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Viv's Travel Bug Travel Editorials
An Island of surprises – Barbados at
‘Crop Over’ time
A cacophony of sounds filled the air. The colourful crowd surged to the different venues, each with its conflicting points of interest. The vendors tried to attract the noisy passing throng. Excitement was in the air! It was early evening in Queen’s Park, Bridgetown, Barbados and the anticipation – the expectation – of things to come, caused ripples of sound among the spectators. A beauty pageant here, a police band playing in a rotunda there, a rap-dancing competition over in the corner crated venues that attracted different age groups. It is ‘Crop Over’ time in Barbados.
In the main arena, as night fell, reggae and calypso music was the draw card. Amongst the crowd supple performers on stilts amazed with their daring acrobatic skills, high above the upturned faces. Traditional ‘Bajan’ (i.e. Barbadian) foods were sold by local charity groups and one could buy a substantial, and tasty, meal of flying fish and cou-cou (a porridge-like maize dish flavoured by local spices), all washed down with a drink of mauby (made by adding water to an extract from the bark of a local tree and tasting a bit like sarsaparilla).
The month-long ‘Crop Over” Festival had started, a Barbadian traditional celebration of the end of the sugar harvest and the opportunity to unwind after the hard, physically punishing, manual labour was over for the year. Today, of course, most sugar cane on the island is mechanically harvested but that has not stopped the annual crowning of the ‘King’ and ‘Queen’ of the Cane Cutters, those workers who had cut the most cane during the previous season. Weeks of events would end with a grand parade and marching bands and floats, the Bajan version of a mardi gras carnival, rivalling, they claim, those more famous events elsewhere.
The tropical island of Barbados is a welcoming destination for visitors from all over the world. It is the most easterly of the Caribbean islands and is generally not affected by the weather patterns that build up in the warmer waters of the Gulf of Mexico. 34 kms by 24 kms, with a population of less than 300,000 friendly people, it offers much for the discerning traveller. Surprisingly clean – there is a strict government policy of recycling similar to that practised in South Australia which discourages litter – and with beautiful beaches and warm temperatures, Barbados has attracted the perceptive for centuries. George Washington holidayed in Barbados, Tiger Woods was married there, Hillary Clinton was there lately and the English footballer Wayne Rooney was there at the same time as I was.
Barbados is surprisingly flat, with the highest point on this limestone island not much more than 300 metres. Its name originates from a Portuguese word meaning ‘bearded one’, given when the first visitor/explorer noticed the appearance of the much-rooted banyan trees on the island. The western, or Caribbean, side has soft coral, often palm-fringed or tree-lined beaches with little or no wave action, but great for snorkelling, scuba-diving, or water sports (jet skiing, water skiing, sailing); while the eastern part of the island is battered by the Atlantic Ocean producing some spectacular cliffs and long (but treacherous) sandy beaches.
On our recent trip to Barbados we took the opportunity to take a catamaran cruise. Sailing from the Careenage (the name of the ancient port entrance) in Bridgetown we rounded the south coast, heading northwards to marine parks. In the waters around us we saw occasional hawk-billed turtles and more appeared, within touching distance, as we stopped and snorkelled amongst them and shoals of colourful reef fish, and even a passing ray. It was a memorable opportunity to view these beautiful creatures at close range.
There are many other Barbadian activities, apart from lazing on the beach or beside the pool in the ±30°C temperatures, in which one can participate. A visit to the Friday night ‘Fish Fry’ at Oistins, a coastal town in Christ Church parish, is well worth the effort, with dozens of little café/stalls offering a variety of fish meals, all within earshot of live calypso music and dancing. The cultural show at the Harbour Lights offers performances of limbo-dancing, fire eating, stilt acrobatics, etc. An island safari tour takes visitors, in 4-wheel drive, open-backed Land Rovers, to the less-developed parts of the eastern seaboard and spectacular coastal views.
Efficient and frequent local bus transport provides one with the opportunity to go to destinations and explore on foot. The capital, Bridgetown, with its two bridges, Heroes (originally Trafalgar) Square complete with its Nelson statue, and busy streets and pedestrian mall, as well as the famous Kensington Cricket Oval, is easy to explore. One of the experiences I enjoyed most was catching a yellow ‘reggae’ bus to Speightstown and exploring the old sugar port with its overhanging colonial buildings and then walking along the beaches north and south of the town.
Barbados is well worth a visit – for relaxation among friendly people (some of the most courteous drivers in the world), for different foods and music, and for the culture of a unique Caribbean island.
Viv’s husband, Peter, was in Barbados recently, flying there via Argentina. Contact Viv or Peter for more travel information