Day 1 – Gatwick to Barbados (Liam's Caribbean travel diary, #2)
Then we struggled through the early-Friday-evening traffic to the capital Bridgetown and thence to its ferry port, to be confronted by a vertical wall of white-painted iron and lime green balconies. My initial impression of the SS Ventura was that it was only marginally smaller in scale than one of Iain Banks' General System Vehicles and its crew was probably similarly supplied by its own onboard population growth.
Actually, they're mostly Philipino and Indian, I hear that they live six to each small room below the waterline and get paid slightly better than the going rates of pay in their home countries – which is to say that they're probably earning about as much a day as I'm spending on beer. And I'm on holiday with my mum, which means that I really am not drinking very much. Nonetheless, our chambermaid Imelda – no, really – is unfailingly cheerful, friendly and helpful, making up the cabin in the morning, dropping in to replenish supplies mid-afternoon and then in the early evening returning to turn down our beds and deposit a complimentary chocolate on each duvet. I think her shifts are roughly 6AM to 1AM but I am probably being very conservative in my estimation.
But back to Barbados, home of Sir Gary Sobers – my bus went round his roundabout – and the clothing-phobic self-groping popstrel Rihanna.
Between airport and Bridgetown was a blasted landscape of scrub, ruined post-colonial houses, rundown but occupied houses, brightly-painted new ones, construction sites and the occasional random and badly out-of-place glass-covered office or upmarket hotel, all in a fairly random medley.
To my jaundiced former-ecologist's eye, it looks like the ruins of a violated ecosystem, overexploited to collapse and then the corpse flogged. The palm trees that dot the landscape are the only large trees I saw in a forty-five minute journey, and town planning appears to be something that only foreigners in distant lands do.
It is a fairly flat landscape, often marshy and always messy. Not quite the Spice Island I'd half anticipated and certainly not living up to the claim that it is the "jewel of the Caribbean". If I may be forgiven for quoting Terry Pratchett:
Ankh-Morpork! Pearl among cities! Well, all right, in the interests of strict accuracy, it is not small, round and shiny. However, even its worst enemy could not deny the justice of comparing it to a piece of rubbish covered in the diseased secretions of a dying mollusc.
Of Bridgetown, I cannot really speak. We drove through in the rush-hour and I saw nothing much more than an IBM office and a KFC outlet. Despite the neocolonial architecture, it was mostly striking in how relatively un-exotic it was. Then we left to enter a large container port, with all the beauty, grace and excitement that that suggests.