Wednesday, January 16, 2013


***This post is way too long, but it was hard to leave anything out!  I want to be able to remember everything that we did and experienced on our trip.  Feel free to browse through and just look at pictures if you like.***

The first week of October we had a fabulous family vacation on the Caribbean island of Barbados.  We always book our trips several months in advance in order to take advantage of Charlie's airline miles, so we spent most of 2012 counting down the days until our vacation.

We also spent the month of September stressing out about traveling with Luke.  We were mostly worried about the flights, but with plenty of preparation, lots of extra patience, and a bit of luck, we made it!  Due to some kind of miracle Luke fell asleep during the take off of all four flights (two going each way), and took some pretty decent naps.  

We flew with Isaac to Paris when he was about the same age as Luke (15/16 months) and it was just as stressful back then - and he never slept a wink on the plane!  Traveling with Isaac now feels quite easy in comparison.  He was entertained with the iPad, some movies, snacks, and a few little new toys.

The only meltdown of the day was had by Luke upon arrival in Barbados.  Waiting through customs, baggage claim, and trying to figure out the taxi queue seemed to take forever.  We eventually boarded a taxi van that drove us through what seemed like the craziest, back road, round about way to our hotel.    It was dark and humid and we rode with the windows down.  I remember noticing a strange and constant chirping sound, which I later learned was the Barbados tree frog.  There must have been a ton of them living in the trees right outside the hotel because each night when we'd head out for dinner we were greeted by a loud chirping chorus.

We stayed at the Hilton in Bridgetown, which is at the south west bottom of the island and near the port where the cruise ships come in.  We used Charlie's points to cover most of our stay.  The hotel was nice, clean, and comfortable and the staff was fantastic.  Everyone was so friendly and sincere and they especially loved Luke & Isaac.  Our room was on the top floor, with an amazing view of the beach.  The boys loved hanging out on the balcony, but we had to keep a close watch on Luke to keep him from throwing all of our shoes over the railing!

We spent the first day of our vacation enjoying the beach and pools at our hotel.  The beach fronting our hotel had a large man made rock reef that divided the water into two small coves with gentle waves. The sand was so soft and white and the water was calm, clear, turquoise.  It was every bit as beautiful as we'd imagined.  Luke was ready and eager to jump right into the water but Isaac took a few days of warming up to it.  

Later that afternoon we went for a little walk to check out the area around our hotel and look for somewhere to have dinner later.  We stopped at a nearby gas station for snacks and drinks.  Isaac was thrilled to find his favorite, blue Powerade (he really believes that it gives him "power").

We did not have a rental car until the next day so on this night we decided to be adventurous and headed out on foot for dinner.  Charlie had located some restaurants on a map that were a little over a mile from the hotel.  The forecast called for rain but we hadn't seen any yet, and figured we could handle a little shower.  Luckily we grabbed a hotel umbrella just in case.  About half a mile out we were caught in a total downpour!  Like buckets of rain.  It was dark and we were not really close to anything or anywhere to take shelter.  Not so pleasant at the time, but kind of a fun memory now.  Eventually we made our way to a bus stop and waited out the worst of the storm.

A local woman at the bus stop (the busses were actually VW vans that always seemed to be overflowing with passengers) told us that it was still a looong walk to any restaurants.  We could tell she thought we were a little crazy, but we kept walking and eventually found a TGIFriday's.  It's always interesting easting at American chain restaurants in other countries.  Their interpretation of the food is usually a little off, which makes it taste funny, even though it's not necessarily bad - just different.  But whatever, we were tired of walking and TGIFriday's was fine with us!

We were jet lagged and Luke had not napped at all that day.  Until dinner.  The service was extremely slow and Luke was getting grouchy.  I handed over his pacifier and blanket and the next thing we knew he was out!  This might not be shocking for some children, but for the Wood boys this is a once in a lifetime.  He slept that way through the rest of dinner.

By bed time Luke was wide awake again.  See that pack n' play next to the bed?  It didn't get a lot of use.

Every night we'd go to bed with Luke in the pack n' play, Charlie & I in the bed next to him, and Isaac in the other bed.  By morning we usually ended up with Luke & I in one double bed and Charlie & Isaac in the other.  And not because Charlie felt kicked out of our bed (when Luke inevitably would wake, see me lying right next to him, and beg to come in our bed) but because Isaac always wakes up a million times every night and is scared of the dark, had a bad dream, can't sleep etc.  So we played musical beds.  For the most part we did all get decent sleep though.  

We were excited to have our rental car delivered on our second morning.  Well, everyone but Isaac.  He is making a sour face in this photo because he was mad that he couldn't ride in the front seat.

Charlie & I laughed about how tiny the car was, but we also kind of loved it.  And since Barbados is an old British Colony, they drive on the right.  I was impressed with how quickly Charlie caught onto it, especially driving in a new place with maps that were not always exactly accurate and roads that were not always labeled.  We did find that the drivers in Barbados were extremely polite.  It was the rule rather than the exception for drivers to let you in or give you the right of way.  Quite a difference from CA.  Also, Barbados is the land of a million roundabouts.

That morning we set out driving north up the west coast of the island.  We found a grocery store and stopped to stock up on more snacks and drinks for the room.  We had also brought a lot of food with us from home, so we only ever had to go out for dinner.  We had free breakfast in the lounge every morning and snacked in the room or packed lunches to take to the beach with us in the afternoons.

In this photo Isaac is telling the lady at the register that he has $1,000 in his bank at home.  Nice Isaac.  First of all, that is completely false.  Second, how nice to be boasting of your riches in a developing country!  Apparently everyone got a laugh from it and Charlie let them know that it was not true.

We loved having a car because we felt like we got to see pretty much the entire island.  We drove through the big port city of Bridgetown, through suburban neighborhoods, along the coasts, through fields of sugarcane, and rural areas dotted with colorful little homes.  I was lazy and never got out of the car to take photos, but here are a few that I snapped as we were driving.

We stopped in a touristy area called Holetown and walked around the brightly painted shops, browsing the trinkets and souvenirs.  Isaac chose a little wooden pirate ship. Both boys were fascinated by the construction work going on in the parking lot and I'm sure would have been happy to watch all afternoon.

We had some rain that day, but after it cleared we were ready to head back to the beach.  The lounge where we ate breakfast every morning gave us a view of the bay on the opposite side of the hotel.  There was an old broken down dock and some of the locals would climb out to the end and fish off of it.  Isaac called it the 'broken bridge' and he and Charlie were determined to go explore.  Luke and I stayed put on the sand where Luke had plenty of fun chasing the "balls" that were rolling up and down the beach with the sloshing water.

Isaac was still warming up to the idea of swimming in the ocean, so he had to be very brave to go out there with Dad because the plan was to jump off the end of the dock and swim back.  Charlie jumped first but Isaac was super hesitant.  One of the fisherman had to help Isaac down into the water, and he ended up kind of sliding down against one of the big concrete blocks and scratching his back up quite a bit.  He was still brave though because he swam all the way back to Luke & I in the water (with floaties).

In the evenings Charlie and I would take turns either going to the gym or going for a run through Bridgetown and into Hastings.  I stuck to the treadmill at first, which was actually kind of cool because the gym had an incredible view of the bay (where the broken bridge was) and I could also see the port where the cruise ships came & went.  But Charlie scouted out a nice running path through town and along the beach and encouraged me to try it out.  I was glad that I did.  Although the sidewalks were utterly terrible - broken, jutting, and missing patches of concrete, narrow, and then completely disappearing in random spots - it was fascinating to be so immersed in the place.  And because I'm a nerd, I especially loved listening to Rhianna's "We Found Love" on my ipod as I ran along the beach.  She is a native of the island you know!

Back in the room the boys had fun taking baths together, playing with toys brought from home, and watching DVDs.  For the most part they got along really well on this trip and it always makes me smile to see them enjoying each other's company.

Because we were staying on the Executive level we had complimentary hors d'oeuvres and drinks in the lounge every evening.  We probably could have made a meal out of all the food they brought us (and sometimes Isaac did).  The women who worked in the lounge were totally in love with Luke.  He, of course, would run all around the whole place, and they would all take turns following him around and playing little games with him.

We had dinner that night at Chefette, a local fast food place that had quite an impressive indoor playground.  (More pictures coming later on because of course we had to go back.)  We also stopped at Haagen Dazs for a little treat, because that has become sort of a vacation tradition for us.

Day three of our trip was our big excursion day.  We started with our daily breakfast in the lounge and then piled into our tiny car and headed to the very northern tip of the island.  Our destination was the Animal Flower Cave.  I have no idea why it is called that because there are no animals or flowers inside it, or really even anywhere around it.

We had a few minutes to walk around and admire the gorgeous views before our tour started.  Unfortunately the boys were more interested in the plastic playhouse than in the photo op and were not very cooperative.  This is our only family photo of the entire trip!

The entrance to the cave was a steep and narrow rock staircase leading down into a spacious cavern.  The cave was really cool!  The floor was a jumble of smooth and jagged rock with small pools of water here and there.  I really should have planned my footwear a little better for the day because my flip flops were super hard to walk in.  Also, Luke really wanted to get down and explore but the ground was too rough for him to walk in most places and he was getting very frustrated and mad.  There were two large openings that looked out over the ocean and the guide pointed out the spot where the Caribbean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean (you can see it in the photo where the water changes from light to dark blue).

There was a second cavern that was filled with smooth stones of all sizes and a third opening to the ocean.  I wish we could have stayed and enjoyed the cave a little longer but Luke was being monster baby and we had to cut our visit a bit short.

Back outside the cave we explored the area a bit more before heading off to our next destination.  The views from the cliff overlooking the ocean were phenomenal.

We ate some snacks in the car and Luke got in a little nap as we headed to our next destination, which was the Barbados Wildlife Preserve.  Immediately inside the preserve we were greeted by a family of Barbados Green Monkeys.  These monkeys live all around the island and we even saw a few back at our hotel.  They looked mostly brown to me, but it is said that in some lighting they look green.  Anyway, Isaac & Luke were both totally delighted by these little guys.  One of them ran up and grabbed Isaac's shoelace and then quickly scurried away.  Charlie was walking backwards as he was snapping pictures and accidentally backed into and tripped over a big tree stump.  It tore up the backside of his knee pretty bad, so he stayed back and got it bandaged up and rested for awhile while I took the boys to see the rest of the Preserve.

Isaac's favorite were the turtles.  There were tons of them all over the place.  He especially liked the "turtle family" that he found all nestled together on the side of the path.  I was impressed by the turtle who was brave enough to hitch a ride on an alligator's back!

The place was full of iguanas, deer, peacocks, chickens, etc.  There was an atrium full of exotic birds and also a room filled with aquariums housing various reptiles.  Isaac thought this humongous snake was pretty cool.

After the Preserve we started the long drive back towards our hotel but took the long way so that we could drive down the east side of the coast and experience that side of the island.  The east shore has rough surf and is supposedly not the best for swimming.  We picked up some snacks at a convenience store and then stopped at Barclay's Beach Park for a picnic lunch.  The park was perfect!  Gorgeous and empty with the exception of a park attendant sleeping in a chair outside of the restrooms.  Luke discovered sour cream & onion chips and probably ate half the can.

Despite the warnings about swimming, the beach looked beautiful and was totally deserted.  I didn't think we would stay for more than a few minutes, so I just stripped Luke down to his diaper.  The diaper quickly became totally water logged so I let him go in the buff, and then eventually decided I should probably go ahead and put some shorts on him.  Just another stunning Barbados beach, all to ourselves!

We drove by what is supposed to be the best surfing spot on the island, called Bathsheba, on our way home but we didn't see any surfers and the waves were not that big.  It was beautiful though.

It was a long day but such a good one.  We got cleaned up and relaxed in the lounge for a bit.  Isaac filled up on chicken samosas (kind of like a turnover with meat, vegetables and some Indian spices) which we told him were chicken "burritos."  He loved them and asked for them repeatedly throughout the rest of the trip.  It actually worked out well because we opted for pizza that night at a place called Mama Mia's in Hastings.  Isaac is the only kid I know who doesn't like pizza.  Luke loves it and could not eat it fast enough that night (sorry for the blurry photo of Luke; I still think it is hilarious).  This was probably one of our favorite restaurants.  We stopped by a local mall after dinner and then called it a night.

Day 4 was one of our favorite days because we went to what ended up being our favorite beach.  Crane Beach has been named one of the top 10 beaches in the world by Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous.  There is a luxury resort on the cliff overlooking the beach and a glass elevator that brings guests down.  It is called Crane Beach because there used to be a large crane there to unload the cargo from ships coming in. 

It was overcast that day and we had a few light rain showers, so I had my camera tucked away underneath the towels to keep it dry.  I wish I had taken more pictures though!  I didn't get any good shots of the whole beach or of Isaac having a blast playing in the waves.  This was the first time he'd ever body surfed and he had some serious fun out in the ocean.  He is still talking about that beach.  Luke loved being out in the water too with me holding him and having the waves crash against us.  

We rented chairs, an umbrella, and a boogie board from some locals there on the beach.  There were only a handful of other beach goers that day.  We had lunch, played in the waves, and in the sand and did lots of exploring.  

At the south end of the beach there is a rock cliff that juts out over the water.  If you look closely in this picture you can see there is a trail that takes you out to the edge of it.  It was somewhat rough and slippery in our bare feet, but it was such a picturesque spot and kind of thrilling to walk out over the ocean with the drizzling rain blowing against us.

At the north side of the beach where we entered, there was a stepping stone path that continued in the opposite direction to another long sandy beach.  We walked for a long ways exploring the different coves and a couple of small caves in the rocks.

This next photo is one of my favorites from the whole trip.  When the surf pulled back we hurried around this huge rock formation to cross over into another cove.  This was on our way back towards Crane Beach and you can see Charlie & Luke out in the water in the background while Isaac is watching the waves from the opposite side of the rock.

Back at Crane, the same guys who rented us our beach gear for the day were eagerly waiting to sell us some coconut drinks.  I'm sure we totally overpaid for them since they were supposed to be cocktails and we opted for the non-alcoholic versions, but it was a fun little treat nonetheless.

We could have easily spent the whole day there but it eventually got pretty windy and the rain started coming down a bit harder and we figured we better head out before we got stuck in another downpour. The rest of the afternoon was spent back at the hotel pool and beach.  That evening we tried looking for a good authentic local place to eat but weren't having much luck and both boys were quickly falling apart, so we ended up at KFC.  I never saw another American fast food restaurant anywhere (not even a McDonald's), but there were tons of KFCs all over the island.

Day 5 we spent the morning at the hotel.  Every day on our way to breakfast we walked down this long hallway and then through an open air corridor.  Luke is always willing to hold Isaac's hand even when he will not hold mine. 

Since it was our last day with the rental car we decided to check out one more beach that is supposedly the second best on the island.  First we had to make another stop at Chefette for lunch.  Not for the food, but for the playground of course.  It was a bit of a hard sell trying to convince the boys to eat lunch before running off to play.  

We enjoyed taking in the scenery as we explored the south east corner of the island.  Throughout the week we often passed school children walking in groups on their way home from school.  They were always in clean and sharply pressed uniforms and looked adorable.  That was one thing I truly loved about the island.  There was an air of formality to everyone's clothing and you could tell they all took pride in their appearance.  We did see quite a few men sporting the grungy rastafari look, but every single woman I saw was totally put together.  Collared blouses, pressed skirts, perfectly coifed hair, jewelry, make-up, etc.  They looked fantastic.  I failed to read up on that when packing for our trip and just assumed that like any other tropical vacation we've taken, I could just wear my beach clothes all around.  Not so in Barbados.  The history of British colonization really adds a charming touch to the culture of the island.  I always wanted to snap photos of the nicely dressed women but I felt too awkward and so I refrained.  

Our destination was Bottom Bay.  We never would have found it without the map.  Back behind a residential neighborhood there was a gravel road and a staircase leading down through some overgrown trees, and a short walk from there took us to the beach.  Once again we found a nearly empty but gorgeous beach.  The surf was rougher here than the other beaches we'd been to, but Charlie of course still went for a swim.  Isaac collected sticks from all over the beach to make a giant pile.  We all sat for a long time at the edge of the water letting the waves splash up over our legs and digging holes that were eventually swallowed up by the rising tide.  We stayed until the sun was low in the sky and we were all a little sad to pack up and leave. 

Back at the top of the stairs a local vendor was waiting patiently for us to return.  Isaac has a whole lot of souvenirs from this trip thanks to a couple of other guys just like this that we came across!  This one in particular sold us a conch shell and a shark tooth necklace that Isaac still loves to wear.  

That night we finally got around to eating some local Barbados cuisine.  We drove back up to Holetown (the place with all of the colorful shops) and had dinner at Just Grillin'.  I've never really heard of having a national fish before, but Barbados has one and it is the flying fish.  The flying fish is featured on their dollar coins, but it is also a popular menu item.  We learned about this before our trip and Isaac was excited to eat one.  We waited all week to try out this fish, which turned out to be rather unremarkable.  It had some cajun seasoning and was served with piles of coleslaw and beans & rice.  Nothing special, but I'm glad we got to try it.  

The last day of vacation is always a little sad, but we made the most of it.  We had to return our little car, but were happy to spend the day at our hotel beach.  We relaxed under our umbrella and tried to soak up every last bit of paradise.  

We'd encountered the jet ski guys earlier in the week and had kept it in the back of our minds that we might eventually try jet skiing.  When they walked past us that morning calling "Jet ski?  Jet ski?" Isaac immediately jumped up and shouted "YES!!!  I want too!!!"  And so we did.  We paid for half an hour and Charlie took the first 15 minutes and I took the second.  I had never driven one before and was feeling a little cautious, but Isaac and I did get going pretty fast for awhile.  We all loved it and were glad we got to do it.  Except poor Luke who had to just watch from the beach. 

I loved the little pool on the west side of the beach where the jet skis would come and go.  It was super shallow and calm and perfect for Isaac & Luke to play in.  There is a piece of an old fort that is part of the hotel grounds, complete with cannons.  We walked over to check it out from the beach several times and finally went to check out the top view too.  

Every day around 4:00 the tide would start to come up and create a shallow pool near the rock reef.  This was Isaac's favorite place to play.  Probably Luke's favorite too.  Even on days when we were out away from the hotel we would usually go spend a little time here at the beach before heading upstairs to get cleaned up.  We would climb up on the large black reef rocks and search for crabs, or just sit in the calm water, relaxing and raking our fingers through the sand.  One afternoon while we were at this spot Charlie & Isaac watched a fisherman out on the reef as he caught an eel.  He brought it up on the sand, cut it's head off, sliced it open, and gutted it all right there.  Isaac was totally fascinated.  

The sandy tide pool was filled with tons of white porous rocks of all shapes and sizes.  Isaac liked to collect all of the big ones and use them to construct castles and "fish play grounds."  Luke would find the smaller ones and throw them.  On our last afternoon Charlie & Isaac discovered some small sea shells with hermit crabs living inside!  Isaac loved those little crabs.  He carried them around for hours and built them a "crab hide out" with the rocks.  

We stayed out at the beach into the early evening.  I left to go for one last run and when I came back Luke was napping peacefully in a lounge chair (I was shocked) and Isaac was still playing with his crabs.  We stayed to watch the sunset and enjoy the very last bit of our vacation.  We were once again without a car but the weather was nice so we walked to TGI Friday's for dinner.  

We had an early flight out the next morning.  There was one last big rain storm to send us off, and luckily it cleared as quickly as it came so that we were able to keep dry while boarding.  The flights felt long and it is constant work to keep the boys entertained and happy, but all went well.  

We had a lay over in Miami where we grabbed a quick lunch (Luke was apparently dying of thirst and downed at least half of that lemonade) and watched airplanes through the windows of the terminal.  

And finally we were home safe and sound in California.  The drive home from LAX was surprisingly quiet thanks to two exhausted little boys.  We loved Barbados and will definitely keep it on our list of places to visit again someday.  


Erin said...

Wow Carrie! The pictures are amazing! What a beautiful place and what a fun trip! I've said it before but I'll say it again, I think it's so cool that you guys do so much traveling and your boys are sure lucky for it! Love it, love it!

Amy said...

I read the whole thing! I loved the picture at the very beginning of Luke asleep on the plane - so sweet and he looks so little! And you look great! I really would love to go to Barbados now! I have never been on a jet-ski either so that sounds pretty neat. Do you know whether Barbados has good snorkeling because I didn't hear you mention much about that sort of thing.