The car started veering so I looked for a place to pull over— not so easy on Maxwell Main Road. Fortunately there was a wide sidewalk in front of one house so I drove onto it and got out to look at the damage.
What had I hit? It could have been a deep pothole, a high curb or small wall that started suddenly after a driveway. At any rate, the rim was bent and the tire flat.
Driving along the coast roads in Barbados is always a challenge. They are two lane, and rarely is there a space to park, leading many to simply stop— to buy coconut water, a sno-cone, some vegetables from a stand, or to chat to someone they know— blocking traffic. The ZR vans will stop anywhere to pick up passengers, even reversing to call out to someone they’ve seen walking down a feeder street.
Not that traffic is moving quickly at the best of times. The pavement is patched and potholed, and metal access covers are rarely level with the rest of the road. Pulling into the opposite lane to pass a stopped vehicle needs to be done quickly, with fingers crossed that there isn’t a deep obstruction on the other side.
There are some excellent roads in Barbados, of course. Once you get off the harbour in Bridgetown many roads are smooth and modern, and the ABC highway is mostly 4 lane, with efficient roundabouts at intersections.
When we finally leased a car, after 10 months of using transit and taxis, I was terrified by the roundabouts. There were a few on Vancouver Island, back in Canada, but smaller. Here, I am driving on the unfamiliar left-hand side of the road, and although there are rules for roundabouts not everyone in Barbados follows them. Cross two lanes to exit? Of course! Dead stop in one? Well why not? Signal to exit? Never!
In my opinion, Bajan drivers are the most courteous I’ve ever seen. Horns are used to say thank you, to alert pedestrians that the car is approaching, to catch the attention of a friend or relative, but never in anger. Even if someone has stopped without warning, or is slowly backing into a parking space, no one honks.
Right of way is never taken for granted, and the car with it is as likely to stop, to let someone turn or come in off a side road, as to use it. A quick toot or flashing of headlights lets you know that they are ceding their right to you. One day the main road traffic light was out (the only one between Oistins and Bridgetown) and even with three right turn lanes traffic was moving quicker than when the light is functioning! Bajans are used to lining up and taking turns.
When I was still only occasionally renting a car, I laughed at the Bajan reaction to driving in the rain. I’m from the West Coast of Canada; rain only slows us down if the road is washed out. Here, cars travel excruciatingly slow, if at all, often with flashers on. My amusement disappeared when I actually had to do it. The condition of the roads mean that what looks like a thin puddle may really be two feet deep. The water hides the hazards, which may be pre-existing or formed from the sudden torrential downpour. Wipers can’t keep up.
For such a small country, it is surprisingly easy to get lost. Residential neighbourhoods are mazes designed to discourage through traffic. What shows on the map as a highway often looks more like the track through a farmer’s field, particularly on the East Coast. Although we downloaded the offline map of Barbados, many businesses are not on it. Google’s directions have told us to go the wrong way down a one way street, continue straight through stone walls (yes, more than once), and on one memorable occasion indicated I should go cross country through a gully to reach the address I wanted! Now when someone describes how to get to their place I listen carefully, instead of tuning our and thinking I’ll put it into Google later.
After 6 months of having a car, I’m used to driving here. I’m getting better at backing into parking spots and have mastered the multi-lane roundabouts. I know where the worst potholes are on my usual routes, and which Google Map directions are definitely wrong.
But I’m still glad it’s a rental.