In a year, about 200 Kenyans visit Barbados, an island in the Caribbean. If you are an adventurous traveller and seeking destinations off the beaten paths, here is William Alexander McDonald, the first Barbadian High Commissioner to Kenya’s travel guide.
Did you have culture shock when you first landed in Kenya?
Many Caribbean people know about Kenya. You will know that by the many Caribbean people called Jomos and Kenya. Barbadians are knowledgeable about Kenya but much of that is stuck in the past but not the modern-day, developed Kenya.
What are some of the similarities and differences that the two countries have?
The easiest is that if a Kenyan and a Barbadian were to be placed in the two countries and they said nothing, people wouldn’t notice because we look the same.
The two also tend to be a little bit reserved compared to our West African brothers. The two of us are also very religious as there is a church in every corner and we also share the same colonial experience.
The difference that we have is that in Kenya, you have a large population of Asians while in Barbados they are few.
Our food too is flavoured differently as we are more exuberant in our spices unlike you. Sugar is a part of our culture hence you’ll find it in the food.
Have you tried Kenyan food? Which is your favourite?
I’m a big fan of mukimo. While I have tried ugali, it’s similar to our coucou which is our dish at home and has never been my favourite.
However, I love the modern interpretation of ugali that the modern chefs have made, which makes it tasty. Something else is that someone asked me whether I’m a vegetarian because Kenyans love so much meat, especially nyama choma, which is similar to what we call a barbecue back home but its flavour is different.
Any favourite place in Kenya so far?
I have travelled to Mount Kenya, and the Maasai Mara but have not travelled to Mombasa being that we have a long coastal stretch in Barbados.
I have been to Naivasha, Gilgil, and Nyahururu to watch the Thompson Falls and sometime when I can, I visit Lake Nakuru for the flamingos.
I have also toured Machakos’s Kitulini hills and was amazed by how water flows uphill. I’ve also been to Ol Pejeta Conservancy to watch the last two rhinos.
Which destinations in Kenya do you aspire to visit?
Turkana and Tsavo. When I was growing up, I remember watching the movie, The Ghost and the Darkness and the Lions in Tsavo and I would like to see the places I saw in the movies. In Turkana, I want to catch a glimpse of the first footprints of mankind.
Let’s talk about Barbados now. What is it known for?
For a young person, they would probably know two things; Rihanna and prime minister, Mia Mottley. She has had a great following and was named one of the 100 most influential people in 2022 by Time magazine.
Just like Kenya, Barbados was colonised. We have never had a war, so we can say that we are one of the few people in the world who have a record of never losing a war because we’ve never fought one.
It has a network of roads and infrastructure that makes it one of the most dense networks of infrastructure in the world.
It is also known as one of the biggest producers of sugar and rum in the world. We are also big in cricket and produce one of the best players in the world.
Tourism has become the top economic activity. We receive about 1.2 million tourists per year just the same as Kenya.
What are some of the things that Kenya and Barbados can learn from each other in tourism?
The idea of glamping is very new to us because my country has glamorous hotels but it’s not glamping. We don’t have many international brands since Barbados is not based on mass marketing but on high-end boutique offerings. But we would like to see a Barbadian brand in Kenya and likewise in Barbados.
Which are the places that you would recommend to a Kenyan who wants to tour Barbados?
I’d tell them to plan their vacation to come in late July to early August where we have a festival, which is like a carnival and it’s called kadooment or crop over.
Traditionally it’s when the last of the sugarcane was cut and the crop wasn’t over and they would have big festivals to bring the last canes in and people would know that they wouldn’t have to work hard in the cane fields and that life would be a bit slow.
But the festival has evolved into a carnival-like event and people wear costumes and play music with a display of culture in the food and drinks.
It also adds to the beach culture that many carnivores don’t have. Some Kenyans would also like to experience our Safari rally which is in June.
While it clashes with the Kenyan one, you can plan to attend the Barbados if you happened to need a different feel of the event.
If you also love high-quality, international polo, you might want to come and watch some and the season starts in November and runs right into March.
We have horse racing too and the Sandoline gold cup, which I think is in May or June but if you love gastronomy, we have the food and rum festival.
We also have a reggae festival in April but if you love to relax, we have great weather all year round. With a pair of shorts and a shirt, you are fine.
How does a Kenyan traveller get to Barbados?
You don’t need a visa to get there but for the countries that you might be on transit in, you might need one.
When it comes to flights, you can either fly from here to Luxemburg and then from there to Barbados, or Frankfurt but if you want to take a longer route then it’s from Qatar to Barbados.
You can also use the New York or London route and then straight to the Island.
What is the toughest and easiest bit about being an ambassador?
I’ve been dying to learn Swahili. I think that anybody that speaks Swahili in 20 or 3 years will be speaking a global language just like the others.