A Trip of Barbados
As soon as I stepped out of the plane in the middle of night at Bridgetown Grantley Adams airport in Barbados, the heatwave was right on my face, a dim feeling of familiarly tropic climate in another part of the world I had shortly lived with flicked through my mind.
Oh! Caribbean! An alluring location I had often wondered with my wide-opened eyes whenever I looked at the world map on the TV screen, and listening to the weather forecast host (hostess)’s charming voice with vivid description about the coming weather around the world, and trying to get a glimpse of the Caribbean sea and had never got a clear glance before it had disappeared from the screen.
Now, I was finally placing myself in the heart of this tropical island, one of the countries in the Caribbean! A sense of euphoria swept over me, and the tiredness after about 8 hours of sleepless flight instantly vanished off the face of the earth.
As one of the commonwealth countries, the official language in Barbados was English, so it was convenient to get around. I found a taxi straightway outside the building of the arrival area of the airport and gave the name of the hotel I had booked to the driver while I was getting into the taxi, and the driver was already on the way. I couldn’t help asking: “Do you know where we are going? The address of the hotel…”
“Who doesn’t know where Accra Beach Hotel & Spa is on this island? Relax, you will be there in 20 minutes given the fact that there is no traffic jam at this time of 1 in the morning.”
I was somewhat flattered by his confident response. For travellers, to say that booking a holiday accommodation was a shaky business was an understatement. It’s such a hotpotato without seeing the hotel in person in advance that it’s a risky gamble. It could be a case that poled apart from what you had been led to expect to the actual picture when you had arrived. I’d automatically lower my expectations after some awkward experience in the past, in order to avoid flaring up into a powerlessly maddening disappointment.
“You have arrived.” The driver’s cheerful voice drew my attention from staring at the outside tropic night scene on another side of the window, to looking across at the wide driveway where an elegant looby was bathing in the soft lighting behind the gate of the hotel. There was an air of romantic elegance about the hotel that I liked at the sight.
“Thank you. How much is the fare?”
“38 Barbados’ dollar. “
“What does it mean in US$?” I had checked what currency was in use in BarBados and followed the travel guide to have exchanged enough US$ in cash with me for the trip after I had paid all the hotel and flights’ fees in advance in London.
“It means divide by 2: so it is 18 US$.”
After the driver took my luggage to the lobby where there were a couple of low-seat group sofas around the spacious area, he waved goodbye and hurriedly left.
I turned to see a square faced with an erect carriage receptionist, he welcomed me and looked into his computer for my details in his system. I expected a quick checkin and getting on with my much deserved sleep, but his suave suggestion somewhat intrigued my curiosity.
“If you upgrade for US$ 360, we could offer you a state-suite.”
“Really?” What does a state-suite mean?
As if sensing my puzzlement, he said with a somewhat arch grin “I will take you to see both, the one you booked and the state-suite, then you can decide.”
“Thank you, that’d be lovely.” I had already been delighted with what I saw about the hotel before I had walked into the lobby, so nothing could be too surprising either way, anyway.
“OK, let’s go.” He said while signing off his computer.
“What about my luggage?”
“Just leave them here for now, the security guard will take care of them.”
As he was saying, he point to somewhere behind me, I turned and saw a colossal Cribbena man in his taupe coloured uniform rose from the sofa who had been so nonchalant and oblivious sitting in the shadow of the soft-light that I hadn’t noticed his existence until he impressively stood up.
He walked towards me with a lopsided grin and said gently: ”Miss, don’t worry about your luggage, they are safe.”
I looked up at him in amusement, how a gargantean man to be so quiet, so meek and mild! I couldn’t help breaking into a cheerful smile and said briskly: “Thank you!”
I asked: “Which floor are we going?”
“They are both on the third floor.” That low?
“How many floors does the hotel have?”
We took the lift to the third floor, the staff-in duty opened a door and I glanced at this spacious room over his shoulders. There were two beds and a table with chairs, clean and comfortable, and a balcony facing the illuminated tropic low-buildings outside.
Nice! Before I had a walk around, he had turned and said: “It’s the room with a ‘road view’ you have booked. Now we are going to see the state-suite with an “ocean view.”
“Ok.” I obediently followed him, while still in a pleasant mood for the room I had booked and just left, he already opened a door at the end of the same floor in the opposite direction: “Welcome to the state-suite.”
“Wow!” The first glimpse of the huge and elegantly open-spaced suite was a real eye-opener. In front of me, there was a large living area, so large it’s bigger than the through-lounge in one of my houses in London.
There were a four-seat dark-blue coloured leather sofa in the middle of the living room facing a big TV screen on the wall, a same coloured double leather sofa in the right side of the long one, and two single high-backed sofa chair in the left, the group sofas around a quaint tea-table, formed a central part of the living room, perfectly for chats or small meeting. On the right side of the group sofas, there was a desk with a big lamp and a chair. In the left side of the central group sofas, about 3 metres away owards the end of the living room, there was a bar and a sliding glass door to the balancy, and there was a moveable bamboo slips screen with lighting on to separate the bar and the rest of the room.
The other part of the open-spaced suites was bedroom with a king-sized bed and two bed-tables, and the table lamps emitting the soft orange lighting on either side of the bed; a fitted wardrobe units with a safe-boxing on the far right; in the opposite corner, above the dress table opposite the bed was a TV on the wall.
Behind the bedroom was a spacious marble bathroom with a jacuzzi and a big sized shower unit. There were indoor plants everywhere in the corners of the suite, even in the separated lavator, the towering plant was almost touching the ceiling.
And in front of the bed, there were the big sliding glass doors with the crimson velvet drops being loosely tied on either side of the walls. Outside was a lovely balcony with two comfortably deck chairs.
Below the balancy, there were Spa and outdoor swimming pools with the shining colourful lights on around trees and tropic buildings of the hotel; further on the left side, it was the restaurant with its extension to the outdoor dining area under the huge roof of sun-shade to avoid the fierce sunlight and shetter from the tropical rain, facing the white sandy beach and about 20 metres away, it was broadless water; besides it, it was a outdoor bar at the edge of the whole building, outside of the bar, it was sandy beach.
And further, Oh further! It was the wondrous sight of the Caribbean sea accompanied by the sounds of its night tide. At the end of the vast water while my eyes could see, it was where the sky emerged from the vast water, forming a huge semicircle dark sky with a few scattered stars.
And the tropical towering palms with their long straight trunks and large pointed leaves at the top were swaying in the sea breeze, against the dimly visible sight of the vast sky and the broadless water.
I marvelled at the beautiful sight of the Caribbean night ocean, and couldn't believe I was in this splendid fairyland.
I turned back to find the staff who was quietly and patiently standing on the other side of the room where he could see the night view through the large glass sliding doors, and looked at my expression of amazement in a knowing smile.
“How much did you say to upgrade for this state-suite?”
“No, for the rest of your staying,”
“Deal!” I blurted out so quickly as if afraid he would wake up from his miscalculation of maths and change his mind before I could have secured the deal.
“Deal!” His lips curled into a polite smile, a gleam of benign amusement sparking in his eye: “Welcome to Accra Beach Hotel & Spa!”
“Thank you!” I couldn’t help smiling.
“Any questions?” He asked while he was stepping aside to let me walk before him to return to the reception desk to finalise the check-in, and closed the door.
“Yes. What are the opening hours for the gym?”
“It opens from 7am to 9pm.”
“Lovely. And breakfast time?” My booking included it.
“The restaurant opens from 6.30am to 10am.”
Returning to the room after the check-in, I thanked the security guard who helped me to bring my luggage to the room with a tip of some Barbados’s $ that had been given by the taxi driver for the change of the fare, and I had been told by the driver that any changes of payment on this Island would be Barbados $, not the US$ in return.
I sat down on the deck chair on the balcony, and glanced down at the colourful neon lamps around the tropical style low-roof of spire and the palms around the pools, and my sight was swiftly shifted across to the further space where was the vast expanse of Caribbean sea and huge dark sky, listening to the loud sounds of sea tied, and letting the amazement of the exotic atmosphere taking over me until my eyes couldn’t open any longer, I went to the sleep without taking off my clothes. The comfortable and air-conditioned room of 16 degree Centigrade ensured me with a sleep-through until 7.30 in the morning.
After a quick shower, I opened the curtains of the sliding glass door, the sight of the immensity of the water glittering in the morning sunshine sweeping clear away of my somewhat reminded tiredness, I grabbed my sunhat and sunglasses and ran into the freshness of the morning air and towards the beach.
Before stepping into the sandy breach, I took off my shoes, and slowly walked on the soft beach with bare feet, enjoying the sea breeze and the morning sunbath.
Life of the two weeks Caribbean holiday was swiftly settled into the holiday routine. I would go for a walk along the seaside in the morning before breakfast, where I would come across many merry holiday-makers of the different hotels along the beaches, mostly from the UK, the US and Canada, and everyone would say Hello to everyone they saw, so there were no strangers on this Island.
One morning, I saw a group of two American couples walking towards my direction and we stopped walking and got into a delightful chat. They were volunteers in a church-related work in Barbados and stayed in the same hotel as I was.
I had impromptu asked them some questions about American current affairs that outsiders often could get a blurred vision of. A few months ago, I had a surprise in
LA when I was attending a Poem Reading at the three-day LA Festival
Books event in April of this year. Only when you were there, listening and seeing it yourself, you could never have imagined how their opinions sharply opposing the impression the outsiders in another part of the world had been fed by the loud online noises and highlight-coloured visual effects, and that experience confirmed my belief in taking a sceptical attitude and be open-minded toward what you read or what you see online.
Like most of American, the abominable couples had a frank and open personality, and were quite outspoken with strong opinions that reflected their sharpness of mind, but even them, at some point, would hesitate and try hard to say further in front of a stranger as if to maintain their dignity in regards to the divided opinions within America.
As an outsider, I always had a fansication about American history, current affairs, the complexity of its social, political and religious structures, and I had a deep reverence for America. The people tended to take a clear-cut stand to fight what they believe, passionately love their country in their own way, sometimes diametrically opposed to one another, and were innovative in mind and in deed, dare to love and were bold enough to hate, and that commanded respect.
I wished the couples and America well before saying goodbye.
Another morning, I saw again, a Caribbean Brit of thirty something, dark, sporty, who seemed always running in the morning sunshine, and we would politely nod to one another. This time we both slowed down in greediness, and unwittingly, we stopped jogging before brushing past one another, and got to chat as he turned back to walk beside me towards my jogging direction.
“Where are you from? I am Tony, nice to meet you.” he said cheerfully.
“And you. I’m Alice from the UK. What about you?”
“Me too, from Kent. Which part of the UK do you come from?”.
“North? South? West?...”
“North of London.” I felt somewhat embarrassed that he seemed to know London well while I didn’t know about Kent, although I knew it was somewhere outside London. I changed the subject: “How long have you been in Barbados?”
“What?” I couldn’t help shutting him a quizzical glance.
“Oh, I live here now in my own house, not in a hotel.”
“Oh, but why? I mean, how?”
“I am a Caribbean Brit and it’s natural to come back to live here, right?”
”But how do you make a living here?”
“I have my own business.” He said airly, seemed to have no intention to get into the details and I swiftly asked something else: “how is life on this Island?” I expected an affirmative answer of how easy it was to live on a beautiful tropical Island.
“It’s stress free, and even better if you have money…”
“Ha-ha! You are talking tosh.”
“But you can't escape from stress even if you have money in London, your mind is spinning most of the time and, when I lived there, sometimes, I had to ask myself what are you worried about? You see, that’s different.”
“Ok, I see your point. I want to buy some fruit, where is the best place to go?”
I was relieved, it’d be hard for me to walk under the strong sunlight shopping in the local open market.
“But don’t be surprised if you see the price, they are more expensive than you thought.” His white teeth were shining in the morning sunset glow when he grinded.
“Oh, really?” I randomly asked, I wouldn’t do much shopping anyway: “How expensive?”
“They are more expensive than in London.”
I was intrigued: “Really? Like what?”
“Why?” They must earn a fortune to be able to live in a place where daily stuff was more expensive than London where the minimum wage was £9.50 per hour, and rated 7th highest minimum wage country in the world. And London was in the top five of the most expensive cities in the world.
“Why? Because most goods in Barbados are imported, not domestically made.”
“So, what is the main industry in Barbados? Fishing?”
“No, although we do have a fishing business, the dominant business is the tourist industry.
“That made sense!” Unlike many advertised hotels marked as 4 stars but it is not even 3 stars when you move in. The Accra Beach Hotel & Spa provided decent rooms, and each of them with a balcony, the rate of hotel-stars was unusually modest and unassumingly advertised lower than it actually was. I could see how mature the Barbados tourist industry was, and I heard that working in the hotels was a desirable job.
“And the local people won’t go to the tourist zone to do daily shopping, so life is quite easy despite the high price in the supermarket.”
“I see your point, like people say how high the living standard in London is, but Londoners know where to go shopping, like the wonderful open markets where one pound could buy quite a lot of things, we feel less unbearable than it’s been said.”
But I couldn’t figure out how the average person on $300 Barbados weekly wage lives stress freely. He seemed to have sensed my wonder about the mismatch between the income and the cost of living, and most of all, the happiness index.
He said in an emphatic tone: “The schools and hospitals are free in Barbados,”
I involuntarily chopped in: “Like our NHS.”
“But here we don't have a waiting list. You can go anytime when you are ill and will be treated straightway.”
“Well, that is something we call magic.”
That was a nice chat, and I learned many fresh new things by chatting with the staff and holidaymakers and couldn’t help being amazed at just how widely divergent lifestyles within the small world of the beach hotel.
There was a happy grown-stout Canadian man who looked like in his fifties and liked to swim in the sea before breakfast followed by another drink in the open-bar, and often sitting in the deck chair with a glass of wine by the pool as if would jump into the pool at any time. It seemed that most of his time was outdoors, and his name was Warner.
We got a chat one morning after breakfast while a glass of water was still in my hand. He was so familiar with the staff that I couldn’t help asking him when he greeted me while sitting down in a chair a few steps away in the open bar.
“How long have you stayed in the hotel?”
“A year.” He said airily.
I was stunned: “And how long are you going to stay in this hotel?”
“I am not sure, maybe forever.” He grinded, said cheerfully in a somewhat arch tone.
“Are you kidding?”
“No. I am not. I like here, and there,” he turned to point to a window where a big
Canadian flag was sewed on the wall of the balcony: “is my townhouse room.”
I followed his point and looked up across the swim pool and realised that the flag was right below my suite on the second floor. I had viewed a townhouse room out of curiosity. It’s like a two-floor bedroom house. The first floor was living room with a two-seat sofa facing the big TV on the wall, the second one was bedroom with big bed and dress-table and a wardrobe, all brightly faced the south with the sunshine come throughout the rooms via the glass door, and the bathroom with a big sky glass window that strictly made me love my spacious suite more.
“You have lived here for a year? You must have a lower residential rate than the usual hotel room rate!”
“Oh! I don't know how much my accommodation is.”
“My wife pays everything by bank card from Canada, I don’t get involved. I am retired, just enjoying life by the sea.”
“Don’t you miss your family?”
” They come to visit me from time to time. My daughter just left a few days ago, she had lived in another townhouse next to mine.”
“And you have never gone back to visit them?”
“Well, they are happy that I am happy here. And I am happy they are happy there.”
I wondered if he should be envied or pitied, was it a long holiday? or, oh or! A sudden imaginary wonder flicked through my brisk mind, and I let the imagination freely flow in amusement is he a wanted fraud who has transferred all his assets, capital and properties, perhaps around the world, to his family and was forced, for the purpose of tax avoidance, or chosen to live in exile.
I couldn’t help stealing a furtive glance at him and saw a leisurely man with drink while gazing into space. There was an air of aplomb about him, and I decided that he couldn’t possibly be an escaped criminal with a big Canadian flag being sewed in conspicuous display on the balcony, or he would hide, but a successful businessman who maybe had enough of getting locked in strife of the ruthlessly business world, and now switched himself off from the outside’s noises, and enjoying the different world of Caribbean Sea and sunshine, and the tropical landscape where he had found his peace of mind.
Time flew, and the two-week holiday swiftly came to an end.
The evening of the last day staying at the Accra Beach Hotel & Spa, I watched some news on the TV. Around 9pm, I switched it off, and sat on the deck chair on the balcony, prepared myself for a long goodbye to the Caribana night sight, but my attention was drawn to the empty beach, there were deck chairs!
The hotel would usually take away the chairs by 5 pm and tie them all together and store them with a big lock by the gate, which was a pity to me, because that was the best time to lay down in the deck chair on the beach while the strong ultraviolet ray was abated and facing the boundless water and watching the glorious sunset and staring at the gathering darkness.
I couldn’t believe my eyes and looked at them again. What a wonderful coincidence they appeared in this late of evening on the last night of my stay! I had never had chance sitting on the deck chair on the beach because of the fierce sunlight. I ran to the lift and walked with fast steps, passed the flowerbeds footpath and bustled with merry noises of the outdoor bar and towards the beach, but the gate was closed.
I turned to look up at the barman Antony whom I had often chatted with at breakfast time while I liked to sit in the extension of the restaurant in the outdoor dining area under the huge roof of sun-shade, and beside the open spaced dinner area was the outdoor bar, and Antony would start to prepare his open-planned bar, where there was two stepping stone higher than the gate.
He looked at me with a cheerful smile: “Hi Alice, you suddenly like alcoholic?”
“No! You know I don’t. But I want to go to the beach.”
“Why do you want to walk on the beach at this time?”
“I want to sit on the deck chair, not walk along the beach.”
He turned to glance at the deck chairs on the beach a few metres away in surprise and said briskly: “Why not! They are there! I don’t know why though.”
“But the gate is closed.” The gate was so low, its close was more of the symbol of the open hour of the hotel and expected people to follow than a physical obstacle.
“Can you jump?”
Before the sound of his voice disappeared, I already leapt over the low enclosure under his nose.
Half sitting half lying down on the comfortable deck chair, facing the huge and mystical nature, there was only me on the empty beach feeling as if a drop in the ocean.
I looked around. There was the borderless water with the whistling waves moving towards the beach, and every three or four rows of the waves, the tide would ebb away, following by other whistling waves rapidly pounded against the beach few metres away from where I sat, ebb away and came back, one after another, the whistling tide was the only sounds in this vast space.
Along the edge of the sea, it was the horizon where the huge semicircle of the cloudless and starless sky, dark yet clear, emerged, forming the enormously wondrous nature. A sense of awe toward the miraculous natura that was shrouded in
mystery took over me, and the sense of time on and off of the life journey stopped here, no one else around and nothing else existed, as if the universal was mine.
I gazed into the night vision of the huge sky for some time. A line from the famous poem O Pioneer by Willa Cather welling up spontaneously flickered into my mind: “The long empty road… The enteral unresponsive sky…’
Suddenly, to my amazement, a massive warm coloured lightning flashing across the sky in silence on the right sight above the sea, as if a corresponding answer to my wonder of ‘the unresponsive sky.’ it was so fleeting my eyes couldn’t clearly look at it. I held my breath, widening my eyes with fully concentrated attention, gazing at the vast sky from left to right, in the hope not to miss another one. Nothing happened. After a while, a plane came into sight from the right side, flying sprightly across the ocean toward the left, its glittered red and yellow colours against the dark sky clearly showing its steady and smooth flying.
My eyes followed the plain from right to the middle of the sky, then I suddenly remembered my task of watching another possibly fleeting lightning, I turned my eyes back to the right where the first lightning flashed through. Just few seconds, I turned back to see the plane, it was gone, and disappeared from sight.
I stayed on the beach for about an hour, waiting for another flash of lightning to appear, but the long-time of concentration tired my eyes. My attention was shifted to my sentimental mood. Each of the few following lightning flashes during my stay were fleetingly across the sky either while I didn’t think of it but something else, or when I asked myself a question and security wondered.
The sense of very sharp contrast between me alone on the beach facing the miraculous mother nature, and the borderless and timeless universal makes me humpy feel just how insignificant I was in the cosmos, and that impelled me not to take myself seriously but be a better person in every sense.
A trip to Barbados had not been made in vain!