LOOKING FOR PEACE? GO TO BARBADOS!
Forget London. Forget Paris. Forget Los Angeles. If you’re looking for peace, solitude and a lot of quiet time; if you’re trying to reconnect with nature’s beauty or just in want of some nasty pleasure, Barbados is the place to be. So next time you take a break, head to the West Indies and stop over in this little island – and your life will never remain the same. Be prepared though: the weather is pretty hot, just as the scantily-clad girls…. So, either you want to walk lazily along the beach sands, get a massage on the beach front, or board a Yamaha speed boat; you’ll find out that Barbados is not a place you want to leave in a hurry… By AYENI ADEKUNLE who just reluctantly returned from the island… There is no time to rest in Lagos. Everybody’s in hurry; flouting procedures and laid down rules in the process, and almost never stopping to take a deep breathe and slow down a bit. Described as one of the busiest cities in the world, Lagos is made even crazier by the absence of a road network suitable for the enormous population; the collapse of the railway system and a complete refusal to exploit the possibility of the surrounding water body for mass transport. So, everyone’s on the road- drivers kissing each other bumper-to-bumper, hooting horns, and breaking every traffic rule available; commercial motorcycles making suicidal James Bond manoeuvres and often ending up at Igbobi; ubiquitous itinerant traders plying their trade anywhere there’s a pot hole or little hold up; little hopeless kids washing windscreens in exchange for a few Naira, and miscreants faking as masquerades. Truth be told, a typical day in traffic for a Lagos resident, is a trip to hell and back. Either you’re driving or walking (by the way, there are no sidewalks on majority of the roads, not to talk of provision for wheel chairs or cart pushers) it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the chaos, lose your temper, and heap a couple of insults on a totally innocent stranger who only attempted to change lanes or get ahead of you in traffic. In spite of this, the population of the city, regarded as the nerve centre of Nigeria’s economy, in on a continuous rise. Now nearing 15 million residents, occupants are now beginning to spread into satellite towns, all in a bid to be close to Lagos. But the stress is getting to us. After a long day, doing a job you may not really fancy, fighting world war three in traffic, and getting home to absolute darkness, it’s easy to see why the blood pressures are rising; why hospital beds are filled up, and why the average death-age is hanging somewhere around 40. Not to worry, if you’re not yet forty, or are lucky to be slightly over, there’s a therapy that may work like magic – holiday! And, no, not to London, where the weather is unpredictable; and all you do is walk long, endless streets, go sight-seeing, and shop all you can. And definitely not Paris, where, though absolutely gorgeous and beautiful, it’s more sophistication, less nature- just like other major cities Nigerians are wont to romance. The place to be, if you need to get out of the stress of Lagos, if you need to dine with nature, conserve some energy and increase your life span by decades, is Barbados, the fastest-growing developing country in the world, and an escape destination even for Londoners, Americans and the French. The only similarity the city shares with Lagos is that they are both islands. But, while the beaches around Lagos are surrounded by Government liaison houses, banks and polluted by candles, palm frond and other ‘spiritual’ mementoes, the beaches around Barbados are lined by exquisite hotels, celebrity lodges, yachts and half-naked daughters of eve walking along the bank and soaking up the sun. There are three things and observant visitor will discover, on alighting from the aircraft at Grantley Adam international airport: the weather can be flaming hot, attendant can be very warm and the ladies, often Genevieve-black, can be beautiful and well-endowed. So, you’re exhausted, after a 15-hour journey, changing planes, and losing five hours (Barbados is five hours behind Nigeria) and you’re about to start telling yourself you’d never have embarked on the trip, if you had known it was so far away from home. But on passing through immigration (which, by the way, takes less than five minutes), on entering Bridgetown and sighting the first body of water, on breathing in the air and checking out the skyline, you relax and smile to yourself. Something within you is saying: boy, this is one trip you’re going to be enjoying – and, if you’re not careful, you may be back! Perhaps this is how every visitor feels, on a first time visit to the country. For decades, Barbados has been a haven for tourists – in 2006, the country earned BDS$1.8 million from tourism, with an average expenditure of US$158 per visitor. The country’s tourism board is now aiming to attract 775,000 annual visitors by 2012- over three times its own population. There are only about 270, 000 Barbadians (called Bajans), but a culture of affection has taught them to love visitors without restrain. So, it’s not unusual to find a total stranger offering to give you a tour of the town, or a passers-by stopping to ask if ‘you’re good?’ Smile back at the ladies, or throw a wink, and they return the gesture. If it’s your lucky day, it could even go deeper than that. See, it’s more than just a tropical beach holiday. Even the tourist guide’ Barbados in a nutshell’ says indigenes ‘encourage visitors to scratch the surface’. That’s probably why Oprah Winfrey has a home in the heart of the town, why Tiger Woods had his celebrated 2004 wedding and honeymoon in Barbados, (the world-famous golfer took over the entire sandy lane hotel, and its Green monkey Golf course for his glamorous wedding fiesta. After the ceremonies, he reportedly left his guests to enjoy the flamboyant resort while he and his wife spent their first night on his yacht in a nearby bay) and why the island is the number one wedding destination in the Caribbean. For a Nigerian visitor or adventurer, the thrill is even more intense. You get the feeling you’re still in Africa, surrounded by all the nature Lagos has gotten rid of, and enveloped by the kindred warmth our grandfathers continue to reminisce about. What more? There is constant power supply, a vibrant, safe nightlife, and almost zero hustle and bustle. If you like to deceive yourself, you could think you’re in a modern village around Oshogbo or Mbaise, until an unfamiliar accent jolts you back into reality, or the ocean waves remind you there’s no beach, only a river, in your home town. When you wake up from your slumber, hop into a hired car and cruise round town. No need to be afraid of getting lost, because you most likely will. But no need to fret, for twenty minutes away from anywhere you are, you’ll find the west coast beach gazing at you…and should you need to seek assistance, the people of the island are just to eager to oblige. It’s this kind of hospitality, neighbourly friendliness and unrestrained warmth that makes you want to cry when your time is up and you’re forced to leave the country. The kind of brotherliness that sees everyone celebrating the success of a compatriot (as in Rihanna who is seen as a national treasure) and the whole nation mourning, when an unknown family is hit by tragedy (as in the death of the Codrington family- all five perished on august 26 after the apartment block in which they lived dropped about 100 feet into a cavern at Arch cot terrace, Brittons Hill road). The kind of people where one man’s meat is another man’s meat and one man’s poison is the other’s poison. That’s why the peace in the land is so tangible you could touch it; why the love is so real and uninhibited. Mix that with the sandy beaches, the ocean of hotels and the cool, soothing scenery and what you get is a perfect recipe for romance Trick a lady you really fancy to this romantic island, and be sure she’ll be willing to say ‘I do’ even before you ask. All you need? Application for a marriage license, your return tickets, license fee of BDS$150 cash (about $75) and a $25 stamp. It’s that easy to get married in Barbados, and you could spend your honeymoon ski-diving, wind-surfing, lazing around the beach, yacht racing or simply making love (or, maybe babies) in the luxury hotel rooms which cost an average of BDS$ 700 per night. And you can tie the knots anywhere on the serene island: on the beach, under water, in a submersible, on a yacht in a historic plantation house or even by a pool. And, in case, like me, you’re married already, instead of taking a new wife all in the name of experiencing a Bajan wedding, you could renew your wedding vows in an exotic environment that’ll give your marriage a new bliss. Unfortunately, it’s not all fun and excitement for residents of the little island. After visitors have taken in all the therapy the beaches have to offer, they return to their countries, resuming normal everyday lives and saving up for another Bajan treat. But residents of the town have nowhere else to cal home, when the hurricanes come calling. Reports say that Barbados should be hit or brushed by a hurricane every 3.09 years; hit by a direct hurricane every 27.20 years – and, sadly, it is believed the island is due a major hurricane in 2007. And, September, the month of our visit, hold special significance for indigenes. September 22 marked 52 years since the passage of Hurricane Janet, the last major tropical storm to strike the island. But, compared to Jamaica, Grenada, St Lucia and others, Barbados has been lucky. But authorities are prepared for the worst, and constant orientation is in place, for residents and visitors especially as the region enters the second phase of the Hurricane season. So, while planning that peaceful getaway, wedding-on-the-sea or just a wild, adventurous weekend, be sure to know the state of things in Bajan. Otherwise, you may be better of keeping your cool, coping with the hectic life in Lagos; heading for Big Ben, Trafalgar square or madam Trussards in London, or better still, fill up your bathtub and pretend you’re lounging on a Bajan beach – just anything is better than the horror of hurricane 16 hours away from friends and family.