Five leatherback sea turtles circled me in 15 feet of water, their nimble and graceful underwater gliding belying their girth. They skimmed close, looking for handouts, giving me a chance to look into their soulful, wise eyes and touch their slick, barnacle-studded shells.
One of the giants gave me a lift: As it surfaced for air, it could not see me swimming above it and, unable to get out of its way, I got a brief turtle-back boogie-board ride. Gnarly, dude!
Swimming with leatherbacks was definitely a highlight of my three days on Barbados, an Eastern Caribbean island that the Bajans (the local name for the locals) refer to as “The Rock.”
They also like to call it “the birthplace of rum.” After three days, I’d had my share in the local rum shops, which they claim number one for every 160 members of the island’s 280,000 population
TURN TOWARD ECO-TOURISM
The turtle swimming experience demonstrated a trend new to Barbados tourism since I visited some dozen years ago. As one of Britain’s most faithful and prosperous colonies during its plantation era, Barbados highly values its history, presenting visitors with countless opportunities to explore the past at plantation manors, fortifications, sugar mills, and museums.
But today, as the touted west shore Platinum Coast sees its once-treasured beaches erode because of development on the north end, Barbados has come to value its environment and share it with visitors. Which it well should, because its green spaces and jewel-toned seas are stunning.
In the island’s mid-section, caves, monkey-populated forests, and gardens appeal to nature-lovers. At its fringes, rocky cliffs and white-sand beaches beckon.
Most people gravitate to the leeward side of the island, where shoring and the building of paths still allow visitors to walk from sandy beach to sandy beach in front of the resorts and homes that face calm, clear seas.
• Day One: Exploring the Platinum Coast
I made my base at The Club Barbados, formerly the Almond Beach Resort. The Almond name once attached to three important Barbados resorts, all of which have been sold. Club Barbados lies close to the heralded Sandy Lane Resort, where celebrities and royalty from the U.S. and England pay four figures a night for luxury rooms and coveted links.
More my price range, The Club Barbados, an adult all-inclusive, is still undergoing upgrades in the rooms, the best of which face the sea. It has its own upstairs version of a rum bar, its shelves lined with an impressive collection. Try the passionfruit and mango rum punch.
The Club Barbados makes a handy headquarters for walking the strip to historic Holetown and its new designer shopping and entertainment center called Limegrove Lifestyle Centre. I preferred strolling through the chattel house shops village, small rum shops, and clubs district.
Here allow me to explain two institutions of strong Bajan tradition.
Chattel houses date back to post-emancipation days, when the freed slaves built their wooden homes to be moveable from job site to job site. Gingerbread-trimmed and colorful, they brighten the towns and countryside.
Rum shops, other than being a place to procure drink and often food, serve as a political forum and dominoes arena — when the patrons aren’t listening intently to the broadcast of a cricket game, that is.