Barbados has changed.
Confused and dismayed, these were the words that thrummed through my head as I stood in a dusty carpark.
Behind me were the beautiful coloured cottages known as the ‘Chattle village’, a quaint array of houses in traditional Bajan architecture known as the ‘chattle’ house. This was a spot that always filled me with awe and glee – a place I had been coming back to since I was just learning to walk.
Whilst the pastel coloured houses, surrounded by perfectly manicured gardens, looked the same, the rest of the street was completely unrecognisable to me.
Beside me, Lewis was becoming agitated. He was annoyed by my disorganisation. I was meant to be showing him around the Barbados I know and loved but I just couldn’t figure out where anything was or if it even still existed.
I looked down to see a hen pecking at the ground. As I looked closer, I realised it was keenly feasting on a chicken drumstick.
This was all getting too much!
My eyes welled up and we hastily made our way back to the rental car, hoping that no one tapped on the window this time.
The more I look back on this moment, the more I question myself. Has Barbados really changed? Or is it me that has changed? I don’t think I can ever be entirely sure. The reality is probably a mix of both.
There has certainly been a lot of development on the island since I last visited and perhaps the sort of people who visit the island had changed slightly. I can’t help it, I sigh when I see the list of reality TV ‘stars’ who flock to the island in their masses.
But I have changed too. Perhaps even more so.
Barbados was an island paradise to me whilst I was growing up. I think I first set-foot on the island when I was 2 years old and from then on I visited the Caribbean oasis almost annually until I was 17. I was now 24 and had experienced a lot of change in the last 10 years of my life.
But somehow I’d found myself back in Barbados. It’s not surprising really as my memories of it are so strong. To me, Barbados has always been a blissful paradise and I was determined to return and ignite that feeling of utter relaxation. After all, my last few trips had been a bit too chaotic. I needed a breather from machete-wielding men dressed in tribal gear.
It was my first proper day in Barbados. Last night I had arrived as the sky was darkening and pink and purple hues danced outside my hotel window. It was to be a day full of exploration but most of all, it was a day when I showed Lewis just what Barbados was all about.
We were visiting in low-season and so the sky had been dotted with clouds when we landed. We’d awoken that morning to dark, looming clouds. They had pelted the ground with fat raindrops, disturbing the surface of the carp pool which sat just outside our room.
Fortunately, as we tucked into our delicious breakfast at our hotel, the sky transformed to a beautiful clear blue. It was the perfect weather to accompany our only full day in Barbados. Tomorrow we would be moving on to a different Caribbean island.
I had a rough schedule for the day. By rough I mean I had one thing on the list. Yeah, I suck at planning.
Today we were going to be heading to Carlisle Bay, just a 10 minute drive. Here there is a beautiful stretch of beach and just off the coast are a cluster of 6 shipwrecks, some only a few metres deep. These shipwrecks create an artificial reef, offering a home to a vast array of marine life including sea turtles and stingrays.
It sounded perfect!
When we pulled up in a large carpark outside the beach we were immediately approached by someone selling tours. We politely declined. This is always an indicator that a place is very popular and we tend to avoid spots which are too busy. I started to feel a little sceptical.
But it wasn’t the business of the beach that scuppered our plans. It was the sea. The ocean was rough. Large white waves crashed against the soft yellow sand.
Lewis isn’t the best swimmer in the world and the wrecks were pretty far out. In fact, I couldn’t quite tell where they were.
There would be no snorkelling today.
Of course, we were stressed. Our day’s plans had just been scrapped and we were left unsure what to do. To make matters worse, we didn’t have any local currency on us and were also pretty hungry. When you wake up at 5am the belly wants food at silly times like 10am, okay! Then I had what I thought was a great idea. Why don’t we pay a visit to the west coast? The coast that I spent much of my childhood on. I could show Lewis all my favourite spots and there would be no unexpected surprises because I knew what it was all about.
We drove through the capital of Bridgetown where there was a bustling market along the side of the road. Fresh produce was being sold. It looked rather inviting.
My greatest memory of Bridgetown was visiting the port to board a fishing vessel. We used to go deep-sea fishing every year and eat what we caught over the next few days. Fish had never tasted so good. I watched the port stream by my window. It looked so much smaller than I remembered. I wondered if the boat I used to fish in was still there. ‘Bumblebee III’ was what it was called.
We reached the edge of the city and began our journey north. The surroundings became briefly greener and I felt something stir in my memories.
The rain started pouring down, drenching the world around us. Between aggressive wipes on the windscreen, I could make out two bay horses, tails swishing as they grazed in the bright green grass. I could just make out the rope tethers round their necks.
But the sense of ruralness didn’t last. As soon as the horse field was behind us, large resorts started to spring up on both sides of the road. Resort after resort after resort. And where was the beach that I knew was somewhere to my left?
I recognised the pointed white walls of the Sandy Lane Resort. This at least was the same. The instantly-recognisable walls stretched on beside the road, the hotel to the left behind a wall of lush foliage and the gold-course to the right.
My plan had been to take us to Holetown, a town in the heart of Barbados’ west coast. Here there was a cute supermarket attached to an indoor market and beside it was the gorgeous Chattle village. There were several nice restaurants around here so we could have a little wander and choose our favourite.
In hindsight, I was incredible naïve. I’m not convinced that wandering round ever brings you to the places you imagine. Instead I should have researched a nice restaurant and driven straight to it. But you live and learn.
Holetown was different.
The supermarket slash indoor market was nowhere to be seen. Instead there was a gleaming white building – a new supermarket, taking up the entire space. Beside it was a gaping hole in the road with ‘road closure’ but no ‘diversion’ signs beside it.
Despite looking nothing like how I remembered, I knew this was the spot.
Beside it, looking just as quaint and blissful as always, was the Chattle village. I could only breathe a sigh of relief to see it still standing proud amongst so much development.
I decided we should pull into the supermarket carpark as it was like a central hub to explore the town.
We found ourselves a nice spot and turned off the engine.
Almost at once an elderly gentleman began approaching the car. I became tense. He was definitely heading straight towards us. Before I knew it, he was tapping on the glass on the driver’s side of the car. Oh, man. Here we go again.
I really shouldn’t be phased by people approaching the car but I am. Nothing stresses me quite like it because I am forced into an awkward exchange. At least he didn’t have a machete. Of course, it was just a beggar looking for some change.
I never quite feel safe in an area once my car has been approached and so our little walk to the Chattle village was tainted with a lot of looking over our shoulders.
It was just someone waving from their stall selling jewellery but I felt uncomfortable and ignored them. Uhhh, why am I like this?
As I stood on the clean path outside a pastel green chattle house, I suddenly felt like my head was swimming. What am I doing here? Everything feels so strange.
Queue my much-anticipated wobble.
I don’t think Lewis understood. I don’t really expect anyone to understand. But when you have a deep connection to a place and then return years later to find it very different from your memory, it can be disorientating.
I took refuge in my rental car as I gathered my thoughts.
Eventually I decided to book a table at a place that I knew, albeit not all that well.
I’d been to The Sandy Lane restaurant before and Lewis was very curious to see what all the fuss was about. It’s dubbed as one of the most exclusive hotels on the island. Rooms can be up to £12,000 per night.
Of course, I’ve never had the luxury of staying there but from what I remembered (which probably was all outdated anyway), it was a great place to eat and was situated upon a beautiful stretch of beach.
We rang up and booked a table. I was honestly surprised that we got one. I half-expected to be turned away for not being a guest. Reviews online suggest this sometimes happens.
Fantastic! We had a plan at last.
Perhaps I’d finally get to see the Barbados I was so familiar with and which lived in my memories.