Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Introduction to Barbados, Falling in Love with Bathsheba, a Meal Fit for a Queen and a Caribbean Sunset

Barbados is a very Christian country with many people still attending church every week and treating Sunday like a holy day spent with family but I was still able to find a tour provider that gave tours on Sundays. The tour I chose was one that took me to every parish (in Barbados, areas are separated into Parishes rather than Counties) and every coast on the island with stops at a number of scenic areas. It seems that a lot of tour guides on the island are not familiar with Angler Apartments because it is off-the-beaten track and away from the touristy resorts. Although the person who answered the phone when I booked assured me that the driver would find it, I was getting nervous that they forgot about me as I waited at the gate well past my scheduled pick-up time. Sure enough, the driver was lost and did call to get more directions. A few minutes later, the driver, Kenmore, and a bus load of other travelers pulled up.

We turned onto the main stretch and headed towards Holtown. Along the way, we passed Sandy Lane, one of the leading hotels of the world and home to Rihanna’s $22M condo and the site of Tiger Wood’s wedding. Not that I care but I did take note when the tour guide reminded everyone that all beaches in Barbados are public and anyone can access this exclusive beach with a little creativity, a knowledge of tides and a backup plan to get off the beach another way if the tide does come up and you cannot access the way you came in.

We continued along that stretch and stopped at a little coastal village where we got out to stretch our legs and enjoy some rum punch by the sea. I usually don’t drink a lot of booze when I am traveling but Bajans really love their rum punch and love to share it with tourists. It’s very hard to turn down free rum punch when a friendly Bajan is twisting your arm and practically begging you to share in such a revered tradition and symbol of friendship.

We drove along that same road for a while, eventually moving into more rural areas of the island and stopped on the north-east coast at a place called Little Bay. The scenery of Little Bay reminded me a little of home because it was so rugged and natural. I walked to the top of a hill to get a good view from the top of a cliff out into the bay where there were blowholes, which are basically sea caves that open to the surface and the pressure from the pounding sea causes water to push out of the top much like that of a whale’s blowhole.
The Blowholes at Little Bay, Barbados
We continued on through a little village. For a while, the road was very windy and at times, it felt like the bus would tip over and roll over the side into the ocean. I didn’t see any guardrails, ditches or even a shoulder on this road for that matter so that is exactly where we would have ended up had the bus left the road and apparently, buses in Barbados do this quite frequently and yet, no safety measures are put in place to prevent it from happening again…and again.

I fell in love with the Bathsheba area of the island before we even got off the bus. The area is much like what Ingonish is to Cape Breton – a place where families go on weekends to get away from the city and enjoy the scenery and relaxing atmosphere. It being Sunday and Barbadians being very Christian, the area was crowded with people of all ages dressed in their Sunday best, eating ice cream, combing the beach for lost treasures and having picnics on the grass. And when I say they were dressed in their Sunday best, I mean like you see in those old movies where the men are dressed in suits and top hats and the women are dressed in beautiful, long flowing dresses and large fedoras.
Bathsheba, Barbados
Vendors set up shop just above the beach. One, in particular, had some colorful towels hung on a line. This might sound like something the average person wouldn’t even take the time to notice, but the way those colorful towels blew in the breeze with the beach and ocean behind them was almost breathtaking. The picture I took doesn’t do the real thing any justice but hopefully you can try to envision it the way I saw it that day. I stood above the beach watching the children play in the surf and noticed they were doing something very strange. They were playing in an area that just looked like regular, ankle-deep surf when one of them dove into the sand and disappeared! I found out later that there are deep pools, also known as tidal pools, close to shore. If I ever go back to Barbados, I think I’ll stay somewhere in the Bathsheba area and explore that part of the island some more. There seemed to be more to do and it wasn’t as crowded as other areas of the island. As I was about to board the bus to leave the area, I noticed a man sitting on a bench with one of those little, mischievous green monkeys. Upon closer inspection, I noticed the monkey was sporting clothing and jewelry that matched the attire of his master. Some people take their relationships with their pets to a new level!
Some colorful towels blowing in the breeze at Bathsheba, Barbados

We kept driving along the coast and passed through an area with houses with cliché million-dollar views like the ones you see on those TV shows that spotlight the homes of the rich of famous in tropical places around the world. We drove by a beautiful beach where dozens of surfers were braving some rough seas to catch some rather large waves.

As we continued along, I spotted a number of people at a baseball field (unlike the ones at home that are going to waste because no one goes outdoors anymore) but noticed as we got closer that they were playing cricket and not baseball. Did I mention Barbados is very British? I don’t watch soap operas nor do I have any interest in them whatsoever but everyone else on the bus was excited to discover that a little, colorful shack we drove by was featured in a scene from a poplar soap (I can’t remember which one – perhaps the Bold and the Beautiful?) where two of the main characters were married and there was something about a helicopter rescue or some weird thing. I noticed some peculiar-looking fruit in many of the trees and learned that they were breadfruit trees and that anyone lucky enough to have one of these trees on their property would never go hungry because the fruit is very versatile and can be eaten in many different ways. Along the way to our next stop, I learned a few more things from the ever-knowledgeable Kenmore. I learned that Barbados is the only Caribbean island made entirely of coral with no volcanic rock like the other islands. I learned about the versatile, hurricane-proof Chattel Houses that could be taken down, moved to another location and set up again in the same day. I also learned that Barbados has a very high unemployment rate and many of the young people leave for the United States, Canada and other Caribbean islands to find work and there are more Bajan-born people living outside of Barbados than there are on the island. Sounds familiar.
The little building that was supposedly used in a scene from a famous soap opera
When I think of lunch on a guided tour, I think of tea, sandwiches and sweets, not a four-course meal fit for a Queen. That’s what awaited us at the Sunbury Plantation House. After a tour of the plantation with some background history, we sat down to a delicious meal that included a variety of drinks, appetizers and several choices of main courses and desserts. One of the items served was macaroni pie and I learned that, besides coucou and flying fish, Macaroni Pie was considered to be one of the island’s national dishes. This may sound strange to you because, lets face it, macaroni pie doesn’t sound all that special but I swear to you that the macaroni pie in Barbados is like no other macaroni pie you have ever tasted.

We continued on and passed through another scenic area except this time, we were more inland and the area was characterized by valleys and fields with the ocean in the distance. The bus rolled to a stop on top of a hill with a spectacular view. Some vendors were set up there and I did a little bit of shopping. I don’t really shop for myself when I travel. I shop for the people at home who always ask “can you bring me back a keychain” and for my dad who collects baseball caps and has caps from about 30 different countries that my sisters and I have traveled to. Me? I might buy a keychain but usually just keep a handful of local currency as a souvenir. Trinkets and T-shirts with cheesy local sayings on them don’t do much for me. I thought the prices for the keychains seemed reasonable and thought it strange (and kind of rude) when a fellow traveler said I should haggle the price even lower. I know many travelers like to haggle and there are numerous articles written on the topic of “how to become an expert haggler” but I rarely haggle (if the price is absolutely outrageous for what I am being sold, I will occasionally negotiate a fairer price). The way I see it is these people are trying to make a living at a job that is hard enough and when the prices are already so low, I don’t think it’s fair to try and bring them lower. This is especially true of handmade items. I will never haggle an item that someone made with their own hands. A lot of time and love go into those items and they are usually worth the price tag that is on them.
Purses for sale
By 3:30PM, I was back at Angler apartments. There was still enough daylight left for me to get to the beach and catch a beautiful sunset before nightfall. I was warned not to go near the beaches at night but I couldn’t spend a week in Barbados and not experience a sunset at the beach. I walked in the direction of Holtown looking for a public beach access where there were other tourists so I wouldn’t be alone. I found the perfect spot near the fish market about half a kilometer down the road. There was a little boardwalk with some stairs that led to a section of beach and I found a nice spot in the sand under a Manchineel tree (while being careful not to touch any part of the tree because its toxic) where I could see the whole bay complete with sailboats and the lowering sun. There was a man fishing from some rocks a few meters away and he looked so peaceful and content as he sat smoking his cigarette and waiting for a fish to hook his line. A police officer approached me and stopped and stared and smiled and kept going. I don’t know what it was about him but something told me he wasn’t a real policeman or perhaps he had had a little too much rum punch at one of the beachside bars on his rounds. A man selling aloe plant leaves approached and gave a desperate speech about how my sunburn and bug bites could use some healing aloe. He tried to send his message home by actually dabbing some of the aloe on a bug bite on my leg. Gotta love a salesman with a personal touch! I stuck with my usual story and explained to him that I don’t bring money to the beach.
A sailboat in Payne's Bay at sunset
The sun went down and yes, it was beautiful. I love sunsets no matter where I am in the world but sunsets in the Caribbean are magical. I left the beach while there was still a bit of twilight left and while walking along the road back to Angler, I learned another Bajan national pastime; catcalling. Not that catcalling is unique to Barbados but these catcalls had a little added touch. Following the usual marriage proposals hollered from moving cars “hey sexy, I love you, will you marry me” were unmistakable kissing sounds. I swear, the same thing was hollered out of every second car that passed me. Yuck. I just rolled my eyes all the way back. Sometimes it’s best to keep quiet when trekking on someone else’s turf.

The warm air of the early evening and the sound of the cicadas and distant Caribbean music had me not wanting to call it a night just yet. I raided the mini bar in the fridge and sat on my step with a Banks beer and relaxed to those sounds that only grace my ears once a year when I travel south for a week.

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