Accra for beachwear, lounger and rum punch
Oh, the glory days of teenaged summer holidays –– when the beach was the place to be with your “ride or die” crew of friends, and you worked on your tan in ways dermatologists would frown on! All the cool kids hung out there.
And parents were far less worried than they would be today about dropping them off at a public beach with $20 in their pockets, and a bag of what could scarcely be described as modest clothing and a towel.
For some, that beach was Accra. Located on Barbados’ South Coast, directly across the street from an equally recognizable spot –– a popular food franchise, it has built up a series of traditions, and holds memories for tourists and locals alike that surpass the tenure of Founding Father Sir Errol Walton Barrow.
Yes, that’s how long some of the vendors have been there: over 35 years.
Thanks to a project by the National Conservation Commission, all the vending spots of clothing and craft, and the bars stocked with drinks to keep beachgoers refreshed have been transformed into cozy little huts and a communal food and drinks area that bristle with activity.
And, of course, proprietors boast the best fishcakes, rum punches and anything else you can think of that is quintessentially Bajan.
So here’s where I spent my afternoon for this edition of Across Country: Accra Beach. How much has it changed? Are the vendors happy with the cottage/micro industries they have developed? And what makes the location so magnetic?
You can’t drive past Accra Beach without spotting brightly coloured and artfully designed dresses and beach wraps for sale billowing in the breeze. Other kiosks offer handbags, handmade jewellery and other trinkets that make great mementos for tourists. One such kiosk is simply called K&S, run by a pair of ladies for about two years. I spoke to the “S” in the name –– Sherry Anne Baptiste –– who says business is steady, but the last tourist season was among the best in her time at that location.
“Some people would prefer to get particular beach wraps that I carry –– that no one else carries but me. [We sell] quite a few bracelets, dresses, tops for boys and pants as well,” said Sherry Anne
Though declaring business as steady, Sherry Anne admits that she has made some changes to allow for the fluctuation of the local economy and a few low seasons here and there.
“If I accustomed buying about 12 of certain things, I might reduce to six or so . . . and keep some li’l income aside to keep things rolling.”
Spoken like a true salesman; and in fact, that is what she is. While for many of the vendors this is a “side job”, for Sherry Anne it is her main source of income.
With a partner overseas (Kelly, the “K” in K& S) seeing to the sourcing of stock, it’s a good thing Sherry Anne’s sales skills have been honed by mentorship from her own family.
“I’ve been doing it for like ten years in St Lucia; and then I come over here; and then I took over from my mother,”she explained.
As Kelly was not on site at the time, we tracked her down on her mobile, and she agreed that the last season was great for sales. But she is not impressed with this year’s takings so far. She gave us her thoughts on the development of area; how business has fluctuated, and why.
“To me [it’s the] presentation. As a tourist, to me, the presentation and the way they keep the place out there bad for the salespeople,” referring to the layout and general appearance of the area.
Indeed, some of the kiosks appeared unmanned, their entrances were tricky to find (facing the sea and not the road), and a surprising number of vendors were extremely unwilling to give interviews. Still, Kelly and Sherry Anne continue to make the best of it by providing unique products for Bajans and tourists alike.
Closer to shore, I happened upon a group of fellas under the shade of an almond tree, carefully guarding the sun loungers and large, sturdy umbrellas they rent to those who intend to have a lengthy session in the sun. The operations manager is an unassuming, wiry fellow with locks tidily plaited in shoulder length bunches.
Known up and down the beach simply as “Don”, he had quite a bit to say –– not only about his own business, but about how vendors of other products and services should be helping each other out.
“Things picking up now; not really gradually, but kinda slow. But it’s better than the last two months,” Don explained.
When a season is slow, it impacts his rental business just as hard, he says; but he and his crew refuse to pack it in.
“You feel it because there’s nothing. You know what I mean? We just come out here and it becomes like a lime for us; we put out the chairs and we sit out here all day. But we still come here to make something, ya know? [Rather than getting into unsavoury activities], because the devil finds work for idle hands to do,” Don added wryly. Debunking the idea that tourists are harassed on popular beaches like Accra, Don stood in solidarity with his colleagues, saying the beach “is peaceful, people can relax unmolested by itinerant vendors and random street characters”, and that everyone from the bartenders to his crew would do almost anything to help tourists out.
“I still keep normal prices. People would come and I would give them a deal, ya know [large groups would get a couple of chairs free, for example]. I try to look out for everybody because I know the economy worldwide is tough, and everybody pocket is not deep at this point in time.
“Even when they can afford a holiday [to Barbados], it’s still rough on them. They still gotta budget their money; or not they gonna run out,” he pointed out astutely.
Don simply believes that working together as microenterprises, servicing the same beach, makes more sense than being in competition.
But he is less than thrilled with the basic amenities.
“The facilities need to be upgraded. There’s four showers and only one works; and it barely works. It’s free.
“Even if they upgrade the bathroom and they wanna decide in the public bathrooms that each tourist pays US$1 . . . because other places, people pay for the use of the washroom; and we got it free.
“The services around here are not really good. I mean the Government services. I mean like the beach want cleaning. We as businessmen gotta clean the beach.”
Lamenting how early the public washrooms are closed (between 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m), Don said that needed
to be revisited, especially since there was security on hand after hours.
And “the police response to Rockley Beach is very quick. There’s a police station in Worthing and one in Hastings . . . and they get here in seconds, not in minutes”, he explained proudly.
After Don gave his assessment of the operations on Accra Beach, it was time to check out the bars. I was nearly knocked clean out of my slippers by the fast-moving, eagle-eyed owner of bar No. 1. The Chicken George & Yankee Joe Beach Bar is run by Randolph Vincent Victor, better known as Chicken George Junior, who is carrying on the work of the original Chicken George, his father, who passed away three years ago. With his tattoos, reflective sunglasses and trendy beach attire, this burly bar owner was hard to miss. He gave me his take on how Accra Beach and its services and amenities had evolved over the years.
“The competition is good; it’s gonna bring out a little bit more . . . . Instead of some person coming to one particular bar, they go and try something else. It’s been okay so far; the last two months have been a bit quiet because of the out-of-season, but the season is upon us.
“Crop Over is upon us; so hopefully things start to pick up . . . . A lot of people from the [cruise] ship[s] come up. Sometimes Boatyard gets a lot of people, but the taxi guys brought up a good few today; so the capacity is okay today,” says Chicken George Junior.
For 30 years his father ran the bar, and with Chicken George Senior’s passing three years ago, his son has taken up the mantle with gusto.
“Since I have taken over the business, it has been a challenging task; but I work seven days a week. I believe in giving the tourists nice hospitality and the best service,” he explained.
Chicken George Junior also gives credit to the erection of the boardwalk for the steady increase in sales, as well as
to the spruce-up it has recently received.
“I think it has developed since the National Conservation Commission has been keeping the place beautified. I think it is bringing a lot more attraction to Accra Beach. “[Additionally], the energy, the vibe, the atmosphere . . . . You’re surrounded by food, drinks and anything you want,” explained the confident bar owner.
And what is a bar without its speciality drink? As old-school reggae and dancehall blasted from the subwoofer somewhere in the back of the bar, Chicken George Junior declared that not only was his rum punch world famous, but that it also came in different strengths. After the Cutters experience, that declaration had me a little nervous.
“Our rum punch comes in medium, strong, fully loaded or effective. Effective is the bad boy.”
Now I was really scared. A gauntlet had been thrown down and I couldn’t possibly back away. The Effective Rum Punch lived up to its name . . . . I dare you to try it when you’re next on Accra Beach.
For fashionable beach attire, ask for Sherry Anne; for a comfy sun lounger and umbrella, just ask for Don; and when the midday sun drags you to a bar for liquid refreshment, ask for Chicken George Junior. I recommend the Fully Loaded Rum Punch for none but the stoutest heart and sturdiest of constitution.
For now, I’m gone again to find another one of your favourite spots Across Country & About Town.