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Relax, Mon!
By Rob Bloom

I'm sitting on a beach in Barbados. I'd give you my precise whereabouts, but I really have no idea where Barbados is. All I know is that, about a year and a half ago, my wife and I entered a contest from one of the several gazillion wedding-planning magazines that had swallowed our apartment. And we won.

By 'winning', I mean I mailed in a postcard with our name, address, phone number, hobbies, credit history, food allergies, turn-ons, and favorite Xanadu song -- officially guaranteeing a lifetime supply of junk catalogs, time share offers and free address labels with cheesy illustrations of teddy bears.

So we won (probably because we were the only ones who entered) a free trip to Barbados! The good news was delivered very enthusiastically by a very enthusiastic woman named Jane who spoke in very short, very enthusiastic sentences.

Jane: Mr. Bloom!
Me: Yes.
Jane: This is Jane! From the Barbados Tourism Authority! You've won a trip for two! To Barbados!
Me: Where's Barbados?

I welcomed the news of our big win. Months of agonizing over monumental wedding decisions like invitation font size, program ribbon color, and the weight of the ring pillow had turned my brain into a plate of canapés, which as any civilized wedding planner will tell you, is absolutely dreadful. Combine that with a damn depressing bank account, sparring in-laws and rumors of layoffs at my job, and the result was a steady diet of Advil and Tums. Bottom line was I needed to relax.

We received our itinerary a few days before we left and it was clear that Jane tried to cut costs wherever possible. Not that I blame her. Her company was, after all, giving away a free trip to a tropical island to a schlub who didn't even know where that island was. So to save pennies Jane booked us on not one, not two, but three flights on Air Jamaica, the only airline I know that offers its passengers complimentary (and unlimited!) beer, rum and wine.

Ah yes, Air Jamaica, where every question and/or concern is addressed with two simple words: Relax, Mon!

Your flight is delayed and you're worried about missing your connection? RELAX, MON!
The vomit bag you've been provided isn't large enough? RELAX, MON!
The pilot had a bit too much rum punch and is sitting on all fours with his head sticking out the cockpit window? RELAX, MON!

Six hours or four months in "Nausea Time" later, we landed at the Barbados airport, a building that fails to see the usefulness in silly things like doors and walls. And after waiting two hours for our bags ("Sean, the bag unloader, is at lunch. Relax, Mon!"), we left the airport and stepped onto Barbados soil.

First impressions? Hot. Really hot. Even the mosquitoes were sweating. Hotter than it was five seconds ago. And what's with that smell?!?

We enlisted the services of a taxi driver named Barnes to take us to our hotel. Barnes had lived on the island his entire life and was quite the source of helpful insider information.

Me: Can you recommend any restaurants?
Barnes: Oh yes! Many good restaurants, Mon.
Me: Which ones?
Barnes: All of them, Mon. You be welcome at them all.
Me: OK. Any places we should avoid?
Barnes: Any of them will welcome you. They all good, Mon.

My wife and I agreed that Zagats could use a guy like Barnes. We arrived at our hotel room, which had a gorgeous view of the beach. Unfortunately that was the painting hanging over the bed. Our actual view was of an abandoned fort that had been occupied by British soldiers in the 1800s. It was now being used by several nice young ladies in tight mini-skirts and tighter blouses who were in the field of… um… let's just say "personal fulfillment".

Finally we hit the beach, where I curled up with a guidebook to learn more about the island. Keeping one eye on a crab that was trying to mate with our Dasani bottle, I read about Machineel (pronounced: "extremely dangerous") trees. For those of you who don't know, Machineel trees are found all over the island and apparently contain a funky poison. Seriously. When exposed to this oozing goo, people break out in gigantic, pus-filled boils. Again, I'm being serious…I don't joke about boils. Goo, yes; but never boils. Anyway, you're safe as long as you don't go near these trees. By "near," I mean at least 5,000 feet. Oh and whatever you do (and this is important) do not UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES read any articles about Machineel trees. Oops -- too late. Sorry. Should itching or flaking occur, immediately soak yourself in a large tub of oatmeal.


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