Eric and Matthew Gilbertson, with Amanda Morris and Mrs. Morris.
Date: March 25, 2012
Caribbean or Guatemala? That was the question that our party of four had been deliberating for about a month leading to spring break 2012. Matthew and Eric were on a quest to be the first in the record books to complete all North American high points, including Central America and Caribbean Islands. My mom and I were enthusiastic about accompanying them to achieve their goal as long as that didn’t mean stepping over Nicaraguan land mines or wielding a machete to trail find in Trinidad. Near decision time, Guatemala seemed to be the top candidate, especially because our trip would coincide with the epic 2012th year of the Mayan calendar. Once we heard that ancient ruin sites were notorious for violent drug gang activity, though, the Caribbean seemed like a sweet alternative.
We settled on three islands to do together: Barbados, Dominica, and Antigua, and Matthew and Eric would complete several others (the machete-wielding kind) before my mom and I arrived. Being the gentlemen that they were, Matthew and Eric offered to let my mom and I select which islands we preferred. I was drawn to Dominica (dahm-in-EE-ka) because it was described as a mountainous, rainforest oasis for hikers. Barbados and Antigua (an-TEE-guh) were necessary bookend stops to make flying in and out of the U.S. affordable. Even so, they sounded interesting given that Barbados had a rolling, green, Scotland-like interior perfect for driving around, and Antigua had a… well, Antigua seemed just necessary.
This trip report is about our first shared destination – Barbados. (Read about the others in Matthew’s accounts.) I called Matthew weeks before our trip to ask, “Hey Matthew, is spending a 180 dollars a night on a hotel room in Barbados going to be okay? That seems to be the typical rate in the Caribbean. Can’t find anything cheaper.”
“No way!” Matthew protested. “I’m going to look too and get back to you tonight.”
As usual, that night Matthew discovered a place on hostels.com going for U.S. $80 a night called “Cleverdale Apartments” on the southern coast of Barbados. Reassuringly, one review had just been posted the day before complimenting the apartments’ cleanliness and the staff’s friendliness. My mom’s only hesitation was that according to google maps, the apartments appeared to be located in the blue-shaded region on the map, that is, right in the Caribbean Sea!
“Don’t worry. That’s probably not accurate.” Matthew reassured, and we all started looking forward to our upcoming ocean-front property.
A week later in Barbados, the Cleverdale Apartments proved to be a steal! On a quiet back-street a block off the main road, the apartments had a clear view of aqua waves, rolling in from the Caribbean Sea. In fact, all we had to do was walk across a one-lane road and a flat concrete foundation of a prior home, and there we were on the beach! A pair of palm trees shaded a group of locals playing a game like dominoes or Chinese Mahjong. Several wooden row boats were anchored just offshore, bobbing up and down with the waves. Dark-skinned children were shouting and playing in the water. We had the entire apartment, meaning two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a wrap-around porch, and a backyard with a clothesline, all to ourselves. Within walking distance, a local grocery store provided everything we needed to cook ourselves a wholesome meal. The owner of the apartment, an expat from Germany, and a staff member, a friendly half-Bajan and half-German young woman, welcomed us to “no-problem country”!
The no-problem mentality proved to be true. Still, I would like to caution future travelers of two noteworthy issues. One was driving on the left side of the road. Without having had any experience, we adapted quickly. However, exiting the airport, one was immediately thrown into multi-lane turnabouts that shocked, confused, and disoriented the brain. Equally startling was that anytime one tried to use the turn signal, the windshield wipers sprung across one’s view (because the windshield wiper and turn signal knobs were switched). Car passengers started counting how many times on perfectly sunny days the windshield wipers were deployed. I think it was 4 times on our final day in Barbados, which was a major improvement. Another issue was that while the Cleverdale Apartments were otherwise wonderful, my mom and I were attacked by mosquitoes overnight despite using mosquito nets. Bug spray and anti-itch solution became our methods of choice for not being eaten alive.
Consistent with what the guidebooks said, rental car was the best way to have most freedom when exploring the island. With a car and GPS, we traveled to each face of the island. The south coast had calm Caribbean swimming beaches. The north coast was characterized by deep blue Atlantic waters crashing into dramatic cliffs. The west coast was “where all the rich people were”. In the interior, we cruised through green sugar cane fields gradually climbing toward Matthew and Eric’s ultimate destination: the high point Mount Hillaby. Along the way, we also made one stop at Welchman Hall Gully, an important natural formation and protected place for flora and fauna. Interestingly, one could earn a little extra cash by collecting the invasive species of snail inhabiting the area.
Snails would also be a prominent feature of my brief yet comprehensive high point account. As I was telling Matthew, if I were to describe our trip to the high point, I would say something like, “We drove to the high point. We got out of the car. We walked about 10 feet uphill then we made it to the high point! And, there were a lot of snails.”
Despite the anti-climax, it still counted. We made it to the tallest point of one more independent country, where few had made a point to travel to before and where one could climb up no further. While the hike itself was less than challenging, it had taken much more than that to get ourselves there. Although guidebooks strongly recommended the use of guides, Matthew insisted that we figure it out ourselves. Therefore, getting to that point involved many days of scouring maps, researching logistics, and traveling that far – though limited information was available on the internet. There we were somewhere in the middle of Barbados at the limits of a far-out road (with no one else except snails and locals nearby), and the sense of adventure filled us. Having made it to another high point, we boarded our Bajan rental car, and I pulled confidently back into the left-hand side of the road.