Antigua & Barbuda

– visited October 2013 –

There are about 50 people on the plane from the Dominican Republic but only four leave the airport, everybody else has connecting flights elsewhere. Antigua is one of the hubs of the Caribbean airline LIAT. I take a taxi to Saint John’s and a bus on to English Harbour. The driver is a rasta and the music is loud on our journey into the darkness. It is good that I reserved my accommodation, the owners are having some friends over but soon after I arrive, they leave. From the terrace, I look out onto the empty harbour. In a month it’s going to be full of boats and the hostel is going to be full of people. Right now, I am all alone.

For breakfast, I get no food but perfect Pigeon Beach. English Harbour is a naturally protected bay that was safe during hurricanes in the chain called the Leeward Islands. This was a rare and important asset as in any other location hurricanes, during their season, could destroy whole fleets without merci. Several fortifications protect the bay, inside there is Nelson’s Dockyard where in colonial times repairs would be carried out and provisions stored.

I take a bus to Saint John’s, the harbour is full of luxury shops for the cruise ships. They are all closed as no ship is in town. I hop on the small boat instead to the British Overseas Territory of Montserrat. The harbour facilities have been upgraded with EU funds. In case of need, that would allow a quicker aid operation.

Coming back from Montserrat (by plane) I take another loud-music-bus into the darkness, I know the way already, I type in the door code and I’m home. Again, I am the only guest in the hostel. On the Sunday the singing in the church is loud. Rendezvous Bay Beach is beautiful and deserted. Oh, I didn’t notice the family sitting under that tree at first. On an island with plenty of beaches a walk of an hour (or 20 minutes with a four-wheel drive) is enough to get you an empty beach. Nice waves, nice swimming, unfortunately the wind is blowing a bit strong and that doesn’t make for nice reading on the beach. I pack my towel.

My guidebook praises the Sunday Evenings at Shirley Heights as the one and only social event you definitely have to attend while on Antigua. I follow the road up there, constantly being overtaken by cars, mostly taxis, but no cars are coming my direction. As I arrive, I am shocked. I have never seen something as “colonial” as this before. About 30 cars are standing outside (again many of them taxis) with their black drivers, inside, I am surrounded by white faces, oh the waiters are black, the steel band is black and I even see some black guests. They drown in a sea of white faces. To put things into perspective, we are talking about a country where only 1,9 % of the population is white. The setting is nice, some tables, some grilled food and the views on English Harbour are superb. The steel band, I love them, plays classics from the 80s and 90s, in steel of course. I just can’t stand this modern reproduction of colonial society, I grab something to eat, I’ve made my decision, if I’m quick I can manage to get down to English harbour along a small path before it gets to dark. I leave. The next morning, I have organized a taxi to the airport, it is too early for public transport.