Author’s Note: I had such a blast in Barbados that there was no time to write in the moment as I usually do during my travels. So you will see my musings in a series of postscripts, if you will. Enjoy!
My arms were sore when I woke up this morning. No, it’s not from all the flying. I think it was from holding on for dear life on the the back of a banana boat yesterday. For the uninitiated, which I was before I hopped on the back of one, a banana boat is a long yellow floaty that is attached to the back of a motor boat and pulled at ridiculously high speeds through the ocean. There is a short handle to hold on to, the only thing keeping you from flying off into said ocean. Once you get over the absurdity of the whole thing and forget about the fact that you signed a waiver in five or six places absolving the resort from any responsibility should you fly off into the ocean and say drown, it was an absolute blast.
This was Barbara’s bright idea. She’s one of my fellow Barbados travelers. Michelle had already mentioned that she’s like to go for a ride on a banana boat, so she was game. I asked a couple of important questions like “What is it?” and “Is it safe?” and upon getting the reply “It’s fun!” I jumped at the offer to join. I figured all would be well since the woman suggesting the daring activity can’t actually swim, but loves all water sports from jet-skiing to parasailing. As long as a lifevest is required, she’s good. She’s the one who also informed me that the back of the boat , where I am seated, is the bumpiest, which raised a few reservations before we went skimming off into the Caribbean, but I shook it off as I took in panaramic views of the Barbados coastline and squealed with delight as we hit each big bumpy wave. The water was a gorgeous royal blue and the ocean spray was refreshingly cooling. Banana boat, anyone? Yes, please!
This was also my response when offered rum-filled drinks on the beach. The mango pina colada had become my drink of choice. Michelle hadn’t gotten enough adventure on the high seas, so she joined fellow traveler Jennifer out on the jet-skiis. This was Jennifer’s first time on one, but she looked totally at ease as she zipped off toward some unknown destination in crystal blue waters, arms wrapped around an attractive Bajan named Obie. There’s plenty for the active beach-goer to do at Tamarind with most water sports included with your stay. I choose, instead, to stare languidly out at the ocean and watch the active beach-goers zoom by on water skiis, kayak or simply drift away on hobie cats.
My next lazy move was to visit the spa. I love spa smells and with one whiff inside Tamarind’s spa, I am already relaxed. I’ve requested the Bajan Ritual, because, well, I’m in Barbados. My skin is lightly brushed before the application of an an organic raw sugar scrub, followed by a massage with intoxication oils like coconut, kiwi, macadamia nut and hemp. I found myself somewhere between a state of comatose and sleep. I think it was closer to sleep because I could hear myself snoring. But I wasn’t the least bit embarrased. It should be the ultimate compliment for any good masseuse.
Post massage, I was chilling on my veranda, uploading photos to my laptop, when I spotted Marcus Samuelsson. He emerged from the corridor just beyond my room and rushed right past me toward someone at the pool bar outside my room. I craned my neck for a better view and then he rushed off down another shaded corridor. He reminds me of why I’ve come–to consume copious amounts of good food and oggle celeb chefs. The second time I spot him he’s jogging down the beach and I’m fumbling for my camera to get a shot. I wasn’t fast enough to get him approaching, but I caught him mid-stride. Another Barbados traveler, Crystal, looked positively crestfallen when I told her that her chef heartthrob had jogged right past her as she frolicked in the ocean with other friends. But we’d all have another chance to see him up close at tomorrow’s cooking demo.
In the meantime, we all head to the real culinary center of Barbados–the Oistins Fish Fry. According to anyone who has been to Barbados and anyone who lives there now, this is THE place to hit on the island. Our travel crew has become so comfortable with one another that on our van ride over folks start teasing and playing the dozens, playfully categorizing one another as “ghetto” or “low brow,” a term coined by one of the Marks on our trip, who happily claims being “ghetto.”
Whether ghetto, low brow or otherwise, we are all in our element at Oistins because it has something for everybody. The food stands dominate, serving everything from tiny fish cakes to whole grilled lobsters. I head straight for Pat’s per the recommendation of my college friend Cathy whose people hail from Barbados.
I take another traveler named Debra along with me. We immediately know this is the place to go because of the long line that awaits us and the brisk business at the window. The women inside wear hairnets and spoon healthy helpings of sides like peas and rice, macaroni salad and coleslaw into styrofoam containers. Along side the food stand is a long grill where the grillmaster is flaming up potatoes and the thing most have come for–the flying fish, which to Bajans is like the southerner’s catfish. But we haven’t gotten there yet. We start chatting with a British family in line ahead of us as we wait. It turns out they live near Hampden Court, the palace of Henry the VIII, where I visited this summer. They were on vacation for 10 days in Barbados and wondered what we knew of Pat’s. I told them that it came highly recommended. Finally, it was our turn to order. I chose the fried flying fish with peas and rice and they added coleslaw and macaroni salad. Debra ordered her flying fish grilled. We found empty plastic lawn chairs at a long card table set up under Pat’s tent and we dug in. Neither of us was disappointed. Fried or grilled the fish was perfectly seasoned with a little bit of kick. You could add the well-known yellow-gold Bajan pepper sauce, if you wanted even more heat. The peas and rice and all the other sides were the perfect compliment.
Sufficiently stuffed, we move on to take in the sights, sounds and smells of Oistins. We pass the stage in the center with a DJ spinning reggae and soca for fish fry fans of all stripes who can’t resist swaying their hips to the beat. We stop at a few jewelry stands and see some interesting copper pieces and then we move deeper into the fish fry grounds where we hear Michale Jackson playing. There is a crowd gathered and as we peek through the bodies we see a young Michael look-a-like in black sequined jacket and the signature sequined glove. He was pretty good, spinning and moonwalking, hitting the requisite knee-in-the-air pose. He even pulled out a few “Thriller” moves. We leave mini Michael for another snack. Debra wants a fish cake and I’ve never had one so we stop under a sign that reads “Hot Legendary Fishcakes.” The little golden balls were less than a dollar each and after tasting one they are kind of like Lays potato chips, “You can’t have just one.” The crispy morsels reminded me of hush puppies with the addition of flaky codfish inside. Tastey.
After Oistins, the group heads to the opening night party for the Barbados Food &Wine and Rum Festival. It’s at The Beach House, a resort minutes away from our own and when we step out of our van we know we are miles away from Oistins. This event is upscale with a capital “U.” There’s a bit of a red carpet feel with a sign announcing the event preceeded by a walk way into a large courtyard with a pool in its center. We could be in LA or Miami. There’s wine for tasting and small finger foods. A few of us are glad that we ate so heartily at Oistins. At first the event feels a bit like a “see-and-be-seen” kind of event and some of the group hangs close at the rum bar, while others grow tired from the days events and head home early. As the music starts to get good, I head to the dance floor with a few others. If you know me, you know that I love to dance and you may have guessed from previous postings. While on the dance floor, I am standing next to a woman with leopard-printed hair and I am totally intrigued. I’ve never seen anything like it. And oddly, it wasn’t garrish. Her hair was her accent to a strapless dress with a daring split. So, I had to ask her about the hair. She tells me that it is a hairpiece that she has attached temporarily and she’s trying to decide if she wants the look to last longer. It works for her. Me, no.The party kicks into high gear at midnight when the popular Bajan band Masala hits the stage. This is the moment Gai, our travel artist, has been waiting for. Much of the evening she’s been raving about the lead singer Philip, who she says look like a cross between Lenny Kravitz and the guy who played Warwick on “CSI.” Basically, he’s hot. When Philip steps on stage, he’s like a pied piper of women in party clothes and heels. They’ve all flocked to the front of the stage for a better view. Gai and I are among them and she’s as giddy as a school girl. He starts with two songs that get the crowd going, “I am Bajan” and “Wind to the Side.” Everyone is going nuts. I am starting to catch Philip-mania, too. Next thing Gai and I know, a woman in a black mini-skirt is pulling us on stage along with the leopard-haired dancer and a strikingly tall woman in a black maxi dress. (I would later learn that the statuesque dancer that joined us was none other than Damaris Lewis a three-time Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. Thank goodness, I didn’t meet her on the beach!) We proceed to tear up the stage, spinning, showing off our house music moves and flinging our skirts. It was too much fun. We become like sisters, bonded by dance and proceed to take pictures together. But we haven’t forgotten about Philip. He proceeds to blow the crowd away with his rendition of Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness,” which added in the infectious hook from the Jay-Z and Kanye rap “Otis.” It was fantastic. A great cap to to our first full day in Barbados. When we make it back to the resort around 2 am, some of us crawl away to our rooms, spent. Others can’t quite end the day and talk around the spa pool into the wee hours of the morning, sealing their Barbados bond.