Christmas and New Year Bridgetown Style

It’s amazing what some decent sleep can do and how quickly a new land based life can establish itself resulting in soon forgetting the tribulations of the crossing. Not that one doesn’t remember enough to recount the juiciest moments with fellow yachties when sharing a few drinks. Well, if they have stories to tell then it’s only fair to share ours too – though the one about the breaking of a rib when the yacht broached on the crossing – as told by John about Rose – is one we would rather not have to tell ourselves!

Now [Big] Steve, I know you will begin to get concerned that this entry is going to continue to catalogue broken bits – and after all a rib is a nasty thing to break – and you have communicated that we have to stop breaking things which we will try to do but I am afraid these things do happen, especially when rocks move off the Italian coast and slice holes in one’s cruise ship. At least we can’t claim to have done that.

And so…. to tales of Bridgetown. Well, some of you will no doubt laugh to hear that on our first full day here [17 December] we woke to rain and no gas! With regard to the Gas we can’t believe how clever we were at making it last until just the right moment and, as for the rain, well that’s life and actually par for the course as most days there is some rain even if it is only a couple of minutes.

We decided to treat ourselves to a decent breakfast and motored into town to “Reanne’s” which is on the main street [Broad Street] opposite the famous “Cave Shepherd” store, with “Woolworths” just visible down a side street.

We had seen this eating establishment on our sortie the evening before when it, just like every other Bridgetown restaurant, was closed. We have learnt that there are very few places to eat in the evening in Bridgetown as everyone goes to other parts of the island if they want to eat out. Practically every Barbadian [Bajan] has a car and, with bus prices of $BBD 2 [equivalent of approx 66p] wherever you want to go, there is no reason for staying put. There are small Roti shops and vendors selling street food but these tend to be in the suburbs and, though we have since found them for lunch, we haven’t actually used them at night.

What we did find on our first evening was “Jimmy’s” which is a market rum shack of which there are several – both markets and rum shacks – but Jimmy’s became our favourite. On our first visit we didn’t quite know how it worked as there is a large table, which had on it various bottles, plastic cups and saucers with ice in and there were some benches and chairs scattered haphazardly. There were also upturned large oil drums with squares of wood on the top around which several men were playing dominoes and men and women dancing in the space between the “bar” [a doorway in the shack] and the table – and this was at 5pm. So, we bought a beer each at the cost of $BBD3 [£1] and proceeded to learn what to do.

In all our visits to Jimmy’s – and to most of the other rum shacks whether those in the markets or those in the chattel houses [more about that later] – apart from 2 Australians and a guy from Bristol who we met one night, we have been the only white people there. We think this is a real shame because so many people are missing out on what is so much a part of the culture here. We have been made really welcome when we have stopped by for a drink with locals of all ages engaging us in conversation and hoping we are enjoying their island and, on one occasion, I was persuaded to join in with the dancing – which is probably a cross between a Cajun waltz and Salsa.

What most people do at a rum shack is order a bottle of rum, whatever size suits them or the size of their group, one or more bottles of coke and they are given a saucer of ice and the required number of plastic cups. These all go onto the table and each person or group consumes their own purchase, asking for more ice if necessary. What this boils down to for us is a quarter bottle rum and a bottle of coke for the princely sum of $BBD12 [£4] which easily gives us 2 drinks each. It is possible to buy whisky or gin or whatever and other mixers for higher prices but rum and coke is the tradition.

So, having taken a little time discussing rum shacks we can now get back to the issue of Gas [no, not the kind one might get after a visit to the rum shack]. First of all we walked down Bay Street which runs parallel to the beach to find the Yacht Club and the Cruising Club to see if anyone there could tell us where to buy Camping Gas. We didn’t have any luck at the yacht club and instructions from the cruising club were vague but seemed to coincide with advice from a chap at the nearest garage i.e. nothing in town – it’s a taxi ride to something called “Decosta Manning”. This turns out to be a chain of stores selling almost everything – except Gas! Well, that’s not strictly true except it wasn’t actually one of their stores we needed to look for, though no-one actually explained that. We decided to take the dinghy and visit a couple of other boats to see if they had any better ideas and a very helpful Dutch chap told us that the only place was just past the Kensington Oval [as cricket fans will know this is a W. Indies venue] and was opposite another place called “For Gas” with the “For” being the number 4 – which didn’t actually sell gas – but he didn’t know the name of the place opposite which did.

Armed with these interesting instructions we set off to walk, and walk. We found the Kensington Oval quite easily but maybe the Dutch guy forgot to tell us that it was then quite a way on from there. We did ask a couple of locals where For Gas was – but they hadn’t heard of it and so we were getting rather despondent – not to mention hot – when I saw a sign on a building for [wait for it all Probation chums] – G4S!!! Clearly the Dutch chap hadn’t heard of G4S and had interpreted their sign as For Gas and, henceforth in my mind that is what they will be.

Anyway, just opposite as promised, there was a gas refill plant which was actually a subsidiary of the aforementioned Decosta Manning and which, because it was the weekend before Xmas was actually open on a Saturday. We hadn’t even considered this as a potential obstacle and were lucky therefore to find it open. Duly replenished the only possible way back was taxi – as this place wasn’t on one of the lovely cheap bus routes – so we ended up spending about £8 on the taxi which was £1 more than the total cost of having the two gas bottles filled.

We then spent some time recovering, doing laundry, finding phone sims and internet connection etc until, on the afternoon of 20th we decided we would try to walk to Oistins. This is a fishing village on the south coast which we had heard about [and read about] and which sounded good, and was, indeed, very good both on that afternoon and for the “Fish Fry” on Friday nights. Martin and Ruth and Phil and Emma and anyone else who has spent a holiday in Barbados will no doubt know about the Friday night fish fry which seems to happen in a few places, but most particularly in Oistins. I wouldn’t like to say how many different eating places there are gathered along the promenade area next to the fish market, particularly as it can be quite difficult to determine which tables belong to which cabin but suffice to say there are a lot. Some of them have specialities like Fish Cakes or Lobster but most serve a range of fish [or chicken or pork for those not liking fish] and a range of traditional side dishes – macaroni pie [macaroni cheese], rice ‘n peas, plantain, breadfruit chips, French fries, salad, steamed veg etc. Basically you grab a seat where you can and get served by the restaurant laying claim to that table. There is a stage where there are dancers who make Michael Jackson’s routines look like they were being performed by a wooden statue [when he was alive that is] and another area where the Cajun/Salsa stuff takes place. There are also a few vendors selling local crafts. All very colourful and a brilliant night out.

But it was also great on our day trip too. The decision to walk wasn’t really the right one – but it was difficult to know as the only available maps [from the tourist office] are very unclear. However, what we did do, before taking the bus to Oistins from Worthing was walk to Worthing via Hastings. [And, yes, one can also get buses to Yorkshire and Scotland]. The Worthing/Hastings area is the more mid range tourist part of the island on the south coast [the more upmarket spots being St. Lawrence Gap on the south coast and the West Coast towns of Holetown and Speightstown. It took us about an hour to get to Worthing and so, in need of refreshment we found the Oasis Bar and its owner Joan. Joan is a really vibrant personality and she delighted in telling us where to visit in Barbados and where to go [and not to go] in the Caribbean. We don’t know whether we will follow all her advice – though she hasn’t been the only local person to tell us to avoid Jamaica and Trinidad. Her particularly good advice on that day was to get the bus the rest of the way to Oistins as we were only about one third of the way there and also to return to see her one day for her famous rum punch – but that is another story and probably for the next, rather than this, instalment of the blog.

Earlier I mentioned the Yacht Club and the Cruising Club, the latter being described in the pilot as the more laid back available to all option. We have actually used both. There is no charge for the Cruising Club but the shower facilities are more basic.

The Yacht Club provides free membership to visiting yachties for one week but after that it is the equivalent of £42 per week. Because we didn’t know anyone or what might be available over Xmas and New Year we did actually join the Yacht Club for two weeks – which meant paying for one. Whilst we didn’t renew for the remainder of our stay it was worth it for the excellent showers and for the bar on the beach, the access to drinking water and as a hand over facility with Doyle sails. Another guy we spoke to who needed Doyle sails too arranged to hand them over at the “Boatyard” which is a pub/club/water sports facility near to the anchorage and used mainly by cruise ship passengers who, for the sum of $BBD50 per day, get to use the facilities. Richard also had to pay $50 to exchange his sails though he did say he was able to reclaim some of that by having food there [which wasn’t very good either]. The pilot reports good things about it – no yachties here during this season have experienced anything good about it at all.

We have visited the Cruising Club more often. On 21st Dec all yachts received “a message in a bottle” from the club [a plastic bottle with a flyer and some sweets tossed into each boat]. This invited us to join in the various activities starting with a quiz on the night of 21st from 8pm onwards. We have reported earlier about Spanish time and had already begun to learn that Caribbean time is very similar – except more laid back! That is, except for the cruising club quiz which started at 8pm prompt – about 3 minutes before we arrived. So, we sat outside and “mock entered” and had an enjoyable evening. We also decided that the Cruising Club Xmas Eve meal of Turkey, Ham and all the trimmings was the best available option. The meal was really good but unfortunately there weren’t many people there so we walked back up Bay Street and called in at “The Nest” which is a Guyanan run Rum Shack of the Chattel House type. This turned out to be a splendid place to spend the second half of Xmas Eve, particularly as Mike was introduced to the rum made in Guyana.

As can be seen in the above photo, Christmas is celebrated but in a more understated manner than in the UK. There are some decorations in shops and restaurants but they are quite minimalist. We therefore decided to take a similar approach with Siga Siga and, anyway, there isn’t exactly much space for storing a Christmas Tree, tinsel and baubles!  Mike and Monkey shared the Christmas hat and our Christmas table sported crackers and pine cones, the latter of which we picked up on our walks on La Gomera.

Christmas Day started with Bucks Fizz. We couldn’t find smoked salmon so had to make do with just the scrambled eggs [a Hampson tradition]. After phone calls home we went swimming and then sipped gin and tonics on the bow – with many thanks to Jan, Frances, Peter, Mike and Sharon for the excellent “Bloom” which I had been saving for the occasion. Of course we had to have a Christmas film and as downloads from James doesn’t include 007 then “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was chosen as our festive indulgence.

It’s perhaps a good time now to tell you about the chattel houses which are actually the majority of dwellings on the island. They are made of wood – all cut from pine and the same length so that all the houses are around the same size widthways with a door in the middle and windows at each side [kind of like a typical child’s drawing]. Each house comes in separate parts with each additional room or rooms sitting behind the last one – so some of the houses look about 4 parts deep. They are built on top of concrete blocks and can be taken down and moved at any time. Indeed, originally they were often taken down and moved from plantation to plantation as their owners followed the work around the island. And hence the name is linked to goods and chattels. It is rare that a house is moved today but the traditional design and method of building has remained.

On 30 December we decided to take a trip up the west coast to Speightstown, which is 45 minutes by bus from Bridgetown. The bus ride itself was interesting as it sped along the coast road with scant regard for cyclists or pedestrians. It is perhaps a shame that along this road there are only actually glimpses of beach and sea, partly because of several large hotels, golf courses and residential complexes but looking at the houses and other buildings we passed made the journey seem very short. Speightstown is really quite small but there is a museum, the ground floor of which is free and we learnt about a number of crafts people and traditional Barbadian businesses e.g. The Chalky Mount Pottery.

Both the pilot and the Lonely Planet recommend the Fisherman’s Inn. Given its name we really did have to try it and, be well assured, it is nothing like the Fishermans at Edenfield! The Marlin stew was very tasty. Mike also tried the local dish of coucou which is a dish made of Cornmeal [a bit like polenta] and Okra. Mike decided that he will put it into the category of “local dishes tried” which translates as probably not to be repeated. We then decided to walk north up the beach to Port St Charles and on the way we saw a mongoose. Unfortunately, just like the one in the BVI several years ago, it was rather camera shy and the photo taken is of “the one that got away” variety – now deleted.

Having ascertained that we would be welcome to refuel at Port St. Charles at any time we tried to cross the island to Bathsheba – but unfortunately we missed a bus by 15 minutes and it was nearly 2 hours until the next one. What I haven’t yet mentioned is that there don’t appear to be any bus timetables available to take away, the only ones being those on posts at the main bus stations. Nor are there any route maps and the destinations on many of the buses name places which don’t actually appear on the tourist map [and there aren’t any other maps] so it’s all a bit of a lottery. What we did know was that all the buses back to Bridgetown [of which there is one about every 5 minutes] pass through Holetown – so we decided to go there instead. Holetown is another small place but seems to exist mainly as a tourist resort and it is here that we encountered our first [and last] Happy Hour Bar. There are some others around the Worthing/Hastings area but we didn’t visit these.

The bar was actually quite a nice place right on the beach and we sat and watched the sunset. There was also football on TV [definitely a tourist resort!] and as luck would have it the match was Liverpool v Newcastle so I was able to catch up with a bit of footie – though that is the only TV we have seen since the Canary Islands.

Holetown is just north of Payne’s Bay and, being a Friday, there was supposedly a Fish Fry at the south end of Paynes Bay. We therefore walked down, only to find that this fish fry was of the 1 stall variety and wasn’t actually ready for business by the time we arrived, so we just hopped on another bus and visited Jimmy’s for a consolation Rum.

By the time Old Years Night [New Years Eve] approached we had begun to make a few friends with folk anchored near to us and so, instead of attending either the Cruising Club Drinking bash or the Yacht Club buffet we decided to join the crews of three other boats at Dee’s Bar. Dee’s Bar is not exactly a rum shack but it is fairly basic, on the beach and frequented by locals rather than tourists. They have a large BBQ pit and the deal was that everyone took their own food and drink, shared a bit of the drink with the locals and there was no charge or anything. It must have been about the cheapest NY Eve we have ever had and great fun too. Thanks to John, Rose, John, Julie, [Crazy] Christian and especially Dee, her family and friends for making it a very memorable evening – particularly as a fire was lit on the beach after the BBQ was finished and there was music and dancing under the stars.

So, that brings us to the end of 2011. It has been an amazing year and we hope that we have been able to share all the highs [and the few lows] with blog readers.

Finally, a very, very Happy New Year to all.


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