Saturday, 23 February 2008

Barbados September 2007

A one week holiday to Barbados all of a sudden sounded feasible now that I am living in England. Flights were reasonably priced and it was possible to have a direct flight from Manchester airport, so off we went on September 3rd to the Caribbean. Even though this was during the hurricane season, we decided to chance it because Barbados seems to be very rarely directly hit by a hurricane. The island's more Eastern position, compared to the other Caribbean islands, safeguards it from most hurricanes. We enjoyed loads of sunshine and the little rain that fell didn't affect our holiday at all.

Since we had trouble deciding where to stay on the island, we finally opted to stay in 2 different places. We spent 4 nights at the Yellowbird Hotel in St Lawrence Gap and 3 nights at The Crane. The former placed us right in the middle of the "action", close to many bars and restaurants. The latter offered a 5* experience at a reasonable rate, in a more remote location.
The central location of the Yellowbird Hotel allowed us to easily travel by bus or rented car. We decided not to stay on the East Coast because from what I read this part of the island was mainly packed with luxury resorts.
We had hoped to stay at Little Arches, near Oistins, after reading many positive reviews on TripAdvisor, but the hotel was fully booked. If this would not have been the case we would probably have stayed at Little Arches for our entire stay.

The Yellowbird Hotel itself is located in a little bay, which offers really nice views from the balcony. The hotel is separated from the little stretch of sand in front of it by a small one way road.

This stretch of sand is not ideal for sunbathing or swimming but this is no issue at all, since there is quite a nice beach, called Sandy Beach, just next to this bay. You easily reach this beach when you walk to the right when leaving the hotel and facing the sea. When you walk in the other direction, a small walk gets you to Dover Beach which is an even nicer beach.

Compared to other beaches I have seen in South-East Asia these beaches are not especially nicer, but I must admit the turquoise water is impressive.
But let's get back to the hotel itself. The Yellowbird Hotel offers good value for money with spacious rooms, sea front balconies, aircon, kitchenette, free local phone calls, etc. But, the rooms could do with some refurbishing, because everything looks a bit dated and worn out. However don't let that put you off because this hotel is really reasonably priced when compared to many other hotels and the staff is very friendly, helpful and super-efficient (you will know what I mean when you see Michelle at work). When booking a room at Yellowbird just make sure to ask for a room that is not located near the noisy bars (a room that does not end with "1") and make sure you bring some earplugs anyhow. The nearby bar/club has quite a powerful sound system and it is a nuisance for people wanting to have a rest.
"The Gap" is home to many bars that are a bit "rough on the edges". The new Pravda Lounge Bar, just next to Yellowbird Hotel, however offers a refreshing alternative to the louder bars further down the road.

St Lawrence Gap is known as a hotspot for many popular restaurants such as Pisces, Josefs, David's Place, etc. but we ended up going to Little Arches' restaurant called Café Luna. The hotel and restaurant have a "romantic" intimate feel to them and the service at the restaurant was second to none. Food was really good and so were the wines but expect a "European style bill". Luckily the Dollar (and the Barbados Dollar) were quite weak compared to the Euro and British Pound so the bill came in on par with what you would expect to pay in Western Europe for a really decent meal. If the exchange rate wouldn't have been as favourable, prices would have been quite hefty and this does not only relate to the restaurants. This probably explains why on the island many of the hotel rooms come with self-catering facilities.
If you want a less posh meal and you fancy something a bit more casual, make sure to go to Oistins for the evening "Fish Fry" where dozens of food stalls sell freshly fried fish. Strangely the "Fish Fry" is being advertised all over the island as taking place on Friday evening only, which results in bus loads of tourists being dropped in flocks on that specific evening. We went on a Saturday and there was still a busy Fish Fry with more a local feel to it ... sounds like a much better plan to avoid the crowds by going another day.

After our stay in St Lawrence Gap we moved to our next hotel, The Crane. When we got there, my girlfriend was a little annoyed at me for not having stayed at The Crane for our entire stay ;-)

The rooms are very nice, the cascading pools are fantastic and the beach is great. I've seen statements saying The Crane has "One of the ten best beaches in the world" ... which is a bit of an exaggeration really but it is quite impressive with its pinkish sand, aligned palm trees and rough sea.

At the time we went, the prices were really competitive because there was construction work going on. When choosing a garden view room you get the best deals, but you just need to do some lobbying with The Crane staff (via e-mail) prior to your arrival in order to get a room that is not overlooking the construction work. The only "problem" with this hotel is its location. It is quite remote and if you don't have a rental car you might feel a little stuck. The hotel's restaurants Zen and L'Azure are quite posh and pricey and the entire resort "goes to sleep" pretty early, which is when the rental car comes in handy.

> Get yourself Dollars to exchange for Barbados Dollars (B$) on the island. Strangely it was much better for us to first change Pounds into Dollars (2$ for 1£) in the UK and then change these Dollars into Barbados Dollars on the island (2B$ for 1$). If we would have brought Pounds to the island and would have exchanged it into Barbados Dollars, we would have seriously lost out on it.
> Footprint Travel Guides does a pocket book for Barbados. I bought it and it came in really handy.
> On the Lonely Planet web site you can download the Barbados chapter from their Caribbean Islands guide.
> Do not wear camouflage clothing on the island. Even though it is mentioned nowhere in the Footprint guide nor in the Lonely Planet's Barbados chapter "it is an offense for anyone, including children, to dress in camouflage clothing".
> Get yourself the free "Barbados Shopping Island Map" and the free "Barbados in a Nutshell" guide at the reception of your hotel. The former is a really good map for when you want to visit some of the towns (a bit similar to Nancy Chandler map drawings of the towns), the latter gives you a good overview of all the restaurants and bars on the island.
> Once you have settled in your hotel room, get yourself a Mini Moke rental car. I used my Footprint guide and called some car hire companies I found in this guide. Sunny Isle Sixt Rent a Car in the nearby Worthing had a promo deal going on. We ended up paying 253 Barbados Dollars for 3 days, which is about £20/day.

> Have a drive out to Bathsheba and see how the surf crowd "hangs out".

> Eventually also have a drive out to the West Coast and Bridgetown, but I must honestly say I wasn't that impressed by neither of them.
> Make sure you go for one of the Catamaran Sailing Cruises, that is being advertised on the island. A colleague had recommended Cool Runnings and I was really happy we finally went for this cruise because it was one of the highlights of our Barbados holiday. Even though you might feel these cruises could turn out to be a little "commercial", once you set foot aboard the catamaran you can't help but smiling. The staff on board are just great, helpful and smiling. We had a really good time and my girlfriend enjoyed the snorkeling so much she would like to do much more of it.
> Try some of the local rum, it really is quality rum. Even the "standard" Mount Gay Rum is very good.

The island left me with mixed feelings about the "locals". I had some really great experiences and some less great experiences.

Let's start with the negatives:
> You remember me saying that camouflage clothing is an offense, well guess how I found out? On our first day (still jet lagged and tired) I popped out of the hotel, for an Internet Café, in a pair of knee-length shorts I bought in Thailand and they had a camouflage pattern printed on them. This led to an altercation with some local youths who were being quite verbally aggressive. In our hotel room I found a book "Ins & Outs of Barbados" that indeed explained that this was an offense. I felt really annoyed at myself for not knowing about this because I always read up about local customs and I didn't know about camouflage clothing to be an issue on this island. So I felt pretty bad about this, but the way this was communicated to me was plainly wrong.
> On another evening, driving away from the Oistins Fish Fry in our Mini Moke someone shouted "white kunts" at us. Aarrgghh, why? We always behave in a respectful, polite and open minded way ... why would someone just shout at us?
> One of the Aloë Vera sales guys you find on many beaches also got verbally aggressive when I gave some of the Aloë Vera, that we just bought from him, to a girl who was traveling with her mum. We had been speaking to them for a while and since the sales guy talked me into buying some of his stuff, I ended up with too much of it and gave some away to our fellow travelers. Now, this was not to the liking of the Aloë Vera sales guy who became verbally abusive because he hadn't managed to sell to them earlier and now we were giving away some of our Aloë Vera. By this point I must say I was starting to get fed up with the attitude of some of the rum-fueled locals.

The positives:
> The overall levels of service and politeness are really good around the island. The first taxi driver that took us from the airport to the Yellowbird Hotel immediately set the tone by being very friendly, sympathetic and polite.
> Hotel staff is always very professional, polite and helpful. Bigger hotels maybe result in a less personalised service and are maybe slightly less welcoming but overall the experience is still very good.
> Our dining experience at Café Luna was amazingly good. The staff were excellent and they were genuinely friendly and helpful.
> On board of the Cool Runnings Catamaran Cruise we again experienced amazing staff.
> My favourite experience was when I went for a drive to Bathsheba and I got a bit lost on the way back to The Crane. I ended up asking a few people who pointed me in the right direction and finally an older gentleman who was going in the same direction just jumped in the car with me. This was definitely better than GPS ;-) Once the gentleman arrived at his destination, which was on the way to The Crane, I drove on for a little while but had to ask again. I was in a little village where I asked, I presume, a local teacher for directions. The lady pulled a brand new metallic blue Jeep over and had a chat with the driver of this car. The two ladies in the car must have been in well their fifties (if not sixties), they were wearing big white posh hats and were driving in the direction I needed to go. I had some serious trouble trying to keep up with them in my Mini Moke ... it felt like a scene from "Cocoon" ;-)

Would I go back? Well, probably not actually. However if you have loads of cash to spend and you want a tropical short-stay destination that is just a direct flight away , then Barbados might indeed work out just fine.

St Lawrence Gap

Places to Stay:
Little Arches
The Crane Resort & Residences
Yellowbird Hotel

Places to Eat:
Café Luna
David's Place

Cool Runnings
Footprint Travel Guides
Lonely Planet
Mini Moke
Sunny Isle Sixt Rent a Car

Picasaweb Album

1 comment:

Alan said...

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