It was just after sunset when we arrived in St. Peter’s parish on the northern side of the petite pear-shaped island, about 1600 miles southeast of Miami. Known for its soft tropical weather, this independent British Commonwealth nation boasts 3,000 hours of sunshine each year, long stretches of white sand beaches and sparkling clear bays. Light tradewinds keep the residents and guests cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. So we couldn’t think of a better place to take a pre-holiday vacation and test out our new underwater skills. The quaint Caribbean isle of Barbados called to us and we answered!
Though just the two of us, that first night and throughout our stay at the Heywoods Resort, I felt her presence in our room. A watercolor portrait of her hung centered above the bed. Her face was a canvas of rich brown, accentuated by specks of round black eyes, a blunt nose and unsmiling thick ruby lips. A canary yellow scarf wrapped turban style adorned her head and was tied in a bow on top. Short black bangs curled down onto her high forehead. Gold loops dangled from her lobes and a gold band hugged her long neck. She looked independent, confident, fierce. No doubt she was. Afterall this was Rachel Pringle, the notorious Madam of Barbados.
Day one began early, despite the four-hour time difference. Gentle breezes awakened and revitalized as we sat on the restaurant patio. Breakfast was delightful, truly a feast for all of our senses. Rich, strong coffee, just baked coconut sweet bread, passionfruit cake, and pineapple coffee cake alongside fresh bananas, mangos and guava were served up with a turquoise view of the Caribbean Sea lapping up onto the shoreline, just steps away.
Soon we set out to explore the island with the rental car agency’s gentle reminder in mind – Drive to the left! Don’t forget it’s left! Always left! Bumping along Route 1 past Speightstown we headed south to Bridgetown. Wandering around the maze-like streets, we ducked in and out of duty-free shops along Broad Street. Although more than four thousand miles away, the London influence was everywhere. Tweeds, woolens, bone china, even tartans were on offer.
The Barbadians we talked with were so warm and personable. Dressed comfortably and tastefully in colorful crisp cottons, we could feel the pride they took in their heritage, eagerly sharing stories of their lives and culture. Caught up in all the highly photogenic scenery, we had to remind ourselves about other words of caution we received. Visitors are warned not to take a photo of any person without their permission. It’s said that they feel a piece of their soul is taken if they hadn’t agreed beforehand.
A Barbadian cookbook, placemats and a cloisonne vase, were a few of the souvenirs purchased before we retraced our route towards St. James Road on the winding pot-holed roads. Above the walls of green on both sides, we could see trails of smoke swirling. It filled the air with the smell of ash. Chattel houses lined the roads where the fields ended. Not surprising – Tyre (tire) Repair Shops could be seen on every corner!
Reaching our next destination, we parked across the road from a former sugar plantation. Then we entered into a dense mahogany forest home to green monkeys, wallabies and deer wandering freely. We met herons, peacocks, and land turtles, too. Here at the Barbados Wildlife Reserve we quickly learned the two rules required for a pleasant visit…Look, but don’t touch and Be very careful where you step.
From my journal: December14, 1993 written from Barbados
“Our first day of fun!! Explored Bridgetown, found a dive shop, and went to wildlife reserve. Will be diving early tomorrow morning…excited and nervous!”