Monday, 2 March 2020

TRAVELLING IN THE SHADOW OF THE CORONAVIRUS

One week today, God willing as my mother used to say, Jim and I will be in beautiful Barbados. Christopher and Stephanie fly in from St. John’s the next day and Matt, Michelle, Morgan and Zachary arrive on the Saturday for Spring Break.

This trip has been over a year in the planning and is eagerly anticipated by our whole family. Christopher has even taken a partial sabbatical in order to be present. No celebratory party, we told our kids. Our chosen 50th Anniversary celebration was to return to Barbados as a family, to spend time with Christopher and Matthew where they grew up enjoying their Spring Breaks and a Christmas and to watch our grandchildren, Morgan and Zachary, experience for the first time the island of their heritage. What I did not anticipate was how emotionally I would become invested in returning to my island in the sun.

And then COVID-19 cast its menacing shadow over the world of travel.



How does one remain informed but not glued to the mood-dampening, often panic-creating media coverage? Get off the internet; turn off the news? Will that calm my mind? But then how do I remain informed? How do I find the balance between obsessive worry and taking this health threat too lightly? A number of our friends have already cancelled European cruises scheduled for this summer. I totally get it. Jim and I are of the at risk age group. Matt and Michelle justifiably worry about Morgan and Zachary. Damn. Why now?

What was it that the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said? We suffer more often in imagination than in reality. Dig deep, Daf; let those nightmarish worries go. Be practical, I tell myself. Be 100% aware, educate yourself, take appropriate precautions and then get on with living. A frantic bunker mentality is also not healthy. Jim has always lived by the philosophy that it is a waste of emotional energy to worry about whether the sun is going to come up tomorrow.

Modern Canadian passenger jets have HEPA filters which filter the air of respiratory droplets. That said, packed in our carry-on bags will be hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes. We know the many areas to wipe down on and around our seats and to avoid the washroom, but if nature insists to immediately use hand sanitizer when we return to our seats. Common sense tells us to stay away from anyone coughing or showing signs of respiratory illness. I can only hope that such a person would be not allowed aboard. Thus far that has been Canadian airline policy.

Our destination accommodation is not of the sort ripe for spreading illness. It is not a cruise ship, currently referred to by some medical experts as floating petri dishes, nor is it a giant resort where we would be surrounded by strangers. Our two apartments are directly on the Caribbean and fully open to sea breezes. Little time will be spent indoors. Our modus operandi in Barbados has always been outdoor activities and living. The vast majority of restaurants are al fresco. We know to wash, wash, wash our hands. Hours of swimming and snorkelling in the sea should assist with that. Sunshine, laughter, exercise, sea breezes, fresh air, and healthy foods can only bolster our immune systems. Oh, and although she may be scrubless, we have our own personal lovely nurse.....Stephanie. ❤️



Excuse the language, but f**k you COVID-19. I will be alert. I will be cautious, but I refuse to be paralyzed by fear. Bring on Barbados. I am soooo ready.


Friday, 28 February 2020

LADIES and GENTLEMEN, WE HAVE BEGUN OUR DESCENT.......

Window seat, left (port) side of the plane. Don’t forget!

At 5 hours and 10 minutes, the flight time from Toronto to Barbados is not inconsequential, but it is one that with my eyes closed and with knowing only the time that has elapsed, I can tell you exactly where we are. I love and anticipate every moment of this flight. For me it is the ritual of anticipation necessary before setting foot on my island in the sun.



Take-off, chatter, coffee and breakfast kill the beginning few hours as we head over New York City air space and then bank south over the Atlantic picking up the Caribbean beam. At 2 1/2 hours, nose pressed to the window, what I am waiting for is the first sighting of the ocean colour change from dark, menacing navy/grey to vibrant, welcoming turquoise blue and the appearance of little popcorn-like floating clouds. Like the sunshine and sparkling sea, my mood brightens.



I know that we are closer when Antigua and Barbuda come into view below. Small green and brown land masses rising from the sea, they are circled by white lines of waves and brilliant turquoise waters. Look closely enough and white sand beaches are even visible. Excitement!

Just a bit more flying time. If you are conscious of what is to come, you can feel the subtle beginnings of Air Canada’s approach, and then what I have been waiting for, the First Officer makes his announcement, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have begun our descent into Barbados. Please take your seats, place your seats and trays in the upright position and fasten your seatbelts. Yesssssss! Now my nose has become one with the window, eagerly waiting for Barbados’ north point to come into view.......and then there it is. I can’t help it; I know I am a sap, but my eyes well up with tears every time. Almost home.

Window seat, left (port) side of the plane. Remember? And now our seat selection pays off. The flight approach to Grantley Adams International Airport tracks down the Bajan west coast,



 banks sharply at the Careenage allowing you to peer directly down into the sea 😲 and then levels out paralleling, our favourite, the south coast in. 



Sit on the left and Barbados is laid out before you. Sit on the right and you are still looking at the sea. With mounting glee, I identify favourite locales along the coast. At Ostins, Air Canada crosses over land and descends to the airport.



Exiting the plane, sunny warmth and the smell of jet fuel hit you. Sounds crazy, but at that moment I love the pungent smell of jet fuel. 



Step on the tarmac, head towards customs, hear the lilt of Bajan accents and smell the sweet salty breezes. Home at last! ❤️πŸŒ΄πŸŒžπŸ˜ŽπŸ‡§πŸ‡§




Sunday, 16 February 2020

WHERE DA RUM COME FROM

Kill Devil. Yup! That’s what he earliest version of Barbados rum was nicknamed during the 17th. century. Plantation workers experimenting with distilling molasses, a by-product of sugar production, into alcohol created a horrific, fiery tasting liquor not exactly known for its stellar quality. I can only imagine. πŸ˜‚  Thankfully, by the 18th. century, the brew improved immensely and Barbados’ invention, now called rum, became known and copied across the Caribbean. Ultimately it was enjoyed worldwide.

In the birthplace of rum, it seems only fitting to tour the Mount Gay Distillery; established in 1703, it is the world’s oldest. You won’t regret the visit; I promise. View the truly fascinating process from sugar cane harvest to distillation and then best of all, visit the tasting room.



For years, Jim and I eschewed the little wooden, brightly painted rum shacks, 1500 of which dot the Barbadian landscape. Often ramshackle in appearance, Jim and I looked down our noses at them. Rather sketchy, we thought. Dear god, what misinformed insufferable snots we were. And we missed all those initial years of enjoying the essence of Barbados.



Rum shacks, now more dignifiedly referred to as rum shops, are to Barbados what pubs are to Britain - places to gather with friends, enjoy an inexpensive drink, engage in a wicked game of dominos or cards  and exchange gossip. Want to mix with locals, mingle with anyone from a farmer to a business tycoon, or learn about rum? Wrench yourself from that fancy resort bar, find a rum shack that serves delicious traditional snacks and enjoy the real Barbados.


For as long as I can remember, I have known the adult Bajan nursery rhyme:

One of sour,
Two of sweet,
Three of strong and
Four of weak.



Sour is fresh lime juice; sweet is sugar water (easily made and also served with iced tea in Barbados); strong is of course rum; and weak is ice. Add a dash of Angostura Bitters plus a punch of freshly ground nutmeg, and that ladies and gentlemen is the recipe for an authentic Barbadian rum punch. Forget pre-bottled punches or fruit juice versions, taste the real thing and you will never forget it!




All right,  need to go back.  ASAP!

Saturday, 8 February 2020

THE BEST OF BARBADOS IS....

No argument! The best of Barbados is its charming, larger-than-life people. Hah! You thought that I would opt for the beaches, the cane fields, or the colours. Nope! If I returned for nothing else, I would return to enjoy the warmth and genuine friendliness of the average Barbadian. Mahatma Ghandi wisely said that, A nations’s culture lives in the hearts and souls of its people.



Don’t get me wrong. Barbados is not totally populated by perfect people. For that matter, neither is Canada. I must say that I have witnessed the most abhorrent behaviour not from Barbadians, but on the part of tourists. I marvel at how the majority of Bajans continue to smile for us.

An American couple, within hearing range of hotel employees, professed their dislike of the island. Aside from complaining that all they could get was island food πŸ€ͺ , the husband groused that, They have let too many black people on the island. Jim did not respond; he simply gave the couple a filthy look, stood up and pointedly walked away. After I scraped my shocked jaw off the ground, I followed him. We watched an elderly British gentleman (I use the term gentleman loosely) in a very public voice in a fine restaurant berate a waiter for what he perceived to be slow service. Did embarrassing his server make him feel more powerful? Whatever happened to discreetly speaking to management? And then there was the loud-mouthed Canadian who took on a street fruit vendor for not having apples. Really? In this case, the besieged Barbadian finally turned to the rude, insistent Canadian and with a dignified, firm and quiet glare said, Hey Mon, this is MY country and MY fruit stand, move on! I wanted to do a happy dance in the street....to a calypso beat, of course.



Why do so many feel because you are a waiter, a street vendor, a hotel employee, speak with a Caribbean accent or are of a different race and colour, that you are inferior and not worthy of basic human decency? Dear God!

The Barbados education system, fully funded by the government, closely follows British norms. Students at both the elementary and high school level wear uniforms. One of my favourite sights is to watch spit and polished, immaculately uniformed students en route to school. We could use a bit of that here in Canada.



Barbados enjoys a 99.6% literacy rate, one of the highest in the world. The U.S.? 99.0%......just saying! Tourism is now the leading sector in the Barbados economy. In response, the curriculum in Bajan elementary and high schools includes Tourism. Taught from a early age, the goal of the courses is to provide students with a better appreciation of the value of tourism to their country. Cave Hill in Barbados is the site of the University of the West Indies which in the 2019 World University Rankings ranked in the top 5% of world institutions. The Barbadian health care system is universal and is ranked as one of the best in the Caribbean.



Barbados is a stable, educated, middle class society. Bajans are famed for their warmth, hospitality, casual charm and exuberant love of life. They are passionately proud of their country and heritage. A visit to the outstanding Barbados Museum is evidence of that. 



Ask a taxi driver anything about his country and get ready; he will be happy to provide a dissertation on the topic. Jim and I still laugh about our taxi drive from the airport to our hotel on our very first visit to the island. Christopher noted that we were passing a cricket match and asked a question about the game. Our driver pulled over to the side of the road overlooking the cricket field and proceeded to explain the intricacies of the game. I wish  I could now boast that I understand. Not so!

Get lost on a lonely country road and chances are it will be one of the motor-biked postal service employees who spot your confusion and seem to intuitively know to stop and assist with a friendly smile and directions.



Here’s the thing. Rules of etiquette have been passed down through the generations, so much so that many joke that Barbadians are more British than the Brits who visit. If you are respectful, mannerly, kind and curious about their home, Barbadians will return that behaviour in spades. Be rude or condescending, then expect to receive the like in return. I say bravo to that. You get what you give.

As that fruit vendor said, This is MY country. News flash! You are not in your own country. It would serve we tourists well to remember that we are in THEIR homeland and to be respectful of that. Isn’t travel about experiencing different cultures, customs and cuisines? If not, if you need to bring your home country’s food and practices with you every where you go, please just stay home! Barbadians are beautiful, sophisticated, friendly people proud of their country and they deserve to be treated accordingly.



Cecelia Ahern once said, Home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling. God bless them, because the Barbadian people over the years have gifted me with that precious feeling.




Wednesday, 29 January 2020

FROM THE HEART.....A CONFESSION and AN APOLOGY

I CONFESS:




During our last trip to Barbados in 2013, Jim and I arrived at the difficult decision that, after over 30 visits to the island, we had seen it all. Of the 60 by 21 mile area, every square inch had been explored; no nook or cranny remained to be discovered. Jim jokes that he personally knows every palm tree; he probably does! No matter how hard we tried, we were no longer able to get lost on the tortuously confusing back country roads. And we are not just “sit-on-the-beach” people. No matter how emotionally attached we were to Barbados, it was time to move on.

Barbados is the island of my maternal heritage. Jim and I and our boys, Christopher and Matthew, are the 12th and 13th generations of my family to walk the land and swim the sea of this very special “island in the sun”. My Mother’s ashes, a her request, rest at St. John’s Parrish overlooking the Bathsheba Coast, her favourite view, and in the Caribbean Sea where she played in the surf until age 85! Even given all of our family history, I felt that we had no need to return. Well.....until we had grandchildren.....Generation 14.

Jim and I are in our mid-seventies. So many friends have passed away or have health issues that make international travel impossible or prohibitively expensive because of travel insurance that we have developed the mantra, “Do it now while we can”. Realizing that how much time Jim and I have to enjoy international travel is a “crap shoot”, I found myself suddenly overwhelmed with the urgent need to introduce our grandchildren, Morgan and Zachary, to this Caribbean part of their heritage and to revisit Barbados once again in the company of Christopher and Matthew. On March 9th, Jim and I fly out to fulfill this desire.

In anticipating our trip, it suddenly struck me that it may be selfish, but not only am I excited to introduce Morgan and Zachary to Barbados, I am also flat out hysterically excited about personally returning. It has nothing to do with escaping winter and everything to do with magical memories. Memories of dawn casting her golden hues across the Caribbean Sea, the sound of waves lapping the shore, the feel of white talcum-soft sand between my toes, the vibrant turquoise green and blue striations of the sea, sugar cane gently waving in caressing trade winds, the lilting Bajan accent which will forever be music to my ears, the irresistible calypso beat, the delectable Barbadian cuisine, the silver cast on both sand and sea at dusk and the music of the night - the cheeping sound of tree frogs. 




How true ring the words from an old Merrymen’s song. “Barbados is deep in my soul.” It is so time to go home!

I APOLOGIZE:




In looking back over my recent Facebook postings, I am truly embarrassed 😩 by the number of times I have mentioned Barbados. A bit of overkill, right! Please forgive me. My over excitement about returning is apparently begging for an outlet and as a result has spilled over onto my Timeline and you, my friends. I can’t and won’t apologize for my excitement, however I do apologize for exposing you to an endless stream of Barbados photos and promise to curtail my uber enthusiasm in future postings.

Restraint, Daphne, show restraint. I’ve got this......I think. πŸ˜‚

Saturday, 25 January 2020

NOT JUST SWIMMING WITH TURTLES....

The setting was the charming south coast Casuarina Beach Hotel. Picture a Barbados beach at sunset on that late April evening: tables and chairs elegantly placed on the sand; local hotel owners and government elite all dressed to the nines in suits and flowing dresses, enjoying canapΓ©s and drinks, the precursor to a formal dinner.

Now picture the initial dismay as the very beach beneath their feet began to move and bubble up. And then hear the delighted laughter as these Barbadian guests realized that, in a coordinated effort, a nest of 150 turtle hatchlings was breaking out and heading to the sea. Understanding the importance of this treacherous journey, guests gathered in a protective circle encouraging the baby turtles on their way.




How do I know about this? Over a month earlier, your Uncle Christopher, sitting at the edge of this very beach, was enjoying an evening drink with a friend when an eerie giant black shadow slowly emerged from the sea. Nervous surprise gave way to the recognition that what they were observing was a giant leatherback, the largest of sea turtles, lumbering ashore to lay her eggs. That Christopher and his friend moved quite close to her, mattered not; mama leatherback was on an all-consuming mission, to dig a deep nest, to lay her eggs and to return to the sea. The following day Christopher informed our hotel owner, Bonnie, what had transpired. She swore your Uncle Christopher to secrecy, to tell no one what he had witnessed.




When your Grampa and I arrived at the Casuarina registration desk the next March, Bonnie spotted us and immediately took us aside to relate what had happened at the dinner party. Christopher’s leatherback hatchlings had made it safely to the sea and she wanted him to know.

As trade in turtle shells and turtle meat increased unabated over the years, the hawksbill and leatherback populations plummeted by 90%, bringing these turtles to the level of extinction. In 1987, in an effort to conserve their sea turtle population, the University of the West Indies began the Barbados Sea Turtle Project. Through education programmes geared to both students and adults, the BSTP has impressed upon their nation the importance of saving their sea turtles.




A hotline has been established to the BSTP. Why? Hatchlings instinctively know to break out of their nests when the sands cool as the sun goes down. In the evening there is less chance of predators; no birds to sweep down and claim them as prey; no sand crabs to bite chunks out of them; less chance of being a tasty snack for passing fish. Sadly though, these baby turtles who with their sensitive eyes use the light of the stars and moon to guide them to the sea, now easily become confused by the artificial lights of hotels, restaurants and homes that line the shore. The BTSP hotline has been established so that Barbadians and tourists can report disoriented turtles who have been found on the boardwalk, in the middle of busy roads, in muddy gardens, in pool filters, in crab holes +++.

The few hatchlings who make it to the sea paddle furiously with their tiny flippers to floating seaweed which becomes their initial source of food. Here, tragically all too often baby turtles munch on trapped plastics which kill them by blocking their digestive tracks. You will be happy to know that effective April 1 of this year, Barbados has banned the import, sale and use of all single-use plastics.

Even with all of these efforts in place, it is estimated that only 1 in 1000 hatchlings grow to maturity and after two decades travel back to where they were born to lay their eggs. Yes! Only 1 in 1000 baby turtles survive. 😒

And so, Morgan and Zachary, on March 17 when we have reservations to swim on the west coast with the turtles and after you fall in love with these gentle, friendly, graceful giants of the Caribbean Sea, remind yourself that you are not just swimming with turtles, you are swimming with the survivors of an incredibly treacherous journey.




Sunday, 12 January 2020

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON A SUNDAY

To the person who felt compelled to attend that Christmas party despite having a horrible cold, thank you!  Who knew I could be transformed into such a vision of beauty after having met you. Reality check! Grrrr!  Next time, could you please think of others first and stay home.




A friend posted this meme yesterday. After a good chuckle, I had to honestly admit to myself that it is I who must own up to being the drama queen. Jim has attempted, albeit at a drastically reduced level, to go about his daily activities. Me? Why do that when I can whine. πŸ˜‚



Flight 752. How, as family or friend of one of the victims, do you ever come to terms with such a devastatingly useless loss? The brilliant talent and promise of these Iranian Canadians puts to shame those against Iranian immigration. Should Ukrainian Airlines have been flying into a potential war zone? Thank God for our current prime minister who, instead of tweeting out insulting furious knee-jerk reaction comments, in his speeches about the tragedy left diplomatic room for the Iranians to admit fault and who, instead of focusing on his own fury, has concentrated his efforts on the surviving families. Please Iran, for the sake of those involved, mitigate their agony and allow this investigation and subsequent compensation to be an easy process. Wishful thinking? Oh, and to Mr. Drumpf who stated that should it be proven Flight 752 was shot down by an Iranian missile, there would be serious repercussions, may we respectfully ask you to shut up. No American citizens were harmed and we Canadians, Ukrainians and Brits are doing just fine on our own. Actually, better without your assistance!



Australia. It is only the beginning of their summer, and still the infernos continue. What the Aussies are feeling, I cannot even begin to understand, because on this tragedy, my emotions are a giant never-ending roller coaster. My heart swells with pride as I watch our Canadian firefighters land in Sydney to offer assistance and then my mood crashes as I listen to a scientist estimate that now one billion animals have perished. Huge sighs of relief emanate from me when friends notify us that they are safe only to have my joy crash as I read that two wildfires in the southeast may merge into one inferno. I cry in sadness as I see a photo of a dead kangaroo lying in a burnt-out forest and then cry again, this time in love, as I watch a koala grab the hand of a man feeding him water. Worst is the helplessness. I hate feeling helpless.



To Harry and Meghan, go for it. Who can blame Prince Harry for wanting out? He didn’t ask for his current life; he was born in to it. As a child he followed his Mother’s coffin; no ‘stiff upper lip’ helps you deal with that. Now his wife is being hounded by the relentlessly ugly British press. It may be ‘complicated’, but I say find your happiness; find your freedom.

Amber Alert! Nothing like being woken up by an Amber Alert warning of an incident at the Pickering Nuclear Plant. Perhaps we should all go our and purchase lottery tickets, because the alert was in error. 

Ice storm. I could hear the clicking of ice particles on our window last night and expected the worst. Sometimes, thankfully, the weatherman gets it wrong. I am sitting here with no interruptions in power and temperatures back to their sub-zero norms, looking out at sparkling ice covered trees and a thin layer of snow on the ground. Stunningly beautiful winter has returned. I’m fine with that!

And that’s all folks!