On May 17, 2014 (my 24th birthday) I woke up early in Barbados. I stepped out from under the mosquito net hanging above my host’s bed and embraced the morning sun shining through the French patio doors.

I had my whole day planned (sort of): a surf lesson at Zed’s Surfing School at 10am; a short drive to St. Lawrence Gap to check out the beach, the restaurants, and the bars; and an open-end evening to celebrate my birthday. What I couldn’t plan for was an impending car crash later in the day. What a birthday… Here’s my account of what I learned from surviving a car crash in a foreign country – and how you can do the same (if you really really have to).

Be polite

Learning to navigate a former British colony is a bit tricky. Barbados is full of narrow roads, sharp turns, potholes and confusing round-abouts. That morning my GPS system led me around in circles once I was about halfway to Surfer’s Point. I called the school to admit that I was lost and asked for directions. The girl on the phone was very patient, led me to a gas station and told me to wait there – someone in a red buggy would come find me and lead the way.

Finally I arrived at my destination, albeit a little late for my surf lesson. I joined a couple on the beach and slathered sunscreen all over myself while Junior, our instructor, gave us basic directions. A few minutes later we paddled away from the rocky shore towards three-foot beginner waves. With Junior’s technique and his jolly encouragement, I rode four waves that day for the first time in my life. What an excellent birthday so far!

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Know the right people

Afterwards, I was left alone on the beach to ponder and relax. I sat on a reclining chair and stared out at Surfer’s Point, a paradise beach. The long lime green palms reminded me of Miami, my home. I noticed a tall powerful girl paddle-boarding towards the shore. Once she settled in, she sat down next to me and we introduced ourselves. Sarah from Seattle visits Barbados quite often. She said she was in the middle of a month-long stay and gave me advice on things to do solo, as well as what not to do. On my way out of Zed’s Surfing School, I also gathered tips from one of the girls at the front desk about which part of a cliff to dive off of at a beach called Shark’s Hole. Turns out, if you don’t know the right people, it helps to be grateful for every helpful stranger.

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Have your documents ready

Halfway to St. Lawrence Gap, I realized that I left my Florida driver’s license and my Barbados driving permit back at the house. Upon this realization I told myself to make it back before dark in case I get pulled over. On my way home I missed my left turn onto Dover Rd, and I pulled into a drive-thru in order to turn back onto the main street. I edged towards the road, as you do with any regular turn, except in Barbados you have to cross traffic to turn right. I looked left, I looked right, I looked left again, and I hit it. In a moment I had crashed into the bumper of a Zed-R . Asking my friend who works for scrap car disposal in Perth taught me that these taxi vans are notorious for high speeds and abrupt stops. So this kind of thing happens a lot.

So, if you don’t have your documents ready, start praying, and go along with whatever the authorities require. This being my very first car accident, I drove my poor rental into a drive-thru across the street. The Zed-R driver then yelled at me, because cars involved in a crash should not be moved before the police arrive. As images of a jail cell and tons of wasted money ran through my mind, I watched twelve British men and women pile out of the Zed-R and hop straight into another as it pulled up next to them – lucky buggers.

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Stay calm and roll with the punches

All I could think of is: how do I get in touch with Mark, who rented me this car which he got after checking the schadeverleden auto via https://www.autoverleden.nl/, and, how do I explain to the police why I don’t have my driver’s permit or license? I managed to get Mark’s number from my host’s friend – he tells me he’s on his way. For the next twenty minutes I stood under a palm’s shadow with a wet towel wrapped around my waist, just waiting for the police to arrive, and having no clue what to expect.

All of a sudden, Sarah from Seattle turned up in a yellow Moke with some guys she met at the beach. She told me to stay calm, respect the police and give them all the information they ask for.

Mark arrived at the same time as two policemen in starched blue uniforms. He talked to them before they came to me to write down my statement. At first they demanded that I pick up my license and permit and return to the station to show them. But after a few more minutes of persuasion from Mark, they accepted his copy of my permit.

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Move on and enjoy the rest of your trip

I can’t further explain the conditions that came together to allow me to walk out of that situation alive and well. “These things happen,” is what I heard over and over, even from the drivers after they relaxed. No one was hurt, either. I followed Mark halfway home in my poor dented rental, where we dropped it off with someone who would take it to a shop. Mark then drove me the rest of the way, where I, a little shaken, remained for the night – that is, until the sun rose the next morning over glorious Barbados.

A new day had come.


This is a guest post by Emilia Navarro, a freelance writer who blogs about her own adventures on Habit of Thought. You can also follow her on Facebook.