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Barbados

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Sarah’s journal: September 11, 2018

My family and I are now living in Barbados. We are getting used to the heat, and after a few weeks we’ve started to settle in, waking every morning at 5:30 with the sun. The whistling frogs that start calling at dusk fade out as the sun comes up and the birds start to sing. Our house is high up on a ridge that looks over the west coast. We have a fantastic view of the Caribbean and the sunsets are spectacular. In the early mornings you can hear the roosters crow and the monkeys out in the garden playing. There is life all around us and, as my son says, it’s hard to sleep through all the noise.

I’m discovering that the ocean and sky are a lot bigger here than in Toronto. The sea is constantly changing, this morning it is still, looking like glass reflecting the blue sky above. A goat bleats from the farm below and a rooster calls from a tree in the park down in Speightstown. We’re expecting Hurricane Isaac to pass by Barbados in a few days, but you wouldn’t know it, like the sea today the people are calm. The cars on the main road below give a double beep that is more a cheerful salutation than the angry horn blasts that seem to fill the streets in Toronto.

The first couple of weeks here have been a whirlwind of activity. From mistakenly not realizing our kids needed student visas (yes even if it is a private secondary school) and being detained when we landed — to finding the local (less expensive) hardware and grocery stores. The price of food seems staggering because it’s easy to forget that the Barbadian (Bajan) dollar is worth 2/3rds of a Canadian dollar. After paying $28 Bajan for some scoop nacho chips, I’ve inspired my family to eat more local foods, with the caveat that I’ll bake fresh bread at least once a week. So far my home-made bagels are a success.

In the past two weeks I’ve driven all over the island. I’ve learned to give a happy toot when going around a tight blind corner (the sugar cane grows too high to see over). Yesterday I discovered a shortcut that took me north along the western ridge of the island. I could see the coastline with fields of sugar cane rolling down to the sea. I turned west taking a road that suddenly dipped into a gully and found myself in a cool dense jungle that seemed almost magical. At this time of year, the flamboyant trees are all in bloom and the island seems painted with colourful orange and red blossoms.

There is a natural beauty here that I’m just beginning to understand. The people are gentle but also passionate — like the island itself.

I began thinking about moving to the Caribbean a few years ago when I realized that my actions could actually have a positive impact on the world. Keeping active and finding a way to contribute by building something drives me forward every day.

A few years ago, I started researching tourism in the Caribbean. While it has brought positive economic growth, it has also had some negative side effects. Local agriculture and manufacturing have dwindled to the point where most of the islands import most of their food and supplies. This makes living on the islands extremely expensive and feeds into the cycle of poverty that tourism was supposed to eliminate. I began thinking about ways to inspire local communities to become more self-sufficient and found that the self-sufficiency of a community relies on creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. I studied ways to inspire entrepreneurs. Government and community support play a large role, but so too do the level of arts and culture available in the society. Coming from a family of artists, this opportunity intrigued me, and as I did more research, I found that most of the islands lack what communities in Canada all seem to have — arts and cultural centres. Instead, the islands have theatres and art galleries designed to cater to tourists, but nothing geared at educating local communities.

This discovery shocked me and sparked the idea of creating arts and cultural centres across the Caribbean. But then the real challenge arose — how do we sustain them?

As I did more research, I discovered a unique anomaly in the hospitality industry. Affluent travellers were changing their habits, looking for more ‘experiential’ type of vacations rather than the all-inclusive gated resorts that once attracted them. Although the all-inclusive type of resort still attracts tourists looking for great deals, affluent millennials and baby boomers want to experience the local culture more intimately, and they support environmental initiatives.

Combine this discovery with the goal of building arts and cultural centres across the Caribbean and our business model for Canvas and Cave was born. I’m living in Barbados now to steer the development of our first unique arts and culture centre fused with an environmental resort. It will cater to affluent travellers, offer a gorgeous view of the Caribbean, with an organic garden to supply our restaurant, and an arts centre where local communities and affluent travellers can connect, create, and share ideas.

Greg and I have developed the habit of sitting out on the deck to watch the sun set and the stars come out. We’ve found the planets, and this time of year Venus sits bright in the western sky. A sliver of a moon is just setting and the whistling frogs at dusk signal that the end of the day. I find that I can hardly wait for what the next day will bring.

My fear of navel-gazing

 

As a young adult, I created a bucket list of things I wanted to do in my life. I started with wanting to build a multimillion-dollar company, sidetracked by the idea that money was important. It took a few years and gaining a bit of success to realize it was an empty pursuit. So I focussed on finding a life partner and having children. As I learned more about the world, built my company, found love and had children, my bucket list grew. My life expanded and I found myself wanting to have a bigger impact on the world—to find a way to make it better. I found that the daily act of trying to make it better gave me a sense of inner strength.

I noticed that those who were guided by the desire to make money, as I once was, were also limited by it. They didn’t grow much beyond it and seem to shuffle through life, terrified of failure and constantly worried about what people might think of them. They take fewer risks and fear the bigger world beyond the mighty dollar. Sadly, they never end up making a real difference in the world.

When I think about people who have made the world better by their actions, I am drawn to those who lead and force positive change to happen—people like Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and recently Malala Yousafzai. They stood up to a society that shunned their ideas at a time when the world needed leadership, and were guided by a strong moral code. These are the people everyone knows; however, there are so many others I am blessed to have met, who are determined to make a better world through their actions and words. They make a difference every day in the way they choose to live and in the way they help those around them. They don’t help others to gain recognition, but to make a positive impact on the world. I’ve noticed that people who want to make the world better are more focussed on the world around them—they look outward rather than becoming absorbed by their own inner drama—they aren’t sidetracked by their own positions.

This drive to focus on the world outside them allows them to find love, experience success and failures—and grow from both.

I’ve found that those who focus inward often become consumed by their own inner issues, they fear change and refuse to gain experience in the world beyond their door. Sadly, they often wrestle with depression, and the positive impact they might have on the world never gets realized. It’s a terrible cycle some people get into and I am beginning to wonder if one can slip from focusing outward to focusing inward? So my bucket list has grown to include items that force me out into the world from moving to another country, to trying to make the world better in my own small way.

I have travelled to a lot of places, but the area I’m drawn to again and again is the Caribbean for its beauty and its people. Unfortunately, tourism has pulled the population away from all other industries, to the point where manufacturing and local food production is almost non-existent—take, for example, the island of Barbados, where agricultural production is unable to sustain the local population, which now relies on importing most of its food.

Realizing that the greatest need in the Caribbean is to improve local manufacturing and food production, I began to research the best ways to inspire leadership in these areas. Time and again, I came across innovation hubs, places where artists and entrepreneurs collaborate. Cultural centres, shared work spaces, technology hubs, all create a culture of productivity and collaboration. The key to building a successful innovation hub is to sustain it long enough to spark and fuel productivity.

As I did more research into tourism, I came across changes happening in the hospitality industry. Airbnb was educating travellers to the benefits of renting homes and experiencing local communities. More and more travellers want local experiences and the opportunity to immerse themselves in local culture, from food to arts and environmental experiences. By studying the changes happening in the travel industry, I realized the the trend for all-inclusive resort experiences had peaked and the new wave just building in the industry is experiential travel. From glamping—glamorous camping—to luxury tree-house suites and ultra-luxury canvas habitats. Travellers want to experience the local culture in a natural luxury setting.

My objective is to develop a boutique-hotel concept focused around an innovation hub. We will offer travellers unique opportunities to experience the local culture with the boutique hotel sustaining an innovation hub for local artists and entrepreneurs. I have managed to build a great team to work on our first proof-of-concept site in Barbados—Canvas and Cave. My goal is to prove that the innovation hub sustained by the hotel will have a positive impact on local manufacturing and food production. At the end of this month my family and I will move to Barbados to work on this project and begin this adventure. We have the land, we have formed a consortium of investors, and we have the construction team; but I know that I’ll need more help as we grow.

If you would like to get involved, please contact me at sthomson@canvasandcave.com

The impact of action

It’s one of those overly warm spring evenings at the cottage. An afternoon storm passed through Muskoka and the air is still heavy. The lake is calm, like glass, and the large puffy clouds in the distance are lit bright orange by the setting sun. Spiders are busy in the corners of the boathouse windows, I’ve just turned on a lamp and their webs will catch the bugs attracted to its light. It is so quiet I can hear the clock ticking away the minutes. A bird calls to its mate, or maybe he is just letting his friends know where he’ll be for the night.  I am feeling thoughtful  thinking about the new journey my family and I are setting out on.

Our goal is to have a positive impact on the world through the work that we do. We’re heading to Barbados to start a project working with local communities to build a culture-entrepreneurial centre that will be sustained by a unique “experiential” resort.

Tourism has become the biggest economic driver on most of the islands, but it has also had some negative impacts on local communities – like the loss of local food production and manufacturing. Even local arts and craft markets are becoming dominated by cheap Chinese imports. The cost of importing food and products has risen as local production has slowly disappeared; and many of the islands have become far too dependent on imports. Our goal is to reignite the entrepreneurial flame by providing space, encouragement and resources.  We hope to inspire local entrepreneurs, artists and manufacturers.

Barbados will be our first “proof of concept” location and we are moving there to launch the project. It’s a big life change but one both my husband and I are looking forward to.  We have some terrific local partners and just recently the island elected their first woman Prime Minister – Mia Motley.  She is a strong, smart, and dynamic woman with an excellent record. Prime Minister Motley sat in opposition to the local government as leader of the Barbados Labour Party for over a decade. She was elected in a landslide victory winning all 30 seats in Parliament and over 70% of the popular vote.  With no opposition she’ll be able to bring about significant changes to a government that was plagued by inaction.   There is a new sense of vibrancy on the island, and it fits well with our own determination to contribute to the community.

The sun is low in the sky and long shadows stretch out over the lake – a stillness has settled over things and all the possibilities that a new day will bring are just beginning to form.

Port St. Charles Barbados

I travel quite often to Barbados as I’m building an arts and cultural centre there.  I’m planning on moving with my family to the island in the fall. So I know the island quite well, and one of my favourite areas on the island is the north west coast. The beaches are less crowded than the south coast; the hotels and houses are luxuriant, and restaurants in Speighstown and Holetown are fantastic.

I believe the island of Barbados is one of the best in the Caribbean. It is below the hurricane belt, and after the devastating hurricanes in 2017, this is a very important issue – especially for those looking to buy a retirement property! But the island also has a long British history, the people are gentle, well educated – but in a relaxed way. The island has a high education standard, has a public library system, and is one of the safest destinations in the Caribbean.

One of my favourite places to stay is at Port St. Charles – a collection of luxury condos on the north end of Speighstown. With a beautiful white sand beach that connects all the way into Speightstown, a marina (with the largest boats I have ever seen), two pools and a yacht club offering some of the islands best dining the resort feels like a second home. It is as safe place – and while their are security guards that walk the grounds I’m not sure if they are truly needed. I like to sleep with my windows open and listen to the whistling frogs at night. And I’ve never felt any worry over doing it.  Most of the staff have worked there for years, and they all genuinely care about the place.

I’ve stayed in a number of different suites on the property, but find that the units facing west are best as they catch the afternoon sun on the deck, making it quick to dry out wet bathing suits.

I should declare that I’m a bit biased as I have a friend who owns one of the better units. It is  close to the yacht club – north end of the property. It has a private dipping pool and a great outdoor dining area. Three large bedrooms, two of them have views of the marina and a full kitchen and laundry. I can imagine myself there now having breakfast on the deck, coffee in hand and watching a sea turtle poke it’s head out of the water. 

If you don’t feel like cooking dinner in the condo, the Yacht club is a two minute walk, and a great place to relax in the afternoon. There is a pool next to the cocktail bar and a deck with ladder if you prefer swimming in the ocean. Sir Richard Branson was there one afternoon (alas I missed meeting him), but you never know who you’ll meet at the cocktail bar! 

Or if you feel like listening to live calypso and watching the sun set, drop into the Beach Shack in Speightstown it is just a 10 minute walk (along the beach).

In the morning between 10:30 and 11:00am the turtles swim up the coast and go into the channel that flows into the Marina. If walk up to the north end of the beach, take goggles and you can swim with them.

I’d also recommend heading over to meet the Warren family at St. Nicholas Abbey – Simon Warren is a gracious host who often leads the tours.  I met Simon and his family at Port St Charles Yacht club during a Sunday brunch (not to be missed) and had a nice chat with Simon’s mother Anna, she is a beautiful and interesting woman. I left thinking she was someone I’d like to know better.   The Warrens did a beautiful restoration of the old rum plantation. The guided tour of the Great House is definitely worth doing, and if you can get there when the distillery and sugar mill are running do take that tour as well. You can spend 2-3 hours there and have lunch at their outdoor cafe – the view of the jungle is gorgeous. And don’t forget to take your camera – from the red footed tortoise, to their Guinea fowl there is something to see around every corner!

If you are looking to take in Barbados, the north west coast is the place to go, and Port St. Charles will not disappoint!