In fear of growing a set of gills with this year’s record rainfall, we decide to chase the sun rather than wait for it, resulting in a return to the Caribbean island of Barbados for the first time in 31 years. Much has changed during that time, but fortunately the weather is not one of them; it’s still a permanent shorts and sandals kind of place.
Today, as are most days is splendid sunshine, with daytime highs annual average of 30 degrees Celsius and over 3,000 hours of warming sunshine each year. Indeed a fine place for a Canadian to frolic in February!
Another big plus for the island is it’s the birthplace of rum; my tranquilizer of choice! Back in the mid 1600’s a wooden shipping barrel was discovered with fermented sugarcane inside, and this was the start of rum in Barbados, which now exports more than $57 million BBD of the golden nectar each year. Not too shabby for a country a mere 21 miles long and 14 miles wide!
Originally called ‘kill devil’ or ‘rumbullion’, and later shortened to rum, the drink was so powerful and popular that an edict came in 1645 from the King of England, stating that the Royal Navy must have a tot of Barbados’ rum on a daily basis. Somehow I feel a sense of camaraderie with the the old King of E, as rum and I have been going steady for the last half century!
On the downside, some of the head-scratching legal legislation here is in definite need of a rethink. For example, owning or wearing any type of camouflage or military style clothing is strictly prohibited with anyone, including children, being arrested for violating this law. This is supposedly because the colors slightly resemble the uniform of the Barbados Defense Force and could be associated with terrorist activity.
The folly of this felony is truly bizarre, and if the country is that focused on pasty faced tourist and kids wearing mottled-colored clothes or bathing suits, perhaps they should bolster their Defense force; and certainly never enter into any conflict with anything more significant than one of the naughty little green monkeys roaming about the island!
One crime that is not covered by any law, but should be, is drunk driving. Our friends greet us at the airport with beers and wine in hand, as Barbados turns a blind eye to drunk driving; likely because even the cops are too drunk to be administering breathalyzer tests. There seems to be no significant police, but rather, a few speed bumps that locals refer to as ‘sleeping policemen’. This is a country that would likely have MADD in cardiac arrest!
Driving home, our first thoughts are that all the drivers here are drunk. However, it turns out that only about sixty percent really are; the other forty percent are simply busy dodging potholes. Most of the island’s excitement seems to be generated by the traffic driving far too quickly over the dangerous vision-limiting and broken roads desperately crying out for mending.
With sidewalks as rare as rocking horse droppings, running or walking are an adventure for only the bravest. Traffic calamities are exacerbated by shaky vehicles with even shakier drivers, who often drive at night without using headlights, believing it will drain the car’s battery! The ridiculous roads offer clear evidence that past corrupt governments were far more interested in using the cash to fill their pockets rather than their potholes.
This morning I am surprised by a barely ambulatory bat, unnaturally crawling about on the tiled floor on its little bat feet. Using its velvety black wings like a crutch, it kind of resembles a crumpled a plane taxing out to the runway. Adorable it is not, especially with little bald ears and a creepy snout-like nose. Apparently the little furry fuck failed to read memo that his ilk is meant to be nocturnal!
I’m unsure if it’s sick or not, but with it a potential carrier of weird diseases, and in these days of COVID-19, I’m taking no chances. After carefully scooping it up from behind up on a magazine, the mini-mammal does a 180 degree turn and scampers Quasimodo-like towards my arms. Faster than a blink, I hurl his furry ass over the rail and outside with a maneuver likely to put me in contention for gold at any Olympic discus throwing event!
In the villages, many people live in cute little chattel houses set on loose coral block foundations. The movable wooden homes all have a door in the center of the front of the house with a window on each side. Some are clothed in bright orange, green, yellow, and blue paints; while others are peeling or wood-naked and propped up with two by fours.
The humble homes are owned, but land is owned by the landowners, so when the tenant is told to move, they dismantle the abode along with its loose coral foundation, to take to their next location for re-erection.
During a coastal walk on the wave-pummeled east coast from Martins Bay to Bath, we pass by odd shaped coral rock formations thrusting out of the sea. In one bay we notice the sleek grey shapes of stingrays using their knife-like wings to glide over the sea bottom. This sighting is a pleasant contrast from the invasive Sargassum weed decomposing on the sadly rubbished shoreline.
Checking out the island with our friends, we are amazed by its blanketing of little no-frills rum shops. The prolific wooden shops are easy to recognize being painted in the brightly colored logos of their sponsors such as Banks Beer and Old Brigand Rum. Since Barbados is the epicenter of rum, we venture inside one of the small shops with an Old Brigand rum logo; the brand referred to by locals as ‘the one-eyed man’ due to the eye-patched pirate on the label.
Ordering a small bottle of rum, as it’s not sold by the glass, it is quickly plunked down on the bar in front of us, along with stacked cheap plastic glasses and a bowl of mangled ice. As it soothes our throats, our ears are tormented by trying to decipher the loud, quick, and harsh Bajan dialect along with their eccentric slang expressions and abbreviations.
I think back to a cab driver’s previous warning that the clientele in rum shops may be a bit sketchy; as in his words, ‘dey heads dey not dey own’! In contrast to the boisterous Bajans, a couple of pickled patrons getting to know the bottom of a rum bottle are off to the side, slumped on their stools looking like they implanted their ass with a tranquilizer dart. Time flies when you’re having rum, but it’s time for us to go before our heads too, are not our own!
Barbados has a population of 287,000 and has a whopping 1500 rum shops crammed into just over 166 square miles of land. This means that one out of every 190 Bajans own a rum shop, likely leaving the other 189 as just consumers! Yes, these folks are pretty damn serious about their rum, and we get a kick out of sign hanging in our friends kitchen that pretty much sum up the island’s philosophy; “RUM – because no great conversation ever started with a salad”!
The island has over 100 religious groups operating, and for nearly every rum shop there appears to be some kind of little church close by. It is interesting that a nation of deeply religious people have built an economy on a product originally referred to as “kill devil”.
Today we’re participating in a Hash run at Black Bess in the St. Peter parish, put on by the Barbados Hash Harriers. The vistas are great, and less than five minutes into the run I incur a blur of fur as a fleet footed mongooses almost collides with my ankles.
Originally brought in to tame the snake population, these non-discriminatory predators eat most things that move, including lizards, insects, birds, snakes, and frogs; along with chickens and their eggs. I smile to myself thinking this is not the first time wildlife has been sent fleeing in panic from a gaggle of Hash harriers stomping through remote bush.
Soon, coming as no surprise, runners have lost the well hidden trail; after all, getting runners lost is the main intent on any Hash run. However, what nobody planned for was the presence of evil Cow-itch plants lurking on the land. Yeow; the stinging hairs cause an intense and fierce burning itch as if we have just been immersed in a scalding hot bathtub.
It’s impossible not to rub your limbs to try and lessen the pain, but unfortunately this only spreads the burn making the damage worse. The guy beside me offers sage advice, telling me “don’t touch it, and keep your hands away from your face and your jewelry”, as in the below the belt danglers.
Everyone is in so much discomfort that the run actually has to be abandoned; a first for all the hash runners, and a definite disappointment. The only positive takeaway from this calamity is that the Hash bar will be open sooner than planned! As the circle closes and the Grandmaster begins doling out punishments for offences committed during the run, we’re chagrined they do not include the hanging by the testicles of the two ‘hares’ who laid out this excruciating route! Alas, another Hash run story to add to our growing list.
Visiting another long-time friend residing on the island, I introduce myself to a fellow named Ray who definitely the silent type. The reason for his limited communication skills is that Ray is my friends pet Tortoise; Ray being short for Rayban, as in the tortoise shell eye-wear frames.
The rotund terrestrial turtle acts as the home’s friendly garburator by eating pretty much any food headed for the trash bin. Respecting his vow of silence, I make the old lump a peace offering of a tasty hibiscus flower, which quickly disappears into his toothless mouth and down his ugly neck. Since running or sprinting is not his consuming passion, the dawdler then does an awkward slow-motion shuffle off to find some privacy; leaving it pretty clear why a group of tortoises is called a ‘creep’.
A nighttime nuance, or more accurately nighttime nuisance, comes in the form of sleep sapping tree frogs. Disproportionately loud to their tiny thumb nail size, the rowdy adult polliwogs hop about in our bathroom and kitchen. Fortunately they do not trespass into the bedroom, which is definitely a good thing as it prevents Christine from possibly impaling herself on the ceiling fan in avoidance of her amphibious foe.
Outside our bedroom a high brick wall surrounds the attached patio, creating a perfect acoustic amphibian amphitheater. The air is throbbing with the frog’s incessant chirping; reminiscent of the back-up beepers on an industrial vehicle. For any attempt at sleep we are married to our earplugs.
Our favorite daytime activity is visiting Carlisle Bay, a crescent-shaped tranquil bay with water a variegated shade of turquoise, changing according to the position of the sun and clouds. With the waters a sea turtle habitat, the snorkeling here is flipping magic, and as one surfaces right beside me, I give her back a gentle rub.
With our heads simultaneously popping out of the water, she gazes directly at me with her noncommittal eyes, perhaps acknowledging the brief massage. Turtles are such lovable and gentle creatures, and let’s face it; with their docile demeanor, you are never likely to hear of anyone dying from a turtle attack. After a gulping a lungful of air she descends to the ocean floor to continue her weed munching.
Treading in the buoyant blue sea during the same outing I experience the sighting of an aquatic oddity called a Gurnard, or Bat Fish; an “alien-looking” creature looking like something out of a sci-fi film. It has two humanoid ‘feet’ with toes allowing it to walk on the ocean floor, and huge pectoral fins held against its body which morph into great wings to expose small prey or whenever it feels threatened. It also has what looks like a human’s nose immediately above its mouth; and no, I have not been into the rum!
After coming out of the sea I am unable to clear a plugged ear no matter how hard I try, and after four annoying days, decide to go to a doctor to find out what’s going on. I describe the problem to the woman at the front desk, and while I’m sitting in the waiting room she comes over and tells me that I need to pee in a cup!
W.T.F.; I come in here with a buggered up ear and you want to analyze my bladder contents? Taking a big sigh I comply, as I have a rented beer that needs to be purged anyways. Further, she says, I will also need to take your heart rate and blood pressure, and by now I’m getting ready to bolt if she starts asking for nose hair or a stool samples!
Finally I get to see the doctor, who happens to be forensic pathology specialist. Even though I am not yet a corpse, she does a little gardening in my ear and determines the crime is wax is jammed up against the ear drum, and gives me a prescription for drops that should resolve the problem in 3 or 4 days.
This does not happen, and a week later I go in for a second visit, only to be informed that I have an infection on my ear drum, and another problem with my inner ear. This time I am prescribed two different sets of antibiotics to try and dispose of my microscopic foe. The costs are starting to add up, and frankly, I’m starting to wonder if the Doc and the pharmacist in the same building are in cahoots.
A catastrophic result of the prescriptions is being told to lay off the rum, which as a serial rum drinker has me in mourning. The rum distilleries, however, having braced for my visit, are now apparently breathing a huge sigh of relief in escaping what they feared would be consumption levels doomed to stress their production capacities.
We are out invited to watch a polo game which turns out to be a hoity-toity affair, with a hodgepodge mix of kids and old guys atop horses, bumping into each other with mallets in hand. It seems the combatants are not exactly professionals, as the safest position on the field seems to be where the ball is; being constantly being fanned by the breeze of wildly flailing mallets. With our holidays hampered by my being unable to hear out of one ear, and suffering radial nerve damage in my arm from a fall, the holiday on the sleepy little island is now just hobbling along.
At a bustling Oistins fresh fish market we make a bulky purchase of flying fish, barracuda, and dolphin. Don’t worry; the latter is not Flipper, just a blunt headed mahi-mahi fish, so tasty that they had to name it twice! The purchases are because the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ have moved their pillage and plunder tactics from the seas into the restaurants, with exorbitant pricing for sub-standard meals.
The island has a national pastime known as ‘liming’, which actually has nothing to do with the green fruit. Liming is a Bajan term for a lazy mingling with friends; eating, slurping rum, and sometimes slamming a dom (playing dominoes), followed by an afternoon snooze which they treat like an Olympic event. We get the feeling that a Bajan’s only cardio, is running late!
The island’s large population of dread-locked skulled Rastas are quite a sight. Some sport dreads roping down over their shoulders like an overfed ferret, while the head-dreads of others are long enough to trip over and twisted into a turban of hair covered in a fishnet-like bonnet! Bead-braided beards are also common; perhaps not so odd given a Portuguese explorer who liked the beard-like appearance of the island’s fig trees and named the island ‘Los Barbados’, meaning ‘The Bearded Ones’.
A wonderful start to the day is beach-running with my bare feet imprinting the perfect sands on the shores of Carlisle Bay. Little Sandpiper birds comically engage in a little running of their own, chasing after newly broken waves ebbing back into the sea to peck up tiny bits of breakfast; then with a quick turn of tail feathers, frantically skedaddle back up the sand to avoid a gigantic sea bath from the next incoming wave.
Another delightful aspect of the bay is watching the swimming horses getting some healthy downtime away from the stables. The muscular racehorses are brought down from nearby race course at dawn by their handlers and lead into the inviting sea where the seawater soothes their skin and muscles.
The sleek, powerful horses are superb swimmers and seem to love going for a swim as well as playfully prancing about in the sea. Sand is soft underfoot and offers them a low impact with joints and muscles supported by the water; much like professional athletes running in a pool. These stunning studs just happen to have the luxury of enjoying their horseplay in nature’s finest hydrotherapy pool!
The Barbados Yacht Club has been a fantastic resource for relaxation during our island stay. Liming under the flowered canopy of the aged Mahoe trees, the conversation turns to the awaiting Canadian weather at home, and my friend reminds me of an old Bajan proverb that states: ‘snow belongs on the mountains, and ice belongs in a glass’! As a life long sun vulture I could not agree more; and fingers crossed, when we get home there will be neither to worry about.
Mark Colegrave February 2020