Kicking back on Barbados a few days after Beryl paid a visit

We’d had this Caribbean trip planned for months.

Early this year, we signed up to do a house-sit for most of July on the island of Bequia in the St. Vincent and the Grenadines group. We planned to arrive in Barbados June 29 and spend three nights there before hopping an inter-island flight to St. Vincent. After spending a few nights on St. Vincent, we were to take the ferry to Bequia on July 6. The house-sit was meant to extend to July 30, upon which we’d head back to Barbados for three nights before flying home to Colombia on August 3.

We were really excited about seeing a part of the Caribbean we hadn’t visited before, and were looking forward to meeting our house-sit hosts and their two dogs.

But Hurricane Beryl decided otherwise.

When we arrived on Barbados on Saturday morning, June 29, Beryl had only been named a tropical storm the night before. Up until then, she’d given every indication that she would not pose a significant threat to any of the islands we were headed to. And then things changed, very rapidly.

By late that Saturday, Beryl was upgraded to hurricane status and was taking aim at Barbados. She hadn’t even been a tropical storm for 24 hours, but now she was forecast to reach Category 3 strength by the time she passed us sometime in the wee hours of Monday morning. Just like that, we were under a hurricane warning and the airport was closed. The hotel advised us to get to a supermarket and stock up on non-perishable food items and drinking water.

The grocery store was jam-packed and shelves were emptying,  but by and large people were calm and upbeat. The hotel staff, also, was pretty nonchalant even though we were located right on the beach, on the southern coast of Barbados. Clearly these folks are used to dealing with extreme weather, but I don’t think anyone expected Beryl to become so strong, so fast.

Beryl passed about 65 miles south of Bridgetown, Barbados very early Monday morning, July 1. She was taking solid aim at the Grenadines and would arrive there several hours later, bringing tremendous destruction.

Beryl wasn’t our first rodeo; in 2004, just after landing in Tampa, Florida following our three-year sailing travels, we were hit in short succession by hurricanes Charlie, Frances, Jeanne, and Ivan. Charlie in particular was a bastard, aiming right for our house and forcing us to evacuate inland – only to change course and head right to the place we had evacuated to. Therefore, we somehow never felt panicked about Beryl.

When Beryl finally passed about 65 miles south of us, there was plenty of wind and sporadic rain but not the monster that we’d expected. We were snug in our third-floor hotel room and never even lost power until many hours later. Even then, the power was only out for about three hours, and we never even lost cell coverage.

The sad scene at the Barbados harbor, where many fisherfolk lost their livelihoods along with their boats. (Photo credit: Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation)

By and large, Barbados weathered Beryl pretty well. There was some flooding and building damage, but the fishing fleet was hardest hit – with more than 200 boats either sunk or severely damaged. But within a couple of days, businesses were open and the airport had resumed operations.

Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines fared far worse.

We were shocked and saddened by the news starting to trickle in from the islands just west of us. Both St. Vincent and Bequia had significant damage, but the worst-hit spot in the Grenadines was Union Island – where it was estimated that all 2,500 inhabitants lost their homes. To the south in the island nation of Granada, an estimated 98 percent of homes and buildings were destroyed on the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

Washington Post photo of some of the devastation on Union Island

But Beryl was just getting started. She’d go on to ravage Jamaica before slamming into the Yucatan, re-emerging and reforming in the Gulf of Mexico, and making landfall along the Texas coast just a couple of days ago. Beryl has caused devastating flooding in Texas and left millions without power in the middle of a massive heat wave.  And her remnants are continuing to wreak havoc today, spawning tornados and other extreme weather up into Arkansas and beyond.

After Beryl passed Monday morning, we found ourselves in limbo. 

We had been meant to fly to St. Vincent the very next day, Tuesday. But right away we learned that our flight had been cancelled and the SV airport was closed indefinitely. With all lines of communication and power down on St. Vincent and Bequia, there was little or no information about the status of the islands. We were deeply worried about our house-sit hosts on Bequia, and tried getting messages to them through any means we could think of.

We weren’t able to get through to our hosts until Thursday evening, by which time we assumed the house-sit was off and we’d be flying back home over the weekend. The couple, their two dogs, and their house were all fine, but the power and comms were down for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, they had made arrangements for someone else to watch their pets and house, since they were still planning to take their trip. So we booked a flight home for last Sunday, giving us two more days to explore Barbados.

Seeing the sights

We made the most of our unplanned time on Barbados, and the island was open and welcoming to tourists only a couple of days after Beryl. Here are our highlights.

Heritage rum tastings served up by our friendly host at Foursquare

Rum tasting. Barbados is considered the birthplace of rum, and the world’s oldest rum distillery, Mount Gay, has been in continuous operation since 1703. We found out the hard way that Mount Gay does not accommodate drop-ins; you have to register in advance for a guided tour. We headed instead for Foursquare Distillery, where we enjoyed a tasting flight of several of their heritage rums.

Bathsheba. The fishing village of Bathsheba on Barbados’ rugged eastern coast became our favorite spot on the island. Not only is the beachfront scenery beyond spectacular, but we had the best meal of our Barbados visit at Zemi East Coast Cafe. It’s worth a trip over to Bathsheba just to have lunch at Zemi!

Bathsheba’s lovely beach park
Looking out over the beautifully landscaped grounds from the main building at Codrington College, with the blue Atlantic just beyond

Codrington College. We stumbled on this beautiful place by accident on our way to Bathsheba. Established in 1745, Codrington College is the oldest theological school in the Western Hemisphere and still operates as an Anglican seminary. For a small admission fee, visitors have free rein to explore the tranquil grounds and centuries-old buildings, one of which dates to 1670.

Sunbury Plantation House. A visit to this lovingly restored mansion is a step back to a time when sugar was king on Barbados and the labor of enslaved people created untold wealth for their masters. Built around 1660, the Sunbury Plantation House is filled with antiques collected from plantations all over Barbados. With the guided tour, visitors are able to see every nook and cranny of this fascinating house.

The formal dining room at Sunbury Plantation House. The mahogany dining table is almost 300 years old!

Ocean vistas. We spent a day driving to beaches and lookout points, which in our opinion are much more beautiful on the southern and eastern sides of Barbados.

Other Barbados tips

Lodging. We can’t recommend the Yellow Bird Hotel highly enough. Not only is it ideally located in the St. Lawrence Gap area, within easy walking to countless restaurants and bars, but the people at the Yellow Bird could not have been kinder or more reassuring as Beryl approached.

The Yellow Bird Hotel

Beach day out. The day after Beryl passed, we decamped to a less expensive hotel away from the beach. By the end of the week we were craving some beach time, and we got it with a day pass to the Southern Palms Beach Club, right on Dover Beach. For about $60 US per person, we had full access to the pool and loungers, and we had 50% off any food and beverage purchases. It was a little bit of pampering that we really needed, and what a beautiful property!

Car rental. We had great service from Stoutes Car Rental, which has locations all over Barbados and very convenient access at the airport.

E-SIM. Time for another plug for Airalo, which worked flawlessly on Barbados even during the height of the hurricane. We have been using Airalo for about a year, and it’s been a hassle-free way for us to get instant mobile service in at least 10 different countries.

A few more thoughts about Beryl – and travel during hurricane season

You might be wondering: Why did we go ahead with this trip, knowing that a potential storm was brewing in the Atlantic? The short answer is that we had made a commitment as house-sitters, and the storm was only a tropical depression when we left home on June 28 (we overnighted in Panama City and arrived in Barbados the next morning). There was no reason to think we’d be putting ourselves in danger, or that the tropical depression would grow into such a huge and dangerous hurricane in only two days. And it’s still so early in the season . . .

It turns out we weren’t the only ones caught off guard. Meteorologists and climate experts have been floored by Beryl, which became the earliest-ever category 4 and then category 5 hurricane on record. It was also one of the earliest storms ever to undergo such rapid intensification, with wind speeds strengthening from 65 mph on June 29 to 130 mph on June 30. One big reason is the historically warm ocean temperatures in the Atlantic basin, which typically isn’t this warm until at least September.

Side note: For the hurricane house-sitting story to end them all, check out this blog post from our good friends and travel buddies Ian and Nicky Mackenzie. Ian and Nicky rode out Hurricane Irma in a house-sit on the British Virgin Islands in 2017, and the post is a harrowing account of Ian’s injury and the storm’s aftermath. It’s riveting reading.

With the effects of climate change becoming more and more apparent, this hurricane season is expected to be one of the most active on record. It doesn’t take a rocket (or climate) scientist to see that climate change is beginning to have a profound effect on human life. And for us as travelers, it means we will now avoid any Caribbean destinations from June through November. We feel extremely lucky and grateful that we were spared the worst of this storm, especially since so many others lost their homes and livelihoods. And we wish the people of the islands godspeed as they rebuild and recover. 

Be Safe Out There, People!
Next Up: Magical, Mystical South Georgia Island

29 Comments

  1. Glen Larum Reply

    So grateful you were fortunate enough to escape the worst of Beryl, which is still wreaking havoc as it winds its way up through the Midwest — read today it spawned a record number of tornadoes. I saw the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo on St. Croix in the late 80’s, on assignment with the National Christian Reporter covering relief work. The island looked like it had been napalmed — effect of salt laden sea winds at hurricane strength.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Glen! Yes, there’s nothing quite like the destructive force of wind and sea water. We’ve seen it firsthand a few too many times now. Looks like Beryl just can’t turn loose and is causing misery all the way up in Vermont today! What a storm.

  2. I’m glad you’re okay. It’s really concerning to read about how natural disasters linked to global warming are becoming more and more intense, although we actually had been warned for many years before. I hope politicians across the globe realize how much more dangerous and unpredictable the weather patterns are now, so they can take concrete actions. When the islands have recovered, I hope you’ll get to redo this trip that you had planned. Take care!

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Bama. I don’t know what it’s going to take for people – and the pols they elect – to start taking the effects of climate change seriously. I fear it’s too late, but I’m trying to be hopeful. And as travelers, we are coming to a stage where future decisions will be shaped by the climate. It’s all deeply concerning.

  3. Don’t know where to start Patti – so sorry that your exciting summer plans were thwarted by the incoming storm, and of course by the devastation and tragic loss of life and way of life for far too many people in the islands. I’m happy that you were able to change your plans and enjoy your time in the Barbados. I’ll take note of your recommendations as we’re heading there in mid December for several days before starting a cruise that leaves from Bridgetown. Wishing you both safer travels ahead.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Annie. We just had a few inconveniences and some unexpected expenses – and it’s hard to complain when so many others fared far worse. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Barbados in December, and that’s a good time of year to avoid hurricanes!
      Best,
      Susan

  4. Every cloud … as they say! Looks like you managed to stay safe and enjoy your time. I also use Airolo which is brilliant most of the time. Those plantation houses look fantastic, but when you think they were built with slave labour, not so good. Great post 😊

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Alison. It’s the same story we’ve seen all over the Americas – white colonizers and the Catholic Church exploiting enslaved people from Africa to build huge monuments and huge wealth. It’s a sad and disgusting history.

  5. I’m so sorry that your trip was cut short, but boy was I relieved that Beryl was 65 miles away from you guys. I was incredibly worried about you both as you know. And thank you for the mention guys! I think we’ll be forever known as the Hurricane Housesitters! 🤣🌀

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      If anyone knows what this is like (times about 10), it’s you two! So glad your story had a happy ending after everything you went through. And thanks for all the moral support you gave us through Beryl! 🙂

  6. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve been thinking about you both and our friends on Bequia during Beryl’s path of destruction. And, I’ve really been caring about my best friend, who lives in Grenada. The southern part of that island, where my friends live, has mostly been spared, but one of our all-time favorite islands, Carriacou, has been demolished. It’s crazy to see all this so early in the hurricane season and I really hope people start realizing the extend of climate change and global warming.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Liesbet. Yes, so very sad about Carriacou and the other smaller islands that were so terribly damaged. It really put all our petty little concerns into perspective. I wish I could be optimistic about cliimate change, but I think we’re going to see more and more deadly storms like Beryl, earlier and earlier in the season. I don’t know what it’s going to take to wake people up.

  7. We loved our time in Barbados. We went up to Bathsheba one day, and it was our favorite part of the trip. We were also fortunate enough to stumble upon a high school dance competition near the concrete plant. We’ll always have fond memories of the island and of the Bajans.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Bathsheba is so beautiful! That entire side is the best part of the island, in our opinion. We really enjoy stumbling on local celebrations like that dance competition – I’m sure it was unforgettable. And one thing I didn’t mention enough is how wonderful the people of Barbados are, so kind and generous. They made our visit extra special.

  8. I guess you made the best of a bad situation, guys, and enjoyed the best of Barbados in the circumstances. It could’ve been worse, huh. We rate Airalo highly too, it’s been so incredibly useful. Glad you guys managed to keep safe even though your plans altered considerably.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      It could have been SO much worse! We only needed to look at the islands to the west to realize just how lucky we were, how much we had to feel grateful for. Our little inconveniences paled in comparison to the people who lost their homes and their livelihoods. Thanks, HT-ers!

  9. That would have been quite scary, but thankfully you and your house sit friends were okay. This storm is even wreaking havoc in eastern Canada. I haven’t been to Barbados. One of my friends lived there for a few years, but somehow I didn’t get there. So Colombia for the summer/your winter? Maggie

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Maggie! It’s crazy that Beryl is wreaking havoc even today, a full week and a half after she tore through the eastern Caribbean. What a storm! And yes, we’re staying in Colombia until at least October; we have to renew our visas and can’t travel outside the country until that’s done. Time for a little travel break!

  10. Despite the unexpected turn of events with Hurricane Beryl, it’s inspiring to see how you made the most of your time in Barbados. Your positive outlook, even in the face of adversity, is truly commendable. Your descriptions of the rum tasting, exploring Bathsheba, and the visit to Codrington College and Sunbury Plantation House paint a vivid picture of the island’s charm and hospitality. It’s heartwarming to read how the local community bounced back so quickly. Thank you for sharing your experience and highlighting the beauty and strength of Barbados! 🌴🌺

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks so much, Anna! With all the hurricane content, we wanted to make sure we touched on how beautiful Barbados is and what a treat it was to be able to explore it. As usual, we wished we had more time! “Charm and hospitality” are perfect descriptors, especially of the Bajan people. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  11. Mother Nature is so unpredictable, even the professional weather forecast experts don’t get it right sometimes. We have never experienced a hurricane and we hope we never will. We have had very strong wind issues here in England, but nothing like the destruction of hurricane Beryl. I feel sad for all the people that have been affected.
    I am glad you are well, changing plans was a good idea and at least you have managed to explore a little more of Barbados. I will keep your tips for the next time I visit 😀

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Gilda! Hope you get to see Barbados someday (but don’t go during hurricane season – ha!). We were sad as well to learn of all the destruction to the west, and so grateful that we were spared the worst. Be well!

  12. So glad that everyone was okay, and that even though it was not the trip you envisioned that at least you got to spend some lovely days in Barbados.

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Meg – we are so grateful that things weren’t worse in Barbados, and that our Bequia friends were OK. Those few extra days in Barbados were the silver lining!

  13. I’m so glad you were safe. I’m so glad your house-sit friends were safe. But what a devastating story – so much heart break for so many people. Things are indeed changing in so many ways.
    Alison

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thank you, Alison. Our petty little problems paled in comparison to the people who lost their homes, their boats, their livelihoods. It makes me wonder if there’s going to be any safe place, soon. Hope you and Don are well!

      • We are well thanks. Hope you guys are too. Got your latest blogpost open ready to read. We saw the same fabulous penguins on Tierra del Fuego.

  14. It’s times like this we’re all reminded we are at Nature’s mercy no matter our plans. I’m glad you were safe and your few days in Barbados looks amazing. Hopefully the housesit opportunity comes up again soon 🙂

    • John and Susan Pazera Reply

      Thanks, Hannah! We also hope we get to see this part of the Caribbean soon. Time will tell!

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