Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The mongoose's Barbados

Inspired by The Guardian’s Been There guest blog spot, I’ve decided to share some ‘insider tips’ on visiting Barbados. In a country that is 166 square miles, it might seem unlikely that anything could be hidden, but let’s just say this is my Barbados: the way I like to do it.

Most people who find themselves vacationing in the tropics will most likely have fled the winter chill, and Barbados is fantastic year-round. But there is no time quite like summer. The fares and accommodation are cheaper, the Crop Over Festival is in full swing, and the smell of party is in the air. Then, you get to jump for Kadooment, the all-day street Carnival; hear the calypso music – either in the tents or on the radio; and have your pick of events. You will never run out of things to do during the summer, and you’ll manage to avoid the hordes of frozen souls seeking respite. Hotels are not cheap. If you can afford it, I’ve always envied the rooms at The House and The Sandpiper when I snuck a peek while there for lunch, but if you’re going to be out and about, the cheaper ones in the Gap, or even an apartment hotel, are fine choices.

Barbados is among the top Caribbean destinations for haute cuisine. My favourites are The Mews at Second Street, Holetown, or Champers for a more casual setting with lower prices and delicious food. But for true Bajan fare, go to Moontown, the fishing village in St. Lucy, for all kinds of fish, sea cat (octopus) and other goodies. I prefer it on a Saturday afternoon when people are just milling about, and I always get a whole, steamed red snapper, and breadfruit cou-cou if they have it. But on Friday and Saturday nights, there’s a fish fry that’s more animated, and it’s a bit less overrun than the one at Oistins. Stick around and explore Speightstown, especially the produce market.

Also on a Saturday, The Village Bar at Lemon Arbor, St. John serves a mean pudding and souse. Get there early (around 11:30), order early, and hang out for a while. And see if you can get some Legendary fish cakes if you ever pass through Bank Hall.

With apologies to Chefette, it must be said that Tuck Away on the west coast has the best ice cream in the country, and possibly on the planet. They feature slightly wacky, all-natural flavours like soursop and nutmeg, but if you’re a nut lover, the peanut butter is hands down the best. They don’t keep a fixed menu, so cross your fingers that they’ll have what you’re craving.

If you happen to be there at New Year’s Eve, Esquire Entertainment hosts what is fast becoming the only holiday event that matters. Bliss (that’s the name of the party) is refined enough that you can wear that LBD that you dubiously packed, but Bajan enough that you won’t feel you could be at a high-brow party anywhere in the world. They also host a brilliant summer shindig. The talent involved are friends of mine, but there’s no shilling here. Ask anyone: it’s simply the best party around. At any other time, The Gap will give you a decent taste of nightlife. But you’ll need to keep your ear to the ground for one-off events, which are really the heart and soul of party life in Bim. Listen out for the name Brewster’s Road. They tend to stick to summertime parties, but if they have an event on while you’re there, do not miss it.
For contemporary culture that goes beyond the more predictable hotel or cabaret shows, see some of the spoken word performances by young talent like Adrian Green, Dempstu Simmons Jr, Selena Dodson and Yoshi. Around March to April, there’s the famous Holders Season, which features mostly imported but varied talent. I love it, but if you’ve just left London, you may not feel pressed to go to Holders for a play by the Globe Theatre.

Of the usual tourist haunts, I would recommend Harrison’s Cave and the Barbados Museum. But I’m not the sight-seeing tour type. I like to just get out and get dirty, which is best done in Bridgetown on a Saturday morning. Visit the markets, get jostled about in Swan Street (I no longer do this. I’ve earned my stripes) and drink a coconut.

You’ll need to rent a car to drive along the east coast, and to the Soup Bowl and pools at Bathsheba. Be sure to see Cattlewash and Bath, and get further into the interior like to Cherry Tree Hill and Morgan Lewis Mill in St. Andrew. Ragged Point lighthouse is another beautiful but under-rated spot for observing the east coast scenery. In Barbados, not much is far away. You’ll have plenty time to see it all. I usually take to horseback for some of my exploring: there are stables that will let you have an equine companion for the trek. But a car works as well.

For shorter haul trips, you’ll be encouraged to take a mini-van (public transport, not the SUV) for the novelty of it. They’re smaller, more frequent and a little more accessible, but more frenzied than I like to feel as a rule. Instead, I prefer to take the big, blue government buses when I can. When I was a child, I would sit among the vendors going to market on the bus and listen to their take on everything from cricket to the budget speech. It’s a calmer ride, and this is where the really interesting people are. You can plan your journey on their website.

So that’s it; that’s the mongoose’s Barbados. Come on in.

Coconut vendor pic compliments a fellow blogger.


  1. I was introduced to Tuck Away by my non-Barbadian girlfriend. But you're right, best ice-cream in the known universe. Barbados rocks!

  2. It's interesting to see you promote the pudding and souse love :).
    I like the post, it almost made me miss Barbados and I'm right here.
    I never thought you for an equestrian. You learn something new every day I guess.

  3. Wait wait wait, wuh happen to ROTI!???? I see nothing telling people where to go for this delicacy! No mention of Indian Grill or whatever that place in Sheraton is called. Although Indian Grill is my favourite. Yes I am roti-aholic, will walk, drive or swim miles to get one and have even sussed out the places to get the best ones in London town!!

    A sad oversight in what is otherwise a great write up for the rock!

  4. I love a roti too, Cam, but I don't scramble to get one at all costs when I'm home. And the truth is that while as Caribbean people we lend and borrow food culture amongst ourselves, both those establishments you mentioned feature Guyanese-style roti. So yes it's delicious, but I don't feel I've let Barbados down by leaving it out.

    Indian Grill is fantastic, though, especially for a vegetable roti: pumpkin, okra....wooooi. Lol @ 'sad oversight'. I'm sorry to have so wounded you. :(

  5. Ok fair point, I feel slightly less aggrieved and you are forgiven LOL :) It is de Trini in me coming out,( even if de rotis I mentioned are Guyanese - style) Dem all taste good!

    Roll on Miss Mongoose :)

  6. Instead of sending the ppl to Lemon Arbor with the cool kids, give them directions to the Souse Factory, less idiots and better souse.

  7. You're right, GBL Blog. I can't speak for the pig parts, but their steamed pudding is very tasty, not too dark and sticky and well-seasoned. And if you want fewer noisy types, Souse Factory is an option. That's at Cliff, St. John. I would be rubbish with the directions but if you have them, feel free to post. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Souse Factory video
    I can't post the link here but go to youtube and enter "xpWgkUnxTYo" in the search block.


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