Mahogany Forests and Coastal Views

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything.
You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree,”
- Michael Crichton

If you took my suggestion from my previous post about visiting the wildlife reserve in Barbados you will be pleased to find that your admission into the animal kingdom also allows you a jaunt up to the Grenade Hall signal station and the mahogany forest that surrounds it. Walking to the left of the ticket booth and, if you’re lucky, a monkey taking a rest on the bench, you’ll find yourself walking up a trail made of brick that will lead you to a tall white tower extending into the sky.

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A small piece of history, you can find old artifacts from the 1800s and listen to the audio story of the history of the station and the area as you climb the wooden staircase to the top. Originally built as a watch tower, the men who worked in the station would communicate to others around the island if there were any ships approaching or outbursts of slave rebellions. Long out of use now, the building stands as a reminder of the history of this land and makes an excellent spot for a view in all directions of the surrounding island.

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Once you’ve had your fill of the panoramic views you can continue your day of exploration by following the trails through the surrounding forest. Through palm trees, mahogany trees and more trees, shrubs and plants that are native to Barbados, you can make your way around the lush forest all while learning about the environment! The forest walk was started to educate locals and visitors about the importance of protecting nature and all of the great benefits a healthy environment has.

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You can even take a moment to explore the small cave that is believed to have sheltered Rastafarian’s and escaped convicts at one point in time. The walk through this forest is a great moment to reconnect with nature. Too often our lives are dictated by appointments, deadlines and rushing around trying to complete our to do list of the day. Spending some time disconnected from the world and immersed in nature is invigorating for our body, mind and spirit and can lower any tension with just a few deep breaths and can leave you feeling refreshed and energized for the rest of the day.

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Just a hop, skip and a jump away is Farley Hill, one of Barbados’ national parks that is nestled just across the street from the wildlife reserve. With easily one of the best views of Barbados, Farley Hill is a popular place for tourists to come and snap a few shots of the Atlantic coast views and for locals to spend their afternoon having a picnic. If anyone in the world can picnic, the bajans can. Especially on a Sunday, you’ll find groups of locals liming around the island with an elaborate picnic spread out.

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Barbados isn’t known for its environmental activism, something that I’ve noticed every day. Most things are given to you in styrofoam containers and if you go to the supermarket they will put a lot of products in individual plastic bags before placing it all into one large plastic bag. That’s not even mentioning the amount of litter. It was a breath of fresh air to see that Farley Hill has taken a step forward and was the cleanest place that I’ve seen so far in Barbados. There was an ample number of garbage bins and tons of signs promoting recycling and no littering. I didn’t see a piece of garbage anywhere!

As you stroll through the 17 acre park, you’ll get to see the ruins of Farley House, an old mansion that was first built in 1818. Passed down through the hands of many prominent local and international figures, the mansion on Farley Hill and the surrounding area was eventually left to be over-run with jungle, hiding what used to be the carriage ways and completely overtaking the house. Since then, Farley House has been cleaned up and restored to showcase the remaining walls, all that is left after a fire destroyed everything inside. What used to be the paths for the carriages were cleared and altered to allow vehicles in and out of the area. Sadly, nobody is allowed to enter the ruins anymore because the structure is unsafe. But it’s intriguing all the same to peer into the walls and imagine what used to be.

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Once you reach the top of Farley Hill, you’ll find yourself 900 feet above sea level with a beautiful panoramic view of the lush greenery of the countryside to the east coast of the island and it’s crashing Atlantic waters. If you happen to come on a clear day, you’ll have an even better view of what you can see below.

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Monkeying Around

Imagine a place where diverse wildlife are allowed to roam freely, interacting not only with one another but also with the people visiting the reserve. You walk down a brick path lined with mahogany trees and a family of monkeys come jumping out in front of you. Red brocket deer walk past close enough to touch without a care in the world, completely unafraid of your presence. Tortoises saunter slowly down the path and rest in the cool dirt, peacocks show off their beautiful colors, and a giant python sleeps the day away.

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These are just some of the things you will see when you visit the Barbados Wildlife Reserve, an open area where these animals and other animal species are able to live freely without a cage, with the exception of the snakes and exotic birds. Easily one of my favorite activities so far in Barbados, I fell in love with the rambunctious green monkeys and the peaceful tortoises. If you want to really see the monkeys in action, schedule your visit for around 2pm. This is feeding time for all of the animals on the reserve and you’ll get to see the park staff dump a mountain of raw food and watch as all the animals come out to eat and play. Before you step back to let a deer pass by, be sure you don’t run into this little guy that’s right behind you!

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As a traveler that tries to be conscious of ethical, cruelty-free animal tourism options I was pleased with the set up of the wildlife reserve here in Barbados. While there were some things that I think could have been changed (the exotic birds and snakes were kept in small enclosures and the alligators in small ponds), this place is doing pretty well compared to most zoos. The majority of the animals are allowed to roam freely and are well fed, with the monkeys having the freedom to leave the reserve, coming and going as they please, at all times of day.

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With your admission fee, you’re also able to take a short walk up to visit the Grenade Hall signal station and explore the surrounding forest.

While going to the zoos in Canada breaks my heart, this walk-through “zoo” left me feeling refreshed and happy that at least here in Barbados, some places are making an effort to be more humane. Watching all the animals come from around the reserve during feeding time was like watching all of the animals come out of the woods in a fairytale. Getting to be up close and personal with so many little creatures was a magical experience and one that I would recommend to anyone else visiting.

 

Barbados’ Holetown Festival

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Each year in mid-February, Holetown celebrates the anniversary of the first settlement in Barbados by hosting the annual Holetown Festival. A mix-mash of tourists and locals crowd the streets to get a glimpse at all of the local products on offer in a long jumble of tents.

As you make your way through you’ll pass bands playing local bajan music and can enjoy the tastes and smells of bajan foods like fish cakes, macaroni pie, and lots of barbecue chicken. Warning to the vegetarians attending the festival: it can be difficult to find vegetarian or vegan foods but there is one tent that sells juices and smoothies made fresh.

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After dancing to the music and grabbing a bite to eat, you can wander through the stalls to your heart’s desire. You’ll find everything from handmade jewelry, pottery and soaps, beautiful paintings by local artists, to manufactured children’s toys, clothing, goldfish and birds.

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The men and women running the stalls are a cheerful bunch who are eager to tell you about the products that they sell and chat with you about your stay in Barbados, often giving recommendations as to what you should see next. If you’ve had the experience of hitting up local markets in other under-developed parts of the world, you might be expecting the likes of a market in Vietnam where the people running the vendors yell and beg you to buy their goods, grabbing at your hands and arms and refusing to let go until you’ve at least looked at their product. Here at the festival, and Barbados in general, people are much more laid back and I’ve yet to experience anything to the extreme of the markets in Southeast Asia.

Just as our feet were feeling tired and shoulders sore from hauling around our bags we rounded the corner and spotted our savior: massages for $20 barbados. Fresh juices in hand, Melissa sank herself into the seat while as masseuse got to work on her shoulders while I laid down on the bed and had the most glorious foot massage I’ve had in a very long time.

Renewed and energized, we went on our way to do some more shopping! This cheerful man was having a wonderful time teaching people how to weave using this hand-operated weaving machine. He had beautiful hand-woven wallets, purses and blankets for sale.

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The festival is centered around Chattel Village, an area of colorful shops and pretty trees. If you need to escape the hot sun in the middle of the afternoon, take a walk through and pop in and out of the air-conditioned shops.

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At the end of the line of tents was a henna artist steady at work as she created intricate henna designs on her customers, for an extremely cheap price! I can’t say no to henna and before I knew it I had a new henna design on my foot.

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The Holetown Festival ran every day for a week. Each day brought something new and interactive for festival goers to experience including, but not limited to, calypso performances, tuk bands, karaoke, and dancing. Although the dates for next year’s festival are not available yet, it will be sometime in February and if you’re in the area you should definitely pop in for an afternoon.

Last, but certainly not least, what’s a bajan festival without a free shot of rum… or two?

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Take a Stroll Through Batts Rock

“The ocean stirs the heart, inspires the
imagination and brings eternal
joy to the soul.”
- Wyland

Just a short stroll away from my dorm is a white, sandy beach with turquoise waters kissing the sand. It’s a popular place for snorkeling and picnics but is never too crowded and it’s quickly becoming my go-to spot to relax after a hard day at work. I don’t believe I can do it justice through my words, so put on your flip-flops and take a walk along the sand for yourself.

 

The Man Behind the Stone

If you walk along a particular stretch of beach, from Paradise to Batts Rock, you’ll come across a number of coral stone statues, each of different shape and size. Clearly made by hand, stones delicately balance atop one another in such a way to make an intriguing piece of art. These stone statues appear along the beach, placed individually or in groups. I noticed them on my first afternoon at the beach and they always made me wonder what their story were.

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A few days ago, my questions were answered. As the sun began to set over the sea a man made his way down the beach and began his work. We watched him as he very methodically collected coral stones before balancing them one on top of the other. From tiny stones to large and even seashells, he put rocks together and took them apart again. The care, time and concentration that he put into his statues was surprising and after watching him for half an hour, we went over to find out what these statues were all about.

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He told us a story about a man who had come to visit Barbados who would come down to this beach and build statues out of stone. By the time the man left he had a number of statues grouped together under a tree. One day, the man we were speaking to came to the beach to find that they had all been knocked down over time, whether by people, the sea or the wind, he wasn’t sure. He took it upon himself to build up the statues nearly identical to how they had been before. He said that if the man returned to vacation again, he would see that his stone statues still stood in the same way they had when he left.

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Since then, this man has been coming to the beach and continuing the work of building statues. He says he has a vision of what he wants them to look like before he begins but that sometimes they take on a look of their own depending on how the stones fit together. A statue can be made anywhere from only 15 minutes to longer than half an hour and by the looks of it, it’s a hobby that he isn’t about to stop anytime soon.

If you get a chance to come to Batts Rock or Paradise Beach, there’s no missing these statues. If you take a good look, you might be baffled as to how they manage to stand, with stones balanced precariously at all angles. Have a look, but please don’t knock them down!

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Sunday Snapshot: Caribbean Sunset

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“Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean
it comes with the landscape, and faced
with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves,”
- Derek Walcott

Vegan Eats in Barbados

I need to start this off by clarifying that I am not a vegan, just a vegan wanna-be. Although I do limit my meat intake as much as possible, I still eat fish on a regular basis and am considered a pescetarian because of that. Despite my non-vegan ways, I will choose vegan food over non-vegan food anytime I have the opportunity. For my meat-eating followers, try not to look so disgusted at the idea. Vegan food has come a long way with many delicious alternatives being made for what was traditionally a meat or dairy product and quite frankly, vegan dishes are some of the best meals I’ve ever tasted.

One of the concerns many vegetarians and vegans have when traveling abroad is whether or not they will have a good variety of food to choose from. I personally have never found it too difficult, even in places like Southeast Asia. In fact, I found Southeast Asia to have an abundance of vegetarian options available and vegan as well, especially if you know where to go. Local markets where you can pick and choose things to cook on your own are a safe bet. Vegan and vegetarian restaurants are another great way to go and, usually, I’m able to find something in any restaurant that I choose to go.

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If you’re in Barbados for study, cruise, or vacation and you’re looking for delicious vegan eats, I would highly recommend checking out The Good Life restaurant/cafe. Located across from Accra Beach, The Good Life is a small little cafe with a roof but open walls to keep that sea breeze flowing through. When we stopped in for a bite we had the entire restaurant to ourselves. If you show up to nobody dining, don’t let that scare you away! The generous menu, kind staff and delicious food more than makes up for it.

After a long and thoughtful look over the menu, all four of us opted for the coconut curry tofu dish that came with a side of salad– with no regrets! This was easily the best meal I’ve had on the island yet; I’m ready to pick up the phone and place an order just talking about it.

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Probably the best news of all is that they deliver! Even all the way to the university! There isn’t a doubt in my mind that I’ll be frequenting this little restaurant more than a few times during my stay on the island. The smoothie menu is enticing enough in itself that I’m going to want to start at the top and work my way down until I’ve tried every last one.

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With reasonable prices ($2 barbados dollars is $1 american), good music, a great atmosphere and easy access to the beach, you can’t go wrong with checking this place out. If you’ve been or if you make an appearance, don’t forget to tell me how you liked it in the comments below!

Errol Barrow Day at Accra Beach

Everybody loves a good reason to have a day off. For Bajan’s one of those days lands on January 21, or what is more commonly known as Errol Barrow Day. Everybody seems to know of and speak highly of Errol Barrow, Barbados’ former prime minister. A man who, from what I’ve been told, was not only a fair leader of this island but also a devoted activist who led Barbados to independence and contributed to many great things for Barbados. To commemorate his memory, January 21 has been declared a national holiday in his name and the majority of Bajan’s on the island are free from work and school..

Eager to make the most of this day off classes, we made our way down to a beach on the South coast of the island; Accra. Accra is a hub of activity, near to popular resorts and hotels, restaurants and of course, the beautiful beach. Soft, white sand meets the turquoise sea, making it a great spot to rent a sunbed and umbrella or, like us, lay out some new towels. Some of us only brought one towel with us to the island and had been using one towel as a sort of all-purpose towel for both beach and shower activities, which we couldn’t handle for a single day more.

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As soon as our towels were down, we laid back to soak in some sunshine. The sun rays here are so hot, it takes only seconds of laying directly in the sun before feeling like your skin is slowly starting to burn, despite copious amounts of SPF 70. We lasted as long as we could before overheating and having to take a dip in the sea, having fun playing mermaids in the waves! Diving under waves and being crashed down on by others, all the while in big fits of laughter, we stayed out until our eyes and throats were burning from the salt water.

With night approaching, we took ourselves to the nearby boardwalk for a romantic sunset stroll.

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The boardwalk was a popular place for tourists and locals alike, with families spending quality time with one another and some people taking a quiet moment in their day.

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Three Accessories to Travel in Style

Call it vanity, but sometimes you just feel better when you don’t arrive to a destination with red eyes, crazy hair and wrinkly clothes. It’s happened to me too many times because I always put off purchasing these three accessories, claiming I could never find any that I loved. Well, times have changed and I am now fully prepared to arrive looking at least a little better than I used to.

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The Sunglasses

Have you ever woken up and stumbled out of an airplane in the middle of the night, far earlier than any human should be awake with swollen, bloodshot eyes, eyelashes stuck together with mascara and ringed black after having your face smushed awkwardly against the airplane window? I have. Prevent this by not wearing mascara or hide the mess with a trusty set of massive sunglasses that hide not only your eyes and their dark bags but half your face as well! Be picky when finding the perfect frames to match your face shape, the perfect color to match your skin tone/that won’t go out of style (a classic black is usually my choice, but I found some dark brown ones that I love just as much). If you choose carefully, these might just stay in your wardrobe for years to come and travel with you all around the globe.

The Hat

It has taken me 23 years to find a hat. I found a cute little fedora once that was sadly distorted in the rain, never to be the same shape again. I finally found a hat that I think could become my travel staple. It’s black, wide rimmed, not too big or small and fits my head perfectly. With hair that reacts to humidity the same way Monica’s did in Friends, I am definitely going to need it.

The Poncho

This gem that I found recently is absolutely perfect for traveling. This baby is so functional I can use it as three different things: a poncho/sweater over a tank, a scarf, and a blanket for when it gets chilly on the plane. I’m pretty sure if worse comes to worse, I can also bunch it up and use it as a makeshift pillow.

What’s In My Carry-On

Deciding what to pack in a carry-on can be a daunting task for the inexperienced traveler, but it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think! If you want to walk through security with ease, keep your carry-on baggage to a minimum. Keep jewelry to a minimum and leave most in your checked luggage to avoid setting off the alarm and keep your bag organized so that you can unload what needs to be unloaded quickly and minimizing that flustered feeling of having everything falling out all over the place.

I have a few items that are always in my carry-on.

carry on essentials

1. Passport – a no brainer. Keep your passport safe and on you at all times during your pre-departure and flight.

2. A small packet of facial wipes lets you remove makeup before a long flight and feel refreshed after a red eye flight. Keeping makeup to a minimum is a good idea to let your skin breath and to avoid dull skin when you land.

3. Headphones are a must for me, at all times. I’m often on overnight flights and I have a calming playlist ready to go that helps me to fall asleep and block out any noises from the people around me. Listening to a bunch of people snoring in close proximity is not the ideal situation for sleep.

4. An eye mask is another essential item to help you get the best sleep you can on a plane. You’ve got the headphones to block out the noise and the eye mask to keep out the light.

5. Vitamin C Energising Face Spritz from The Body Shop. This is the perfect travel size (100ml) and is great not only to help keep your makeup in place for day to day use but keeps your skin from looking dull after a flight and is an instant pick me up that refreshes the skin. Plus a quick blast of cool spray on the face helps to wake you up.

6. My skin is notoriously dry and having a mini hand lotion keeps my skin soft and smooth and a good lip chap keeps them from drying and splitting, especially after sitting in a plane for a long period of time with less drinking water than I’m used to. Planes and long flights are a breeding ground for dehydration and dry skin. Drink up and moisturize!

7. A novel can keep me entertained for hours. I prefer to read the old-fashioned way with a real book in my hand, despite the extra space and weight it takes up. But if you are tight for space and want to carry multiple books with you, a kindle is the way to go.

Though not shown or mentioned here, having some healthy snacks is always a good idea. Nuts/seeds or dried fruits are great non-perishables for flights to perk up your energy and hush a starving belly.