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Barbados By any Means


Barbados: Naturally Charming

| Arriving | Taxi | Oistins fish fry | Bajans | Points of Interest | Music, Nightlife, Dining | Getting around | Beaches | Shopping |

When you step off the plane at Grantley Adams International Airport, summer greets you with the fragrance of frangipani, sugar cane and rum. The mood is jovial, steel pans play classic calypso music. It is very relaxed. Grab a porter after the immigration formalities. He or she will whisk you through Customs and see you to a taxi. If you are staying on the South Coast, suggest to your driver to take the old coast road, it will give you a better perspective on where you are. Drivers prefer the ABC highway which cuts across the center of the island and is faster. On the old road you will pass the Barbados Golf Club - and Oistins fish market. Be sure to mark the spot and return on a weekend night for the open-air fish fry.

Oistins food is standard local Bajan fare; grilled fish, macaroni pie, sweet potato, grilled vegetables and salads. It cost about $ 12.50 US a plate, and there are many stalls to choose from. The most popular is Uncle George. The lines at George’s can be daunting but people keep coming back. Maybe it’s because he advertises on the Internet, but he is a fisherman and he knows how to trim and grill fish so that it is always fresh and delicious. A night out at Oistins will not break the bank. Local beer (Banks) is about $2US a bottle. People watching and the music are free. You can choose to sit on the beach and watch the moon on the water, which is pretty romantic except for the crowds. Oistins is not a quiet night out. Its a fun local village atmosphere, along with street vendors, rum shops, chicken burgers and the spiciest fish cakes anywhere.

You will soon get to know a few Barbadians (Bajans). They are naturally charming, and will surprise with their warmth and their casual sense of fun. Beach vendors will happily discuss the meaning of life with anyone, from Pope to movie star. They usually have an inspired point of view. Of course there are some bad apples, but Bajans are generally happy, living by the sea in an island with good social services; health care, old age security, food subsidies and free education. The Island is a reflection of its people. Here the simple chattel house, sits boldly in the splendor of wealthy estates. Movie stars live beside cane cutters, artisans and fishermen.

Travel along the West Coast to see Sandy Lane one of the most elegant hotels in the world. There are private palatial villas for $25,000 a night, of course with butler, housekeeper, chef, 24 hour security guard, a pool, saunas and a few rooms for your guests. The northern part of the Island is less built-up, but it too is seeing luxury condo construction. Speightstown in the North-West was the first major port and commercial centre of Barbados. Neglected over the years it has now been revived and is the home of a brand new luxury marina development - Port St. Charles.

There are excellent hotels and restaurants in the area as well as fine examples of original Barbados architecture. The original traders built long narrow two story homes, where the family lived upstairs and worked in their shops below. The architecture was later adopted in Carolina, U.S.A. Just up the road is Six Men’s Bay, a quaint fishing village where fishermen bring their catch of flying fish, tuna and mahi-mahi to market every day after 4pm.

The British built the island with local coral stone and British ship ballast. Nicholas Abbey, just up the hill from Speightstown, is a classic example of the Jacobean architecture of the early settlers. Adapted to the Caribbean with no compromise it has two chimneys and a fireplace. It has a colourful history of deception and murder, which is worthy of a novel. The Abbey is close to the top of Cherry Tree Hill, with a panoramic view of Bathsheba; the scrublands and rugged seascapes, pounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Bathsheba is the home of world surfing competitions at the surfers Soup Bowl, so named because the sea is often white with surf like a bubbling soup. Just a few hundred yards away from the Abbey is another stately home, Farley Hill. Once the set of the movie “Island in the Sun”, it is now a ruin, made into an open air stage that is the site of the annual events: The Barbados Jazz festival, Reggae on the Hill, Soca too sweet.

Barbados has its own blend of Caribbean music: Soca, Reggae and Calypso fused with Rock and Pop. There are exceptionally good musicians for such a tiny Island. Rihanna is certainly the best known, but the tradition goes back to the 1950’s with The Merrymen taking their happy up-beat folk style calypso to the world. Today Arturo Tappin creates a unique Caribbean saxophone sound. Noted for sometimes just tapping his sax at the microphone, he is a master of the understatement.

Barbados nightlife is vibrant with live music of all types. St Lawrence Gap is wall to wall with pubs, nightclubs, street barbeques and restaurants. The beat goes on well into the night at the Reggae Lounge and the Ship Inn. On the edge of the Gap is Pisces restaurant, an oceanfront setting with indoor gardens, good ambiance and excellent fish. Considered one the best restaurant in the Caribbean is the Cliff on the west coast. But it is a tight race, Champers, the Fish Pot and others are all excellent. Champers comes with an art gallery full of colorful originals by Barbados artists.

Barbados cuisine is varied with French, Indian, Italian, Sushi and Fusion. Bajan chefs seem to have a knack of blending tastes to create a distinctive Caribbean flavour and, of course, the setting is perfect.

Getting around Barbados can be an adventure. If you are daring, take the ZR vans. You will recognize them by their "ZR" license plate. The rate is Bds$1.50. It is not recommended for the nervous passenger as ZRs stop frequently, often abruptly, and move quickly to pick up the maximum paying passengers in the shortest time. A little more upscale are the Safari Vans that plow through cane fields and go where no car could dare. For sightseeing by sea, there are pirate ships, sloops and motorboats that stop to swim with turtles, snorkel and picnic. There are also helicopters, a submarine and scuba diving. Under ground are caves and caverns, with stalagmites and waterfalls. Harissons Cave is actually one of the most visited sites. It’s a comfortable ride in specially made trolleys hooked together like a miniature train.

And then there are the beaches, miles and miles of perfect sand. On the East coast don’t miss The Crane beach. Pack a picnic and rent an umbrella on the beach. The sea is active and body surfing is exhilarating. Do this on a Sunday and start your day with breakfast or brunch at The Crane Hotel. On Sunday at 9am the gospel singers will entertain you while you help yourself to the breakfast buffet. You must make a reservation, and when you do, tell them you are interested in the timeshare. The units are spectacular. It’s a bit controversial, as the locals don’t like what they have done to a once old rustic hotel amid ruins and open spaces, but it is now one of the world top rated time shares. Buy one week here and you will get twice that at many other great destinations.

All the beaches in Barbados are public. No one can own land past the high water mark, which means that you can walk freely on any beach for as for as it will take you. At low tide you can walk from Accra beach on the South Coast to Bridgetown, past the Hilton, the Yacht Club, the Boat Yard and into the Careenage, about 4 miles in all. On the West Coast, Sandy Lane beach stretches forever. In Bathsheba there are miles of sand dunes and beautiful beaches along a raging sea, but be sure that you DO NOT SWIM ON THE NORTH AND EAST COAST. The currents and rip tides are as unforgiving as they are compelling!

Most travelers to Barbados will take a shopping excursion to the capital Bridgetown at some point. There are good duty free shops here, but take a break at The Nelsons Arms, upstairs in a historic old wooden building. The patio is the place to sit back with a glass of wine and watch the shoppers cart their goods away. On Saturday try to go to Cheapside market, where the farmers sell their yams, cassava, figs and vegetables. It’s a cultural experience and a chance to meet the real old time Bajans, spirited, outgoing and naturally charming!

The Good: Bathsheba rugged and unspoilt. Natural charm. Chattle houses. Sea and beaches everywhere?

The Bad: Beach vendors who pester you to buy things you don’t want. The government has cracked down on them, and it’s illegal for a vendor to operate without a permit. If you get pestered report it to a beach warden

The Ugly: Luxury Condos springing up where quaint Chattel houses were. Charm replaced with conspicuous construction.

Ian Clayton

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