Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My Arrival at Angler Apartments - The Discovery that my Hostel was not a Hostel at all, my First Taste of Bajan Cuisine and a Warning about a Rapidly-Spreading Mosquito-borne Illness

As Sandra and I drove along bustling city streets and onto a secondary highway that led to a more remote area, I felt kind of lost as I had no idea what direction we were headed or how long it would take to get there. I enjoyed the ride nonetheless and took in everything along the way. It must seem strange to shuttle and cab drivers when they pick up foreigners who are in a country for the first time. I’m sure I seemed like a fish out of water, staring wide-eyed out the window, never blinking and asking tons of questions about things that are everyday-ordinary to locals. “So what is that building”, “what is the population of Barbados”, “are there earthquakes here like there are in other nearby Caribbean islands”, “when was the last big hurricane”, “why are there no sidewalks or yellow lines on the roads”, “do people put Christmas lights on the outside of their houses here”, “what kind of fruit is that in the trees” and other questions that must have sounded so silly to my driver who lived in Barbados her whole life.

I had no idea what the area of Derricks and Payne’s Bay looked like. I prefer there to be an element of surprise when I travel to new destinations. I do a lot of research before I travel to a new place but I try to avoid looking at pictures or learning too much about it before I arrive. Why would I want to know everything there is to know about a place before I even get there? If I did that, there really would be no point in going there at all! So when we turned onto a side street in a residential area along the coast, I had no idea we were even in the town of Derricks let alone about to pull up to my home-away-from-home for the week.
A busy street in Barbados
The owner of Angler Apartments, Chandra, was waiting for me at the gates when I arrived along with four of her devoted canine friends. There were five dogs, Jake, Amy, Lennie, Cocoa and Frisky (who was not there at that time due to illness) living with Chandra at the apartments but, throughout the week, it was always Jake and Amy who rested at my feet during meals and cheerfully greeted me at the gate whenever I came back from my daily excursions. I always had dogs growing up and learned that they rarely bark for no reason and that, often times, barking meant someone was around. So if I heard barking at night, my guard went up to the possibility that someone could be prowling outside my room. Thankfully, they were usually barking at the mischievous monkeys in the trees or people walking down the street.

Angler Apartments is settled in the middle of a residential neighborhood. There are no high-rise luxury resorts in sight, just family homes with cars parked in the driveways, people barbecuing and sipping beer on patios and music coming from open windows. I was quite pleased with what I saw as I walked around the grounds and was led to my room. The grounds are well-kept with lots of trees and plants and, most importantly, it’s quiet. When I was searching for an affordable place to stay that wasn’t an all-inclusive resort (I despise all-inclusive resorts), I came across Angler Apartments. I liked the rates and the reviews so I booked a room for the week. It’s listed on a hostel site but it’s most definitely not a hostel. Angler Apartments is a large complex with a number of private guest rooms. I wanted to stay somewhere that would allow me to indulge in my surroundings without being told by resort employees that it is “too dangerous” to leave the resort grounds. I wanted to stay somewhere where I would be away from excess drinking and partying and disgusting buffet meals that only require adding water to them before they sit at the buffet table all day. I wanted to stay somewhere where I could chill out with local people and not spend a week in a foreign country hanging out with other Canadians. Angler met all of those requirements. For one, I was the only guest staying at the entire complex at that time, which meant I didn’t have to worry about being jumped or harassed by drunken tourists or worry about opening my door to find a half naked man passed out right in front of it, such was my misfortune when I stayed at a resort in Varadero, Cuba. “Um can you send security, there is a half-naked senor passed out in front of my door”. The only response was “si senorita, uno minuto” but I suspect he had no idea what I said because I had to jump over that man when I left and he was still there when I returned at lunch. Never. Again.
*in case you are wondering, yes I did check to see if he was still breathing and he was fine…just too many Mojitos.
The neighborhood where I stayed
Darkness set in not long after I arrived at Angler. Chandra led me to a room that was all ready for me and helped me to get settled in. The door was a little complicated and required a bit of practice to get it working properly. After dropping my luggage in the room and getting acquainted with my new surroundings, dinner was served. I was so tired and hungry that I ate almost everything that was placed in front of me. I remember that the meal consisted of some juice, coffee and fresh fruit but, for the life of me, I cannot remember exactly what the main course was! I know it was vegetarian because I mentioned that I preferred vegetarian meals when I booked. I know the taste was unfamiliar to me but I also know it was absolutely delicious!

While I was unpacking, I noticed the in-room safe was not working. After several attempts to try to get it working, I was offered another room next door with a safe that was working properly. It’s not that I don’t trust cleaning staff or other employees at hotels but it’s a fact of life that there are thieves out there and it’s better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to my passport. It would be a hassle to have anything stolen while traveling but it’s my passport that I guard with my life. I never carry it with me except for when I am in transit between countries. I always leave it in the in-room safe. Along with a working safe, my new room was equipped with a fridge (stocked with beer and water), a television, an air conditioner, a stove, a coffee maker and a microwave oven. I noticed the stove was a gas stove and immediately tossed the idea of cooking anything with it. I know it might sound a little strange, but I am terrified of gas operated appliances. Everyone has their fears. Gas stoves are one of my fears.

There weren’t many flies around that night and that was a good thing. Chandra told me that it was of great importance that I not step outside, day or night, without first applying a generous amount of bug spray to my entire body. I had read about the Chikungunya (pronounced chicken-gun-ya) virus, a mosquito-borne illness, much like dengue, sweeping the island but didn’t pay much attention to it since the reports I read made it seem like it was only mildly dangerous to young children and the elderly. According to Chandra, the outbreak was being downplayed by the local government (perhaps to prevent tourists from overlooking Barbados as a travel destination?) and it was much more serious than what was being reported. Thousands of people had come down with the disease that included symptoms such as fever, headache and severe joint pain that could last months or even years. I dug out my bug spray – one large aerosol can of Deep Woods and a smaller spray bottle of Off – and read the instructions to see which one was the most potent and most likely to keep away the disease-inflicted females. The can of Deep Woods seemed like the best choice for potency. I went into the bathroom and started spraying the stuff all over myself and quickly realized I overlooked one very important instruction on the back of the bottle: WARNING: DO NOT SPRAY IN ENCLOSED SPACES. I swear that stuff near killed me it was that potent. I thought my lungs were going to collapse. Anything that strong was bound to keep away any mosquitoes…and damage a person’s lungs and internal organs after some extended use.

Once settled into my new room, I unpacked, showered all the airplane grime off my body and climbed into bed…and noticed some strange sounds coming from the ceiling fan. Since I was a child, I’ve always had this fear of ceiling fans falling and landing on me with the blades chopping me into a million pieces while I’m sleeping. Weird I know. I felt uneasy by the unsteady-sounding clicks and clangs coming from this one so I forced myself back out of bed to turn off the offending fan. I slipped back into bed and fell into a deep sleep to the soothing sound of thousands of Cicadas outside my window and didn’t wake up until the neighbor’s roosters decided it was time for the whole neighborhood to get up already!

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