Wednesday, 15 April 2015



Green Monkey Tales: Getting Around


Every single roadside pole in Barbados has a little sign perched above the askew directionals: JESUS IS COMING. The way people drive here, man, the flock must be tired of waiting. And the tourist will have his come to Jesus moment ripping along a buckled and narrow road rife with S-turns and blind corners in the middle of a sugar cane field or amid the dizzying chaos of an ABC Highway roundabout. The approach to Martin’s Bay is a sheer vertical slope, I was half convinced our friend Russell’s rented KIA would descend toppling end over end.


They drive on the left here and the steering wheels are on the passenger side. Ann’s brother Jim keeps flicking on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal. Most of the vehicles on the island are small and light coloured although the local speeders display a flair for garish rims: pink, red, blue, teal, purple. Standard license plates are white on black and rental plates are blue on white, indicators to Bajans to cut nervous tourists some slack. Drivers communicate their intentions to others by horn toots and winking headlights. Somehow carnage is deked out, avoided for one more day.


You can never be lost for long in Barbados. All broken roads lead to Bridgetown, the capital. Bus stop signs read simply TO CITY or OUT OF CITY; orienting yourself is simple provided you can find a bus stop. Beyond traditional transit, there are the ubiquitous white Z vans (their alpha-numeric license plates begin with the letter Z), modified soccer mom vans crammed with benches and jump seats. They stop anywhere. They don’t seem to have a schedule. Seat belts and maximum capacity are non-issues, there’s always room for one more passenger. Z vans rock steady at full throttle, reggae blasting and the driver shouting into his cell, beeping his horn. Another man acts as the conductor, opening the sliding side door, herding riders in, hustling them out and collecting fares. A trip on a stranger’s lap costs $2 Bajan (BDS) or $1 US. Braced for impact on the careening No. 11 rocketing toward Oistins, a fishing town four kilometres from our base in Worthing, I notice a sticker near the ceiling: SCHOOL UNIFORM IN CHILDREN $1.50. No helicoptered kids in these parts.


Eyes right! The unwary pedestrian will be killed or at least clipped by the side mirror of a mail scooter, bus or truck. It’s damn near impossible to stroll two abreast along a narrow Barbadian sidewalk that leads to nowhere or the distant dot of converging parallel lines. A passing Z van will spin you around. You learn to keep your elbows in. Nor can a visitor gawp and gape at the surrounding sights as a level surface is an abstract concept in this country. You trod upon uneven paving stones, crumbling cement, rotting planks of mahogany and cracked cerulean ceramic tile. Stubbed toes can be another cost added to a holiday; oh, how the tripping fools mocked me for sporting proper shoes and ankle socks rather than sandals.


We attempt to confine our walks to the relatively cool early mornings. A preferred route is the South Coast Boardwalk which snakes along the shoreline for about a mile between Hastings and Rockley Beach. It’s a relief to be able to stroll without being hyper-alert for reckless traffic aiming for us from our blind side. The beaches are less inviting. Something strange has happened in the region this year, the Sargasso Sea has sprung a leak. The normally pristine beaches are heaped with pungent mounds of Sargassum seaweed. This natural phenomenon is eating Jim up inside, wrecking his perfect place. It’s never happened before, honest. Oh well, time for a cocktail.


While clearing a path through the seaweed to the water for Ann I stumbled across a hideous, turd-sized sea slug of some sort. Imagine you had too much red wine with last night’s dinner and now picture your movement moving. Ann touched it. Ick. What truly bothers me about the boardwalk and the beaches isn’t the organic debris so much as the amount of litter strewn about. There are bins but not enough of them and most are tipped over. If you pause to ruminate on the beauty of our world, it’s difficult not to conclude that as a species, human beings are filthy pests.


Our favourite walk is dictated by the ever shifting waves of the Caribbean. At low tide we set off from the abandoned and derelict Bagshot Hotel, once a thriving waterfront property. We hang our towels on the rusting railings of the defunct Bananas nightclub ocean view terrace and then wade along a sandbar to the reef and the breakers a few hundred yards out to sea. We float face down on the buoyant and clear bottle green saltwater, peering through it, wearing snorkel masks. Coming up for air Ann inadvertently places her feet on a rock which then breaks the surface and reveals itself as a green sea turtle. Beyond the bubbling surf is blue water sailing all the way to Venezuela.


The expanding and contracting, curving and slanting sidewalks of Worthing are tricky after dark, especially after a few Banks beers. I take Ann’s hand and risk a glance skyward. I spot Orion’s belt. The hunter is a fixture in Alberta’s black winter skies. It’s nice to see him migrating south; it’s reassuring to know he gets tired of the freezing cold up north too.


(Part 2 of a series)



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