Barbados is Not Just Resorts

Post by: Rick Relf (Follow on Spotted Places @Richard.Relf49)

In mid-January the two of us took a flight to Barbados. we had pre-booked an Air B&B, partly for affordability, but also for location. We planned to relax for a month — hike, snorkel, swim, and learn about the locality as well as the food and culture.  Being active and not really into sitting in the sun at a beach-styled resort complex, we had opted to rent in the Bajan Urban Village of Wanstead.  This is part of St. Michael’s Parrish and located very close to the university and wonderful beaches, but still gave us lots of good walking areas… or so we thought.

In actuality, the way to the beach and the university had lovely sidewalks; mind you the rest of the streets did not.  They were simply not there leaving only a small sliver of shoulder to walk on.  This made exploration somewhat riskier, but far from impossible.  I personally find that walking, while slower, lets you see, smell and acquire the flavor of a locality and people.  The smells were all good, the air in the residential or beach areas was cleaner, fresher and healthier than we had endured in the north; but, however you cut it, a road smells like a road, even if it is lined by flowers.

As for the flavor of the locality, it was also refreshing. Crime was not a problem; to the contrary, the Bajan people were friendly, happy and easy to meet and talk to. But the flavors of the island were so wonderfully tropical with richness that only history can provide.  A number of dishes and places stand out, but I will go into detail about those later in this writing.  I’ll include the dishes that must be had while you are there and some of the best places to find them.

However, all places have a downside that can annoy or confuse travelers.  One such thing actually started as a very real annoyance but morphed into something else.  That thing is the feral fowl.  Yes, actual chickens and roosters which seem to outnumber all other feral creatures on the island. My own experience with these started at 3:00 am on our first night there. For after arriving, getting unpacked, doing some exploring and getting some food it was in that first night’s sleep that the feral rooster announced himself to my dreams.  The really confusing part to my mind is why with a plentiful population of feral fowl, the cost of chicken was so high in the food stores.

Local Food Hanoi Vietnam

In truth many things were really quite expensive there, so much so I referred to many prices as Barbados Barbaric. For example, while rum of every known quality is priced quite low, Gin, not so much so, see picture.  The prices in the photo are in Bajan $ which is 2 for one USD.

However, the best value was fresh fish.  Tuna is right out of the water, cut to your specifications, and only was $10 Bajan or about $5 USD.  I took the opportunity to learn all about cooking tuna and swordfish.

gin Barbados

Notably Paynes Bay has excellent snorkeling on a pristine beach that graces the west coast of Barbados. Public access to that beach is complete with changing rooms and a wash off spout is just behind the market.  The fish market is also located close to a major north-south bus line highway so finding this location is easy.


Speaking of buses in general, they are plentiful and cheap. All buses cost $2 Bajan a ride. Not a single bus I was on had an operational speedometer. Moreover, because students of all ages use buses to get back and forth to school, at certain times of the day they become decidedly crowded. The larger blue buses are all government owned, but you still get that sardine-can-tight feeling when school is getting in or out.  Yet, all in all, they are a “must do” if you wish to say you have been to Barbados.  Just don’t give up when you can’t find a map as there are none. Just ask the conductor if that bus goes where you want. At the very least you can jump on one and go as far as it does and discover what you can find on the island.

While we were primarily on the middle-west coast we did travel the island and I do recommend going as far north as you can to the northeastern tip of the island where wonderful sea caves and a stunningly scenic stretch of crashing waves wait to greet you.  A trip down the east coast is essential for anyone who has ever surfed or fell in love with the crashing Atlantic waves. This wild stretch of coast is a true wonder of the Caribbean and should not be missed.   What should also not be missed are some of the historic parish churches and Codrington College for these have local history literally carved into stone.

Barbados waves crashing

There are some wonderful beaches in Barbados. To claim otherwise would be silly.  While Paynes Bay is great, there are more, many more, but some of the highlights include Batts Rock Beach which speaks of warm splendor and, of course, Bathsheba which is a surfer’s delight.

But as promised, the food must also be mentioned!

Shakers for Ribs. Okay, this is not a Caribbean recipe place, I know, but let’s face it, anyone calling him or herself a chef can make an original sauce that will fall in the range of totally wonderful. But, in Barbados, I had the best ribs of my life and it was not the sauce (although the sauce was spectacular).  These custom cut ribs had the most incredible ratio of meat to bone I have ever experienced.  This made them the best ribs I have ever had and, believe me ,I have eaten a whole lot of ribs in my life.

BBQ Barbados

8 Ball for Pudding and Souse. This traditional dish is served afternoons on Saturday only. It is unique to the island.  Originally concocted by Scottish slaves, the pudding is a strange cross of Haggis and something else that I’m not even too sure of.  It is a spicy mixture that includes breadfruit and lovely heat.  The souse is also very different consisting of trotters that have been parboiled and pickled to remove the fat; it is really quite amazing.  It is served with a shredded cucumber salad and veggies.  Yes, it sounds really strange, but it worked for me. To miss this is to miss the history of the island on a plate.  One of the reasons it worked was the contrast from the Bavarian style of pigtails that frequent the best of restaurants in the area I actually live; but that is a story for another day.

Flying fish and cou cou. Another delectable combination, cou cou being breadfruit.  For different breadfruit, try to find a local barbecue as they seem to spring up of their own accord but are worth the experience.

Other places that I must mention are, of course, Wendy’s in Fitz Village which is not easy to find unless you ask a local. However it is a really wonderful place to eat lunch or end your day.

For Batts Rock beachgoers, I recommend the Flash Zone. Don’t let the lights outside put you off; this place has some of the best value meals around. It also has a wonderful atmosphere and is just up from the beach. So after going to the beach and contributing to the ever-changing gallery of coral beach art, stop by for a roti or curry and a beer.

Barbados rocks beach

There are other things to do as well. These include taking a ride on the party boats, which are generally catamarans peopled with cruise ship passengers on a jaunt, scuba diving, and sport fishing.  Of course, there is also Bridgetown, the capital which is a colorful and delightfully historic city in itself.  The markets there fill the streets with all sorts of treasures to be had and the color and spectacle of the city can be captivating.

In short, Barbados is more than just a tourist destination. While it is that, it is also blessed with a wonderful people, amazing scenery and is, at least for now, devoid of the high levels of political polarization and racial or class tensions to be found in so many other locations.  So you have a beautiful, historic, safe, secure place with some of the best beaches around and a population of amusing feral fowl. But as a suggestion, things to bring would be gin or whiskeys, ground coffee beans and an overwhelming desire to chill out.

Contact Rick on:

Spotted Places: @Richard.Relf49

Facebook: Rich.Relf

Instagram: @rickrelf

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