I found Barbados to be a lush, verdant land; split between a beautiful, rugged, remote eastern coast constantly pulverised by the Atlantic, and a gentler western coast with gorgeous sweeping beaches backed by regiments of hotels and villas. The interior contained a rolling agricultural landscape carpeted with vast tracts of sugarcane and banana plantations.
This island, populated by a mere 284,000 people, was vibrant, and strangely full of energy whilst appearing to be laid-back almost horizontally at the same time. People ate well and healthily here, fish appearing on most menus, and the food was genuinely varied and delicious.
When I dug down to discover its history, I unearthed a truly fascinating story starting with the Amerindians, Arawaks and Caribs, then the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century, and settlers in the 17th century. Soon the history took a twisted path through colonialisation, and the introduction of African slaves and also white slaves, the latter numbering up to 50,000 Irish and Scottish men, women and children brought across during Oliver Cromwell's period of ethnic cleansing. Sadly, apart from a few preserved plantation owner houses, and a handful of rum distilleries, the island does not weave a wider tapestry of its rich and diverse history throughout its land, but confines most of the story telling to the Museum in Bridgetown, which does give an excellent account.
What made it for me on this island was the happy-go-lucky people, a land where a laugh and a joke was worth more than a handful of dollars. This was a country where:
- young folk helped seniors across the road
- there is always a ready smile and an infectious laugh to follow it up
- all manner of tradesmen would stop and exchange pleasantries with you on their way to and from work
- men old before their time sitting in the corner of a bar, relating their life of joys and sorrows
- random conversations with people stood on their balconies
- courteous drivers who gave way to pedestrians and other road users.
All these made Barbados what I regarded as the island's heart and soul. I was enchanted by the island, its people and culture, and I was glad Rex and Meryl had given me the opportunity to share it with them; a thoroughly delightful couple of weeks.
Would I return to the island? That is a difficult question to answer. In the two weeks I had absorbed most of the sights, activities and culture that the island has to offer. Would I want to repeat it all, perhaps only if I was showing someone around who was new to the island. A week or two on the beaches, which many folk come to the island for, would drive me to distraction. Maybe there are opportunities to hike around the island, though long miles in unrelenting heat would be a challenge. It would require some serious consideration.
New York was the opposite extreme, predominantly steel, concrete and glass, but green patches did cling on, the major one being Central Park of course; rather white when I saw it. The city was blanketed in snow shortly after I arrived, but as a true Brit, I just did my coat up and got on with it.
This electrifying city satisfied my craving for art galleries, museums and world famous sights. Where I spent six hours or so in a gallery or museum, I could easily spend six days to take it all in. Unlike Barbados, this city had display boards and plaques in abundance to educate folk in the significance and history of the city.
And unlike Barbados where the emotions of its history of servitude are either well subdued, or even forgotten, raw emotions in New York hit you full on. The accounts of immigration are well documented and presented on Ellis Island, and presented in a moving way. But the sheer, powerful, emotional impact that I experienced when I visited the site of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum was unbelievable; I and many others were driven to the verge of tears.
New York had its air of cosmopolitan vibrancy, it was buzzing all day long, and possessed an excellent music scene. Yet I found the locals to be of a different breed compared to other towns and cities I had visited in America. Of course they spoke at speed, and in a drawl that I found incomprehensible at times, an utterance that indicated confidence, brashness, and arrogance all at the same time. The New Yorkers were a breed that I found hard to connect with, to fall into discussion with, they were somewhat distant. Perhaps they don't like foreigners, or maybe just me.
As with all major cities, I left New York feeling there was still a lot more to discover and experience there. Perhaps I might visit again one day.
It is easy to sit back and contrast the two halves of this holiday, but a more balanced view is to regard the two halves as complementary, each one having its own set of virtues, and the combined experience is greater than the sum of two halves. I loved it all and would not have missed it for all the tea in China.
Yet again I have been privileged to share part of my time with good friends, to share some of the joys of a foreign land with them again, and my life has become more enrichened by the experience. I encourage all readers to go out and live their dreams, life is not a rehearsal. Good luck on your adventures.