By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate
Every three decades, like clockwork, my wife and I drop whatever we are doing and go on a trip. Call us impulsive, but we hadn’t been away together, just the two of us, to a place with postcards and palm trees, since our honeymoon in Hawaii in 1978. So we celebrated our 30th anniversary with a week in Barbados.
Sue and I decided not to go to Europe because the dollar is even weaker than I am and the only foreign language I speak is Pig Latin. With the help of a travel agent named Lisa, who suggested Barbados because it offers both fun and relaxation, Sue booked us at the Turtle Beach Resort in Christ Church.
Turtle Beach, so named because it is on a beach and has turtles, though not actually in the hotel itself, which would really slow up room service, is an "all-inclusive" resort. This means you pay a very reasonable price (in our case, about $3,500) for all your food, cocktails and hotel-sponsored activities for the week, in addition to your room and airfare. The deal enables you to eat, drink and be merry for what seems like nothing. Ever since we got back, I have had the uneasy feeling that somebody is going to show up at our house and demand more money.
That won’t happen because American currency is worth half of its Barbadian counterpart, so why would anyone want it?
The first thing Sue and I discovered about Barbados is that the residents, called Bajans, pride themselves on two things: Rihanna, the Grammy Award-winning singer, and being the nicest people in the world. They are, in fact, so nice that if you challenge them on this, they will be too nice to argue the point. Except if you challenge them on Rihanna.
The second thing we discovered is that because of the heavy British influence (Barbados is a former British colony and most of the tourists are British), the people drive on the wrong side of the road. They make up for it by politely obeying the rules. This includes going the speed limit and yielding to other drivers at roundabouts, or rotaries, which are so prevalent that the roads must be maintained by the Rotary Club.
That was evident on a shopping excursion to Bridgetown, the capital, which is composed primarily of banks and, to the dismay of visiting husbands, jewelry stores.
The van from the hotel was packed, so I sat next to the driver, Martin Grimes, a 41-year-old family man who is studying to be a minister at Barbados Bible College and has been driving professionally for 20 years.
"I’ll drive," I suggested.
"Where are you from?" Grimes asked.
"I was born and raised in Stamford, Conn.," I said, "but I now live on Long Island, N.Y."
"You’re from New York?" he shrieked. "You people are crazy. You drive on the wrong side of the road. You’ll get us all killed."
During the ride, I found out that, like every Bajan I spoke with, Grimes has relatives in the tri-state area.
"Where do people from Barbados go on vacation?" I inquired.
Grimes said, "New York."
Speaking of getting killed, I nearly ended up in Davy Jones’ locker, which would have ruined his gym clothes, when I took a surfing lesson. This was not the fault of my instructor, Amra McDowall, who has been surfing for half his life. He is 17.
"I usually teach little kids and teenagers, so you are definitely the oldest student I have ever had," Amra said when I told him I am 54. "But I know you can do it."
I got a similar vote of confidence from two of Amra’s other students, Jamie Tarallo, 16, and his brother, Cory, 14, who were vacationing with their parents, Dawn and Nick Tarallo of Bedford, N.Y.
"Take your time and don’t stand up too fast," Cory said.
Jamie added, "And don’t get sand up your nose."
That would have been the least of my problems. I was so bad that I couldn’t even stay on the board while paddling out.
"You’re wearing too much sunscreen. It’s making you slide off," said Amra, who suggested I put on a T-shirt. It didn’t work.
Finally, after I made it out a fair distance, Amra had me turn around and try to catch a wave. I remembered Cory’s advice about not standing up too fast, except I couldn’t stand up at all. The board flipped and hit me on the head. Fortunately, I didn’t break it (the board, that is; my head is too thick to be damaged).
This continued for half an hour, after which I trudged back to the beach.
"Don’t worry," Amra said consolingly. "Sometimes it takes older people a lot of years to learn."
"I don’t have a lot of years left," I said as I thanked him for trying to make a surfer out of me.
I wanted to be the epitome of the surfing mantra "hang 10, dude." Sadly, I couldn’t even hang one. I went from dude to dud. At least I didn’t get sand up my nose.
Since I had water on the brain, I signed up to go snorkeling with sea turtles, even though turtles don’t need snorkels.
Sue and I boarded a catamaran called the Wildcat 1, which was captained by Michael Fedee, 35, who had stocked plenty of rum, the national drink of Barbados, for the dozen guests on board. Fedee and Rico Blackman, 18, the first mate, drank soda.
We anchored in Payne’s Bay and slipped into the warm water, which was so clear you could easily see 15 feet to the bottom. Immediately, we were surrounded by greenback turtles, the largest of which, named George, was 4 feet long and weighed about 400 pounds. He introduced himself by letting me shake his flipper. In Barbados, even the turtles are nice.
The highlight of the week came on the last night, when Sue and I had dinner at our own private table on the beach. It was arranged for our anniversary by Sherrie-Ann Waldron, the hotel’s guest relations officer.
In fact, everyone at Turtle Beach – including Charles, Racquel, Hermanius, Kim, Wayde, Beyanker, Melissa and Petra – was wonderful.
Sue and I had such a good time that we may go back next year instead of waiting another three decades. At this rate, it will take that long for me to learn how to surf.
Copyright 2008 by Jerry Zezima