Antigua

The sky was a sheet of black silk enveloping our vessel Koukla.  As we made our way toward Antigua the heavens were uninterrupted by stars, for they were obstructed by clouds.  Below, we were being thrashed about by the uncaring sea.  Occasionally a wave would pull our bow down as if our boat was a see-saw, and green water would cover the foreword half.

We had been under way since dawn, yet our next destination felt desperately distant, and the weather conditions were exasperating.  We had heavy, rolling seas without the wind.  And without wind our underpowered engine often slogged along at under one knot.

It was not until dusk the following night that we made landfall.  The shadowy, anomalous boats that welcomed us into the harbor could just have easily been motionless sea serpents, and the buildings on shore sleeping trolls.  But the bright sun of the following morning dispelled all notions of such fallacies.  Ashore, the island was incredibly arid, and the only real sign we were still in the Caribbean was a few sparse palm trees.  As we stumbled along the parched dirt road we kicked up clouds of dust-smoke.

The formerly English owned island of Antigua was in competition with St. Maarten to be the yachting center of the Caribbean, and was losing.  Everything was grossly overpriced and the yachting community was met with distain from the locals.  Also, Antigua tended to cater more to the wealthy mega yachts than the humble cruiser.

Despite our immediate dislike to deserty, expensive Antigua, the island did have quite a bit of interesting history.  The famous British war hero Horatio Nelson had been based here in Antigua, much to his own dismay.  In fact, he quite hated the place, mostly because of the bug problem and the heat.  I can only imagine the discomfort of having to wear a formal woolen uniform in 90 plus degree weather.  None the less, much of Nelson’s Dockyard was still intact and well maintained.  It was quite intriguing to see all the different parts of the dockyard, from where sails had been sewn and anchors forged, to officer’s quarters, to where ships were “hauled out”.  I thought it was particularly interesting how they had to clean the bottoms of their boats.  Since back then there was no way of completely pulling a huge ship clear out of the water, they had to use other methods.  They would have to lean the ship on its side, clean the bottom, and then lean it over on the other side.  They would do this with the aid of giant winches with large spokes sticking out that a dozen or so men would have to power.  It must have been quite a sight to see a mighty, tall ship leaning over on its side, a veritable fish out of water.

Alas, the colonial charm of Nelson’s dockyard did not make up for the arid landscape or expensive and pretentious atmosphere of the island, and we were not alone in our opinions.  We had met a couple who were a professional captain and his wife.  They had to stay in Antigua for long periods of time to maintain the boat they were taking care of, and they weren’t terribly happy about it.  After just a few days we were bored with Antigua, yet weather kept us from leaving, so we could see how they would be unhappy staying here for a few weeks at a stretch.  Our week and a half stay in dull old Antigua would have been a bit more unpleasant if they had not been there.  One night we all made pizza together, and it was the best any of us had had in ages, thanks to their wonderful pizza dough recipe.  We made three huge pizzas, one just pepperoni, one pepperoni, red pepper, mushroom, and onion, and the third had just about everything that was fit to put on a pizza on it.  We playfully dubbed the pepperoni pizza the “kid’s” pizza, the moderately topped pizza the “teen” pizza, and the garbage pizza the “adult” pizza.  I don’t think any of us had had that much fun cooking in a long time.

We had dinner together a few more times, but we were also treated to movies at their boat, for they had a TV and DVD player on their boat and a limited assortment of movies.  This was a real treat for us since we had been without a TV for many months now.  But aside from their good cooking and being able to take advantage of their TV, they were also very interesting people.  They had been living and working on boats for decades, have traveled all over the world, and had a number of fascinating sea stories to tell.  We all had a wonderful time just chatting for hours on end

In the midst of our forced stay on Antigua, we were incredibly bored, so we asked our friends what on earth there was to do around here.  They suggested we take a bus ride to St. John,[1] on the other side of the island.  We had nothing better to do, so we figured, why not?  One morning we arrived at the local bus stop with shoes and ankles brown from churned up dust.  The bus we loaded on to was much like the buses we had taken on past islands; plain, old, and inconspicuous.  We rode past dry grass fields, British colonial ruins, and humble, almost primitive villages.

In the city, we arrived at an actual bus station, which I hadn’t quite expected, granted it was rather run-down.  Next to us was a large concrete building that remotely resembled a mall or shopping plaza.  Inside a large cavernous room was a produce market with all types of fruits and vegetables imaginable.  A little further down the road we came across a questionable looking open air meat market.  It looked like something from circa 1920.  Men in white aprons hacked away at dead animal corpses and the place had a distinctively pungent aroma of disinfectant and blood.  We didn’t stick around for long.  As we walked away the scenery transformed from third-worldish squalor to tidy, touristy shops and upper end boutiques almost seamlessly.  Here we encountered Hawaiian shirt clad, camera wielding tourists off the cruise ships.  It was strange to think that most of these people would leave this island having never seen the real Antigua, the Antigua we had seen.  On April first we were free to leave Antigua, and were more than happy to do so.  Next stop: Guadeloupe.


[1] Not to be confused with St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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