Sitting in the surf

Apologies, no marathon update for two days despite my best intentions and, at one point, endeavour. I’ve just been soooooooo busy!

But an email from a friend demanding an update has spurred me into action this morning. Truth be told I got a little sunburnt yesterday so I’m staying under cover this morning at least. I hope you enjoy this update plus picture gallery at the end. I do have an ulterior motive though.

Life continues to be a beach. Or rather, lots of beaches. Plus a fair old sprinkling of inland visual feasts. Here are edited highlights, roughly in chronological order

Monday saw me taking a drive up to the north of the island to the parish of St Lucy. Once you get north of Speightstown the landscape gets increasingly flat and windswept as the north point of the island nears. Trade winds from the east mean a fairly constant stiff (but warm) breeze that results in the verdant greenery being ever on the move.

The useful ‘Barbados in a Nutshell’ map (which seems to be the only road map for the island) indicates where beaches can be accessed on foot or by car, and I had decided to head for Archers Bay. It was certainly out on a limb.

The further north I got the more I thought how much the windswept landscape resembled the scattered crofting communities of the Western Isles in Scotland. The similarities end there though. Barbados is entirely coral not Lewisian Gneiss and there isn’t a peat bog to be seen!

Archers Bay beach turned out to be inaccessible, or at least I was unable to find the access path down the razor sharp coral cliff to a small beach. The access road was rather interesting though – I drove for about a quarter of a mile through a coconut grove, negotiating sticky up lumps of coral that could have ripped the tyres to shreds at a moment, and I had to negotiate a flock of Barbadian sheep too.

The Barbadian Blackbelly more closely resembles goats and breed all year round unlike most domestic sheep. Because they are larger and faster growing than most wooled sheep, they are a good choice for commercial production. There is a strong market locally for their lean and mild-flavored meat. They are ‘hair’ sheep which means that they do not grow wool and are therefore able to tolerate the tropical heat.

From Archers Bay I then headed east to Little Bay. I loved Little Bay. Correction, I love Little Bay.

The passing of time has eroded the east coast of Barbados, pounded as it is by the Atlantic Ocean (next stop The Gambia, 3000 miles east). The coral breaks down or simply washes away, leaving amazing rock formations and blowholes which the violent seas crash through very dramatically.

Little Bay is one such place. As its name suggests the bay itself is very little when the tide is in but there is considerable evidence that it would have been much bigger many moons ago. An easy walk down the eroded cliff on a easy gradient path leads you to a small semi-circular bay beyond which are two raised coral platforms with a channel between. Beyond the platforms the Atlantic Ocean crashes in with huge turquoise waves and flying spray. It is quite a sight – see pictures.

Whilst I was snapping away with my camera – shock, horror – someone else appeared on the beach and entered the water. He sat down in a natural bowl, another effect of the sea erosion.

From my vantage point I could see the crashing waves, which would often break over the coral platforms and suddenly whoosh into the little bay where my companion had sat himself down in the water. But as I later discovered when I joined him, when you’re sitting there you have no idea what’s happening up on that platform and therefore when or how big the next wave will be. It’s great fun!

Another place I’ve visited, on recommendation, is Harrison’s Cave.

The site has, apparently, undergone a massive transformation in the past four years with the development of lifts and an electric tramway. When I think ‘tramway’ I imagine trams running on rails. Well this is different – the tram is actually a glorified, articulated, golf buggy seating about thirty people. After watching the obligatory introductory film which described how Barbados was created 60,000 years ago (apparently) by the collision of the Atlantic plate and the Caribbean plate, I boarded the aforementioned tram for a journey one mile underground.

It was, actually, very good, and I’m pleased that I went. But I was annoyed that the tram didn’t stop in various places on the route where the caves were beautifully lit with coloured lights, for example a cascade running down the side of the tramway would have made a beautiful photograph. Here I must acknowledge with ever greatful thanks, my wonderful 50th birthday present from The Sainted Marion. My sooper dooper camera has a night portrait setting which enabled me to take some great pictures in between the camera flashes of the other tram passengers.

Good to my word, at the recommendation of Kyle Boyce, I have visited Foul Bay in the south of Barbados. As Kyle said, its right next door to the famous Crane Beach yet it is totally deserted. Shortly before I pulled up at the parking place the local radio station had broadcast a surge warning for the eastern Caribbean, warning all folk not to attempt to swim in the sea as the waves would be higher than usual and a strong current to boot.

Well the waves they were certainly a crashing! Heeding the advice I decided against an immersion so I didn’t change into my bathing shorts. Consequently when I went for a paddle (without camera I hasn’t to add), a larger than anticipated breaker soaked me from head to toe, covering me in fine sand in the process!  It was rather a damp journey home after that … I mistakenly thought that I’d dry out nicely as I drove along (sitting on a large towel I hasten to add), silly me.

I was certainly able to comprehend how the bay got its somewhat unusual name. The running sea was indeed foul, and I suspect its like it was on my visit most of the time, even when there isn’t a surge warning in force.

This morning I was up with the lark and driving across the island at 6am in the hope of catching the sunrise on the east coast. Unfortunately it broke the horizon when I was halfway over so that came to nowt. However I made up for the bad timing with a return visit to Bathsheba where I had the beach entirely to myself at 7am and for a goodly while after that.

There are certainly better beaches in Barbados than Bathsheba, there can be no doubt about that. But there is is something rather special about the gargantuan lumps of coral rock in the surf and the shoreline punctuated with wildly waving palm trees.

And I think that’s about all for now. More jottings to come, but now its time for another swim, but in the pool staying well out of the sun for the time being!
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Maria Callas is locked in a bedroom

The great diva lives! It’s true, I heard her singing in the trees yesterday afternoon. More of that later …

What a lovely day it was yesterday. Swelteringly hot, fluffy white clouds skimming across an eternally blue sky giving just the occasional shade relief.  Before the sun got too high in the sky I went down to the beach (pictured) for a stroll along the coral sand. I was determined to at least get wet this time, and so it happened – though not entirely as intended.

Walking on the coral sand is a bit of a nightmare if you’ve got sensitive feet as I have. I feel literally every bump or lump under the soles of my feet. So imagine what it is like stepping on a bit of sea-worn coral, ground down to something approaching smoothness over many moons but still enough to cause havoc to this sensitive creature!

Where I lost my footing - deceptive eh?

And then, added to this, is the fact that what’s lying on the beach is the small stuff which the sea has thrown up. Conversely, just a few yards from shore there are blooming great lumps of the stuff flying around (shadow underwater on picture).

So if you wade in to the water where there’s a lot of coral debris, these lumps fly at your legs through the water. A few weeks back P&D’s last visitor apparently emerged from the water in the same spot with his legs cut to shreds.  I was anxious not to repeat the scenario.

So I found what I thought was the sandiest part of the beach, with few lumps on display, and I waded in to my knees. The water was deliciously warm and really quite clear, but not clear enough for me to notice that the sand suddenly shelved away to a not-quite-so-shallow spot!

All at once instead of paddling I found myself sitting in the water, and that’s when I discovered the current. Not a strong one, but the waves are powerful enough just here. Not soon was I sitting down but I was pushed over by a passing wave. In no time at all I’d gone from wet below the knees to total immersion!!

I must say it was fabulous, but the thought of getting hit by coral lumps, let alone stepping on the stuff did, I’m afraid, rather put me off prolonging the experience, or attempting to swim. So I returned back to the house and elected for the swimming pool instead – altogether safer, if rather more boring.  Whereas the previous day I wouldn’t go near it, yesterday you couldn’t keep me out of it!

A grill in the sun followed, slapping on high SPF Piz Buin.  I’ll want my money back if I don’t have a delicious tan when I get back to blighty.  There’ll be words I can tell you!

Around midday we set off for our afternoon jaunt, a pattern now well established (home am, out pm til whenever). P&D drove me first to Holetown, just up the coast from here, and then we turned right and headed inland to Mount Misery, at 1035 feet high, one of the highest points on the island.

I’ve no idea how it came by its name, and I have tried to find out for you this morning but to no avail. However, I suspect we can all think of at least one cause for its name.  From Mt Misery you can see the Caribbean to the west and the Atlantic to the east. The next landfall eastwards from Barbados is Senegal in West Africa, just over 3000 miles away!

From Mt Martha we headed further east to the parish of St Joseph to visit Hunte’s Gardens. This is a fabulous botanical garden established not so many years ago by its own Antony Hunte. He’s a white Bajan native, a descendant of the entirely settlers, and he was certainly an eccentric character; I warmed to him immediately. His gardens were simply stunning, created in an enormous collapsed cave: my photograph really doesn’t do it justice – the tall palm trees were over 200 feet tall.

I was completely spellbound by the gardens around me when suddenly Maria Callas started singing Puccini through the trees. It was at once weird and yet fitting in that arena, and given the big hole that the garden was created in, the acoustics were brilliant.

After our perambulation around the garden we joined Antony on his verandah for a glass of rum punch, my first tipple of rum ever.  I was rather taken (warning bells!) with it.

I took the opportunity to tell Anthony that it was lovely hearing Maria Callas singing whilst I was walking around the garden. “Didn’t you know?” he said, “She’s my wife. I keep her chained up in my bedroom these days; she just sings like a canary when she wants something.”

Rum consumed we headed off again, arriving a short time after at Bathsheba, which made me feel like I was a Thomas Hardy character.

We had a delicious snack lunch (and another rum punch!) at a lovely cafe overlooking an Atlantic beach, massive waves crashing onto the shore in their first landfall for thousands of miles, and then bumbled back to St James passing through plantations of sugar cane, banana, paw-paw, mango and apples.

I’m fascinated by the placenames (usually named for the original plantation owner thereabouts), the plantations themselves and the chequered history of the sugar trade. We have to accept that slavery is part of that story unfortunately, but my take on it is that at least the white settlers did come to their senses eventually, albeit when forced to comply with an act of parliament.

300 years of plantation history is quite something and I’m determined to find out more before I travel home and to read about it thereafter.  So expect a plantation blog soon!

Back home again more swims in the pool followed by a relaxing evening doing, frankly, not a lot.  We talked about plans for today, but I’m so relaxed I can’t for life of me remember what the agenda is.

Once I’ve finished this posting I’ll zip down to the beach for a wade, maybe an immersion too, and then more grilling by the swimming pool for half an hour.

I’m delighted to have avoided getting sunburned so far, but there’s always today …