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Booted off the bus to Bridgetown

By roving hack Ignatius Rake

Posted March 08, 2012
I 'ate you, Butler! A state-owned bus heads to Speightstown. © Ignatius Rake

Dub reggae, inverted racism and vibrating buttocks are just some of the things you can enjoy on a Barbadian bus.

There aren't many trains in Barbados.

In fact, there haven't been any since the 1930s.

Thus, if you want to get around on public transport, you've either got to build your own rail network or, more cost-effectively, take a bus.

Of this latter option, there are three types to choose from: route taxis, or ZRs as these privately-owned white minivans are more commonly known; blue single-decker coaches belonging to the state-owned Barbados Transport Board (BTB); or yellow minibuses operated by anonymous private firms.

"Don't use the yellow buses. They're not safe," an English expat I'll call Dave told me over a bottle of Banks1 in a tiny Speightstown bar.

"They're out to get every penny they can and they're in competition with each other."

This, he reckoned, can lead to overcrowding and reckless driving as they try to beat their rivals to the next bus stop and the pot of fares awaiting there.

Given that Dave had lived and worked in the Caribbean for donkey's years, I had to assume he knew his onions.

What Dave forgot to mention was the standard of customer service on these yellow buses can also be a tad rum, as I soon discovered after I bade him farewell.

Following his advice, I had tried to catch a blue bus at the nearby bus station.

However, after waiting half an hour for one that promptly buggered off the moment it arrived, I decided to chance my arm with a yellow bus parked up across the street.

After all, I had already taken two such buses to get to Speightstown in the first place and in so doing had encountered nothing of any note to get my sprouts up.

Besides, I had pressing business to attend to on the other side of Bridgetown, or B'town as the capital is often called.

Come what may, I had to get a shake on.

Away from the emmets: Speightstown ain't like the tourist south. © Ignatius Rake

"Is this bus going to Bridgetown?" I asked the driver, a large man with a balding cannonball of a head.

He was standing on the pavement, the engine of his bus silent and still.

He said nothing.

Then another yellow bus pulled up alongside and he pointed to it.

I got on, paid my B$1.50 fare (about 50 pence) and sat down.

As soon as I did this, the driver from the first bus jumped aboard and started shouting stuff in a heavy Bajan2 accent.

I didn't catch what he was bawling about other than the words "white guy".

Clearly, I was in the minority because at this point everybody else on the bus, viz the driver at the wheel and the five other passengers, including a 12-year-old boy, turned round in their seats and started screaming: "You're working!"


"You're working! You're working!" they jeered in unison.

I know I'm working.

What of it?

Perhaps it was a bus for the unemployed.

Perplexed, I continued to sit there, wondering what the f--k was going on.

As I did this, so the shouting got louder.

Then the other passengers started bouncing up and down in their seats, baring their teeth like a pack of rabid otters.

Then I sussed it.

They weren't shouting "you're working".

They were shouting "you're walking".

"Oh, I see!" I said, actually quite pleased to have worked out what all the fuss was about.

"You want me to f--k off."

"Yeah, mon! F--k off, you white c--t! You're f--king walking or I'm going to f--king kill you!" the first driver screamed, his face exploding with hate as he bounded towards me. "Get off the f--king bus, white guy!"

“Yeah, f--k off!” the 12 year-old yelled. “F--k off, white c--t!”

He was having a great time.

“Alright, keep your hair on,” I said (perhaps not the best choice of words given that the first driver was something of a slaphead).

Calmly, and probably thus winding them all up even more, I stood and slowly made my way to the door, the first driver shrieking something about “busting my ass open” as I did so.

Once off the bus, I turned and waved.

“See you in church on Sunday,” I chirped before walking off into the darkness.

It was then, and only then, that the weight of what had just happened hit me.

Not that I could blame them, mind.

Barbados, after all, is a former British colony built on the bloodied backs of African slaves forced to grow sugar under appalling conditions for a psychopathic white elite3.

A Third World country with its sugar industry in freefall, Barbados today has to sell its soul to a growing hoard of ignorant white emmets who, consciously or otherwise, expect everyone to bend over backwards to make their crappy beach holiday 'the best one yet'4.

To be honest, I was surprised something like this hadn't happened sooner.

Maybe I should have gone back to show my solidarity with them, but, like I said, I was in a bit of a hurry.

Reggae bus: ZRs in B'town. © Ignatius Rake

"Whenever I have to go to Tourist City," Dave had said, referring to the entire south of the island, "I always take a blue one if I need to go by bus."

"The drivers get paid a wage, so they're much safer."

These larger buses, though, tend not to be the fastest things on the road, with the one that finally wheeled me out of Speightstown taking more than an hour to trundle the 12 klicks to Bridgetown.

On the other hand, for anyone looking for a spot of peace and quiet they are definitely more conducive to a spot of reflection than their private sector alternatives.

The BTB, you see, forbids its drivers from blasting out reggae, ragga, dub or dancehall at industrial levels for the hard-of-hearing.

No such rules apply to ZRs.

Plying fixed routes to no fixed timetable, they are often staffed by a crew of two: a driver and a doorman, whose job it is to effectively yank you off the street whether you want a lift or not.

A case in point occurred in Oistins, slap-bang in the middle of Tourist City.

After a hard day's fortean investigation of the purportedly haunted Chase Vault5, I had made a beeline for the rejigged fish market to load up on grilled marlin, hot pepper sauce and a few bottles of Banks.

I was pondering my next move when a sudden screech of brakes heralded the arrival of a ZR skidding up before me.

"Hey, mon, get in!" the doorman hanging out the side shouted at me as though we were both being chased by the Babylon.

Before my feet had been fully whisked through the door, the engine had fired up and we were tearing it along Highway 7 at what in Barbados counts for breakneck speed.

By the time I had squeezed into a space at the back of the bus we had slammed to a halt and another two scalps were aboard.

Then another two and another two as yet more local and foreign pedestrians succumbed to the doorman's voodoo charms and bawdy patter.

As all this unfurled, so every surface in that increasingly cramped minivan shuddered and shook to the bassline pressure of Wayne Smith and his ilk.

From where I was sitting, it wasn't hard to suss where the bus's bass bins were located: three inches beneath my nipsy.

My arse didn't stop wobbling for a week.

But, man, what top tunes.


1) Bridgetown-brewed Banks is an excellent 4.7% lager thanks in no small way to the famous purity of the local water. Why not check out the Banks website (it's a bit slow to load, mind) and see if you can guess the demographic it's targeting? I'll give you clue: it ain't women.

2) 'Bajan' is the preferred local term for 'Barbadian'.

3) For more information on the history of slavery in Barbados (which initially consisted of white, mainly Irish, Scots and Westcountry, slaves and semi-slaves), you might want to click on this and this and this and this for starters.

4) Based on figures published by the Central Bank of Barbados, the typical foreign tourist in Barbados (i.e. excluding the wedge they spend outside the country on air fares, designer bikinis, stupid shorts and suitcases, etc) will spunk around £925 over the course of a single visit, or roughly one fifth of what the average Barbadian earns in a year, viz slightly under £4,700. Sixty-one per cent of this goes on accommodation. Most tourists (39%) come from the UK followed by the US (23%), with UK tourists spending nearly 30 per cent more than the mean.

Tourism these days accounts for around 14% of Barbados' real GDP while sugar contributes less than 2%. Officially acknowledged as the primary driver of the country's real GDP growth since the late 1970s, tourism currently accounts for around 54% of Barbados' total foreign exchange earnings.

Furthermore, tourism is jointly the fourth largest employer along with construction and quarrying. Its 10% share lags behind only the government (21%), general services (21%) and wholesale and retail (14%). Sugar employs 1%.

For a heck of a lot more information (and to see where most of these stats came from), have a read of An Analysis of the Tourism Sector in Barbados by DeLisle Worrell, Anton Belgrave, Tiffany Grosvenor and Alexis Lescotta, which appeared in the March 2011 issue of the Central Bank of Barbados' Economic Review. It can be freely downloaded as a PDF here.

5) For more on the Chase Vault case, see this, for example.

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