Begin with a beach
It wasn't love at first sight. The unusually long and very turbulent flight from London to Bridgetown ensured that. When it was time to land, I just couldn't be bothered to look out of the window to see the tiny island of Barbados. I didn't want to see land. I wanted to feel it under my feet.
Then the first sight of the Atlantic Ocean-blue-green, azure, cerulean, turquoise, indigo, ultramarine all at once - made the long journey from Mumbai (via Delhi) to cold and wet London, and the bumpy flight to Barbados so worth it.
I am glad to admit I was living under a cynical misconception all these years. The vibrant colour of the ocean in all those postcards of sunny beaches in places like the Caribbean and the Maldives actually exists. The photographs haven't been touched up. The ocean really is a riot of breathtaking blues.
And then I told everyone who cared to hear - and after half a day, there weren't many - that I finally knew the meaning of the words 'Atlantic blue'.
LITTLE BIT OF BLISS
Covering 431 sq km, Barbados, the eastern-most island of the group of islands comprising the West Indies, is six km smaller than Mumbai. But while Mumbai's population is 16 million and growing, Barbados's is an invisible 2,70,000. So though we saw one charming 'chattel' house (see box) after the other while touring the island, everyone noticed that there were virtually no pedestrians.
Barbados is so small you can drive around it in a day and still have time to sit by the poolside, down a few rum punches and hit a nightclub with time to spare. So, one morning, when some watches showed that it was 6 pm in India, we went on an island safari with lan, our driver-cum guide, in his Land Rover named Miss Piggy.
I don't know whether it was because we - a group of about 40 journalists from India, the UK, US and Canada - were the guests of the Barbados Tourism Authority, but every Bajan that I met was extremely friendly, knowledgeable, courteous and great fun!
Our guide Ian was one of them. A former journalist who took to driving tourists around six years ago, after he was given the pink slip (Barbados is relatively crime free so there is not much work for journalists), Ian gave us a crash course on the history and geography of Barbados, belting out dates and trivia about the island and cricket with the ease of a historian. Like India has states, Barbados, a roughly triangle shaped island, is divided into 11 parishes named after saints.
Barbados was once a tropical forest till its British colonisers levelled the trees to plant sugarcane and make money (sound familiar?). But as we drove around with the cool wind mussing up our hair, besides acres and acres of golden green sugarcane fields, we saw a large and varied section of tropical vegetation - glossy, almost obscenely lush green leafy plants and trees, including frangipani, mango, breadfruit, mahogany, the flamboyant (known as the gulmohar in India) and a gigantic old baobab tree.
After giving us a running commentary on everything we saw, including the crops, houses, trees, water windmills and the Barbados flag, Ian took us to Little Bay, his "favourite site in Barbados". I believed him.
There is beauty in Barbados. You see it everywhere-in the white boats bobbing on the blue waters, in the slice of the ocean you spy between trees, in the lush green foliage lining the road, in the cream, blue, lime green and white shuttered houses, in the rolling hills and in the fluffy white clouds in the sky Little Bay, situated on the north east of the island, was beautiful too, in a dark, rugged way.
rocks below and tasted the fine, salty spray on my lips, I felt blessed that I was able to share Ian's favourite spot with him. I could have sat there all day, but there was a schedule to be followed lunch, and a date with some turtles.
But before that was a peek at Bathsheba, an area on the island's rugged east coast. Named after the much married woman of legendary beauty whom King David coveted in the Old Testament, Bathsheba is a picture postcard beach with white washed sands peppered with huge boulders and a tingling blue sea, where waves like white crested horses can be seen gleefully racing towards the shore. Many international surfing championships are held here.
OLD MAN IN THE SEA
It was time for a cruise. As our luxury catamaran pulled out of the marina at Bridgetown, a large boat with boisterous sunburned men and women in complete holiday gear and mood, singing YMCA. at the tops of their voices, drew in.
The party mood was contagious. The men on our boat started stripping (okay, they only took off their shirts), the women found comfortable places to watch the (sea) view from, the bar was open and rum punches flowed.
The catamaran took us along the west coast of Barbados that is gent1er than the very scenic, but rough east coast. This is where many of the island's luxury resorts, including the Sandy Lane resort where golf star Tiger Woods married in 2004, lie.
After our catamaran anchored near a beach, a lucky few (those who were brave enough to tackle the cold water) went snorkelling.
An elderly London-based journalist of Indian origin gave everyone the fright (or laugh, depending on how you were looking at it) of their lives when, perhaps forgetting he was 70, he stripped to his chuddies, jumped into the ocean and then discovered he didn't remember how to swim. Fortunately, a burly member of the crew jumped in and rescued the flailing old gentleman.
But seeing the others swimming with turtles was the high point of this expedition for me. The entertainment value provided by the sight of a dozen grown men steering clear of two large turtles that had been lured near our catamaran was priceless.
A visit to Barbados is not complete if you don't check out the local - as opposed to tourist - hangouts. For that, we stopped over at the Oistins fishing village one night. Every Friday at Oistins, Bajan men and women come out to meet friends and lovers, drink the local Banks beer, feast on fried fish sold from roadside stalls and dance to a frenzied medley of calypso and (the odd) Indian tunes.
Bajan fare is pretty simple. The islanders steer clear of red meat and mainly live on chicken and flying fish - a local specialty that abounds in the waters around Barbados.
In fact, during our trip, I am certain we tried flying fish in all forms - grilled, baked, fried and skewered but never got to see any in the ocean. Having mentioned this to a British journalist, he replied with the classic Brit straight face: "We have probably eaten them all." He may have been right.
One day after lunch, two friends and I hopped onto a local bus to check out Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados. I felt right at home on the bus, with its eardrum splitting reggae music (the days I went deaf while travelling by private buses in Delhi have really paid off).
Bridgetown's main shopping street, Broad Street, is lined with swanky duty free shops where travellers can buy souvenirs, alcohol and clothes at duty free prices. But I especially liked the rows of sunny watercolours detailing daily life and the sights of Barbados that were on sale on the street. I had to buy one. I needed something to take home that would remind me of the colours of this gorgeous island country.