Barbados
 
  
 
  "we wanted to try ...
flying fish, conkies, cou-cou ...
pumpkin fritters and jug-jug ..."
 

  
 
 
    

Nov 27

It was mid-afternoon when we flew from St Lucia to Barbados.

In the Atlantic Ocean, several wave lengths from the Caribbean Sea, Barbados is 160 km away from it’s nearest neighbour, Bequia; a distance which saved it from the early and brutal warfare experienced by many islands in the Caribbean.

Barbados is not a volcanic creation; instead its coral and limestone base rose out of the sea when the South American plate collided with the Caribbean plate. The result, a beautiful low-rise island with soft sand beaches.

On final approach we were able to looked down upon the Butterfly Beach Hotel near the south west corner of the island where we would be staying.

 
 
 
 
 
The airport is spacious and modern with mobiles of flying fish hanging from the ceiling. We thought how neat it would be to see flying fish for real ... but even if we didn’t see them, we intended on tasting them. 

There is a public bus stop just across the the Barbados airport parking lot which is anchored by a bright red Coca-Cola bus shelter.
 
  

 

The Butterfly Beach Hotel is right on the ocean and our room looked very much like their website (minus the beautiful flower arrangements).

It was too late in the day to venture very far, so we relaxed and saved our sightseeing for tomorrow. We had a late lunch/early dinner at the hotel’s open air restaurant and lingered until sunset.

 
 
 
 

Nov 28

Bus stops on Barbados are serviced by a regular bus system. They also attract private buses (no time scheduled), much like we have seen on the other islands, except here they also have traditional larger vehicles rather than just stretch vans.

At the bus stop near the hotel, we met Ricardo ... a big fellow with a knack for cooking. He held, keeping it level, a baking pan wrapped in a supermarket plastic bag. "Good morning," we greeted each other. He was a friendly fellow with a big ready smile. We were talking to him about destinations we might consider via public bus when a man from a nearby road work crew came up to Ricardo and began a conversation; they seemed to know each other. Without ceremony, the workman peeked into Ricardo’s bag.

"Can I buy one?" he asked.

They settled on a price of $5 Barbados dollars (approx $2.50 US). Ricardo reached in and handed him a hand sized package wrapped up in wet banana leaves. When the workman left we asked, "What was that?"

"Conkie," he answered taking another out to show us. "I make and sell them to the hotels here. They are very good." Our conversation was interrupted by two other workmen coming up with money in their hands and taking away two more banana leaf packages.

"Conkie?" we questioned. "What is a conkie?"

 
 
 

"A delicious mixture of pumpkin [squash], sweet potato, coconut, raisins, brown sugar, spices and other stuff mashed and wrapped up in banana leaves ... then steamed. Lots of people don’t steam them anymore, "Ricardo told us, "they take shortcuts, but you need the steam to get the goodness out of the banana leaf." The first man returned for a second.

"I try to sell them for $6," Ricardo told us after the workman left, "but I can be a richer man selling them at $5 or a poorer man keeping them for $6." We complimented him on his reasoning. "One day," he said with passion and determination, "I’m going to open up ‘Big Rick’s Bar’." When another workman approach to buy, Ricardo apologized and explained he needed the balance to fill an order he had. That gave us the answer to the question we were going to ask ... could we buy one. (You can find recipes on the internet.)

We headed north to Speightstown (pronounced ‘spite’s-town’), which was, in the 1600s, the first major port and centre of commerce on Barbados. Today it is more of a fishing town and local commercial centre looking to attract more tourists with the development of luxury accommodations and a new marina.

 

It was only a couple of blocks walk from where the bus dropped us off on the ‘highway’ to the centre of town.

Much of Speightstown’s colonial architecture remains including the 18th century Arlington House which has recently opened as a museum. Here the visitor will find three floors of exhibits providing an abundance of interesting and entertaining information for all ages.

 
 

Turning right by Arlington House we admired the size of avocados and the freshness of okra at a sidewalk market.

The road wraps around to the waterfront where there is a new breakwater and new (as of 2006) fish market (or you can catch your own from the adjoining pier).

 

We entered the Fisherman’s Pub, one of the town’s most popular eating spot, just south of the small beach by the Fish Market. Inside the front door the foyer has a stretch of window looking through to a length of buffet. By pointing and pantomime, customers indicate what and how much they want and it is put on a plate; the plate then goes to the cash register around the corner.

As we didn’t know what the different items were and talking through the glass is near impossible, one of the girls came out to us. We showed her a list of menu items we wanted to try ... flying fish, conkies, cou-cou (an okra and cornmeal mash), pumpkin fritters and jug-jug (a combination of cornmeal, green peas and salted meat).

   

The girl read over the list pointing at the different entries either nodding ‘yes’ or shaking her head ‘no’, before returning behind the glass window and filling two plates.

There is no table service, so once we had paid (a small sum for such full plates) we found an unoccupied plastic table and sat in plastic chairs ... just like the locals were doing. There was plenty of space and tables enough to handle tour buses but at the moment the clientele looked mostly local.

The conkie, which we had been looking forward to ever since meeting Ricardo, was delicious. Very filling and rather rich for our tastes. One was plenty to share between the two of us.

We started a conversation with a woman cleaning tables; her name is Jean and she was just in town for a short time to help out her brother Clement, owner of the Fisherman’s Pub. 

 
 
 

Clement is a very personable fellow with a friendly but business-like manner ... he reflects the success of this popular laid-back spot.

Before we said goodbye, Clement introduced us to his long time friend, Jacko, who has worked with Clement from the beginnings of Fisherman’s Pub and boasts that he is three days older than his boss.

If we should have the opportunity to return to Barbados, we would make a point of returning to Speightstown and Fisherman’s Pub with a plan to have another of Jacko’s conkies. Not wanting to wait that long, we took another conkie with us.

Clement Armstrong, Fisherman's Pub - Travel Tales Photo by Sherrie Thorne  'Jacko" at Fisherman's Pub, Speightstown, Barbados  
 

We rode back to Bridgetown on a bus squeezed full of students. After tiding up in our room, we left the hotel and caught a bus for the nine block ride east to the fishing town of Oistins. Every Friday and Saturday night hundreds of locals and visitors meld together as Oistins’ food and craft vendors host a ‘Jump-Up’ ... a barbeque party ... offering fried and grilled fish, shrimp, sweet potatoes and macaroni pie, coleslaw and chicken along with other local favourites. So popular has Oistins’ Fish Fry become that it now boasts it's Barbados’ second highest-rated attraction (after Harrisons Cave).

The Jump-Up was just getting underway, so we had time to invite ourselves into the open air Oistins Fish Market beside the Fish Fry site. The light was dim and only a few of the cleaning benches were still being used this late in the day. We met Scotty who was cleaning red snapper. He told us he had been doing this for fifty-one years. Another fisherman, Neil, said, "Look at this one," and held up a big fish well over a metre long.
Back to the Jump-Up we browsed through some of the craft tents and then wandered passed a number of food booths picking up a skewer of shrimp from one and a little later some fish from another and sat at communal picnic tables.
As the night got darker the crowd got larger. A local told us that most Fish Fry nights the music was from cds but tonight, in celebration of achieving independence from Britain on November 30th, 1966, there were live bands and popular local singers. Reggae and calypso filled the air as loud as if we were in a Caribbean van-bus. People sang and danced as rhythms pounded from stacks of loud speakers while   barbeque smoke added a rock concert haze and delicious odour to the scene.

The party was still in full swing when we finally headed back to our hotel and prepared for our early 08:05 flight to St. Vincent ... from where we would catch a ferry to Bequia.

             
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