|The windward coastline of Bathsheba on the eastern side of Barbados
|If you haven't been to Barbados you should. There's much so much more to do and see than our short, three day visit allowed, but we were able to get a good flavor for what the tropical island has to offer. And when you go, be sure not to miss the less traveled side of the island's eastern coastline.
|Upon landing at Grantley Adams International Airport, we met our driver, Bobby, and the journey began. Our first stop was at one of Barbados' famous rum bars that features local Mt. Gay Rum. Here, you can also purchase sodas, beers, local bread, fresh eggs, home-cooked chicken, pork, and the island staple, goat.
From the east coast's the pounding Atlantic surf, through the island's densely forested ravines and gullies, to the west's tranquil pink-and-white Caribbean beaches, the wild beauty of nature is omnipresent. There is also a pervasive sense of calm. This tranquility, indeed, civility, is why this 166 square mile West Indies nation, the most easterly island in the Caribbean basin, is referred to fondly as "Little England in the Caribbean."
The vibrant culture is distinctive and well-entrenched. Afternoon tea and games of cricket with players dressed all in white are regular features of island life. The capital city, Bridgetown, even includes its own Trafalgar Square, with an imposing statue of Lord Nelson. The parish of St. Andrew has an area known as the "Scotland District." There, at Chalky Mount Potteries, some of the best Baja potters create unique, bowls, pots, and jugs known as "monkey jars."
|John Springer, a well known Chalky Mount potter, throws a monkey jar.
Long before the British arrived in 1627, the island had been inhabited by Amerindians, who had mysteriously left their land by the early seventeenth century. "Barbados" had been christened such earlier by Portuguese explorers, Los Barbados, or "The Bearded Ones," perhaps referring to the native ficus trees, whose extravagant aerial roots resemble unkempt beards.
The English first settled on the island Jamestown. Now, it's locally known as "Holetown," a name derived from the off-loading and cleaning of ships that took place in the nearby channel. Among the first in the Americas, an English-style parliament formed in 1639. Essential to the prosperity of the island, was the still-thriving sugarcane and rum industry. Every year from mid-July through the first week of August, the completion of the sugar cane harvest is celebrated island-wide with the Crop Over Festival, complete with calypso competitions, car parades and sugar filled bake-offs.
|The island's main crop, sugar cane
|A visit to the Mt. Gay Rum factory (from left): a "pot still" is used to distill single batches of rum at a time; an original cane boiling kettle from 1700s; barrels of rum readied for blending.
Kadooment Day (the first Monday in August) is the culmination of the festival and certainly the country's biggest party. One of the most picturesque remnants of the colonial past and founding industries is the Morgan Lewis Sugar Mill. In the parish of St. Andrew, its mighty eighteenth century wind-powered arms still turn, and is one of only two intact sugar mills in the whole of the Caribbean.
Despite the island's legal independence from Britain in 1966, many Barbadians claim a strong kinship with its former mother nation. Queen Elizabeth remains the official head of state.
For tourists, the island's seemingly infinite expanses of beaches - all of which are open to the public - are the main draw.
On the west coast, the Caribbean Sea waters are warm and calm. The favorite swimming spots are situated along the "Gold Coast," particularly Payne's Bay, Brighton and Brandon's beaches. Some of the island's best snorkeling is in the clear, blue waters off Mullins Beach.
On the south coast windsurfers are frequently found catching the trade winds at Casuarina and Silver Sands beaches, rated the best Caribbean locale for windsurfing.
The village of Bathsheba, located on the east, or windward side, of the island is home to a small community of fishing folk. Along the coast are guest houses, local rum shops and restaurants. It's a hideaway for discerning tourists and for Bajans alike, who frequently weekend here in seaside cottages along the shore. A favorite spot for many international surfers, they come to surf what is know as the "Soup Bowl."
|Bathsheba, home of colorful seaside shanties and the world famous Soup Bowl
|Swimming at Bathsheba can be dangerous with its rip tides and undertows. While it is tempting to walk into the ocean over the flat coral reefs, be cautious. Incoming waves can pull you out to sea with their strong undertow. This is a place to tread carefully, and to look with wonder and respect at the mighty forces of nature.
|Lunch at the Round House Restaurant & Inn included flying fish with rice, ground provisions (vegetables), macaroni pie, entertainment, local dessert, and of course, feeding feathered friends at the window.
|Flower Forest, situated 836 feet above sea level in the parish of St. Joseph, is a former sugar plantation surrounded by verdant botanical gardens that grow with exotic fruit trees. Local artisans display their wares on the premises, including the alluring black coral jewelry (which, unfortunately, for American tourists is only for the looking, since it is now illegal to bring endangered black coral into the country).
|Flower Forest and a view inside Harrison's Cave
Near the Flower Forest is Harrison's Cave, the island's biggest tourist attraction. A natural complex of streams, cascades, deep pools, stalactites and stalagmites, all of which can be viewed from above while riding an electric tram.
In the island's interior you'll find Welchman Hall Gully, a vast tropical garden maintained by the Barbados National Trust, growing orchids, cocoa bushes, clove and nutmeg trees, all common ingredients in Bajan cuisine. Island horticulturists say the property's breadfruit trees are thought to be descendants of seedlings brought to the island by Captain Bligh. Francia Plantation is situated on a prominent hillside that takes in the whole of the St. George Valley. It is still occupied by descendants of the 1913 home's original owner and builder. An exemplar of the melding of European and West Indian architectural styles, several rooms of the spacious abode are open to the public. One of the most fascinating artifacts on display is a 1522 map of the West Indies.
|Oistin's street festival fish fry on a Thursday night From left: bucket of fresh flying fish; local street vendor and her night's specials; grilling fish and potatoes
But, the sea and the life that is made from it, are never far away. Fishing boats are regular features of the island's landscape and at Oistin's Fish Market, southeast of Bridgetown, tourists and locals converge to buy island fishermen's catches of the day. Nearby, fish shacks serve up fried flying fish, grilled wahoo steaks, Atlantic salmon and "sea eggs," sea urchins typically prepared by first steaming, then frying with onions and lime juice. There is never a shortage of adventure or relaxation in Barbados. Whether you want to fish or eat fish, snorkel or sunbathe, hike, bike or just relax, it is a place of abundance.
There're plenty of things to see and do in Barbados. It's also a great place to do nothing.
|Sun sets on the beach near St. Lawrence Gap
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