Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Barbados - Autumn 2019

Sun, Sea, Sand and Straight Rum
Sunday, 3 November


This is my first post as a married man! A lot has happened since ChengDu and none of it has involved any kind of travelling.  In the last 4 months we have upped and moved our life in China back to the UK; started new jobs; got married and bought a house (almost!).  My travels haven't halted, but, I'm sure may have slowed down somewhat.  So here I am in Barbados... on my honeymoon!!

I can't think of a better reception to a country than the one we got in Barbados.  The second we got off the plane we were each handed a rum punch!  We hadn't even collected our bags yet and we were sampling our first Caribbean rum.  Our second rum punch was an hour later by our hotel pool overlooking the stunning aqua waters of Barbados.


Our hotel is on the South Coast in a place called "The Saint Laurence Gap" which seems to be the bar and restaurant scene of Barbados.  A popular tourist spot and where young Bajans go to party, but, not necessarily the best place to find cheap, local food.  Our first meal was at a restaurant near our hotel and set us back a good £60.  We're no longer rich international teachers anymore so a £60 dinner hurt a little! Our first full day was mostly spent lying down either on the beach by the sea or on a sun lounger by the pool (which is also by the sea) as we let our first term teaching back in England stresses thaw out under the Caribbean sun.  We had a great lunch at a much more local feeling part of the South coast called Sand Dollar where beers cost £1.50 and a chicken curry roti with a side of macaroni pie for not much more.  This is more like it!  We liked it so much that after happy hour cocktails back at our hotel we headed straight back there for dinner.  We ate fried dolphin (not flipper - as is written on all the menus!) which I now know is just what the Bajans call Mahi-Mahi.  It's a delicious meaty fish that can be eaten guilt free knowing that it is not an actual dolphin.  We finished our evening around the back of Sand Dollar cafe where the locals were gathered singing some real old-school karaoke, playing dominoes and drinking straight rum out of plastic cups.  A perfect first day on the island.




With the restful day out of the way we had at least one activity organised for each day thereafter.  Monday was food tour day in Bridgetown.  We caught a "Reggae bus" into town which was an experience in itself but super easy and cheap.  These are bashed and dented mini vans that do not look official at all, blasting out rap music and pulling over at no noticeable bus stops.  We thought it would be difficult to flag it down but they essentially stopped in the middle of the road, shouted "Bridgetown!?" to us and then told us to hurry up and get in.  I'm not going to lie, the potential of getting kidnapped did cross my mind!  Lickrish Food Tours is different to your standard city food tour as this has a whole lot of history thrown in too.  In fact, I would call it a historical walking tour of the city with local food stops, which is great if you know that that is what you are getting.  We skipped breakfast and the first food stop was a good 45 minutes into the tour after some fascinating history about our meeting point - Independence Square - and even then it was a very small bowl of soup!  I sound like I am complaining, and I am a little bit, but the talks throughout the tour were actually very interesting and an important part of the tour.  I was just hungry for the majority of the tour and whenever food was there it was more of a gesture of food than something you can really chow down on.  Part of the issue here was the fact that the food was so incredibly tasty and moreish that 3 mouthfuls was just not enough!  My favourite dish was the BBQ pig tails which sounds and looks disgusting (it looks like a turd!!) but my god did they taste good!  Sweet, sticky and fatty it was served with a bit of sweet potato and I could have eaten 5.  This was at a very local feeling diner called Tim's Restaurant where everything on the menu looked deliciously comforting.  We would not have found this restaurant by ourselves and so a big reason why it is always worth doing a local food tour.  Another restaurant called Mustor's ticked the same boxes and is where we ate half a child's portion of beef stew and experienced a horribly bitter, but weirdly addictive drink called Mauby; a very old traditional drink made out of the bark of a Mauby tree.

The National Dish of Barbados is in a bit of a crisis at the moment in that the main ingredient, the usually massively abundant flying fish, have swum away! They are all in Trinidadian waters at the moment and the Bajan's are not allowed to fish there.  The one time I come to Barbados they have run out of their National Dish!?  Luckily, our food tour guide told us that though it is true the fisherman have not been landing any flying fish, some hotels still have reserves in the freezer.  Our hotel just happened to be one of them and so I successfully managed to tick off "Cou Cou and Flying Fish" for dinner that evening.  Not fresh out the sea Flying Fish but a tick nonetheless.  Flying Fish is like a milder mackerel and Cou Cou is your standard African cornmeal mush like pap.  I have had this mush under a number of different names (one of which is actually called "mush"!) in a number of different countries.  If you want a word that describes it best then that word is sustenance.  That single word describes everything about it - its flavour, its texture and its smell.  Sustenance.


Tuesday was our surfing day with Barry's surf school.  This is my third attempt at learning to surf after a brief try in Cornwall and a 2 day course in Lombok.  Has it got any easier? No! It's the single most knackering activity I have ever done.  The disappointment of failing to stand up after spending what feels like the very last of your fat reserves to paddle into the starting position still hurts.  Successfully standing up and then falling onto a pile of rocks also hurts.  We had a lot of fun and definitely stood up way more than last time but we made zero use of the "free full day surf board rental for every 2 hour lesson" deal. With bruised ribs we gave the boards back with a smile and had some chill time back at the hotel before grabbing a Reggae bus to The Boardwalk in Hastings.  We hit the boardwalk just in time for sunset and had a few slightly overpriced cocktails.  It is a stunning walk at sunset, but, more importantly is walking distance from "Just Grillin" where they make the most amazing grilled island ribs.



The two most expensive tours we booked were the "Sunset Boat trip" and the "Mount Gay evening tasting".  We booked our catamaran through Cool Runnings on recommendation from our hotel and we enjoyed two snorkelling trips, a decent buffet and an open rum bar!  Our first snorkel was with a well placed turtle which I am sure most animal lovers would hate.  I felt a little sad for it but it did seem happy to follow our guide around to be fed and it is always awesome to swim alongside a turtle!  The Mount Gay Rum experience was sadly nowhere near the actual distillery but this did not dampen our mood.  With the amount of rum we drank, nothing was going to dampen the mood!  I don't think I have ever sipped or downed a straight shot of rum even in my uni days and I was very surprised how warming and satisfying it felt.  Like a good scotch, some rums are best drunk uncontaminated.  After tasting a lot of rum we were given a cocktail making challenge where we were given all the rums that we had tasted along with a whole load of ingredients that would have kept even the keenest mixologist happy.  We made a jerk inspired cocktail with muddled sweet pepper, scotch bonnet and thyme which went down surprisingly well!  Both tours were pricey and if we didn't have the excuse of "It's our honeymoon!" we probably would not have done them and missed out on some pretty unique, fun experiences.

We hired a car for the last couple of days and this gave us the freedom to see much more of the island.  Driving felt safe and easy as we headed to the very north to visit "Animal Flower Cave" which was closed for the day due to the enormous Atlantic Ocean waves.  This did not disappoint us as just sitting on the cliff's edge watching these immense waves was exhilarating enough and worth the trip in itself!  From here we drove to Farley National Park which is possibly the smallest National Park that I have ever visited.  That would not have been worth the trip on its own but combining it with a mini tour of the North made it OK.  There is a view which is alright as far as views go and there is a very run down building which has a cool dystopian feel to it but is completely fenced off.  Continuing our mini tour we drove down to Bathsheba for lunch to marvel at the unique rock formations on the beach before heading back to the hotel.



For our final full day in Barbados, having done our little north of the island driving tour, we did the middle of the island driving tour.  It's a small island, you really could do it all in one day but it's nice to take our time.  First stop, a food shack that has been recommended to us on 3 separate occasions as a place that sells the best "fish cutter" on the island - Cuz's Fish Stand.  A cutter is anything served in a salt bread bun which itself is uniquely Bajan.  Fry some fresh fish on the beach with a few spices and salad and put it in a freshly baked that day salt bread bun is never not going to taste great.  I love a food place that only sells one thing and this is one of those gems!  After our breakfast on the beach we drove up to Harrison's Cave for a tram tour of possibly the biggest cave I have ever been in.  The second gem of the day, however, was Celestine's restaurant which was walking distance from Harrison's Cave car park.  If you want real home cooked food prepared by an old Bajan grandma then this is the place to eat it.  Nothing fancy, just solid comforting Bajan food served by the most beautifully welcoming owner.  We both enjoyed our meals very much and washed them down with very tasty fresh juices.  It deserves to be much more popular than it is so if you are going to Hunt's garden or Harrison's cave then you most definitely need to visit.  We had a nice little nature walk along Welchman Hall Gully before driving to a beautiful, secret, slightly hidden away tiny beach called sharks hole.  It's not that secret.  Google it and you'll find it!  There was a local couple having a romantic time until we completely ruined it for them... but then they left and we had it all to ourselves.  It's our honeymoon!



Our final evening in Barbados ends at Oistin's Friday Fish Fry where half of Barbados go to socialise and eat fresh grilled seafood and other fantastic BBQ affair.  Some more grilled pig tails caught my eye but after a full plate of grilled snapper and island sides I just couldn't bring myself to queue for a pig tail on a full stomach.  We arrived early and so managed to be seated pretty quickly at "Chillin and Grillin" but it got pretty crowded pretty quickly.  We watched some break dancing kids on stage, browsed through the many craft markets and bought a bag of "Legendary Hot Fish Cakes" for the ride home.  

Barbados was the ideal honeymoon for us as it had the perfect balance of romance, chill and activity to fill out a week.  Every tourist we met were there for their second or third time - it was one guys 16th time - which shows what kind of of place Barbados is.  Somewhere you instantly feel welcomed when you arrive and instantly feel missed when you leave.  Friday night Oistin's Fish Fry was the perfect end to our time in Barbados and I am sure I'll be back soon!





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