Touring Barbados – A Visit to the South & East Coasts
In a previous post I described a visit to Harrison’s Cave and other sites in north central Barbados by way of rental car. Despite getting lost a few times it was a lot of fun and not hard to do, but with the $25 USD a day rental insurance added to the vehicle rental cost it was a bit pricey. Today Alison and I are going to continue touring Barbados a different way – we have arranged for veteran driver Wayne Alleyne to take us on a guided tour to the top sites on the south and east coasts. Wayne and his brother Julian are fixtures at the Bougainvillea Beach Resort where they operate a taxi and guide service. They are famous for their gracious manners and scrupulous honesty. I can attest to this first hand. Last week I met Julian for the first time as he drove us to a flower show and I mistakenly gave him a $100.00 BDS bill instead of a $10.00. He pointed out my error rather than take advantage of it.
The Alleyne’s charge $65.00 BDS an hour for their services which is roughly $33.00 USD an hour. That’s a real deal compared to most places around the world and makes hiring a guide a reasonable alternative to hiring a car and eliminates the getting lost part of the journey that is de rigeur with a rental car. Wayne picks us up in a Toyota HiAce which can hold up to 14 people w/o luggage and 10 with luggage. It’s pretty easy to figure that if you did this with a group of say three or four couples the cost would be dirt cheap. I give Wayne a list of places I would like to visit today and tell him to please feel free to take us anywhere else he thinks we should see.
On our way to the first stop Wayne gives us a run down on Barbados history including an unusual take on why there were no Amerindians on Barbados when the Europeans arrived despite clear archaeological evidence that they were here for 20,000 years before that. From my reading on the subject and after a visit to the Barbados Museum it seems clear that there is no consensus on what happened although arable land exhaustion due to failure to fallow fields after cultivation is the most likely culprit. However, that does not take into account that Barbados has an exceptional supply of seafood and wild fruits and vegetables that do not depend on agriculture. Wayne’s theory is simple – the cannibalistic Carib Indians ate the existing Arawak tribes that lived here and when they had eaten or enslaved the last ones, moved on to the next island to plunder. There is no doubt that the Caribs were fierce cannibals and the Arawaks were their favourite tribe to chow down on, so who am I to say that Wayne might not be correct?
Our first stop is Crane Beach where Barbados’ original resort was founded in 1887 and The Crane, perched on a cliff above the beach remains very popular today. The beach lives up to its reputation as one of the best in the Caribbean and today is virtually deserted. You can see one person in the water and just a couple on the beach. Just to the right of where I am standing is a huge house on the cliff above which Wayne identifies as belonging to Canadian millionaire Eugene Melnyk, owner of the Ottawa Senators.
Here’s the view looking in the other direction.
Halfway to our next stop I realize that I have left my day pack back at Crane Beach. I had opened it up to put on wide-angle lens and it’s just sitting there now with my new Olympus Pen camera, three other lenses and my iPhone. We turn around and I am mentally prepared for the fact that the bag will be gone, but in another example of Barbadian honesty it is right where I left it despite the fact that other people are standing not ten feet away from it taking the same pictures I did. Another real bummer avoided, no thanks to my stupidity – this forgetfulness that comes with aging is the shits.
Touring Barbados continues on to Bottom Bay, so named because it is at the very bottom of Barbados. It’s down an increasingly narrow road that ends at a tiny parking lot from where you can make you way down to the beach below or hike along the top of the cliff to look at it from above, which is what we do. From the reading I’ve done it seems that Bottom Bay is the ‘in’ place to be, but if that’s the case somebody forgot to tell that to the tourists. It’s completely deserted and I think I can see why – there are huge swathes of seaweed almost completely covering the beach and you can see it in the water as well. Wayne confirms that this happens occasionally and to fast forward, later today I find a lot of seaweed in the water at Bougainvillea. It just happened the one day and was not a problem after that.
Touring Barbados – Ragged Point Lighthouse
After Bottom Bay we reach Ragged Point Lighthouse where the south coast ends and the rugged east coast begins. Since just past the airport the coastline has become quite rugged with increasingly higher and higher cliffs. At Ragged Point they are well over fifty feet high.
Despite what is says on the link above, the lighthouse is clearly out of commission and is a sad remnant of what must have been a beautiful sight to sailors rounding the southern tip of the island.
From Ragged Point we head north through an area dominated by sugar cane fields and other agricultural pursuits with few villages until we come to a beautiful church situated on the highest point of land for many miles. Getting out we are met with this view.
Touring Barbados – St. John Parish Church
Wayne identifies the building as St. John Parish Church which is built in classic gothic style complete with buttresses dating from 1836.
It has an equally interesting interior.
And an even more interesting cemetery.
Here’s the grave of British officer Thomas Sealy who refused to lie down on the job and insisted on being buried standing up.
This grave really caught me completely by surprise.
As a student of Byzantine history the name Paleologus is very familiar to me as the Paleologus family played a great role in the continuation of the Roman tradition in the eastern empire based in Constantinople for over a thousand years after the western empire based in Rome collapsed. The last emperor of Byzantium was Constantine Paleologus and the guy buried in front of me, Ferdinando Paleologus, incredibly may be the last direct descendent of that man. Who would expect the last gasp of an empire that lasted over fifteen hundred years would lie in a quiet churchyard in Barbados, but from what I can gather through internet research it probably is true. There is one last grave of import and that is a modern one, the late Prime Minister of Barbados David Thompson who died in 2010.
What struck me were the similarities to our own Prime Minister David Thompson. They both died in office unexpectedly, Barbados David at 48 and ours just after turning 49. Barbados David came from England to die in Barbados while Canadian David came from Canada to die at Windsor Castle. They both had four names instead of the usual three. The bottom line is if you are a Thompson and have a son called David, don’t encourage him to go into politics. Here’s the Canadian P.M.’s grave which is less than 100 yards from my office in Halifax.
Touring Barbados – Bathsheba
Not long after leaving the church we continue touring Barbados with a long, long descent into Bathsheba, the prime destination on the east coast. I don’t know if it is the recent viewing of the Paleologus grave or what, but I can’t help but being reminded of a similar descent to the village of Komitades on Crete years ago. This descent seems never ending and it completely changes my view of Barbados as a flat island. Finally Bathsheba beach comes into view and I know that I have truly found the best view in the country. Let the pictures do the talking.
Once down at sea level I can see why Bathsheba is beautiful to look at, but deadly to swim in. These waves are huge and they are not breaking on sand, but treacherous coral. Halfway along the beach is dotted with some very unusual rock formations that remind me of mushrooms.
Here’s one close up.
Looking back at the beach.
And one last look.
Notice the small building on top of one of the rocks. After the beauty of Bathsheba I am not prepared for yet another great beach, the Soup Bowl which is the destination of choice for Barbadian surfers today. Since the waves in Barbados break a lot closer to shore than most of those in Hawaii we actually get to see more good surfing in Barbados than in Hawaii and believe me these Bajans can surf. Assuming most black surfers are locals and the whites tourists, I can definitively say that the blacks have it all over the whites in terms of handling the waves, although to be fair, local knowledge is pretty damned important in surfing.
Just to prove we didn’t just look at the beaches, here is Alison acting the wahine on the Soup Bowl.
Touring Barbados – The Round House
By now it is well past one and we are pretty hungry. I expect that Wayne would take us to the restaurant at the Atlantis Hotel which seemed to be in every guide book, but instead he takes us to the Round House which has been around since about 1832.
It has a great location overlooking the Soup Bowl and from our inside window table we can watch the surfers and this group of Bajan kids playing in a natural ‘soup bowl’?
I order the pulled pork sandwich and Alison orders, what else, mahi mahi and we sip Banks beer and watch as the father comes to collect his kids. A guy named Jerry Roberts is playing softly to the mid-afternoon crowd and everyone is mellowing out. It is pure Caribbean. Jimmy Buffett could write a song about it – maybe he already has.
The food arrives and I bite into the pulled pork sandwich still watching the kids and their father below and suddenly my mouth explodes with flavour. Not vinegar. Not barbecue sauce. Not tomato. Just pure umami. The pulled pork is braised in local craft 10 Saints beer and topped with aioli and caramelized onions. Sorry southern U.S.A., I’ve never had better pulled pork – anywhere. When Round House says its pulled pork sandwich is famous they are not BSing. I’d travel a long way to eat this again. These were the only fries I had in Barbados and they were very good as well – thin and cooked right through until crispy.
Alison’s mahi mahi sandwich is excellent as well, but she finds out that there is a reason that fries made from potatoes have beaten out fries made from breadfruit as a worldwide favourite.
Thank you Wayne for, to shamelessly rip off Robert Frost, taking us to the food less eaten. While eating the pulled pork I turn my attention away from the soup bowl below and just before getting up to leave I notice a changing of the guard. The difference is as obvious as black and white.
With our stomachs full and our senses on overload it is time to head back to Bougainvillea and resume touring Barbados another day. Next up is snorkelling in Carlisle Bay. Find out why it’s one of the best places to the Caribbean to enjoy this water activity.