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Bringing the Boys to Barbados

The Barbados Wildlife Reserve was also a big hit. We walked through wooded enclosures full of free-roaming green monkeys, iguanas, brocket deer, tortoises, flamingos, macaws, and brown pelicans. (The adjacent primate research center produces 70 percent of the world's polio vaccine. One green monkey can provide up to 2.5 million doses.) Across the street is the Grenade Hall Forest & Signal Station, with nature trails through a beautiful hillside of undisturbed forest. On top of the hill is a signal tower, one of six on the island manned by British redcoats who kept each other posted about slave revolts.

Out in the middle of nowhere, on the southeastern tip of the island, is Sam Lord's Castle, which Marriott bought in the seventies and built a resort around. Sam Hall Lord was a pirate—according to Rex Wason, the castle's resident historian, "a man of very shady character." Lord would hang lanterns in coconut palms to misdirect ships onto the outlying reefs; their captains thought they were coming into Bridgetown, farther down the coast. He made such a fortune from salvage that he commissioned the architect of Windsor Castle to design a castle for him.

During the second half of our vacation we stayed in an old sugar mill in the north, converted to a residence and owned by our friends the Fishes. Mill House is in one of the wildest parts of the island, above a cement factory and off the tourist grid. The main plantation house lies in vine-smothered ruins (it was torched by its previous owner for the insurance, or so the story goes, and now belongs to Oprah Winfrey, who has no immediate plans to restore it).

A path led through a gully to the rocky coast below and a mile of wild beach. Our nearest neighbor was 90-year-old Roy Ward (who had just married his fourth wife). Roy showed the boys his enormous pigs, and one of his many great-grandchildren took them to a fallow potato field and taught them how to fly a kite. Roy is one of 49 mulatto children fathered by a flinty Scotsman with various women on his 18 plantations. Roy himself was once a major landowner on the island, and he is a cousin of Gordon Webster, our new Queen Street Beach friend. Gordon had told me that his family wasn't talking to the white side of Roy's family because of a long-standing contretemps having to do with the fact that the Wards had made out a lot better than the Websters over the years.

That would be a challenge: to trace the first Webster or the first Ward to arrive on the island in the 17th century, and as many of their descendants as you could find, hidden and acknowledged—the white Bajans who sip gin and tonics in blue blazers in Sandy Lane, and the dark-skinned ones who frequent the churches and rum shops of St. Lucy parish—until you got to Roy and Gordon. Then you'd have a picture of the true diversity and interrelatedness of the Bajan population. It would also be a good excuse for coming back for a more extended stay, which we had already decided to do at the earliest opportunity. Just as we were getting into the civilized, sane pace of this particularly mellow island in the sun, we had to leave. That's the way it always is with a perfect vacation.

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