I don't know how much you know about Bermuda. Probably not a lot, unless you live there or have been there. Most people I know get it mixed up with Barbados or the Bahamas (including me) and in fact, until May this year, I didn't know where on earth it was. Just that sometimes boats disappear near it, and y'know, there are lots of shorts.
Luckily, travelling helps you learn stuff. So here for your viewing/learning pleasure, are 36 facts about Bermuda that I learned from the locals* while I was there last week.
*Locals include Cal and Frank the cab drivers, my friend Thomas who lives there, and Ron the Crystal Caves tour guide.
1.) Bermuda (or The Bermudas) is an archipelago made up of over 130 islands. The large ones are connected by road. Some of the smaller ones are privately owned. The smallest are just big enough to land a rowboat on.
2.) Bermuda is 21 miles long and 1 mile wide. There are 3 main roads that traverse the whole island - North Shore Road, Middle Road and South Road.
3.) There's no Starbucks on Bermuda, nor will you spy the golden arches. The island is refreshingly free of chain stores/restaurants. You'll see a KFC in the capital, Hamilton. But that's it. Oh, and an M&S. And there's Waitrose own brand food in the supermarkets. Everything else is a Bermuda original.
4.) Between 20,000 and 30,000 feral chickens roam the island. You'll see them wandering around parks and hanging out at the side of the road. They're all very handsome chickens too - lots of proud strutting and plumed feathers.
5.) New York City is only 90 minutes away by plane. London is 8 hours away.
6.) The Bermuda Dollar is the official currency of Bermuda, but the US Dollar is widely accepted - by which I mean that I paid with US Dollars everywhere I went and there was nowhere that did not accept them. The two are 1:1, so a lot of them time I got my change in Bermuda Dollars. The coins look a lot like Sterling because of the Queen's head being on them.
7.) The Queen is the head of state of Bermuda. She appoints a Governor to represent her. He lives in a big house on a hill. It's a very sought after job. There's a giant ye olde worlde style portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the arrivals lounge at Bermuda Airport. It sort of makes you feel like you'bve stepped back in time.
8.) Speaking of the airport - it's little, and on a spit of land between two bigger islands. Flying in feels like you might miss the landing strip - but the view is good. Flying out is a much simpler affair than flying from Heathrow. Like a good girl, I arrived 3 hours before the flight. You do not need 3 hours, you need about 25 minutes. There was a lot of waiting. Quickest and most simple navigation through check-in and security of my travelling life. You can however, buy rum cake and er, rum at the airport. So that takes up some time.
9.) Rum needs to be mentioned - it's a Big Deal on Bermuda. Gosling's Black Seal dark rum is THE rum you'll be drinking. At The Royal Naval Dockyards you'll find the rum cake factory, where you can sample all the different flavours on the counter for free before you buy. My favourites were chocolate and coconut. The cakes come in small, medium and large sizes. The rum is added neat after baking - it's a pretty potent cake experience.
10.) Bermuda has two national cocktails. There's the Dark N Stormy (which you can get absolutely everywhere and is popular at happy hours round the island) which contains dark rum and ginger ale, and the Rum Swizzle, which contains a lot of stuff that I couldn't keep track of after I had ONE and then fell sideways into a bush on the way home. Thomas told me that Harry's bar in Hamilton does the best cocktails on the island and while I can't claim to have been EVERYWHERE, I will say that they were certainly the best (and strongest) of any I tried.
11.) Tree frogs are really, really hard to spot.* But after dark or after a rainstorm, their musical sound is everywhere, and its LOUD. It's quite difficult to get used to the wall of frog sound when you first arrive but once you do, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. Number 1 thing I miss since coming back to south London with it's signature night time siren sounds.
*I peered into a lot of trees looking for them. No luck. Noone I spoke to has ever seen one either (I did see a Giant Toad but it was unfortunately squashed).
12.) The houses on Bermuda are brightly coloured. It is like a real estate rainbow. A lot of the churches, while traditional in shape, are neon in colour.
13.) There are more churches per capita on Bermuda than on any oceanic island. Cremation is illegal here - they don't want the chemicals and fumes. Instead, people are buried six feet under in wooden coffins.
14.) Roofs are slanted and whitewashed, forming bright triangle shapes against the skyline. They are designed to collect rainwater, which is stored in a tank underneath the house. It undergoes a filtration process and in this way, every house has their own underground water supply.
15.) Hurricane Gonzalo and Hurricane Fay, which hit in the same week in October 2014 were the first hurricanes to hit Bermuda since Hurricane Fabian in 2003. Thanks to good planning, nobody lost a life. Lots of giant trees were ripped out of the ground at the roots though, and standing next to one is a bit of a mindblowing experience - because the roots are HUGE. There have been a lot of hurricanes in Bermuda history. If you go to the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo in Flatts Village, you can see a timeline of Bermuda history, portions of which just say things like 1609 - Hurricane. 1613 - Hurricane. 1627 - Another hurricane.
16.) October/November is when avocados would be in fruit on the trees in Bermuda. But they all got blown away by Hurricane Gonzalo this year. 'Or as I like to call it, Hurricane Godzilla' - Ron the Crystal Caves tour guide
17.) Gibbs Hill Lighthouse sits high on a hill in Warwick Parish, towards the south side of the island. It is frequently billed online and in the guide books as the oldest cast iron lighthouse in the world, but is it? I love a lighthouse, so I visited and was disappointed to learn from the man in the gift shop that there may be an older cast iron lighthouse in Wales. I laughed, because I'd been in Wales the previous week and Wales has all the old stuff in it, doesn't it? The man asked me if I was Welsh. I kind of am, so I said yes. Gibbs Hill Lighthouse has 185 steps to the top, and there's an awesome view, even if you don't climb them all.
18.) I walked to the outskirts of the city of Hamilton to visit the statue of Johnny Barnes, because I had heard that he is Bermuda's unofficial ambassador, otherwise known as Mr Happy or The Happy Man. Apparently he stands at the foot of the road into Hamilton every morning between 4am and 10am and waves to commuters. He's been doing it since the 80's and now he's got his own statue. I had a debate with Thomas about whether he's still alive - Wikipedia tells me he is and can still be found spreading the joy every morning. You can buy a hand-sewn Johnny Barnes doll for $35 at the craft market at the Royal Naval Dockyards.
19.) St George, at the east end of Bermuda was the capital until 1815, when Hamilton took over. The town of St George is the oldest continuously inhabited town of English origin in the Western Hemisphere, founded in 1612.
20.) You've heard of Gaudi's Unfinished Cathedral in Barcelona right? There's an Unfinished Cathedral in Bermuda, too. It's in St Georges, on a hill, looking spooky and like it might be majestic if it had actually been finished. There's no sign, no plaque, no information board - no explanation at all as to why it's there. It's just sitting in someone's front garden, quietly falling down. The inside is cordoned off but you can walk around the outside, between the palm trees that line it's walls.
21.) You can't hire a car as a visitor to Bermuda. You can get a taxi, a bus or a ferry and I tried all of these but by far my favourite way to get about was by scooter. You can hire a scooter and as a visitor, you do not need a licence to do so. You don't even need to have rented a scooter before. I used Smatts Cycle Livery Ltd in Hamilton and they were really friendly and gave us a mini scooter lesson before we drove off. I only nearly drove into a wall once and it was a useful lesson to have. Once you have your scooter, the entire island is your oyster. Hire scooters have different licence plates to owned ones, so the locals tend to know if you're a visitor and will give you directions if you look lost, etc.
22.) The roads on Bermuda are pretty much the same as in the UK, except simplified, because there's less of them. The rules of the road are the same and Bermudians even drive on the left, so if you're used to UK roads then you're sorted. The only difference is that the metric system is used - so you drive in Km/H instead of Mph.
23.) Bermudian drivers like to honk their horns, a LOT. If you're a Londoner like me, you'll immediately assume they are being aggressive, or that something is wrong, like you have a brake light out or your skirt is tucked into your knickers. This may be so. HOWEVER, honking on Bermuda is not a sign of aggression - it is like saying hello. The locals tend to all know each other so they'll merrily drive along honking at all their friends and neighbours. Oh, and they'll honk at you too, whether you be scooter rider or pedestrian. Because they're nice. So you can honk back, or wave or whatever.
24.) Also, always say good morning or good afternoon or hi nice to see you when you meet someone in the street or in a shop or, anywhere at all actually. The guidebooks will tell you this, because all of Bermuda is really REALLY friendly. If you're a bit cynical like me you'll think 'oh yeah, we'll see shall we' and then promptly ignore everyone. Typical Londoner. But actually, it's true. Everyone does say hi to one another. It may feel a bit alien if you're a grumpy British person at first but it grows on you. I was having full blown conversations with people by the end of my trip. And I'm the most grumpy, insular British person of all. It was nice. I resolve to do it all the time from now on.
25.) The official language of Bermuda is English. You'll hear a nice mix of British, American, Canadian and Caribbean accents as you travel around the islands. A local accent may sound like a mixture of all of these rolled into one voice.
26.) Bermuda Shorts are a Thing, as you'd imagine. They are somewhat formal looking shorts for men that stop just before the knee and are traditionally smartly ironed and pressed with a nice crease down the front. You wear them with knee high cricket socks (the more brightly coloured the better, apparently) and smart shoes, like loafers. And a jacket and tie. They are good for the office, the beach, a stroll or for playing golf.
27.) Golf is a big deal on Bermuda. For such a small island, there are a lot of golf courses. In fact, Bermuda has the most golf courses per capita than anyplace in the world. I am no good at golf but I did play Bermuda Fun Golf which is located at the Royal Naval Dockyards, right by the ocean. In fact, if you are particularly bad at fun golf, your ball will end up in the ocean. There are 18 holes split into three groups of 6 and each group is laid out in a trail that will bring you right back to the bar. Tipsy golf is the best type of golf.
28.) The islands are coral covered and coral surrounded and like many oceanic islands, Bermuda used to be a volcano. It is now extinct (not dormant - thankfully!)
29.) The weather is typically very humid in summer and in fact, it was still mid-70's warm and so humid that my camera lens steamed up while I was there in the first week of November. This meant that we could go to an outdoor Halloween party (upside) but you know, lots of sweat and hair stuck to face (downside). One of the locals told me during one of these mid 70's days that this sort of temperature was quite cold for Bermuda. I expressed surprise and he said 'we don't really have a winter here. Maybe a little bit, in January, but that's it'. I immediately wanted to move to Bermuda permanently.
30.) My friend Emmy sent me a message asking me what the jerk chicken was like. I remembered the FIRST THING that Cal, who picked me up from the airport had told me when I arrived - Bermuda is not in the Caribbean. The locals really dislike it when you tell them that it is. In fact it's several hundred miles north of the Caribbean. The cuisine is typically lots of seafoody things and oh MY - some of the best sushi I've ever had.
31.) Far north of the Caribbean sea though it may be, Bermuda has beautiful translucent water and amazing pink sand. I know this bit sounds like I'm a guidebook but it's actually true. I have never seen water or sand like that. Bermuda sits on the Gulf Stream, so the water is usually warm (although in November it was a bit chilly, actually) and the sand really IS pink, if you get up close to it, and look particularly near the shore line (it shows up better in wet sand). The pink sand is due to remains of tiny organisms called 'red foam' . There's also tiny broken pieces of coral mixed in.
32.) You can snorkel up to 7 miles offshore. I didn't do this but you know, you CAN. And there are lots of shipwrecks around the coastline and you can snorkel to some of them. There's a Bermuda tourist map that you can pick up in most gift shops and stores, and shipwrecks are marked on it. Fun viewing if you aspire to sail the seven seas. You can also snorkel over coral reefs that have mostly arrived over the decades from the Caribbean via the Gulf Stream.
33.) Bermuda was first discovered in 1503 by Juan de Bermudez, who wouldn't land on the island as he didn't want to sail over the hazardous looking coral reefs. Various people found the islands after him, but it was George Somers of Lyme Regis, UK who colonized Bermuda in 1609 after getting shipwrecked there in a Hurricane. All 150 people aboard his vessels were saved. The town of St George on Bermuda is twinned with Lyme Regis.
34.) A few years ago, Bermuda tried to harness wind power with wind turbines...but there wasn't enough wind. They then tried to harness the power of the tides...but the tides weren't strong enough (told to me by Cal).
35.) The population of Bermuda is 63,000 and the main industry is finance. In fact, quite an alarmingly high number of UK insurance companies are based on Bermuda.
36.) Go to The Lobster Pot for the lobster, The Beluga Bar for the sushi and Miles Market on the Pitts Bay Road for the deli counter (all three in Hamilton). The Frog & Onion pub at the Royal Naval Dockyards has a good lunchtime happy hour and even better calamari. Basically, I wish I could eat Bermuda food for the rest of my life. You won't even miss Starbucks. Yes, really.
All photographs by Christina Owen Copyright 2014