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Lunch at The Sandy Lane Hotel in Barbados (and Nearly Drowning in the Caribbean Sea)

Our khaki-coloured jeep trundled down the winding path to the notorious Sandy Lane Hotel. Vibrant green grass and tall trees surrounded the path, giving the place a relaxing feel. The gardens looked like they had been carefully tended to daily in order to keep them in this immaculate condition and the canopy of trees was alive with birdsong.

Before long, we had reached the entrance to the hotel. We stopped outside the grand, open entrance where we were met by a welcoming member of staff. They operate a valet service here and so we handed over our car keys and left the car in his hands.

As we stood gazing into the hotel, I could only smile as I laid eyes on the beautiful Caribbean sea which was now in view behind the hotel. The lobby was open on both sides, allowing for stunning views and for the warm, humid air to ventilate through.

As I stared at the awe-inspiring vista, a smile planted itself on my face. I couldn’t believe our luck. The grey storm clouds of the morning which had followed us around for most of the drive had now vanished, revealing a stunning turquoise sky, empty except for small wisps of cloud. You wouldn’t know it was the worst month of the entire year weather-wise. I hoped this was a sign of things to come. Perhaps our luck for the day was going to shift!

Another member of staff greeted us and took us down to the bar. We journeyed down large stone steps, the sounds of our footsteps echoing throughout the quiet, spacious hotel. The steps were a pale cream colour and just staring at them I could sense how cool and solid they were.

Downstairs I laid eyes on a stone archway with monkey statues either side. On the other side of this open doorway was the sunny bar. Before us was an expanse of tables and chairs, sofas and a wooden bar. Railings surrounded this area, separating the bar and restaurant from the vibrant beach below.

I heard the crashing of waves against soft golden sound and the gentle humming of relaxing music.

A woman was waiting patiently beside one of the large cream sofas. “You are early for your table.” She began. “Would you like a drink at the bar first?”

My mouth began to salivate at the thought of a lovely, cool drink and I found myself nodding. “Oh, yes please!”

We took a seat and placed an order for a Banks beer, a Pellegrino and a selection of nuts. Banks beer was the local lager in Barbados with the brewery situated in St Michael, not far from where we were staying, in the south of the island. The beer was soothing on my parched tongue. I let out a sigh of satisfaction and sat back into the cream cushions, allowing relaxation to wash over me at last.

A cheeky dove attempted to eat our nut selection several times. In fact it was fortunate enough to fly off with a cashew at one point!

As I reached the end of my beer, we were called over to our table at the Sandy Lane’s restaurant, ‘Bajan Blue’.

We followed our waitress over to our table which was situated right by the sea. These were the best views in the house! I sat down and soaked up the panoramic view of the beach before me. Deckchairs and red umbrellas dotted the golden sand and majestic cyan waves lapped at the shore. We were almost in a cove with both ends of the beach jutting out slightly, giving the beach a gentle arch-like shape.

At one end of the beach was a great artificial wall of rocks, jutting out to sea. I furrowed my brow. That wasn’t there last time I was here. I turned my gaze to the other end of the beach where a tremendous clatter came from. I laid eyes on a bright orange digger, sitting on the edge of the beach, grabbing rocks and sand. Turns out they were constructing another wall of rocks at that end too.

One of my fondest memories of Barbados was how the west coast beach went on and on and on. You could start walking at any point and continue along the beach for miles, occasionally dodging some rocks or wading through stretches where the sand was below the waterline. However, it looked like that was all changing.

I’d seen these rock-walls along the south coast too during our drive that morning. They were everywhere and I knew why they were there. They were a method of preventing longshore drift – the natural movement of sand which causes beaches to grow and disperse as they pleased. They were trying to control the beaches.

On the one hand I understand it can be concerning for hotels and restaurants if the beach outside them is disappearing so I can see the appeal in trying to keep the beach where it is. However, on the other hand, I am unsure with trying to interfere with nature. There must be some negative consequences of this.

Lewis staring at the menu whilst a cheeky little bird takes my seat! In the background our waitress is coming over with our Pellegrino

Our waitress was bubbly and welcoming, like many people we had encountered in Barbados. She made me feel at ease.

The menu before us was tantalising. We ordered yellowfin tuna sashimi for starters and a chicken curry with flatbread for main course.

If you know me at all, you’ll know that sashimi is my favourite food in the entire world. I tend to opt for salmon sashimi but where possible, I order local fish and the yellowfin tuna here was freshly caught and local.

I’d had local yellowfin tuna before in the Seychelles and it was the best tuna sashimi I had ever had in my life. I would say it was the best sashimi I’d had in my life but the salmon sashimi at Tahini in Mallorca can never be knocked from its spot. Joint first then, I guess. But how would the Sandy Lane tuna compare?

I delicately picked up a purple slice of sashimi with my chopsticks, dunked it in my soya sauce bowl and mixed in a dollop of wasabi – I’m a wasabi fiend. Satisfied that it had soaked up enough of my concoction, I sampled the fish. Oh. My. Goodness. It was heavenly!

I believe there’s an optimum level of goodness with food and this was exactly it. The tuna in the Seychelles and the Salmon in Tahini were also at this optimum level. It was perfection.

The delicious tuna sashimi

Our starter was polished off in no time and before I knew it, the main course had made its way to the able. Alongside the chicken dhal curry and flatbread was a rack containing several sauces. Our waitress went through them.

“And this is Caribbean hot pepper sauce.” My eyes lit up as she spoke. I’d heard about this sauce already. “Only have a small amount. It’s hot.”

The Caribbean hot pepper sauce is used with a variety of chili called the ‘scotch bonnet’. This variety of pepper has a heat rating of 80,000–400,000 Scoville units. For comparison, jalapeño peppers only rate 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale. So these peppers were hot!

I was dying to try this sauce! I absolutely love spicy food and would never call something ‘too spicy’.

I piled the chicken curry on my flatbread and accompanied it with a full teaspoon of hot pepper sauce.

“I’d put a small amount on first.” Lewis commented, looking concerned. “She said to only use a tiny amount.”

This is a tiny amount.” At least for me it was.

I’m the kind of person who orders the hottest thing on the menu and then complains it isn’t spicy enough. I think it’s mostly because so many people hate spicy foods so restaurants have to be overly-cautious with their heat ratings.

I love to order a bowl of chili flakes on the side of my Thai Red Curry at my favourite Thai back in England and then sprinkle them in as I please.

So how hot was the Caribbean hot pepper sauce? I took a bite out of my flatbread. It was so good. The curry was delicious and the hot sauce was perfect. There was no denying it was spicy but it wasn’t killing me.

We finished our food but weren’t quite ready to leave The Sandy Lane.

Watching the waves caress the shores, I felt a longing to go down to the beach for a swim. It isn’t recommended to go swimming after a meal but in that moment I forgot all about that fact.

We headed down to the beach. I took off my sandals and allowed my feet to sink into the warm yellow sand. I closed my eyes for a moment, allowing myself to soak up the soft embrace. Oh, how I’d missed this!

I looked about me and took in a couple swimming quite far out to sea. Apart from the breaking of waves against the shore, the water looked peaceful with glistening ripples where the ocean bounced off the surface like a mirror.

We were approached by the beach’s lifeguard.

“Hello.” He greeted.

“Hi.” I smiled. “We’re just off for a swim.”

He beckoned his hand towards a small red flag which was pegged deep into the sand beside him. “I must ask that you please observe the red flag that is out today.”

I knew different coloured flags had meanings relating to the condition of the ocean that day but there was no chart available to witness. What did the red flag mean? I looked at the couple in the sea.

“People have been swimming throughout the day.” He continued. “But there are occasional large waves.”

We thanked him and continued strolling down the beach.

I weighed up the options in my head. The ocean did look calm. I certainly hadn’t seen any of the waves he had mentioned and people seemed to be swimming without any issues. But the flag would surely be there for a reason. Red normally means warning. Did a red flag mean definitely no swimming or the sea is rougher than usual? Or was it the white flag that meant no swimming?

I briefly discussed the situation with Lewis and we concluded that we’d just have a short swim and not go too far out. Surely we’d stay out of trouble that way, right?

A low wall ran behind the beach, separating the complex from the seafront. Every so often there was a large tree in front of this wall and some of the trees had a white painted line around their circumference. Beside them was a sign warning us that they were in fact poisonous.

These trees were known as manchineel trees and everything about them is dangerous. Their bark, leaves, sap and fruit are all poisonous.

What’s scary is that they grow in abundance in the Caribbean and they look pretty harmless. Their fruit look very similar to apples and they were littering the ground in front of us. Even touching the fruit can cause blistering. It’s actually one of the most toxic trees in the world!

If you want to know just how bad encountering one can be, read this account from someone who actually ate some of the fruit.

I decided it was best to stay as far away as possible from those trees and so found somewhere to put our clothes a bit further along.

We’d both arrived prepared for a swim with our swimming gear on under our regular clothes. We carefully places our clothes upon the wall and made our way towards the ocean.

The waves lapped against my feet, refreshingly cool and gentle. I waded further in, feeling shells and washed-up shards of coral under my feet. Deeper and deeper I went until the water was about stomach-deep.

I looked around for Lewis who was trailing a bit behind me, taking one tentative step after another.

Our initial goal was to do a spot of snorkelling but the water here looked pretty empty. Even so, I’m sure we’d be able to spot a bold fish swimming by.

I put my snorkel mask on and completely submerged myself under the water, feeling relaxed as the muffled sound of the ocean beat against my ears. To my dismay, however, the water was so murky I couldn’t see a thing. Yellow and green streaks obscured my view. I couldn’t even see my legs! Looks like snorkelling was off the cards.

The ocean was deceptively calm in appearance. I also learnt the red flag wasn’t just there to match the sun-beds

I emerged from the waves to find Lewis was also dismayed by the lack of visibility. At least we could still have a refreshing swim.

I should probably add at this point that Lewis is not the strongest swimmer. In fact, he has very minimal experience in the water. In the Seychelles we stuck to very shallow areas of water and that concluded the amount of swimming we had done together.

He had loved snorkelling in Seychelles so we were determined to keep up our trips to the sea, as long as it was shallow.

Just then I saw a huge wave on the horizon. It was massive, unlike any wave I had seen before. I gulped, feeling nervous – not for myself, but for Lewis.

From my experience, I had found the best way to encounter larger-than-average waves was when you were a little further out to sea, so there was no chance of the wave breaking before reaching you. Waves are most lethal as they break. If you meet them further out, you can just bob on top of them.

But we weren’t far out at all. This put us in the danger zone.

“There’s a big wave coming!” I warned.

It was nearly upon us at this point, the crest towering over my head.

“You need to go underwater and swim towards it.” I instructed.

This is how I’ve always dealt with large waves and it worked for me. By being underwater, you don’t get caught up if the wave breaks and by swimming towards it, you stop yourself being dragged with it.

There was no more time. I took a gulp of air and disappeared under the waves.

Under the water it was calm. There was no sound except the gentle gurgle of water. I barely even noticed the wave passing above. I waited a few moments and then rose to the surface again.

My first thought was Lewis and I spun around only to see a flailing of arms and legs breaking the surf as Lewis was dragged around relentlessly.

Oh shit.

It perhaps only lasted a few moments but it felt like an eternity.

Lewis was dragged this way and that, scraping against the jagged rocks and coral pieces on the seafloor. As he found himself unable to reach the surface, being constantly clawed back by the ruthless ocean, the dragging motion along the floor caused his swimming trunks to be pulled all the way down to his ankles. He tried to grab them but the ocean was stronger.

Eventually, the sea let go of him and he managed to rescue his trunks and keep his dignity as he was washed-up on the shore.

A security guard beside the hotel wall watched, his expression unreadable.

I waded towards Lewis who had now managed to stand up, giving the ocean a sideward glance to see another wave charging towards us.

“Come on.” I snapped, hoping he could sense the urgency. “Let’s get out of here.”

We both walked back to the shore looking rather dishevelled. That had been a close call.

We reached our clothes on the stone wall and looked at each other. Lewis told me what had happened – how he had been dragged around and lost his pants in the process. There was a silence before we both burst out laughing.

It was even funnier because Lewis had been filming with our action camera just before the wave hit and it had filmed the entire thing. Of course, you couldn’t see anything in the film. There was a lot of crashing as the camera view spiralled round and round, being hit repeatedly by waves. I guess this is what Lewis experienced too!

You can actually watch my Caribbean vlog which includes this footage here.

We got dressed quickly before heading back through the hotel, dripping with water and looking worse for wear.

“I think my trunks are filled with sand.” Lewis announced as we ascended the stone steps and made our way over to the valet desk.

It was certainly not the dignified exit I had hoped for from one of the most prestigious hotels in the world.

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