If you’re looking for an out of the way Caribbean experience, consider a trip to Barbados in the Eastern Caribbean. It is an island lush with flora and vegetation and inhabited by a delightful people (Barbadians or Bajans to a West Indian) who, reflecting their English heritage and traditions have not resorted to the higgling and harassment you will find on other islands, especially Jamaica.
While it may seem out-of-the-way to many Americans and most Texans, Barbados has developed into a first class tourist destination with a rich history of accommodating tourists from England & Europe. It has only recently be “discovered” by Americans and has yet to be spoiled.
The name “Barbados” was used by the early Spanish settlers and sailors to describe the fig trees which line the shore. Their roots hang from the limbs, grow to the ground and resemble (to sailors with too much grog) a beard.
As with most islands in the Caribbean, Barbados’ indigenous Amerindian population was wiped out by the Spanish who were later conquered by the British. But Barbados, since the 1600’s, has been exceptionally loyal to the Crown and has the third oldest Parliament in the Commonwealth.
It’s history is remarkably similar to that of Jamaica and the majority of it’s people are descendants of slaves brought over to tend the sugar cane fields. It is a mystery why the populations of these two islands are distinctly different.
Bridgetown on the South is the Capital and major city and unlike Kingston, Jamaica is relatively safe and the people congenial. With a population of 275,000 mostly with an English education, the island country is sophisticated but still Caribbean. The cuisine, music and entertainments reminded me of Trinidad, where it is impossible to smother the enthusiasm of the people especially during holidays or festivals such a the “Crop Over” celebrated every year where the indigenous “Tuk” music and bands are featured. This music gets into your head being played on drums of sheepskin by band members decked out as “ Stiltman”( a symbol of hard times), a donkey (transportation), Shaggy Bear (doctor, no one remembers why) and Mother Sally (fertility) . There are also many reggae groups, steel bands and calypso singers but the Tuk is what Barbados is about. That and the flying fish.
This fish, which resembles a carp averages about a foot in length , weighs approximately 2 pounds and accounts for about 2/3’s of all fish caught on the island. Its unusual features are the large pectoral fins which can open up like wings and make it appear to be flying. Actually , just before takeoff it swims quickly to the surface, reaching speeds up to 55 MPH and glides distances up to 40 yards. It is a delicacy in the States as it is impossible to find , but in Barbados, especially in the shallows of the South coast, they are abundant. Barbados is known as the “land of the flying fish” and the national dish is flying fish and cou-cou. (see recipes).
Like all of the Caribbean islands, Barbados’ East coast, bearing the brunt of the Atlantic Ocean, is rugged. Swimming is not advised but it is a surfers paradise from Bathsheba to Bath and hosts the annual Soup Bowl. There are rugged cliffs, beautiful hills and quiet beaches where you can get away.
The south coast, while still exposed to the force of the Atlantic, is protected by a reef. The famous Sam Lord’s Castle is located here. A moderately priced luxury hotel, it is known for its Bajan cuisine and spectacular views, especially of flying fish which tend to fly in schools inside the reef.
The lee side (away from the wind) is the West coast (the prevailing Trades in the Caribbean are always from the East, except during Nor’westers or hurricanes, during which you don’t care where it’s coming from). As you might expect, this is where the best beaches are located as well as most of the hotels.
There are many hotels on Barbados of all types and prices. As you know, we strongly urge people not to stay at all-inclusives since you aren’t able to really discover and enjoy the island, its people and cuisine inside a hotel compound. But many of the these types of hotels from the expensive Almond Beach and Almond Beach Village to the moderate Beach Club, offer non-inclusive plans. A great Web site is www.travelhop.com where you can get a virtual tour of most of the hotels in Barbados along with rates and amenities.
Bridgetown is a modern port and duty free shopping center on Broad Street with bargains on many English goods and Bajan Rum. Unlike Coast Rica, another favorite place, Barbados has a rich heritage of craftsmanship which can be found in many of the small shops. But Bridgeport is also a great jumping off point for a tour of the island. Rent a car and drive the whole island in a day. The main attraction, other than the view and the excellent small local restaurants along the way, is Harrison’s Cave.
Barbados is a coral island with rolling hills and extensive underground streams of fresh water. These have the limestone caverns called Harrison’s Cave.
It is accessed by a ride on an electric tram (broken on my first visit) and features a 40 foot underground waterfall, the 250 foot Rotunda Room, Mirror Lake and the expected limestone formations of stalactites and stalagmites. It is worth the trip. Along the way you can also visit many of the plantation era structures such as Morgan Lewis Mill, Farley Hill Plantation, Gun Hill and the Barbados Museum.
· What to Do? - Party, relax, dine out and enjoy the fabulous Bajan Cuisine. Tour the island by car. It will take a week.
· Can I Dive? - Yes. There are several wrecks as well as a vast variety of sea life typically found in the ocean. But this is not the Caribbean Sea. Be safe and take a refresher course. Look for the white sea-egg, one of the many species of sea urchin found in the costal waters off Barbados. Don’t take them. You’ll find them at a local restaurant.
· When To Go? After November. The hurricanes have passed.
The Bajan national dish is Flying Fish and Cou Cou. Since flying fish are impossible to find, try Carp, Snapper or Tilapia
· 1 lb Flying Fish
· 1 1/2 tsp Salt
· Juice of large lime
· 1 clove garlic (crushed)
· 1 tsp chives (minced)
· 1 small onion (minced)
· 1/2 tsp Marjoram
· Dash Tabasco sauce
· 1/3 Cup flour
· 1/2 Cup cornflakes (crushed)
· 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
· 1/4 tsp black pepper
· 1 egg (lightly beaten)
· Oil for pan frying
Season fish with lime and salt. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Mix ingredients for fish rub in bowl and rub on fish.
Mix flour, peppers and 1/2 tsp salt in bowl. Dip the fish in the flour, then egg then cornflakes.
Pan fry in oil for 3 minutes on each side. Garnish with lime.
· 4 Okras, thinly sliced
· 4 Cups boiling water
· 2 Cups Cornmeal
· 2 cups cold water
· 1 tsp salt
· 1 tsp butter
Cook okras in boiling water for 10 minutes or until soft. Mix the cornmeal and cold water into a paste. When the okras are cooked, lower the heat and add the salt and corn meal paste stirring constantly with a cou-cou stick (wooden spoon) until stiff. When it breaks away evenly from the pot, it is cooked.
Butter a small bowl and place the mixture into it, shaking it so it takes the shape of a bowl. Turn it over on a serving dish, make an indentation on the top and garnish with a dollop of butter.
Other Bajan dishes are:
Souse—pickled pork and served with Black Pudding (cow intestines stuffed with sausage) as the traditional Saturday afternoon meal.
Jug-Jug - a Caribbean version of haggis
Conkies - a corn based delicacy originally for Guy Fawkes Day but now eaten during Independence Day celebrations in November,.
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