Island in the Sun
E-Mail to a Friend Print Article Comment Smaller Larger Share on Facebook
It is on this ship that I savour my first taste of Barbados. It is a wonderful feeling
sailing up to the island. With the sun blazing and an alluring sea, she appears to move closer to us, a small speck gaining form and monument. As I race from The Ocean Monarch, the port is filled with excitement and I'm off to explore Barbados, an island that will soon introduce me to the pleasures of Flying Fish, hot sauce and bowls of rice and peas.
It is also home to my future wife.
Flash forward and yes, Bart Card is a little older, wiser and returning to a Barbados very similar to my original visit. With the excitement of a young boy, I can't wait to slip into a pair of shorts, slide on a pair of Topsiders and jump in to my “moke” and be off exploring.
But first I must share a family history lesson. My wife, Sarah Jane, calls Barbados home. Her grandfather, a colonial surgeon from Barbados, was posted to the Falkland Islands after the First World War where his youngest of 10 – my future mother-in-law – was born. He returned home to Barbados from the Falklands with his expanded family. We try as often as possible to return to Sarah Jane's homeland for a visit.
On each occasion, it's first down to Oistens – a daytime fish market that features the catch of the day from the host of boats arriving. A quick purchase and we're off to Bathsheba on the east coast, home of miles of untouched beach along the island's wildest, hilly and beautiful stretch of coast. It's the Atlantic in all its glory.
However, we are not there for the surf, but to barbecue fish on the beach. Of course, this isn't the normal thing to do for a tourist, but I don't consider myself a tourist while in Barbados. As an aside, Oistens fish market is also a lively stop for a late-night snack of freshly caught local fish cooked right there on the side of the road.  
Barbados is a land of remarkable contrasts – from its craggy northern coastline to vast meadows of golden sugar cane and serene turquoise Caribbean coastline – all on an island only 21 miles long and 14 miles wide. The eastern-most island of the Caribbean's Lesser Antilles,
Barbados boasts a unique range of natural and historic attractions, from stunning plantation “great houses” that reflect a bygone era of the island's first settlers, to vast caves filled with prehistoric formations.
The island is also known for its distinctive contrasting coastlines; the spectacular west coast beaches line the crystal Caribbean waters, while the rugged east coast is a breathtaking stretch ideal for surfing and watersports. Seafaring tours aboard historic ships, submarines, private sailboats and chartered yachts are savoured on both shores.
Daytime in Barbados illuminates the flowering vegetation, abundant underwater sea life and other natural wonders. Because Barbados lies partially on the Atlantic and the Caribbean, the landscape and coastline of the island are
diverse. Vacationers can't help but gaze and sniff at the spectacular tropical flowers, although it is the Andromeda Gardens and the Flower Forest Botanical Gardens that showcase more specifically the island's rich botanical blossoms. Both of these tropical habitats, located in St. Joseph and open throughout the day, serve a small myriad of purposes: perfect for a leisurely stroll or an idyllic setting for a wedding ceremony.
Visitors can explore an island rich in culture and heritage from the late 1600s, viewing the plantations of St. Nicholas Abbey and
Lancaster Great House House. Lancaster Great House is an historic Barbadian plantation
residence on more than two acres of land amid mature mahogany and fruit trees and beautiful gardens; full of colonial charm and now filled with John and Rain Chandler's antiques, paintings and objects d'art. Famous for their
magnificent Thursday and Sunday lunch buffet, traditional West Indian dishes are surrounded by magnificent floral displays with nostalgic music in the background.
The Barbados Wildlife Reserve, a favourite with my children, is an ideal place to see the famous Barbados Green Monkey, as well as mongoose, peacock, tortoise, porcupine and iguana. Another way to explore Barbados is on a Highland Outdoor Tour – featuring equestrian, walking or tractor-drawn jitney travels through stunning scenery.
A trip to the Animal Flower Cave is also recommended, permitting an excursion that ventures to the most northerly point of Barbados at the very tip of the island. The cave takes its name from the sea anemones found in its pools, which were first called ‘Animal Flowers' back in 1750 by Griffin Hughes in his book,
The Natural History of Barbados.
I have always appreciated a love of deep-sea fishing, heading out to sea at 4:30 a.m. with my friend David Marriott, leaving the harbour with the outriggers in position and witnessing another outstanding Barbados sunrise. At sea, the bright blue water is paradise.
On one visit, I recall a 45-minute struggle before finally reeling in a barracuda that had tired both of us to no end. Yes, I had won the battle but I quickly released my prize back to the sea. That was several years ago, and on my return, I thought about that barracuda and wondered if he had grown smarter as a result of our combat, or cocky, doomed to flounder during another match with a hungrier fisherman.
If fishing, however, isn't for you, ride the Atlantis Submarine, a submersible vessel that dives down 150 feet and explores the wrecks and reefs of the Caribbean. Atlantis offers both day and night dives that allows passengers to view spectacular tropical fish, turtles and marine vegetation.
Despite its 50 years of independence from Great Britain, Barbados still enjoys a delightful British atmosphere. A statue of Admiral Nelson graces Bridgetown's Trafalgar Square and
afternoon tea remains a custom for many hotels on the West Coast Caribbean shores, including St. James parish, one of 11 on the island.
The infrastructure of the island is technologically advanced, with sophisticated business
operations allowing for conventions and
meetings to flourish at a host of internationally acclaimed resort hotels.
Barbados has an unbeatable range of
accommodations, from elegant resorts to
intimate guesthouses. Dining in Barbados is a feast for all senses, from fabled folk recipes for Flying Fish (a culinary national treasure) to gourmet experiences that rival the
world's finest.
One of my favourite pastimes in Barbados is to drive around the island searching for
construction, for that's where to find locals
selling some terrific homemade food, often from the back of a van. Dabbed in hot sauce, fish cakes are a mid-morning treat. In Canada, I suppose, people might drive up to a Tim
Hortons for a coffee and donut instead. Culinary delights are endless in Barbados, and aside from Flying Fish, you can sample delicacies such as cou-cou (a cornmeal and okra dish), pepperpot (a spicy stew), and jug-jug (a mixture of Guinea corn and green peas). Any evening out can be complemented with live entertainment, as Barbados is alive with calypso, limbo and stilt dancing.
Diverse sightseeing options feature a wide array of natural attractions, abundant sporting choices, world-class shopping and lively nightlife. With all this, and its temperate year-round climate of sunshine and warm breezes, it is clear how Barbados has remained one of the Caribbean's most revisited destinations.
But Barbados is also noted for its single greatest natural resource: its people.
A mixed population of some 285,000 inhabitants, Barbadians (also known as Bajans) are friendly, warm, and hospitable individuals, some British, but most of West African descent. Barbados enjoys a 98-per-cent literacy rate, and a very high percentage of the island's youth
attains a college or university education. Proud of their island, Bajans are always willing to share a rich cultural heritage and provide
insights of favourite local attractions, proving that unbeatable finds can easily be discovered off the beaten track.
One of the first shops I visit is the Women's Self Help in Bridgetown, Barbados' capital.
Established by “Gentile” women at the turn of the 20th century and now moved to a more modern shopping centre. They have fabulous homemade jams, guava jelly, hot sauces, pepper wine and my family's all-time favourite candy, Tamarind Balls. Old jewelry and homemade crafts are also available. My wife's great-grandmother was a loyal customer.
A visit to Barbados, whether it's a leisurely sojourn or a corporate convention, is always an adventure – civilized yet casual, refined yet racy. An island that gracefully combines progress and tradition, Barbados is always a pleasure to revisit and rediscover, just like I do as often as possible. I must admit, on the last few visits, I have noticed many expensive houses under construction. I guess it just shows that I'm not the only one who appreciates the qualities this beautiful island has to offer.
As I relax usually on the beach of Southern Palms Beach Club, which is my family's favourite place to stay and where I watched my children grow, I remembered that 17-year-old boy who darted from The Ocean Monarch in 1964 and raced ashore to examine Barbados for the first time.
I no longer work in the sweltering heat of an engine room aboard a cruise ship, but my love for fish cakes and Miss Lottie's hot sauce
certainly remain.

Bart Card is a food and travel writer.  
(905) 251-1258 or

Southern Palms Beach Club
Lancaster Great House


Be the first to comment on this story!