I engage the services of a driver, a smiling and happy Bajan named Randy, and off we go to circumnavigate the entire 34 km by 23 km island, easily done in a few days. First stop is Harrison’s Cave, a gigantic underground cavern that apparently all tourists to Barbados need to see. Next is Hunte’s Gardens, a tropical wonderland of exotic plants where I am invited to share a rum punch with the very outgoing Mr. Hunte himself, an elderly British ex-pat who has created a thriving jungle garden in the depths of a limestone sinkhole.
Around the island I ramble, stopping to watch surfers challenge some of the world’s best waves on the east coast at Bathsheba Beach, with lunch at The Roundhouse where I discover crispy flying fish with breadfruit chips. Then a quick sojourn at peaceful Naniki Resort, an eco-retreat secluded high on a hill with a view of the Atlantic far below. Next, a walk around St. Nicholas Abbey, a magnificent former plantation house that displays what life was like on Barbados when rum and sugar cane were principal exports.
Nowadays its tourism and banking that drive the economy, and they drive it very well indeed. Barbados has a strong middle class boasting an amazing 99.7 percent literacy rate, low unemployment and little crime. Many students graduate from college and most tourism operations are managed by Bajans. Life is good, almost as good as the weather, which averages about 25-30 C (77-86 F) all year round, with almost constant sunshine.
The west coast of the island is home to luxury resorts, swank golf courses and fancy restaurants, but we are behind schedule. I am due to ride a mini-submarine out of Bridgetown and they won’t wait. The craft sinks down 40 metres to examine the coral reefs and spectacular reef fish that live there. The next day I dive with sea turtles from a catamaran. I also get to ride with Captain Vance in his boat to Carlisle Bay where I swim with turtles.
Frolicking face to face with a giant turtle in the ocean is a thrilling experience. Along the main harbour known as the Careenage you’ll find deep sea fishing charters that catch marlin, sailfish and yellowfin tuna in season (December to March).
Bridgetown is a bustling city of nearly 100,000 with shops, museums and the usual tourist attractions but I’m off to enjoy the local farmers market. In Cheapside I find bustling outdoor stalls where vendors sell everything from fish to bananas. Tourists don’t usually shop here, but I’m welcomed with open arms by an army of friendly faces eager to talk. Oh, Canadian, are you? Welcome! Bring your friends!
The Mt. Gay rum factory is a must see as is the Friday night fish fry in the tiny fishing port of Oistins, a riot of music and flavours with flying fish, veggies and mac n’ cheese sizzling on most menus. Bajan food is not fancy; for fine dining you must venture forth to continental high-end restaurants like Cin Cin in Bridgetown.
“I find bustling outdoor stalls where vendors sell everything from fish to bananas. Tourists don’t usually shop here, but I’m welcomed with open arms by an army of friendly faces eager to talk. Oh, Canadian, are you? Welcome! Bring your friends!”
“Other Bajan vendors sell crafts and clothing at other locations, like a weekly farmer’s market in the centre of the island. There is also a weekly market at the central plaza at The Crane where high end clothing and other crafts can be purchased. All in all, there is so much to see and do on Barbados you could spend weeks or years finding and experiencing them all.