I turn, and almost walk into a girl standing in front of me, her arse shaking hypnotically in time with the song – no mean feat considering the club we’re in is blaring out Caribbean soca tunes at 120bpm.
Everywhere I look, there are gyrating couples; the small venue is heaving with glistening bodies, the intense humidity making everything just a little bit sticky.
Crowds of dressed-to-the-nines locals are kicking around outside waiting to get in for a piece of the action. It’s Friday night, and, in Bridgetown, this is the place to be. There’s an almighty cheer from inside the bar as the DJ slaps on a Rihanna song.
We Found Love blasts from the speakers, and beautiful Bajan women with too-perfect hair and ample booties begin ‘wukking up’ – writhing their behinds in the shapes of ‘0’s and ‘8’s – losing themselves in the beat, as tall, incredibly handsome, impeccably dressed guys dance behind them protectively.
Everyone’s here to party – and hearing the sound of their girl-next-door-done-good (Rihanna grew up in Bridgetown) sends the crowd into a frenzy.
(Although, mention the name “Chris Brown” to anyone, and it’s as though you’ve just insulted their mother – the rapper is not welcome to set foot in Barbados.)
Drink in hand, I make my way around the tightly packed venue, which by day is the Mount Gay Rum Visitors Center, near the stunning Brighton Beach.
I can spot my group easily, not least because the men fail to display the same suave dance skills as their Bajan counterparts, their alcohol-fuelled moves instead looking awkward and clumsy as they enthusiastically attempt, but fail miserably, to master the same sense of rhythm.
“Let’s go,” Fred, our friendly Barbadian guide, shouts at us, probably out of embarrassment at the dad-dancing going on beside him. “Where to?” I ask. “It’s time I introduced you all to the rum shops,” he replies.
‘You’re not supposed to get sloshed’
The day before, our minibus whizzes through Bridgetown, the capital of Barbados on the south-west of the island. Fred – who knows everything there is to know about the city – points out the influence of the British.
It’s everywhere, from the layout of the streets and the colonial-style architecture, to the road names (Tudor Street, Trafalgar Square) and the fact cars drive on the left.
Brightly coloured traditional chattel houses in every shade of blue, yellow, pink and red blur past, before we stop at Kensington Oval. Unfortunately, the West Indies are away, playing against England at Lord’s in London.
“People come to Bridgetown just to come and stand here,” Fred explains earnestly, as we stare at the empty venue. “Soak up the atmosphere. Cricket means so much to so many people here. And this stadium has seen some superb games.”
We’re soon on our way up the west side of the 21-mile-long island, along a coast dotted with luxury villas and resorts.
Boasting postcard-pretty beaches, pristine sand and turquoise water, this is where the rich and famous come to play, and where Rihanna’s family moved after she hit the big time.
Beyond the bling, in the north of Barbados, Fred pulls up alongside a never-ending field of sugarcane, which is being harvested for rum, filling the air with a fresh, sweet scent.
He’s taking us to Mount Gay Rum’s ageing and blending facility. Rum is a huge deal in Barbados. And, having first started production in 1703, Mount Gay is considered “the rum that invented rum”.
Being the birthplace of rum is something the country is incredibly proud of – you’d be hard pushed to find a bar which didn’t stock it in Barbados.
Naively, I’d always considered the drink as something you mix with coke – an act on par with blasphemy here, master distiller Allen Smith explains. It’s his job to blend the next award-winning rum.
“I’m like a DJ,” he laughs in a broad Bajan accent. “I work off the cuff, there’s no set method.” Pre-empting our next question, he adds: “No, I don’t get drunk. In this business it pays for you not to. You can taste, but you’re not supposed to get sloshed.”
Keen to try Smith’s handiwork, we head back to the visitors centre in Bridgetown for a tasting session, where we’re served a small measure of Eclipse Silver, Eclipse Black, Extra Old and the revered 1703.
I’m told each combines delicate notes of banana, almond, vanilla and moka, but, much to our guide’s amusement, the rum instead sends a burning sensation across my untrained palate and tastes like pure alcohol.
I grimace like a child taking their first sip of beer – hand me a mojito any day.
However, it grows on me, and, a few rums later, and not yet lunchtime, we’re all a little bit merry. We pile, giggling, into Fred’s minibus and he ferries us to the Bridgetown harbour.
I can feel the bass from the Bajan music vibrating on the wooden slats underneath my feet on the boardwalk as I head for the catamaran that will be our party boat for a few hours.
Although the west coast lays claim to the best beaches, it’s here and in the east that adrenaline junkies can satiate their cravings, with watersports such as windsurfing, kitesurfing and bodyboarding on offer.
But that all sounds far too much effort today, as I clamber on board. There’s a whoop from the bikini- and Bermuda shorts-clad crowd as we set sail, music blaring.
The vessel is huge, with space to sunbathe at the front, and a bar with an area for dancing inside. I order a rum and I’m grabbed by a friendly Bajan with dreadlocks running down the length of his back, who leads me to the dancefloor, where the rest of my group are ‘wukking up’ with about as much grace as a startled kangaroo.
I’m handed over to a woman who attempts to teach me how to move my hips, placing her hands on me and pushing my body around.
Luckily, I get kudos just for trying, and then there’s a round of applause as the experts steal the limelight.
The men lap it up, of course, seizing the opportunity, bottles of rum in hand, to assert their authority, stomping around, singing loudly, in typical alpha male fashion.
Fuelled by alcohol, we dance away the next hour, the sun beating down upon us, before heading back to the dock to Fred, who sensibly takes us to get food to soak up the booze, making a pit stop at Oistins.
It’s a village close to the backpackers’ haven of Rockley that was, until recently, a fish market.
Now, it’s a lively hub with food stalls selling every type of Bajan cuisine.
We occupy a huge table outside, and a waitress brings us a selection of fried fish – ‘dolphin’ (actually dorado), barracuda, tuna – and a pile of sides. including a macaroni pie and cou cou (cornmeal and okra), and, of course, more rum.
Then someone starts the music. Local lads have brought a sound system, and create a makeshift stage, where they compete in a dance-off while a crowd gathers around, egging them on.
None of us is brave enough to even try to rival their finely honed skills, but stand safely at the sidelines, drinking, as each dancer tries to outdo the one before.
The night before…
It’s about midnight when our guide suggests heading to a rum shop. There are more than 1500 dotted around the island and they’re unique to Barbados, in a tradition dating back 300 years.
It is said that you always find two things in a village – a church and a rum shop.
As the name suggests, these tiny bars, found in original Bajan chattel houses and often attached to the owner’s home, sell mainly rum.
Buffy’s is in Inch Marlow, smack-bang in the middle of a residential area. It’s open-fronted, with low lighting. The decor is minimal: bare yellow walls, white plastic chairs, and a grey concrete floor.
There are pool tables where locals are playing, while drinkers sit at the tall bar stools.
Bolstered by too much Dutch courage, I make a beeline for the karaoke machine, performing an incredibly bad duet of You’re The One That I Want from Grease with an unsuspecting local.
The hits keep on coming, as do the drinks, long into the night, and long after they should have stopped … The morning after…
I’m gripping on to the side of a lop-sided 78ft-long sailing boat as it cuts through the water, still cringing over my tuneless rendition the night before.
About 15ft in the air, I’m acting as a weight, along with about 15 others aboard a vessel taking part in the Mount Gay Rum Regatta, and my head is pounding.
As the boat tacks and jibes, we scurry to the other side, pushing the yacht down to increase its speed.
The skipper tells us to get ready, and I scramble across the deck, the wind and spray hitting me in the face, trying my best to keep my breakfast down.
I look across as one of the girls in my group throws up into the sea, her face pale green. Minutes later, at the back of the boat, another of my group vomits what was consumed the night before.
It’s day two of a three-day race, and we’re aiming to complete two 28-mile courses, hitting an impressive 22 knots. It’s so fast, though, a rescue boat has to be called for another girl, whose sea-sickness is too much to bear. I plough on, stomach churning, and remember to look at the horizon.
After what seems like forever, the race is over. Back on dry land, and everyone’s in a jubilant mood, so we head to the Yacht Club for an after-party. The drinks start flowing, but tonight I’m feeling a little more hesitant.
Yes, Barbados is home to the rum that invented rum, but it’s also responsible for the rum that invented the mother of all hangovers.
Best of the Rest: Top 3 Caribbean Islands
There’s much more to this island than reggae, rum and relaxation. It’s also home to fantastic diving spots around Runaway Bay and Ocho Rios. Nature lovers should make a beeline for the wetlands for the chance to spot endangered crocodiles and manatees. Oh, and did we mention the jerk chicken? It packs a hot punch here.
With clear waters, white-sand beaches and year-round sunshine, it’s the archetypal Caribbean island. Perhaps that’s why it is the most-visited Caribbean country. There’s also plenty to do here, from whale watching to some of the best surfing in the Caribbean. What’s more, you’ll get bang for your buck, so you can enjoy yourself without burning a hole in your pocket.
Puerto Rico fuses elements of Latin and Caribbean culture with a cosmopolitan American-inspired outlook. Top beaches and colonial sites abound, while reggaeton (Latino hip-hop) and salsa provide the musical backdrop. The Spanish and English-speaking island is also home to gorgeous natural landscapes, including El Yunque rainforest, and a million-year-old cave system in the northwest.
Carol was hosted by Mount Gay Rum, staying for four nights at the Barbados Hilton hiltonbarbadoshotel.com
The party boat was hosted by Cool Runnings Barbados coolrunningsbarbados.com
Photos: TNT, Getty