Well I’m home! But what a fabulous final day I enjoyed in Barbados. It feels like a lifetime since I was there, yet it was only Thursday afternoon (writing this on Sunday).
I got my packing sorted out first thing, just a few last essentials to go in the bags when it was time to leave for the airport. Then I could forget all about the travel that lay ahead and focus on a last grilling, that last swim in the pool (eeek!) and the prospect of swimming with turtles just before heading to the airport.
We set off to Holetown, just up the west coast, at lunchtime to find Marvin, a friend of Derek’s, who runs a glass-bottomed boat for tourist trips there. We were fortunate to find that he was free and off we set in the boat, just Derek and I as passengers. He asked us whether we’d like to switch to a power boat which would mean that we could go further (and faster) as the turtles were known to be around the bay at Port St Charles some way further up the west coast. We readily agreed to this and a transfer was effected pretty easily.
We headed north, skimming the waves at tremendous speed, though my back got a fair bit of pummelling I coped surprisingly well. We slowed down whenever there was something of interest along the shore. Marvin and Derek were talking about various properties we could see, houses belong to various acquaintances or well-known personalities including one substantial property that apparently belongs to the owner of Matalan, and a fabulous resort, Sandy Lane (check the mind-boggling room rates).
And finally we arrived in the environs of Port St Charles, a resort of minor consequence, certainly nothing to rave about. All pretension and glamour but not for me. Check out the website and you’ll agree I’m sure. I mean, who wants to be able to park their multi-million £ yacht outside a holiday home? I certainly don’t!
But that doesn’t mean I didn’t feel like a founder member of the hoi polloi set when there were, at every angle to behold, some fabulous-looking expensive floating palaces. To say I felt like a bit of an outside would be an understatement. But the waters around Barbados are nothing if not open. There are no private beaches and anyone can go anywhere and photograph anything (within reason obviously). So I was quite content to snap away with my camera (more of which a little later).
About a quarter of a mile beyond the entrance to the marina there were to be seen a couple of tourists boats at anchor with people in the water close by. There was clearly something going on! As we got closer it soon became apparent just what that was. Turtles! We moored up and Marvin set about sorting snorkelling kit for us both.
It was at this point that I realised that I’d never snorkelled before and I hadn’t the faintest idea what it was going to be like. “Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound!” I thought. The water was so clear I could see the sandy bottom with coral outcrops here and there; I was convinced that it couldn’t be more than six foot deep. Given that I’m 6’7″ tall, I had serious doubts as to whether I would be ‘safe’ in the water with all that coral around. But Marvin said the depth was around 12 feet, probably more. I was not convinced, but took my heart in my hands and launched myself into the turquoise blue water.
I remember how deliciously warm the sea was. Philip had told me earlier in the week that it was around 27C at this time of the year, and it certainly felt like it could be. Then I put on my snorkel and mask. Once it was secure I put my head under water and the mask instantly flooded with water and I panicked! After I’d calmed down a bit I adjusted the mask to make it tighter and I tried again. No leak this time but I felt seriously claustrophobic and I didn’t like it at all. I really couldn’t cope with it and decided that I’d have to abandon the snorkel element of the trip. I threw the snorkel and mask back to Marvin on the boat and swam, now unhindered, in the direction Derek had headed.
I soon saw the shapes of turtles amongst the throng of about eight other people in the water. Of course they were all snorkelled up but I didn’t care tuppence. I was thoroughly enjoying being in the sea, deep enough that I couldn’t touch the bottom. One of the problems of my height is that swimming pools are rarely, if ever, these days deep enough for me to be able to stand on the bottom but not be able to breath air! So it was pure luxury from that perspective, regardless of all else. And I certainly made the most of it.
But the turtles wouldn’t have known that, and soon they came investigating the stranger in their midst, the one individual that wasn’t trying to muscle in on their swimming session. They seemed to make a bee-line for me. And it was at this point I had a sharp wake-up call about swimming anywhere other than a pool that I had entirely forgotten about up until that moment.
Many years ago, indeed I can’t remember when it was, I had a bad experience swimming in a lake somewhere in the UK. I couldn’t see the bottom, indeed I couldn’t see anything in the water because it was dark (unlike the ultra-clear Caribbean I was now in). Then something touched me – or maybe I touched something (which is more likely I acknowledge). Anyway, I freaked out then, and ever since I’ve had something approaching a morbid fear of not knowing what might be around me in deep water – a shark? a whale? a tiny fish? I didn’t really want to know, let alone say hello to it. And so over the years I’ve studiously avoided putting myself into any such potential situation.
So, just imagination what happened when a turtle swam directly underneath me! Correct, I panicked. And boy, did I panic! The snorkel incident was as nothing compared to this. I was in seriously bad way, and couldn’t get out of the water fast enough, but where was the boat? I made for it straightaway, but it was quite a distance by now. About halfway there I realised that I was being silly, and I hadn’t got this far with the experience to abandon it now and regret at leisure. Yes, I gave myself a good talking to and resolved to try again, this time conscious of my limitations.
My subsequent encounters with the turtles was, obviously, somewhat tentative. I didn’t really enjoy the experience as much as I had hoped I would. But I was there and I was now determined to make the most of the opportunity but within certain boundaries which I would try to push out a bit.
I was OK when I could see turtles swimming past me at a distance, and I delighted when I saw a head pop out of the water about six foot ahead of me and then disappear again, but time and time again whenever one passed underneath me I just couldn’t handle it, and panic came on again and again. I came to the conclusion that this was not going to be overcome today. Perhaps I should go out of my way not to look down! Not very practicable though …
I gave up on the turtles and focused on enjoying swimming in the sea and so for the next ten minutes or so, I swam or I floated on my back, revelling in the deliciously warm ocean. And then I decided that I’d had enough and made for the boat once again. Getting out of the water, onto the boat, is probably left to your imagination. It certainly wasn’t pretty!
Back on dry ‘land’, now I could see the turtles swimming around and under the boat. Altogether more enjoyable I thought. I was pleased that I’d tried to swim with them, and got reasonably close to a couple, but definitely felt more comfortable leaving them to their own environment and I’d stick to mine in future. But maybe next time I’m in Barbados I’ll have another go, this time forewarned about the perils of swimming at sea, a lesson I am unlikely to forget another time.
We retraced our journey back south to Holetown but rather than zip along on the crest of the wave, we made slow time. But I was not objecting, for it was an opportunity to top up the tan and to drink a couple of highly restorative rum punches that Marvin produced from nowhere (actually it was from a coolbox at the back of the boat).
As we passed the Port St Charles marina entrance there was now moored a huge private yacht, Callisto. It was about 200 feet in length, gleaming in glossy white with a fabulous paper aeroplane-like profile. I asked Marvin to go around it so that I could have a good gander and take a few pics. At the port bow there was what looked like a garage door open, and we saw inside this ‘garage’ that a miniature boat (in comparison to the main vessel but actually quite substantial in size) was ‘docked’ and being cleaned by a crew member. The port of registration was Hamilton, Bermuda. Marvin said that this boat is a regular visitor to Barbados but no-one knows who owns it. Since I’ve returned home I’ve tried to find out via the internet but I’ve drawn a blank so far. Do you know???
It was 2.30pm when we finally made the beach at Holetown, and 3.00pm by the time we were back home. Philip wanted to leave for the airport at 3.30pm so there wasn’t time for a last dip in the pool as I had those final few essentials to pack and last thoughts to be shared.
We set off for the airport and hit the coming-out-of-school traffic jams. Yes, the school commute is the same the world over it seems, even in the Caribbean! The Bridgetown by-pass was fine, but once south of Bridgetown the two-way traffic flow was interrupted at various points by troupes of schoolchildren crossing the road. And all this designed to hold up someone who had a flight to catch, a deadline to meet. But do you know what? I didn’t care one hoot if I missed the flight, indeed I was rather hoping I would!
Unfortunately we got to Grantley Adams International Airport well ahead of the gate closure time. Philip, Derek and Dale wished me farewell at the drop-off zone, with an entreaty to return soon, and then I was alone, all set for the journey ahead. I left my bag at the BA bag drop desk, managed to get my allocated seat changed (from aisle to window – my preference always), and headed for the duty free shop where I purchased a bottle of Mount Gay Rum (of course) and then headed for the gate to wait for the flight to be called.
And then it was up, up and away from the beautiful island nation of Barbados after just seven days. But I felt that I’d been there for so much longer, and that I felt surprisingly at home there. Was it the English influence, the colonial past? Or was it that it is just such a friendly island to visit? A combination of the two, I think.
Certainly tourism is key to the island’s economic future, and this seems to be fully acknowledged by the entire population. Some places you go you feel that tourists are unwelcome, regardless of the economic benefits they bring, but I never felt that in Barbados.
The only thing that jarred on me throughout my time on the island was what seemed like the automatic responses I received from various people if I thanked them for some small service rendered, eg a postcard seller when thanked for the transaction, saying “You’re welcome” as if it was programmed-in rather than a spontaneous rejoinder. Rather like the extremely irritating American habit of saying “Have a nice day” when you know full well that the speaker doesn’t care two hoots whether your day is nice or not!
I had such a fabulous holiday, indeed as I write this it is hard to imagine that I’ve been at all, though I do have rather a nice tan to show for it, plus a stamp in my passport. Barbados affected me far more than I ever imagined it would, I simply love the place and I can’t wait to return for a further visit. Fortunately P&D said that I’m welcome to return anytime that they’re in residence (they travel a lot) or if I’m happy to visit when they are not there, I’d be welcome to use stay at theirs all the same.
Arriving at London Gatwick at 05.30 on Friday morning was a bit of a rude awakening. The temperature was 4C (it was 31C in Bridgetown nine hours before), raining and with the possibility snow showers later in the day. I was soon reunited with the car and headed for the M23, M25 and the A3. I finally made it home to Hampshire at just before 9am after getting caught up in a jam on the M27 in rush hour traffic between Portsmouth and Southampton.