Category: Barbados


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

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 02

 

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.

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 03

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.

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 07

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.

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 08

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!

 

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 09

Andromeda Gardens Barbados 10

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Andromeda Gardens Barbados 14
 

 

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!