We opted out of our ship's overpriced excursions and boarded a bus headed up the west coast of Barbados. When a rider invited my husband, David, and me to visit the resort where he worked, we gladly accepted.
After leading us through lush gardens opening onto swimming pools connected by cascading waterfalls, surrounded by ferns, flowers, lounge chairs, and umbrellas, he left us. We swam under the waterfalls and sat at the outdoor beach bar, imbibing tropical drinks and ice-cold beer.
When we tried to settle our tab, the bartender looked puzzled and said, "There is no charge, mon. This is an all-inclusive resort."
We told her that we were not actually guests there, but had wandered in at the invitation of our now-absent friend.
"Oh my! I don't know what to do!" she said. After a short pause, she rebounded. "Well, have another drink!"
We obliged and left her a big tip.
Wading down the beach, we spied a catamaran of partyers anchored close to shore. We swam out to cool off and chatted with the folks diving off the boat. Swimming to shore, we noticed a thatched beach bar with a white-clad attendant. This time, we explained that we were not guests of the resort, and he kindly sold us drinks.
A little sunburned, we hopped the bus back to Bridgetown. In Barbados, they drive on the "wrong" side of the street, island music blaring, pedal to the metal. The bus was filled with schoolchildren, men with live chickens, women with food to sell in town, fishermen with covered buckets of eels - and us, the only tourists, hanging on for dear life.
Back in the bus station, we waited for the bus for the south coast, where less expensive eateries could be found. There were 500 people lined up for buses. Surprisingly, there were no loud boom boxes, no pushing, no cursing - just lilting island voices exchanging news and greeting friends with smiles and waves. Even where the barriers for each bus line ended, everyone stood in orderly snaking lines.
On our bus, filled to capacity, there was a short, sweaty wait for our driver who, before taking his seat, faced us. "I apologize for being late. De traffic was so baaahd." He rambled on, "I'd like to wish all the mothers a happy Mother's Day . . ." until a soft, tired voice from the back exclaimed, "Let's go, mon, I have to get home." The driver chuckled, took his seat, and hit the road.
We had a lovely dinner on the beach and later wandered through town, where we got tips on how to get back to our ship in time for the late-night sailing. We found ourselves stuffed in a mini-bus with eight locals on a harrowing ride to Bridgetown - the driver swerving, waving, and honking to friends along the way.
It was nightfall when we reached downtown, and there were no taxicabs in sight. One of our fellow bus riders, a friendly chap, offered to show us to the nearest cab stand. We followed him on a circuitous route down city streets and dark alleys. Just as we were starting to fear he was leading us into trouble, we emerged into a well-lit plaza, where cabbies vied for our fare back to the ship. We offered our guide the rest of our Barbados dollars, but he indignantly refused, hugged us goodbye, and disappeared into the night.
Our advice: Visit Barbados and its wonderful resorts and tourist attractions, but also get out and meet the gentle, everyday people who are the very soul of the island.