Category: Caribbean

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 01What happens when a traditional English garden is infused with a big dose of the tropics?

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The answer is Barbados’ Andromeda Botanic Gardens, and you don’t have to be a horticulturist to appreciate the beauty of this six acre tropical garden in St. Joseph Parish overlooking the island’s ruggedly scenic east coast.

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The garden was started as a private plant collection around the home of local horticulturist Iris Bannochie in 1954.

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 04First opened to the public during a ‘70’s fund raising event, the garden has ever since remained open to the public, and Mrs. Bannochie later willed it to the Barbados National Trust, which now manages it.

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 05Here there are over 600 different species of plants including native banyan, more than 60 different species of palm, cacti, and ferns set among pools and waterfalls fed by a stream that flows through the property.

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 06At the heart of this botanical wonderland, though, are its startlingly brilliant and inventively shaped flowers.

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Gardening enthusiasts will doubtless recognize many of them, an amazing number of which are varieties of orchids so unlike each other that it’s hard to believe that they’re all of the same species.

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For garden-challenged people like me, it’s enough to wander the garden and take in its beauty without benefit of much introduction, and each of the pictures here is certainly worth a thousand words!


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There’s more on my visit to Barbados here:



Barbados’ liquid gold

Perhaps nowhere else on the planet has sugar so dominated a culture and economy as in Barbados, and the islanders learned more than 300 years ago that cane syrup distilled into rum was worth far more per pound than the raw product.  The syrup was at first shipped back to England for processing, but plantation owners and investors soon began building their own distilleries locally.  The Mount Gay Rum distillery, opened in 1703, still survives and continues to produce one of the world’s legendary rums.

Driving through Barbados' cane fields

Driving through Barbados’ cane fields

It’s around midday on a sunny Sunday when I ask directions of the hotel clerk and set out with friends in a rented car into the island’s interior in search of Mount Gay.

Outside of Bridgetown the roads quickly become country lanes that slice through acre upon acre of sugar cane which stands so tall that we seem often to be driving through green tunnels.

The roads are deserted and the directions seemed straightforward enough, but over an hour later we’re still crisscrossing the cane fields on country lanes so familiar to the natives of an island just over 20 miles long and 15 miles wide that many highway intersections are unmarked.

Our guide-to-be along the roadside

Our guide-to-be along the roadside

We’re just about to give up the search when we come upon a man walking along the side of the road carrying a sack over his shoulder.

We pause to ask directions and he tells us – to our delightful surprise – that he works at the distillery and will gladly take us there in exchange for a return lift.

Mount Gay's famous rums on display near the gate.

Mount Gay’s famous rums on display near the gate.

This happy coincidence turns out to be only the beginning of our good luck, for although the distillery is closed on Sunday he ushers us through a locked gate into an empty compound to begin a private tour.

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This place is a time machine

Our impromptu guide walks us around the yard before leading us into a laboratory-looking room where the progress of fermentation and distillation is monitored, and quality of the finished product is controlled.

A quick primer on the chemistry of rum

We get a quick primer on the chemistry of rum

This is all very interesting, but what I really want to see is some of this golden elixir in the making, and my wish is shortly granted.

Rum-in-the-making is tested here

Rum-in-the-making is tested here

A  mill tower stand  silent

A mill tower stand silent



We head back out into the tropical sun, across the yard, and past the silent ruin of an old sugar mill.

Under a simple canopy sit wooden vats that look a lot like giant hot tubs, brimming with a smooth, thick, brown mash.

Rum in the making

Rum in the making

Its surface is broken from time to time by gently surfacing bubbles and the syrupy sweet smell of sugar hangs heavy in the air.

I breathe deeply, taking in the exotic aroma until it seems to fill my head.

On the way back we drop our guide at his destination and continue to marvel at the happenstance which created yet another of many memorable days.

But there’s more yet to see on this island than its size might suggest.  My next Caribbean post takes you along on a a visit to Barbados’ Andromeda Botanic Gardens, where the tradition of English gardens is meets a rainbow of tropical flowers toeye-popping effect.

Click here for the Mount Gay Rum web site

Read more about my visit to Barbados in earlier posts:

Basking in Barbados

Barbados’ great houses

Barbados’ great houses

Plantation great house, Barbados

The historical plantation great houses of Barbados are peepholes into the lifestyles of wealthy sugar cane planters who dominated the island’s commerce, culture, and politics for nearly 300 years.

Plantation great house, Barbados

Country lanes may cut through fields of sugar cane rather than English hedgerows, but formal gardens and Georgian architecture indelibly mark the tropical countryside as indisputably British.


Great house formal garden, Barbados

Marble tub in a great house formal garden

The British settled Barbados not long after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and the introduction of sugar cultivation soon after transformed Barbados into the British Empire’s primary sugar exporter and the jewel in its colonial crown.   Cane juice extracted by grinding mills was shipped to Britain for refining and British capitalists arrived to assemble large sugar plantations from landholdings of smaller farmers, many of whom were relocated to the fledgling American colonies.

The prosperity fueled by this “white gold” continued into the early part of the twentieth century until the widespread adoption of less expensive beet sugar finally upended the plantation economy.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Among the most notable of the plantation great houses is Sunbury, which was built in St. Philip’s Parish around 1660 by one of the island’s first settlers.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Its ownership has passed through seven families, and the house has survived not only a hurricane in 1780 that likely removed much of its roof, but also damage sustained during the slave rebellion of 1816 and a fire in 1995.


Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Furniture destroyed by the fire was replaced from other collections and items made available for purchase by numerous Barbadian families, and Sunbury House now houses one of the country’s best collections of antiques.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

The casual elegance within its rooms exudes the tastefulness of old money that ably evokes the feeling of a homeland half a world and centuries distant. The house is spacious and rambling.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Bright tropical sun floods through windows open to trade winds that keep it remarkably comfortable.  Furnishings in many of the rooms seem to freeze them in the moment that the plantation finally ceased operations.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

In other rooms the furnishings reach back into the days before running water.



Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

The antiques here include not only furnishings, but items used in daily domestic life and machinery used in the last century to cultivate the land.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

Such authenticity leaves a sense that the owners have stepped out for a short while, to return at any moment.

Sunbury plantation great house

I found it hard to wander through these rooms without an acute awareness that the wealth they reflect was built on the backs of slaves who early on replaced English indentured servants in performing the labor-intensive process of sugar cultivation and harvesting.

By the time Parliament abolished slavery in 1833, more than 200 slaves worked the Sunbury plantation.

Unlike in the U.S., their full emancipation was preceded by 6 years of apprenticeship and their owners were compensated by the government.  As in the U.S., many of these freedmen and their descendants continued to work the land until mechanization displaced most of them.

Sunbury plantation great house, Barbados

At its peak, the sugar industry cultivated 80% of Barbados’ arable land and accounted for 90% of its export revenue.  Today tourism accounts for nearly half of the nation’s foreign exchange, and my trip so far still leaves lots yet to see.

Watch next for an account of my visit to the Mount Gay Barbados rum distillery!

Until then, check out my related post, Basking In Barbados, for a look at more of this engaging island.

Basking in Barbados

Palm trees in the Trade Winds

Cruises are not only a great way to enjoy a smorgasbord of travel experiences in a short time, but also a great travel sampler that points the way to return visits.


My first taste of Barbados as a cruise ship port of call made it quickly clear that a return visit was needed to experience the best of what the island had to offer.

Bridgetown’s impressive city center


Bridgetown has the look of a seat of government, much of it dating from the days when the possession was administered by the British colonial service.



Tail end of a military parade

Boats of all types are anchored here







For many, bicycles are the transit of choice




Today it’s the island nation’s capital, and the city has a free and easy tropical gait.



Boats of every type constantly move in and out of its harbor.




Bicycles and donkey carts share the streets with cars.



Cars share the roads with horse-drawn carts



The British ruled and planted sugar cane here for more than 350 years, and as in in so many former British possessions, Barbados marries English culture and African heritage to produce delightful contrasts.

Cottage near Bridgetown

Island cottage near Bridgetown

There are cottages and hedgerows and floral gardens and red postal letterboxes.

There are also Rastafarians, dreadlocks tucked up under rastacaps.

Waiting for the bus

Fruit-vending Rastafarians

Coastal hamlet


About 2 in 5 of the island’s quarter million inhabitants live in and around Bridgetown.


The rest are scattered among small villages and hamlets across barely more than 150 square miles and along 60 miles of coastline.


Village transport


If you can avoid going in circles it’s hard to get lost here for very long!


Situated around 100 miles beyond the Grenadines into the Atlantic, Barbados is the easternmost of Caribbean islands and on occasion a hurricane bellwether.

Atlantic coast

The rugged coastline of the Eastern shore faces into the Atlantic wind and waves.

Beach facing the Caribbean

The western and southern shores are marked by fine, white sandy beaches and aquamarine water.

Rainbow at day’s end

There’s lots yet left to see in the days ahead:  Plantation great houses and tropical gardens and a rum distillery.

It seems a good omen that the day closes with a beautiful evening rainbow enjoyed over a rum punch!

America’s rain forest

Road ascending into clouds

Seen from the sea, El Yunque Mountain peaks at a modest 3,500 feet, but its slopes are still an imposing knot on the horizon.   It’s the focal point of El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system.  The park is less than 40 miles from the past day’s visit to downtown San Juan, and the drive takes just over an hour.

The name of this place has changed so many times that you’re to be forgiven if you’ve not heard of it before.  King Alfonso XII made it a Spanish forest preserve in 1876, and it became America’s Luquillo National Forest in 1906.  It was renamed Caribbean National Forest in 1935 and the El Yunque National Forest in 2007.

View from observation tower

Here Atlantic trade winds smack into the mountains to produce almost 250 inches of annual rainfall and a constant shroud of clouds.

Without a distinct wet or dry season and with constant temperature and daylight, the growing season is year-round and the bio-diversity is incredible.

Waterfalls abound

On this day a misty fog hangs heavily enough in the air to dampen clothing, and the 70-degree temperature feels much chillier in the stiff mountain breeze.

Yokahu Tower lookout

Visitors can survey four different vegetation zones within the park from 6 different trail segments.   There’s also a walkway 60 feet above the ground at the El Portal Rain Forest Center – located about 4 kilometers inside the forest – that allows for a treetop view.

Rain forest canopy

There are also two lookout towers – El Yokahu at around Kilometer 9 and El Britton at around Kilometer 15 – that afford great views.

Rainfall returns to the sea

Anyone who’s come face to face with a bear will be relieved to know that no large wildlife inhabits the park, but small game is abundant, including species unique to this spot like the Puerto Rican Amazon parrot (Amazona vittata).  Its wild population had shrunk to only 30 birds until it was introduced into other local forests in 2006.

The Jurassic forest

Among the forest’s four vegetation zones, the bosque enano… the dwarf forest… is unique to Puerto Rico, and sits at around 3,000 feet.   Their growth stunted by shade of the rainforest canopy and incessant winds, tree trunks are widened and branches have fewer leaves.
Twenty-three species of the forest’s trees occur nowhere else on the planet.

Mountains in the mist

Most species of coqui, small frogs native to the island which have endeared themselves to Puerto Ricans, are found here in abundance. These tree-dwellers have no webbed feet and hatch their young out of water not as tadpoles, but as fully-formed frogs!

El Yunque’s 3,500 foot elevation may seem modest, but the ascent to the peak from just above the Yohaku Tower rises 1,500 feet over just under three kilometers.  Bring a poncho! 

See related posts on my trips to:

Mt. Rainier National Park
Channel Islands National Park

North coast, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Travel to San Juan by sea at least once because no other view can compare.

Here in the same time zone as Nova Scotia and Bermuda the sun rises early and as dawn breaks the island’s highest peaks rise out of a lush emerald carpet and thrust through the layer of clouds.

Castillo del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The whole thing seems to float on the ocean like a mirage, slowly filling the horizon as it draws nearer.

Harbor, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The ship almost completely circles the city before docking in the harbor on the inside of the peninsula.


The course delivers a 360 degree view of the city’s signature trio of castles – Castillo San d Cristóbal, Castillo San Felipe del Morro, and Fortín San Juan de la Cruz (“El Cañuelo”) – which anchor the city’s shoreline.

Castillo del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico

The Spaniards began building the castles in 1539, less than 50 years after Columbus claimed the island for them on his second voyage.



They left only after the Spanish-American war evicted them from the hemisphere over 400 years later.

Castillo del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan was so heavily fortified for good reason. Its great harbor sat astride the entrance to the Caribbean and it was the last stop made by the Spanish King’s treasure ships before the Atlantic crossing. It was justifiably known as the “Gibraltar of the Caribbean”.

Castillo del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico





There’s more castle to see here for any but the most ardent military buff.



Castillo del Morro won out as my one-castle only pick and I wasn’t disappointed.

Castillo del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico

There’s a 20th century scale to this serpentine conglomeration of gun emplacement and turret and overlooks.

Think “Maginot Line.” The walls look thick enough to resist an atomic blast.

Hotel El Convento, San Juan, Puerto Rico

When not bunking on a cruise ship I stay at the Hotel El Convento. It’s centrally located in Old San Juan, most of which is within walking distance and some of which goes up and down the hill on which the city sits.

El Convento occupies a building inaugurated as a Carmelite convent in 1651 and sits directly across from the Western Hemisphere’s oldest cathedral. Coffee in its cloistered courtyard is a great way to start every day.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

The architecture of the shops and homes of Old San Juan are very reminiscent of Spanish New Orleans.

Castillo del Morro, San Juan, Puerto Rico

It has a different feeling here, with landscape views of sea and coast and fresh ocean breezes only blocks away from just about any spot .

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Side streets narrow until there’s no way to travel them except on foot.

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Plenty of street scene photos await here.

There’s no lack of good restaurants in the old city, but my favorite for authentic Puerto Rican food is a short cab ride to the Condado district.

The dining room of Restaurante Ajili-Mojili  feels like the verandah of a tropical plantation house.

Nothing on the menu has ever disappointed, but I enjoy and heartily recommend the asopaos – a bisque with rice and chicken, shrimp, seafood, or lobster – almost as much as the mofongos. A Puerto Rican original, the mofongo is fried dough made of mashed green plantains, garlic and pork rinds and stuffed with shrimp, seafood, lobster, veal, chicken or beef.

Condada, San Juan, Puerto Rico

You’ll need to walk this meal off, and there’s no better place thanthe Condado neighborhood, which affords an opportunity to see some great deco architecture in a tropical setting that evokes Miami Beach, but is a lot more intimate.

Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is home to the distillers of more than a dozen national brands of rum among which the most well-known is Bacardi. I’ve seen enough rum distilleries elsewhere to pass on a tour here, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure this is a good place to seek one out.

From San Juan the plan is to make a day trip to the El Yunque National Forest, which bills itself as “the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. National Forest system”. Watch for it in my next Americana post!