Thorn Around the World

Barbados Darts Festival Or Bust
Three times. Three times I've tried to sneak up on the Barbados Darts Festival. The first time, I missed by two months. My August cruise was nowhere near the November event, but with some advice from John Lowe himself, I hoped to find the venue and play some legs. The second time, I almost nailed it-my ship landed a day before the festival began, a day after a hurricane glanced the island. I managed to find the Ship Inn, the venue, and Michael Heal, the director, but the visit was too brief and he was busy with storm repairs. This is the story of my third try.

After a dozen days crossing the Atlantic on a dartboard-less cruise boat-with equally oche-less stops in The Canary Islands, St. Martin, and Antigua-I was increasingly stricken with dart-withdrawal. I knew our last port, Barbados, was my best chance to begin with-it's a popular spot for the British, more populated and modern than other Caribbean islands. Plus, I knew where some boards were hiding, at the Ship Inn in St. Lawrence Gap, again the main venue of the 2011 Barbados Darts Festival. But, this time, I was docking a day too late.

A week earlier, emailing from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, I contacted Michael Heal, the BDF director, and tried to arrange another rendezvous-with hopes of meeting 2011 celebrity host Wayne Mardle this time as well. Maybe they would have some free time, the day after the event ended. Alas, Michael replied he, Wayne and the last of the participants were flying out on planes the same time my ship was pulling in. For the third time, I was foiled before I even set foot in Bridgetown, the capital.
This fifteen day cruise would turn out to be the longest stretch of dartless days I'd had in years. It's a good thing I had so many fun new friends and amazing places to see.
So, for the first time, I decided to finally take a day tour of Barbados-seeing the nature and culture-instead of desperately looking for dartboards.

My international circle of friends joined me, and we soon had our own driver and minivan, whisking us around the island. Along beaches and for some buildings, there was still evidence of Hurricane George from a year before. We saw the agricultural side of life, winding up the gentle jungle hills, passing colorful homes and people caught in a snapshot of their daily lives. I enjoyed a Banks-Barbados' version of another wonderful Caribbean lager-after we reached a vista and mandatory tourist trap, offering simultaneous views of the Atlantic and Caribbean. Then, we rolled back down to Bridgetown, to a monument I recognized. There, we thanked the driver with a tip and our group decided to divide up-some wanted to shop and stroll the streets, while my Dutch buddy Joyce and I tried to find another stretch of sand for our last two hours on land. Of course, I was also hoping to stumble across a new pub with a dartboard.

We found ourselves at the beach by a bar called Harbor Lights, a sprawling indoor and outdoor rustic party club. Again, the weather was cool and cloudy and snorkeling wasn't good, so I decided to just sit and relax with a bucket of Banks, enjoying the air, view, and people watching. Meanwhile, Joyce decided to take a quick tour, hitching a jet ski ride to dive with sea turtles-something I'd done many times before in Hawaii for free, and couldn't bring myself to pay for. An hour later she returned, striding up the beach, overjoyed as anyone with her first sea turtle encounter. She shared her pictures, and we both enjoyed the last of my bucket of Banks.

Back on the ship, it was starting to feel like "all good things must come to an end". We had one more sea day before arriving in Colon, Panama, at the eastern end of the famous canal, and our final stop. Even so, the mood was more festive than ever-new friends were making the most of their last night's mutual vacation-eating, talking, dancing, playing, partying, and drinking their fill. I made sure to grab some memorable shots of my new friends-like the adorable couple of Swiss ex-pats, the Swedish newlyweds that got married in Barbados, my gal pals from England and Holland, my buddies from Canada and Israel, a German couple planning to bicycle South America, and my Uruguayo amigo who won the 'World's Sexiest Man' contest. And so many others.from Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Russia, the USA, and on and on.

I watched the moon rise that night in full glory over the sea. Once again, we got to turn back our clocks as we entered a new time zone. The next day was perfect for rainbows, and everyone watched for dolphins. After dinner, I wasn't alone watching the final purple-orange sunset from the upper deck. Everyone would enjoy themselves until the wee hours on our last night aboard.
Tomorrow, we would arrive in Panama. And, my world-traveling steel tips and I would have a month to search for sisal in Central America.

You won't believe the dart tales I still have to tell.

Over and double out.

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