Therefore, a plane seemed much more practical. Danny and I booked a nonstop flight from JFK on Jamaica Air for $470-something each. It left at 6:50 in the morning. Hooray. We left my parents' house (who were kind enough to let us crash there) at 3 AM, stumbled into the airport, and tried not to lean too heavily on our fellow passengers as we vertically snoozed in line, periodically wiping the drool off our passports.
Eventually we got through security, picked our way through people lying on the floor in sleeping bags only to find that JFK is run by heartless bastards who put unmovable arm rests on the benches so you can't lie down across them. To make everything worse, we then found out Air Jamaica was running 2 hours late. We consoled ourselves with those airport muffins that look and taste as if they'd last for roughly 24,956 years with nary a loss of moist sponginess. I'm going to echo Michael Pollan and say don't trust anything that bacteria can't get to. If they can't digest it, do we really think we're capable of it?
(NB: Perhaps the people who study these things should look into the possible use of things like Cheez Wiz or any processed American cheese food product as the next super antibiotic, because damn. How do we get fat on that crap? It's basically sodium-laden plastic. But it never, ever rots. Seriously, kids, what have we wrought.)
But anyway, we managed to get on the plane, and I realized I forgot gum so my ears were all funkified for a while. But all was well. We were high up in the wild blue yonder with fluffy interesting clouds all around us and periodic honking noise from a child seated immediately behind us who I thought was a functional autistic. His dad was doing a good job of keeping him calm. Then they served breakfast. Airline food is an abysmal affair unless you're flying ElAl, the Israeli airline. They're a bit brusque, but security is top-notch and the food is actually good. Actually, if you have the chance on any airline, get the kosher option. Whenever I've gotten it, people have always jealously eyeballed my food.
But we were just getting breakfast, so we figured, hey, how bad could it be? It was definitely worse than elementary school breakfasts. In fact, I don't want to talk much about it. The best that can be said was the sodden greasy potato bits looked like they actually came from real potato tubers, and the omelette was nominally made of actual egg matter.
Happily, we landed, and hooray! We were in Barbados! A little about Barbados: Barbados is the most easterly of all the Caribbean islands. The last time it was severely hit by a hurricane was in the 50's. It's an interesting place. It was formed not by a volcano but by a massive reef. Before becoming an independent nation, it was a British colony, and English culture even now remains a heavy influence. For instance, topless sunbathing is against the law, and cricket reigns supreme. You see old ladies walking around in short sleeve dresses that fall past their knees with a neat belt around their waists, a straw hat, and sensible shoes. But you also have the island culture. Reggae, rasta, and surfing have a place in Barbados, too. Barbadians are a resourceful lot, I'm sure due in no small part to a 97% literacy rate. Unlike other former colonies, Barbadians pride themselves on making tourism into an economic venture that benefits a wide range of people. The line between the haves and the have-nots is indeed present, but it isn't anywhere near as stark as it is in, say, Jamaica. That being said, Barbados is still a third-world country. (It's a rising star in the eyes of developed nations; everyone is watching to see where Barbados is going. They have an educated resourceful population who take great pride in their country.)
So, Danny and I are the first of all out friends, acquaintances, and families who've gone. We took a leap of faith and jumped. Take it from me, don't go for the $45 a night guesthouse. We got there, and it turned out to be a hovel. It was little more than a poorly constructed shed with a holey mosquito net over the bed. A tent in a backyard would have been more comfortable. The mini fridge in the room acted like a small space heater. This would have been lovely in the dead of winter in New Hampshire, but in an equatorial region? No. Trade winds or not, it was miserable. Barbados is strange in that despite a problem with dengue fever, which has gotten steadily worse with the end of DDT, there are no screens. People just don't use them. We looked all around the island, and they just weren't on any windows. But anyway, after one night in the heated hovel, we decided to screw the deposit and find somewhere else to stay.
(Get Rich Quick Scheme, #496: Sell screens to the Barbadian people.)
Sea Foam Haciendas, run by a very nice woman Phillipa (Phillippa? Philippa?), was just the ticket. We opted out of a place with full A/C because (a) we were on a budget, and (b) we're tough young'uns. But our new digs had an air conditioned bedroom, a private balcony overlooking the startlingly turquoise Caribbean, and a BBQ downstairs on the shared patio by the ocean. If I had more money, and I could afford something more than $130 a night (US dollars), I would probably go for full A/C for no other reason than it would keep the very militant mosquitoes out, although I think they got in with the cleaning people from the stairwell, not the windows. Seriously, the mosquitoes would loiter, waiting. They lurk in the shadows until you get there, and then they emerge, surrounding and buzzing you like fighter jets. I would say Barbadian mosquitoes are more belligerent than Barbadian bums.
However, if you're looking for Caribbean on a budget, Sea Foam Haciendas is in an ideal place. Not only is there your own uncrowded stretch of beach and ocean in which you can spot sea turtles (it was totally sweet; we saw 2-3 sea turtles from the balcony a day), but you can access the supermarket (which sells all sorts of liquor), a bank, a roti place (The Ackee Tree), public transportation, and a nice bar, Mojo. It's also close to St. Lawrence Gap, where nightlife happens. And Phillipa is incredibly helpful with anything you may or may not want to do during the day.
The second day before we relocated from our overheated hovel, we went for a morning surfing lesson with Zed of Zed's Surfing Adventures. This was a whim. I wanted to try it. I'm a pretty rotten snowboarder although I do enjoy it, so surfing seemed the next logical thing. I convinced Danny he should try it too, and we stood with the other members of the group and listened to our instructors explain how to stand up. You can't walk without standing up first, and neither can you call it surfing unless you're upright.
I discovered something that day. All you have to do is listen to what they tell you, and then you do it. And you don't think about it; you just get up and ride it. Standing on a surf board is like fencing, just you stand still and no one's trying to stab you! I stood up and rode my first wave all the way the hell in. Danny and I rocked surfing, hardcore. At the end of about 2.5 hours riding waves, tipping over and hard paddling, it was time to go in. (Seriously, I can see why models and actors surf. It is a HELL of a workout for your core and shoulders.) As we loaded the surf boards back into the truck, one of the guys teaching us brought out a bag of the most sweet mangoes ever. Warm, green, and incredibly fragrant, they beat you over the head with mango flavor, and we peeled and ate the fruit out of our hands with a bit of sea salt still on our lips.
Upon returning to our new place, we decided the Ackee Tree was our next stop for a proper meal. Curried goat rotis, a sort of West Indian burrito, were excellent. Also, I think they may serve the world's best fresh pineapple juice. It's hard to explain, but everything seemed exaggerated. The sunshine was more intense, the colors more vibrant, houseplants that sat demurely in pots at home were tree-sized soil dwelling giants, sprawling over people's lawns, flowering and spilling scent into the street (the plumerias were of special note), and even the fruit flavors were somehow more concentrated and magnified.
That night, as we retreated into our relatively mosquito-free air conditioned cave, the ocean serenaded us to sleep. The fact that it was cool enough to endure being touched by another human made it worthwhile. The waves were a welcome lullaby compared to the insanely hot fearful night we spent worrying about when we'd see the silhouette of a murderer coming through the bars on our door in that hovel. Sometimes, losing the deposit (which was negligible when compared with not sleeping) is certainly worth it.
Stay tuned for the rest of the trip report...