Well now we know where all the tourists are, they are in Barbados in abundance. This island is busy with hotels and apartment blocks squeezed into nearly every bit of the coastline along the south and west. However less than a mile inland from all the endless concrete are gentle hills, narrow country roads and mile upon mile of sugar cane fields and a rugged undeveloped east coast.
Two buses bought us from the airport to our tiny apartment in a residential street just outside Speightstown on the West Coast.
The buses are easy in Barbados, there is a choice of 3 different types, the big blue government buses which never seem to run to any schedule and are few and far between and the smaller privately owned yellow buses that are always rammed full of humans and driven as if they are F1 cars.
Finally there are the ‘dollar buses’ which are white mini vans seemingly running mainly in the north and east of the island. Helpfully all journeys on any type of bus cost BB$2 regardless of where or how far you are going and the bus stops tell you if you are heading into or out of the city!
We spent most of our 5 days here hopping on and off the buses and exploring the west coast and venturing across the island almost to the east coast.
We had a 15 minute stroll into Speightstown which was once known as Little Bristol as it was the port from which ships laden with sugar cane and other commodities left for Bristol in England. It’s a charming small town with a local feel and much less upscale than the rest of the West Coast with lovely old wooden buildings and quirky seafront cafes and bars.
On the Saturday of our stay we took a bus to Holetown which is where the first English settlers landed in 1627 and claimed the island for the British. After a quick look at the upmarket tourist orientated shops and classy hotels we found a beach bar and restaurant where Richard settled in for the two big rugby matches whilst Annie walked along the coast under overcast skies and chatted with the locals working on the beach.
Sadly the rugby results weren’t what we had hoped for however our visit was made more interesting as Esther (Richard’s niece) and her husband Toby are shortly visiting on their belated honeymoon.
Our wider exploration of the island was hampered a little bit by 2½ of our 4 full days being surprisingly overcast with frequent rain showers added to which the bus service was more unreliable on Sundays. In retrospect we probably should have hired a car for a day or two to maximise our short time on the island.
Sunday morning came and Annie decided to give a local Church another go. As it turned out she went to a small chapel that was almost full and it was wonderful to find a lively service with joyful singing. There were tambourines in the pews for the worship time and lots of halleluiahs and amens together with an hour long rousing sermon.
One of our more memorable outings was catching a dollar bus to St Nicholas Abbey, a definite misnomer as there was no abbey in sight. We knew before we left that it was a quite small Jacobean mansion that is one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean and a fully functioning traditional rum distillery all set in a lush valley full of trees and rainforest type plants. It was such a contrast to the surrounding fields of crops and sugar cane.
From here we walked up Cherry Tree Hill (yes no cherry trees either) a mahogany tree lined road leading to a viewpoint of the rugged and windswept east coast. A new steam railway has recently been built to take tourists from St Nicholas Abbey to the view point and back for the princely sum of BB$60 per person (about £23) that for us was a 10 minute walk.
Our advice is for people to save their money as at the viewpoint is a great place to watch the train arrive, see the steam engine revolve on a turntable and all the passengers get off to admire the very hazy and misty view.
Many of the beaches up the west coast seem to be linked and at low tide accessible along a narrow coast path, some are very busy with beach chairs, beach bars and every kind of water sport and others empty and more natural.
We quickly realised that to eat out in the family run restaurants used by local people was cheaper than buying food in the supermarket and self-catering so we made the most of it! The beer and home cooked food was really reasonable and very tasty, we especially loved the Macaroni Pie!
Every island we have visited on this trip has had its own distinct character and Barbados was no exception. It is the perfect island for the first time Caribbean visitor as everything is made easy for tourists with plenty of bars and restaurants where everyone speaks English and even drive on the same side of the road as we do! Our trip home involved a long wait as we had to leave the apartment at 1pm and our flight wasn’t until 10.30pm. We took a bus to Oistins on the south coast and enjoyed a local meal along with a few beers before moving on to the airport bar for a couple of glasses of chilled wine and several conversations with other travellers.
An 8 hour Virgin Atlantic flight to Gatwick and two National Express buses that for once fell perfectly for us and we were soon home to what we hope is the start of an English spring.