Thoughts for today
From the real world, sublime and challenging
Bridgetown, Barbados – a rum place… and yes,
swimming with turtles…and the bridge to community, cricket, despite a swamp…
Ideally, every town and community should be the bridge to find welcome and a sense of place. Bridgetown grew out of the parish of St. Michael, one of six parishes by a swamp and was bridged by the indigenous Indians called the Tainos. The island was first visited by the Spanish and then the Portuguese, but didn’t become a settlement until the first English arrived in 1628. The slave trade of the eighteenth century saw the development of the sugar plantations. It is now an island (22 miles long and 14 miles wide) with a population of 277,000, a third of whom live in Bridgetown. It has the most centenarians per capita (117) in the world shared with Japan. Barbados became independent in 1966, but was still part of the Commonwealth. It will officially become a Republic next year on the 30th of November. The name Barbados originates from the Portuguese description for ‘bearded ones’, which described the look of the country’s bearded fig trees indigenous to the island. It continues to export sugar, rum and molasses all over the world. Forty per cent of their tourism activity up to 2020 came from the UK.
At the present time when the President of the United States has contracted the Corona Virus I came across an interesting Barbadian fact. One of the founding fathers and the first President of the United States, George Washington (1789-1797), visited the island in October 1751 to help his brother recover from Tuberculosis. However, the future President contracted smallpox there. Fortunately, he recovered well and returned to Virginia with immunity from the disease. This sustained him through the American civil wars when his own troops were succumbing to the disease. Towards the end of his life (1799) he became troubled about slavery and in his will freed his own servants ahead of liberating legislation.
We arrived on this March day to a 6am sunrise. The blurb about Bridgetown and Barbados indicated we would find a ‘balmy climate, glorious azure waters and incredible beaches epitomizing paradise’. This was confirmed on our excursion day. Into the last two weeks of travel we rose to the occasion of a catamaran trip. Nineteen of us braved ‘paradise’.
We were welcomed on board with health and safety instructions and a familiarisation with the vessel. This included its safety nets, scuba instructions and kit check. Refreshments were served and we spotted transatlantic rowers a few yards away from us being towed into Bridgetown. The two Belgian rowers had rowed from Gran Canaria to Port St Charles on the West coast of Barbados over 73 days. They were raising funds in their self-restored wooden boat for a charity working with disabled people.
Yegor Tarelkin (in the photograph) is a Student Doctor studying climate change and its effect on tree growth in the Tropics. In 2017 he swam the English Channel in aid of Carpe Marem, supporting refugees in Belgium – an extraordinary feat!
Safety briefings over we were ready to swim in St James’ Bay, which is just around the corner from Sir Cliff Richard’s home at the Sugar Hill Plantation. The sea was warm and one of the catamaran crew Joshua (in the photograph) guided us to the possible sighting of turtles. I did not know what to expect. We had seen turtles in some of the ports we have visited. After snorkelling for a while I suddenly saw a couple of Hawksbill red shelled turtle coming to explore. They circled around us before swimming into the deep. They were within feet of us, and it was beyond words to see them in their natural habitat - thirty minutes of glory! We returned to the vessel for lunch of Jerk Chicken, Barbadian Macaroni Cheese Pie and a sweet cake dessert all washed down with Rum Punch. The Bajan (what Barbadians call themselves) call this pastime of mingling, eating, drinking and spending time with friends ‘Liming’ or ‘to lime’.
There was time to swim to the beach at St James, and we watched the antics of green monkeys playing on the house verandahs. We cruised back to the ship to the Bridgetown marina passing the fleet of three coastguard cutters. A glimpse of the Kensington Oval (home to the Cricket World Cup in 2007) was seen by the docks. Famous Bajans include the singer Rihanna, the English cricketer Jofra Archer, West Indian stars Michael Marshall and the legendary Sir Gary Sobers. We had an early sail-away for the next day arrival at nearby St John’s and Antigua.
This adventure in Bridgetown gave us the ‘bridge’ to community through its history, vibrancy and resilience through every age. The welcome, hospitality and its cheerful expression, given by those we met, with warmth, acceptance and exuberance was a generous embrace, a lasting ‘bridge’ in our memory. What a gift the sense of place is…
Jane and Edward