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.

On Living, Learning and Leaving

Time moves at a different pace when your senses are being stimulated by all the wonders that the world has to offer. Home feels stagnant; there is a desperation to continue living a life that is elsewhere. The mystery of the earth and all that creates it pulls me from home time and time again. This time, I was pulled when I least expected it, to a place I had never dreamed of experiencing.

Uprooting in the middle of my final year of my degree, I boarded a plane and stepped out onto a Caribbean island, determined to create a life for myself during the following four months that I would call Barbados home.

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Not two hours into my arrival and my flip flops were in hand, my feet burying themselves into the white sand only five minutes from my hall of residence. It’s true that once your soul meets the sea it can never be forgotten. It took nearly thirteen years to see the vast beauty of the ocean after having been introduced to the sea in my first year of life and I believe that all that time, it was what my soul was searching for. Ever since, I am drawn to parts of the world where the waves hit the shore.

Needless to say, having the Caribbean Sea at my doorstep made me the happiest girl in the world.

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Life on the island was a simple one with sunshine that turned my hair shades of blonde, sand that found it’s way into every crevice of my belongings, and sea water that embraced us all with open arms. With rarely a frown, the only things escaping from our lips were songs, stories, and continuous laughter that can only be expelled when you’re constantly experiencing new and wondrous moments.

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Instant friends were made and together we explored the island from sunrise to sunset, never a space in between. We climbed through caves to hidden pools that looked out over the sea, we hiked through the countryside, we took our best shot at learning to whine with friends who called the Caribbean home, we mastered the bus system and we sat in circles around beach bonfires, singing songs and sharing coconuts.

I had the opportunity to spend my days working with some of the poorest people on the island with risky lifestyles. Despite going in there with the intention of creating positive change and increasing their chances for opportunity, I came out having been taught more than I ever could have imagined. I entered their community as a stranger but was quickly dubbed one of their own, a humbling feeling that I will forever be grateful for.

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Barbados began as a comparison to travel I had done in the past but I quickly realized that studying abroad could never be compared to that type of travel. I wasn’t a backpacker flitting through. I became a student and a resident and, in doing so, I was awarded all that Barbados had to offer — the good and the ugly. It wasn’t sugar coated by being hidden in the confines of a resort or a day off the cruise ship. I witnessed rugged, untouched beauty of the island, witnessed raw suffering from those who felt comfortable to share their stories, and the non-discriminatory kindness of the people.

Time moves at a different pace. Two weeks can feel like months and yet months in Barbados flew by like days.

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This has been a lesson in how I want to live my life, which direction I want to take. I lived with my entire being, every inch of my heart and soul has been put into these last five months and I have reaped the rewards. I have created a lifetime of lasting memories, conquered fears, and created friendships with people all around the world. It’s made me realize that I am at the perfect moment of my life, no longer a student and not yet tied into a career, to shape my future in any way I dream of. While it’s bittersweet to say goodbye, it has renewed my curiosity and drive to adventure, to experience the world in many ways from many places.

The Day I Learned to Crack Open a Coconut

“At the beach, life is different. Time
doesn’t move hour to hour, but mood
to moment. We live by the currents,
plan by the tides and follow the sun.”
-Unknown

The bus weaved it’s way up and over the hills that make up Barbados’ east coast, winding down the road until at last it came around a corner presenting the most beautiful of views, capturing us all into silence. We were high above the rugged coastline, looking down upon the many cliffs that jutted out into the Atlantic and the palm trees that dotted the shore.

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A very religious island, Easter in Barbados is a big deal. Everything is closed on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday, causing a mad rush around the island on Thursday to get everything the family needs for the weekend and everyone you run into is in a great mood with big smiles and wishes of a blessed Easter. I was told that it’s a very bajan thing to rent a cottage in Bathsheba on this long weekend and that’s exactly what a group of us did. Packs strapped to our backs we hopped off the bus to the smell of the ocean — and seaweed.

Unfortunately, Bathsheba is having a bit of a seaweed problem. Cliffs of seaweed have replaced most of the white sand and the smell of it fills the air. No matter, seaweed or no seaweed, we were in for one of the best days on the island (although, I’m often declaring every day here as the best day).

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With a cottage rented to sleep six, fifteen of us headed in and dropped our bags. We made a quick lunch and got comfortable on the deck, eating and chatting and eager to go explore the shore.

Our adventures to the shore taught us many valuable lessons that day. Mainly that cracking open a coconut with your bare hands requires determination and never ending smashing against a jagged rock. That you have to have a delicate touch (which I do not have) to break free an almond from its shell without pulverizing it into dust. That island boys from the West Indies can scale up a coconut tree in the blink of an eye. That dried up seaweed is actually kind of painful to walk on and that there is nothing better than an afternoon by the sea side.

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Together, we climbed up cliffs to get better views of the east coast, waded in the ocean, found some great pieces of coral reef that had dried up on the sand and would have made an excellent center piece for my table at home, and chilled on some rocks to the sound of people telling jokes and the waves kissing the shore.

All roads that afternoon led back to our orange cottage for a night of beer-induced impromptu sing-alongs, sharing coconut water, stories, food and all of our years of wisdom combined for a friend’s twenty-first birthday. But before we say goodbye, dig in to some photos of our afternoon in such a special place and just maybe our next stop could be the moon.

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