The aircraft has just left terra firma. White tropical beaches give way to the deep blue Caribbean sea as we climb into the clouds. Yesterday was different. The Airbus accelerated down the runway but instead of taking off, slewed to an abrupt stop halfway down the tarmac, the blown port engine emitting a loud hammering noise.
Stunned passengers sat in silence. Some prayed quietly. Then one distraught woman ran down the aisle turned in confusion and returned to her seat. The rest quietly obeyed the captain’s instructions to remain seated. Even the previously loud passengers were quiet!
Much excitement! Emergency vehicles came alongside as the captain announced the demise of the #1 engine. Then followed the slow taxi back to a spot well away from the terminal and orderly disembarking from the cabin. The flight attendant’s request that passengers proceed quickly, as it was about to rain, was met with hilarious laughter. Some light relief after the stress of the past few minutes. Clearly the occasion provided some welcome action for the emergency personnel at the laid back, quiet Bridgetown Airport. An added bonus for us was another night at Yellow Cottage and another chance to fling our bodies into the warm Caribbean Sea to ‘be takin a last sea bath’.
The postcards don’t lie. Barbados is as beautiful as the pictures in the travel brochures. The exquisite turquoise shallow water and white coral sand beaches make this place a paradise, which for a short while, is ours. The balmy heat, tempered by a constant breeze provides a welcome escape from the winter at home. Fortunately July is the low season here as most visitors arrive in the northern hemisphere winter.
Two beaches lie on our doorstep: Oistins beach, 50 meters away is a ‘morning and evening’ beach, as it has no trees, but is wonderful for that early morning swim ice cold local sundowners. A few minutes walk away is the ‘tourist’ spot, Enterprise, or Miami Beach, well shaded by Casuarina and broad-leaved Almond trees. Loungers and umbrellas are offered for hire and vendors sell a variety of local snacks: coconut juice, pumpkin fritters, grilled pigs tails, fish cakes and the like. Even when ‘crowded’, there is ample space on the beach. Local families arrive en masse, with hot food in chafing trays and drinks in the ubiquitous cooler boxes. Young and old swim, play games and have fun in relative silence and respect for other beachgoers. No loud music or obnoxious behavior and then they depart after picking up their litter. Personal goods left on the beach while swimming are untouched on your return. Amazing. The warm sea invites one to wallow in the placid waters for hours.
The little cottage we have rented is a timber “Chattel House”, designed to be dismantled and relocated whenever the owner moved, is tastefully furnished with cane and woven reed chairs, and a fully equipped, simple kitchenette. Ceiling fans in the lounge/ kitchen and bedroom ensure comfort at night and keep the mosquitoes at bay. Only the shower has running hot water, but the cold outdoor shower is in greater demand in the heat. Our host, Mary Osborne (who hails from Zambia nogal), has provided ‘settling in’ groceries along with the recipe, ingredients and the challenge to make a good rum punch! Also in copious supply are mosquito repellents and the warning that the local biters love visitors. That they do, and are expert at finding the tiniest spot of exposed skin, which they stealthily attack with vigour.
Just a short walk away is a well-stocked supermarket, fishing harbour and fish market where attentive herons and chickens eagerly await scraps. Stall-holders prepare a variety of fresh grilled seafood delights. Fish cakes and local favorites, macaroni pie and delicious breadfruit chips draw the crowds. Vendors selling fresh fruit and vegetables abound. Bananas, mangoes, limes, okra, potatoes, sweet potatoes and sweetcorn on the cob are plentiful. Bakers sell Lead Pipes, like heavy wholemeal hot dog rolls, along with breads, coconut rolls, jambuns, jam pies and raisin roti’s. Each evening the locals assemble at sidewalk bar to play dominoes, vigorously loudly slapping their blocks down onto the tables. Later live music and karaoke take over the parties.
“Howyoudoin mon, Wassa yo name ? ” “Paul” , I replied. “Oh, Paulo. OK, wassit to be then, Barracuda or flying fish ? ” With expert, seemingly casual strokes of his carving knife, Wellington filleted and sliced a pound of fresh Barracuda, slid it into a clean plastic bag then had his helper wrap the parcel in newspaper. The dignified, bespectacled, dreadlocked fishmonger is reputed to have the freshest fish at Oistins Fish Market. Delivered that morning by the local fishing skiff, it was to be our first local fish supper, served with breadfruit chips.
There is no shortage of transport on the island. Taxis and hire cars are freely available. The island’s British history means that vehicles drive on the left side of the roads. Buses and mini buses ply the main routes frequently and at speeds, which would compete with any South African taxi. As always, mini buses stop anywhere. All trips cost B$2 (R10.00), whether to the next stop or to the end of the route! Bus shelters have names; all female, so one can ride from Jessica to Marie Anne on the Oistins- Bridgetown route. A bus ride to Pie Corner (don’t expect any pies) is a great way to mix with local folk and see the West Coast towns and beaches. The bus system also doubles as an informal delivery service. A lunch pack passed to the driver’ in Bridgetown is delivered to a workman on the sidewalk outside Holetown! Drivers are most considerate, stopping for pedestrians who wish to cross the road. Even animals are given right of way at the pedestrian crossings. The most brazen chickens use the pedestrian crossing to walk from the fish market to scratch in the flowerbeds around the KFC outlet.
Barbados islanders, or Bajans, are extremely friendly and helpful. They take an interest in chatting with visitors. The children we encountered were very polite, greeting adults and offering their seats on the full bus. Education on the Island is a government priority and the literacy rate is proudly quoted as being 99,7%. Each of the eleven parishes on the island has its own Anglican Church, sturdily built with coral blocks. These and local schools provide shelter during hurricanes.
Most evenings brought spectacular sunsets. Towering, colossal clouds resplendent in pinks, crimsons and magentas which retreated into darkness: opening acts for distant lightning storms set in single huge cumulus clouds. These lit up the night sky; awesome silent fireworks displays set against the black background of stars and the universe. On one night these proved to be the calm before the storm.
Announcements about the imminent arrival of tropical storm Chantal were met with hasty preparation of shelters. Fortunately the destructive wind passed us by but she did dump tons of rain on the island. The Bajans seemed to welcome the emergency services’ warning to stay inside. Shops and public offices closed, roads emptied and we had the beach to ourselves. Fish markets closed and only the expats went to work!
This beautiful, laid-back, friendly island has its problems. Decrepit houses reflect poverty among the fancy hotels and estates. The newspapers dwell on an ailing economy with falling tourism and other foreign income. Yet the smiles remain welcoming and a return visit is definitely on our bucket list.
Why Go there: Awesome beaches, friendly people, lovely laid-back vibe.
How to get there: Fly to Sao Paulo, London or New York, then connect to Bridgetown.
Where to Stay: Yellow Cottage and other private self-catering accommodation can be found on www.airbnb.com