Driving in Barbados

BY AMANDA CUMMINS

Those of us who live in the countryside in the UK are familiar with narrow lanes, sheep being moved en masse, meeting hounds and/or the field on a hunting day, tractors galore, etc, etc.

This does not prepare one for driving in Barbados. There is a trick to driving in Barbados which is, essentially, go forward and ignore the opposition. There is also the necessity to use the horn. A lot. There is, I think, Horn Etiquette:

  • Small beep, to allow someone wishing to turn onto “your” road a bit of space to make the manoeuvre
  • Small beep, when someone does the above without waiting for you to notice that this is their intention
  • Small beep when you see a bus (there are lots), just to be friendly
  • Small beep, to say hello to someone walking along the street
  • Small beep to alert someone to something which may or may not happen
  • Small beep (from a distance) to warn person at a zebra crossing that you will stop to allow them to cross the road
  • Small beep (after emergency stop) to tell person at a zebra crossing that they may cross the road without fear for life and limb
  • HAND ON HORN GOING AROUND HAIR PIN BENDS THE ENTIRE WAY UP FROM EAST COAST ROAD TO WHERE YOU POTENTIALLY MEET A ROAD TO GO NORTH OR WEST, OR NORTH WEST…JUST ANY DIRECTION OTHER THAN GOING BACK DOWNHILL (a small, celebratory beep when you get to the top without incident)

The above carries a caveat: avoid beeping a policeman doing traffic control on his feet by the bus station in the middle of Bridgetown at the height of rush hour and, if you find yourself being directed down a side street into the completely unknown, think of it as An Adventure.

I decided to take some friends on a Tour.

First, we would go from the gin-still waters of the West Coast to St. Nicholas Abbey (pictured, which is well worth visiting). We set off from Holetown in probably one of the smallest cars ever made: think Dinky Toy with automatic gears. And air con which didn’t work. St. Nicholas Abbey is very easy to find, so we (I) got lost: bonus of this was seeing a lot of Barbados one wouldn’t normally see: clever me. Eventually – I’d been back in Barbados less than 48 hours; it was mighty hot and my lily-white Englishness was beginning to fry – we got there.

Afterwards, I said we’d go down to the East Coast which is beautiful in a rather different and rugged way: lashing waves and sometimes a very angry Atlantic sea. The dichotomy of Barbados: flat calm on the West Coast versus thundering, surging surf on the East Coast.

It took a while (impossible to get lost, as there’s only one road) but we did the East Coast bottom road. “Ah” I thought: “lunch”.

I remembered that there’s a lovely restaurant, perched over a beach. But it’s approached by a tiny road, down a precipice and with corners the angles of which were beyond hairpin. Which filled me with horror. However, the Dinky Toy was quite good at going downhill and we arrived. By then I was so hot (and faintly bothered) that I did nothing more than wave at the view and say how lovely it was, before sitting down with a non-rum punch.

The whole way through lunch I was vaguely fussed about the best route to get back onto the road which would, eventually, lead us to a place I recognised before heading back to the West Coast (the other thing about driving in Barbados is that road signs are either non-existent or unhelpful). Off we set. I vaguely remembered going south along the East Coast for a bit and turning right to an uphill route which wasn’t too uphilly and bendy. Things did not pan out quite like that.

Which brings me back to HAND ON HORN, etc above. Beep, beep, beep, lengthy beeeeeeeeep, smaller (nervous) beeps, uphill we went, buses and taxis and pickup trucks zooming into view on the wrong side of the road.

We eventually got back to Holetown, perhaps not using the most direct route. There was a moment of a silent hurrah when we rounded a corner and before us lay Bridgetown and the sea. I pretended this was exactly where I’d intended we should be and took a speedy right at the next roundabout…not so much navigating by compass as by the fact the Caribbean was finally to my left.

A large rum punch, with no punches spared, by the swimming pool was my reward.

On returning to England, I nearly beeped our senior lady Master hacking on to the meet. Just to say hello, as one does. Except not in England.

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