Walk like a man and stick to a plan in Barbados!
The last time Roisin and I were in Barbados, Harrison's cave was closed for refurbishment although I still haven’t figured out what is there to refurbish in a natural formation such as a cave?! The Year was 2006 and everywhere on the island was caught up in Cricket World Cup fever. The Kensington Oval, their premier cricket venue was nearing completion, the Garfield Sobers highway was being extended and Harrison’s cave was closed for refurbishment. We had hired a car during our ten day vacation. Harrison’s cave was not the easiest attraction to find. After a few hours of frustration we headed back to Almond Cottage in the Christchurch Parish only to be told by the proprietor of Harrison’s cave’s temporary closure.
The cave is situated (somewhere) in the middle of the island between 30-40 minute’s drive. This is the attraction, if any, we had decided to visit on our visit to Barbados. As we didn’t decide to take an official Princess excursion we found ourselves with five options:
Pros: Door to door service. Cons: Cooped up in a small minibus with strange people. Expensive - $75 dollars each
Pros: Private tour door to door. Cons: How do we get back if the taxi man doesn’t return. We’ll be stranded miles from the port and at the mercy of unscrupulous taxis who will be in a position to dictate the fare back to port!!
Pros. Cheap, see some of the country. Cons. Reliability?
Pros: you are your own boss. Do what you want. Cons. Will probably have the same luck we had last time, get lost and end up going everywhere else apart from the one place we want to go
Barbados does not get many hurricanes as it is below the hurricane belt of the Leeward Islands which are all volcanic. Barbados, however, was formed over several million years by the Atlantic and Caribbean tectonic plates pushing against each other. Layers of silt from South America settled, then layers of ground shells and small crustaceans. Then more silt until Barbados peeked out from the water around one million years ago.
The name 'Barbados' is derived from the Bearded Fig Trees once found in abundance on the island. But alas, there are very few fig trees left, bearded or otherwise. The island is 21 miles long and 14 miles wide! Despite not being able to find our way to various places last time around, due to its modest size it is not difficult to get lost. If you drive in a straight line, you are bound to come to the ocean sooner or later. If your feet feel wet, you know you’ve driven too far!!
The Royal Princess berthed a short walk along the quay. There was a free shuttle to the terminal building which we didn’t know about until our return! We spotted the Britannia, P & O’s flagship, on the opposite side of the dock awaiting her new influx of guests as today being Saturday is a turnaround day where guests disembark and new guests embark. The cruise terminal has a mix of duty free shops, high end jewellery counters and an assortment of souvenir stands.
We couldn’t see any car hire signs so 'plan D’ was scratched. As the time was just after 10:15am, we decided that the bus could take up to 1 hour (each way) and although the frequency is stated as every ½ hour - remember, this is Bajan time. That’s plan C scrubbed as well. We remembered Bridgetown, Barbados’s capital as a pleasant city to stroll around, therefore plan E was looking favourite. (Nothing to do with being a cheapskate!!)
We had been walking for only 5 minutes and had already turned down many offers of ‘Taxi?’ when a white taxi pulled alongside the kerb. At this stage we had realised it is a slightly longer walk in to town than the map suggests so it wouldn’t hurt to enquire. Bending down to peer in to the passenger window I asked, ‘How much to Harrison’s Cave?
After a slight hesitation the taxi driver rolled his eyes upwards and seemed to mouth silently random numbers as if he was doing some mental arithmetic, he replied: ‘$50!’
‘No, for both of you’
Drawing air through my teeth in true ‘builders’ style, I said, ‘that’s a little steep. It that your best price.’
‘OK, I can do $40’ the taxi driver was quick to reply.
‘What about return?’
‘Quick as a flash he said, ‘$80 return!’
‘No I think we’ll leave it for now’, I said as we continued to walk down the road.
I could see the taxi driver following us so we darted in to a nearby complex…and hid!! A few minutes later Roisin checked if the coast was clear. It was so we continued on our way.
Drat! He must have seen us in his rear view mirror as he was back. However, despite the return journey costing $80 dollars and the entrance fee to Harrison’s Cave, it was still going to work out cheaper that the organised tour. We decided to make our taxi drivers dream come true and took him up on his offer. So with Plan E scrapped to be replaced by Plan B!!
We had only driven a hundred yards before we turned left and were confronted with a demonstration. Julian, our taxi driver and guide explained that they are demonstrating about respecting young girls. I guess from Julian’s explanation that there are lots of teenage pregnancies and not all through promiscuity. Many young girls are abused and this demonstration was a way of raising awareness.
We managed to crawl our way through the modest crowd of placard holding protestors. And within minutes we were experiencing the Bajan countryside leaving the commotions of the capital behind...for a few hours anyway!
Passing though some small towns, the first impression is that most houses are painted in a variety of bright colours. Julian told us that the owners/dwellers of those houses that have not been painted are living there tax free as tax has to be paid once a house is completed. A dwelling is deemed still under construction if it has not been painted. Tax avoidance is not just a European disease!!
Julian took several wrong turns and at one point he rang the office to get directions. Once we were back on our way, Roisin and I between us managed to point Julian in the right direction. The journey took 30 minutes including detour!!
Having read about the cave prior to this trip, a time slot is allocated as the passage through the cave is by electric tram. Julian arranged to meet us at the entrance to Harrison’s cave at 12:30. I was prepared to pay him half of the fare as a show of good faith but he never beckoned for payment. He just wished us to have a good time.
Inside, we were told that we may have to wait up to 40 minutes before the next tour. If it takes an hour for the tour, we will not surface (quite literally!!) until 12:50. However, as we haven’t paid Julian, I’m sure he’ll be there no matter what time we finish!! As it turned out, we only had to wait 20 minutes and we were on our way, sat comfortably in the electric tram.
Harrison’s Cave was discovered in the 18th century by an English physician and then rediscovered in 1970. How can something be rediscovered? Surely once something is discovered, that’s it!!
A unique phenomenon of nature, the Harrison's Cave experience was an amazing gallery of stalactites and stalagmites in all shapes and sizes. The majority had been formed over thousands of years. In some places the stalactites have reached down to the stalagmites and spectacular pillars had been formed. One bizarrely shaped stalactite was growing downwards to an equally strangely shaped stalagmite that was growing up to meet it. Our tour guide mentioned that these ‘tites’ and ‘mites’ grow about 1cm every 100 years so this particular column will be finished in about 10,000 years.
We encountered underground streams of crystal-clear running water and stopped the tram at the lowest navigable point of the cave, 160 feet below the ground, to admire a waterfall that plunged in to a deep emerald pool. Despite being 160 feet below the ground, we were still 400 feet above sea level!!
We were back in the car park shortly before 12:30. There was no sign of Julian or Z1300, his car registration number. At 12:45 there was still no sign. I walked around the car park several times in case Julian was taking a sneaky siesta! This could have been my worst nightmare, stranded in the middle of Barbados with no way of getting back to port - if it wasn’t for the fact that he hadn’t been paid as well as the plentiful number of taxis around (all probably waiting for their own fares) 12:50 still no sign!!
We got talking to another taxi driver who was waiting for one passenger and was willing to take us back for whatever price Julian was charging us. Our new taxi driver told us we could wait in his cab but I was still confident in Julian and besides, how would that look if he turned up and we were sitting in another man’s taxi. He would feel betrayed and we wouldn’t be able to look him in the face ever again!!
Thankfully at 12:55 he turned up. Now Julian, it seems, although very pleasant, he is not the shiniest button on the jacket. In fact he’s not even a button!! Surprise, surprise, he got lost again!! Thankfully, there were no such problems heading back to the port. He was in a cheerful mood. He lives in the parish of St. Philip, on the Atlantic side. It is quite a rural community. I observed that there are many taxis on the island so asked him if business is good at the moment. He said that like every job, there are good days and bad ones. He has to kerb crawl to draw business but is aware that it looks like soliciting so he tries to offer the best prices. He does not own the taxi so his hands are tied when it comes to negotiation. Although metres aren’t used and a price has to be agreed before the journey begins, on speaking to other guests who had also taken a cab, all prices seem to be similar. For example, one couple were charged $25 each, each way to Harrison’s Cave.
Julian took us passed Kensington Oval where I saw a large statue of one of Barbados and the West Indies legendary cricketers, Sir Garfield Sobers. Most famous Barbadians happen to be cricketers and therefore many civil buildings have names from the world of the islands number one sport.
Back on board, we were joined at trivia by an elderly man on a disability scooter. He did not say a single word throughout the twenty questions despite on more than one occasion I tried to get him involved.
When he finally spoke, he had a thick guttural accent: ‘I know nothing about these questions. There are no science or technology questions…’
Without warning he then asked me: ‘Who has the third largest air force in the world?
‘No idea. The UK?’ I answered.
‘No, Israel. Where is the second largest Silicon Valley after California?’
‘Nope, sorry. You got me on that one too’
‘Israel!!’ And still another question: ‘Where is the lowest point on earth?’
‘That wouldn’t be Israel by any chance, would it?’ I asked thinking to myself that a pattern was emerging here!!
He then asked me a question that I can safely say no one in my 55 years of being on this earth has every asked me. He asked if I was Jewish!! Is my nose really that big? So I now look like a cross between Mel Brookes and Gordon Ramsey. Oi oi shish!!
One of the game shows we played this evening was called Majority Rules. This is a game where the correct answer is not always the right one. Once the question is read out, each team write their answer on a piece of paper and then bring it down to the front of the stage. The most popular answer earns the point. The funniest moment was during the question: Name of a popular breed of dog? We went for Labrador, as did the majority on this occasion but our Romanian host, Boogy read one of the submitted answers, looked up and said: ‘Team 7 – you don‘t spell Shih-ztou like that!!
It was a busy evening as no sooner had Majority Rules finished that it was off to the theatre to watch the highly rated: ‘The Unexpected Boys’ grabbing a beer en route (you could say a route beer!!!)
Despite a full complement of guests (3600), the Royal Princess appears to be half empty. It doesn’t matter what time of day. The theatre is never full to bursting. There is no pushing and shoving in the buffet. A table for two can always be sought in the restaurant without waiting and there are no queues at the International café. This is contrary to our last experience on the Royal. We were carrying the same number of passengers but the ship seemed busier somehow. Now I know why! We took a shortcut through the casino to the Princess Theatre. It was like match day at the Superbowl. I’ve never seen every roulette wheel and blackjack table with standing room only. Practically every ‘bandit’ (or whatever they’re called these days!!) was in play. Dr Bob and Bill W, the founders of AA, have daily sessions on board for the drinkers. If they want to broaden their horizons and branch out. They could call their new GA meetings: ‘Pot, Kettle, Black Jack!!’
Back to the show. One of the most entertaining in a long time. The Unexpected Boys are a four piece vocal harmony group from New Jersey. They sang hit after hit from Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. They had a ‘live’ band to back them which made the sound even more spectacular.
Just before they broke in to Cheri, one of the members came down in to the audience. Roisin stiffened as he approached. Luckily he picked on a lady on the opposite side of the aisle whose name was...Cheri. She was not up for the challenge so another lady a few rows behind was chosen. Her name was Teri. This had to be a set up!! He dragged her on stage and the four of them sang their parts but changed the word Cheri to Teri. Genius!!
A few songs later, another introduction that I seemed to recognise started. Once again a member of the group left the stage and proceeded to walk up our aisle as he was singing the first verse.
We were on the end of the row as he got ever nearer.
‘Oh my God’ I thought. ‘Look straight ahead. Look straight ahead. He can’t see you if you don’t make eye contact.’ The mic was suddenly thrust under my nose as he beckoned me to sing the opening chorus of Walk Like a Man. All I could think of saying as I politely pushed the mic away was ‘You won’t with this mic stuck up your arse!! It was at this point I realised the mic was on!!!
I always say, I like to be entertained and not become part of the entertainment. Tonight I was both whether I meant it or not!!
After the final ‘Jersey Boys’ song, the lads took an encore. They explained that they first came to prominence on America’s Got Talent with the following song. They then carried out a very emotional rendition of ‘One More Night’, the final number of Act I from Les Misérables. This gave them the standing Ovation they thoroughly deserved. The certainly lived up to their name as I have to admit, they were ‘Unexpectedly’ excellent (apart from the Walk Like a Man thing!!)