APRIL 4-8, AT SEA
After leaving Rio De Janeiro, we had a lengthy stretch at sea along the eastern seaboard of South America then west towards the Caribbean Sea.
APRIL 9 – The Island of BARBADOS
Barbados stands alone, 100 miles east of the other islands you may think of when fantasizing about a vacation in “The Caribbean”. It is 14 miles wide and 21 miles long. The constant trade winds blow from the east-northeast across the Atlantic Ocean making it easy to reach under sail power from Europe, but nearly impossible from the other Caribbean islands (always upwind). It’s isolation offered effective immunization against the conflict between Caribbean colonial powers. Once colonized by England in 1625, it remained in British hands until granted independence in 1966.
The Caribbean Islands were named after the indigenous Caribe Indians. Barbados came from the Portuguese word, “Los Barbudos” (meaning bearded) which refers to the roots hanging down from the numerous Bearded Fig Trees on the island.
The first settlers brought tobacco and cotton from neighboring islands, but they didn’t grow well here. So, you guessed it, sugarcane was introduced. It is still a major export, along with the locally distilled “Mount Gay Rum”, the island’s claim to fame.
When we arrived in port, two huge cruise ships were already on the dock. They looked like floating bricks, wholly devoid of charm. Okay, I admit it, I’m a ship snob now. When we got clearance to disembark, we hustled to the rental car shack where our adorable “Mini Moke” (a doorless dune buggy perfect for driving on remote beaches and across rough terrain), was waiting for us. We were eager to explore the eastern (less populated) side of the island. As we stood in the long line bopping along to caribbean music, the skies blackened.
Upon seeing our distressed faces pointing skyward, a dreadlocked native said, “No worries, Mon, it hasn’t rained in two months”, as he sashayed by. Good, because we just overheard that everything is sold out, so making a switch to a stodgy “rain proof” ride is not an option.
Just after signing the rental agreement, Armageddon inspired rain exploded from the clouds, and did not stop. After two hours huddled under a leaky overhang, while staring wistfully at our water logged Mini Moke, we wondered if Noah’s Ark took reservations. Saturated and despondent, we trudged back to the shack to find out if a more suitable vehicle had miraculously materialized, before asking for a refund. It hadn’t. “No worries, my friend, I can give your money back”, he said without hesitation. We must have looked suitably pathetic. Lesson learned. Go mainstream, when you only have 7 hours to sightsee.
We headed back to the ship and licked our wounds until the rain slowed midday. In dry clothes, we headed to Bridgetown (the capital) on foot. We were pestered by empty taxis (is walking against the law?) and street vendors. The sidewalks were mobbed with the 10,000+ passengers in port. We didn’t last long.
On the way back, we saw a battered merchant (drug?) ship slide to the dock, bow to bow, with the Queen Mary. Layers of rust held her together. Frayed lines dangled over the side. Duct tape secured the anchor. Music blared from the Bridge.
Here name was Queen Latoya, so of course I couldn’t help myself…
“Hey”, I said to the guy unloading cargo. “It’s nice that the two Queens are being reunited, after such a long time, don’t ya think?”
It wasn’t that funny, but he laughed heartily, and for a long time. The sun glinted off his gold front teeth, and I saw that one had a Yin Yang symbol etched into it.