As the plane slowly descends towards the pear-shaped island to land at Sir Grantley Adams International Airport (IATA: BGI), a good strategy to employ if you want to immediately strike up a conversation with a Barbadian, aka Bajan, is to note that they take the sport of cricket here as seriously as Canadians do hockey back home. In fact, Bridgetown's Kensington Oval, the "Mecca" of West Indies cricket, hosted the region's first Test match in 1930, and played host to the first-ever Test triple century, Andy Sandham's 325. I have no idea what the latter heroic achievement involves; however, I'm sure that a local will explain. The stadium's capacity was increased from 15,000 to 28,000 for the 2007 World Cup, and assuaging national pride, Barbados hosted the final game. Try to work those cricket tidbits into your conversation as well as the fact that Barbados contributed two players on this year's West Indies team referred to as the Windies. For cricket buffs back home, one might pick up a maroon shirt with grey sides. Fielders often sport a maroon sunhat with a wide brim, which also makes an endearing gift. Incidentally, the first two international championship one-day tournaments held every four years since 1975, were won by the vaunted Windies.
Sure enough, the first local I talk to, wearing a battered straw sun hat, replies laconically, "Mon, we Windies is brilliant!" But enough cricket; we are here for sun, sand and a smidgen of delightful rum.
Part of the Lesser Antilles group of islands, Barbados sits slightly east of their collective volcanic curvature, close to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The Lesser Antilles along with the Bahamas and the Greater Antilles combine to shape the West Indies. For you sailors, Windward Islands form the south and the Leeward Islands the north, prevailing winds blowing from south to north. Barbados is 434 km. (270 m.) northeast of Venezuela. It's easy to cover the entire island as the total area is only 430 square km., (166 square m.) and now that we have established geography, back to the rum.
But first some important trivia, (a Caribbean oxymoron) for when you return home as friends expect a report, and you do not want to disappoint them:
Barbados enjoys the nickname "Little England," and the Brits' colloquial nickname is "Bimshire," pronounced Bim-shur.
Despite the above, Barbados was named by the Portuguese explorer, Pedro Campos.
Seven of the first twenty-one U. S. Governors of Carolina states were Barbadians.
Barbados invented music called Soca-Samba, a fusion of Caribbean Soca and Brazilian Samba.
The system of longitude was discovered by charting the distance between Portsmouth, England and Bridgetown, Barbados using the position of the sun relative to both locations.
In 1884, through the Barbados Agricultural Society, Barbados attempted to become one of the provinces of Canada, a proposal made again by persistent senators in the 1950's and 60's.
One of the most densely populated countries, Barbados also sports one of the most dense road networks. Although only 34 km (21 m.) at its widest point, an automobile trip from Six Cross Roads in St. Philip parish (south-east) to North Point in St. Lucy parish (north-central) lasts 1.5 hours or longer, thanks to narrow, winding, rough roads. By the way, like the Brits, they drive on the left.
If you want to track down and throttle someone who cut you off on the road, the first letter of a vehicle's license plate designates usage or owner's registered parish. "Z" and "ZR" are for taxis; "H" for rental cars; "B" for buses and minibuses; "CD" for diplomatic cars; and "3D" or "7D" for Defence force vehicles, while "ML" or "MP" with green plates usually designate military, police or government vehicles. "X" is for Christ Church; "A" for St. Andrew; "G" for St. George; "S" for St. James; "J" for St. John; "O" for St. Joseph; "L" for St. Lucy; "M" for St. Michael; "E" for St. Peter; "P" for St. Philip; and "T" for St. Thomas. Now, think of all the great trivia games that you can play with the children as you travel about the island.
Barbados and Japan enjoy the highest per capita number of centenarians in the world, so Bajan lifestyle must be healthy.
For those of you who love gossip, during her stay on the island, singer Nina Simone had an affair with a Prime Minister of Barbados, described in her tell-all autobiography, I Put A Spell On You (1992), and she dedicated a song to him. You thought Pierre Trudeau and Bill Clinton had all the fun.
Exiled Brazilian Jews introduced sugarcane to Barbados, and Imperial Palm trees were imported and used as land markers for the sugar mill plantations. The drinking age is 18, but those aged 10-17 are allowed to consume alcohol provided they are with a parent.
Back to the aforementioned rum, produced in Barbados for 350 years and recognized as one of the finest in the world. There are several distillery tours. I recommend the Mount Gay Rum Tour, Foursquare Rum Factory and Heritage Park featuring an Art Foundry, Craft Shops, Food and Drink Stalls, and beautifully landscaped gardens and finally, Malibu Visitor Centre.
As the sugar industry morphed into the predominant commercial enterprise, Barbados was divided into large plantation estates, replacing the small holdings of the early settlers. West Africans were enslaved to work, and this practice was not abolished in the British Empire until 1834. Complete freedom was preceded by an apprenticeship period lasting up to six years, a kinder, gentler form of slavery.
The first object to notice when arriving at the airport is the flag, a trident, representing Neptune, god of the sea centered in a vertical band of gold representing the pristine beach sands, surrounded on both sides by vertical ultramarine bands representing sea and sky. This is the hedonistic picture most tourists transport with them during winter visits, and they are not disheartened. Of course, beautiful beaches are everywhere along with every conceivable water recreation.
In Bridgetown, there are duty free shops that sell fine jewellery, china, liquor, etc., and local vendors sell everything else. Check out the Parliament Buildings representing the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth.
Speightstown in the north was the first commercial centre, and is a neat half-day trip allowing one to browse through shops, examine the art gallery, and enjoy lunch at a beachfront restaurant, viewing the panoramic, breathtaking sights. Not recommended for swimming; however, there are bays at low tide where it is quite safe, and you will discover quiet, private coves.
Fitts Village, a small village on the west coast, offers excellent swimming and snorkeling and wonderful Italian food. The west coast, often referred to as the "Platinum Coast," is renowned for the clear, warm waters that lap easily onto the golden sands. There are many compelling beaches along this coast where the calm azure waters of the Caribbean Sea encourage swimming and the clean coral sands invite relaxation, soaking up the Caribbean sunshine. However, be careful; the sun is strong so use your lotion.
Holetown, a western community, was the first settlement; the Holetown Monument commemorates the first English landing in 1625. Here, you discover restaurants, shopping, hotels, residential areas, and night spots.
Oistins, on the south coast, home of the Oistins Fish Fry has a rich history as it's where Articles of Agreement were drawn up to form Barbados' parliament. Needham's Point offers some of the best beaches on the island, and St. Lawrence Gap ("The Gap") is where those who prefer night life will feel right at home with numerous night clubs, bars and beachfront restaurants. The south is a curious mixture of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and livelier than the west but calmer than east or north. The south offers calm swimming, snorkeling over inshore reefs and tidal pool, and at the southernmost tip of the island, windsurfing. You can also rent jet skis or search for sunken treasures underwater.
On the rugged east coast, Bathsheba is a hideaway with breathtaking scenery. The "Soup Bowl" is where to find surfers. The East Coast Rd. is a popular picnic spot, and Cattlewash presents a breathtaking landscape. With constant Atlantic washing, it's a perfect spot to comb the beach. Huge Atlantic waves crash along the shore, spraying mist and foam into the air; thus, most beaches are better suited for walking. However, there are a few good areas to splash about. As waves break over rocks and reefs, small pools form close to shore. Voila, natural swimming pools!
A week here is welcome balm for the stressed body and spirit, and you will return home rejuvenated but eager to return soon to the pear-shaped island.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.
Transportation, visas, health, maps and temperature
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Google interactive map: http://maps.google.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/