree in the island! An old man helped us find our way into its enclosure, and we ran into him again as we were leaving the park. He had brought this very old photograph for us to see, dating back to 47. It shows him wearing a "beard" of living bees, a feat that is now somewhat banalized, but that was very unusual at the time.

On our way out an old lady said to me in passing: "Enjoy your holiday!" for no other reason than she had noticed we were visitors.

Watching cricket, the national sport
Broad Street, the one large street in Bridgetown, mainly a shopping and banking area
While walking towards Broad Street we were lucky enough to run into a lively show that turned out to be a celebration of Afrikan Liberation Day. A group of dancers in costumes were walking around on very tall stilts; that was impressive in itself, but then they started to dance on those things!

Afrikan Liberation Day commemorates May 25th, 1963, when "the leaders of 32 independent Afrikan States (sic) met to form the organization of Afrikan Unity".

The day's dive was a core one, a Navigation Dive. We had to learn and demonstrate underwater navigation skills using natural features and/or a compass, measuring distances underwater, etc. Once in the water we'd have to complete 5 exercises: swim in a line counting our fin strokes, to figure out what distance covered with each stroke; swim to and from a mark using the bottom as a reference; swim to and from a mark using only a compass; and finally, swim in a perfect square using only a compass. We had previously practiced in the Botyard's yard, a towel thrown over our heads and a compass in hand.

We finished the requirements quite quickly and spent the rest of the dive swimming around for pure pleasure. At one point we swam past a rock, both men on one side and me on the other side. They never saw it, but there was a large Moray eel emerging from underneath it, neck stuck out like a wooden horse's, completely motionless except for its jaw opening and closing as it stared at me. It was like swimming past a plastic eel in Disneyland.

Mark took us home afterward and stopped for a drink with us at Mike's Bar. The nest in the bathroom had grown bigger.

Sunday May 25

Bajans take their days off very seriously, so we predicted that we wouldn't find anything open on that day and decided to go snorkeling. I spotted a place called Folkstone (pronounced foke-stn) Reserve on the map, that was recommended for this activity, so we set off for Bridgetown, changed buses, and were off northward.

Kim had mentioned earlier that he wanted to find out where the Barbados branch of McGill was (it's a branch for marine biology), as he had a friend who was there at the moment. We hopped off the bus when we saw the Folkstone sign, and Kim froze: we were standing in front of a building carrying the McGill logo and Canadian flag. We couldn't believe it. "I just want to find the office and ask for their phone number, so that I can call him later on", he said, and we went around to find a way in. There was nobody; we stepped right into the garden and headed for the nearest door. Kim opened it and went "WAAAH!" His friend was sitting right inside the door! He looked completely befuddled, and so did another friend who was around. We chatted a bit, asked if we could use the McGill showers afterwards, and went down to the beach right there.

The picnic area
The setting was charming; not a sand beach but a picnic spot with wooden stairs leading down into the water. The surf was kind of rough but the visibility was still good enough when we got there. We had brought my dad's 20-year-old Nikonos, a jewel of an underwater camera that we were eager to use. Wiser for the experience with the watch, I had carefully greased its joints. If there is anything more exciting than diving or snorkeling, it is underwater photography -- chasing the pictures, gliding close to the fish without scaring them away, and pressing that button having no idea of what the picture would look like in the end... The reef was full of exciting life. Among other things there was an endless school of tiny silver fish, and one of large blue fish that we chased around all day. There were corals and parrot fish and we got lost in discovery as the hours went by. I'll never get over the fact the first roll of film, with the most interesting pictures, was not well inserted and came out blank. Howl!!

The beach at Folkstone

Cloud of glittering silver fish...
... and school of large ones
Beautiful play of light on this coral
By the afternoon the surf had lifted too many particles off the reef, and it had become very hard to see. So we decided to call it a day, took a shower in McGill (just walked into the university, showered and walked out without anybody asking), went home (a laborious process) and do our homework for our last two dives that were to be on Tuesday. I had to stick the bread in the fridge because as the apartment was always open, we were visited by birds all the time. My wily bullfinch didn't wait for our absence to fly in and try to peck holes into the nylon bag.

There was now an egg in the nest!!