Barbados: It's worth it!
by Jacquelyn Milman
Many cruisers bypass Barbados because one must head into the wind when sailing there from the Caribbean. However, we picked a weather window with low winds and small seas, and made the trip in a relatively easy overnight passage from Bequia. We were very happy we did.
Check-in at the Customs and Immigration dock in Bridgetown was simple and straightforward. The anchorage in Carlisle Bay was good holding in sand, a little rolly but we put out a swell bridle. We were able to tie up the dinghy in the inner harbor next to Independence Square, convenient to the center of Bridgetown.
One of our first impressions of Barbados was how clean it is. The water is cellophane-clear and we rarely saw a piece of litter. Even the public bathrooms were wonderfully maintained.
Another impression was of the lack of racial or ethnic tension. People were very friendly, helpful with information or problems, and ready to include us whenever we felt disposed to join in. The best word I can think of to describe this phenomenon is “peaceable”.
Getting around the island is easy. Car rental companies are numerous, their prices are reasonable, and they will deliver the car to your choice of location. While this is usually a hotel, since we were on our boat, we made arrangements to pick up at a dive shop.
If you would rather not brave the roads on your own, several tour outfits provide trips to a variety of sightseeing spots. Taxis are plentiful and will also negotiate to take you around the island, usually at a by-the-hour rate.
But best of all is the bus system. The equivalent of 75 US cents (Bds$1.50) takes you to the farthest reaches of the island. We asked at the bus depot in Bridgetown about a bus just to go sightseeing and it was suggested that we take the bus to Bathsheba, a popular seaside resort and surfing area on the Atlantic coast.
And on Sundays, there is a scenic bus tour. For only US$7.50 per person, we were treated to five hours of sightseeing. The bus picked us up at Independence Square at 2:00PM. We were surprised and delighted that our fellow passengers were all locals; we were the only outsiders. Everyone, families and old people, was in a festive mood; most had brought snacks and picnic lunches; there was lots of chatter and laughter. When we showed a willingness to join in, we were readily included, and people were delighted that we liked Barbados.
The first stop was a beautiful, windswept area of the eastern coast, at Barclay Park. Then we proceeded to Cherry Tree Hill, passing through fields of sugarcane and seeing old mills, including one still-working windmill at Morgan Lewis Mill. Cherry Tree Hill seems to have no cherries, even though vendors were selling cherries at Barclay Park. Instead there is a large stand of huge old mahogany trees surrounding St. Nicholas Abbey, a planter’s house built in the mid-17th century.
Then we passed through more sugarcane, some cotton and other agriculture, past fields of cows and black-bellied sheep (claimed to be the best lamb in the world), to Little Bay. Little Bay has a rugged coastline with fabulous blowholes. They spouted and fumed high into the air, sending salt spray back at us on the wind.
Our last destination for the tour was River Bay. This cozy spot is a popular park where dozens of Bajans (pronounced "Bay-juns," the nickname Barbadians call themselves) were gathered. There were picnic tables and drink vendors, and a music system set up in one of the clearings. It was clearly a popular place for a Sunday outing.
On the return trip, one loudly chatty, bossy lady in the back of the bus revealed that she goes on these trips every Sunday, but had missed last week to celebrate her 67th birthday with family. With that information disclosed, the others on the bus sang “Happy Birthday”. Then the driver put on the speaker system a variety of birthday songs to which everyone sang along. A collection was taken up for the driver, who told us he researches the areas of the tour so he can provide history and information about each locale.
It was dark by the time we arrived back in Bridgetown and the whole of downtown was decorated in blue and gold lights in observance of Barbados’s independence in 1966. The celebration continues throughout the month of November.
We so enjoyed this trip that we took the one the following Sunday as well. It went to Foul Bay, passing through a lively tourist area called St. Lawrence Gap, full of beach parks, hotels, restaurants, and shops. Foul Bay has another beautiful beach with wind and surf. Then we went to Three Houses Park, so named for the original three houses that were the only ones there at one time. On the way we passed such points of interest as a lighthouse, the Silver Sands Resort, and the Concorde Museum next to the airport, which houses the Concorde in which Queen Elizabeth II came to Barbados.
We then made a short stop at Codrington College, a non-boarding school for the Anglican priesthood. The building was completed in 1743. Our final destination was to be Bath, but our driver, Ronald Marshall, said there was construction there so we would deviate to Bathsheba instead. We’d already been there, but today there was a surfing competition so there were lots of people, temporary vendor stands, music, etcetera — a very festive event. We walked around, stopped for a beer, then wandered back to the bus at departure time.
We did walking tours in Bridgetown as well. The Parliament building is prominent. Across what is referred to as the inner harbor is Independence Square, once a parking lot, now a beautiful park. We visited the Nihde Israel Synagogue, founded in 1654, the earliest constructed temple in the western hemisphere. An interesting place was the Pelican Art Centre, where local artists have shops. Some, such as a ceramicist and a woodworker, provide demonstrations.
The University of the West Indies has a branch on Barbados and we took a stroll through the pretty campus. Cricket is a major sport on Barbados and one can major in Cricket Management as a career choice.
There are several points of interest around the island. One which we had wanted to see was Harrison’s Cave, where you can take a tram ride through the cave. We’d been told it is a not-to-miss destination but, alas, it was closed for renovations. We did go to the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, another place well worth the time. You can walk through the Reserve and observe the wildlife in their natural habitat. There were many animals: the Barbados red-footed tortoise, deer, mara (a rodent that looks like a large rabbit), a variety of birds, caiman, snakes, iguanas, and the green monkey, brought to Barbados from Africa many years ago. The monkeys were our favorite, jumping from tree to tree, scampering through the reserve, performing antics to delight the visitor.
Just opposite the Reserve is Grenade Hall Signal Station and Forest. Grenade Hall was one of five signal stations that, perched atop various hills, could see each other and flew flags to signal the comings and goings of ships. The Forest had informative signs identifying various plants, their history and usefulness.
There are many more places we could have seen and things we could have done, but one would have to remain for several weeks and we needed to be on our way. But would we go back? In a heartbeat.
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