4 - 8 November 2012
Karon was nice to take me to the airport Sunday late afternoon. Check-in time was 2 hours before – despite it being their only flight that evening and only about 20 passengers – it says all about LIAT and their incompetence. The trip went fine and I was extremely happy when I got my luggage considering LIATs terrible reputation for losing 50% of the luggage even on short point-to-point flights – and maybe I was lucky for some of other passengers never got their luggage. At the airport tourist information I tried to inquire about the ferry to Montserrat but as always people have good intentions but no actual knowledge. Customs took a while since all bags where searched meticulously – allegedly for goods of commercial value to tax. Anyway, my host David was nice to pick me up at the airport, so we got to talk a bit on the way back to his place in Tyrrell in southern Antigua. David is initially from The Bronx in New York but has lived many places – though Antigua seems like a good fit with laid-back, easy-going approach to life. Currently he's spending a lot of time getting an old Landrover Defender running and then he's an eminent cook – he made us the most delicious deer soup.
Island history - migrating Arawaks established agricultural communities 4000 years ago. Around 1200 AD the were forced of by the Caribs using the islands as a base but not really settling. Columbus was here in 1493 and the British colonised the islands in 1632 first growing tobacco and later sugar until this market recessed in early 1800s. Unlike other islands the slaves didn't get the land after emancipation so poverty flourished as shanty towns grew up. Antigua was controlled by the corrupt Bird-clan from 1967 when it became partly independent (fully independent in 1981) to 2004 where fraud accusations became to outspoken to stay in office - Texas billionaire Stanford having huge interests in Antigua is still awaiting his trial evolving comprising a USD 8 billion fraud. At the same time the country is still suffering from poverty made worse by recent years economic downturn.
The next day I took the bus into the main town St John's where I walked around looking at the old Caribbean houses, the Cathedral (under construction) and Fort James. The latter was not that easy to access since the path was closed by a gate and a guard - though that didn't stop me. After ensuring there were no other trails I climbed the rocky hill just to realise that my guidebook's description of a fort with canons, etc. no longer existed. The view of St John and surrounding areas was however spectacular. Later - while searching for the Montserrat ferry departure dock - I realised that the fort I entered wasn't Fort James but a canon bastion.....Mistakes like this happens frequently to me but this time I was somewhat excused as there is an error in the official Antigua map.....
Back in town I spent some hours trying to figure out the ferry schedule to Montserrat - and from there later to Nevis. In the so-called “tourist information” the lady complained that many people asked the same questions but nobody ever gave her the information – and had I not insisted she would have given up after 5 minutes; it's indeed a different culture!
It was only 2pm so I decided to see a couple of the islands nice beaches – but that turned out to be equally difficult. The bus drivers wouldn't (or couldn't) tell which bus I should take to get there and one guy offered to take me to another "even nicer beach". From my guidebook I knew it was a tourist beach but he insisted - I decided to go and then walk the last part in stead of being stuck in St John all afternoon. And indeed the beach was for tourists with numerous activities, bars, restaurants, loud music, etc. I spent 5 minutes taking a couple of pictures and then walked down the coast to Valley Church Beach – beautiful, secluded and very few people so I stayed for some hours before heading back to David's place (which I was lucky to find in the dark).
The next day I took the bus South and walked the last kilometres up to Shirley Heights – a bit hot in the middle of the day. Some of the buildings from the old English fort have been restored but most interesting was the spectacular views of the coastline and English Harbour where the majority of the English Caribbean fleet was stationed some centuries ago. I walked a couple of trails of which the last one took me down to English Harbour – still quiet as the season hasn't started yet. I also visited Nelson's Dockyard but only because I didn't have to pay the USD 8 entrance fee – for some reason it was free because I stayed in Tyrrell (they probably assume I'm a resident because no tourists stay there). As expected it was tourist trap - the old buildings had been restored and made into restaurants, gift shops, museum, etc. In stead I walked out to Fort Berkeley which is not really a fort but more a bastion that used to have canons to protect the harbour. Here I spent a couple of hours before heading back to Tyrrell.
Tyrrell is close to the Fig tree Drive which I decided to walk on my last day. It is supposed to be the most picturesque road on the island – and beautiful it is with the green rolling hills, rainforest, palm and banana trees, etc. Fig is Antiguan for banana and there used to be a lot of banana plantations on this stretch. The plantations have been replaced by private land and housing, but there are still some fig trees left. Some hours (and hills) later I got down to the coast where I saw a couple of beaches ending up in Turner's beach that I missed some days earlier. Well “miss” is not the right word after having been there – I got there just as all the tour buses stopped for lunch and a party catamaran took people for a swim. Fortunately, everything was quiet some hundred metres down the beach where I stayed an hour before taking the bus back to Tyrrell via St John.