When the day starts with a monkey loping by with a mango in its paws, you know that life is pretty good. When the sun gradually strengthens as it burns off the early morning mist then you can be sure that this is not a usual winter’s morning in damp and dreary England. Then, gradually, as the various other guests emerge from their apartments the tone for the day is set.
Will it be a day of lounging around by the pool or on the beach? Are we off on another magical mystery tour of the island as we miss signpost after signpost that should have directed us in just ten minutes to our original destination. Or are we going to risk life and limb on the various buses and taxis that make local travel less of a journey and more of an exercise of mind over matter.
Transport in Barbados is probably one of the more challenging opportunities for the unwary traveller, so I had better give you a heads up before you arrive on this sun drenched island.
The bus system is as straight forward as you can hope for. The bus stops themselves give you a clue. There are just two stop signs – Out of City bus stops and To the City ones. And the city in question is Bridgetown, the capital and indeed only city on the island. All buses start their journeys either there or at the other end of their routes.
Simply by choosing the stop sign you can be pretty sure which direction you are headed in. Having said that, the route may well include some quite circuitous diversions along the way!
Fares are equally simple. All tickets cost the same whether you are going one or two stops or right to the end of the line. In fact you can travel from one end of the island to the other and back for the price of a beer in a bar. Great value indeed.
Catching a ZR, or route determined taxi service that uses a mini bus, causes the fare to double but it is still just a dollar and a half US for any trip.
So, with those basic facts to hand perhaps it is time to give you a little more local colour which may well help you decide on the mode of transport!
The buses, which are designed to hold around fifty people come in two varieties and colour schemes. The Blue buses with just a dash of yellow on them are run by the Barbados Transport Authority and operate a slightly crowded but reliable and steady option. They can sometimes go along at a fair lick and because of their size they certainly dominate most encounters with other traffic
Travelling on them is great fun because everyone is friendly and quite ready to ask questions – especially if Da Boss is with me. The normal opening gambit is to comment on her hair, which is jet black with a burst of bright red at the front. It is striking even in England, but here in Barbados has lead to more comments and enquiries than anything else.
Complete strangers nod and say things like “Hey, I like your hair, where did you get it done?” And that is just the men! We have often spent what seems like hours walking back to our apartment from the beach because Da Boss gets into conversations with Bajan ladies who want more information.
But back to the Bajan buses! The blue buses are probably the best way to get yourself used to the Bajan way of driving. They are significantly quicker than buses in most of the rest of the world and certainly leave you with a clear impression of the state of the roads by the end of your trip.
Next we need to up the stakes and get you more into the devil may care side of Bajan life. Now, for anyone of a slightly nervous disposition these yellow buses may well be a step too far. They are much more frequent than their staid Blue counterparts, but that is a reflection of the speeds they do!
These buses are completely private and are clearly driven by results. The driver and hgis fare collecting sidekick get just 25 cents Barbados for every passenger – roughly 12.5 cents or 6 pence for our English readers. In consequence every additional passenger makes a significant difference to their earnings each day.
You can probably already work out what the natural consequences of this are. Buses are packed to the absolute limit and then another slew of passengers are squeezed on board. In order to distract [passnegers from the speeds at which the bus hurtles along, reggae tunes are played at serious volumes and if the windows were not permanently open then some of them would be blown out by the pressure generated.
Da Boss has already made it clear that these buses are a definite last chance option, but I have tried to reassure her that if there was any crash or sudden braking that there would be so many bodies squeezed in together that we would be cushioned from any ill effects.
Certainly you have to try these buses for yourself, nothing can really substitute for first hand experience. And once you have been on a yellow bus you create a bond with everyone else who goes for it on their holidays here.
Finally there are the local route designated minibus taxis or Zrs as they are known. These bring a new meaning to “togetherness”and “sharing the load”!
Once you have found the right one for your own particular destination you hop into the back of the minibus. If you are one of the final passengers then you have the dubious pleasure of sitting on a pull down seat in the aisle and whenever anyone needs to get on or off you have to get up smartly to help them by.
New arrivals with their shopping and a few children are a great way to make closer acquaintance with the local people. You get handed bags and kids to hold on to as they manouevre into a vacant seat and often you are then designated as the guardian of that until either you or they need to get off.
Your three dollar fare is merely an entry fee into the local community where you will be bombarded with advice as to the best things to see and do. When you finally arrive at your destination almost everyone in the minibus wishes you well and waves you off – something that would be unheard of in the UK or more “sophisticated” societies. Thank goodness for the direct and genuine manner of Bajans here in the sun.
So when you finally decide to visit this island, do make sure that you include local bus trips on your itinerary!