It was very unusual to discover Barbados through a greeting of Christmas lights. For as long as I can remember luminous snowmen and waving Santas paved the way for English sleet and black ice, not rum punch and embarrassingly colourful shorts. It was my first time in the Caribbean, let alone Barbados, so this familial, yet alluringly otherworldly welcome left my curiosity all the more untamed.
10 of us set out to Barbados in partnership with Elegant Hotels, aiming to gather a bounty of first-hand knowledge about the island, its hotels, and the adventures found within, with a view to providing a more informed, more inspiring service to our customers. When we landed the sky was already darkening, and I could not have predicted how this first night – supposedly just the precursor to the rest of our stay – would have had such a profound impact on my perception of the island.
Our first place to call home was Tamarind, and as far as first impressions go this one is up there with the best of them. Light-clad palms and a Christmas tree furnished with neat bows led our eyes straight down their open-ended lobby, which in the twilight hours seemed to meld seamlessly into the ocean that lay on Tamarind‘s doorstep.
My gawking, however, would have to wait, as the evening agenda had other intentions. After some rapid unpacking and a brisk turnaround we suited and booted and headed out to Daphne’s, a seafood restaurant adjacent to Tamarind that unfolds over wooden decking towards the sea.
It was dark, and the sea was moving in and out just on the limit of our vision, where the soft yellow lights of the decking teased the shoreline beyond. It was a naturally welcoming atmosphere, sitting down to a delicious meal, surrounded by friends, with a seductive suggestion of what Barbados had waiting for us in its daylight hours. The night was full of thrumming, indigenous sounds and smells that I couldn’t quite untangle, and it was precisely this mysterious quality that made the island all the more irresistible.
The meal was outstanding, and eating seafood to the sound of the ocean was an experience I was eager to repeat. I had the Catch of the Day (Barracuda in Saffron Sauce, highly recommended) which was so fresh and delicious, perhaps made all the better by the slight tang of salt that filled the air, vouching for its freshness. However, as good as the food was, I felt an even more moving significance to this first night on a distant shore.
In another life I spent a great deal of time studying Caribbean literature, but I now know that only by seeing these islands face to face can you realise the ever-presence of the ocean that inspired such words. Not just the neat encircling the island, but the way the very concept of the ocean permeates everything: the rolling breezes, the arches of the windswept palms, the roof of your mouth as you breathe in the air. It’s like the ocean predates, and therefore defines, everything, even time itself. I was reminded of Bajan poet Kamau Brathwaite’s words from his collection Born to Slow Horses:
the ribs of water’s colour are the gills
of the first fish breathing
the first land the first eye
The ocean is somehow different here, vastly disparate to any English shoreline. It’s just so alive, so vital, and so compelling that it can only truly be understood in metaphors, like Brathwaite’s ocean that seems to shape and mould the very fabric of the Caribbean. From here I found myself thinking of Daphne, the water nymph from Greek mythology whose name stood on the restaurant in which we ate, whose beauty was so great that even the mighty Apollo had no choice but to fall in love with her charms. Barbados and its affinity with the ocean drew me in immediately, in ways I could never have anticipated, and even though my stomach was satisfied my curiosity hungered to discover more.
Needless to say, I longed for daylight…