My first journey to Barbados, ten years ago, came about when my friend Chelsea rang me up one afternoon. We were each respectively stuck at our lawyers’ desks in Washington DC, and on the brink of an upcoming long, Labor Day weekend.
Let’s go to Barbados?
Like most first-time visitors, we’d ended up staying in a resort in the St. Lawrence Gap area—on the south coast of this beach-blessed island. But after just two days on Accra Beach and a single road trip, I had left Barbados frustrated. Where were those Bajan vibes everyone talked about?
Soon after, I embarked on a career as a travel photographer and journalist, and continued to explore the rest of the Caribbean. But that memory stayed with me—of the one Caribbean island that had eluded me.
So when the opportunity came this Spring to re-explore Rihanna’s home, this time as a travel writer on my own itinerary—sponsored by the tourism board for half of the trip, and with five additional days completely on my own—I knew I was up for the challenge. Surely Barbados has more to it than sunning on gorgeous beaches? I was ready to create a different, culture and adventure-packed memory of Bim.
That’s how I stumbled on Bike Caribbean, while furiously planning and researching another face of Barbados online.
A South Coast Bike Tour
Before I knew it, I’d reached out to the cycling company on Facebook, and signed up for a South Coast bike tour. Their description had lured me right in.
“Explore the hidden surf spots of the south coast and tap into Bajan island culture, stopping at some laid back local favorites.”
To boot, the biking level was marked beginner to intermediate. There were additional adrenaline-packed and advanced itineraries offered on the site, venturing to the east coast, or north of Barbados—all led by elite Bajan mountain biker, Randy Licorish, co-owner of Bike Caribbean. But you know, baby steps. I was about to explore Barbados by bicycle for the first time—what could be more different?
It wasn’t hard for Randy to find me that morning. My sole direction had been to “drive towards Weston and turn right on the alley directly before John Moore’s.” Everyone knows the iconic rum shop—almost as iconic as Barbados’ Mount Gay Rum.
A colorful peach-yellow-blue pick up truck, with two mountain bikes mounted at the back, rolled into my local neighborhood at 8am. My elderly Bajan host Yvonne looked on with intrigue from our shared porch; she had that same look for the next three mornings as I stepped out of my apartment to embark on a new-to-her adventure on her island.
During the drive west to south to reach our start up point, Randy and I quickly jumped into a conversation on Bajan history and culture. It might have seemed too early for some, but mentioning my Ethiopian origin when asked where I was from meant that he knew exactly how to connect with his first client of the day.
“There’s nothing between the east coast of Barbados and Africa – it’s a direct route,” Randy explains, while discuss the island’s past and present state.
It made sense indeed, staring at the Atlantic hugging our drive, as to how Barbados was turned into Britain’s most lucrative sugar cane port and colony for nearly three centuries.
Before we knew it, we’d zipped past well-known “sights” along the way, such as shopping haven Holetown, the illustrious One Sandy Lane where RiRi keeps a beachfront condominium for her frequent home visits, Brandons Beach, St. Lawrence Gap’s resort strip where I’d first stayed, and Oistin’s, home of the famous Friday fish fry.
Bajan vibes: Enterprise Beach
When Randy finally parked the truck, we’d reached our departure point on the south coast and I was already ooh’ing and aah’ing. I jumped out right away to better glimpse the surprising beach scene ahead of us: locals, more specifically, seniors, were in the midst of what looked like a morning workout ritual.
At 8:30 am, women and men were in the water, stretching their arms and swimming. A group of ladies floated in tubes, wearing protective hair caps and conversing. A chicken looked on, perched on grass, while boats floated in the distance.
“Oh this is every day here! It’s Enterprise Beach,” says Randy smiling at my joy of having stumbled on a local scene.
Randy passes me a couple of bananas and peanuts in the meantime, with a water bottle—breakfast before the cycling begins—and goes on to prepare our bikes. Where had this place been ten years ago, I wondered? I hopped on my bike, ready to begin the curious adventure of exploring Barbados on two wheels.
My bike was a perfect fit—and we began to roll down from the parking lot closer to the beach area, past outdoor showers where people were rinsing off as if ready to head home.
Once stopped at the shoreline, I immediately noticed two men playing a curious game on the beach, under the shade of trees: what looked like table tennis, except there was no table!
Noticing my intrigue with road tennis—which I later learned was born in Barbados in the 1930s—Randy offered to stay a few minutes before we hit the road. I snapped a few images, and he explained our route before we began our gentle cycling south from Enterprise Beach.
The views along Enterprise Road were too good to leave to memory, and I was free to safely stop and snap. There was construction on the other side of the road, facing the Enterprise Beach Area. A resort is coming, and it’s likely this could change the nature of the most local beach in Barbados. I felt a sense of sadness thinking of the seniors giving up their morning routine; I hope that never happens.
Cycling Along Surf Havens
Soon we were cycling down tranquil neighborhoods lined with lovely private villas. I could imagine myself staying here next time, renting a bike, and relaxing to direct views of the Altantic.
Rudy signaled and we veered right from the main road, onto a grassy pathway leading us behind a row a villas, and opening up to a hilltop edge above Freights Bay. I gasped at the panoramic view of the coastline, with surfers below dotting the waters, floating as they take surf lessons, and occasionally mastering the waves against the backdrop of Bridgetown. There’s no way I’d see this spectacle if I were driving.
I spot other bodies paddle surfing, body boarding, and frolicking in the ocean. A couple of locals pass us on the hilltop, including a surfer Randy knows. After greeting us, they each descended the steep, concrete steps leading directly to the water. Oh, the urge to follow and toss around in the sea! But we must keep on biking south—further down this magical surf coastline.
“You can surf every day in Barbados,” Randy says as if reading my mind, before cycling away while I quickly catch up.
The road continues ahead, past the South Coast Lighthouse and a neighborhood known as Atlantic Shores. By now, there’s almost zero traffic our entire ride. The wind whistles louder in my ears, while I’m already thinking of other bike trips I could sign up for.
Deeper South: Silver Sands
Suddenly, we go off road again, riding along a scraggly, rocky path just a few feet from the crashing waves. The views beg for a selfie, or even a full blown bike action shot (in which we both indulge). This is Surfer’s Bay, Silver Sands. A ramshackle bar, closed at this early hour, caters to customers at sunset.
In Christchurch, additional rows of villas line our path. Randy informs me that they’re primarily Barbadian-owned. No hotels, no restaurants, or roadside vendors—just the Atlantic Ocean’s breeze cooling our bodies off as we zip past.
At edge of this neighborhood, we stumble on a deserted football field, where the open space makes the breeze stronger. We’ve reached Silver Sands Park, and symbols of Africa remind me of Barbados’ history.
Hitting the South Point
A minute later, the surf hub that Brian Talma—Barbados’ renowned surfer, has created, appears. Talma has won numerous accolades at home and on the international surf scene. An outdoor “surf museum” showcases the pro surfer’s journey and accomplishments, alongside painted symbols of Bajan island life.
Past the display, Talma’s deaction surf shop and guesthouse sit directly before the Atlantic Ocean and its constant trade winds. We meet two German tourists who ask about our bikes—they want to cycle Barbados, too.
Down below, a beach awaits those ready to conquer the waves. I spotted a lookout post, complete with a bench, and climb the wooden steps to get a bird’s eye view over the kitesurfing action.
In the near distance, to the left, two other surfers are making a roasted breadfruit lunch on an open fire. That’s the surf life! Randy smiles; it’s his life as well.
I stay well past our allotted time, mesmerized by this corner of Barbados I might have otherwise missed. We forego the final stop of our tour, just minutes away, which I can see from my wooden tower: the South Point rock.
On the way back towards our departure point, we cross through country roads along more modest homes, sighting roaming goats and roosters. It’s close to 11 o’clock when we spot Enterprise Beach again, its aquamarine waters glowing ever more under the midmorning Bajan sun.
“Ride in the morning, surf in the afternoon—you’ve got to create the life you want to live, you know,” Randy says as he’s driving me back west, in the same Caribbean-chill demeanor he’s had all morning.
I knew that all too well. It had led me to this precise morning, discovering the exhilarating side of Barbados that eluded me ten years ago. And all I had to do to find it, was get on two wheels.
The annual Barbados Cycling Festival is taking place this September 5-10, 2018—you can either compete, or simply enjoy discovering Barbados’ varied coastlines on a variety of planned itineraries for the week. For more details, visit www.visitbarbados.org/barbados-cycling-festival
*Update November 2018: Thrilled to share that this blog post won Best Blog Article of the year in the 2018 Barbados Media Awards, administered by Barbados Tourism Marketing, Inc.