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Caribbean: Family-Friendly Barbados is an Environmentally Friendly Place

A Canadian Family embarks on their own Eco-quest

We hadn't been on the road long when our Bajan driver suddenly stopped the minibus, got out and clambered up the grassy incline. Stooping to examine a piece of vegetation, he waved for our three kids to join him. Was it a piece of fruit I wondered, or crop damage by green monkeys or mongoose, both native to Barbados? Neither. What Ivor wanted to show them was something so unbelievably soft and silky that the kids immediately asked if they could bring some home. It was raw cotton, a tuft of white threads prodded from a fat green pod.

That burst of white cotton was not the only surprise delivered by nature that we discovered as we explored the island. Lots of Canadians travellers know that Barbados is family-friendly. Our kids were welcome wherever we went. But how many know that it’s also working hard to become environmentally friendly too? At our Casuarina Beach Club hotel, recent winner of a Green Globe 21 award as outlined by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, activities included walking tours and star observation on the beach. At the Turtle Beach Resort next door, turtle nesting sites were protected on the beach with a hotline number to call if you spotted an egg hatching. As a result of these kind of influences (see sidebar), the natural world has become as much as a tourist draw as any splashy Calypso show.

During our March break week, we and our three young teenagers embarked on our own eco quest around the island. We started our journey at the very top of the island in what was delightfully called the Animal Flower Cave. Apparently, it’s been a tourist attraction for centuries since the smashing of the ocean waves created a natural cavern out of the shore rocks. We gingerly stepped down into the watery cave to see the colorful sea anenomes and the tiny octopus-like sea creatures, or flowers, that opened and closed in our hands. Next on our tour was the rough eastern shore that’s often featured in TV commercials. The water-battered rocks looked like sculptures and our teens loved watching the wave action and the risk-taking (more like crazy) surfers.From St. John’s Parish Church we had an incredible view of the whole coast. Then it was on for a rum tour at the Foursquare Rum Factory and Heritage Park, where we learned about the importance of sugarcane in the making of rum. My daughter found an abandoned stick of sugar cane in a field and thought it would make a fine walking stick. (We brought it back on the plane.)

Over the next days, we toured the west coast where the living was easy and the water was calm. One of our best outings was aboard the Harbour Master ship. “You’ve got to write about this," said my daughter as she sidled up to the long bar for her umpteenth virgin Pina Colada of the day. The four-hour cruise offered water slides and rope swinging into the sea but even better, a ride in their semi-submersible submarine attached to the belly of the boat. We watched through the underwater windows as the divers distributed hot dogs to famished sea creatures. Afterward, we were able to snorkel among them at a calm beach. Even for the little ones, there were enough masks, fins and snorkels that fit. This year, the company offered a new eco experience on their Tiami catamaran—swimming with the sea turtles. After much refreshment, we arrived where the hawksbill turtles hang out waiting to be fed. They are huge. As you see one below you starting to come up for a breath, you feel as if you will be riding it any second. But out they pop from the water and look at you, their eyes blinking as if you were part of the scenery. “Gosh, they’re as laid back as the people,” said a snorkelling Englishman. It was an amazing experience.

We couldn’t leave though without visiting Barbados’s most popular natural tourist attraction, Harrison’s Cave, where we donned hard hats over tissues to descend into the bowels of Barbados. During the mile-long ride aboard an electric tram, we journeyed past bubbling subterranean streams, under huge dripping stalactites and up to a large limestone cavern with a (12 metre) 40-foot waterfall. The dark and echoes were spooky for some little ones although the path was lit along the way. A big hit with everyone.

As we travelled from sea level to the high hills of the Scotland District, we also encountered all sorts of interesting wildlife—furry pelicans, wriggly mongoose, silver flying fish, hawksbill turtles and black bellied sheep that looked like goats. At times, it felt as if we were in the pages of a Dr. Seuss book. For our family, Barbados turned out to be an eco delight full of creatures and natural delights as well as creature comforts.Travellers Tips: There are three things to watch out for when travelling around Barbados with the kids. One is a type of tree, the machineel, that tends to grow along beaches. Its crab apple-like fruit is poisonous, and when it rains, the bark exudes a poisonous sap that causes blisters if it drips onto skin. Usually, they are marked with red slashes. So avoid standing under them during a rainstorm. Underwater, the black sea urchins with porcupine-like quills could cause damage if stepped on or touched accidentally. Seek medical attention immediately. Lastly, the green monkeys are very cute but they carry a virus that could be potentially fatal. So don’t let the kids get too cuddly with any that seem tame. If you do run into trouble, however, Barbados offers excellent medical treatment.

Getting There: Air Canada, Royal, Air Transat and Skyservice all fly direct to Barbados from Toronto or Montreal. You can arrange family packages through Signature Vacations, Air Canada Vacations, Sunquest Vacations and World of Vacations. Check with your local travel agent.

Where to stay: We stayed at the lovely landscaped Casuarina Beach Club in the lively St. Lawrence Gap area in a wonderful two-storey, family suite. Other family-friendly touches: cribs ringing the kid's pool for sleepy babies and arts and crafts with nursery school teachers. Kids 2 to 12 stay free. Many families opt for the all-inclusive Turtle Beach Resort next door with its informal suites and great kids club. Watersports included. The all-inclusive Almond Beach Club on the quiet West Coast, a former sugar plantation with swimming pools, eateries and a par-three nine-hole golf course is known for its extensive activities programs including pool games, golf clinics and free hair braiding. In some categories, kids up to 15 pay air only plus $40. Signature Vacations offers family packages for all three properties including air. To book, contact your local travel agent.

Cruises: Both the Harbour Master Cruise and the Tiami Catamaran Sailing Cruise sound expensive, but they include refreshment, music, a delicious hot lunch buffet, snorkelling gear and very congenial hosts. The kids loved it. The Harbour Master starts at $123.00 Bajan dollars, the Tiami starts at $130.00 Bajan dollars; half-price for kids 12 and under. Contact the Tall Ships Company, 246-430-0900 or visit http://www.tallshipscruises.com. More info: Contact the Barbados Tourism Authority, 105 Adelaide St. W., Toronto, M5H 1P9, Canada; phone 416-214-9880; fax 416-214-9882 or visit www.barbados.org. In Barbados, call 246-427-2623.

Sidebar: Environmentally-Friendly Barbados

This push towards environmentalism began in 1994 when Barbados hosted the United Nations Conference on the sustainable development of islands. With only 166 square miles of land available for 250,000 citizens, it made sense that the Bajans would work at becoming self-sufficient. Accompanying that conference was an initiative called the “Village of Hope” where every resident could define environmental problems and offer hopeful solutions. Some 45,000 people came to the resulting exhibit and the Future Centre, similar to the Centre of Alternative Technology in Wales, was born.

Today, all students study environmental science, turtle fishing has been banned—you’ll no longer find turtle soup on any menu—and Bajans are proportionately the world’s biggest users of solar water heaters outside Israel. You can visit an attraction called The Flower Forest, part garden and part nature trail, that sounds as if the flowers had grown as tall as palm trees. It conjures up images of Alice in Wonderland. Families can sign up to walk with the National Trust across the green hills or even by the light of the moon and snorkel with the fish and sea turtles. The country even has its own eco hero— Colin Hudson, the director of the Future Centre.

His medicinal plant garden in recycled tires is the largest known tire garden in the world and is always open to interested families. You can see the same kind of excited enthusiasm about saving the resources in people like John Leach, garden manager of the renowned Andromeda Botanical Garden. Its biggest coup has been the discovery of a timber tree, traditionally used in the floorboards and handrails of the old plantation houses. “There was one tree left in Barbados,” Leach said. They found it and cultivated it. “We’re trying to save it from extinction.” No wonder Barbados has become a model for other developing countries and we were set to take advantage of all this activity.





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