Why Barbados? Because it’s outside the hurricane belt and the tradewinds blow steadily,
making the island comfortable year round. Because the sea is turquoise blue, the sandy beaches glistening white, the cuisine sophisticated, the Jacobean mansions and distilleries unique, the wreck diving amazing, and the cruise-ship port is five-minutes (about $6) by taxi to Bridgetown, the capital. And because the island is safe.
Although tours can be booked from hotels or from ships, I took a public “Zed-R” bus from the delightful Hilton Barbados Resort (www.hiltonbarbadosresort.com), where I was staying, to Bridgetown, and walked along Swan Street, where myriad Bajans sell or buy produce and chat, or just rest in the shade. I visited Carlisle Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where sugar and slaves were major commodities from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Exhibits in the Garrison at the Barbados Museum display the island’s history and heritage. The oldest – although not continuously used synagogue in North America, the Nidhe Israel, is tucked into a side street. The above-ground mikveh (a ritual bath for women) was unearthed in 2008.
Many visitors have found centuries-old tombstones of their ancestors in the temple’s graveyard or in cemeteries throughout Barbados. General Lee’s family is buried in St. George’s cemetery, and in 1751 Lawrence Washington, suffering from tuberculosis, traveled with his half-brother George to Barbados, hoping the climate would alleviate his health issues. He died a year later in Mount Vernon.
I had “Dinner with George” in the candle-lit dining room at the George Washington House. Noted historian, Dr. Karl Watson assumed the role of the first president, informing 30 guests between courses about the living and working practices and conditions that existed on the island. Busy in the kitchen, Chef Natalia prepared dinner approximate to what the well-to-do had been served in the 18th century. We dined on split-pea soup with eddo root, Mahi-mahi and yam pie with plantains, lamb stew with barley and sweet potatoes, and a rumbullioned (rum soaked) bread and butter pudding for dessert.
Jason Howard serves soul-warming fare of a different nature at his restaurant, Top Deck on the beach in Speightstown. A 2017 James Beard House Awardee, Chef Howard infuses olive oil with his favorite fruit – scotch bonnet, a piquant, red-ripe chili pepper – which he adds sparingly to his extraordinary seven-course mostly fish menu. www.chefjasonhoward.com
The new à la carte menu at The Cliff Beach Club on the West Coast is prepared by master Chef Jérémy Dupire. My choices were the octopus carpaccio with shallot vinegar, tiger prawns panko tempura and fresh tuna. The deep fried prawns had been coated with light, crispy breadcrumbs mixed with flour, and the blackened local tuna was served with salsa atop Venere wild black rice.
Street food at Fish-Fry stalls on Friday night in Oistins is fun, plentiful and inexpensive. Sitting at a picnic table, I had a delicious fried marlin dish and a Banks beer, after which I walked the dark back streets into lit tents, where domino and poker players don’t mind onlookers however seriously they play, and local artisans enjoy chatting with buyers or browsers.
I found moderately priced al fresco dining options at the Limegrove Lifestyle Center on the west coast. The Rum Stop served excellent plated tapas of seafood and meat dishes for under US$20. At Pepenero, the bruschetta antipasto followed by linguini and chicken cubes garnished with frisee made a terrific meal for lunch or dinner. On the first floor I wandered into a boutique and took home “Duppies” Bajan-crafted roasted coffee that has a unique flavor of fruit, nut and spice. www.limegrove.com
The Sandals Royal Barbados Resort, where I spent three nights, boasts 17 restaurants. Easily accessible from my garden-facing room, the new American Tavern served tasty traditional American cuisine, and Chi Asian Fusion offered a melding of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
Diving in Barbados
Dive West Side Scuba takes small groups to various sites where divers are often treated to a view of a rich variety of fish, many of which aren’t the least bit disturbed by their presence.
For newbies, the Lord Combermere wreck is a shallow 120-foot long barge, which I circled, happy to be back in the water. Corals and sponges are growing healthily on the wreck. At 60 feet I moved in a northern direction and swam along the reef. It seemed to be a breeding ground for various species and to my delight, I found a frog fish perched on a coral head. It blended in perfectly with the reef and only when it flicked its lure – a clever way to catch tiny prey – was I able to spot it.
I found plenty to see at this and other sites like the Beijan Queen, an old tug boat sunk in the Marine Park in 2002 in 40 feet of water. The tug has become both a haven and a crowd-pleaser. Its not unusual to get up close to a hawksbill turtle munching on the ship’s algae-coated coral. The dive shop is situated on a lively beach in Mowbray, near the Marine Park in Carlisle Bay on the South Coast, and has been operated by instructor/owner Peter Grannum since 1993.
Before leaving Barbados, I bought a black, water-resistant jute bag from Tones. The bag, with a glittering trident symbol of Barbados, makes a stunning fashion statement in New York.
On my last evening I joined a few visitors to watch two three-foot female hawksbill turtles lay clusters of eggs in dugouts on a beach. They’d been born here 20 to 30 years ago, and their offspring, should they reach maturity, will return here to procreate. Volunteers from The Barbados Sea Turtle Project were on hand to measure and tag the turtles and count their eggs. They’ll also insure that light doesn’t disorient them and prevent them from nesting, or their hatchlings making their journey to the ocean. www.barbadosseaturtles.org and www.visitbarbados.org