Sunday, January 18, 2015

A Day at the Beach – Sneak-attacked by a Wave, A Pushy “Salesman” and The Discovery that Even Paradise Has a Dark Side

Once again, I awoke to sun, clear skies and soaring temperatures with no sign of the rain and thunderstorms that were predicted for the week.  I was really enjoying my stay at Angler Apartments so far.  It was quiet, relaxing, my room was comfortable and the food was delicious.  Angler was exactly the type of accommodations I was looking for.  It was so different from staying in one of those boring all-inclusive resorts.  I awoke every morning to the sound of regular every-day people going about their regular every-day tasks.  I ate real food and not disgusting buffet meals prepared by simply adding water to them and that sit out in the sun all day gathering germs and the like.  My food was made right from scratch.  If I wanted to relax, all I had to do was step outside onto my step and there was nature all around me – monkeys, tropical birds, lizards and weird bugs that I am not exactly sure what they were (or if they were poisonous for that matter).  Every night I fell asleep to the sounds of trees rustling in the breeze and thousands of cicadas and birds and insects outside my window and not to the sound of drunken tourists screaming and getting on like wild animals who had escaped the zoo for the first time.  Yes, Angler was a special place that allowed me to get an authentic taste of Barbados and things do get interesting sometimes when one decides to travel off-the-beaten path and escape beyond the sheltered confines and security of gated resorts.
The Entrance to Angler Apartments

The more time I spent at Angler, the more familiar I became with the rhythm and routine of the neighborhood.  Chandra had mentioned the dreadful Ice Cream truck that passes by every day blaring its cheerful music (with sinister undertones like the tunes you would hear in one those horror movies that features clowns that kill people) that agitates the dogs.  She said she had asked the guy to tone down the noise as he passed her place but apparently after that, he just did it more.  I witnessed this myself on this morning.  It started as a faint and distant melody over the hill somewhere, perhaps a couple of streets over.  With each passing minute, it got louder and louder until it was only a couple of blocks away and that is when the dogs started to howl.  I’m not sure if the sound hurt their ears or if they were trying to howl along with it.  All I know is they awoke from their mid-morning naps, ran towards the gate and howled like their lives were being threatened.  And I swear the guy riding that little ice cream truck slowed down in front of the gates and stayed there longer than anywhere else just to agitate them and everyone else.  This happened every single morning.

With my beach towel and book in hand, I started for the beach where I planned to relax for the day.  I liked my little “private” beach but, on this day, I decided to immerse myself into the general population and get a better feel for the place and meet some of the people.  I walked in the direction of the little boardwalk and beach by the fish market. 

As I walked along the road, hanging onto tree branches to avoid being run over, I noticed some peculiar things and met some “interesting” characters.  I noticed that almost everyone who passed me gave a friendly wave and a smile as they drove by.  The only places where I’ve seen this practice before were Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, Prince Edward Island and Cuba so I’ve come to the conclusion that this must be something that islanders everywhere do.  When this happens to me in big cities like Toronto or New York, I automatically think I have something on my face.  In Barbados, this friendly gesture was genuine and it made me kind of feel like I was home.  There were no catcalls on this day.  My guess is the ones who usually partake in such activities probably sleep until the late afternoon and play video games in their pajamas until the early evening.  Perhaps this is why they’re having a hard time getting dates and have to resort to yelling obscenities at women in the street.

As weird as it sounds, one of the strangest things I noticed while walking through town that day was the sound of Christmas music coming from passing cars and the sight of Christmas decorations hanging on homes and businesses.  It was a couple of weeks before Christmas but it was still strange to hear and see those things when it was so hot outside and I was surrounded by tropical beaches and palm trees.  It’s hard not to associate Christmas with snow and sub-zero temperatures.

There are many great, world-class restaurants in Barbados but some of these great restaurants are hard to find because they are located in homes.  As I was walking down the street that day, I watched a man exit his house, walk over to what looked like a shed of some sort and literally pull down the side of it to reveal a bar and kitchen and presto…a ready-made restaurant!  He proceeded to display a full menu and place some chairs and tables and within minutes, he was ready for business.

For a Tuesday morning, there were a lot of people around.  Young families were heading to the beach, students waited at bus stops, businessmen in suits passed on bicycles, seniors sat on stoops gossiping with their neighbors.  One man on a bike was driving on the other side of the road but as he got closer to me, he swerved to my side and slowed down.  I became frightened for a split second until he passed by me mumbling a string of gibberish that made me realize he was no threat.  Hardly anyone was talking on cell phones or texting as they went about their daily activities.  People were talking to one another and walking with their heads up to greet passerby.  This is one of the things I like about many of the places I travel to; people still communicate with one another…in person.

I reached the little beach near the fish market and noticed that it was quite little that day.  I had overlooked the fact that tides do tend to come in and out and evidently the tide was high at that moment and the water was a bit rough.  I walked over to a manchineel tree and set up camp in its shade.  There were a few people milling about but it was quiet and relaxing.  That is, until a huge wave caught me off-guard and soaked me, my towel and my book.  I must have looked quite the site as I made my way down the beach in muddy, drenched clothes and carrying a dripping towel and tattered book.  I walked further down the beach and found a nice spot far from the surf, stripped down to my swimsuit and hung my clothing on some rocks to dry.  Ever hear the saying “never turn your back on the sea?”  I’ve been sneak-attacked by many large waves in my day and I still haven’t learned.
The fish market near the beach
The tree I was resting under when the I was sneak-attacked by a wave
As I sat in the sand, trying to dry out my book, I noticed some comfortable-looking beach chairs a little ways down the beach.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed that most of them were empty.  It occurred to me that these were probably beach chairs reserved for paying guests of the fancy resort that was right behind them, not that that ever stopped me from claiming a beach chair before.  I walked toward the chairs, trying not to be too suspicious as I tried to sneak a peak at people’s wrists to see if they had colorful bracelets on (an indication that the resort kept a watchful eye on who uses the beach chairs by means of making guests wear silly-looking paper bracelets like the ones you would wear at a neighborhood carnival).  I didn’t see any so I just plopped myself down under an umbrella on the most comfortable-looking beach chair I could find.  No one noticed a thing.  In fact, I was so good at tricking everyone into thinking I was a paying guest, a drink server from the resort bar, walked right up to me and asked if I would like a complimentary cocktail…”No thanks.  I’m not thirsty”.  I do have some morals.  Taking a seat in an unoccupied beach chair belonging to a resort is one thing…accepting a free drink when I’m not a paying guest is another!  I must say though, that beach chair was so comfortable I stayed there for a couple of hours, reading my book and listening to all the beach sounds around me.  The waves crashing ashore just a few feet away, children splashing and playing in the surf, some teenagers playing a very competitive game of volleyball, a live Calypso band entertaining wedding guests down the beach.  And, oh yes, we can’t forget those pesky beach vendors. 

I caught a glimpse of a vendor heading in my direction and immediately played dead.  I hoped he would keep walking if my eyes were closed and I wasn’t moving.  But beach vendors, the energetic, entrepreneurial buggers that they are, make it a habit to approach everyone on a beach, sometimes a dozen times each in only a few hours.  I knew there was no escape when I heard the sound of feet shuffling in the sand.  “Hi miss, can I interest you in some beautiful handmade jewelry?” I gave my usual speal about not bringing money to the beach and apologized and laid my head back down and closed my eyes hoping he would just go away.  “Oh but miss, these necklaces are perfect for you.  It doesn’t cost money just to look.” “nah, I’m really not interested.” He was a persistent little bugger, I’ll give him that.  He turned around suspiciously as if checking to make sure no one was following him and said in an almost whisper  “Ok, but maybe you like to smoke di Ganja?” he asked while winking and giving me an evil smile.  “nah, I don’t smoke Ganja.”  He just wouldn’t leave me alone.  I thought maybe he was just looking for someone to share a joint with him but nope, his next move clearly indicated that he wasn't really a jewelry salesman but a salesman of another sort.  “But miss, this ganja is the best around and I’ll give you a very good deal” and with that, he opened a secret compartment in his briefcase, underneath the rows of jewelry, to show me enough weed to put both him and I in jail for a long time.  I felt a little uneasy seeing what I did in that briefcase.  Did this “salesman” now have me marked for knowing too much?  After all, I suspect not very many people really know what is at the bottom of some of those briefcases but now I knew and that left me at kind of a disadvantage.  I played it safe and just discreetly said “nah, not today my friend”.  And with that, he shook my hand and said “you know where to find me if you change your mind”.  Thanks but no thanks.  I had no plans in spending the rest of my days in a Bajan prison.
As I lay there soaking in that hot sun and listening to all those sounds, parts of nearby conversations started to fill my ears.  Once I starting hearing juicy tidbits of gossip, it was hard to stop listening.  Two women were discussing local politics and their dissatisfaction about the current government in Barbados and how much corruption they suspected was going on.  They rambled on about cover-ups, drugs, high unemployment and the like.  The types of things you don’t read about in guidebooks.  Sometimes, even paradise has a dark side. Things sure do get interesting when you avoid all-inclusive vacations.  You really get to learn a lot about a place.  Sometimes you learn about things you don’t want to know and see things you don’t want to see.

That evening at Angler, I was reading in the peace and quiet of my patio when the silence was shattered by my phone ringing.  I looked at the caller ID and didn’t recognize the number.  After hesitating about whether to answer it or not, I decided I better in case it was an emergency.  A young (and possibly drunk and/or high) man started to ramble about how I called his number and hung up and he was looking for his friend who got hit by a bus earlier that day and blah blah blah….”um no I didn’t call your number, you must be mistaken”.  “yes you called and said he was meeting me at the hockey game” and than it dawned on me.  He had me going for a minute and I thought it was someone calling locally, in Barbados, thinking I had dialed their number.  Than he said “hockey” and I knew it had to be someone calling from home.  “Where are calling from?” I asked.  “Westmount.” I was right.  I told him I was in the southern Caribbean.  He didn’t believe me so I let him ramble on with his prank call.  He thought he had me going but the joke was on him.  I had unlimited international calling installed on my phone before I left.  I’m sure he ended up with quite a large bill.  Lesson learned?  Don’t prank-call people when they are on vacation!

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