Things are heating up in the Caribbean. This place has gone cricket crazy, "mon", as the locals would say.
Barbados is otherwise known as the Little England of the Caribbean. It is quite British but the locals have adopted customs and changed them to fit the West Indian way of life.
Cricket is an obsession among the little pear-shaped island's inhabitants and Sir Garfield Sobers, also known as Gary Sobers, smashed 365 not out in 1958, making him Barbados's living legend.
The island's original inhabitants were Arawak Indians who were driven away in 1200AD by Venezuelan Carib Indians. They in turn abandoned the island when the Spaniards arrived, possibly in the early 1500s.
Portuguese explorer Pedro a Campos stopped there in 1536 en route to Brazil, with no intention of settling the island which he named. Los Barbados, or "the bearded ones", was so named after the island's fig trees which had long hanging aerial roots resembling beards.
In 1625 Capt John Powell claimed the uninhabited island for England and two years later his brother arrived with a party of 80 settlers and 10 slaves. Jamestown, now Holetown, was established on the west coast and by the end of 1628, the population had grown to 2000.
Within a few years, much of the native forest had been cleared and tobacco and cotton crops planted. Sugar replaced them in the 1640s and this created the import of large numbers of African slaves. Planters and merchants thrived, but the slaves' conditions were harsh and most ended up in shanty towns. Emancipation in 1834 didn't improve their lives and the economic depression of the 1930s worsened things and riots were regular occurrences. Eventually the British Colonial Welfare and Development Office was established and sizeable amounts of money provided for Caribbean colonies, with black reformers being given a role in the political process. Grantley Adams became the first premier of Barbados and was eventually knighted by Queen Elizabeth.
West Indian culture is strong in Christianity, family life, food and music so there is much colour, calypso, religion and sport.
Self-government came in 1961 and five year later, independence. The sugar industry, which went into decline after WWII, went into receivership and tourism took over as the island's big income maker with one in five employed in tourism-related jobs. Main products and exports there days are sugar cane, fish, shellfish, molasses, rum, textiles and electrical parts.
Bridgetown, the capital and major sea port of Barbados, has a population of around 100,000. There are plenty of interesting things to see Parliament consists of two coral stone buildings dating from 1871 and 1874. Trafalgar Square at the old harbour has a statue of Lord Horatio Nelson and Careenage is a collection of old waterfront warehouses which have been converted into nightclubs, restaurants and boutiques. St Michael's Anglican Cathedral was built in 1655, damaged by hurricanes in 1780 and 1831 and has been rebuilt. The Synagogue dates back to 1654 and is the oldest Jewish building in the western hemisphere.
On the south coast between Hastings and Oistins is an endless strip of hotels, condominiums and shopping centres aimed at tourists from the US and Britain. Oistins is an old fishing town and is where locals travel to from all over the island to buy their fresh seafood. Each Friday night is fish-fry night and it erupts into a street party. Along the west coast you will see some truly beautiful and luxurious plantation-inspired homes.
Temple Yard is the Rastafarian capital, a movement stemming from the 1960s Black Pride times. The name comes from Ras Tafari, who was emperor of Ethiopia in 1930 and who promised modernisation under his reign. He extended the hand of friendship to any black person who wanted to live in Ethiopia and contribute to communal good.
While today's Caribbean version of Rastafari has been influenced by its own culture, there is a healthy community there, but most believe it is more at home in Jamaica.
Accommodation and holidays is pretty much resort-based and if you have the means you can rent an old plantation house, which attract staggering rentals.
Blue Horizon, with 120 rooms, is the largest of the Gems Group properties, and is colourful and charming. Opposite the south coast's most renowned beach, it is also close to Bridgetown, the airport and vibrant nightlife. It serves great food, combining Creole and local cuisine. It has two pools, shops, a fitness centre and can arrange island tours, horse-riding or a visit to the beautiful Flower Forest.