Lessons Learned from Living on an Island

Before moving to the Caribbean island I had no idea what to expect. Warm weather, the sea and days relaxing on the beach, obviously, but I had no idea just how life changing it can be to immerse yourself in island living. It has shifted my perspective on reality and I am determined to incorporate the life lessons I’ve learned for the rest of my life.

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wave Island time is a real and inherent thing that you will come to love if you choose to study on an island. As you embrace this concept of time, the stress and anxiety begin to fade and you finally begin to take in the life that you’re living. Time will no longer be the dictator of your life. It will be replaced by human contact, relationship, and experiencing the beauty in each day.

wave To quote Karen Blixen, whose pen name was Isak Dinesen: “the cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” This quote could not have more meaning than it does in Barbados. No matter where you are, the salty water of the Caribbean Sea is only a short walk away and it truly is a cure for anything. Breathing in the pure, clean air and letting your body be enveloped by the calm water makes you feel rejuvenated and alive. Not to mention – the sea is the perfect cure for a hangover after one too many rum punches.

wave Family is everything and the people living on the island know this. In Canada, we are growing farther and farther apart from our families. Parents work on holidays and Sundays are no longer a day of rest. One of the most beautiful things I noticed about Barbados was how family oriented everyone seemed to be. On a Sunday, when everything shuts down, you will find the beaches and parks packed with generations of families picnicking together. If you want to learn how to picnic, hang out with the Bajans.

wave Life is all about balance and this is something I truly came to learn and embrace while I was studying in Barbados. There is a time to work, a time to play, and a time to relax and we need all three of those to live our lives to the fullest. Life is not meant to work, sleep and repeat, and in our Western culture this is often what happens, with excuses of being tired, having no time, and not having enough money.  Money does not equal happiness and it is necessary to live a life that balances work, play and relaxation. Trust me, once you learn that all three are needed, you’ll understand that it is truly what will bring the most out of your life.

Whether we live on an island or as far away as the prairies of Alberta, we can still use these ideas about life to increase our own happiness and improve the way that we live our lives.

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Tobago: The Postcard Perfect Island

I’ve got a bit of a long one for you today, so pour yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine, kick back and dive in.

The first thing I noticed about Tobago was the heat. The sun felt hotter and the air thicker. After the hustle and bustle of Trinidad, coming back to a small and slow-paced island was a breath of fresh air and we melted into it easily. Tobago exudes a relaxed atmosphere of island living; time moved slower, smiles were more common and everyone that passed us by were extremely friendly, always wishing us a great stay.

In true islander fashion, we spent a lot of our time baking in the sun at Pigeon Point. A $20TT admission fee, Pigeon Point is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. I say this a lot, about everything. Every day is the best day ever when I’m traveling and every beach is the most beautiful beach I’ve seen, but this one truly takes the cake. Having given our fee we began the walk towards the main beach, walking through more palm trees than I have ever seen in one place.

Everywhere you look in Tobago you see a landscape that should be on a postcard. Or a painting. The beauty of it all hardly seems real — until you’re brought back to reality when the water hits your toes. The beaches are filled with palm trees and the sand is white and so soft, perfect to settle down on with your beach towel, good company and fresh local fruits.

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Like any beach in the Caribbean, you’ll encounter the men hustling for jet ski rides, banana boats, glass bottom boat trips and excursions to buccoo reef, nylon pool and dolphin watching. If you’re interested, don’t settle for the first offer. Ask around and see where you can get the best price for your experience. When the sun became too hot to stand, we cooled off in the sea, lounging in the shallows.

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Amenities at Pigeon Point close at 5pm, but beach goers are more than welcome to stay as late as they want. If you’re a lover of sunsets be sure to stay until 6pm when the sun begins to slip behind the surface, turning the sky a brilliant shades of peach.

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If you tire of the lazy beach bum life, there are a lot of activities being offered that should definitely not be missed. My only regret is not doing more tours of different parts of the island and not having an underwater camera for this entire Caribbean trip. Rookie mistake. We opted for just one tour, of buccoo reef and the nylon pool. Aboard a glass bottom boat with a roof for sun worshiping, our guides took us out to sea to buccoo reef, an easily accessible 7 square kilometer coral reef that is bursting with color.

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On the glass bottom boat you have the option of admiring the various coral and fish from inside, peering through the glass beneath you, or you can strap on a snorkel and take the plunge — I don’t have to tell you which we chose. The only downside to this tour was that you were limited in where you can snorkel, having to stay within a certain range of the boat. As we think we’re mermaids as soon as our skin hits the water, we found our guides continuously calling us in closer when we strayed too far. Once everyone had seen their fill of the buccoo reef, we hopped aboard and continued on to the nylon pool.

In the middle of the sea is the nylon pool, an unusually shallow area made up of ground white coral where the vibrant water barely reaches past your knees. The ground coral bottom makes for an excellent natural exfoliant and rumour has it that the waters have healing and rejuvenating properties that will bless anyone who swims in it (and keep you ageless!) If you really want to test the myths of the nylon pool, be sure to kiss your loved one…beneath the water! They say that a kiss underwater in the nylon pool will guarantee a marriage that lasts forever. While I can’t guarantee either of these things publicly, go ahead and test it out for yourselves and let me know if you experience any of the magic.

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Sadly the clouds rolled in just as we were having our photo taken.

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And reappeared just before leaving to show us the true brilliance of the colors!

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On Living, Learning and Leaving

Time moves at a different pace when your senses are being stimulated by all the wonders that the world has to offer. Home feels stagnant; there is a desperation to continue living a life that is elsewhere. The mystery of the earth and all that creates it pulls me from home time and time again. This time, I was pulled when I least expected it, to a place I had never dreamed of experiencing.

Uprooting in the middle of my final year of my degree, I boarded a plane and stepped out onto a Caribbean island, determined to create a life for myself during the following four months that I would call Barbados home.

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Not two hours into my arrival and my flip flops were in hand, my feet burying themselves into the white sand only five minutes from my hall of residence. It’s true that once your soul meets the sea it can never be forgotten. It took nearly thirteen years to see the vast beauty of the ocean after having been introduced to the sea in my first year of life and I believe that all that time, it was what my soul was searching for. Ever since, I am drawn to parts of the world where the waves hit the shore.

Needless to say, having the Caribbean Sea at my doorstep made me the happiest girl in the world.

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Life on the island was a simple one with sunshine that turned my hair shades of blonde, sand that found it’s way into every crevice of my belongings, and sea water that embraced us all with open arms. With rarely a frown, the only things escaping from our lips were songs, stories, and continuous laughter that can only be expelled when you’re constantly experiencing new and wondrous moments.

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Instant friends were made and together we explored the island from sunrise to sunset, never a space in between. We climbed through caves to hidden pools that looked out over the sea, we hiked through the countryside, we took our best shot at learning to whine with friends who called the Caribbean home, we mastered the bus system and we sat in circles around beach bonfires, singing songs and sharing coconuts.

I had the opportunity to spend my days working with some of the poorest people on the island with risky lifestyles. Despite going in there with the intention of creating positive change and increasing their chances for opportunity, I came out having been taught more than I ever could have imagined. I entered their community as a stranger but was quickly dubbed one of their own, a humbling feeling that I will forever be grateful for.

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Barbados began as a comparison to travel I had done in the past but I quickly realized that studying abroad could never be compared to that type of travel. I wasn’t a backpacker flitting through. I became a student and a resident and, in doing so, I was awarded all that Barbados had to offer — the good and the ugly. It wasn’t sugar coated by being hidden in the confines of a resort or a day off the cruise ship. I witnessed rugged, untouched beauty of the island, witnessed raw suffering from those who felt comfortable to share their stories, and the non-discriminatory kindness of the people.

Time moves at a different pace. Two weeks can feel like months and yet months in Barbados flew by like days.

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This has been a lesson in how I want to live my life, which direction I want to take. I lived with my entire being, every inch of my heart and soul has been put into these last five months and I have reaped the rewards. I have created a lifetime of lasting memories, conquered fears, and created friendships with people all around the world. It’s made me realize that I am at the perfect moment of my life, no longer a student and not yet tied into a career, to shape my future in any way I dream of. While it’s bittersweet to say goodbye, it has renewed my curiosity and drive to adventure, to experience the world in many ways from many places.

Pirate’s Bay, Tobago

We spent two days road-tripping around the island, getting used to driving on the opposite side of the road and slowly getting comfortable with the narrow and winding roads. From the south of the island we followed the road along the east coast with the Atlantic as our view. After stopping at Argyle Falls we headed on to Charlotteville, with a few more picture stops along the way.

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Charlotteville is a small fishing village on the north coast of the island. Colorful homes perch upon the lush mountains that surround it and groups of locals lime over Carib near the beach. A charming village with friendly people, our main reason for stopping by was to make our way to Pirate’s Bay.

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Be warned, do not try to drive there! It is much easier (and safer!) to park the car at the sign and make the walk down the narrow road. The road begins just fine but quickly transforms into a nightmare of an extremely narrow dirt road with rocks jutting out, barely enough room for once car and a terrifying drop off the cliff to the sea below.

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We realized this too late and were left with no choice but to continue on until we found a bigger spot to turn around. After safely making our way off the road (minus the scratches to the car that happened from getting too close to the rock face), we headed back the way we came on foot. At the end of the narrow road and down about 155 steps lined with palm trees, you will come out to a secluded and beautiful bay.

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Pirate’s Bay is a secluded beach nestled in the hills. While there is a rustic washroom available, there is little else in the way of amenities, so be sure to bring some water and snacks if you plan to spend the day. Because it can be difficult to reach (about 15-20 minutes walk from Charlotteville — there’s a great ice cream shop just before the road leading to the bay.. try the peanut!), we had the bay almost entirely to ourselves, with no more than a small handful of people.

If you like to snorkel there is some good underwater activity happening at the rocky area on the left hand side of the beach with lots of fishies to be seen. If you’re looking for some beach fun, there’s a tire swing hanging from a tree that we couldn’t resist! A beautiful bay with soft sand, calm water and a great landscape, it also makes for a great sunset spot.

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Sunday Snapshot: Barbados Sunset

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This photo was taken on one of my first nights on exchange, sitting on Paradise Beach with a group of new friends from around the world, excited about our new beginning on the island. Sitting on this beach watching the sunset with those friends is one of my most cherished memories from my time in Barbados. Plus, we were awarded with sunsets that look more like paintings.