48 people found this review helpful
So, you think you’ve been to Barbados?
On the bus from the airport, the driver brought up the subject almost immediately.
“You goin’ to Oistins, Friday night? You got to go to Oistins.” It was only Sunday, and we were tired after the eight-hour flight, but the driver was insistent.
“Oistins, the place to be on Friday nights, my frien’. I’m tellin’ you the truth.” The only ‘Oistins’ I knew of was a North of England property developer, with a different spelling, but I doubted the driver was referring to that.
Monday night in the hotel bar, and the Bajan barman was still serving our drinks when he brought up that name again.
“Goin’ to Oistins on Friday, gen’lemen? Lotsa people be there, Fridays.
Everybody go to Oistins, Fridays. You got to try the fish. Maybe I see you there?”
We looked at each other. What the hell was Oistins? The fish? Did they give away money or free trips to the moon? Perhaps, a personal appearance by Angelina Jolie? Each was highly unlikely, but it would be four days before we found out. We weren’t disappointed.
Pristine white beaches, an aquamarine sea, luxuriant foliage and exotic bird life: Barbados has it all, but you haven’t seen Barbados until you experience Oistins. Oistins, a south coast fishing village, with a pot-holed main street, a quiet place apart from the daily fish market – that is until weekend. I’ve travelled quite a bit, in Europe, Africa and North America, crossed the Sahara Desert and Soviet Russia, but Oistins, on a Friday night in March, was a first.
A balmy evening, with a clear black firmament and stars in their myriads: we could hear the music, before the taxi door opened. We paid the taxi driver and arranged a later pickup.
“You enjoy Oistins, now, my frien’s. Everybody come to Oistins, Friday nights.”
It was an understatement; ‘everybody’ was already there, dressed to kill, or in shorts and tee-shirts, Sunday best or jeans and sweatshirt. Young and old, Bajans and tourists, lined each side of the street, parading, laughing, eating and drinking, separated by slow moving traffic. The occasional 4 × 4 or gleaming sedan cruised sedately, the affluent come to watch the residents and day-trippers at play, to the underlying beat of Bob Marley, the Platters, Jimmy Cliff and Jamaican ska. Old country and western was in there too, somewhere, as well as big band music and ballroom, side by side with calypso. The smell of fish cooking was mouth-watering. A police presence was obvious yet understated, the Bajan policemen in their colourful blue uniforms and red-striped pants. I suspect their attendance was routine, as at no time was there a sense of any aggression or hostility, hard to imagine in a similar scenario in a British town centre on a weekend.
Rum bottles littered trestle tables and benches, yet no one appeared drunk. A little intoxicated, oh yes, but this was a happy ‘drunk’, party time. Incongruously, several churches, with worshippers inside, had their doors open to the street. Oistins catered for all tastes.
Earlier, at the hotel, I had spoken to a lady from Trinidad, who knew the Caribbean well. She told me that Barbados was by far the friendliest and safest of the bigger islands. Oistins provided vindication of her view. We moved away from the street, into a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and passages, flanked by canvas covered stalls, wooden shacks and breeze block buildings – I doubt the town planners in Oistins were overworked. It was packed, a slow moving line of humanity, like an irresistible lava flow, but with no pushing or jostling, the pace accepted, part of the ambience and party atmosphere, Oistins on a Friday night. Figures leaned from windows, exchanging half bottles of rum or coke for Bajan dollars and a grin.
Mature ladies sat, hands clasped on laps, watching the world go by. Older Bajan gentlemen played dominoes or chess, on rickety tables and overturned crates. Occasionally sipping from bottles of rum, laughing and talking about the day’s fishing catch, they offered a greeting and a smile to the tourists such as we. We were strangers but wanted, outsiders yet welcome to come in. A young American paused at a convenient picnic table, pulling bottles of rum and coke, plus a bag of ice cubes, from pockets in his cargo pants. He mixed the drink in a plastic glass, held it up to us and sipped.
Bajans edged past us, carrying polystyrene containers, the kind of thing you see holding fish and chips in Britain, and a multitude of aromas provided a wonderful olfactory assault. Stall after stall saw fish being fried and grilled: tuna, blue marlin, kingfish and red snapper. Thick slabs of fresh seafood, akin to fillet steak, alongside roasting chicken, fried pork chops, French fries and a variety of rice dishes. The aroma of herbs and spices, infusing the cooking food, was to die for, and we wished we had forgone dinner at the hotel. It came as no surprise that the well-known fast-food chicken restaurant across the road wasn’t doing much trade.
Along another cramped alley, and the music grew louder, until we emerged at an open space with a raised stage. Rap and hip-hop thumped into the night, as young Bajans performed on the stage. The athleticism of the amateur break dancers was astonishing, the applause genuine, as was the laughter as tipsy older tourists jumped up and tried to emulate the youngsters. Oistins on a Friday night, you could not have organised such an occasion, but there was the charm. It wasn’t organised yet it worked so well.
We ventured on, so much to see and watch. More small booths, with fish sizzling on the griddles, hardly room to move for the cooks, who served up swordfish, mahy-mahy, lobster, and so inexpensive. Yes, dinner had been a big mistake. Now another open area, surrounded by spectators, a makeshift dance floor filled with couples, dancing together slowly, to country and western and reggae from the live band. A hand raised above the crowd and a wave, one of the barmen from the hotel. A smile, and he was gone, caught up by Oistins. Individuals and couples moved with regularity onto and off the dance floor, partners exchanged, with polite nods of thanks. A lady in a full length formal dress and a man in a tracksuit and baseball cap move together gracefully; a Bajan offers his arm to a European, and they take to the floor. A tourist asks for the pleasure of dancing with a Bajan lady, who accepts his arm, and the music seizes them. Young and middle aged, era is insignificant. The poignant dignity of an old Bajan man in his Sunday best: he doffs his trilby to a day-tripper in shorts and colourful blouse. Yes, she smiles, I would love to. A space appears on the dance floor, and he whisks her away.
It was time for a rum and coke – when in Rome (or, in this case, Oistins). We found the bar, recommended by our barman friend at the hotel, and stepped inside. When I say ‘bar’, please don’t imagine an English country pub or a chic Manhattan rendezvous. Think more of a wild-west hardware store. We half expected a honky-tonk piano and a couple of gunslingers, at least, but Bajan ladies and men sat around the walls chatting, close to sacks of rice, cartons of various provisions and bags of vegetables. The bar itself was a plank resting on a line of empty crates, tourists and Bajans vying for service, everyone friendly and polite. Outside, music still permeated the night.
We ordered three rum and cokes, but the barman shook his head: too expensive. Where else in the world would the barman show you how to get cheaper drinks? From a shelf he pulled a half bottle of rum. A tall fridge held the coke. Our philanthropic bar tender placed the bottles, plus plastic glasses, on the plank and held up a hand – I won’t be a moment. He dragged a big bag of ice cubes from a chest freezer, laying it next to the drinks, as we paid. It cost a pittance, the whole evening carrying an element of the surreal, and all was not as it appeared. It seemed that our benefactor was, in fact, a veterinary surgeon, but, with so little work to be found on the island, he was happy to serve rum and cokes to make a living. I could not imagine my local vet pouring pints of ale as a sideline, but this was Oistins on a Friday night.
We thanked him shook hands and took our drinks outside.
A trestle table stood free, one of few available in the jubilant pandemonium. Giggling like children at the wonderful incongruity of it all, we poured the drinks and opened the bag of ice. It wasn’t quite the wine bar in the Ritz Carlton, but I wouldn’t have swapped it. Almost time to meet the taxi, too late to return to the OK Corral Saloon, and we wished we’d arranged a later pick up. We strolled, drinks in hand, the bag of ice cubes donated to other revellers, passing the empty fish market, which would come alive again when the night’s catch came in at dawn.
Behind the market lay the beach, a white crescent of sand, with small boats drawn up. Larger vessels lay at anchor offshore, with the twinkle of navigation lights out to sea, where the fishing boats were busy. The stars still blazed above us.
On the harbour wall, a lone fisherman sat patiently with his line dangling in the placid water, a half bottle of rum by his side.
“Evenin’, gen’lemen. You been to Oistins?” He laughed and pointed to the plastic glasses in our hands. “Everybody come to Oistins, Friday nights.” We’d noticed.
“You come early, next time. Before sunset. Get fish scraps and feed they turtles. Beautiful creatures, they turtles. Come right to the surface, feedin’ on they fish scraps.”
We assured him we would, before returning along the harbour wall towards the taxi rank. Back on the main street, we braved the throng again, declining numerous offers of a ‘good price’ for a taxi, explaining we already had one. No one seemed offended by our refusals, everyone affable and courteous. Behind us, the bass rhythm of the music remained, and the smell of cooking fish still lingered. It had been a marvellous experience, Oistins on a Friday night. Everybody go to Oistins, Fridays. We hoped we would again.
48 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.
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