Pirates, caves and haunted tombs

When I was a little girl my mother gave me a book that was full of adventure with black and white illustrations of pirates, parrots, ships and treasure, it caught my imagination by storm, that book was called Treasure Island.

As a child I was given a soft toy monkey, a soft toy parrot and a huge book about Rain forests, all of which further planted an adventurous seed in a young girl’s mind of visiting these distant lands and so when I was a teenager I set off on a trip to experience 11 beautiful Caribbean Islands, this piece gives a little taster of Barbados.

Barbados was my first experience of a Tropical Island and stepping onto the Island was like a dream from that first breath of air spiced with vanilla, ginger, cinnamon and aromatic flowers and the sky was blue, just blue, with no cloud at all and the melodic happy sound of steel drums rang out across the harbour, which was dotted with stalls of locals selling giant conch shells and natural sponges.

The Island of Barbados was formed during some volcanic activity when it emerged at the surface of the sea, it is a coral island with fine white sands and clear blue, warm waters and at just 21 miles long and 14 miles wide, this island is a tiny, independent British Commonwealth Nation where nowadays the locals enjoy afternoon tea, cricket and vanilla rum and coconut spiced foods.

Although small, this island is rich in interesting history, most notably that of pirates, the two famous ones being Sam Lord and Stede Bonnet.

Sam Lord was one of the more creative Pirates in gaining treasure, avoiding the discomfort and risk of taking to the seas, instead he took to hanging lanterns on coconut trees, the lights of these lanterns would attract ships that were out at sea passing by, whose crew would mistake the lanterns for lights of the capital and consequently get ship wrecked on the coral reefs, Sam and his men would then attack the ships and take all of the possessions that were on board.

They did very well out of it too, Sam did not live poorly, instead he lived in a lavish castle by the beach, the Georgian mansion was built by Sam Lord himself in 1820 and years later it became a landmark tourist hotel, however the castle was destroyed in a fire in 2010 and now lays in ruins, I think that somehow it is more befitting and mysterious as a ruin, being a hotel stole away the intrigue of the story, as a ruin it has been restored.

The castle ruins

The other well-known Pirate of Barbados was called Stede Bonnet and nicknamed ‘the gentleman’ he also had an unusual way about him, he had been a former well respected plantation owner and British Army Major but then one day he turned a different corner in his life and ‘bought’ a Pirate ship in 1717 naming it ‘Revenge.’

Stede then turned to the pirate ways and began capturing and setting fire to other ships in order to gain their gold, interestingly he befriended the most famous pirate ‘Blackbeard’, who sailed the Caribbean seas but their friendship was not to last.

Blackbeard was notoriously bad and lived up to his name in violently taking over Stede’s ship, however Stede stepped up to the mark and fought Blackbeard to get his ship back at the same time winning himself a worthy pirate reputation.

Eventually Stede was hunted down by the authorities and publicly hung as a pirate in 1718.

Beware the tree

There is lush vegetation all around but one thing to be aware of is the Manchineel Fruit Tree which has miniature green apples on as these trees are highly toxic, so much so that in the past, Caribs have used the sap of these trees for their arrows to kill Monkeys and wild boar.

For humans though these trees are dangerous in that the milky coloured sap will blister the skin on contact and something to really be aware of is that the sap can cause blindness if you mistakenly touch it and then rub your eye.

I have been stung by some trees before in rain forests from other parts of the World, some of these stings can be nasty and last for several days, but to be blinded is extremely serious so awareness of plant life around you is essential in areas that you are not familiar with.

Most beaches where these trees grow have warning signs telling people not to sit under them and sometimes the trees are painted with a red ring, but it is still good to be aware of the danger and know what these trees look like, below is an image of one.

Manchineel Tree

Typical warning sign

While we are on the subject of trees, never sit under the coconut tree, it is common sense but always look up and check what is hanging above you before you sit (as well as what is underneath you!), if a coconut falls and hits you on the skull it can be fatal as our skulls are thin in places, monkeys are also fond of throwing coconuts at people!

Warm seas and Turtles

The first thing I wanted to do was get out into the ocean, so I bought a yellow snorkel and set off to the palm fringed beach, which had the finest, whitest sand I had ever seen.

Beaches of beauty

When I walked out into the sea I was amazed at how warm it was, like a hot bath, with snorkel and mask I swam out and dived under water and the very first thing I saw was a Green Sea Turtle (Chelonia mydas) and I was overawed by its gracefulness and how beautiful it was, these turtles can live to 80 years of age and I suspect that this one had swam in co close to the shoreline to look for a potential nesting area to lay its eggs.

It seemed totally unfazed by my presence and swam right alongside me before eventually making its way further out to sea, something I will always remember from this island.
I also saw some pipe fish and striped sea eels, along with some very colourful coral reef fishes, I did not have a waterproof camera to capture those images, but it really was something special.

There are four different species of turtle that swim in the seas around the island all of which nest in the area, Green Turtles, Loggerheads, Hawksbill and Leatherbacks.

Make sure you wear sea shoes around the reefs as there are a few spiny sea urchins, the ones on the island are not toxic, however the spikes going into your feet will hurt! The spines dissolve after time but you can get an infection so take care and wear the shoes.

St. Nicholas Abbey – 17th Century Plantation House

Nicholas Abbey is a great old building formerly a plantation house which is now a museum and rum distillery, rich in history right out of a textbook it was built in 1658 by Colonel Benjamin Berringer for the purpose of being a sugar cane plantation house.

The history is interesting in that the Colonel had a duel with his neighbour Sir John Yeaman who won the duel killing the Colonel and then promptly married his widowed wife and took over the Plantation House claiming it as his own, many years later the children of the late Colonel took Sir John to court and successfully won back the property!

Sugar had been harvested on the plantation since 1640 and this finally stopped in 1947; nowadays the building is currently owned by an architect and it is well worth a visit to the museum in this vast Jacobean mansion.

The Mystery of the Chase Family Vault

I was very keen to explore the island and on asking the locals advice I was directed to, rather bizarrely, a graveyard in Christ Church cemetery to see the mysterious Chase Family Vault around which a ghost story legend has circulated for many years.

It is said that in 1807 a Mrs Goddard was buried in the vault followed by Anna Maria Chase in 1808 and then Dorcas Chase in 1812, later that year the vault had to be opened once more for the body of Thomas Chase to go in, however when the heavy vault door was opened (which required 6-7 men) the heavy leaded coffins of the girls were found to have moved around within the vault in a haphazard manner.

The coffins were all re-arranged back to how they were and once again the heavy the vault was re-sealed, then when the vault was opened again in 1816 and 1819 – once more the heavy lead coffins were found to have been thrown about in there with no sign of any outside access to the vault.

The Chase Family Vault

Many of the locals who I spoke to are still very superstitious about it all not wanting to go anywhere near the vault, at the same time there are just as many sceptics who put the story down to folklore or a natural phenomenon, such as a mild earth quake shifting the coffins.

I will leave you to make your own mind up about what you think.

Whilst I was there a service was going on in Christ church with some amazing Gospel singing ringing out over the yard, I am not religious, however it was a great privilege to listen to the mix of these soulful voices, I popped my head in and took some photos.

The congregation

There is dense, lush rain forest all around the island filled with gem like flowers and orchestral birdsong punctuated by the percussion like sounds of the insects and amphibians, there are plenty of walks to do, I prefer unguided as you tend to see more alone, if you do this though remember to ‘cross sticks’ – leave crossed sticks all along your track so that you know the way back, it is very easy to get lost in the jungle, something I have done a few times!

Dense jungle

The tropical brightly coloured flowers are stunning, I wish I had had a better camera in those days, but below is a simple shot I took of some of the foliage, the vivid colours are an easy attraction for Humming Birds and pollinating insects.

Some of the tropical flowers

Harrisons Cave

A place that really is worth a visit is Harrisons Cave, following attempts via various expeditions to explore the cave in the 18th and 19th centuries, explorers did not in fact gain access inside until the 1970’s due to its entrances being so difficult to break through.

Nowadays, these limestone caves are very much set up for tourists, therefore are very easy for people of all ages and physical abilities to enjoy, look out for bats and some of the amazing cave stalagmites and stalactites that can be seen.

An important subject such as this cannot be left out, the rum in Barbados is amazing! laced with all manner of spices and vanilla sticks it tastes absolutely delicious and is very potent, locals say it is made from “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak” but there is nothing weak about this rum!

Glass bottomed boating
This is a fun thing to do, go out in a small wooden glass bottomed boat, I have to be honest though, although I enjoyed being out in the open air this is not the best way to see anything, the movement of the boat muddies the sea with disturbed sand particles and you are far better off snorkelling and getting down with the fishes yourself than relying on looking through a pane of glass, as long as you can swim I would advise you to take to the sea.

Please beware of boats though (and sharks of course) there are certain areas where the snorkelling is safe, look to those areas and be aware of what is around you.

The capital of this small island, Bridgetown is a wonderful place bustling with life and it is great to potter around and interact with the locals, there are market stalls galore with coloured scarves, trinkets, fruits, coconut milks out of the shells, natural sponges, etc.

There are buses all over the island marked ‘City’ all of which cost around £1 to jump on to Bridgetown, as the island is so small, this is a great place for anyone who wants to do duty free shopping.

The National fish of Barbados is the flying fish and is the signature dish of most restaurants and on the menu as ‘Fried fish and coo-coo’, all of the food I tried was both inexpensive and delicious, some fantastic creole dishes, try them all!

There is a nod to Lord Nelson in the National Heroes Square where you can see a statue of him that was put up in 181, close by are fountain gardens if you want a break from the shopping for a bit of peace and quiet.

Rather than all of the shops, I preferred the market stalls out in the streets, which I found to be much more interesting dotted with different trinkets and wares and friendly traders who greeted me with huge smiles, all in all there was nothing not to like about Barbados, it is a warm, friendly place full of wonder.

I think the image below is how I will fondly remember Barbados

Barbados – lush and green