Barbados, jewel of the West Indies

Most people visiting Barbados only get to see one of the many faces of the Bajan culture. The glamorous hotels, the hot sandy beaches, the rife restaurants and the bountiful beach bars. I however, was lucky enough to see two aspects of the culture, the tourism and the island’s fascination with sport, in particular with cricket. While accompanying my school’s cricket tour I saw the eagerness of the young Bajan sportsmen even-though they lacked the facilities and funds which are present in England and so many other sporting countries.

We approached the small green dot in the ocean of blue on a Boeing 777, the massive engines roaring. It seemed that at that distance, that there was not enough space on the island for a landing strip. It was an overnight flight and had been thoroughly unpleasant. I had not slept because of the children and a baby at the front of the cabin who didn’t stop crying for something to eat. Although I could understand this child’s distress, as the food on aeroplanes is tasteless at the best of times, I really wished it would sit there and moan quietly like the rest of us and fill out a complaints form.

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The headrest was also just too high for me so I had to spend the whole flight with my head bent forward looking at my feet. I occasionally caught a glimpse of blue out of the window but most of the time the back of a boys head occupied the view. I stepped off the plane into the sweltering heat, it was a sunny day and in the summer Barbados is not the ideal holiday destination. I walked across the sun-scorched tarmac into a makeshift wooden tunnel built to shade the sun-sensitive western tourists.

I pushed through the heavy glass doors into the terminal, eager to get out of the heat and away from the hungry child. Only to find there was no air conditioning, and many more children equally unsatisfied with the plane food were inside. The immigration was very relaxed: a smiling Bajan woman sat behind a desk chatting away about sport and the weather while she stamped our passports. The Bajan baggage handlers were very efficient – loosing luggage cases at an alarmingly high speed! Soon we were out of the airport talking to another cheerful Bajan about our transport to the hotel.

Barbados was originally inhabited by the Arawaks, who were conquered by the vicious cannibalistic Carib Indians in 1200 (clearly they were in the same mind frame about the aircraft food! ). The Spanish came to the island in the 15th century, they spread European diseases such as Tuberculosis and small pox around the Carib settlers. They were soon wiped out and the Spanish decided to leave the island in search for the larger Caribbean islands. English settlers arrived on the island in the 17th century; they needed labour to work the island for sugar cane. Dutch Merchants brought over slaves from West-Africa.

These slaves were also carried across on English ships called “Blackbirds” to Barbados. The slaves worked on the sugar cane farms that were owned by the English. The slaves were freed in 1834 and Barbados became fully independent in 1966. The island still remains part of the Common-wealth today. We were shown to an air-conditioned taxi where a jolly Bajan drove us to our hotel. We passed by hundreds of acres of sugar cane, which used to be the primary industry until the ever expanding tourist industry sprang up. This was the new crop; the cane was harvested between the months of February and June.

The islanders were now celebrating the harvest with the festival of “cropover”. This festival was partly religious, thanking God for the crop, and partly just having fun and relaxing after working hard during the harvest. The taxi driver lives up to his stereotype by informing us about all the most popular Bajan sports at the moment, just like the taxi drivers back in England. He also tells us that Sir Garfield Sobers the famous Bajan cricketer is on the island at the moment. We arrive at our all-inclusive hotel situated on the west coast of the island after a half hour taxi drive.

There is lots of green undergrowth around the hotel including tall palm trees; they are obviously carefully looked after by the team of gardeners that tend to remain unseen patrolling behind the hedges – a concerning thought at times! In the evening we ate in the hotel restaurant where there was a very English menu; roast chicken and lamb, preceded by a few tropical starters. After dinner I went to bed as I was jet-lagged, couldn’t decide if it was the time zones or that hungry child! I ended up regretting going to bed as there was a steel band playing outside my window, enough with the noise I thought!

But to be fair the music was very catching; I began to think my heart would start copying the beat! The breakfast in the morning was very English as well. We sat in the open restaurant looking out at the sea and every time you went to the buffet you had to cover your plate with a napkin because a swarm of birds would flock over to your plate and peck away – whether you had finished or not! That day we went on a snorkelling and fishing trip along the west coast. We trundled down to the beach where a 12 foot brightly coloured wooden boat with a canopy, and a row of peckish birds were waiting for us.

All 8 of us managed to squeeze in between the snorkelling gear and fishing lines. Despite the boat being weighed down we were pushed along the coast by the powerful outboard motors at quite a speed. We arrived at our snorkelling destination, a sunken barge, which formed an artificial reef. We all jumped in off the side of the boat and swam towards the barge; we found large shoals of small brightly coloured fish but sadly no steel bands. We also saw large silver fish which the Driver called “blinkers” due to their large eyes.

While we were in the midst of these fish someone from another boat threw a piece of bread right in front of us and swarms of fish swished around biting at anything they could, including my fingers. We surfaced to find several local Bajans laughing as hard as they could at our startled faces. On the way to our fishing spot we travelled slower and the Bajan guide, with a jaunty grin on his face talked about the various properties and hotels we were passing. We passed the famous Sandy Lane hotel where a couple of people were sitting out on the Blue cushioned Sun lounges.

He could quote the rough prices of any property or hotel along the coastline. He then started to talk about the restaurants we passed and he seemed to have worked in all of them for he knew the wages for each and every one. The fishing was popular, I however caught nothing, probably due somewhat to my lack of interest in waiting for the most boring creature on this planet to bite on some string. To be truthful my attention was occupied by something I wanted to catch! That evening after dinner some local Bajans performed on the drums. The performance however was cut short by a sudden downpour, which was to become a feature in the week to come.

Above is the Bajan flag which consists of three stripes. The blue stands for the sea. There is a trident in the centre stripe; this is meant to be Neptune’s trident, Neptune who is king of the sea. It represents the idea that Barbados though a small island in the middle of the sea is still strong. At the cricket matches I was amazed at the informality. At the first match we arrived to find a football camp in progress. The coach of the Bajan U11 national side turned up an hour late, he struck a deal with the footballers and they were soon off the pitch.

There were lots of little Bajan cricketers standing around knocking an old ball to each other. The coach just picked 11 young boys out of the kids that were already there who seemed to not even know that a match was being played today. The pitch was the national pitch but was not exactly well kept. Most of it was brown and the ground was as hard as concrete and gaping cracks riddled the “cricket square”. The little Bajans seemed very confident even though their opposition were twice there size Their accent was so stressed it was almost like another language.

On the way home we passed through the decaying suburbs of Bridgetown. The streets were very long and narrow. We passed run down wooden shacks with peeling yet very brightly coloured paint. We also passed newer concrete houses that looked out of place. There were stairs leading up to these houses which looked very rusty and like they were about to fall down. Skinny flea infested dogs lay on the pavement, as if it was too hot for them to move. They blinked slowly at the steady moving stream of cars. The Bajans however, seemingly oblivious to the heat, were walking along always bright, breezy and amiable.

An example of how light-hearted the Bajans were was their car horns. They all had different horns with short Caribbean tunes. The street names I saw had very English names, “King Edward road, and Buckingham road”. These road signs were painted onto wooden stakes and nailed to the telephone posts. There were signs of old England as well with shop spelt with a double “p” and an “e”, “Smart dress and Uniform shoppe”. We passed along a dusty road to a security guard sitting at a gate. He checked my Dad’s all-inclusive card, which worked in a whole range of hotels. He then let us through the gate with a smile.

The hotel was shrouded in palm trees. The hotel was very big and white to reflect the sun, it was open and breezy and not too hot. All of the hotel staff wore very smart white suits with copper engraved nametags. We ate in the restaurant overlooking the beach. There was lots of fish to eat which is a main part of the Bajan diet. We then walked to the beach where there was a red flag and a sign saying, “Swimming is prohibited! ” This was due to the high winds at the moment that caused big waves and strong currents. We left the hotel and took the same route back to the hotel by which we came.

Late on Friday evening I left the little island in the Atlantic Ocean with sun-bronzed skin and feeling relaxed and at peace with the world. In some ways Barbados is an ideal holiday destination, the layed-back approach to life, the brilliant coastal hotels and the cheerful Bajans always happy to talk. I had the chance as well though to see the island’s fascination with cricket. I also saw the run down places where most Bajans live. The Bajans, however, despite their lifestyle and the heat were always cheerful and relaxed. I saw the second side of the island, not the hotels built as a safe haven for western tourists, but the Bajan lifestyle.