Jamaica, Antigua, Trinidad, Granada, Mustique and Saint Lucia are amongst the famed Caribbean islands where holiday-makers luxuriate on palm-fringed beaches, sipping pina-coladas topped with freshly picked pineapple and hibiscus flowers. Barbados nestles amongst them — the most visited of the Caribbean islands. Here too, exists a world of aquamarine beaches, steel bands, beautiful villas and fine dining.
What makes Barbados
Special is the ninety-eight percent literacy; a casual conversation with a coconut vendor can turn into full-blown discussion on cricket, a look-in at a rum shop could have you staying the afternoon and hearing about life in the Caribbean. The locals are not just chatty and well read but friendly, too.
On our first visit, exploring the usual highlights was heaven enough — we watched cricket at the Garrison Savannah, drove along the scenic east coast route to Bathsheba, visited the stately plantation homes and dined in the restaurants of St James parish in the west coast. The hubby golfed at Sandy Lane, and I pulled my sketchbook out at Andromeda Botanic Gardens.
Barbados, we decided, was worth returning to regularly, with its convenient flight connections, pleasant weather, locals who not only engaged but also sang and cooked beautifully, and newspaper headlines that were concerned with polo matches, horticultural competitions and soca bands. This was a perfect little bolt-hole for recharging batteries.
Over past visits, we’ve thrown the tourism board’s script away, and dived in. Getting lost in sugar cane fields has never been more fun. In the inner parishes, life remains unchanged since decades. We stop impromptu to watch young Sobers, Weeks and Haynes in the making strike leather with willow in parish cricket-grounds; we find seasonal blooms, delicate-featured green monkeys and singing tree-frogs. There are fruits to be picked — giant Barbadian cherries, sour sop, sapodilla and sugar apple and the market stalls have refreshing mauby, a tree-bark juice with lemon and ice.
On a Wednesday night, tuk-bands play at Fisherman’s Pub in Speights town where the locals gather for a good meal and end up joining the limbo line and dancing into the night. Liming out is something the Caribbean folks are expert at. It’s their special version of letting down their hair, and chilling. The Oistins fish-fest is a favourite lime-out on a Friday night, where the idea is to eat loads of Bajan food, swill the local rum, run into friends and party till late.
‘Jumpin is we ting’ is what the sweaty man’s T-shirt said. He was decked in feathers and glitter, following a float at the Crop-Over carnival in August. Translated from Bajan English, it meant, ‘Dancing is our thing’ which was hard to dispute, given the unstoppable, unrelenting alcohol-spiked, hip-shivering scene unfolding in front of us. Bands blared pulsating music. Local and visitors from far flung countries decked in skimpy, strappy, sequined outfits grinded and shook, jiggled and thumped, squiggled and well, jumped as they followed their bands on floats along Spring Garden Highway, heading to ‘the mother of all parties’.
Rommel, our local fixer, knew everyone at the carnival. He introduced us to a few women. “Who were some of those ladies we met?” I asked. “Lucy is my ex ex. Charmene, I’m livin’ wid her. My two kids are not mine. Dey came wid Felicia when she went wid Offley.” There’s never a dull moment in Barbados.