Barbados trip last taste of normalcy

One of Nadine Robinson’s favourite beach activities is soaking up some vitamin D while admiring the postcard like ocean and skyscapes.One of Nadine Robinson’s favourite beach activities is soaking up some vitamin D while admiring the postcard like ocean and skyscapes.

One year ago, I was tanned and happy, returning home from a March break trip with my family to Barbados. As we landed in the Toronto airport, and it became clear that there was a new world order, we were even more thankful for having gotten away. Barbados will always hold a special place in my heart, a veritable refuge from the pandemic storm.

Barbados is a family-friendly, safe, gorgeous island in the Caribbean. This was at least my fourth trip to the island in the lesser Antilles in the West Indies, as my grandfather had a condo there when we were growing up. We were supposed to do a Caribbean cruise out of Barbados this time, but due to uncertainties around COVID-19, we didn’t make it out of port.

With some fast thinking on my mother’s part, and some even faster booking skills online by my daughter and me, we debarked from the cruise ship with reservations for a week at the Mango Bay Resort instead.

Barbados didn’t have a single case of COVID-19 at the time, and none of us knew the extent of what was coming down the pike. It was the last week that I was mask-free in public, shopping, eating, and touring; basically, living fully.

Snorkelling half way through a catamaran tour is just one way to enjoy the warm waters and see wildlife including sea turtles.Snorkelling half way through a catamaran tour is just one way to enjoy the warm waters and see wildlife including sea turtles. jpeg, SM

It seems so devilish now, going to Oistins, specifically Uncle George’s, eating grilled and fried fish at shared benches, tipping Banks and Carib beers. We sat almost shoulder to shoulder with perfect strangers to eat, then enjoyed a band, and crowded to watch them play. We danced through hordes of people … unmasked, non-socially-distanced, people. It seems like a foreign concept.

As food tourism is one of my “things,” in addition to Oistins fish fry, we sought out flying fish, swordfish, and delicious fish sandwiches with hot sauce called fish cutters. Cuz’s fish shack had some of our favourites. We also stocked up on some Bajan delights in a local grocery store, including coconut sweet cakes, famous yellow Bajan hot sauce, nut cakes, rum cakes, passionfruit juice, and a drink concentrate called orange squash.

Given that the island’s circumference is approximately 100 kilometres, you can cover a lot of the island in a day. We hired a driver and visited sites across the island, starting at Welchman Hall Gully for the morning feeding of green monkeys. It’s a tropical hideaway with a self-guided walk past exotic plants including: nutmeg, bamboo, clove and different palms. Then we went to Bathsheba to check out Barbados’ famous surfing beach and were impressed with the giant rock formations. To beat the afternoon heat, we went underground in Harrison’s Cave to see stalactites and stalagmites. We rounded out the trip in St. Johns and were back at the resort for another stunning sunset.

As snorkelling is a family-favourite activity, and we went prepared with our own full-face snorkelling masks. Seeing my teens helping their grandmother through the breakwater was heartwarming. The welcoming, warm, ocean rewarded us right in front of the hotel with a small reef where we saw turtles, blowfish, flounders, and so many colourful reef fish.

The wild Green Monkeys are never hand fed at Welchman Hall Gully, but when boxes of bananas and yams are dropped on a platform for them, it is quite the spectacle for tourists.
The wild Green Monkeys are never hand fed at Welchman Hall Gully, but when boxes of bananas and yams are dropped on a platform for them, it is quite the spectacle for tourists. jpeg, SM

In addition to snorkelling, Mango Bay had all kinds of free beach activities. We took a glass-bottom boat trip to see two underwater wrecks, used their paddle boards and kayaks, and took a catamaran to go swim with sea turtles. On land, at the resort, we lounged on the beach, were entertained by monkeys in the trees, saw mongooses (mongeese?) skittering around the pool area, and enjoyed a steel drum band. We shopped in Holetown and at a Cave Shepherd duty free store.

We started seeing a spattering of masks in the airport leaving Barbados, and it was so novel that I actually took a photo of our check-in lineup featuring a few mask-wearers. When we landed in Toronto, there was no screening nor temperature checks, but our hotel had closed due to COVID-19 and we were moved.

We weren’t served food on the plane and couldn’t even buy snacks for some reason, because of COVID-19. When we landed, we were starving and restaurants were all closed. We could only order room service at the hotel, and we weren’t given any real dishes nor cutlery. (Ever tried to eat a steak with a plastic knife and fork inside a cardboard takeout box?)

Barbados is a great place to drink in bright and cheery colours, whether painted on the buildings or built into vistas by mother nature.
Barbados is a great place to drink in bright and cheery colours, whether painted on the buildings or built into vistas by mother nature. jpeg, SM

The next day, Pearson airport was a veritable ghost town, with no lines even at the Starbucks. When we boarded our flight back to Sault Ste. Marie, only the flight attendant donned a mask. Once in the Sault, we were greeted with pamphlets about quarantining and friends started barraging my social media with reminders not to go to a grocery store on the way home from the airport. The fear of the unknown was setting in.

Social media trip memories from a year ago have been reminding me of the tropical island paradise that we left on March 20, 2020. My daughter’s comment was that if we’d known then that it would be more than a year before international travel would resume, we might have extended our trip to quarantine with the beaches, monkeys, and tropical fish, not to mention her out-of-town grandparents.

Bathsheba’s beaches are wilder given the windswept nature of them, which makes them prime surfing spots on the island.
Bathsheba’s beaches are wilder given the windswept nature of them, which makes them prime surfing spots on the island.

It is a different world now. I am not tanned and happy. In fact, I’m trying to redefine what work, purpose, hope, connecting with others, and happiness look like in the third wave of a pandemic. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, so I’m going to enjoy some of Barbados’ streaming beach webcams for a little escapism.

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