Back to Life – Barbados

Back to Life

Barbados greets you with a welcoming change of pace. The frenetic buzz of daily life on the East Coast does not exist there. The temperature is hot, but not oppressive. The heat of the day is distilled by the constant ocean breeze, and it seems only natural to make rum a part of your diet.

Barbados is not a natural paradise devoid of human influence. It is not pristine beaches, shore to shore. The island is populous around the coasts, and much less so inland and on the east coast, where the ocean buffets the coastline and the natural sediments that built up the east side make it impossible to build. The East side is the natural, undeveloped side, and provides some of the best surfing in the world. As for the rest of the coast, the northwest side is the playground for the rich and famous. There are million dollar beach houses and some of the finest and most expensive hotels and golf courses in the world.

Thumbs up for the Bajan food!
Thumbs up for the Bajan food!
Things calm down a bit as you head south. Along the way you’ll pass some real Bajans. (Anything Barbados is called ‘bajan’, bajan food, bajan people, etc.) There are small houses along with some corrugated iron shacks. You’ll pass local watering holes, where they serve Banks beer, which seems to pervade all establishments on the island, and which is rather good. You’ll pass schools, small shops, and fields of people playing soccer, or cricket. Cricket is huge down there, and actually, Barbados is hosting the 2006 Cricket World Cup. While we were there a huge festival called “Cricketfest” was on, but we weren’t able to stop by.

The infusion of Rastafari was apparent throughout the island. We saw a lot of reggae colors and met some Rastas. We met one old Rasta in Bridgetown, on a bridge consequently, who told us the story of a time he met Bob Marley. His name was Ray, and he was a musician. He claimed he played some of the best hotels in the world in his younger days and even pulled out a wallet-sized photo of himself from thirty years ago to prove his point. It was an old weathered photo of him as a young man, dressed up in a suit and bowtie, shot for one of the prestigious hotels in Barbados. His face now was weathered, wrinkled, and old, with a scraggly beard. His eyes still shone, through, as he preached to us about relaxing and loving.

All the Bajans we met were friendly people, even the self proclaimed “weed and coke man”. The weed and coke man assured me of his safety by telling me that he was “safer than a condom, baby!” “My condom’s made of concrete!” he told me. I could only respond with a pound and a hearty “respect!” He responded in kind and after he realized that I didn’t want any drugs he proceeded to help us get a taxi.

Hiking through the Gully
Hiking through the Gully
Another wonderful person we met was Victor, who runs the tours for “Hike Barbados.” Hike Barbados takes you through cane fields, gullies, tropical forests and coastal communities to explore the unique geological and social structure of Barbados. Unfortunately some of the land along the route now runs onto some local farms. We found this out when all of a sudden there was some commotion and yelling and the next thing we know we’re half jogging. We realized that we had come out of the gully right onto a person’s farm and that he was in the middle of planting something. Dogs barking, people yelling and running – we had no clue what was going on but I managed to apologize as we walked by. “Sorry, I don’t mean to mess up your field.” The man replied and told me not to worry about it, just walk in the middle of the rows and it would be ok. We got some hard looks from his wife and another woman as we exited off their land. We waited for the rest of the group to catch up, while Victor told us about some poisonous berries and the native sheep of the island. The red berries he held in his hand contained an extremely toxic chemical. If you ground up one or two of the berries and put it in someone’s food, their heart would quickly stop, Victor explained. Someone in the audience replied, “don’t teach the women that!”

Hike Barbados was a great adventure and getting kicked off the farm was, in my opinion, only one of the highlights of the trip. We were actually walking through what used to be part of a coral reef. Huge cliff faces on either side of us dwarfed our presence. Bats flew around the recesses of the coral cliffs as we made our way up and down the twisting path.

We ended up climbing down about 70 feet or so into a huge cave. Barbados is a coral island, and much of its water is underground. All this water moving under the island has created a series of underground caves, one of the most famous being Harrison’s Cave. At the bottom, Victor assembled a small group of people who each read a part from an old account of a cave exploration from the mid 1700s. He went onto recount a story of three people who tried to explore the caves from this entrance. They heard the sound of the cave change while they were underground. Two of the men took off running and managed to escape the rushing water that came shooting their way. The other man scrambled to the highest point he could find and managed to find a breathing space until the water subsided.

We climbed up out of the cave and walked a short ways back to our starting point. Unfortunately we had not arranged a ride home and no taxis came this far inland. We asked the taxi driver beforehand if we could take a bus, and he went onto explain how he wouldn’t even drive in this area alone and just brought us here because we were tourists. Luckily, Victor came to our rescue and gave us a ride home.

Hiking along the coral path
Hiking along the coral path
Victor ended up doing a bit more than taking us home. After he told us about the formation of the island as a result of tectonic plate activity, and a little about sugar cane burning, Victor decided to show us around the neighboring town. We had mentioned that we wanted to get some dinner so he took us around and showed us some of the restaurants in St. Lawrence Gap. He knew everything about the restaurants and even knew the people at the stands on the side of the road. He called his friend and actually woke him up to find out for us what the best spot for drinks was on a Monday night. He dropped us back at our hotel and we thanked him and gave him a donation towards the hike. Cheers to Victor! If you’re ever in Barbados, try to make this hike. It’s a great experience, and it’s free!

We finished up our time in Barbados with some great food, a few more rum punches and one last longing glance at the beach. I could breathe so easily in the warm air of Barbados, and of course as soon as I got off the plane in Philadelphia, my nose immediately stuffed back up. So here I am now, Wednesday morning, back at work, nose stuffed up, not really feeling too well. Is it the lack of sun or the lack of rum? I’m wishing I could keep my Barbados pace for just a little bit longer. I guess I’ll go back to keeping my dreams of travel alive by reading the Bootsnall travel stories. I hope this one will do the same for you.

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