Des­ti­na­tion Bar­ba­dos

Es­ther N McCarthy vis­its Ri­hanna’s home­town to sam­ple just some of what the colour­ful Caribbean is­land has to of­fer

Irish Examiner - Magazine - - Contents -

Iclear my mask, blow out my snorkel, take a deep breath and dive, not too far, un­der the sur­face of the Ce­leste blue wa­ter. The world be­low is vast, soft, in con­stant mo­tion. I slide past deep fis­sures in the colour­ful coral as gang of par­rot fish sud­denly pop out, blue and busy. I slip past wav­ing brainy branches, my flip­pers me­thod­i­cal and mel­low. With a flick, I sway right, and there he is, a regal sea tur­tle, look­ing cross and im­por­tant, lead­ing a posse of trop­i­cal fish past bar­rel sponges on craggy rocks, towards a ship­wreck on the ocean floor.

The sun­light fil­ters through, dap­pling his hopscotch shell, and I reach down and feel the wa­ter rip­ple as he passes, just me and my breath, im­pos­si­bly loud through the snorkel. I flick again and spot the rest of the gang from the cata­ma­ran tour, mere feet away from me, but for a mo­ment, I feel like it is just me in the vast At­lantic Ocean.

But it’s not. Ten min­utes later, I’m shak­ing off the snorkel vest, mask and flip­pers, ac­cept­ing a Bikini Drop cock­tail and find­ing a space on deck to bust some moves to Bruno Mars. The whole boat is danc­ing and singing, the crew eg­ging us on, the deck vi­brat­ing with vol­ume.

We’re an­chored ad­ja­cent to Sandy Lane ho­tel, the uber trendy and most ex­pen­sive ho­tel in not just Bar­ba­dos but the en­tire Caribbean. Ri­hanna stays there, in the pen­t­house, when she comes back home to visit, a crew mem­ber tells me in a con­spir­a­to­rial tone, as he grabs my nearly empty drink and re­places it with a new one.

But even if you haven’t won a tonne of awards, or have a Guin­ness World Record for fe­male artist with the most U.S. num­ber-one sin­gles in a year and you just don’t crush red car­pet events with your jaw­drop­ping fash­iony fab­u­lous­ness, you can still feel like a su­per­star in Bar­ba­dos.

Ri­hanna has just been on the is­land in Au­gust to cel­e­brate the Crop Over fes­ti­val. Af­ter the cruise, we ask our tour guide if he can show us where she grew up. We stop at a mod­est, per­fectly nor­mal house near Bridgetown, called Sonie Marie. Her neigh­bour comes by while we’re ogling and tells us what a lovely, sweet per­son Ri­hanna is and al­ways was, and asks us to sign a book she keeps for vis­i­tors. We stop at Fab-u-lus Bou­tique in the heart of Bridgetown and the driver shouts in, “Hey, is Mon­ica around?” “Mon­ica’s Ri­hanna’s mum,” he tells us ca­su­ally, “I used to work with her.” She’s not there but hey, we came close.

A bus tour of the is­land is a great way to get a feel for this slice of par­adise. Dwayne from Is­land Sa­faris piles us into a 4x4 Jeep and brings us to the most scenic spots of the is­land — on road and off road. We hold on tight and hit Bathsheba Park, Lit­tle Bay via Joe’s River For­est, Mor­gan Lewis Mill, Cave Hill, Cove Bay, St. Lucy’s Par­ish Church and Sandy’s Chat­tel

Bar. All the time Dwayne is en­ter­tain­ing us with lo­cal his­tory and keep­ing us well-lu­bri­cated with rum punch and snacks.

I’m stay­ing in the stun­ning South­ern Palms in St Lawrence Gap or ‘The Gap’ as the lo­cals call it, a colour­ful, puls­ing place. If you want nightlife, this is the place to be. “The week­end starts on Wed­nes­day here,” a fel­low queuer tells me, rais­ing his voice over the live mu­sic, as we wait for our turn in Oistin’s Fish Fry.

It’s a huge out­door restau­rant, with pic­nic style seat­ing, very in­for­mal, you col­lect your dis­pos­able plate at the grill and squeeze in where you can. The at­mos­phere is buzzing, you get a sense of real Ba­jan life, it’s loud, it’s fun, and the food — ex­cep­tional. Cooked on the spot, choose from tuna, sword­fish, lob­ster, chicken but you can­not visit Bar­ba­dos with­out try­ing the mahi-mahi. Char­grilled, sim­ply, with but­ter, it is a sen­sa­tion.

A big plate, with a beer, will set up back BDs

$30 — about €13. Ba­jans know food, And they know cock­tails. Do not, un­der any cir­cum­stances, leave with­out try­ing a Ba­jan Rum Swizzle. It’s a dou­ble shot of Mount Gay Black Bar­rell, pineap­ple juice, or­ange juice, grena­dine and bit­ters.

Along The Gap, there’s the Har­bour Lights — the only night­club on the is­land and plenty of bars, the Lucky Horse­shoe stays open 24 hours if that’s your thing plus lots of rum shops and restau­rants.

This lit­tle is­land knows how to pull out all the stops. What­ever you’re look­ing for — be it an ac­tive sporty break, a fun-fu­elled dance fest, a gas­tro­nom­i­cal jour­ney or a just a chill out on the beach, beau­ti­ful Bar­ba­dos de­liv­ers.

With a flick, I turn right, and there he is, a regal sea tur­tle, look­ing

cross and im­por­tant, lead­ing a posse of trop­i­cal fish past bar­rel sponges on craggy rocks, towards a ship­wreck on the

ocean floor

GET­TING THERE

Get your­self to Lon­don and Bri­tish Air­ways flies from Gatwick to Bar­ba­dos daily dur­ing the sum­mer and 12 times a week dur­ing the win­ter. Re­turn flights start from €628.

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

The South­ern Palms is lo­cated on the lively St. Lawrence Gap, on the south coast of Bar­ba­dos, a stun­ning four-star colo­nial style build­ing, set right on Dover Beach, where we spot­ted nest­ing tur­tles. It’s walk­ing dis­tance to the many bars, restau­rants and the nightlife of the Gap. You can’t miss it, it’s bright pink. Email: reser­va­tions@south­ern­palms.net

www.south­ern­palms.net

WHAT TO DO

Cata­ma­ran Tour www.cool­run­nings­bar­ba­dos.com

Is­land Sa­fari www.is­land­sa­fari.bb

Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton house is well worth a visit.

bar­ba­dos.org/george_wash­ing­ton.htm An­dromeda Gar­dens

This is a stun­ning 6-acre botan­i­cal gar­den www.an­dromed­abar­ba­dos.com bar­ba­dos.org/george_wash­ing­ton

It’s the Year of Sport 2017 in Bar­ba­dos. Watch out for the Dragon World Cham­pi­onship and Bar­ba­dos Beach Ten­nis Cham­pi­onship in Oc­to­ber, Food and Rum Fes­ti­val in Novem­ber, Bar­ba­dos Beach and Well­ness Fes­ti­val Sep­tem­ber, Bar­ba­dos Cy­cling Fes­ti­val in Sep­tem­ber, Run Bar­ba­dos, Marathon Se­ries in De­cem­ber www.vis­it­bar­ba­dos.org

WHERE TO EAT

Fish­pot Restau­rant www.lit­tle­good­har­bour­bar­ba­dos.com Cham­pers cham­per­srestau­rant.com

Lemon Ar­bour www.thevil­lage­barbb.com

The Cock­tail Kitchen www.cock­tail-kitchen.com Lob­ster Alive www.lob­ster­alive.net

Oistin’s Fish Fry www.face­book.com/oistin­fish­fry

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