Itinerary: Wednesday November 21
Cab to Hotel
Happy Hour – dinner at our hotel
One of the moments I love best when I am travelling to warmer climes is stepping off the plane into the heat. A shawl of sea salt air covers me, kisses my head, pinches my skin. I breathe in the island: flowers, ocean, Bajan spices.
The voyage here was great; we snagged an emergency aisle with only two seats and we’re comfortable all the way. The ticket agent says we’re having a lucky day and she proves to be right.
When we enter the terminal, I see Wendy (Cugina) across the hall and run for a hug. We’re so excited to be with my cousin and her husband Dennis, just the four of us, on a vacation. We’ve never done this before, except at the cottage, where they had to be our hosts. It’s Wendy’s 65th birthday celebration and a late treat for their 45th wedding anniversary.
We hire a large taxi van and are soon barreling along the narrow streets. Colour floods my senses, blue and pink and yellow pastels. Our lodging is fairly small, which is wonderful, a soft pink and white, The Butterfly Beach Hotel. As we enter the reception area, we can see through to the turquoise water, little ripples of white caps and strands of navy blue.
When we’re shown to our room, we have another surprise. We’ve been upgraded to a suite, with a living room, galley kitchen, and separate bedroom and bathroom. The balcony extends the whole length. It definitely is a lucky day. We think if only we were home, we might’ve bought a lottery ticket. We try to persuade Wendy and Dennis to switch rooms—it’s their party—but they refuse. Later, we think they made the right choice. Our living room is not air conditioned and the elevator doesn’t work, so we climb four times two sets of stairs even after eating or drinking too much, every time we go out or to the beach or the restaurant.
By three o’clock, we’re bobbing in the silky warm water. This is the most amazing sea we’ve ever been in, we say; even Maire would approve of the temperature. It’s an easy, lazy bay, the waves are gentle, swelling just enough to be interesting. The azure inlets are surrounded by white limestone rock and sand, dotted here and there with volcanic remains. We walk from the left to the right beaches, the plantation-style porch and restaurant above us, cross over a rocky formation, and I look back away from the sun to see my footsteps in the white sand.
Barbados is a relatively young landform; it’s only a million years old. It was created when the Atlantic crustal and Carib plates crashed into one another under the ocean and threw up volcanoes of ash and rock. Because it was formed from two ecologies, unique plants and animals are found here. The first people, called Amerindians or Arawaks, arrived from Venezuela. Short, olive skinned, they wrapped infants’ skulls so they’d have a peaked head, and painted their skin white and black. Barbados’ history follows that of many desirable locations around the world. They were conquered, in turn, by the Caribs, Portuguese, Spanish, and finally, the English. One good thing about this checkered past is the remnants of varied traditions. For instance, the English brought sugar cane, which remains a big part of the Bajan economy. They also brought slavery, however, which was abolished in 1834. In 1966, Barbados gained its freedom from Britain, but is part of the commonwealth, just like Canada. There is lots of limestone, which explains the white sand and the azure colours.
Under the stars and a bright 3/4 moon, we have dinner at the beach restaurant on the hotel grounds. There’s a lovely breeze, which washes away the humidity. We have rum punch (sprinkled with nutmeg, a Bajan specialty) or cold beer (Banks is the local variety), sit and talk, listen to the waves punching the shore. This is the first time we hear the whistling frogs. Tiny little creatures, they hide among the trees and, well – wisso. Which reminds me, we meet Barbara and Antony from England, Monty Python’s homeland.
Itinerary: Thursday November 22nd
Car delivery to Hotel 9 am
Tour the island
Hollywood Beach (turns out to be Miami Beach, but we can’t find it, so we go to Mullins Beach)
Dinner at Luigi’s an Italian favourite of ours
Steel Pan entertainment at our hotel
Favourite sayings: “That’s gonna be a keeper” or “Another keeper” or “That’s a keeper” or “I’m gonna have to do so much erasing” and “Oooohhh, you must think the sun shines out your ass”.
We have breakfast at the hotel, still listening to the sea as we eat. The coffee is good, but the buffet leaves a little to be desired, so we decide to pick up groceries for morning meals.
Our car is delivered shortly after nine a.m. Once again, we’ve been upgraded, this time to a larger Nissan. This proves to be both a gift and a curse.
We take off on the narrow, clogged roads that remind us very much of Ireland with the vine-covered walls. Between the hotels and houses lining the streets, we glimpse the white sandy beaches and turquoise sea. We tour a bit of the island. When we’re thirsty, we turn down a narrow laneway and discover a bar. A beach bum tells us the rule is, “beer for breakfast, beer for lunch, rum for dinner”. It appears he follows the rule religiously.
We shop at the Chattel House Village. These are quaint little homes that we see all over the island. In years past, the plantation workers built them and owned them, but didn’t own the land on which they stood. If they got fired or moved to another plantation, they had to be able to move their house too. So they’re small and, originally, sat on rocks with no foundations. Today, most of them have been cemented to the ground and enlarged, although there are many that are run-down and very tiny.
In the shopping Village, the homes are exquisitely painted blue, pink, white or yellow. Their gable roofs have been maintained and the fretwork looks like wooden lace. Their jalousie window shades were designed to be flexible in wind or rain, with three sets of hinges. I discover souvenirs adorned by an English painter who has lived here for fifty years. Her name is Jill Walker and her art is colourful and quaint, depicting Bajan life.
Inside the village circle, we stop by a gnarled tree whose roots curl upward, wrapping themselves around each other and the trunk like skeletal fingers. The flowers are little mustachioed faces. When the petals fall to the ground, they look like eyeballs. The gardener comes by and tells us this is the cannonball tree. He points to one of the cannon balls; it looks like a coconut, but it’s not edible. Used for medicinal purposes instead, they sound like cannons when they hit the ground.
It’s all ire, mon, the sellers tell us, though we buy very little.
As we travel along, the sights are breathtaking. Boats; sails of red and yellow and orange; sun sparkling on the bands of light and dark blue sea; cabins with stone foundations; pastel coloured homes, some tiny, some giant, with soaring white pillars, plantation-style palaces. They vary between wooden structures and cement, stucco-covered buildings. Some are poor and achingly small, unpainted, stubby grass, few flowers, unemployed Bajans hanging over the porches. We wonder what the employment situation is here. There seems to be lots of building and road construction going on, but a great deal of poverty too. In some areas, the difference between one side of the street and the other is astonishing. Goats and horses feed on small grassy lots. The colours of the vegetable and fruit markets flash by in oranges and greens and reds.
We stop at Mullins Beach, where the real adventure begins. We can’t find a parking spot, so we impulsively swing into a small street and pull up at the curb. Here is upgraded, bigger car is not such a gift. It hugs the curb a little too hard and the hub cab tears right off. Despite the mini calamity, we have a great lunch at Mullins Restaurant, overlooking another gorgeous beach. There are lots of speedos here: and not always on speedo bodies. Wendy says an acquaintance of hers calls them budgie smugglers.
This time, Vince drives. As we roll along the narrow street, we spy, with horror, a rooster lying on the pavement. We’re not sure if he’s alive or dead, though Dennis swears he sees the little red head poke up just as we bump right over him. We drive back to the hotel with feathers in the chassis.
Not surprisingly, we decide to take a cab to Luigi’s for dinner. Oneal does a very good job and, when we tell him we’ll call him to return, he says to pay him then. Shades of Mexican trust! The meal is sumptuous. We’re soothed by soft winds and serenaded by whistling frogs. There are a lot of hub cab and rooster jokes.
Later, we enjoy the steel pan player at our hotel, along with more wine, rum or beer. The moon is up to 7/8ths. There’s a ring of clouds around the bay as though we are surrounded by a mountain chain.
Friday November 23rd
Walk to Dover Beach (our beach is too nice, so we don’t do that)
Lunch at Crane Beach
Happy Hour at the hotel
Fish fry dinner at Oistins
Vince and I sleep in – Cugina has to wake us! I swear it’s the booze and decide to have an alcohol-free day. Off we go to see the Concorde. All of us have an amazingly interesting experience, despite the fact that it’s Vince’s wish to go here. Brings back memories for Wendy and me; our fathers worked at Avro, and the Concorde’s wing style mimics the Arrow.
From there, we drive to Crane Beach and visit The Crane resort. What a spectacular place! We have lunch on a balcony high over the pink sand of the beach. Waves crash against the rocks. The scenery is breathtaking.
When we get back to the hotel, we swim in the ocean, sit in the whirlpools, and enjoy happy hour. We watch Mexican TV: the birds (frigates, pigeons, a heron), the vegetation (red and white primavera bushes, pink bougainvillea, green palms), the geckoes (a little one stalks and eats a fly). My alcohol-free day lasts until 3 p.m.
When the sun goes down, Oneal takes us to Oistins. We walk past the fish market, redolent with sea smells and the musk of fresh fish meat. The restaurants beyond this area are alive. Mostly locals, live music, fabulous food and even better rum punches. We have a wonderful meal, sway to the beats, do some touring of the craft stands, and Oneal takes us back home. What an experience, what a day!