Bridgetown, Barbados (2019)
We spent March 18 on Barbados, the most easterly of the Caribbean islands. First settled by the British in 1628, Bridgetown today has some 110,000 inhabitants, more than a third of the total population of Barbados. Barbados achieved independence from the UK in 1966 but remains in the British Commonwealth. Unlike the other Caribbean islands Barbados is mostly coral rather than of volcanic origin. The last time we visited here we walked from the port into Bridgetown and spent our time exploring the city.
This time we signed up for an excursion with our travel agents to see some of the rest of the island. So in the morning we headed north from the port in the gray and drizzly weather. This is a very wealthy area of sandy beaches, calm waters and expensive resorts known as the Gold Coast (or more recently, the Platinum Coast). It is said that a number of foreign billionaires have beach houses here. Not only was it poor weather to view these resorts as the bus rolled by but we were on the other side of the bus, so no pictures of the Gold Coast. As we drove over the island interior to the much wilder east coast facing the Atlantic we passed a number of what seem to be typical Barbadian houses, mostly one story and painted a variety of colors.
Near the east coast we happened on some monkeys. Barbadian green monkeys are descended from some that were brought here some 350 years ago from Senegal and the Gambia by slave traders. Some of these pets escaped and today they are all over the island. Through some 75 generations they have evolved differently from their cousins in Africa and it is said that this particular species can only be found in the wild here.
We stopped in Bathsheba, a town of about 5,000 on the east coast. We have read that this is the most painted landscape in Barbados and it was easy to see why, even with the clouds & rain. The beach is highlighted by very large boulders that have been eroded at the bottom by the heavy surf. The waves in this area known to surfers as the “Soup Bowl,” and it regularly hosts international surfing competitions. Eleven time world champion surfer Kelly Slater has called this one of the “top 3 waves in the world.” Up the hill from the park where we stopped were some houses similar to what we had seen and some a little more substantial.
We were stopped in a park that sloped steeply down to the water. Next door to the park was a restaurant with a veranda in back that had a spectacular view of the Soup Bowl. In the park we encountered some local birds.
Back in the bus, we drove to the St Johns Parish Church, situated atop a hill 800 feet above the sea. The first church was built here in 1645. It was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1676 but hurricanes destroyed that and its successors. After the 1831 hurricane the present church was built of sturdy stone and rededicated in 1836. Gothic in style, it would look right at home in the English countryside. The outstanding features inside the church are a large pipe organ over the entrance and an elaborately hand carved pulpit.
In back of the church is a cemetery. The most eye catching tombstone is from 1678, the grave of Ferdinando Paleologus who was a member of the family of the last emperors of the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople. The cemetery had a breadfruit tree and a number of colorful flowers and it backed up to a cliff overlooking the ocean and a town below. Breadfruit is native to the South Pacific, not the Caribbean. It was first brought to the Caribbean by Captain William Bligh of Mutiny on the Bounty fame because it was thought this would be an inexpensive food for the tens of thousands of slaves that were kept here. An artist was at work there too. After exploring the cemetery we left the church.
Originally built in the 1660’s, Sunbury Plantation house was restored after a devastating fire in 1995. Its 30 inch thick walls are made of coral and ballast stones, probably from slave trading ships. This was the great house of a large sugar cane plantation. Sugar cane was by far the leading export from Barbados in earlier centuries and even today it is one of the island’s leading crops. The plantations were worked by slaves imported from Africa; at one point there were more than 15 slaves for every free person in Barbados. We toured the house, which has been furnished with antiques, many made from Barbadian mahogany. It was pretty sumptuous, but really an old house is an old house and we have seen a lot of them.
The house has lush gardens with many different flowers and trees, notably some large ficus trees.
In back of the plantation house was a pavilion containing a buffet restaurant. We had a very nice lunch there, including some delicious local fish and rum punch. Barbados has been producing rum since 1703, the first to do so in the Caribbean, which is made from the sugarcane grown throughout the island (including on this plantation). Our guide told us that the last census counted 1200 churches in Barbados . . . and 1200 rum shops.
As we drove back to Bridgetown we passed several fields of sugarcane.and some more local style houses. In one traffic circle we drove past the Emancipation Statue, erected in 1985. Many people here call it the Bussa Statue, after a slave who led a revolt in 1816, although that was not the intent of the sculptor. We drove through the center of Bridgetown, past the Parliament Building that has been the seat of government since the 1870’s, then down a commercial street and back to the port.
On our first visit here we walked into town from the port along a beautiful park like path along the sea wall. After returning to the port, we decided to walk up that path a little way to visit a collection of shops we believe was called the Pelican Crafts Center. Many of the shops were closed but those that were open included some very interesting textile and crafts shops as well as some more mundane souvenir stores. It also had a large statue that looked at first like a skeleton playing baseball, but probably was intended to beholding a sword or a club. After that we returned to the ship, ending our visit to Barbados.