'I haven't been everywhere, but it's on my bucket list,'
So said American writer Susan Sontag, and I second her sentiments completely. That said, I didn't think I would make it to the Caribbean any time soon. Partly because I tend to gravitate towards more accessible destinations, stay a few days in one place, and then move on to the next. That all changed a few weeks ago when I was invited on a familiarisation trip by Barbados' Tourist Board.
All of a sudden I'm dreaming of perfect palm-fringed beaches. I'm also a water baby at heart so the promise of immersion in beautifully clear and warm azure sea has lifted my spirits no end. I jet off on Friday morning and beyond the postcard-perfect beaches of my imagination and promises of 'fun in the sun', I have very little idea what lies in store.
One of the first things I learned about this tiny tropical islet is that it's the farthest out in the Atlantic of all the Caribbean islands and so is not technically in the Caribbean Sea – surprising as after Jamaica, I'd say this is one of the Caribbean's most famous destinations. Now I feel as if I'm visiting a far-flung tropical outpost, which somehow seems less familiar and more exciting.
The second piece of information I gleaned was to do with monkeys. Though I love animals, I'm not a massive fan of primates. I was once attacked by a lunatic macaque in south-east Asia and came away bitten and bruised. Now, no matter how seemingly cute, I usually give monkeys a wide berth and, from the sounds of things, I'll have to avoid the 'mischievous' green monkeys of Barbados, who hitched a ride from west Africa 350 years ago and have made themselves well and truly at home.
Despite having pretty much no itinerary, I know where I'm staying so that seems like a good place to focus my research. The Sea Breeze Beach hotel is in a prime location in the south-west of the island, half-way between the chic, luxurious west and the lively, budget south, which suits me just fine. On the map it looks as if it's sandwiched between the capital, Bridgetown, and the famously lively St Lawrence Gap.
Two crescents of white sand flank the hotel, and I'm getting ready to adjust my eyes away from the glare of my computer screen to the electric blue of the sea, as it appears in the pictures. The hotel itself looks like a relatively small 4-star all inclusive with a local character to the architecture and decor, which looks really inviting. It has a gorgeous open seafront restaurant and non-motorized watersports facilities. I'm already looking forward to sampling a whole range of aqua-based activities – windsurfing, kayaking and, my favourite, snorkelling.
Snorkelling in the Caribbean's famously gin-clear waters is already top of my trip wish-list. When we touch down on Friday afternoon (Barbados time is four hours behind GMT) seeking out a mask and snorkel will be my first mission after I've dropped my bags at my room. Apparently the island is circled by shallow coral reefs, so I also want to scuba-dive while I'm there. I've heard there are some fantastic sites. Carlisle Bay, for instance, is said to be a ship's graveyard, with dozens of sunken, coral-encrusted wrecks at a fairly shallow depth, plus a vast array of tropical marine life.
To welcome us to the island, the tourist board is hosting a dinner on our very first evening and I'm told there will be 'alot of fun in store'. I'm imagining limbo contests and steel bands, partly because my closest experience to the Caribbean has been Notting Hill carnival! I just hope I have the stamina to keep going after an early start, eight-and-a-half hour flight, and four-hour time difference. I'm sure some of Barbados' famous rum will help me on my way.
I've also been asked to bring some black shorts for the 'carnival' and I have a feeling this must be something to do with Barbados' famous Crop Over festival, which will coincide with our trip. It should be a great way to get involved with local culture and get down Bajan style. I love the natural clave rhythm of Afro-Caribbean music, so I'm sure I'll have no trouble getting into the party spirit, but I'm just hoping I have a headdress to wear to distract from my lack of hip action.
Crop Over's opening night 'De Big Show' is on Sunday 15th June on Maxwell Coast Road, not far from our resort, so I have a feeling I'll be going along. A whole host of local acts are billed to perform, including Mikey and Biggie Irie. My hosts at the Barbados Tourist Board have asked me to learn a Mikey tune called 'enjoy meh life', though I've not been told why. Just a wild guess, but it sounds like I'll be more than an audience member at the carnival.
Aside from the beach, watersports, and the carnival, there are a whole range of activities and experiences that I want to sample while on the island. I'd like to learn abit more about its history, for instance. St Nicholas Abbey, Sunbury Plantation House, and Arlington House Museum are all on my sightseeing wish-list. I'm keen to visit an old colonial sugar cane plantation too, to get a sense of life here for the last 360 years. I've read that the lesser-visited areas to the north and east of Barbados reward exploration, so I'm hoping I can visit the quaint eastern fishing village of Bathsheba, beside an Atlantic-pounded beach known for its surfing competitions. Nearby, the unspoilt and ecologically-rich Joe's River Tropical Rainforest appeals to the naturalist in me, and would be a great place to get lost among the island's exotic flora and fauna.
Intrigued by my upcoming trip? I'll be writing a live update while I'm there, so just watch this space.