Darla Logsdon

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BARBADOS

Barbados is still very British. In fact, the island is commonly referred to as "Little England," and bears many of the same characteristics. Afternoon teatime is observed in some circles, cricket is the national passion and polo is played all winter. Many villages, streets, monuments and parks in Barbados are named after locations in the U.K., as well. And Bajans (BAY-juns), as they call themselves, often possess a bit of English reserve, putting emphasis on good manners.

What's more, British aristocrats have wintered in Barbados for decades, and the island reflects their influence in many ways. The resorts are luxurious, and the restaurants provide fine dining. Even duty-free shops are often more upscale than those on other Caribbean islands.

In recent years, the culture has seen an increase in American influence and more appreciation of African roots as well, resulting in a revitalized discourse on Barbadian identity, particularly in the arts. Barbados is generally conservative, and prides itself on being Christian.

Though "efficient" is a word that is not used often in the Caribbean, it fits Barbados better than many other islands. It's been catering to visitors for decades and has one of the most fully developed tourism infrastructures in the region.

Although Barbados lacks rain forests, mountainous terrain and world-class reef systems, the island's natural beauty and scenic variety are magnificent. You'll find dramatic natural caves, rocky cliffs with blowholes by the sea, miles of sugarcane fields and some remote scenic beaches. Those seeking a week of relaxation on beautiful beaches, perhaps with a little nightlife and history mixed in, will likely be pleased with what Barbados has to offer.

The cruise ship trade is alive and well here, which can flood Bridgetown and area beaches many days, but visitors within the confines of their resort will rarely notice.

Another plus is the people of Barbados. Bajans are some of the best-educated people in the Caribbean (Barbados boasts a literacy rate of 99%), and they enjoy conversing on a wide range of subjects. This quality even spills over into entertainment: The island's calypso music always has something to say and often deals with Barbados politics.

English is the official language, but a dialect with its own syntax, special meanings and some African words is also spoken. Though it may seem like a cross between bad English and gibberish, it is remarkably expressive and is often used even by the highly educated for emphasis or comic effect.

With a stable democratic government and a strong middle class, Barbados does not upset its guests with rampant poverty, social unrest or racial hostility. Statistics show that a good percentage of travelers are repeat visitors.

Potpourri

If you don't believe that Bajans are crazy about cricket, take a look at the country's five-dollar bill. One of its legendary players, Sir Frank Worrell, is pictured on the currency.

A 1,000-year-old baobab tree sits on the grounds of the Queen's Park House in Bridgetown. The tree is something of a mystery because baobabs are native to Africa, and this one predates the arrival of settlers from east of the Atlantic Ocean. Nobody knows how it got there.

Barbados' green monkeys were brought from West Africa more than 300 years ago, and in that time have developed unique "speech" patterns—perhaps a Bajan accent. Monkeys can often be seen in the early mornings and late afternoons, even in residential areas. Though cute, monkeys are a nuisance to farmers.

Barbados has high levels of education, income and life expectancy. Bajans frequently live to 100 years old.

Poltergeist activity has been recorded at the Christ Church parish church, where lead coffins inexplicably moved around in the Chase family vault.

The mongoose was brought to Barbados to reduce the rat population in canefields. Unfortunately, rats are nocturnal, while mongoose are active in daytime. You might see a mongoose scurrying across a country road. They look like bushy-tailed rats but, like their cousins the ferrets, are actually part of the civet family.

Barbados was named after the ficus barbata, or bearded fig tree.

Barbados is the birthplace of rum and, arguably, the grapefruit.

Barbados is the only place outside colonial America that George Washington ever visited. A young man at the time, he was impressed by Barbados' fortifications, government and advanced agricultural methods. His lifelong love of theater also originated there. More importantly, he contracted and was cured of smallpox in Barbados, rendering him immune when others succumbed during the American Revolution.

 
 

History

Although England eventually ruled the island, Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos was the first European to come upon Barbados. When he visited in 1536, it was inhabited by Amerindians. They had disappeared (decimated by disease, according to one theory) by the time the first British explorer saw the island in 1625.

Two years later, 80 British settlers and their slaves landed at a site they named Jamestown (modern-day Holetown). The town prospered with the establishment of cotton, tobacco and sugar plantations.

The first labor force, however, was white, consisting mostly of indentured servants and political prisoners who had been "Barbadosed." As the more labor-intensive sugarcane evolved into the primary crop, the British colony's vast plantations were increasingly worked by African slaves. Most Bajans are descendants of those workers.

In the 1800s, slave uprisings and changes in world markets brought an end to slavery, and the prosperous industry slid into serious financial decline. Many plantations were destroyed in a series of destructive fires and hurricanes, as well. Today, only a handful of plantation great houses predate the great hurricane of 1831.

Barbados gained independence in 1966, becoming a self-governing member of the British Commonwealth. The island celebrated 350 consecutive years of parliamentary government in 1989. Barbados' growing pride in indigenous—rather than British—history was demonstrated in April 1999, when the government voted to change the name of Trafalgar Square to National Heroes Square.

Over the centuries, the economy has shifted its focus from agriculture to tourism, with international business running a close second as a foreign-exchange earner.

Weather

The climate in Barbados is ideal for much of the year. The only time not perfect is July-October, during the hurricane season, when it gets a bit more rain. But even then, it isn't bad, as long as a hurricane doesn't come calling, and they rarely hit Barbados. Daytime temperatures are almost always in the 80s F, with nights in the 70s F. Temperatures can get into the upper 60s F at night in the winter.

Geography

Although the island is only 14 miles wide and 21 miles long, its geography varies dramatically. Rugged hills and rough seas are typical of the eastern side. (The highest point, Mount Hillaby, rises 1,115 ft above the sea.)

Gentle, rolling hills on the western side are lush with sugarcane fields. On the western coast, you'll also find white-sand beaches, coral reefs and stunning seas that range in color from deep blue to transparent green. This side of the island is more sheltered and offers beaches more suitable for swimming.

Geostats

Passport/Visa Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air

Proof of onward passage required. Departure tax is Bds$60, payable at the airport if not included in your ticket. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure

Population: 286,388.

Languages: English, Bajan dialect.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Church of England, other Protestant sects, Roman Catholic), Jewish, Muslim and Rastafarian.

Time Zone: 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-4 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.

Voltage Requirements: 110/120 volts.

Telephone Codes: 246, country code;

Travel 42

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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon

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