Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Barbados: Land of Misfit Toys

"The contents of this [blog] are personal and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps."

So the original plan was to meet Kenny on Thursday and do a long weekend in Barbados. Then I failed miserably at the Suriname marathon and sought redemption and signed myself for the Trinidad marathon the Sunday prior to when we were to meet up. This resulted in me having to find places to stay until she came on Thursday. First it was Cleve in Trinidad, the Sadiya in Tobago, and when I arrived in Barbados it was Tara.

Before I go any further into this story, I need to present to you the cast of characters(I’ve changed their names a bit to give them some privacy):

Tara V- My couchsurfing host. Who by her description in couchsurfing was a lover of books and fastidiously clean. At least we had 50% in common.
George C, of newly successful smoking cessation history and friend to Tara. Also of the long line of family member who first came Barbados in 1600’s
Joan D-George’s old family friend, currently residing in George’s beach bag since 2008. Also agent for several Hollywood actors
Elizabeth D, housekeeper, former school teacher from Guyana.
Sheryl H, Tara and George’s contrary friend.

Okay back to the story. So I arrived in Barbados to stay with Tara. Tara who required that I give references before allowing me to stay and told me I would need to provide my own food if I wanted to eat with her. Also the Tara who seemed genuinely excited when I told her I had some books that I would bring with me for her when I came.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I got to her house around 4pm and was greeted by her two barking dogs. Well actually one and then slowly the second waddled over to me to give his two cents as well. Tara soon thereafter came to the door and showed me in. For the third time of “couch surfing” I was provided with my own bedroom.

I was told that we were having people over and that she was making dinner and just needed a few more things from the grocery store. I volunteered to go get them and while the list wasn’t long, I had sticker shock with how much more expensive everything is in Barbados. I spent more on that one stop than I had during my entire Trinidad trip including the ferry ride to Tobago.

I arrived back to her house and met Sheryl and George, the two friends who were coming over for dinner and Mexican Train. George had been introduced to me by Tara earlier as my unlikely friend. We have nearly nothing in common and I dislike his world view, but somehow we get along. And right away I could tell that I was going to as well.

After finding out I was from NH, he noted that he had nephews both in NH and ME and grew up in Bridgeport CT which is where my mom grew up. Tara piped up that she too had spent some time living in NH too in a small town called Littleton. And went to college at Wheaton College in Norton MA. What? Seriously? The chances of meeting two people who have lived almost their entire adult lives in Barbados to have ties to New England are…. Well I don’t know what they are but I’d imagine not great. But Barbados is an English colony and New England may have some English living there so there could be an increased likelihood than say Wisconsin. But then to find out that Tara went to Wheaton College in Norton MA was too much. Definitely a small world. George was pretty much doing all the talking for the next hour or so and come to find out he came from a long lineage of English that first arrived in Barbados in the 1600’s but is not considered a pure Bajan because he was born in NY(but his parents are from Barbados and the rest of the family). 

George is like a character right out of Paul Theroux’s Hotel Honolulu.  Whenever he hears someone has caught a big fish, he rushes with his sharpie down to the pier and draws on the fish the cut he wants. He had tried his hand(and supposedly was quite successful) as a bed and breakfast owner; making quite a tidy profit and earning a bachelorhood. The bachelorhood came one day when his wife went on vacation and never returned which he divulged with a certain amount of gaiety that must come with bachelorhood in a tropical paradise.  And during this extended bachelorhood, he takes Jane to the beach every day.  Jane who had  died in 2008 and was cremated. His childhood friend’s mother, Jane passed away and her ashes were given to various friends to scatter at sea. But I didn’t do that. She doesn’t want to be in the ocean. She wants to go to the beach. So he carries her in his beach bag every day that he goes. When asked how his friend reacted to that, he stated that they weren’t talking anymore.

Tara, who unabashedly told me she was an excellent cook, did not let down. With the ingredients that I had purchased and Mahi Mahi that she had purchased from Oisten’s fish market, made a great dinner which was complemented by George’s Rum and Coco-nut water(the second half muttered under his breath so it sounded like Rum and Coke until you took a swig of pretty much straight rum).
Throughout dinner prep(where Tara cooked with me scrubbing the vegetables and setting the tables, and George consuming copious amounts of rum), dinner and the subsequent Mexican Train(which is a variation of dominoes), their friend Sheryl would mutter contradictions and corrections as her only manner of conversation. Interspersed with her contradictions would be Georg’s criticisms of Tara for smoking. There is nothing like a newly ex-smoker becoming the anti-smoking Nazi. While watching me cleaning the table and dishes(I was earning my keep after all), Sheryl took a moment’s break from contradicting one of them to joining in on the criticism of Tara still smoking. I was able to quit cold turkey she proudly stated, but I did catch the the first time that she had trailed off with. When asked how many times had she quit she stated oh several but this last time has been almost 6 months. And they were giving Tara advice! Good luck to them all. The rest of the time Sheryl was eating seconds and then thirds and even putting some of the brownie dessert in her purse, presumably to eat later. Maybe a result of no longer smoking? Either way, it was a very interesting night and one I couldn’t have come up with if I had tried.

Tara told me that she had to work at home the whole next day and was kind enough to give me a key so I was free to explore. I packed a light bag with water and rolls and ran the 6 miles into Bridgetown which is an UNESCO historical site. In addition to the oldest active British colony garrison, it also has the only house outside of the US that George Washington ever lived and it was during this time that he gained some of his military prowess as well as political connections. Bridgetown also as a thriving downtown and I was there during the Mount Gay Race Around Barbados which is a weeklong sailboat competition. It was pretty cool to see those huge and super expensive boats out at sea. Oh and that brings me to the ocean.

The waters were crystal clear and had a good combination of white sands and rocky areas so you can get the beach and snorkel experience really easy. I hung out in Bridgetown for a bit and then walked back to Tara’s house along the beach the whole way(well, there was one area where I had to swim across because of a jetty but otherwise I was able to walk the whole 6 ish miles back).

I arrived back to meet Elizabeth, Tara’s housekeeper. Probably the queen of the misfit toys she introduced herself to me with her headphones on and then started talking to Tara about me as if I wasn’t sitting right there. When Tara pointed this out to her that it was she that had the headphones on and that I could hear her fine, she genuinely seemed shocked. Tara still had some work to do so she left me with Elizabeth who regaled me in stories of fights she had with the monkeys on the island, jobs she quit because she felt disrespected and her thoughts of Donald Trump. During the few hours that she sat and talked with me, she repeated over and over how she had to get going so that she could catch her bus home which came only once an hour on the half hour. Watching 5:30 and 6:30 go by and finally asked her when she was leaving to which she responded in a very Guyanese way saying just now. And just like in Guyana, just now can be anytime from 5 minutes to 5 hours from now. So at around 7:30p when Tara, who also had said that we’d be grabbing food just now an hour earlier, came out and suggested that we grab a pizza, Elizabeth said she wanted to come along.

So the three of us, with Elizabeth and her four bags in the back seat, head to a pizza place. Or so I thought. Instead we go to Price Mart which is like Sam’s club but it does sell pizza so I was thinking we’d go in grab the pizza and go. Instead I am sent to order the pizza while the two go off shopping  in this big box store. They come back about 30 minute after the pizza has been cooked each with a cart full of goods. Another 15 minutes of standing in line and we are finally back to the car with Tara remarking how efficient they were and a slow realization was dawning on Elizabeth. And that was that she had just purchased another 4 bags worth of “stuff”.

Now as annoying as this was, if I were driving, I would have offered to drive Elizabeth to her home(after all the island is only 21 miles by 14 miles). However, Tara was having none of this and told her to just consolidate her bags and she’d be dropped off at the nearest bus stop. Which totally overwhelmed Elizabeth to the point that I had to get in the backseat and prioritize what things she needed and what could be picked up at Tara’s house later that week. Like maybe the 50 pack of oatmeal and 12 pack of water. How she was able to get all those things into her shopping cart and through check out without it occurring to her that she had to carry it home was beyond me.

After dropping Elizabeth off at the bus stop and eating our dinner of pizza on the way, I was ready for bed. As I am saying my good nights, Tara asked for just one more thing. And I’m thinking another chore(like the heavy door I moved, trash I put out etc) and was a bit shocked when her respond was: can I have a back massage. Oh boy. Luckily we settled for a seated at a kitchen chair back massage after which she praised my expertise and I stealthily locked my door.
I awoke early the next morning and snuck out of the house for a run in the trails with monkeys all around. I came back showered and was told by Tara that she was going to show me around the island just as soon as her contractor finished his appraisal. So by 9:30 I was packed and ready to go and by 2p so was she. Which meant that we had about an hour before I wanted to be checked into my hotel so I could get ready for when Kenny arrived later that evening.

I’m glad I was able to go on a tour, albeit brief, of the east side of the island, because I wouldn’t get back up there again. Definitely some more isolated areas which was nice. And while my week long couchsurfing experience went probably as well as it could have with some great, and some quirky, hosts,  I was happy to settle into my own hotel room and was especially excited to have Kenny finally arrive.

But I’ll save that for another post.

Until next time,


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