On Island Time: 8 Reasons Barbados Should Be Your Next Winter Vacay

 

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Recently dubbed the Caribbean Destination of the Year by Caribbean Journal, Barbados is, without a doubt, the next trip you need to book.

Like, yesterday.

Barbados is known for its white, sandy beaches and being the birthplace of Rihanna.

It’s the place where high-profile people such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Simon Cowell, Elton John and many others jet off to for their holidays in the sun.

But don’t let that fool you into thinking this destination is only for the well-to-do.

That’s far from the truth.

Barbados is the perfect getaway for travelers of any age and (most importantly) any budget.

The reasons for visiting go far beyond expensive resorts and pictures taken in front of Rihanna’s home on the west coast of the island.

1. For The Adventure

Despite being considered one of the “flattest” Caribbean islands, Barbados still has tons of adrenaline-spiking activities for the adventure seekers.

You can zip line through the trees, scuba dive through sunken ships, snorkel with turtles or go for a horseback ride across the sand.

You can swim in pools of water inside the Animal Flower Cave, hike the rugged coastline of St. Lucy or face your fears of the dark and claustrophobia in some of the underground caves and tunnels.


2. For The Ease Of Getting Around

For only $2 in Barbados (or $1 in American), you can hop on any public bus or ZR (vans that hold roughly 12 people, but can squish in upwards of 22) and get anywhere you need to go.

If you hire a car, it doesn’t take much longer than an hour to drive from one end of the island to the other.

Not only is getting around easy in Barbados, but it’s fun as well.

You’ll typically find loud reggae or soca music blasting on many of the buses and ZRs.

Many ZR drivers bling out the inside of their vans with lights, decoration and colors.


3. For The Friendly Nature

Bajans are pretty friendly folk, and they’re are always willing to lend you a hand in getting where you need to be.

They love recommending their favorite spots on the island or inviting you in for a heated game of dominoes.

They want you to enjoy your stay and feel welcome on the island, and they might even go out of their way to make that happen.


4. For the Mangos And The Coconuts

My version of paradise is anywhere you can buy milk jugs of fresh coconut water, cheap produce at the local markets and mangos by the dozen, which you’ll likely want to eat all in one day (0r one sitting).

Barbados has coconut vendors scattered all over the place, typically on the side of the road or near popular beaches.

Here, you can purchase a fresh coconut for the road or an entire jug of freshly poured coconut water.


5. For The Music

Nothing shocked me more than the musical talent on the island.

If you know where to go, you can find live music acts every night of the week.

I guarantee you will love them all.

From reggae to jazz, you’ll hear it all.

You’ll be blown away by the voices that come out of the artists.

It’s no wonder Rihanna got famous, but it is a wonder that many more haven’t been scooped up.


6. For The Nightlife

Barbados comes alive when the sun goes down, and it goes down early.

Whether you want a chill evening at one of the beachside bars or cafes, or you’re searching for the party atmosphere of St. Lawrence Gap, the Bajans know how to have a good time.

If you’re really in the party mood, try out your skills on the dance floor and see if you have what it takes to wine at the same level as the locals.

Jet on over to Barbados to take part in the Cropover celebration.

Different events are held throughout the month, all leading up to the main event: Grand Kadooment.

This parade shows off elaborate costumes, music and dancing through the streets.


7. For The Beaches

The beauty of the turquoise waters and white, sandy beaches of Barbados is undeniable.

The west and south coasts of the island are where you will find the calm waters of the Caribbean sea, which are perfect for water activities, swimming and sunbathing on the beach.

In stark contrast, the north and east coasts are where you will experience the natural beauty of the rugged coastline and the crashing waves of the Atlantic.

Some of the best beaches are, at the same time, the most popular.

These are Crane Beach, Accra and Sandy Lane.

But along the way, you can discover some hidden gems with far fewer people taking up your space.


8. For The Island Time

The number one reason for making Barbados a part of your 2016 is getting to experience what life is like on island time.

Barbados and its people will teach you a lesson or two about what’s truly important, what truly brings happiness into your life and what can create a shift in your perspective.

Time slows down, and so do you.

Your days no longer revolve around the strict North American schedule dictated by time and money.

Instead, they revolve around building friendships, talking to someone a little bit longer on the street and being able to dive into the sea at a moment’s notice.

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An Open Letter To The Man I Met Abroad

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It hits at the most unexpected times. It’s not written in stone and it can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it. We all know the feeling: the undeniable tightening of the chest, the butterflies soaring in your stomach and the endless need to hear his voice, see his face. Love has a funny way of working and travel has a funny way of making itself a larger priority. Maybe it’s not really love if it doesn’t come first but it has gotten pretty close.

The first time I saw him he was singing in a café that my friends and I went to every Wednesday: a guitar slung from his shoulder and a harmonica dangling from his neck. Opportunity struck and before I knew it, he was picking me up the following evening. I sat in the balmy Caribbean heat, sipping on rum while he sang a song for me and afterwards, he spent the evening taking me out to his favorite spots before dropping me off at home.

We didn’t take it slow. The realization that I had only a short time left created a sense of urgency and we spent nearly every waking moment together. Our time was filled with evenings listening to him sing, dinners and drinks and nights at his place. We explored an abandoned house, kissed in the sea, and drove around the entire island. We talked about our futures, our families and our dreams. We laughed, fought, cried and ultimately kept each other close until it was time for me to go. There were promises of visits in the near future, of him visiting Canada and me returning to the island. There was assurances that we would talk on the phone, FaceTime every week; we were sure that we would stay in touch.

But as these things go, the phone calls faded and the FaceTime never even began.

I caught myself doing the most embarrassing things that we affectionately label as “crazy girl” behavior. But I wasn’t crazy, was I? I just missed him. I missed the idea of what could have developed and I was terrible at putting that idea to rest. Was it real love? I don’t know. Would it have continued if I hadn’t taken my flight home? I don’t know that either. But I do know that it wasn’t for nothing.

It was real, for me.

It might not have lasted and who knows if I will ever see or hear from him again. But during those months and in those moments, it was real. I let myself be open, raw and vulnerable. I loved being near him, holding his hand, and kissing his face. I loved waking up next to him, listening to the stresses of his day and debating our thoughts about the world. I loved when he pulled me tighter in his sleep and when we made up after a fight. I loved having that sense of being wanted and appreciated, even for that fleeting moment.

It will always coincide with my time abroad.

Whenever I look back on my time abroad and the incredible people I met, I will remember him. He’ll sneak into my thoughts whenever I think about the experiences that I had and the things that I loved. I’ll remember the moment that he said he wanted me to meet his parents and when I, terrified at the seriousness of that request, declined. I’ll remember the moment that he ran down the street towards me when he thought I was leaving without saying goodbye. He will always be there when I think about my time abroad, even when he wasn’t.

It made me believe that love can still exist.

Our time together wasn’t perfect. There were things about me that annoyed him and things about him that drove me crazy. There were times when our souls were intricately meshed and times when our personalities pushed against each other. But, all of the similarities and differences made me realize that I haven’t given up on love. It made me realize that I don’t want to settle for our hook up culture of Netflix and booty calls. I want debates, I want arguments, I want make up sex and morning sex and 3 o’clock in the afternoon sex.

I want movies in bed, homemade meals that involve dancing around the kitchen in our bare feet and, more importantly, I want that with someone whose soul wants my soul, whose soul inspires my soul. If that takes another five years to find, then I will wait because I deserve that type of all-consuming, honest, raw love. We all deserve that kind of love and we shouldn’t be afraid to wait for it.

Lessons Learned from Living on an Island

Before moving to the Caribbean island I had no idea what to expect. Warm weather, the sea and days relaxing on the beach, obviously, but I had no idea just how life changing it can be to immerse yourself in island living. It has shifted my perspective on reality and I am determined to incorporate the life lessons I’ve learned for the rest of my life.

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wave Island time is a real and inherent thing that you will come to love if you choose to study on an island. As you embrace this concept of time, the stress and anxiety begin to fade and you finally begin to take in the life that you’re living. Time will no longer be the dictator of your life. It will be replaced by human contact, relationship, and experiencing the beauty in each day.

wave To quote Karen Blixen, whose pen name was Isak Dinesen: “the cure for anything is salt water – sweat, tears, or the sea.” This quote could not have more meaning than it does in Barbados. No matter where you are, the salty water of the Caribbean Sea is only a short walk away and it truly is a cure for anything. Breathing in the pure, clean air and letting your body be enveloped by the calm water makes you feel rejuvenated and alive. Not to mention – the sea is the perfect cure for a hangover after one too many rum punches.

wave Family is everything and the people living on the island know this. In Canada, we are growing farther and farther apart from our families. Parents work on holidays and Sundays are no longer a day of rest. One of the most beautiful things I noticed about Barbados was how family oriented everyone seemed to be. On a Sunday, when everything shuts down, you will find the beaches and parks packed with generations of families picnicking together. If you want to learn how to picnic, hang out with the Bajans.

wave Life is all about balance and this is something I truly came to learn and embrace while I was studying in Barbados. There is a time to work, a time to play, and a time to relax and we need all three of those to live our lives to the fullest. Life is not meant to work, sleep and repeat, and in our Western culture this is often what happens, with excuses of being tired, having no time, and not having enough money.  Money does not equal happiness and it is necessary to live a life that balances work, play and relaxation. Trust me, once you learn that all three are needed, you’ll understand that it is truly what will bring the most out of your life.

Whether we live on an island or as far away as the prairies of Alberta, we can still use these ideas about life to increase our own happiness and improve the way that we live our lives.

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Welcome To The Belly of The Dragon: How a Stigmatized Barbados Community Opened My Eyes and My Heart

Those of you who have been following me will know that from January to June of this year I was on a study abroad program in Barbados. Lucky me, right? Usually, when people think of Barbados or the Caribbean in general their immediate thoughts are beautiful white sand beaches, crystal clear turquoise waters, and the warmth that we all desperately crave for eight months a year up here in Canada. You’ll probably be staying in all-inclusive resorts, living in luxury for a week or two for a reasonable price. Barbados is your island getaway where you can eat, drink and lay on the beach as much as your heart desires.

You will step off that plane and smile as the thick, humid air hits your face and as the days go by you’ll think, what a beautiful place to live (yes, it is). This is paradise (also true). Nothing bad could ever happen here. But what you don’t see from the shores of the beach, the parties on St. Lawrence Gap, or your luxurious resort is the other side of life in Barbados. The side where some people struggle to keep food on the table, struggle to provide their children opportunities to succeed, and struggle to overcome crippling stigmatization. What you don’t realize when you’re lounging at The Boatyard, a popular stop for cruise passengers and resort-goers alike, is that just across the street sits one of the most socioeconomically low communities, where the drugs are being sold and bought, where the sex trade workers come out at night, where unemployment is sky high and where the community children are running around, caught up in the middle of it all.

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Set on the outskirts of Bridgetown, Nelson Street is a notorious street in the center of the St. Ambrose Community. With a history of public drug use, prostitution, and violence, it is locally known as being a pretty rough area. As a social work student, I was lucky enough to be placed right in the center of it all. Based out of the St. Ambrose Church Centre, I was thrown in head first. On my first day there, I was stopped by numerous concerned citizens when they noticed I was about to turn down into Nelson Street, each one trying to redirect me another route that would have added on an extra 20 minutes. I even had one man, of large, muscular build and heavily tattooed comment that he would never walk down Nelson Street alone. I thought to myself, “if he can’t go there, what chance do I stand?!’ Fully apprehensive, I made my walk down Nelson Street alone when a man who would come to be a huge support for me in the development of my project greeted me by saying, “Welcome to the belly of the dragon.”

Although my first few days were filled with catcalls and unspeakable comments made to me by those who limed on the street, they quickly turned a new leaf once they realized I was there to stay. During this time I learned that what you have certainly does not equate to your happiness. Despite their daily struggles, the individuals living in this area all had one thing in common: hope. If not for themselves than for their children and their futures.

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Having the opportunity to work in a neighborhood such as this truly opened my eyes and my heart. I was privileged to hear the stories that others did not want to listen to. I was welcomed with open arms into the primary school where I fell in love with the bright eyes and smiles of the children. I was guided by those who worked in the Centre I was based from. I cherished the dominoes games that I was invited to participate in with the group of men who hung out at the very same spot of the same street every single day and I was forever grateful to be invited onto the porches of those who offered me to come up for a glass of cold juice on my walk back to the bus at the end of each day.

But the moment I was most humbled is the moment a group of young men, who had initially been the worst of all the catcallers, became the people who would tell those following me too closely to back off by saying “she’s one of us”. That moment is a moment that I will never forget and one that I will always hold onto, the moment when I truly realized just how welcomed I had become. To go from being a stranger in the community to being dubbed one of their own was one of the most rewarding feelings and reminded me why I had chosen this career. I will be eternally grateful for this community for truly opening my eyes and my heart and I sincerely hope that these children get the futures that they deserve.

Gros Islet’s Famous Jump Up

A Friday night in St. Lucia is not complete without making an appearance at Gros Islet’s jump-up, the street party that has made this town famous. Once the sun sets, the town locals and all the tourists flock to the streets to celebrate another week done and another weekend beginning. Our local host, Noa, and her friend Steve had been talking about the party all week and were eager to show us a good time. Sections of town are closed off to vehicles, allowing people to eat, drink, dance and party in the streets all night long.

After stopping at the fish fry down the road for some food and Piton beer, we made our way to where the party happened, being enveloped in the loud reggae music coming from the speakers. There are a few spots on the street, each playing different versions of soca, dancehall and reggae music. Drinks in hand, we followed our ears to the sound of familiar soca beats in the center of the street and suddenly we were surrounded by more white people than I’d seen in four months.

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The street party is well-advertised to tourists. Almost everyone that we met on the beach or on the street leading up to the party was sure to mention it, getting promises from us that we would be there. So we were, and so was every other tourist in the Gros Islet area. The tourists made up the majority of the dancing until after 11pm, when tourists dwindled away and the locals moved in. After 11pm is when things get really good, with St. Lucians showing what their mamas gave them. The music got louder and the dancing never stopped, with a few talented young men busting out some choreography in the center of it all.

Rum punch is available at every corner and for those with a hungry tummy, there’s street vendors selling bbq food. If your money is burning a hole in your pocket and you like art as a souvenir, there’s quite a good guy selling handmade wood carvings and paintings just up the road. Typical me has lost his business card again but if I find the name, I’ll put it here! In the meantime, that’s him in the photo above.

If you’re looking for a unique St. Lucian experience and a great way to interact with the locals, make sure you end up at the jump-up on Friday night.