A Guide to Holidaying in Barbados
Bajans would offer directions in that accent that sounds like warm sunshine and brown sugar...
Steve Ankers reports that there’s more than enough to keep you busy in the Caribbean hotspot, even if you are approaching middle age “from the wrong side”.
We’d been to Barbados before and were confident we could make our own way around, seeking out a range of eateries, views and attractions in our hired open-top jeep. We knew that breaking down wouldn’t present a problem, or getting lost. All over the island Bajans would offer directions in that accent that sounds like warm sunshine and brown sugar, even if they didn’t always accord with the lines shown on any road map.
It’s no secret of course that Barbados provides a splendid holiday destination for all ages, but I wanted to do more than sit in the sun, build sand castles with others of pensionable age and complain that the Daily Mail was the only British rag available. Like my father before me I take holidays seriously and need to come home at the end exhausted with a decent tick-list of sights seen, experiences had, tiger prawns – in all guises – devoured.
Our pre-trip preparations had progressed as usual. I can’t be trusted with the important stuff so the wife assumed responsibility for the real essentials, and I was left with the trivia – you know, passports, driving licence, tickets, money. Nor is it wise to let me loose in my own “wardrobe” in case I turn up on a Caribbean beach clad in shorts of last year’s length. (I’m hanging onto my best Speedos. Just in case.)
I’m quite good these days at ensuring that my first financial act of the holiday – usually tipping the hotel porter for seizing our bags from us – doesn’t involve a fifty dollar note, or equivalent. It’s taken over forty years, but hey!
And after travelling thousands of miles at great expense for a holiday in the sun, you can ignore that stuff about sitting in the shade under a tree for the first two weeks; these are the things you really need to know, lessons I’m prepared to share from a lifetime of holiday embarrassments:
1. At all costs avoid eye contact with any performer at a “Bajan Roots and Rhythms”, or equivalent tourist fest. Once you’ve been dragooned onto the stage you’re lost, too late. Either you look like a po-faced tax inspector wishing you were somewhere else or you try to act up and go with the flow, ignoring the stares from your other half in the stalls. Trust me, neither is a good look.
2. If reporting a major holiday-threatening fault in the microwave, shower, etc to Reception, first check it’s plugged in, switched on, and pray it will repeat the fault when they come round.
- Remember that, just like retsina and Portuguese fado music, some things that seemed just fine over there, actually aren’t. My “Mount Gay Rum Helping Men Dance for 200 Years” t-shirt doesn’t hack it back home on the badminton court.
- If you’re hoping to persuade the wife that watching cricket is actually a perfectly agreeable leisure pursuit and that she should let you come again, ensure you take her first to the Twenty20 World Cup on a festive, sunny day at the Kensington Oval and not a five day rain-battered affair in a half-empty ground in Manchester. And wear shades so it won’t be too obvious that you’re watching the dancers.
- When driving in Barbados it’s ok, really it is, to wait behind a bus or let other cars out of the side road. It doesn’t make you any less of a man like it does back home.
- Men in beards can’t snorkel. At least I was furnished with that excuse by a sympathetic catamaran crew to explain why water always filled my goggles. This may apply to ladies too.
- In restaurants on the west coast don’t keep saying “you’re Cliff Richard/Michael Winner/Simon Cowell”. Chances are they’ll already know.
- Ordering the dolphin, whether blackened, battered or pan-seared, doesn’t mean you’re eating Flipper.
- Occupying your sun lounger all day, awaiting the evening meal that comes with your all-inclusive tab, isn’t the only way to “lime”.
- And do try to stop atoning for nearly 400 years of colonial oppression. Continually picking things up off the floor for waiters and trying to help with their jobs is probably very irritating.
Remember these essential tips and you’ll be on your way to a trouble-free Bajan holiday.
There are plenty of things to do in Barbados. It’s a shame (or a good thing if you don’t like crowds) that relatively few holidaymakers seem to search out the glorious tropical gardens, the plantation houses and other historical sites, the museums, galleries and fine Bajan restaurants to fit all pockets.
We’ve been on Concorde (while stationary – we’re not made of money -- it used to fly regularly to the capital, Bridgetown, and now forms the centrepiece of an excellent visitor attraction), we’ve watched horse racing on the Garrison Savannah (the former military parade ground and site of the final lowering of the Union Jack in 1966) and I managed to overcome decades of claustrophobia to squeeze myself onto the Atlantis sightseeing submarine – genuine sub, genuine dive, claustrophobia still intact. (Actually, having briefly sat in Concorde, I think the aircrew might have had trouble with me room-wise).
We’ve watched cricket in Bridgetown and toured the Legends of Barbados cricket museum. We’ve been down Harrison’s Cave, visited the Harry Bayley observatory, blagged ourselves a personal conducted tour of parliament, enjoyed the boat trips, the gospel singing and the zip-wire – and I’ve hardly mentioned the sun, sea and sand and the chance to catch up on reading in the best possible environment. (The wife has a Kindle but I’m not convinced). I’ve been served with a rum cake that truly would have made me fail a breathalyser test back home before getting it into my mouth, and we’ve generally dined out in some of the best restaurants we’ve been to anywhere. We’ve even located the world’s top wedding venue for our daughter, the amazing Hunte’s Gardens in the centre of the island with opera playing through the rain forest canopy – she just needs to line someone up now, we’ve done the hard part.
And what can I say about Oistins? The gazetteer will tell you it’s the fourth biggest town on the island. I can tell you that Friday nights at the beach fish fry are magical. Choose your fresh catch at one of a dozen or more stalls, watch it being barbecued then eat up on a plate of salad and macaroni pie washed down with a bottle of Banks beer. Delicious. Then walk the craft stalls while listening to the music from huge sound systems. But the really special thing happens hidden away behind the main space – when, from around 9.30, the dancing gets properly under way. Ballroom dancing, that is. Locals and visitors, any age, any ability, any partner, to old pop hits.
Whenever we go we say we must learn how, so we can join in next time. The occasional tourist turns up, fools around, takes dozens of amusing phone pics of himself gurning and pretending to dance, breaks a beer glass, falls over, but for the most part the good-natured dancers just step round and keep going.
Which says it all, really.
We’ll be back. Perhaps when I’m ninety I’ll think about calling a halt on the zipwire and the banana boat, then go ahead anyway.
And in Oistins on a Friday night they’ll still be dancing – you know, we may start taking lessons.
Born in Liverpool and still a devoted supporter of Liverpool FC, Steve
Ankers studied Geography at Oxford and Town Planning at London. He had a career in the environmental field and now semi retired, works for an environmental charity that campaigns and raises funds for the protection of the South Downs National Park. He lives in Lewes, Sussex with his wife Margaret who is a vet, and his daughter. Steve has co-authored two satirical books on planning and also writes humorous articles on a range of subjects published in various magazines. He loves travel ... and Barbados!