Stillness.

Stillness.

The silence that engulfs the air, making it thick with it. The pauses between words, that beautiful calm filled only with the beating of hearts.

I love the sound of silence, the stillness of a lazy morning or the setting of the sun. It feeds the energy in my soul, energizing and rejuvenating it. I come away from stillness feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world — literally.

When I lose sight of my intentions for this life of mine, I try to find that space of stillness. Life sweeps you away sometimes, the good and the bad of it tangle you up until you are tumbling around in it. That’s what travel feels like to me, constant motion. Every moment in a day is intensified with electricity. It’s an exhilarating chaos that I often try to keep up with.

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I can last a long time without that stillness, when everything is an adventure. I crave the adventure and the change that it brings. It’s only when I take a second to pause that I realize my soul, as much as it loves the rush, needs to be still. As much as it craves the excitement, it also craves the stillness. For a moment.

I’ve been developing the skill to be able to find stillness at any time, in any place or any moment. While I’ve not yet mastered it, I am able to find stillness within myself in the sound of the crashing waves of the ocean, in the fresh air of the mountains, in the feeling of a deep breath, the sequence of a sun salutation, or in the calm of a familiar cabin.

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Re-connecting with stillness brings me back. It reminds me of my purpose, it brings joy to my heart and fills my spirit with all of the inspiration and excitement about life that might begin to slip away in the tumbling of constant motion.

the festival of colors

Pure joy was in the air, you could feel it all around you as soon as we approached the Hindu Temple. Uncle Charlie quite literally met us with open arms, diving in for hugs all around as he introduced himself and welcomed us into his community. His clothes were stained purple, his face dusted in a white powder, his hair showing off streaks of pink.

It was the festival of colors; The festival of love; Phagwa; or what the West more commonly knows it as, Holi. It’s the Hindu festival of spring where people of all ages come out to play in an afternoon of throwing colors and water at each other. The children particularly enjoyed their day of freedom, where they could spray adults with water, chasing them and dumping colorful powder all over their hair and bodies without getting in trouble.

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People young and old frolic on the streets, outside temples and buildings, eager to leave the festival with as many colors adorning them as possible. The atmosphere is light and playful, there’s not a frown to be seen. In fact, the dirtier you get the happier you become until laughter is bubbling out of you.

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As foreigners, we were met with delight from everyone participating. Eager to show us the beauty of the festival, we were given second and third helpings of delicious Indian food, best ate with your fingers. People came up behind us and streaked our faces with hues of purples, blues, golds and pinks. Children chased us round and round, bursting with laughter as they sprayed us with colored water.

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We danced, we ate, and we sang. We watched performances by children in the community. We got mouthfuls of blue powder in our mouths that stained our teeth. All in the name of spring, of new beginnings and of celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

The more colorful the crowd, the more blessed they are. It was the warmest welcoming I’ve received in Barbados so far and a day so filled with love, joy and beauty that I’ll never forget it.

The Traveler’s Shift

I zoom through. Cities, countries, museums and temples, I zoom through them all. That has been my past travel experience nearly everywhere but Thailand. It paved the way for the title of this blog, a whirlwind. A travel affair where I leave after one short, intense kiss. I land in one destination and move frantically through it, desperate to see it all in three days or a week and then I disappear, leaving a city or a country behind me without seeing but a sliver of it.

I’ve questioned this way of travel before and yet I continued to justify it. In some places this was enough time, in others it was painful to say goodbye. I always knew that I would return to those places that captured pieces of my heart, return there and really spend time living that city. Not just darting in and out of every beautiful attraction, but learning the way of life of the people.

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Having been in Barbados exactly two months now, I am finally realizing how drastically different it is to live somewhere than travel somewhere. There is a beauty to the development you feel when you settle into a place but feeling settled wasn’t what I expected it to be. It began as another holiday where I felt desperate to see it all within a week, despite having four months to soak in the island. I’m not certain when I shifted away from feeling like a tourist. There’s moments where I do feel like a tourist, when I’m excited to go explore more of the island or when I want to sign up for a tour to see the caves.

But there was a shift, a moment that being here began to feel normal. I mastered the route to my internship, I began greeting people in the same manner that they greet others; a good morning, good afternoon, and good evening to all who walk by. A you good? instead of the proper “how are you doing today?” that people at home so frequently use. The taxi drivers on my walk to my internship less often ask me for a ride and have begun stopping for a chat on how my day went. There’s the coffee shop that I grab an iced tea from on a particularly hot morning, the store with freshly squeezed juice that is just around the corner from work. I have a favorite bar where I can go, relax, and listen to beautiful artists sing beautiful songs over two-for-one rums. A beach that a group of us have made our home for regular bonfires.

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I had a surprisingly negative reaction to the shift. At first, I hated the shift. I hated the normalcy of it all, the routine. I instantly wanted to leave. I travel to escape routine and yet here I was, going about my mundane tasks every day. And yet am I not traveling? Am I not in a new country experiencing all that comes with a new culture and environment? It’s been only two months and I’m itching to leave, to wander, to explore somewhere new even when I know there is still so much to experience here.

Part of me still hates the shift but an even larger part of me hates that I am letting myself hate the shift. This is what it is to really learn about a place, to live in it. The savior in it all has been an emphasis on balance. Yes, there is routine and normalcy in my days here. I am not just traveling, I’m studying abroad. But there is also so much beauty in that normalcy. There is beauty in the same people that I talk to every day, there is beauty in having a favorite spot to unwind, there is beauty in the fact that although I’m here to study I have every other waking opportunity to explore a brand new island filled with new experiences to be had.

There is beauty in knowing that this is a part of what traveling is, of experiencing it in all it’s forms and I am filled with gratitude to have the opportunity of this experience.

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 theĀ 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!