Welcome to a short series of essays about a 5 day/4 night adventure we recently experienced on the island of Barbados. Hopefully this will prove useful to anyone planning an excursion to this fabulous Caribbean destination.
Our trip initially got off to a bit of a rocky start.
Fortuitously we were able to depart from Logan on the heels of an impromptu early March snow storm. (The weather system ended up dumping a foot of snow–which, let’s be honest, made our Caribbean trip that much more delicious.)
Upon arriving at our digs we were given the keys and a brief tour of our apartment. It was a bit on the “rustic” side.
We stayed at Zed’s Surfing Adventures based on a personal recommendation and a nearly perfect 5 star rating from Trip Advisor. As I mentioned in part 1, upon our initial arrival we had yet to rent a car. Our place was nestled a bit out of the way from any restaurants or markets–so we were kind of feeling like, “ok, now what?”
If you plan on surfing from the time you wake up to the time you go to bed–then this is definitely the place for you. Zed’s is perched just steps from what is known as Surfer’s Point on Inch Marlowe. Neither of us surf, so this may have not been the best choice for us; however, the surf activity around the property was certainly interesting enough.
We quickly learned everyone’s names and found it to be a kind of meeting place for the Barbados surf culture. Cars showed up in the mornings loaded up with boards. Lessons took place throughout the day given by the owner Zed and Junior, the onsite surf instructor.
Our apartment “Star Gazer” came with a private roof deck. Really amazing views of the stars. My one regret? Not waking up at 3AM to see the Southern Cross; although, it’s entirely possible we saw it and didn’t know it.
I thought the tidiness of Zed’s to be a little lacking, but after getting used to the Barbados aesthetic I realized that–I don’t know, I guess it has a certain charm. After concocting some rum drinks–really, not a whole lot matters. (Especially when the sound of crashing waves and Caribbean breezes eviscerates any memory of a foot of snow on the ground back home.)
The thing is… if you want someone to bring you a coconut filled with rum whilst you lounge on a beach chair that’s slowly sinking into wave-induced quick sand, I would recommend investigating accommodations on the West coast. Or, you can do what we did which was to rent a car and explore beaches throughout the island. (Mullins Beach satisfied our criteria for some beach pampering, a.k.a. Operation: iPhone Be-Gone. Look out for rogue waves.)
What’s interesting about Barbados is that it doesn’t feel like a place one goes to for an all-inclusive resort vacation. At least during our travels we didn’t see much of this. Even the upper-west coastal extravagances seemed very… Barbados. It’s a little difficult to explain.
I think there are things that just take a little bit of getting used to. First, there are chickens and goats wandering around everywhere. Why not? Chickens eat bugs and goats keep the lawn mowed. Interestingly, I would’ve thought goat would’ve been more prevalent on Bajan menus considering their ubiquitousness. As someone who does not eat goat, I was not disappointed.
Personally, I would love to own a goat. And some chickens freely roaming around the yard? Hell yeah! Although, I’m pretty sure our dog Sophie would make quick lunch out of any fowl strutting about.
Pro tip: Spring is the Caribbean’s dry season. No mosquitos, right? Wrong.
Our first night we left the french doors open and found ourselves lullabied to sleep by Cockspur Rum and the ridiculous orchestration of crashing ocean waves. Ya see, I grew up in Wisconsin. Neither of us saw or heard a single mosquito so we opted to forgo the mosquito netting/protection hanging above our bed. The next morning, the poor Mrs… she looked like she rolled around in a small pox blanket. (They did not take to my blood–I might’ve had one bite.) Not a fabulous way to start a vacation.
As this was a surprise birthday destination–I was feeling fairly shitty about my planning at this point.
At first, we thought the bites were–eeeeee… sand fleas. After using the mosquito netting the second night we were indeed welcomed to the site of very small Caribbean mosquitos attached to the outside of the netting patiently waiting for brunch.
Our first dinner in Barbados was an authentic Bajan BBQ at Zed’s. It was fantastic… and a good sign of things to come. Rice and peas (rice and beans). Okra. Grilled fish, chicken and pork ribs. So, simple and so good.
Interestingly, Bajan flavor is a colorful array of curry, heat and other worldly spice. Unlike Cuban or Jamaican–Bajan cuisine seems to cast a wider net. (To be fair I have not been to Jamaica nor Cuba. My experiences with both are limited to South Florida.) I guess I was just surprised by the prevalence of Indian, and even Chinese, influence in the spice department–both seem synergistic to the Island and no doubt an artifact of the spice trade.
I mentioned this in a post about a recent trip to Iceland, but I really believe to get a feel for a culture’s palette one only need visit a local grocery store. For us it was the “Super Centre” in Oistins. While we stocked up on some essentials for the long weekend ahead we also picked up some edible souvenirs–“Delish” hot sauce. Holy shit–this is the best hot sauce on the planet. Oddly, we bought several bottles before actually tasting it at a restaurant, Surfer’s Café, across the street. The sauce is bright yellow (from mustard) and also contains peppers, vinegar, cucumber and spices. No artificial flavors or preservatives. Tangy, just slightly sweet with a modicum of heat… what’s not to love?
Our first lunch was at the Atlantis overlooking the craggy and beautiful coast of Bathsheba. This is where I really embarrased myself… ya see, Barbados is more of a tea country. My first cup of coffee in the Caribbean was so very, very awful. Like water that had been strained through the same grounds five times and left to reduce into a coffee paste only to be reconstituted with more water, etc.
Our server asked if we wanted a beverage. Heidi ordered a beautiful coconut cocktail and since I was driving (on the left-hand side mind you) I really needed a latté. NEEDED. I hesitantly questioned if they had espresso. “Would you like a single or a double?” Wait? What? They actually have espresso!? Yes! Yes! Oh God yes!
“Actually, I know this is going to sound really, er, high maintenance… but would it be possible to get a double espresso poured over ice… possibly with some added milk?”
“So, you would like an iced latté?”
Never have I left like such a tool, especially since the espresso menu was sitting directly behind me. How was I to know? We had yet, in our 24 hours, to see a single espresso stand.
Speaking of stands… I’m not a coconut water fan. It tastes like canned-corn water to me. If you are unfamiliar with coconut water, it is harvested from premature coconuts (green coconuts) and is viciously popular these days. Liberally dotting the Barbados road-sides are gentlemen with mounds of green coconuts and machetes selling coconut water strained into chilled 1/2 gallon jugs, or sometimes smaller water bottle sized containers.
You can also request a freshly chopped coconut that comes with a handy straw. It’s amazing to watch the pros cut the tops off of the coconuts… seriously, three… maybe four whacks with a machete and you have a refreshing beverage. And oh man, it’s nothing like the bottled coconut water you find in the states.
Meanwhile, back at The Atlantis, home of the iced latté…
I had the flying fish étouffée. It was served in a tomato jam and what I think was some sort of polenta. Flying fish is fantastic! Who knew! If I had to compare it to anything I guess I would go with catfish… very mellow but flavorful. The other dish we sampled was a fried flying fish sandwich–also fabulous. For the record, the national dish of Barbados is flying fish.
I had a second iced latté only because I wasn’t sure when I would see another one again. I asked for a third latté “to-go”. They searched around for a plastic cup but it didn’t pan out–I’m fairly certain they thought I was a complete idiot.
Oistins, a small coastal town about 5 kilometers from Zed’s on the Southern coast, is well known for its fresh fish market. On friday nights it’s legendary for becoming a drag strip of beeping car horns, vendors hawking their wares, street-side fish-fry shacks and enough reggae to leave your soul satisfied for days.
Typical fare? Fish. Fish that hasn’t even made it onto ice yet… and then sides including but not limited to rice and peas, fried plaintains, grilled english potatoes… FYI A white potato is an English potato. A sweet potato is a potato. The Oistins fish fry was one of the more interesting meals we experienced–ridiculously authentic. Fuck that secluded safe resort bullshit. This is where it’s at!
Most of the seating at the fish fry was family style, i.e. stretches of end-to-end picnic tables. I know most Americans hate this; however, we met some very nice Canadiens. Actually, we didn’t meet a single American on this trip. Tourists in Barbados seem to be almost exclusively Canadian or English. Isn’t that interesting? When I researched this vacation I also looked at the Dutch-Indies (Curaçao in particular) and discovered that, surprise, they are heavily visited by the Dutch. The French? They visit the South of St. Martins. Americans? They prefer poop cruises stalled somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.
Let’s chat about booze. Rum! I’m not a huge rum fan. Maybe it was the causal relationship with my proximity to the equator, but damn if Barbados doesn’t distill a dandy and delicious rum. Our preference was Cockspur, if not for the package design and the fact that roosters seem to dominate the Bajan landscape. We made many delicious cocktails with the Cockspur that we purchased at our local bodega, “Buffy’s”. One litre of rum = $9 American. Splendid.
The beer of Barbados is Banks. Banks beer. “Two Banks please!” Decent lager, 4.7% APV. I’ve really been drinking a lot less beer these days; however, there is something so satisfying about a cold beer on a tropical beach.
Surfer’s Café, is a great little post-beach dinner spot. (Park across the street at the grocery store.) We ate here twice mostly because of the fish taco sign out front. Not that it mattered, but our first dinner here was post-beach Saturday evening where we discovered that fish tacos were a Sunday-only feature. Oh damn! We just had to come back again! Great ocean view. The flying fish Goujons made for a perfect starter–strips of flying fish battered in Bajan seasoning and fried–served with Bajan hot sauce. (The same hot sauce that we bought at grocery store.) But, the Sunday night fish tacos were the highlight. Very similar to a Baja style fish taco, i.e. avocado sauce, cabbage and fried fish.
As a bonus to fish taco night they had an amazing duo performing–I approximated some sort of high-five to one of the dudes on the way out and was later reprimanded for being a total and complete dork. You know… the super white American tourist replete with flip-flops all chillaxed on the island, “ya mon!” (Think Michael Scott from The Office returning from a trip to Jamaica.)
And if you would like to pay me to travel and write about it… please contact me immediately, because the first day of spring is tomorrow and it fucking snowed again today.