I woke up to bright light in a strange room. Not really knowing where I was, I looked over to the other bed in the room to see Sally snoring with her skirt hiked up and no underwear on.
It being 1987, I was expecting Spring Break to be a wild time, but this was more than I had counted on. In the 1980s, a combination of teen movies and MTV had given Spring Break the image of a wild drunken orgy for college students. For one week a year, the world was your Playboy Mansion, and all you had to do was get to a warm climate.
But Sally wasn't what I was expecting. She was a nice enough person, but I hardly knew her and she was sort of the matronly den mother of our little group from Penn State who had gone to Barbados. And suddenly here, not five feet away from me, was her nude lower torso.
I searched back in my memory, but I hadn't spent any time with her the day before other than the plane ride and bus ride from the airport. We had arrived on the island late and she and a few other people had decided to go to "The Warehouse," a nightclub some distance away in Bridgetown. I had read a bit and gone to sleep.
Sally had already gone out of her way to be nice to me. She had helped me look for my camera when I realized that it was missing, and she had even gotten her friend Dan to lend me his extra one to use once I realized that I had left mine at JFK airport. I didn't really know anyone on this trip, but Sally and Marvin had been nice enough to let me room with them, little knowing that in a mere 8 hours I would be seeing Sally partially nude, and snoring, which was perhaps more embarrassing.
I didn't know what to do. I desperately had to urinate, but I didn't want her to be humiliated or embarrassed by waking up half-naked with me in the room because it would make the rest of the week horribly awkward. I tried to make sounds to wake her up so she would realize her plight and cover herself up, but she just kept snoring. Finally, I could wait no longer and I got up and ducked into the bathroom. When I emerged, she was covered with a blanket and still snoring.
All lodging is less than a 5 minute walk to the beach. All units feature a fully equipped kitchen. Stay in one bedroom suites, or 2 and 3 bedroom villas. Located in the heart of Holetown, Sunset Crest is a complete resort offering the use of 6 pools, free shuttlebus to the Beach Club, and close access to a supermarket, liquor store, many restaurants, The Beach Club, and, of course, the beautiful Barbados beaches and the Caribbean Sea.
A group of us headed out on our less-than-5-minute walk to the beach, and we were surprised to find almost no beach. There was the sea, and there were rocks, and between them was about 6 feet of steep sand. It was hardly a great place to sunbathe (in those days, people used to do that), and swimming seemed to be dangerous because of the boats and jetskis zipping about. The waters, however, were indeed emerald green as the brochure had promised.
Things were already starting to be awkward for me. Traveling alone is one thing, but traveling alone with a group of people you hardly know is something completely different. Here are people who are all already friends with one another, and I'm put into a position where I have to tag along with them since they're the only people I know on the island. Our villas were located in an area with few things within walking distance, so going with a group made more sense. I had already begun to feel like I was imposing on them, even though they were very gracious and invited me along.
At the time, I wasn't the suave, sophisticated individual you see before you now (pause for laughter). I was in my first year of college, and still living at home. I had always been terminally shy and didn't really have any idea how to interact with people, so I tended to annoy the crap out of people and not even realize I was doing it. But for the time being, these people were putting up with me.
We went from the beach to the small food store the brochure referred to as a "supermarket" along with the liquor store. Since we were all under 21, being in a liquor store was a new experience for most of us, and being able to legally buy alcohol in a liquor store for the first time caused many of us to buy irresponsibly large amounts of booze. Of course, we didn't really need to stock up on liquor because we were all planning to go to the famous Beach Club, which was only a few minutes from our cluster of villas.
Staying at Sunset Crest entitles you to free entry to the famous Beach Club. The Beach Club is located on the beach and is a great place to party both day and night. In the day, use the two swimming pools, enjoy cool tropical drinks, and food from the grill. At night, the Beach Club features happy hours, live entertainment and dancing. This is one of The Hot Spots in Barbados.
That night we all headed to the Beach Club to see what was happening at one of the Hot Spots of Barbados. It was indeed on the beach, and it was indeed a club, but I don't know if it really qualified as a "Hot Spot" as most of the time our little group were the main clientele. There was a bar with a palm frond roof which backed up to the sea, a small dance floor with disco lights, a number of tables scattered around and a couple of slot machines and video games. It was hardly impressive, but it was close to home.
That night we had our first taste of Rum Punch. According to the schedule provided by our tour guides, we would get complimentary Rum Punch almost every day. A table was set up with a big glass jug of red liquid and a number of small glasses filled with the stuff. We could hardly believe how ghastly it tasted... sort of like straight rum with a bit of Kool Aid mixed in... nobody could finish it except for Marvin who seemed to love the stuff. He finished everyone else's too.
The days will feature fabulous water sports including: water skiing, sailing, windsurfing, jet skiing, scuba diving, snorkeling or relax and enjoy incredible sun bathing and swimming.
The next morning we took the long walk to the designated "swimming area" of Sunset Crest. This area featured a bit more beach than the other parts of the resort, plus a roped off area for swimming and even a floating dock in the water.
I swam out to the floating dock and sat on it looking in horror at all the middle-aged British tourists who were populating this beach instead of the nubile teen vixens I had hoped for. Suddenly, a man swam up doing the back-stroke. He was elderly and wore a bathing cap, and in his mouth was a lit cigarette. He climbed up onto the dock next to me and sat and enjoyed his cigarette.
After returning to the villas, we found a group of people gathered around a gregarious and flamboyant local who was hawking things out of a suitcase. He said to call him The Boogieman, and he had a vast selection of jewelry, mainly made from shells, pearls and stones. He spoke quickly in a Bajan dialect which was almost incomprehensible to us. He also asked if we needed anything... he said he could find us what we wanted.
After taking showers and eating dinner, we headed out to the famous Beach Club for drinks. Despite the complimentary Rum Punch we all found ourselves drinking mixed drinks or Banks beer, the local brew.
Sally asked me if I had change so she could try the slot machine. Since I only had 50 cents in my pocket, we decided to put it into the machine and see what happened. We were excited to win a few dollars in quarters. So we decided to have a contest to see who could win more money. In a few minutes, Sally's machine started ringing and flashing because she had won $50. Needless to say she won the contest.
We used our new-found money to buy drinks for people, and everyone had a good time. Soon after, five or six of us bought a case of beer at the liquor store and went to the beach with it. We sat on the narrow strand watching the ocean and drinking, and it was fun, except I had to urinate. I could have gone down the beach a bit, but there were people all over the place and I didn't want to get in trouble, so I waited.
After a few hours and a bunch of beers, we made our woozy way home. By now I was having serious cramps from the urine in my bladder, so much so that I was having trouble walking. I kept telling myself that I would just go as soon as we got home. Finally, after the excruciating walk, we made it back to the villa. Marvin said "I call the bathroom!" and ran inside.
I staggered and danced around and waited for what seemed like an hour. Finally, the pain and alcohol got the best of me and, not knowing what else to do, I relieved myself outside on the porch. Marvin came out and saw me and said, "That's really gross."
It was never mentioned again, so I wasn't ever really sure if Marvin told anyone, or if he even remembered since he had been hitting the Rum Punch pretty hard. Had I not been drunk and in pain, this incredibly stupid thing never would have happened, but there it was and I had been caught, so I had to put up with the consequences if there were any.
A group of people decided to try waterskiing, and they invited me along. Having never tried the sport, I decided to give it a shot. Chris, who was the most obviously athletic one in our group, was the first to go, and he zipped around on the skis like someone from a professional water show, riding out almost alongside the boat, hanging on with one hand, jumping into the air across our wake.
Surely it must be easy if he could put on a display like that. The next person, James, went and did reasonably well. He had been waterskiing a few times in his life. He was effortlessly gliding over the surface of the water, not performing any of the tricks Chris had performed, but he made it look simple. When he returned to the boat he was full of simple advice, like "keep your arms straight" and "don't stand up too fast."
Finally it was my turn to go. I was wearing a life vest and given skis to put on my feet in the water. Simple enough. But the skis float, and so does the life vest. So you have to kind of balance yourself in the water with these big skis that want to float up whenever they're submerged. And everyone on the boat was watching me try to do this.
I eventually managed to get the skis on and reached a kind of equilibrium in the water. I grabbed hold of the handle on the end of the towline and waved with the other hand. The engine roared, the boat surged ahead and I watched as the line jumped out of the water and tried to yank my arms out of their sockets. Foolishly, I held onto the line and started moving forward in the churning water. I found it impossible to keep the skis or my legs straight against the resistance of the water. I felt myself rising up as the rushing water went over my head and up my nose. I was so unstable that I knew I could never stay on my feet. I felt the skis twist off of my feet when I let go of the towline. I could hear laughter from the boat.
I sank back into the water and looked around for the skis. I swam back to get them, and tried to get them back on my feet as the boat circled back around. They stopped so that the towline was a few feet away from me. The experts in the group shouted obvious things like "KEEP YOUR LEGS STRAIGHT! STRAAAIGHT!!"
The boat tried to dislocate my arms two more times, but still I never managed to get on my feet. I climbed back into the boat and the next person gave it a try. They did a bit better than I did, but not well enough to make me look really bad.
While we were learning to ski, a bunch of people from our group were approached by The Boogieman and two lady friends of his who offered to bead their hair for a small fee. Soon, every girl in the group was sporting a head full of Bo Derek beads and most of the boys had a couple of "free sample" beads too. They all thought themselves rather stylish, in that awful 80s kind of way.
At night, Barbados comes to life. There is a great variety of party spots including nightclubs with live rock and roll, discos, English pubs, local "fetes," and partying boat cruises. The drinking age here is 18 and many bars stay open until dawn.
We decided to hit some of the bars other than the Beach Club, so a group of us took the public bus to Bridgetown to go to The Warehouse, whose full name is "The Best Little Warehouse in Barbados."
The Warehouse is a two-story dance club which features a sliding board from the second floor to the first, live music, and expensive drinks. Marvin, deprived of his usual Rum Punch fix, put away a number of shots and was soon dancing in a bizarre way. He had absolutely no rhythm or coordination, yet he was probably a better dancer than I was. Learning from the bewildered stares of the other dancers as Marvin jumped about, I hung out on the fringes and watched everyone else.
The crowd was oblivious, drunk and loud, moving to the reggae band. The people I had arrived with were all drinking, dancing and enjoying themselves, while I stuck to the side and felt left out because I am an awful dancer. It's not really my fault; like Marvin, I'm quite tall and clumsy, so it's not easy to look graceful. Finally, after a few hours of drinking and standing by myself, I decided to go home because there seemed to be no chance of actually talking to anyone owing to the deafening music in the club. Everyone else in our group wanted to stay longer, so I headed for the door, wondering where I would go to find a taxi.
Exiting the door to the club, I was confronted with a taxi with an open door and a crowd of taxi drivers urging me to go into the cab. Now, this was my first cab ride, but it wasn't hard to see that I was being set up. I asked the driver how much it was going to cost and after telling me to get in a few times, he quoted an outrageous price. I asked the group of cab drivers if anyone would take me home for less, and one man said he would, much to the consternation of his fellow taxi drivers. I got into his cab and we set off for home.
Riding as a passenger in a vehicle in Barbados is a terrifying experience because they drive on the left side of the road along narrow streets, often with no regard for speed limits. This taxi driver seem to enjoy taking extraordinary risks like passing two or three cars in no-passing zones or on blind curves, with trees or drop-offs only a few feet away. I buckled my seat belt and held on to the armrest to keep from sliding around the back seat.
When I arrived back at Sunset Crest, I realized that everybody was still out at the bars and clubs except for the four punk girls. Everyone first noticed them on the bus to the airport when they were blasting Black Flag and shouting along, which really annoyed most of the people.
They were sitting out and playing poker. I hung out with them a bit and played cards, and they seemed like really cool people. I decided that I liked them much more than the other people on the trip.
I'm not really sure what the punks did during the day because I don't think I ever saw them on the beach. They probably slept until late in the day after staying up all night. My roommates, on the other hand, liked to rise early and hit the beach. Today we would try jetskiing.
Where waterskiing had been difficult because of the boat, the skis and the towline, jetskiing would be easy because it was like a motorcycle on the water, except without being on two wheels. Easy.
It was easy too, not requiring a lot of strength, but it did require some balance to be able to ride well. I was pretty good at driving the jetski around at low speeds and sitting on it, but I couldn't stand up and ride it because I was terrified to go that fast with all the people in slow sailboats around. I was rather enjoying tooling around far from shore when the jetski suddenly bounced off of a wave and I fell off the back.
I climbed back on, but the engine wouldn't start up again. I tried and tried, but it would only sputter and die, finally not even turning over. I was bobbing up and down far from shore with no way to get back, and I had no idea what to do. Finally, another jetskiier from our group saw me and told the men who had rented us the jetskiis, and they sent someone out to tow me back into shore. Again I vowed to stay away from water sports in the future.
That night was our complimentary BBQ Bash at the Beach Club. We were expecting lots of Rum Punch, and we were not disappointed. There was good food on the grill, along with games and contests. There was the obligatory Limbo contest, which I avoided like the plague, and a scavenger hunt. Our team won that, and what was the prize? A big giant jug of Rum Punch. Marvin was in heaven. He personally drank a good portion of the jug and literally passed out on the floor.
The rest of us dragged Marvin home. He was a big guy, so it really took a lot of effort to get him back to the villas. Finally, we did it and put him on his bed in the living room.
Sally took this opportunity to ask me if I would let her and Dan share the bedroom of the villa. Dan was a nice enough guy, kind of goofy but good natured, and I had noticed that the two of them had been spending a lot of time together. I said, "sure" and moved my stuff out to the living room, which I would now be sharing with a completely incoherent and soon-to-be vomiting Marvin. Unfortunately this also meant that the only bathroom was in the bedroom with them, and they were keeping the door closed. Marvin threw up into the trash can all night and I learned to time my trips to the bathroom according to their schedule.
The next day we were taken by bus across the island to a beach we were told was very nice. On the way, our bus driver stopped in one of the many sugarcane fields and picked some of it to show us (it's used to make rum, one of the big exports of Barbados). Then he started chewing on the stuff. He let us try it too... it tasted like candy.
Marvin looked terrible and didn't seem to enjoy the bus ride or the sugarcane very much. He sat next to me looking pale and unsteady, and I didn't know how he was going to last all day.
We reached the eastern end of the island and found ourselves at the top of a very long stone stairway which led down a steep rocky hill to a beautiful, wide beach. The beach was surrounded on three sides by rocky cliffs and was stunning. We stayed there for a few hours, and by the time we left, almost everyone had a painful, bright red sunburn. I had remembered to put on sunblock, but had neglected to put it on the tops of my feet, so my feet were bright red too.
When we returned home, we found The Boogieman and another guy selling pint liquor bottles full of pure aloe vera, which they themselves had scooped from the enormous plants. Almost everyone paid the $5 for a bottle just to get some relief from the horrible sunburns. The aloe was instantly cooling and wonderful (amazingly, the next day we discovered that our burns had turned to tans).
Back in the room, I found a used roll of film with my stuff, and learned that Dan had decided that he wanted his camera back. He used the rest of my film up by taking pictures of his messy bedroom.
That night, a bunch of us, including the punk girls, decided to go out to some bars. First we went to a tiny place which seemed to be mainly for British tourists as their menu was all fried and had the word "Bangers" in several places. From there it was on to the Piano Bar.
The staff of the Piano Bar was annoyed that we showed up at midnight as they were apparently hoping to go home early. We made ourselves at home, taking over the empty place and making outlandish mixed drink requests as only teen drinkers can. I hung around the punk girls a lot, and started to think that I was really getting along with one in particular, Jane, who seemed to like talking to me.
Jane moved to another part of the bar and sat on a round couch, and I followed her. Suddenly, Jane's friend took her away and talked to her for a little while. Jane came back and looked uneasy. I asked her what was going on and she said, "uh... I'm bi."
I didn't really understand what she was getting at. "Huh?" I said.
" I like girls," she said.
" I thought if you're 'bi', you like boys and girls."
" Oh, no... uh, I mean I'm a lesbian..." she looked anxiously at her friend for help. Her friend took her away again to talk to her.
Just then one of the guys from our group sat next to me. "Hey, man, you don't want to hang out with Jane. She's a dyke," he said, "kissing her is like kissing a fish market, you know?"
Suddenly it all became clear. I was being a pest and she was trying to get rid of me. The thing that really upset me, more than being brushed off, was that there were a bunch of people who were trying to help her get rid of me since she couldn't do it herself. Was I being too pushy? I had once again mistook politeness for something more, and had once again made an ass of myself. I don't remember much else except not talking to anyone for the rest of the night, mainly out of sheer humiliation.
We were hanging around the villas waiting for our bus to the airport when the Boogieman showed up with another of his friends, this time a guy who weaves hats out of palm fronds.
It doesn't seem like a skill which would be much in demand, but the hats were these really cool fedoras and everyone who saw them wanted one. First he would measure your head, then he would set to work weaving the fronds together into a perfect hat with a brim and a little palm frond bird in the hat band. If you didn't want a hat he would make you a basket for fruit. Soon, everyone was lined up for their own hats and baskets.
I wasn't really sad that the trip was drawing to a close, after all the humiliations I had suffered before this group of strangers. I suppose I was to blame because of my lack of social skills and just plain stupidity, but horribly unlucky events didn't help me either. I was just hoping that I wouldn't run into them again around campus. It was a big school, I kept telling myself.
Later that evening, a group of tanned, beaded and palm-frond-hat wearing college students were dropped off by a bus in a frigid parking lot in Pennsylvania
I quickly got into my parents' car, thankful that the heat was working. "How was your trip?" they asked, "and what the hell is that on your head?"