Monday, November 12, 2012

Caribbean - PART FOUR

Part 4: How I met Rihanna in Barbados

Dry martini. Shaken. 3 olives. I am wearing white, which seems fitting in this place of turquoise blue waters. In contrast to most other ports, Barbados looks very industrial and practical from the harbor in Bridgetown . It is a low-lying land mass in the south, but rises a bit to some choppy terrain in the north. A US research vessel, heavy lifting equipment, freighters from Singapore and docks of shipping containers and warehouses occupy the harbor. And there are two guys riding the anchor to our ship.

But beyond the heavy equipment, Barbados is a financial hothouse and the industrial look fades to refinement in one direction, and basic living in the other. With an economy formerly based on sugar cane production, it has, like other Caribbean economies, been unable to compete with the mega-ag enterprises that produce banana, sugar, coconut and palm. Just as most island economies have adapted, Barbados added offshore accounting to the mix of tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture. I have many accounts here, and keep a good amount of cash in one of my houses facing the Caribbean on the west coast of the island. I have one on the Atlantic side as well. I didn’t visit either this time. Too busy.

I woke up today with no agenda or plan. But you, who know me so well, understand that I couldn't just walk around on shore looking for tourist shops. Before long, I found a place that rented scooters, and selected one from the relatively ramshackle assortment. The one I picked was a 2-cycle, 4-speed 125 CC clutchless unit that had a few bumps and rust on it and you had to use your left toes to up-shift and left heel to downshift. But it was good; when I opened it up after getting past the more crowded parts of the island and aiming for the back country, I got it up to 110 km/hr before it started making noises that even in fourth gear I didn't think it would recover from. It had an ephemeral winging aspect that came on if you started lagging the engine on climbs, but if you geared it down it hummed like a noisy baby. Like on most islands, the streets are typically very narrow, driving is on the left side, and—this is unique—there are flashing amber arrows indicating you can turn left or right, in between green and red and solid yellow, in addition to the standard-issue red and green arrows. Traffic is hustled. Cars and trucks move fast, turn sharply and suddenly appear out of narrow alleys where parked cars along the side often necessitate the “watching your ass” half-a-lane-if-you’re-lucky mode of driving. 

In Bridgetown, a bustling set of these narrow streets formed the dense downtown, and once the white heavier faces and trinkets faded away, I drove through mazes and twists and one-way streets now/two-way on the next block type alleys, and through several poorer, run-down neighborhoods that would have made great pictures, had I been able to stop and shoot, or had I wanted to risk my ass in some of them. But the traffic was usually so fast-moving and the streets so narrow stopping wasn't an option. 

The language in Barbados is English. Being a former British colony, now independent, the accent I heard talking with locals ranges from clearly “British-influenced Island” in quarters where communication with tourists is more common, to a sprawling dialect I could scarcely understand when I got out to the eastern and northern part of the island and not a single white face could be seen. 

But first, I remained on the west coast and moved north. I found my way out of town, and headed up the west coast—the Caribbean side. This road, adjacent to what is called by the locals the Platinum Coast, is certainly the well-to-do, high society side of the island. Since it faces the Caribbean, the waters are calm. Numerous beaches, mostly private, lay beyond upscale palm-laden white, lime green, and terra cotta houses and condos, mostly gated and walled. The road has two lanes in each direction. The speed limit is 80 km/hr on this stretch, and while I would have liked to slow down to take a look and get some shots, the traffic behind me wanted to keep moving, so I kept it off and on at 80, shifting up and down to deal with stoplights, merging traffic, roundabouts (some of them two-lane), pedestrians, and stalls selling fish, where people gathered in large masses, holding up the 80kph traffic. 

About a half hour up the coast, I turned inland. Around here is where Rhianna has a house, I’m told. Sorry Oprah, I know you have a place further up the Platinum Coast, but, even if you do, I’d rather meet Rhianna. So I turned right and headed inland. The road I turned onto was a narrower road of the type I would find from here on out: just enough to accommodate one vehicle, with just enough shoulder for another to pull over if necessary. The further I went back into the middle of the island, I passed by plantations, estates, and luxury real estate. Lots of BMWs and Audis around here. But they soon gave way to Nissans and Toyotas and tiny houses. 

Continuing on, the terrain opened up and the road became even narrower. A fork on the road. Which way to go. Not really caring, I chose left. Before long, after several serious dips in elevation followed by climbs back up, I found myself in the midst of hillside houses from small to a bit larger, some fading into the background, some better kept up. The winding streets were narrow, and the terrain so up and down, that it was necessary at times to beep, announcing my approach, so the other side would know to pull over enough to let me by. The other side did the same, especially the blue city busses that I passed numerous times on my journey. It was common to hear the beep behind me and to see a truck suddenly appear, passing on the right. 

The houses have great “curb appeal” being right up to the narrow street in front, with the back either on stilts over the downward terrain, or dug into the upward hillside. Most of them are typical Caribbean colors: whites/off-whites, lime green, faded purples, yellows, ochres. I was surprised to see the number of clapboard structures, which I have not seen much of elsewhere in this part of the world. Nearly all of them have the typical neo-classical spindle-type ballustrades on the railings that make up porches that all the Caribbean island structures seem to share. 

The landscape turned in parts from the leafy west to a slightly drier east. As I headed north/northeast, I saw the ground change from lush green—nothing close to rainforest, but lush green—to a mix of drier green. I turned left, right, more or less estimating my position. I had a map, but no compass or GPS, so I often never knew exactly where I was. Why? Because there are no road or highway names in backcountry Barbados. All the road signs you see point to this church, or that hall, or such-and-such destination, minor as it may be. So I just found my relative position and aimed toward the general direction I wanted to go: east/northeast, keeping the sun in mind, and the general location of the clouds above the Caribbean side and Atlantic side (both different). Clearly the point of this road naming system is just to go with the flow. I did. I went down country roads, took turns off into quiet neighborhoods, and came upon amazing scenery, until reaching the east coast after an hour, or was it two—who knows? I passed fish markets, local swimming spots, farms, tiny country stores, and millions—okay, overstated—of smallish houses of the kind I have described. 

I made my way south, down the Atlantic side. Raging waves and colder waters are de facto on this side. According to my darling in Bridgetown who lent me the cycle, there is an annual surfing championship on this side of the island. The east coast took me through totally “local” country. From smaller houses in the rugged hilly north to even more density and urbanization in the flatter south, the houses were mostly small, some more dilapidated, some more refined. They got all bunched up when I passed through the fishing area of St Phillip Parish. Here is where the locals were gathered around little road side stands, guys were sitting on porches watching traffic, school children came and went, fish mongers, and requisite stalled cars being worked on by two or three on the sides of streets. 
My postcard shot!

Passing through this density and hooking toward the west—by now it was mid-afternoon and I had to get the bike back by four—the ground leveled off and became flat with farmland on all sides. I was able to open up the speed in this part and really let the Honda rip. The turns got a little tighter after 20 km of this and I was edging a little close to oncoming traffic going around corners so I slowed it down, which became necessary passing through little clusters of houses and restaurants, lots of people crossing the streets or waiting for busses thumbing through on their iPhones. The zombie apocalypse did not spare this land, I see. 

Gradually, the density picked up as I aimed back toward Bridgetown. Once more or less in the city, it took me nearly an hour to find the place I hired the bike from because the general sense of east and west didn’t work as well inside the city where the narrow alley-like streets, parked vehicles, pedestrians and vans and trucks appearing suddenly out of alleys made it a tad difficult to keep the Caribbean in mind. But this gave me a great back tour of Bridgetown. The only problem was, the petrol I’d used in all this traveling—nearly a whole tank by now—meant the little fuel indicator was flashing. While I enjoyed driving through some of these gritty streets, I can safely say stalling out far from a fuel source didn’t strike my fancy at the time. So I bought a couple liters at a Shell station and asked how to get back to the harbor. 

Yes, I’m a guy and I asked for directions. There, I said it. 

I know—what about Rihanna, right? I think I passed by her place on the way up the Platinum coast or soon after turning off. You know I didn’t meet her, it was just a come on. But she was born here, and she has a place here. Maybe next time. But next time, I’ll be sure to stop off at one of my places here and get more money.

St Lucia:
The next stop was in St Lucia. The main thing I did here was zip lining. 

I got to meet a tarantula. All threat and no bite!

Zip lining along 10 lines from platform to platform

If you look closely, you can see Martinique off in the distance.

Did you know vanilla beans grow on vines, not trees? And that the been that used to pollinate them is not extinct (at least here), so they are pollinated by man, which makes them so expensive.

On the zip line at 100 feet or so off the ground. 

On the ship, of course there was time for people watching...

The crabby Canadian cowboy who complained about the state of the world, and the liberals in Ottowa. They are the reason for the world's decline. To help solve the problem, he spent his days at the bar and bitched to anyone who would listen.

Um, where's the 80s night tour again? I though Queensryche was going to play on this cruise!

Busted! That guy standing there in red "just works" here...

This is one of the longest unbroken hallways I've ever seen. Remember this is a small ship. There were so many peeps coming in and out of these doors I had to pack up and return at 2am to get this shot!

On the way back this plan appeared off the wing! Look how close it is. I just knew it was from 1975...think how close were to the Bermuda Triangle. Do the math!


  1. What a fun trip, Erik! Sorry you didn't see Rhianna --there's always next time...or maybe Oprah!

    1. Well I just got a call from Jessica Alba and she said she wants to join me next time. What a lucky guy I am...

  2. Hello Erik,
    You certainly had a great trip! I can't wait to do that many great things to see.
    I hope coming home and back to reality wasen't too difficult.
    Big hug,

    1. I do have a problem with reality, Giac. I'm the first to admit it....oh well.

  3. Wow...your pics and words remind me just how much I like to travel.

  4. Eric, you continually surprise me. First, your writing style is engaging. Second, I appreciate the extraordinary things you see in the mundane. Third, you asked for directions. Fourth, um... why isn't my blog in your blog list?????

  5. Grandmommy--can I call you that? LOL Thanks for looking!

  6. Carol, I'm nothing if not full of surprises! Once I start I can go on forever....I could never be a poet (which is fine with me). As for your blog, I thought it Well it is now! Take care and see you sooon.