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Published: January 24th 2009
My plan for the day was a relatively modest one. While some of the days in my past involved neck-breaking tours of cities or sites, I was in the Barbados for a four day weekend, that I had more or less taken spontaneously in November. A few years previous I had acquired my SCUBA diving license and finally I was eager to give it a try. A refresher course in Montreal at the Olympic Stadium brought back those basic skills which I would need to dive. I did remember some more personal things about diving though. I knew that more so than other people the pressure affected my ears so much so that I often couldn’t even hear afterwards, so I thought it best to do only one day of diving and to do it on the first day as opposed to the second. This meant that my second day would be open to seeing the actual tourist attractions of the small island.
First had been the capital of Bridgetown. While pleasant enough of a place, it was nonetheless relatively devoid of anything noteworthy. Bridgetown was however the island’s transportation hub, as most buses passed through here. In the middle of the island lay three tourist attractions of interest - Harrison’s Cave, Welchman Hall Gully and the Flower Forest, though I only intended to see the first two. On the far side of them lay the Barbados Wilderness Reserve, and at ten kilometres away fairly far in island terms, home to the Caribbean only wild monkeys. This was to be my end goal for the day, making my way back to the capital from there when I had seen what I had set out to.
It later became very clear to me on my way back in the local transport bus terminal in Bridegetown, where I was the only Caucasian in a room of 200 locals that the tourists mostly avoid the buses. At the time when I caught the bus out thought I didn’t know this or more importantly what this signified. First of all, it meant that most of the tourist sites would in fact be empty except for those few times when the shuttle buses from the cruises ships arrived. More importantly it meant that the local transport meant with the rhythms of the local people, and not those of those of foreigners. I was unknowingly about to receive a lesson in island living that most foreigners don’t experience. My first stop was the impressive though at times too touristy Harrison’s Cave. It was apparently one of the jewels of the Bajan tourist industry as it had the most infrastructure around it, and the most ostentatious presentation. It was nonetheless on my itinerary, I had never been to an underground cave network and I was eager to visit one.
After the visit I knew that it was going to require a walk back to the main highway to get to the next site, the Gully. Virtually devoid of tourists, this area was much more interesting. Part of the same cave network, it was the area where the caves had touched the surface of the ground, and over the course of many years, and in some places even still occurring, the caves were collapsing and forming a hole in the ground. The vibrant flora of Barbados had rapidly taken over the area and it gave the entire area a spooky feel. At the end of the walk, and at the time apparently insignificant to me at the time, there was a ten minute downpour. I found shelter under a small information hut, and although I did get a little wet, I knew that it would be a short lived experience, the sun was going to burn off all the moisture in no time.
At the exit of the gully, which was not at the same place as the entrance, I was a little unsure of how to proceed. I hadn’t seen a bus since I left, and the previous two sites had been so close that transportation was insignificant. However the next site, the reserve, lay substantially farther away, at least 2 hours of walking, if I didn’t get lost. I thought a much better solution would be to go to the nearby Flower Forest and see about transportation from there. After all it was another one of the cruise ship stops and they might have some recommendation for getting around, even if it meant getting a taxi. But there was no transportation there. So after a brief walkthrough on the path demonstrating some of the major flowers of Barbados, I walked again back to the main road. I decided that inaction would not get me anywhere so I walked back to the nearest major intersection. It was now at this point raining again, and by the time I had gotten to the intersection it was a near downpour. A small group of men inside the rum shack adjoining the intersection invited me in. I turned down their offer of a drink, but I did relish being out of the rain. After a while of sitting and staring at the road, waiting for a bus to come, one of the men started talking with me. Asked me where I was going, what I had been doing. When I explained to him that my plan involved the bus he appeared shocked, especially now. ‘The buses don’t run when its raining. Who is going to go outside when it is raining after all?’ My lesson in island living had started with that one phrase, to be finished later at the bus station. So I sat there for 90 minutes, now realizing it wasn’t the road that I should be looking at, rather the sky.
Eventually I gave up and decided to walk the six kilometres back to Bridgetown. Not far along the route I saw the first local bus I had seen since leaving Bridgetown. It was actually going to opposite direction, but he answered me when he stopped that he was in fact going to Bridgetown. After a circuitous route I ended up back at the same intersection. The bus driver had a break here and the passengers on their way back to Bridgetown either went to the rum shop or sat on the bus. I had seen enough of the rum shop, waiting on the bus was fine with me. As I arrived back to the tourist developed area on the south coast, I thought it was strange how most people missed out on such experiences so nearby. For them island living meant lying on a beach, for me it had come to mean something else.
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