Several years ago, when I was a travel agent, I was lucky enough to get a place on a ‘Fam Trip’ to Barbados. Wow, what a trip!! I absolutely fell in love with the island and the people…the fabulous beaches, the amazing hotels, the food…but the Bajan people are famous for their friendliness, and the fame is totally justifiable.
We stayed at a beautiful, small hotel in the colourful little town of Holetown (a name which doesn’t suit this vibrant little area at all). Mango Bay is an all-inclusive hotel on a stunning white-sand beach, with coconut palms leaning out over the vivid turquoise of the Caribbean Sea. And when I say ‘all-inclusive’, it’s a long way from the typical image of long queues at buffet tables for bland ‘International’ dishes, nightly entertainment, noisy activities at the pool and huge, sprawling buildings; apart from a very delicious breakfast buffet (with, of course, omelettes cooked to order), dinner was a choice from a small but interesting menu, and everything was freshly cooked and brought to the table. Along with, of course, free drinks.
Because we were on a Fam Trip, we did actually have to do some ‘work’ each day; you know – visiting some of the world’s top hotels just along the coast (Sandy Lane, Cobbler’s Cove, The Colony Club…), taking a ‘Screamer’ speed-boat ride around the coast at break-neck speed or a more gentle catamaran trip to go snorkelling with barracuda and turtles, playing cricket on a deserted beach at Foul Bay or chasing around for clues in a treasure hunt on the rugged east coast of the island (more of this later)…So one evening, arriving back at the hotel after a strenuous day, a few of us stopped back at the bar for a nightcap. The bar was a wooden-roofed open-air affair – next to the pool and close to the beach. It was quite late – no-one else was in the bar – and we realised the lovely, smiley barman was about to close up for the night. “It’s no problem!” he said, “I’m not closin’ up yet! What can I get for you, ladies?” (all spoken, of course, in that lovely, lilty Caribbean sing-song accent)! I was the last to order: “A Margarita, please”, I said. The barman had already started arranging the glasses and bottles on the bar as he asked me: “Do you want a frozen one?” “No, an ordinary one, please”, I replied.
We sat down, and a few moments later he brought the drinks for the others. “Yours won’t be long”, he said to me. No problem – there were worse things to be doing than sitting in a bar at midnight in Barbados listening to the waves lapping on the sand and the whistling of the tree frogs, and having a relaxed conversation with friends! I vaguely noticed him scrabbling around behind the bar, making a brief phone call and then hurrying off somewhere. Five minutes later, he returned, carrying a plastic container, and as he emptied the contents into a blender, I vaguely heard him muttering apologies to me. I was in no rush, and assumed he’d had something urgent to do. It wasn’t until he came over to me with my cocktail – beautifully presented, the glass rimmed with sugar and a huge strawberry, that he explained why my drink took so long…”I’m really sorry,” he said, “I thought I had some strawberries in the fridge but they’d all gone; so I had to get them from the kitchen….but the kitchen was locked up for the night, so I had to call the Duty Chef, who’d gone to bed, and he had to let me into the kitchen, and so I managed to get the strawberries…..so I’m really sorry to keep you waiting, but….HERE IS YOUR STRAWBERRY MARGARITA!”
He misheard me say “ordinary”; he thought I’d said “strawberry”….!
It was an absolutely delicious cocktail, but I felt so guilty for making him go to so much trouble, especially as it was all so unnecessary! I thanked him profusely, of course, and apologised for having kept him up later than usual, but he just smiled and said “No problem, ladies….I’ll see you all tomorrow!” (sing-song voice, again), and ambled off to bed, leaving us to enjoy our cocktails in the warm night breeze and watching the moon flicker through the palm trees….
Everyone we met on the island was so kind and helpful. Our planned activities included a motorised treasure hunt; each team of four people was given a set of directions to different locations on the island, where we had to either find the answer to a question or collect something to bring back with us. Cars were sent off at five minute intervals, and the three girls I was with were great fun – we had such a laugh as we headed off, windows down, hair blowing in the breeze, sunglasses on and smelling of suntan oil. We started on the more touristy west coast of the island, but the directions led us towards the east coast; initially past fields and through small villages, but gradually we found ourselves climbing higher until we came to a spectacular avenue of mahogany trees, which formed a dark tunnel at the crest of a hill. The overhanging branches shut out much of the sun, and the air was instantly cooled. But the emerging view from the other end of the tunnel of trees was spectacular: unfolding in front of us was the wild, windswept east coast, bathed in sunshine, and the azure sea, flecked with white surf. The rugged coastline seemed to go on for miles, and little pastel coloured wooden houses were dotted randomly around the hills. We stopped the car and stepped out to take in the scenery.
Our directions led us to a particular spot and the next clue: we had to find a cannon. At this point, we had no idea where we might find a cannon and could see nothing that was going to help us, apart from some seemingly unrelated road signs. We’d been given maps, but they showed no obvious clues, and there was nobody around to ask. While we stood there, scratching our heads and wondering which direction to try, a little truck drove past us, slowed and reversed. Two workmen got out, quite dirty in mud-spattered overalls, and asked if we were lost. We explained what we were looking for, but it obviously didn’t ring any bells to them, either. They apologised for not being able to help and went off on their way. We decided to head off down the least rugged track, hoping that all would become clear at some point, but after a good 20 minutes of driving around, we were beginning to realise that we might have to give up and move on to the next clue. We looked at the map again (by now we were clearly not where we should have been), and soon realised that the same two workmen in their little truck had pulled up behind us. For a brief moment I imagined the news reports on the BBC (“Four Travel Agents Missing Presumed Drowned or Kidnapped on Luxury Island…”!) but they had big smiles on their faces. “We found your cannon!” they beamed. After they’d passed us the first time, they apparently went searching on their own, found the cannon, and went back to where they’d first seen us, only to find that we’d gone. They then drove around until they found us again!
They asked us to follow them in the car, and they drove for about 5 minutes until they stopped beside an old cannon, partly covered with plants and branches. We got out of our car to thank them, but they were already driving away, smiling, waving and wishing us luck with our treasure hunt! We have no idea who they were or where they were working; we don’t know if they even heard us thank them as they drove off. But we marked the cannon on our map, completed the treasure hunt, and joined the other agents at the rendezvous point, a weather-beaten, windswept beach bar, its curtains billowing in the breeze and its cocktails long and cool. The workmen could have driven off and got on with their day, but they had taken the time and trouble to go out of their way to help us, and it just seemed so typical of Bajan hospitality.
I’m desperate to go back to Barbados, and our short trip (just five nights!) was filled with so many wonderful memories that will stay with me forever; but the enduring memory will be the happy, friendly people, who are always smiling……