A drive around this Caribbean is­land proves to be quite the lit­tle ad­ven­ture.

Dreamscapes Travel & Lifestyle Magazine - - Table Of Contents - BY LAURA BYRNE PAQUET

My ear­li­est mem­o­ries of Barbados are mainly of colours and sounds. The fuch­sia rip­ple of bougainvil­lea cas­cad­ing over a stone wall. The yel­low-breasted ba­nanaquits that fly into open-air restau­rants and alight, brighteyed, on the edges of unat­tended sugar bowls. The ur­gent chirps of tree frogs at night and the soft coo­ing of mourn­ing doves at dawn. The mur­mur of surf.

It was the first Caribbean is­land I ever vis­ited, on a fam­ily trip in the mid-1970s, and it has shaped my life­long im­age of the re­gion.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Barbados has changed in the in­ter­ven­ing decades. The laid-back west coast resort where my fam­ily once stayed is now the op­u­lent Fair­mont Royal Pav­il­ion. I can’t quan­tify it, but the traf­fic seems heav­ier— per­haps be­cause this was the first time I drove in­stead of hop­ping into a cab or bus.

When I picked up my rental car, the agent asked me if I wanted “tire in­sur­ance.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but I gen­er­ally err on the side of cau­tion when driving abroad. It turns out it was the best $5 I ever spent—but more on that shortly.


If you’re plan­ning to spend most of your time in tourist ar­eas, such as the restau­rant-and-bars strip of St. Lawrence Gap, you prob­a­bly won’t need a car. In fact, sev­eral com­pa­nies of­fer pri­vate and small-group tours fo­cus­ing on golf, cav­ing, snorkelling and more.

I did take an en­joy­able tour to the Earth­works pot­tery stu­dio, where a work­force pro­duces hand-dec­o­rated plates, bowls and other items. At the On The Wall Art Gallery in the same com­plex, owner Vanita Comis­siong cre­ates and sells vividly coloured paint­ings of is­land life. We capped the visit with jerk chicken pani­nis and Ba­jan lemon­ade in the on-site café.


Since I had a free day and wanted to visit sev­eral sites in the north­ern part of the is­land within a tight time­frame, I rented a car. A friend and I set off in my Kia for a day of nav­i­gat­ing round­abouts while driving on the left. I found it strangely tricky to judge the width of the car and the width of the of­ten twist­ing, bumpy roads. How­ever, af­ter a few close en­coun­ters with road edges, I was con­fi­dent I had the hang of it.

Our first des­ti­na­tion was St. Ni­cholas Abbey, one of the old­est sur­viv­ing plan­ta­tion houses in the Caribbean. Built in 1658, it passed through sev­eral fam­i­lies— in­clud­ing some fore­bears of ac­tor Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch—be­fore be­ing sold to cur­rent owner Larry War­ren and his fam­ily in 2006.

They are cur­rently build­ing a scenic rail­way, slated to be­gin of­fer­ing short steam-train tours in early 2019. The other ma­jor at­trac­tion for visitors is the bou­tique rum dis­tillery. It pro­duces just 45 bar­rels a year and sells most of that on-site.

In vis­it­ing the plan­ta­tion, I also hoped to im­prove my un­der­stand­ing of the is­land’s tragic past. Dur­ing the trip, I was read­ing Cana­dian au­thor Esi Edugyan’s lat­est novel, Wash­ing­ton Black, the grip­ping story of an en­slaved child who es­capes a Barbados plan­ta­tion in the early 1830s. It made me won­der how vis­i­ble the is­land’s his­tory of slav­ery is to visitors. It’s not prom­i­nent, as it hap­pens—but that, too, is chang­ing.


At St. Ni­cholas Abbey, a small dis­play in­cludes copies of an 1822 ledger where hu­man be­ings were listed in hand­writ­ten col­umns. Even know­ing about plan­ta­tion life in an ab­stract sense, it’s shock­ing to see. Our tour guide, Judy Bovell, didn’t dwell on the past—“i want to live in the present,” she re­marked—but nei­ther did she shy away from ques­tions. “We’ve got to em­brace our his­tory.”

Sev­eral other sites on the is­land, in­clud­ing the Barbados Mu­seum and His­tor­i­cal Society in Bridgetown, also of­fer ex­hi­bi­tions, events or tours to serve the grow­ing in­ter­est among both Ba­jans and visitors in un­der­stand­ing this sober­ing as­pect of the na­tion’s her­itage.

One other rem­nant of the past we saw near St. Ni­cholas Abbey was the Morgan Lewis Wind­mill, the only op­er­a­tional sugar mill left on the is­land. Once used to grind sugar cane, it is now open only for spe­cial events, how­ever it does com­mand a sweep­ing view of the is­land’s rugged east coast, where the At­lantic surf pum­mels a rocky shore quite un­like the sandy beaches of the south and west coasts.


Our next des­ti­na­tion was the Barbados Wildlife Re­serve, a 1.6-hectare en­clave where tor­toises, peafowl, brocket deer and other small an­i­mals roam free. The stars are the small green mon­keys, which are so ac­cus­tomed to visitors that at least one tried to clam­ber up my leg when I knelt to take his photo. (I’d keep shiny objects hid­den while vis­it­ing, if I were you.)

As we fin­ished our visit, rain was threat­en­ing, so we pointed the car home­ward. We were com­ing down a hill when I hit a high curb with a jar­ring thump—and blew a tire.

In a stroke of luck, we were within sight of a gas sta­tion, which I slowly coasted into on the now-flat wheel. While I know how to change a tire, do­ing so would have taken me much longer than the 10 min­utes it took the kind sta­tion at­ten­dant. A bit shaken by our au­to­mo­tive ad­ven­tures, we headed back to our Bridgetown ho­tel.

The next day, I ner­vously re­turned the car to the rental agency. It was then that I dis­cov­ered an­other pleas­ant sound I will now al­ways as­so­ciate with Barbados: the voice of the smil­ing rental agent as he in­formed me that my $5 tire in­sur­ance cov­ered the ru­ined tire. “Do many visitors blow tires here?” I asked. His grin grew wider. “Oh, yes.” That cheered me up. How­ever, the next time I visit—and I do hope to re­turn— I might leave the driving to oth­ers.

OPPOSITE TOP: Try pad­dle­board yoga on your Ba­jan hol­i­day. LEFT: Open for spe­cial events, St. Ni­cholas Abbey cre­ates rum of “ex­cep­tional qual­ity and prove­nance.” ABOVE: The Morgan Lewis Wind­mill is the only op­er­a­tional sugar mill left on the is­land. Barbados Tourism Authority

BE­LOW: Small green mon­keys at the Barbados Wildlife Re­serve. Laura Byrne Paquet RIGHT: His­toric Bridgetown. An­ton Ivanov/shut­ter­stock BOT­TOM CEN­TRE: Beau­ti­ful se­cluded Rock­ley Beach, Barbados. Gra­ham Tom­lin/shut­ter­stock BOT­TOM RIGHT: Barbados is home to one of the old­est race tracks in the Amer­i­cas. Mat/shut­ter­stock

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