"Of all the islands in the Caribbean, we're the most British", proclaims Edwin Lovell, our Bajan driver and guide. His accent showed. Here in this most easterly of the Lesser Antilles chain, the island nation still clings to British ways of afternoon tea, game of cricket, dizzying roundabouts and Anglican faith. Even Queen Elizabeth II is regarded as the country's head of state. Naturally, there's lots of British tourists too. Thank goodness they didn't bring the dreary English weather with them - it's quite sunny as I wade into the warm Scope mouthwash waters of Carlisle Bay. Too bad, Rihanna isn't around.
Getting here was a long slog. From St. Thomas in the USVI, it took 39 hours sailing the high seas before reaching the port of Barbados. Carnival Valor euphemistically calls this a "Fun Day At Sea". With a captive crowd of 3000+ passengers, I worried everything else on the ship would look like a market place. It wasn't so for such a big ship. We hanged out at the "adults only" Serenity deck, marinated ourselves in the jacuzzi, played mini-golf, and ran around the jogging track. The cruise director's voice regularly boomed on the PA with more stuff to do than we can handle. Reading a book capped my long day at sea.
|St. James Parish Church|
|Rihanna's digs whenever she's in town|
I awoke the next day to find the boat slowly sailing into port at the Bridgetown Cruise Terminal. Past the cavernous arrival hall and its duty free shops, it wasn't difficult spotting Scenic Barbados Tours amongst several other companies waiting for guests. Edwin was there with a welcome grin. Another group of 4 joined us in the van and soon we were off on a five-hour loop tour of Barbados - surely not a leisurely pace as I'd wish but still would suffice given our nine-hour stay in this island. And at $35 per person, we're at least helping one local company.
Two hundred sixty two years ago, a then-19 year old George Washington also sailed into the island. He stayed for 2 months - the only international trip he ever took. He came not to claim the island from the English settlers but to accompany his older half-brother who was ill with tuberculosis (a warm climate was what the doctor ordered). While in Barbados, George himself got ill with smallpox. Thankfully that didn't kill him or he wouldn't have been the future first President of the United States.
|Beach in Bathesba|
|The surf is rough on the Atlantic side|
Just north of the capital city of Bridgetown, Edwin brought us to St. James Parish Church - the oldest Anglican church in the island. The earliest settlers from England landed nearby. In 1627, this house of worship was built as the settlement grew. An enthusiastic volunteer guide talked about history as we huddled inside the church nave. On one wall hang pages from the church register listing baptisms, marriages and death in 1695.
Back in the old days as British colony, a great part of Barbados was extensively planted with sugarcane. Plenty of plantation owners got rich with this so-called "white gold". Over pot-holed roads we drove past some these surviving plantations on the island's interior. Moving on to the more rugged northeast, we eventually got to the Highland lookout area where a panoramic view of the island's eastern shore beckoned. On Bathsheba we were confronted with the wild surf of the island's Atlantic coast. While it's not fit for swimming, surfers flock here like moths to a fire.
|Relaxing on Carlisle Bay|
|Bajan rum punch|
|Having fun in my warm bath tub|
The island has finer beaches on its Caribbean side - Carlisle Bay among them - and that's where Edwin brought us. Despite the tourism boom and all that construction frenzy, all beaches are open to the public. It was a busy day on this white sand beach but we still found an empty spot shaded by a tree (which saved us from renting expensive beach umbrellas). The water was so delightfully warm I stayed there longer than I had planned - a perfect antidote to my winter blues.
Edwin came back about an hour later to pick us up. We drove into Historic Bridgetown - a UNESCO World Heritage site - on our way to the nearby port but thought it better to just get off the van, savor the old part of town and walk the rest of the way, about a 20 minute hike to the ship. From the Chamberlain Bridge spanning the Careenage, we followed the historic trail past National Heroes Square which overlooks the Parliament Building.
|Majority of Bajans today are descendants of slave labor from Africa|
A commemorative plaque in one building on Broad Street acknowledges a rather sad chapter in the country's history with slavery. As with many other Caribbean islands under foreign colonizers, native people from Africa were brought by ships and forced into servitude. Those who committed infractions or tried to escape were imprisoned in what was then called "The Cage". Slavery was eventually abolished in the island in 1838 - or more than two decades ahead of the United States.
Broad Street now is looking more like a mini-Bond Street straight out of London. Plenty of shops line the street and the sidewalks jammed with foot traffic. We almost forgot Bajans drive on the left just the way Brits do so crossing the street required some attention. But despite its British-isms, Barbados presents itself as a warm, more laid-back, "why hurry?" contrast to its staid former colonizer. No wonder a worn-out Rihanna returns to her homeland again and again - to escape and rejuvenate.