Rumba in Barbados

I’ve only got Rihanna eating out of my hand in our hot tub in Barbados. I’ve got a bottle of champagne in the other hand and am basking in the midsummer sun looking out over the coconut trees at the early-morning boogie boarders on the brilliant blue sea.

She’s flighty, though, my Rihanna, and I discover that she’s only after leaving a mess in my bedroom. She likes it in there, that’s where the sweet stuff happens.

I leave her sweating, I’m outta here…

I’m here as a guest of the tourist board for the last week of Crop Over, the annual two-month summer festival of rum and jamming’ which marks the ned of the sugar cane harvest.

Barbados runs on rum and there are all kinds of subliminal messages out there to lure you in…

First thing this morning King Bubba wailed out to u on the radio that he LOVED rum and burst into song about how he was telling the boss he was Calling’ In Sick.

I was thinking of calling in sick too. I’d overdone the rum punches the night before and was thinking of staying in my triple bed this morning.

But Sue, my Bajan aerobics instructor, sweats the hangover out of me and teaches me some moves for later. Dancing’ done, it’s ‘lime o’clock’ – 10am – and a member of our party still hasn’t opened her complimentary champagne (amateur). I join my party for liming (pre-drinks) by the poolside, while soaking up the 28 C Barbados sun.

It’s a wrench to pull myself away from such decadence but today I’m off to Rum Nirvana, Mount Gay distillery where it all began in 1763 when molasses, the by-product of sugar cane, were first turned into this syrupy sweet nectar which I’m drinking like water.

Under my umbrella… but where’s Rihanna hiding?

Mount Gay is the original, and the best, and we sample the best they have, rum punch, as we walk through the door, and five samples of different blends.

And to think I used to drink the wrong brand.

In my defence I did start at five years of age in Dundrum when I mineswept my Auntie Maura’s front room of Cuba Libres .

My parents had adopted this exotic drink in the 1970s and became so addicted to it that hey wold always bring a bottle of rum in their suitcases to all my ports of call.

It took a Trinidadian I met at university to introduce me to proper rum. Mount Gay. He has since relocated to neighbouring Barbados and we will take up where we left off 30 years previously on this trip, but more of that later.

I don’t know of any other drink which loosens the inhibitions quite like rum and don’t be surprised if you find yourself dragged up at a poolside party to don a blouse and pillow boobs and buttocks for a Soca (So Calypso) dance-off and limbo, as I was on the first night.

Sue would have been proud of me. I win a prize (drink-related, of course). Our poolside party is at the condiminium-hotel Ocean Two in Dover Beach on the south of the island, a convenient and comfortable base from which to explore the environs.

For this week though I am staying at the nearby all-inclusive hotels Turtle Beach and its neighbour Sandals Resort, every bit as luxurious I hazard as the celebrated Irish-run Sandy Lane on the west coast.

If there wasn’t so much to see and do on the island you’d find yourself staying in all week to savour the exotic food, drink, entertainment, pools and beach.

Breakfast is an explosion colours and tastes. You’ll find yourself taking your five a day in just one sitting and maybe even double guava… guava cheese is equally delicious but not what you’d expect. It’s a moreish sticky jelly sweet which I found by my bedside. Rihanna found it too which was what our row had been about.

I spent much of my time in Sandals in the pool which has its own island bar where you can float on a board, play volleyball or just drink Strawberry Daiquiris… I did all three.

In both hotels you can dine royally, and I did. Go mad, particularly with the mahi mahi, a mild almost boneless fish which is somewhere between cod and swordfish. It is so good they named it twice.

I always make a point when I’m away of ordering fish soup. I figure that way I get to eat everything in one sitting.

All the better if you can eat by the beach at the idyllic locals’ favourite at Bay Tavern which overlooks Martin’s Bay on the east of the island.

It is gloriously informal… you ordered the counter, pick it up from the back kitchen and eat it out of a tub at a table by the beach. Of course, there’s so much, you’ve no chance of ever finishing it.

We’d built up a hunger (and thirst) after being driven here on an off-road safari where we discovered cow birds (they nibble the ticks off cattle) some strange goats and a Bajan green monkey.

The giddies goat though was our driver Dwayne, one of the many natural comedians I met over the course of the week.

Bajans are born entertainers, and the best entertainment to be had on the island is to jump at a Soca concert.

Our hosts and new best friends Cheryl and Crystal from the Barbados board dropped us, that’s Kyli, our all-action English guide, a quartet of twenty-something writers and party professions and me, an old hippy, in at the deep end at the Lush Cooler Party. So that’s a big field, a stage, a drinks cooler and the warm night.

Life nice as the locals say.

I can only marvel though at the dude who is yukking up (twerking is a lame imitation to two girls while texting (probably to a third girl).

The song is this year’s Crop Over favourite Know The Face by Marvel who meet a girl at carnival and can’t remember the name but Knows The Face and knows that… she’s his friend. He’ll meet her on the road… all carnival songs finish thus.

There will be more wukking up on the Jammin’ Catamaran Cruise the next day but wukking up is probably still best left to the Bajans.

Hey, give me my bandana back

We were introduced to the fishes the day before on an Atlantis Submarine Dive to the sea floor.

But today, we will get to swim with them, it might even be the same orange and blue shoal. Unfortunately the turtles did not come out to play, perhaps it was our rum breath. But I’m reliably informed that they returned after Crop Over… wise.

Of course while all this liming is good training for the main events, nothing could have prepared me for what my old West Indian pal had lie up with Foreday Morning in the early hours.

He’d told me not to wear anything that I couldn’t throw away afterwards… there would be mud.

But purple paint? Our truck’s theme is Purple Reign and I’m getting all sorts splashed over me as I jump to a steel band behind the float at the head of 10,000 other revellers… just how you’d want to look when you meet a cricketing idol, Brian Lara, or just plain Brian.

Brian is over in Trinidad for the 80th birthday celebrations of the king of Barbados himself, Sir Garfield Soberts.

I also meet the Queen of Barbados – no, not that one (as, you’ll have worked out my Rihanna is an actual bird, a wood dove).

No, this is little old Di-Di and I forgot myself. ‘You messy, mon,’ she reminds me as I snatch a selfie.

I clean up my act for the official receptions over the next day or so and take breath before the showpiece Grand Kadooment parade that brings the curtain down spectacularly on the final Monday.

Di-Di and Me-Me… at Foreday Morning

I watch it from a safe distance from a VIP platform when I hear a familiar voice shouting my name.

He leaps 3ft in the air to give me a high five.

I know the face and know that it’s my old University friend Jevan.

One for the road: Jim, Jevan and his partner Donna

Meet you on the road.

TRAVEL FACTS

Turtle Beach: From 372 euro (US $396) per room, per night, two adults sharing a pool/garden view room on an all-inclusive basis. See http://www.eleganthotels.com/turtle-beach or call (0800) 917 3534.

Sandals: Book by February 28 and get 50% off for seven nights at Sandals Barbados staying in a Caribbean Village Grande Luxe Room.

Important websites: Visit http://www.caribbeanblue.ie or call +353 1 241 2366.See http://www.sandals.co.uk. See http://www.visitbarbados.org. Jammin Jammin Cruise www:jammincats.com from $90 Bbd (42 euro per adult inc. transfers, food and drinks. Also http://www.visitbarbados.org/foreday-morning-jam. To jump with a band at Grand Kadooment, Hrbour Lights is suggested: http://www.harbourlights-barbados.com/About-Barbados/Crop-Over-Festival.

This article was first published in the Irish Daily Mail in 2016

*AND READ ON ABOUT HOW I FOUND MY TURTLE AND GOT A KISS FROM RIHANNA. IN A FUTURE BLOG

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