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Barbados, Something Different
Thomas R. Fletcher
She isn’t your typical port-of-call. Easternmost of the Caribbean islands, Barbados is different: culturally and geologically different. Sure there are similarities to other Caribbean destinations–there’s plenty of sun, surf, and sand. Palm-fringed beaches are as common as expected, but there is a different mind set. The British influence is palpable, which should be expected given the history.
Settled by the English in 1627, Barbados is unique in that she remained under British control until gaining full independence in 1966 (many Caribbean islands changed hands repeatedly over the centuries). This stability of rule has shaped the culture of today, where there is a certain staid, proper feel to society (it wouldn’t be proper to wear your bathing suit into town). This stability has given Barbados a "safe" feel as a destination, preserved some beautiful architecture, and produced a 98% literacy rate. The percentage of US citizens visiting Barbados after 9/11 is actually up a few percentage points, due primarily to the safe reputation. The reputation derives from several factors. Language isn’t a barrier, English is the official language. There is a civility, rooted in the rule of law, that is missing from some Caribbean destinations. There are no worries about the food or the water–Barbados coral limestone formation provides one of the best natural water filtration systems in the world. Crime is well controlled. The food is wonderful (more on that later), and money is easy to manage, $1 US is equal to $2 Barbados, though most places readily accept US dollars. Getting around the 166-square mile island is a breeze. Rental cars, taxis, bicycles, and the public buses offer visitors a wide selection of transportation choices (ride a public bus from one end of the island to the other for $1.50 Barbados). Barbados has the highest rate of return visitors of any Caribbean island and that says plenty.
This pear-shaped chunk of coral limestone, was violently thrust from the ocean floor through the forces of plate tectonics, by the colliding of the Atlantic and Caribbean plates. Since there are no sharp mountains as is common on volcanically-formed islands, Barbados’ wide flat areas were ideally suited for agriculture, making her the prize of England’s Caribbean colonies. Sugar, introduced in the 1630's, became the leading crop, making Barbados a leading producer by 1651. By 1676 Barbados had a larger population and was more prosperous than New England. The legacy of sugar remains, with many fields still given to production today.
Listed by the Barbados Tourism Authority as one of the "Seven Wonders of Barbados," St Nicholas Abbey is a good place to learn a bit of Barbados sugar history and see some unique architecture. St Nicholas Abbey has no church connection. It has always been a sugar plantation house. The exact origin of its name is not known. Built in Jacobean-style architecture, the house is thought to be one of only three remaining examples of this style in the Western Hemisphere. Sugar has been grown on the plantation since 1640. The house was built sometime between 1650 and 1660. Processed on the property until 1947, the cane is now trucked eight miles to the Portvale Sugar Factory for processing.
There is diversity in the Barbados landscape. It isn’t only agricultural fields. North Point, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea collide, with its high cliffs and rough seas presents an ongoing drama as unrelenting seas dash against the unmoving stone cliffs. The east coast town of Bathsheba is a natural for surfers. The shoreline is dotted with striking offshore rock-islands that look as if they could topple at any time, undercut by the ceaseless, unchecked Atlantic. The view is stunning. The south coast is a bit tamer, but still has some rollicking waves that are great for body surfing. The west coast, often called the Gold Coast is the place for swimming, water skiing, sailing, and beach activities. The sheltered Caribbean provides placid, sun-warmed waters perfect for water play, as I found during my stay at Cobblers Cove.
Cobblers Cove, a Relais & Chateaux member property, is a sanctuary of quiet, relaxed elegance. Bordering one of the island’s best beaches, the resort property features 40 suites. The small size means it never feels crowded. From its serene oceanfront setting, to its lush gardens, to the exquisite dining, Cobblers Cove is pure romantic elegance. The most boisterous event may have been the family of Green monkeys having a mango breakfast in the trees outside my suite on my first morning. There is a relaxed feel, as welcome as the balmy breeze that blows through the open air seaside restaurant. Here sumptuous dishes such as pan-fried barracuda with Bajan seasoning or chorizo-crusted tuna loin are served. Cobblers Cove dining places an emphasis on local supplies–the barracuda and flying fish on the evening menu were delivered beach side by local fishermen a few hours before.
Cobblers Cove offers the Modified American Plan, which includes breakfast and either lunch or dinner daily. The resort has an exchange dining program with three other island luxury resorts. Served up at 4:00 PM, the English tea of Cobblers Cove includes scones, strawberry jam and biscuits. (Observed island-wide, afternoon tea is another mark of the English influence.) Complimentary gymnasium, tennis, sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling and water-skiing are offered. Each of the 40 suites contain an air-conditioned bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette and living area that opens to either the lush gardens or ocean front view. The service of Cobblers Cove is nothing short of impeccable.
The vibrant cuisine scene of Barbados is exciting. The food alone is enough to justify a visit. Fresh seafood forms the backbone of most menus. Flying fish, a Bajan specialty, is sure to be on the menu and available for every meal, including breakfast.
"Only Bajans know how to debone them," brags The Cove owner/cook Laurel-Ann Morley, as she serves up her delicious version of flying fish. Flying fish are terribly bony and Barbados is the first place I’ve found them as a regular menu item. "Bajan" cuisine borrows from many traditions including American, European, and Asian. From a simple island breakfast of Bajan flying fish and scrambled eggs to grilled jumbo shrimp at The Tides Restaurant, alfresco dining with the sea lapping below, it’s all good!
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