Driving recklessly, Joseph at the wheel spoke non-stop. With loud rap music in the background, I could hardly understand his heavy accent. Irritated with my disinterest in conversing, he stepped up the accelerator. Empty roads, roundabouts, plantations, and the breeze from the Caribbean Ocean—perfect location for a Formula 1 race. Putting to shame Michael Schumacher, the journey (race) of approximately 45 minutes ended in ocean facing cottages at the Almond Beach Resort. I was only a couple hours away from my first sunrise on the Caribbean isles.
Of course, being an Indian, I already knew that Barbados is home to Sir Garfield sobers, Joel Garner, Greenidge, Haynes, and the great W’s: Weeks, Worrel, Wesley. I was keen to explore Barbados beyond the realm of cricket. An island of contrasting character with a diversity of food and culture, topography and landscapes, sports and adventure, Barbados has earned a reputation for being one of the most enchanting islands in the Caribbean.
During the three days of my stay on the island, which is only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, I was curious to explore this little jewel of the Atlantic Ocean. Having acquired independence from British colonial rule in 1966, Barbados—the Little England of the Caribbean—is today a perfect blend of the colonial world and modern times. Retaining its old world culture and architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries, Barbados is studded with wonderful churches, botanical gardens, and old plantation houses, as well as its incredible beaches.
I woke up to the melodious chirping of birds and a breathtaking view of a beautiful sunrise. I accidentally ran into Rajesh Kannan, with a well trimmed moustache and oiled hair, who has been a manager at the resort for the last seven years. Hailing from Kerala, he is an avid fan of our own King Khan (Shah Rukh Khan). “I have seen all his movies at least three times,” he said at the breakfast table. “I want to go and see him in Mumbai once.” I learned about the extended Indian community, life, and experiences of being a Barbadian.
I strolled along the adjoining beach, and my first impression of Barbados was of the turquoise blue waters, litter-free white sands, swaying palm trees, the occasional sailboat, and an odd early sun bather lying on the beach at crack of dawn. A far cry from the bustling beaches of Mumbai and Chennai!
It being a Friday, several makeshift shops were selling everything ethnic and local: colorful bags and clothes, artifacts and corals, designer jewelry and exclusive paintings; the shops had a little something for every shopper. I ambled around for a couple hours when tour guide Gregory arrived.
“The west coast is very spruced up because of the tourists,” Gregory told me. “But the north and east are natural. We all like the east coast best—you get a lovely breeze there, actually.” The Bajans, use “lovely” and “actually” in almost all of their conversations. “The east coast is where we all go on holiday.” We headed north along the coast, past the Sugar Hill estate, to Six Men’s Bay, a fishing village where women in headscarves and aprons deftly filleted flying fish. A lady in a pink t-shirt with a straw hat sporting a pink flower, sat on a wall by a church, resting her weight on her umbrella. “Churches for the women, rum shops for the men,” Gregory remarked.
As we moved inland, the villages seemed to have scarcely more than a few chickens, a bus stop, two or three banana trees, and a cluster of tiny pastel houses. These are “chattel” houses, so called because they can be jacked up and moved like stacks of cardboard. We also passed a couple beautiful old coral stone churches tucked into crossroads, slightly crumbling but standing solemnly amid the riotous green vegetation surrounding them.
Traveling east, I was mesmerized by banana and sugar plantations and fields of papaya, by grey-stone parish churches and grand plantation houses, and by pastel wooden chattel cottages. The drive on the Atlantic Ocean side is quite a contrast, with miles of untouched beaches along the island’s rugged, hilly and beautiful coast. Cliffs, dunes, pink sands, and beautiful waters are always a hit with celebrities who visit Barbados. Later, we stood in the doorway of a rum shop and watched dancing Bajan couples; a stately gentleman tenderly held the back of a vast woman dressed in red as they swayed to “As Time Goes By.” It seemed we were experiencing Barbados in all its gracious dignity.
The Royal Pavilion is a luxurious resort described as “The Jewel in the Crown of Barbados.” The highlight of the resort was the choice of fine cuisine, including the flying fish (a typical Barbadian delicacy), sword fish, tuna, shrimp, and lobsters with an assortment of vegetarian cuisine.
It is unbelievable that in my three day stay on Barbados I didn’t have an opportunity to test the waters—which was fine by me. The island has so much character and history, such proud and amiable residents, and so many natural and man-made distractions that you can spend a week quite happily without setting foot in the ocean. Barbados sits almost a 100 miles east of its closest neighbor, so when the Spaniards, Danes, French, and others were busy fighting over the rest of the Caribbean, Barbados sat back, remaining solidly British.
During my visit, I wandered around a 300-year-old plantation house, tiptoed through a centuries-old Anglican church and drove past a hilly green landscape that could have doubled for the Scottish Highlands, watched cricket from the Malcolm Marshall end, had a taste of finest Barbadian cuisine and extended nightlife, had interesting conversations with the locals and had plenty of Banks, the local beer.
Yet, I have barely scratched the surface of Barbados, an island that I long to go back to. Perhaps over time I can delve deep into Barbadian culture, the way the Bajans themselves have mastered it over the years.
D.K. Bhaskar is an engineer, writer, and documentary photojournalist. His award-winning work has been published around the world, and he is presently working on a project capturing the lost cultures of Southeast Asia.