There are 320 million people in The United States, and that’s just the people we know about. Around me, in Columbus Ohio, there are 1,200,000. With that kind of population, you get all sorts of different people, attitudes, personalities; yes we are a melting pot of all sorts. But what about a country the size of your surroundings? Or how about a whole chain of small island countries the size, or even smaller than the town you live in? Welcome to The Caribbean! Aside from maybe Tibet, people in, and from the Caribbean are hands down, the nicest people on Earth!
So what countries are we talking about? If your geography is shaky, the Caribbean is made up of such countries as Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Trinidad/Tobago, Barbados, St. Kitts, Grenada, and Antigua, just to name a few. Population wise, Jamaica has the highest with 2,700,000 and Saint Kitts & Nevis with 54,000 people. These countries are also identified as The West Indies. (see map, or click for larger version.)
In 2006 I traveled to the country of Trinidad/Tobago (see Hotel Snob article). I had always wanted to go there during Panorama, which is their national Steel Band championship. So in February of 2006, I spent 9 adventurous days which turned out to be one of the best travel experiences still today. Sure, the weather, food, and beach were nice. But what stuck in my memory the most, were the people.
When it comes to traveling to, or in a foreign country, the first thing I try to do is not make it foreign by the time I get there. I do my research, looking at maps (Google Earth is fantastic for this), reading reviews or articles about where I am about to go. I probably spent 4 plus hours on the phone with a guy named Ron Kerns, who I knew had traveled extensively in T&T. I took pages and pages of notes, writing down names of streets, foods, and other places of interest. I already knew my hotel was going to be nice, but I prefer to venture out past all the tourist traps, or inclusive grounds of the hotel. You don’t travel 2000+ miles to stay in one spot with a bunch of people you left to get away from in the first place! I want to mingle with the locals, and see out what makes their country unique. And in doing so, I ran into the nicest people around.
Taking a cab anywhere can be interesting. Often it can be a pain. I remember getting ripped off by a cab driver in Columbus while in college. Apparently he (“wink-wink”) didn’t have change for a $10.00 bill, even after driving who knows how many people that night. Even more interesting was the fact that he had a bodyguard with him to enforce the “no change” rule. So a $3.50 fare was $10. Great.
Enter the typical cabbie in The Caribbean. While in T&T, the cabbies always asked how I was doing, where I was from, etc. I remember one ride where we asked the cab driver what a good place to eat was, and if he could take us there. “Sure, I know a good place”! So while pumping the Soca music, (it was Carnival season mind you) he drove us to this fantastic tapas restaurant in Scarborough called Salsa Kitchen. “Pick yuh back up at what time”, he asked. Now that’s service! He even gave us his cell number, so that when we were done watching the Steel Pan competition, we had a ride back to the hotel. Same thing in Barbados. The cab driver who took me to the hotel from the airport, pointed out just about every bar, restaurant, and place of interest along the route. Not once was I ever ripped off.
Sunday School? But I am on Vacation!
On a Sunday afternoon while at the Tobago Hilton, my brother and I were asking a few questions to the woman running the front desk. “Going to Sunday School tonight”, she asked. Sunday School? “Oh, you have to go to Sunday School, you’ll have a time”! What we discovered was that every Sunday night, the town of Bucco Bay throws a huge street party with food, steel bands, dancing, and local craft vendors selling all sorts of stuff. This wasn’t the Sunday School my grandma dragged me to when I was six years old ! Lots of locals, and more nice people. Later that week I had a problem with my room safe. It was later in the evening and I figured that there was no way anyone would be available to fix it. Within a half hour someone was at my door and he had it fixed in no time. Now yes, the Hilton has great customer service just about everywhere. But the guy (who was probably in his early twenties) hung out for a while outside our patio, and talked to my brother and I for a good twenty minutes, and had a few laughs. Before he left, we fist bumped and told him thanks again for fixing the safe. “No worries”, we were told.
Round 2: Barbados
On my way to Trinidad/Tobago, my flight stopped at Grantley Adams airport in Barbados. As we were flying around the island on the approach I was looking out the window and thought “Wow, this island looks pretty nice too”! I had a 3 hour layover before continuing to Port of Spain, but never ventured outside the airport itself. In 2007 Hilton sold their Tobago property to the government, so my plans on returning there were sort of quashed. But I soon remembered that they owned a hotel in Barbados, and I also remembered what I saw looking out my window as we flew over the island on approach. It took 6 years, but in May 2012, I spent 9 glorious days at Needhams Point near Bridgetown, Barbados.
Now although I do like my nice hotels, I am pretty much low maintenance when it comes to housekeeping service. Empty the trash, refill my coffee, towels, and I am happy. Every morning as I would leave my room I would pass the house keeping staff, and Marcia (person who cleaned my room every morning) would ask me what my plans for the day were. One morning after a night out with some people I had met, the other housekeeper that was helping her, recognized me from seeing me at the bus stop. “Oh you were with those guys who had beers in your hand and were waiting to ride a minibus with loud music”! I had to laugh because I felt like she was busting me out. In case you’re wondering, there are no open container laws (at least for passengers) and yes, there’s nothing like piling into a minibus with 8 other people, while the driver is bumping the Soca music! And for only $2 BD’s to go anywhere….why the Hell not? I laughed and said “Yeah, that was us, but we behaved ourselves”. “Well”, she said, “It looked like you were having a good time”.
Every day, there were numerous instances which convinced me that the people of the Caribbean are the friendliest. While at the Mount Gay Rum factory, the bartender, 2 other locals and I, talked for a good hour or so about music and other subjects. We had a few good laughs, and by the time I left, again, more fist bumps, handshakes, and smiles.
I headed towards central Bridgetown (5 miles from the hotel) to take more pictures and maybe do some shopping. As I was hurrying to cross the street, I heard a “Hey there”! I turned around and saw that it was one of the girls who worked at the hotel. “Oh hey”, I said. “Looks like yuh hustling to do some shoppin’, yeah”? “Yeah”, I told her “Just trying to make it to the jewelry store before they close”, I laughed. “Ok, well today meh day off, but I’ll see ya tomorrow”! “Ok”, I said. (still amazed that she recognized me in a crowd of people). About an hour later I would be approached by a pan handler on Bridge Street who was trying to sell me some trinkets. Now, at this point I had just purchased about US $1200 worth of jewelry for my wife, and was carrying it in a shopping bag. “No thanks”, I said as I scurried across the street”. “Oh he is harmless” a woman who was passing by said. “Hi Donald, how yuh doin’ today”? she asked. As we walked toward the center of town, I asked her where I could pick up the #4 bus to head back towards Needhams Point. “Follow me, I’m heading that way”, she said. After about 15 minutes of walking, I learned that she was a bank teller, had 2 kids, and lived about 15 miles outside of Bridgetown. She pointed me to one of the bus stops along the road and said that a bus should be stopping soon. “Good meeting you, enjoy your vacation”, she said.
The CSS Coincidence
While in Barbados, I listened to local radio in my hotel room. It’s fascinating to hear the similarities and differences between American radio and other countries. Even the commercials are entertaining. My grandfather gave me a shortwave radio when I was 13, so before the Internet, Apps, and websites which streamed other radio..that was the only way to listen to anything from another country. Anyhow, CSS (Caribbean Super Station) on 97.5 FM was my station of choice when I was getting ready for the day. As I made coffee, checked email, showered, etc., I would listen to “The Wake Up Show”, with 2 hosts named Nikki and Jase. When I got home I discovered I could listen to this station via streaming audio. One morning I decided to call in during the show. The station is located in Port of Spain, Trinidad but is broadcast throughout the Caribbean. The two hosts were ecstatic that I called in, and the conversation was hilarious. They seemed very surprised that someone in Ohio not native to the Caribbean would be a big fan of the music and culture. Later Nikki mentioned that her husband Gerry would actually be in Columbus visiting their son who lived here. What are those odds? I gave her my cell number and told him to call me when he got into town. A few weeks later Gerry showed up with bottle of Angostura 1919 rum that…what a guy!
Since then I have befriended many good folks from Antigua to Trinidad and every place in between. And even a few who are living here in the U.S. You know who you are!! If not…well here’s your Web Shout Out !!
This article is dedicated to all my Caribbean Friends…most of which are listed below!
Nikki Crosby -aka “Hottmouth Granny” – Trinidad & Tobago
Gerry Clarke – Trinidad & Tobago
Leonard “Jam Crew” Lestrade – Saint Kitts & Nevis
Lyle “Blackstone” James – T&T (now New Hampshire, USA)
Peter Estwick – Bridgetown, Barbados
Adrian “Ammo” Julian – Antigua & Barbuda
Stacy Lyons – Trinidad & Tobago
Dayo Joseph – Trinidad & Tobago (now New York City)
“Hollywood Sachy” – Trinidad & Tobago
Arlene Lake – Antigua & Barbuda
Jus Jase – Trinidad & Tobago
Maurice Clarke – Trinidad & Tobago (now Columbus, Ohio)
Ian Alvarez “aka Bunji Garlin” – Trinidad and Tobago