In Barbados, I stayed at Rio Guesthouse, which is on the south side of the island and is easily accessible by bus. It is in a beach town where there are a lot of places to eat and buy souvenirs, but is far enough out of the way that you don't get he hustle and bustle of the city. It has a nice kitchen and seems like a great place for backpackers and others who want the full hostel experience. The only negative thing I can say is that the internet was pretty crappy. I had to move all around to get any and when I had it, I barely had signal so it was very slow. This was not conducive to me buying San Fran tickets. However, it was definitely worth the price. I had an eh breakfast at the nearby Happy Days Cafe and then got on a bus to town. Again, the bus had a packer in addition to a driver. What was extremely disorienting for me was that there isn't a “mountain side” and an “ocean side” to the road like all of the other islands I've been to. Barbados is so flat. I keep looking around to try to get my bearings and I can't do it by using the non-existent mountain or the ocean that I'm not far enough above to actually see. It's pretty confusing for those of use who are used to navigating using that method. When I got downtown, I first saw St. Michael's Cathedral, which is cool-looking. Next stop was Nidhe Israel, a synagogue, mikvah, and very well-done museum of the history of Caribbean Jewry. It looks more professional than most of the other Caribbean museums I've seen and even had a hands-on “name that spice” game for kids to play. I got lucky and one of the congregants happened to be around when I was. I got a special history lecture from him. It turns out that the synagogue was put out of service a long time ago and the items all sold. The building was used for various uses including storage until relatively recently, when they were going to demolish it. Instead, some people got together the money to buy it and restore it. They used the old pictures to get all of the details correct, including the uneven-width planks in the ceiling.
I followed this museum and tour with another very professionally done museum- the heroes museum. This one also had a lot of very good informational displays, but also had some very neat art. I learned a lot about the history of the Barbados government and other world governments from this museum. Nearby is the Parliament building, and then the port. I knew I was at the port because I saw the KFC. So far, I have yet to see a Caribbean island that doesn't have a KFC prominently located right near where all the tourists go. In the US, we tease about McDonalds being the “American Embassy,” but I've seen way more KFCs and Subways here than McDonalds. The port is also surrounded by some very nice parks, some of which have some interesting statues. It's actually one of the more pleasant port areas. Also, as typical, there are a ton of shops selling tourist souvenirs and high-end items. One of the restaurants was even advertising that dolphin was the special of the day. I did not get dolphin. I ended up eating at Apropos, which looked great in concept. It's like a healthier subway where they make salads Coldstone-Creamery style. Unfortunately, they didn't have any local drinks and the food didn't taste so great. I was also unimpressed with the Pelican Art Mall. This is between the dock for the ultra-big cruise ships and the main port area, so you'd think it would be very open and hopping with business. Instead, there are a few shops, many of which were closed. The ones that were open did have real art from real artists, but I also wasn't super impressed with a lot of that. Close to that area is one of the main bus stations. The buses that go to that station are buses like we imagine city buses in the US to be. Still, the bus ride is $2 anywhere on the island. However, they don't fly by as regularly as the vans/minibuses that roam town. I ended up waiting an hour for a 15 minute bus ride to Harrison's Cave. (Take the Gate 7 Chalky Mount/ShoreyVillage/Sturges bus to get there.) The interpretive center was useful in that it explained the island. The reason it doesn't have a big volcanic mountain the middle is because it's actually uplifted coral and not a volcano. This is why it's so flat. Water got into the dead coral that formed the stone and started making holes in the stones. That caused the caves. Of course, it's still dripping through and making stalactites and stalagmites now. It also means that you get rained on inside the underground cave. That was a bit disconcerting- you don't usually think of underground as a wet, drippy place. On the tram tour we had a relatively serious guide and a hilarious tram driver. They actually played off of each other very well. While she told us information about how the caves were formed, what the various cave formations we were seeing were called, and how the series of underground lakes worked, he was joking about how the cave water makes you live forever and getting lost in the caves. They made the tour worth it. Otherwise, the cave itself is only worth it to those who've never been on another cave tour. While the underground lakes are neat and there are a few cool formations, I can't say that this is better than Carlsbad, Luray, New Zealand, or even that much different than Lost River Caverns in Hellertown. To get back to town, I went to stand at the “to city” bus stop outside the cave area. However, the “from city” bus driver told me to get on anyway. I guess that for that route, the caves are almost at the end of the “from city” route, because it wasn't that long to get back to town. Back in town, it was a bright, sunny day when I went inside to use an ATM and pouring rain when I stepped back out. Everybody went for shelter to wait out the rain, so the sidewalk edges (under the building awnings) were pretty packed. I waited it out by getting dinner at a local fast food chain, Chefette. The food was less greasy than a lot of US chains, but it's still very recognizably fast food. It's good I ate when I did, because traffic out of the city was ridiculous. I think it took an hour to do the 20 minute ride back to the hotel. After a quick clean-up and change, I headed back into town for Friday night services. On the way, the bus packer was telling me that I was headed the wrong way- Oistens is the place to be Friday night (which is what I had heard in St. Vincent as well.) Services were nice, even if they weren't a big fish fry. I was looking to head there afterwards, but apparently the party in Barbados ends early and doesn't run till 5am like it does in St. Kitts.