“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
I wish I could say I awoke in Barbados fresh and ready to tackle a month-long course I was attending, but then I would have had to have slept.
Why was I so tired? Well there were a few reasons: Two days in the Miami airport after my first flight to Barbados was cancelled (check-out last week’s Rock Fever column on my website www.robynswanderings.com for your travel rights). The second flight to Barbados delayed by two hours. A Barbados immigration line which stretched for an hour and then I was grilled on my landlord and the phone number. Then I arrived at the apartment I had rented for a month at one a.m.
The picture: one tired Bermudian ready for rest.
Unfortunately, the rum bar across the street and oil smell from the power plant next door, painted my picture of Barbados black. I was not a happy camper.
Now in case you haven’t followed this column, I will fill you in. The reason I am in Barbados is that I had been offered a chance to attend a Gender and Development studies course at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies in Barbados. Not for my travel column, but because I also serve in the part-time role of Director of Amnesty International Bermuda.
Because I was going for a month I had to find somewhere to stay and, though I usually do not do this, I used a real estate agent to help me find a decent location. She failed.
At 2 a.m., unable to sleep in my oil permeated locale, I emailed the agent stating my dismay.
You can imagine my groggy shock when at 8 a.m. (6 hours after I emailed) and on a Saturday morning I received a phone call: “Hi Robyn, I am sorry to hear you do not like the location. Let’s find you a place where you will be happy.”
By 11 a.m. I was in a different home which did not smell like oil and without a loud rum bar anywhere to be found (I don’t mind a rum bar, I just don’t want to live next to one!) Amazing.
Ok Robyn, what’s your point? My point of the Rock Fever column this week is why Barbados is a tourist destination and why I would visit again: service. I couldn’t believe my real estate agent, Tara, was ready to spend all Saturday morning helping me find a new place even when she had three kids at home. Not only that but since I had not eaten since lunch the day before she treated me to some very late breakfast. Honestly, if you are looking for someone to help you with a long-term stay in Barbados you need to visit Seaside Realty: www.seasiderealtybarbados.com.
And the service did not stop there. Barbados is a big country. A few facts? It is 21 miles long and 14 miles wide with a population of about 280,000 people. It was colonized by the British in 1627. Tobacco production was the man staple of the economy until it shifted to sugar under the colonial system. Indentured servants and slaves were the brought to the island to work the plantations until slavery was abolished in 1834. In 1966, Barbados gained their independence from the United Kingdom and tourism is the pillar of their economy. The capital is Bridgetown and you can call someone from here either Barbadian or the colloquial term: Bajan.
With a geographic area that encompasses 166 sp. miles and 60 miles of coastline it’s not the United States of America, but it is also not Bermuda. Walking places is just not going to happen. After a week in Barbados I realized I really needed my own car. Tara was there again helping me find a car rental company. Coconut Cars immediately replied to my emails, called when they had not heard back from me immediately and then picked me up to bring me to their offices so I could fill-out the paper work. When I asked if I could leave the car at the airport when I leave, the receptionist apologized and said they would be closed on the day I leave.
Four days later? The phone rang: “Hello Ms. Skinner?”
“If you still want to drop the car off at the airport, that’s not a problem. Park it in the lot with the key locked inside and we will pick it up a couple of days later.”
Seriously? She remembered my request and went beyond what I ever expected. I would definitely use them again: www.coconutcars.com/
Another staple for month-long living is of course food. Luckily there is a grocery store near my apartment, the Super Centre. What will be shocking for anyone going to Barbados is the lack of fresh produce and the prices! Yes, it is as expensive or more so than Bermuda. This is not a place to try and backpack. In any case, once I stocked-up with groceries I went to the check-out. As luck would have it the cashier was changing and I had already loaded all of my groceries onto the conveyor belt so….any thought of fleeing left my mind.
“Sorry, we will just be a minute as we are changing over.”
“Hi, I will be right with you. I apologize, she had to leave.”
I couldn’t believe the acknowledgment I was receiving in the check-out line! How nice to be pleasantly told that they would be right with you? It may sound silly in a travel column, but I think it matters when you travel. You want to feel welcome. The best part was in Barbados I continued to encounter this type of service in “local” and “tourist” designated areas of the island.
And the friendliness extended beyond just paid positions to helpful strangers!
Tourists in rental cars are as easy to spot in Barbados as ours are on motorbikes. One night me and a friend were trying to get home in the pitch black (there are very few street lights in Barbados) when the flood-rain enveloped the island. The road we knew would take us home became flooded and was closed. Totally confused, the man in the car next to us rolled down his window: “Are you going to town?”
“Follow me. I will show you the way.”
“Oh, thank you!”
We couldn’t believe it. I’ll be honest and say I was nervous as we wound down tiny roads that a little tourist car could easily be disposed of, but we really had no choice. We were completely lost. Luckily our saviour tour guide set us on the right track and we found our way home! Without his generous help we may have been driving in circles until we slept in the car.
Which brings me to the end of this week’s column. If nothing else is gleaned from this column I hope it is the recognition that yes, you can travel and have bad experiences. The difference to whether you hold onto them or if you will return is how the people who encounter the tourist help remedy the situation. Nothing is perfect, but an apology and an energy to help will turn that around. So now that I am on the right track in Barbados it’s time to explore this time of year here: Crop Over of course! What is it? Well stay tuned for next week.