BEND DOWN AND ROLL YOUR BELLY: The carnival vibe at Crop Over
One of the first Caribbean islands to see the money earning potential of tourism, Barbados has long been established as a popular luxury holiday destination for Britons.
Last year, 250,000 holidayed on the island, which is about the same number as the island’s entire population. These days the island, which was once only affordable to well-off visitors, is now in the brochures of popular package holiday companies.
While some may argue that Barbados has become overly commercialised and has lost some of its ‘old world’ Caribbean charm, the reality is that the island is as culturally rich and ‘real’ as any of the Caribbean’s many nations.
This sense of cultural pride is no more evident than during the annual Crop Over festival.
Originating in the days of plantation society, Crop Over was renewed in the 1970s and since 1982 has been managed by the National Cultural Foundation (NCF).
According to my Crop Over guide, as the ‘last procession of decorated carts made their way into the mill yard, a labourer would beat a make shift gong announcing the ‘Crop Over’.
‘The very last cart carried ‘Mr Harding’ an effigy made of cane trash stuffed into an old pair of trousers and coat, with a top hat on its head. Mr Harding symbolised that period between sugar crops, when employment was difficult to obtain and money was scarce’.
The festival has played an important part in building Bajan cultural awareness and has been important in keeping the calypso tradition alive. Along with Trinidad, Barbados is seen as one of the most important islands for the culture of calypso.
Crop Over has also become an important draw for tourism to the island, and the three-month long festival climaxes with the spectacular Kadooment Day parade at the end of August. It’s Barbados’ answer to the St Lucia, Antigua, or Trinidad carnivals. And while it may not match the scale of the Trinidad event, the spectators and participants are as enthusiastic as any you’ll meet at other carnivals.
Having been born in Barbados and emigrated to Britain as a child in the 1960s, it’s always been something of an ambition to see Crop Over. While I have been back to Barbados a few times since my arrival in Britain, the trips have always been outside of the three-month June to August period.
Well, they say that all good things come to those who wait, and my long anticipated taste of Crop Over was worth waiting for.
The name comes from the celebration of the end of the island’s sugar cane harvest and starts in June with the delivery of the last cut canes carried on the back of a highly decorated donkey.
Other highlights of the 90 days of festivities include Cohobblopot where carnival kings and queens battle it out for the Crop Over title.
The Pic-o-de-Crop is a popular calypso singing competition which this year featured artists from ages eight to 70 plus.
The burning of ‘Mr Harding’ signifies the ends of the festivities.
Anyone planning a trip to Barbados would be advised to factor in Crop Over. Not only will you meet people from across the globe, but it’s an opportunity to get to chat to locals en masse when some of the legendary Bajan reserve has been lifted.
In between the Crop Over festivities there are, of course, many activities and attractions to take in during a visit to the island. Barbados’ beaches are superb and are plentiful enough so that you don’t have to have to feel like you’re packed in like the Costa Del Sol.
From the calm waters of St James on the west coast to the stunning and rugged coastline of Bathsheba on the east, Barbados has beaches to suit every taste.
When you fancy a change from beach life, there are plenty of inland attractions to keep you occupied during a holiday break. The Barbados Wildlife Reserve to the north has a diverse mix of animals and may be the only place you’ll see deer, monkeys, and turtles coming together to grab a slice of fruit at the communal animal feeding station.
Hiring a car for a few days is highly recommended and enables you to get out into the countryside, where Barbados has barely changed from when I was a boy on the island four decades ago.
While the landscape is fairly flat and lacking in mountains, the countryside is still stunningly beautiful, and away from the traffic of the capital Bridgetown, you can forget that this is a relatively highly populated island.
The pace of life is very relaxed and driving doesn’t present any real challenges to those used to the more frenetic pace of the UK. Having a car for a few days enabled me to cover quite a lot of ground and going from trendy west coast restaurants to deserted country roads in 20 minutes was made a whole lot easier thanks to my hire car.
A morning exploring the beautiful Huntes Gardens was a very relaxing way to spend a few hours. And the very amiable Anthony Hunte, who built the house and gardens, was the perfect host. Set in the countryside of St Joseph, Huntes is one of the lesser-known attractions on the island, but one that is definitely worth a visit.
In the evening, St Lawrence Gap in Christ Church is the place to be for restaurants and bars. If you fancy something less touristy, then the bars of Bridgetown will bring you into contact with mainly locals.
Being a Bajan I have to accept that there is going to be a degree of bias, but having visited so many of the other Caribbean islands I still feel that Barbados offers that almost perfect mix of culture, and creature comforts. I don’t think that too many other islands of its size can quite manage that same trick -lovely though they all are. Add in the Crop Over festivities and you have the perfect reason to pay a visit to the coral isle they call ‘the Rock’.
I STAYED AT...
The Almond Beach Club and Spa Hotel in St James.