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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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.

The Things I’ve Done For Luck.

If you’ve traveled anywhere, I can guarantee you have been told that by touching something, swimming in a certain body of water, or doing some odd activity will bring you luck and good fortune. I was thinking about a few things I did on a recent trip to the Caribbean that was supposed to be healing for the body and it reminded me of all the things I have done since beginning my travels in 2010, some silly, some scary, and some just plain gross. So I thought I would compile a list of the moments that stand out for me in terms of doing something because it was considered lucky or “rejuvenating”.

The Gift of the Gab

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The land of the Irish is filled with stories based around luck and good fortune, leprechauns hiding their pots of gold and fairy rings that should you step inside the ring, you’ll be cursed by fairy protectors or transported to a land of supernatural beings or forced to dance until exhaustion and death (nice things, fairies, aren’t they?). But most importantly, and often boasted about, they believe in the gift of the gab. The ability to talk your way out of anything or being a smooth talker. For those of you interested in being blessed with such a gift, you can take a ride on up to a town called Blarney, just north of the city of Cork.

Here, you’ll find Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone, or the Stone of Eloquence. Up the tower you climb until you get to a human-sized hole. It’s in this whole, a rough back bend down, that the Blarney Stone sits in the stone wall. At 90ft. above the concrete, I lay on my back and put my life in the hands of a grey-haired old man. With his hands gripping my calves, I leaned my upper body backwards and down into the hole, hanging on to the bars mounted on the stone wall. With a quick glance at the concrete below, I kissed the Blarney Stone and shot back up to safety.

Eternal Beauty

On the Isle of Skye, Scotland, there is a particular river that I’ve forgotten the name of. Flowing under a bridge, we pulled up beside it and sat around listening to a legend of the most beautiful girl in the village. Many, many years ago on her wedding day, this girl was riding her horse across the river when the horse lost her footing and down tumbled the bride-to-be, smashing her face on a rock with a pointed tip. A gruesome event, the poor girl had an eyeball hanging from its socket, her face mangled. No longer was she the most beautiful girl in the village. Determined to be married, she popped her eye back in place, though not well, and hid her face behind her veil. I Do’s were said but when the groom pulled back her veil to kiss the bride, he recoiled in disgust and, being the superficial man that he was, refused to marry her.

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Humiliated, the girl ran back to the river, where she met a leprechaun.. or perhaps a fairy. After hearing her story, the leprechaun told her that all she had to do was dip her face in that very river for no less than 7 seconds and she would be eternally beautiful. As you can imagine, we quickly lowered ourselves down and dunked our faces into the ice cold water and counted to 7.

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Clear Skin in Trinidad

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Many bodies of water around the world are said to have healing properties, rejuvenating qualities, etc. On a recent trip to Trinidad, we stopped at Pitch Lake, a “lake” filled with pitch. All of the major highways around the world use the asphalt from this lake and every time, the lake renews itself, filling again and again with asphalt. Black and smelling of tar, you can walk on the lake as the top layer is hardened, a slightly squishy surface. Certain areas of Pitch Lake are filled with small pools of water, some green in color, others black as Coca-Cola. Locals come to the pitch lake to bathe in one of these small pools as it’s said to aid in healing psoriasis and arthritis due to its medicinal properties.

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Another pool of water in the Pitch is said to be safe to drink a small bottle cap-full once a day as it’s said to keep the skin clear from acne. After playing in the water a little bit, two of us were brave enough to fill up our bottle caps and shot it back.

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The Sai Sin Bracelet

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Thailand has more symbols and amulets for luck than anywhere I’ve been. You ask any vendor on the street what the symbol on a ring, image, or other piece of jewelry means and they’ll tell you it’s for luck. You can often tell a backpacker in Southeast Asia by the collection of bracelets adorning their wrists and ankles, but there is one bracelet in particular that is said to give the wearer great luck. The Sai Sin bracelet. Up on Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I knelt before a monk and a shaman as he blessed the piece of white string before tying it to my wrist and was told that it would bring me luck in my travels, my health, and my prosperity. Whatever you do, don’t cut these bracelets off. Rather, they must break naturally from your wrist when the time is right. If you do cut it off, all the luck it was supposed to bring will be gone.

Three Wishes at the Trevi Fountain

On our very first night in Rome we found ourselves at the Trevi Fountain. There’s a number of legends about the fountain, which started many years ago. It’s said that originally, tossing in a coin or taking a drink from the fountain would ensure good health. Today, the Trevi Fountain has become a mecca for tourists from all over the world. We were told by a traveling family that you could make three wishes, on three different coins, of three different currencies. Swapping coins with one another, we each had three coins of different currencies and, with our backs to the fountain, tossed them in over our left shoulder, one at a time. Each coin had a different wish and, though I’m sure you’d like to know my wishes, they will forever be a secret.

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The Cursed Tomb of Alexander Stewart

Despite all the things I’ve done for luck, my reckless self also did something that is said to curse the individual for as long as they live. In the small Scottish town of Dunkeld sits a cathedral. Within that cathedral, is the resting place of the Earl of Buchan in 1812. After leaving his wife and six children, he was excommunicated and, as a result, he burned two towns to the ground. They say that anyone who touches his tomb will be cursed with bad luck for the rest of their lives. Whether this is true or not, perhaps the many things I have tried for good luck outweighs the curse. Either way, whenever I get a bout of unluckiness, particularly without explanation, I blame Alexander Stewart.

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These are just a few stories of the things I’ve done around the world in the name of luck and beauty. For more stories, you can read about swimming in Tobago’s Nylon Pool for rejuvenation, rubbed Juliet’s breast for luck in Verona, and doused myself in mud in St.Lucia for soft skin and healing properties.

Staying with a Local Host Family in St. Lucia

Traveling through the Caribbean is not cheap, especially if you’re looking for accommodation. It might be cheap by some standards, but by backpacker standards everything can be a bit pricey. There’s no $2 rooms like in Southeast Asia and virtually no hostels to be seen. We found our best bet was to look on websites like Couchsurfing.com, which we didn’t get a chance to use, and Air BnB, which we used in Tobago and St. Lucia.

Lucky for us we found an amazing host in St. Lucia, who welcomed us into her home like we were family. I had never before stayed with a local host family and wasn’t sure what to expect. My biggest fear was that it would be extremely awkward and intrusive, that we wouldn’t get along with our host, and that we would be out on the street with no place to stay. All those fears were shot down as soon as we walked through the front door to our host, Noa, in the kitchen. We were welcomed with hugs and huge smiles and we talked through the evening.

Staying with a local host was amazing and is something that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in seeing how locals live in your chosen destination. One of the main reasons we chose our host was for the great reviews left by those who had stayed with her before. Everyone had only nice words to say and her place was located in the area we were hoping for.

The house was a basic local home with all the good and bad that comes with that. In this case, it was the resident mouse and the cockroaches that thankfully kept hidden in the crack in the bathroom wall. Just extra roommates right? Noa’s home was filled with so much love and laughter that it was infectious, you could feel it in the air. There was never a dull moment with her daughter running around and their puppy to play with. We shared meals together, watched movies and sat on the porch late into the night.  Noa drove us to visit the volcano and waterfall in Soufriere, stopping at every point where we felt the need to snap a photo. She brewed us fresh herbal teas, taught us how to make cocoa tea and we kicked off one of our final nights dancing in the streets of St. Lucia’s famous Jump-Up in Gros Islet.

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As with anything, there are a few things you can do to make your stay with a local host more enjoyable. For me, the top two things you should be doing as a host are:

1. Keep the space clean and tidy. You are a guest in their home, no matter if you become friends or not. Keeping the place as clean as you left it (or cleaner!) is the nice thing to do.

2. Show your appreciation. This can be anything from cooking your host a meal, walking their dog, or even leaving them a small gift. Flowers? Maybe something from your home country?

As for everything else, follow your hosts lead. Every host will have a different personality and a different way of running their home. Some hosts may be young and loud into the night. Others may have small children that need to sleep at an early hour. Music playing in the home might be great, other might not appreciate it as much. So play it by ear and meet your host on common ground that works for you both.

Have you ever stayed with a host family? Were you the host? Share your experience in the comments below!