I just returned from a week in Barbados!
Barbados is a country in the Caribbean directly north of South America - the entire island is less than 1/7 of Rhode Island. The population is about 285,000, compared to Rhode Island with 1.05 million. Barbados just gained its independence from England 51 years ago, so it is still developing its own identity and unique culture.
Although one week is definitely not long enough to totally familiarize yourself with a country’s entire culture and way of life, I committed myself to trying to learn as much as I could about the Bajan (pronounced like Asian with a B) people and their culture in the week I was there.
This means not staying in a resort and not renting a car or hiring a driver - check and check. We rented a small house in a neighborhood in Worthing, about a 15 minute ride from Bridgetown, Barbados’ capital. All of our neighbors were locals - 2 families and a nunnery surrounded us. We used public transportation for the entirety of the trip, excluding one private tour we took. Besides this, we either walked, or took a cab, the public bus, or a reggae van.
Behold: the Bajan reggae van. Basically, it is local drivers who rent vans with typically ~12 seats and pick up people just like cabs, for a flat rate of $1/person. Sounds fine, if you know what you’re getting into before you get in.
Now, I am all for “living local” and getting the “experience,” but alert traveling and being smart are just as important. You can’t really have a meaningful experience until you learn how to be smart while abroad. So, when getting into my first reggae van 18 hours into being in Barbados, all the flags went up in my head as soon as we got in. The van was completely unfurnished - the ceiling paint had been ripped off, the van was made to hold 12 people and had upwards of 15, the driver drove fast and rather carelessly (my dad called it a “rollercoaster without rails”), and the reggae music was blasting throughout the van so loud you couldn’t even hear the driver. Plus, (helllooo white privilege), the men running the van were all black. Immediately, I thought I had made a huge mistake. I wondered if they were going to drive me and my family off the road and steal from us, or (dare I say it crossed my mind) kill us. Looking back, was I being a little dramatic and stereotyping these men? Absolutely. And, since I’m writing this, obviously I was wrong.
The men were actually all rather friendly and each time, they got us exactly where we wanted to go. By our last trip in a reggae van, I sat up front with the driver and sang with him when a song we both knew (it was by Lil Uzi - lol) came on the radio. Although a reggae van definitely wouldn’t be my first choice of transportation for everyday life, I’m glad we decided to take them and be surrounded by locals every time.
Every other thing we did locally, such as take the public bus, go to the grocery store, and go to the famous fish fry that the Bajans have every Friday night, we were surrounded by locals. I felt I got a bit of insight into Barbados I definitely would not have gotten if we stayed in a resort and had a driver for our excursions to tourist attractions.
When we did do some “tourism,” such as snorkeling, I tried to just enjoy the views and the activity rather than focus on the “vacation” aspects of it - I had one drink the entire trip (and didn’t even finish it), despite daily opportunities to drink. I definitely don’t frown upon drinking on trips, but after thinking more about trips planned around alcohol (which I talked about in my last post - scroll down to read it), I decided to stay dry this time around.
After a week of trying to live la vida local in Barbados, I can say this: it is definitely an underrated country. The pride Bajans have for their land, their work, and themselves is so obvious in everything they do. 70% of Barbados’ annual profit is from tourism, and the Bajans are so proud to show foreigners their land, their food and their people.
Although I am ready for an American meal and to drive my own car, I am so glad I didn’t spend my week in Barbados on the beach with a drink, turned away from the real culture - reggae vans and all.
Tomorrow, I am leaving for Ghana for 3 weeks - look for my posts about that when I get back to the US!
Just living, learning + loving and writing some of it down along the way. Senior + Director of Panhellenic Recruitment at Elon University in North Carolina. Currently interning + curating social for some badass clients at SFW in Greensboro, NC. Yogi, sightseer, shopaholic, foodie, writer.
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