When I was a child, I stood on the cracked floor of this derelict olympic-sized swimming pool. I was with my mother, my father and my sister. From our Rockley Beach hotel we had driven to the northern tip of the island for the afternoon. That moment, that place, and that pool has haunted me ever since.
Mystery surrounds this hotel. No-one seems to know who owned it or why it was built in such an isolated area. Barbados’ north coast is wild, rugged and windswept. Here’s a photo of that same swimming pool in its heyday.
Over Christmas we escaped to Barbados and discovered paradise. I have perfect recall of the Air Canada DC-8 jet, gleaming white on the tarmac, and me stepping out of it. I can still feel the trade winds caressing my cold-chapped skin as I descended the metal staircase. It was a day before my tenth birthday and we had travelled to this sun-drenched little isle for the holidays. Speeding along the littoral road, we caught sight of the sea and gaped like country bumpkins out on a day trip. The island sky was vast with bold cloudscapes, and there was a glittering brightness in the air.
The Sweet Life was a plantation-style guesthouse with a frangipani tree gracing its front lawn. From our rooms we threw open the shutters and gazed onto a garden brimming with fruit trees. Gecko-lizards flickered across pathways and vanished into the jungle-like undergrowth. Intoxicated by the perfume and the heat, we shed our clothes and ran to frolic on the sands of Rockley Beach.
Bajan boys, shimmying nimbly up the trunks of coconut trees, slashed open the giant shells and offered us the water to drink. I had never seen a fresh coconut before. I had never seen a black person before. That evening we feasted on jug jug and spicy fishcakes while a steel band playing tinny music plinkety-plinked beside a pool. Drunk on the voluptuousness of the tropics and too many rum punches, Dad joined the limbo-dancing contest on the beach and wrenched his back. The next day he lay subdued under a fig tree while my mother, sister and I went into town to find me a birthday cake.
In bustling Bridgetown a new language floated in the air. We heard the Bajan dialect spoken by the citizens, their lilting voices mingling with the smells and sounds of the marketplace. The next day we rented a sun moke and roamed the northernmost tip of the island. There was a cliff hotel, its setting dramatic but eerie, as Atlantic waves crashed violently onto the rocks below. We stood on the floor of the empty swimming pool, then roamed the neglected property. A compass rose was etched into the crumbling patio tiles near the abandoned bar. Despite the heat we felt chilled. Imagining the ghosts of former guests to be present, we could almost hear the chatter of voices and the clink of ice cubes in glasses as they sat in lounge chairs playing Mah Jong and sunning themselves like sleek, contented reptiles. Shivering, we returned to Rockley Beach and hurled ourselves at the waves.
Two weeks later the DC-8 jet lifted off with a powerful thrust. Within seconds we were aloft, northbound to our snow-blanketed Canadian tundra. With the sound of Calypso music ringing in our ears, we quit paradise.
The last time I was in Barbados was with my parents in the 1990s. It’s time to go back.
I just found this video on YouTube and watched it, transfixed. It’s proof that the hotel really existed, it wasn’t just a dream.