Oistins in Barbados is perfect for partying

Joined: 5:23 PM - Aug 21, 2008

12:41 PM - Jan 28, 2012 #1

Tasty treats: the fish fry is a weekly tradition at Oistins village in Barbados

“Strong or not too strong?” asked the barman, smiling wildly and clutching a large bottle of rum. I weighed up my options and decided to err on the side of caution. The night, after all, was young.

“Sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place,” he laughed, handing me a glass of rum punch that was significantly more rum than punch. I took a sip of the potent brew, winced slightly, then took another as my feet began to tap to the calypso beat.

Welcome to Oistins - Barbados’s wildest night out. Every Friday evening, this fishing village on the south shore bursts into life with locals and visitors arriving in search of finely-cooked fresh fish and strong rum. Music plays, people dance and the smells of sizzling swordfish steaks and barbecued blue marlin fill the balmy air.

Oistins is strictly a no-frills affair. Dozens of rustic outdoor stalls stand just a stone’s throw from the beach where waves gently lap against old wooden fishing boats.

But what Oistins lacks in finesse, it makes up for with sheer sensory overload. The mood was jovial, electric and infectious. Smiling people strolled around armed with bottles of Banks beers and glasses of tropical-coloured cocktails; the night was alive with the sounds of reggae and singing. Smoke spiralled into the dark and starless sky while flashes of flames sparked brightly from nearby grills stationed by dancing chefs.

Blackboard menus made for mouth-watering reading with everything from kingfish to mahi -mahi and plenty for non-seafood fans, making choosing where to eat an impossible task. Pausing briefly to browse some of the handicraft stands I eventually settled on Uncle George’s – a spot favoured by native foodies.

Crowds had gathered in great numbers outside the small concrete hut. The snaking queue vanished out of sight while the chef frantically replenished peachy-pink shrimps on the giant barbecue illuminated by bare light bulbs.

After queueing and for about £7, I was handed a hearty portion of tender marlin, giant chargrilled potato wedges with salad and spicy mayo all served in a polystyrene container. I did say it was no-frills.

I devoured my feast on one of the wooden picnic tables as the crowd outside Uncle George’s continued to swell, hungry punters drawn by the appealing aromas of fried flying fish with breadfruit mash, to be washed down with a murky-looking drink called mauby, made from tree bark.

But there’s more to Oistins than its weekly fish fry that lasts into the early hours. Named after a wealthy English settler named Austin, the small community played a pivotal role in the nation’s history.

It was here in the 17th century that a battle broke out between Royalists and Cromwell’s Roundheads that later resulted in the formation of the Barbadian Parliament.

Lexie’s, just next door to Uncle George’s, was in full swing as I savoured the last morsel of marlin. Another Oistins institution and one of 1,600 rum shops on the island, this simple drinking hole painted in forest green is the place to go to throw some shapes whether you want to foxtrot or body-pop.

During the week, Lexie’s is the stomping ground of fishermen often overheard putting the world to rights as ballroom aficionados waltz across the dancefloor to the sounds of the 1950s. Come the weekend, however, things get wild.
Standing outside under the leafy palm trees, I watched in awe as a breakdancer showed off his skills spinning, flipping and moonwalking to great adulation.

Barely pausing for air between somersaults and back flips, he was no doubt burning off a seafood dinner. Taking a leaf from his book - albeit a far less strenuous one - I set off for a walk.

At the far end of Oistins, tension was running high. A game of dominoes was nearing its climax. The players - hunched around a small wooden table - sat enthralled. Pieces were slammed down, disputes broke out, laughter flowed.

As the dominoes were shuffled ahead of the next round, one man turned to face me and offered me a beer.
“No thanks,” I said, “I’m on the rum.”
“Good man,” replied the merry chap beside him.
“That’s how we doing things here. Welcome to the island!”