Published: April 9th 2011March 10th 2011
Wing view over Barbados
We managed to get on the Upper Deck (but still economy!)
(P) Known as the Brightest Jewel in the English Crown, Barbados was the first Caribbean island to be settled by the British, in 1627, and it was the first colony to produce sugar - which it still does today, although tourism brings in more cash. It was always protected from invasion by easterly
winds and the fact that it is more than 100 miles from the rest of the Lesser Antilles.
The east coast is wild and rugged, where Atlantic waves crash onto shore. The west is the opposite, with the gentle tide of the Caribbean sea spalshing the lightly golden sands. On this coast is located the famous Sandy Lane.
We decided to take an early holiday this year, and Barbados was just the place. Although we were travelling economy, we managed to get seats upstairs on Virgin's Upper Deck, which was almost exclusive....! On the flight, Paula felt the first movements of our child for sure (and the following morning we saw the belly rippling!) Upon landing, the pilot said the temperature was 80 degrees F and we high fived :)
We had a 40 minute transfer from the south of the island to the Sugar
Cane Club in the northwest through slow traffic – the roads are narrow – past lots of colourful wooden-panelled houses. On arrival, we were offered a delicious rum punch, which Paula managed to substitute for pineapple juice (but treated herself to the tiniest of sips from the 'real' stuff).
Our room was great, with balcony and sitting room area. We were invited to the Managers' Rum Punch Party, with more rum cocktails, and then we had poolside dinner with a live singer. Buffet included the local mahi mahi
white fish and creole fish curry.
Breakfast was always plentiful, with 3 types of melon, pineapple and omelettes to order. We could sit overlooking the pool, with the mountains on one side and the Caribbean sea to the other. Often birds would hop around hoping for a crumb. The shier hummingbirds restricted themselves to the plentiful flowers in the gardens.
We joined the Gully Walk
with Rodney the gardener, which took us to the mostly untamed part of the grounds of the hotel. In the main grounds, on the way, we passed by Tamarind, Almond, Lime, Orange and Mango trees. Most of the island is coral stone, which filters
Rodney clips down a coconut
(See it in freefall, next to the trunk!)
rainwater – it is the only Caribbean island where everyone can drink the tap water. We even saw a couple of trees (one of which was a Bearded Fig Tree!) growing out of the coral stone. In the gully we saw sweet lime and passion-fruit trees. From the animal kingdom, we saw frogs, snails, a termite nest – and a monkey skull! Green monkeys
have the run of the gully and come up into the hotel grounds at dawn and dusk – we heard them on our roof one early morning. At the end of the walk, Rodney took a special long tool to clip down a couple of coconuts. These were duly split open, from which we could drink the fresh juice, and finally the husks were smashed in half so that we could eat the coconut flesh too.
One of the highlights of our holiday was the trip in the hotel's glass-bottomed boat. We went down to the local beach, from where the small boat chugged out to sea, passing a small but very exclusive marina. It wasn't too long before some turtles
appeared, firstly 50 metres away and then right under the boat, bringing up their
heads intermittently to breathe. We donned masks and snorkels and jumped in to join them. The boatman advised us not to put our hands anywhere near their mouths! They were very graceful under water, and were not at all phased by us. There were about 6 in total, some large (up to 1 metre long), and another that may have been a youngster, only about 30cm in length. We were in the water for about half an hour with them (on 2 occasions) - we could have stayed there for much longer.
In the evening we were among various guests invited to the owners' house a short stroll away for – yes, you've guessed it – pre-dinner rum cocktails! One of the canapes was meatballs which Nick liked very much. The party was a good opportunity to give the owners feedback about our stay and chat to others holidaying there too. The veranda looked out over the gully (where we'd walked earlier) from where they said they often saw green monkeys.
Lunch and dinner gave us lots of opportunity to try a wide selection of fish from “Catch of the Day” such as marlin, swordfish, flying fish, dolphin
fish (dorado) and barracuda.
One day we ventured on the bus to a couple of nearby towns on the West Coast: Speightstown and Holetown. Speightstown
is smaller and has a more charming and laid-back feel - there were a few lovely-looking apartments across from a small beach, St. Peter's Church (where we attended a service, and I noticed the Pastor's e-mail address in the newsletter was [name]@caribsurf.com – how exotic!), Arlington House (an 18th century ship chandlers house), a colourful bank building and the Fisherman's Pub jutting out over the sea, which also served as an unofficial tourist office! We headed into busier Holetown
and had our picnic lunch on the beach among a lot of other holidaymakers (it made us feel quite fortunate to be staying at our peaceful hotel with views of the sea, albeit not on the beach). English sailors first landed in Holetown in 1625 and claimed the island for King James I (Barbados remained “British” until its independence in 1966 but there are still English influences in life there today: cricket, horse racing and fish and chips on a Friday... Nick bought himself a West Indies cap (mainly for practical purposes) but several locals
complimented him on it :-)
Back at the ranch, we enjoyed another poolside buffet and bbq with Steel Band music.
The next day we made another outing a bit further afield to the recommended Evening Fish Market at Oistins Harbour
. (On the way we stopped by the Garrison Savannah, where things were gearing up for the big Race Day. We took the Board Walk along the water's edge and stopped for a sundowner at the Tiki Bar. Oistins has several craft as well as food and drink stalls offering fish charcol-grilled fresh off the boat that day. We tried fishcakes for starters, then flying fish and breadfruit for main.
Although it was tempting not to stray away from the hotel pool, we wanted to spend some more “beach time” and so on Saturday we went down to the exclusive Sandy Lane beach
(in Barbados, there are many private hotels a step away from the sand, but the beaches are public so can be enjoyed by all). The sea was so warm! We partly sat in the shade of some manchineel trees, but you have to be careful of falling mini-apples (and the sap from the twigs which
apparently can irritate your skin). Mid afternoon we bussed back, stopping for a sundowner at The Fisherman's pub in Speightstown. Had a late hotel lunch in “our” sunny corner, but still managed to try a variety of what the poolside buffet of “Bajan Night” had to offer ('Bajan' or 'Barbadian' is the adjective of 'Barbados') – flying fish, beef stew, plantain (of the banana family, often roasted like potatoes), macaroni pie and as always a great selection of salad and vegetables. Then for dessert some very English-sounding Jam bun and Currant roll..oh, and a cheeseboard!
On Sunday after a church service in Speightstown the day was spent chilling out by the pool, reading and writing this diary!
Our car hire day was a fair adventure. Firstly we drove southwards along the West (Platinum) Coast (couldn't get up much speed due to many buses), popping into two rum factories - Mount Gay and Cockspur Beach Club (formerly occupied by Malibu), where there was a distinct smell of brown sugar in the air. We did a short walk around the capital, Bridgetown
, along the Wharf, saw the Heroes & Nelson statue (it predates Nelson's Colum in London's Trafalgar Square by
nearly 30 years! Nelson was considered a hero by some locals of the day for his battles against the French who controlled some other islands in the Caribbean), Parliament and Cathedral (the scent of frangipani flowers filled the garden) and the main Broad Street. We ate our packed lunch looking out over the azure sea and headed east, mostly hugging the coast, round to Bottom Bay
, a recommended beach off the beaten track. We saw two cows moseying around there but not much else. On to Bathsheba
, a good example of the choppy waves and ruggedness of the East coast (in contrast to the calm West). The large rocks on the beach were lit up well by the late afternoon sun. As the day was drawing in, we abandoned any more travel northwards and needed petrol (despite the car hire man assuring us that there was plenty enough for our planned trip..!). On our way back inland the road went through tall sugar cane on either side and we passed a sugar cane factory. Safely back we managed to fit in the last 10 minutes of Monday's Managers' Rum Punch Party. We enjoyed our last poolside dinner with singer. Nick
chatted to the chef about cheese and we had a drink at the outside bar with the hotel manager.
Next day Nick managed to go for a run despite the heat and enjoyed a well-deserved fish, chips and beer lunch. Later the barman hosted a “Mixology Session” at the pool bar, but rather than teaching too much he just continued making different cocktails for all who wished to try (some examples were: Bajan Surprise, Honeymoon Fantasy & Adultery..!).
On our penultimate morning we took the glass-bottomed boat out again to swim with the turtles (there was a huge downpour at breakfast but it soon cleared and it was sunny and dry again an hour later). In the afternoon and final morning we went a few hundred metres further way to Haywoods Beach
– wider and more picturesque and beside the very smart Port St.Charles
with its own marina. The sea was clear even when we swam out quite deep – beautiful! Nick did his best to cling to the sand as we had to leave but Paula managed to drag him away eventually..!
All in all, it was exactly the holiday we hoped for. Back to London
with a bump (from 30 degrees to 12) but surely the sight of daffodils in bloom were a sign of Spring on its way, right?!!
There are more photos below